Shopping List 5

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After wrecking a casino and killing a bunch of people, it’s amazing how word spreads about you. It probably had to do with the city have a few important centers, like the casino. The places that kept the lights on at night. It made them easy to find when the lights were out, which was a good thing for any looking to attract customers. It kinda worked against them when a hostile new power arrived. That’d be me!

The next place I stopped off at turned out to be the Pleasure Palace. That’s my name for it. At the ground level, it offered decent restaurants, booths in which to rest and shoot up, and cheap hookers. So cheap you don’t have to call them call girls while they’re still alive. Plus, equal opportunity as it was, they offered men, too.

I walked into that one, dragging a heavy gold axe along to scrape over the rugs they’d thrown down over cracked tile floor. This entrance attracted attention. “Ok, you sons of whores, I’m here to kill ya!”

That statement sent various men running for cover, but not all. There were even some youngsters who halted their pickpocketing in order to run.

“That’s not what I meant!” I yelled. “Whoever’s in charge here, I’m lookin’ for a man…”

I’d barely gotten the words out when a line of men jogged out wearing little more than loincloths. While surprisingly diverse in skin color and ethnicity, the oldest was probably in his late twenties. The youngest stoked my desire to murder and maim someone. Funny thing was, most people didn’t seem to give a crap about murderous intent so long as it wasn’t directed at them. My glare hidden under my helmet, I stepped over to the nearest employee and pulled her head off a fellow’s cock.

“’Scuse me, ladycakes, you look real busy here.” The man in question yelled at me in a language my translator hadn’t yet figured out until I kicked him through a wall. I sat down in his place, the woman moving to try and find a way into my pants. “I was just looking for someone important to talk toooOO… in a few minutes at least. Or however long. Take your time.”

Ok, I may have given her a hand getting in my pants.

After all that, she led me upstairs, past a fine dining restaurant, hotel, and to an elegant brothel. She led me past rooms that weren’t quite soundproof enough to an office in the rear, not even knocking before opening the door for me. “Madame Moth, the stranger is here.”

The woman behind the desk looked young except for her white hair. She rose with an enchanting and modest smile on her lips. Her modest gown covered a lot more than what her employees went about in below, save for a hint of neckline. “Take a seat,” she cooed between glossy pink plump lips. No, seriously. Normally, when something says a person cooed, I don’t understand it at all. Was it supposed to be done like baby talk? Well, kinda. Soft, gentle, and sweet. It wasn’t just the voice, though. Fatigue hit me like a ton of dildoes. Also like a ton of dildoes, my legs felt weak and I had trouble standing afterward. My eyes wanted to close, and everything relaxed on me. I damn near pissed myself, and I definitely dropped the golden axe.

I had to steady myself with all four arms on a chair in front of me. Madame Moth walked around and pulled out the chair next to it, then guided me down into it. She put her hands on my neck and stroked her fingertips lightly across my neck and shoulders. I kept blinking, trying to keep my eyes open while she lowered her face next to my head. “Good. Relax. Stop fighting, four-armed stranger.”

I rolled my head around a bit. “Mmm, won’t stop as much as you think.”

She kissed the side of my helmet and whispered to me, “You don’t want to hurt me.”

I shrugged. “Not at first, but I’m getting there. I just came here looking for a drug runner named Feng.”

She ran her nails along the back of my neck and helmet, really digging in them so I could feel anything at all through the material and my hair. “What do you want with him?”

“That’s really between the two of us. Depends on how willing he is to talk.” I stopped talking to yawn. “I’m really just here for information and have enough spare gold to carry around an axe of the stuff. Make of that what you will.”

“What is it worth to you to meet him?” she asked me.

“I have a golden axe,” I reiterated.

“Is it pure gold?” she asked.

I slumped down to grab it, feeling like I didn’t have a lot of bone left to help me do much. If I didn’t have the armor, there’s no way I’d have been able to plop it into my lap. “Feels like it to me.”

Madame Moth ran hand down my side and over my thighs to rest on the axe’s handle.

“You want it?” I asked. She moved to look me in my eyes through the helmet, grinning. “Just tell me where he is.”

“I can arrange a meeting for the two of you. But who will I say has called on him?” She kissed my forehead. She stayed with me while some of her men came and took the axe, thwarting my sudden but inevitable murder of her with the axe. It was going to be so perfect. At least she didn’t try anything more than that. Her relaxation superpower let me vulnerable, but I was sure I could overcome it in a pinch to start killing. And if I needed backup, I had my guys waiting for me just outside the city. Hu sent over a flyer to relive the pilots I’d had and ensuring I was better equipped for life in this city.

I called up the pilots without speaking on my end. “Hey dudes, they got a lady who makes people sleepy here, so I’m gonna start checking in like every five minutes. If I miss a check in, I need y’all to fly to my beacon and light it the fuck up.”

“Understood, Empress.”

“Right on,” I signed off. Then, and only then, did I give her her answer. “Psycho Gecko of Ricca. How we doin’ this, princess?”

Madame Moth said something to the girl who was still with us. That one finally left to go do whatever she needed to do. Madame Moth instead decided to sit at her desk in front of me, looking me over. “We get someone making this claim from time to time, but the message I passed along indicates my belief you are telling the truth.”

“That’s convenient. Or you just want me to believe you believe it while you enact your nefarious plan.”

She sat her chin on the back of one hand while the other dangled in front of her, moving in a circular motion. “Those I have seen make the claim typically do so to avoid fighting a dozen men. They do not slaughter them effortlessly for entertainment.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, giving her a little wave.

She looked at me for a bit before pulling a laptop over and typing away on it. Tsk, tsk. Not as secure as she hoped, that one. But what she was doing looked to nonsense. Pretending to type while playing Minesweeper. Once again, I contacted my team. “Launch drones and bring the flyer up to support me, firing on targets I designate.”

I pushed myself up to my feet with titanic effort. Madame Moth swept her hand gently downward. “Please, sit.”

I almost passed out, which screwed up my alternative idea of using my implants to control my limbs directly. I just wanted to take a nap, and so I slid back into the chair. Even the point when Madame Moth’s fingers touched my helmet and found the trick to sliding it down my head only caused me to push weakly with my chin. “Our cameras can’t be controlled the way you control nanites and machines from afar. Let me help you out of your armor for the meeting. He will be down shortly.”

Damn prostitutes, always showing off how to get in my pants. I struggled to open one eye and saw Madame Moth looking me right in the face. She had pretty eyes. Shame she had to lose one. Helmet out of the way, I activated the laser hidden in my eye, stopping short of killing her. I’m technically not supposed to be killing supers now, or even maiming. And I did just put her eye out. Guess I’ll just have to kill her to cover up having maimed her.

I jumped to my feet as she collapsed in pain, crying curses. Both of us, I mean. She was cussing me out for her eye, I was fucking glad to shed my exhaustion and relaxation.

Before I could finish Moth off, though, the door was opened by a man in a white, Chinese-style jacket, tangzhuang. Past the man who opened it was a whole crowd of men dressed similarly, with Feng in the middle with a Mandarin Nehru-style suit to show he was no plebe. He looked a lot like his picture, except he’d decided to grow a mustache and longer sideburns. In the augmented reality view, he was designated as a priority one capture target. I designated the others as target practice. The one at the door’s head exploded like a melon when I gave him the laser full force right in the middle of his skull. The next one raised a gun to aim for my head, but I jumped and took the shot to the boob instead. If they wanted to keep me docile, that wasn’t the way to do it. The pain cut through the remaining tiredness and energized me.

I landed and grabbed the wood chair I’d been sitting in by the legs, pulling it apart. I pounced on him, knocking him down, and jammed pointy wood into his chest and face over and over. I looked up in time to see four shotguns leveled in my direction with Feng beating a hasty retreat down the hallway. “Don’t move. We have you!” shouted the closest. I pulled the guy I was on in front of me and tried to turn my unprotected head away. The roar of guns went off and didn’t stop for five seconds, after which I dropped the dead body to look at the shredded hallway. A pair of drones burst in front my right, the direction the Psycho Flyer fired from.

While I ran to catch him, the drones quickly caught up to our fleeing friend, Mr. Feng. One hovered around in front of him, my voice speaking through it. “Go ahead and try it.” Feng put his hands up and backed away from the drone in front of him before tripping over the drone I’d directed down to his knees.

I knelt down and smiled at him. “It was nice of you to offer me a meeting on your terms. Your Madame here made quite the impression. That’s why we’ll talk on my terms.” I grabbed him and hauled him up and over to the torn-up wall. A cry of rage alerted me to Madame Moth’s continued presence. I actually chuckled seeing her standing there in the doorway, hand over her eyes. The exhaustion hit me again and a drone hit her in the gut at ramming speed. I jumped for the open hatch of the Psycho Flyer in front of me with Mr. Feng snoring along, leaving her and her whores to tire out anyone else they want but me.

Unless she plans to come after me, drawn like a moth to the pain.

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Shopping List 4

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My next lead came right in the middle of attending an opera in Australia. Not the Sydney Opera House this time, though it’d have made a great venue. This one was a bit dead, despite the awesome singing from the cast I had tied up on stage. I sat atop a crashed chandelier, trying to make sense of it. Broaden my horizons. This was supposed to be fun, after all, but the show wasn’t as enjoyable as the appetizers strewn about the seats. Plenty of people got out, of course, but not all. Especially not the guys underneath the chandelier. Not too many people wear a mullet anymore. One less now. I aimed it right for him when I saw that stupid haircut.

Someone burst in the door from the outside. I heard their hasty steps approach and stood up on the chandelier. Organ music blasted out of the opera house’s sound system, the distinct opening of the “The Phantom Of The Opera”. The darn half-mask over the right side of my face tried to fall, though. I’d come dressed, but I don’t think the attendees had appreciated the effort I put into attendance. They just wanted to sing their Wagner. Wagner, ha! Pretty much killed ‘er.

Instead of some sort of attacker, the person who came running in for me was one of the pilots. “Empress, we were unable to raise you on the radio. We must go now. They have alerted their military.”

I sighed dramatically and turned back to the singers on stage. I bowed and flourished my cape before hopping down to join the pilot. “Fine, I shall bid these singers adieu. But next time,” I raised my voice to be better heard by the stage, “Box five should be kept free for me to watch the performance.”

I’d probably never be back, but they don’t know that. The thought of this little gag, and the whole night’s events, drove me to laughter. Perhaps a little too hard of laughter, as I didn’t step even when setting foot outside and finding the Psycho Flyer I’d arrived in gunning down helicopters that had approached close to try and figure out by proximity what they couldn’t with sensors. The flyer moved to hover over us, the bottom trap door open and dragging the same cable this pilot used to drop down for me. “After you?” I said. He started to say something until I slapped him across the face. “No arguing.”

I was in a giggly mood that night. Just felt good to be myself again, I guess. He climbed the rope up quickly. When he hit the button to retract the rope, I was only about halfway up, singing “I came in like a wrecking ball!”

The pilots were rather more eager to get out of there than I was, but I allowed them their fear. They hadn’t stared death in the balls a hundred times before and gave it a good dick punching. Plus, I’d gotten a message from Hu at some point both wondering about who I picked to replace him as the head of Intelligence, along with an attachment concerning my desire to figure out all the places China dumps it supers. I came to it after skipping over his attempts to be both exceedingly polite and urgent about a replacement. “I have discovered the identity of a former member of State Security who escaped the pull of Beijing’s secrecy and works for himself. I would have had him captured for you, but I thought I would wait to see if you wished to take a personal hand in it.”

He knows me so well. I can and probably should delegate more, but how can I pass up an opportunity to kidnap some big shot former spy? I immediately informed Hu of my intent to bring him in myself and have a bit of fun in the process. Was it some sort of corporate gig? I’m not averse to blowing up skyscrapers. Perhaps he was a politician and I could destroy yet another capital building? Hey, maybe he was an actor. It’d be awesome to interrupt him while shooting and get into a big melee with him and his stunt doubles.

Alas, that was not the case. When I got a reply from Hu again, he gave me the sad truth that this former spy was merely operating as a kingpin in New Yinpan. Heroin, mostly, with a hand in human trafficking. Had to look it up. Old Yinpan had been lost to desertification, so people set up a New Yinpan, only for the government to officially evacuate it and abandon it to the encroaching desert in the 90s. Not everyone could afford to leave. Others were just too obstinate or sick to pick up and move. They stayed, and a certain class of people showed up to take advantage of the lack of any government interference. Since then, it’s become a lawless land of drugs, prostitution, and gangs. Why haven’t I heard of this place before now?!

Further, because it’s relatively close to the borders of a few different nations, it’s part of land routes for trading arms, drugs, organs, and people. In other words, it’s a direct competitor in almost every market.

The guy I’m looking for is a Mr. Feng, and he’s surrounded by an entire city that would oppose government agents or superheroes moving in to fetch him. Despite the fact that I have saved this planet I live on from complete conquest or destruction, I am no superhero.

Luckily, I’d brought my suit with me. I tossed aside my Phantom guise and suited up as the one, the only, Friendly Neighborhood-Destroying Gecko Man. Well, I did add a little extra deodorant first. One of the perils of having twice as many arm pits.

New Yinpan stood out at the edge of a desert. No suburbs, just large buildings marking the edge of the city like a cube, one side of it standing out against the sand with traces of green at the opposite end where it sat near a lake. A city with absolutely no regulations anymore? Drinking the sand is probably healthier. The place was mostly dark, as well. Whoever ran the power racket didn’t make it cheap enough for everyone to afford, so there were only a few places lit up as bright as you’d expect for a city of that size.

There wasn’t really an airport to the place, either. My guys put out a call asking for anyone with space to land. They got a multitude of answers from people offering their little scrap of flat roof as options before I told the pilots not to worry. “Just drop me off and park outside the city. But keep an eye out. They’ll still your rims here.”

“We have rims?” asked one of the pilots.

I just shook my head as I hopped out of the trap door without a cable, landing with a roll on cracked streets. No traffic at all. No cars parked around even. Guess I wasn’t taking a taxi.

One problem with living in a place that had no actual government presence: no ownership documents. Not even a need for shell companies to hide things. I dropped in knowing he’s here and he moves drugs and people. Probably drugs in people. I needed someplace where I could find people who might have information. I launched myself up to a nearby balcony, then to the top of a building, trying to catch a glimpse of the nearest bright spot and follow that to the closest thing to civilization in this city.

I found myself staring at a building that practically screamed casino. So did the criers out front, trying to attact clients of the marketplace that set up in the street out front. People had parked carts and stands to take advantage of the light from the casino, probably having to pay a percentage of their earnings to the casino for the privilege. It’s man devouring man, my dear, and who are they to deny it in here? Pardon the Sweeney Todd, but I passed by a stand selling questionable meat products and they smelled wonderful. I glanced around as I headed for the casino’s gate, checking out what they had. One older fellow caught me looking and smiled a nigh-toothless smile, holding up a crack pipe. I veered off to take a look at what he had.

“You want some puff puff? It is good shit,” he offered.

“If you’re selling it out here where anybody can take it, it must be crap,” I said.

He shook his head. “No, no, it’s good. Nobody would steal from me. Try it, first puff for free.” He held it out for me.

I pushed it back to him. “That’s not the side of the business I’m in. Talk to me when you’re selling kilograms of it.”

The casino had a lot of flashy lights. The better to blind people to the dirty walls and cracked floors. I was stopped before I could even set foot on to the dirty carpet of the casino floor properly. Some guy who looked more at home in a sumo wrestling match held his arm out. “You got money?”

I looked around and pointed to a ratty-looking woman in rags who was coming up behind me. “Does she?” Ratty woman walked right on past without a problem and headed for the cashier cage past bunches of machines like slots and pachinko.

“She comes here every week to lose her pay stub. You are new, and I don’t see pockets in that suit.”

I reached out to put a hand on his chest. “Relax, Genghis Kong…”

Fast for a big guy. He grabbed my throat and arm, trying to throw me on the ground. I stopped him when the top of my head was just barely touching the ground and both feet were still firmly planted on the ground. “What?” he asked. I began to power back up, but made sure to use my bottom right hand to grasp his nuts on my way up. It made it easier to slam him against the wall. A much smaller security came running extending some sort of baton that he thrust forward as he ran for my back. I stepped aside and let go of the big guy. Little guy jammed the baton into big guy, causing him to spasm from what I assume to be a taser.

I folded both sets of arms behind my back. “So do we talk this out, or do you die tonight?”

Little guy turned and ran at me, dipping low for a tackle. I turned and popped my knee up, which probably wouldn’t have halted the charge for most people. With my armor, it threw him up and back with a nose spewing blood.

“Guys,” I said, calling back to my pilots.

“We are here Empress,” answered one.

“Looks like I’m not getting comped a room, so it looks like we’ll be sleeping in the flyer’s cots tonight. Meet on my beacon in five…” I cocked my head to the side, watching the big guy stumble forward. He looked down at his wounded friend, then at me and pulled out a set of brass knuckle. “…better make it ten minutes.”

I shot Hu a message as well, authorizing him to pull some cash and gold out for me to use. I suppose I’m rich as fuck at this point, but I don’t deal much in liquid assets. Blood is the exception there. Like when the big guy came at me and I put a hand through his gut. I hugged his gasping, convulsing, shitting body close and reached up his back with that bloody arm. When I headbutted him, that hand caught his hair and kept pulling back while his neck cracked and the skin of his throat strained, ripped, spurting blood.

I turned around as a crowd of another dozen security guys showed up, man armed with guns, the rest with swords, clubs, and the like. Smiling under my helmet, I spread my arms. “Who’s first to bet their lives?”

When I walked out, dragging one of the still living security guys in a headlock under one arm, I pulled him along with me to the puff puff guy. I dug some Yuan out of the guys’ pockets and handed it over to the old dirty bastard. He looked between me and the guy and cautiously held out the pipe. I took it, thanked him, and smashed it into the guard’s eye before tossing him back. That one would live at least. Then I pointed at puff puff guy. “The house doesn’t always win.”

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Shopping List 3

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Grand language. “I have a dream.” I have a plan. Well, part of a plan. And bad dreams, too.

Not the usual ones, the stuff fighting on my home planet and being betrayed. They’ve been pretty strong here, with that time travel business. Mobian and Future Venus found a way to put me back there to put me off my game and I got the crap kicked out of me. My poor bowels. They had feelings, but then they were all empty inside.

I wonder if I’d be having the dream if I’d gotten that damn time machine repaired. Even if I didn’t fix my own life… well, if I didn’t fix my own life, none of this would have happened. But I could have brought it into the future. Instead, I took a coward’s way out. All that power in front of me, just like with that weird tree on the continent of Mu, and instead I turned it down. At least the tree would have destroyed me. The timeship… well I guess the timeship would have destroyed me as I am. Fucked up that I’d choose that knowing what I went through. The heroes and their weakness must be rubbing off on me, and not the way I imagine Venus does late at night with whatever toys she keeps in her room.

Note to self: bug Venus’s room.

I think I know already it was the wrong decision, letting complacency with the way things are defeat the way things ought to be. I’ve become just as bad as the heroes I deride. I get power, and instead of using it the right way, I maintain the status quo. Now that I figured that out, let me just say: the status is not quo. And to salt the wound, Future Venus did change her future. That damn hero beat me. Not physically, of course, I still won that. Obviously. But she changed the future when she didn’t kill me just before I beat her and won and did not at all lose. So I have to hand that to her and feel crappy that she took that leap, of all people. And I didn’t.

That stupid headology is what I worked on while Site Two was raided. Another success, without so much of a hero presence. Pagan went in at a time of night most were asleep, and they don’t tend to stick warehouses in areas where they call the police, especially if the people to be called on have a way to disincentivize the calling, say with weapons, or money. Pagan preferred the bribery route, which surprised me for a guy who used to kill for a living.

I kept an eye on the men, helping them get used to the armor. Without power, it was merely strong. With power, it made them strong. It’s easy to feel that raw strength and get cocky. I had to tutor some in the increased capabilities and knock a few down a peg with sparring sessions. Just Gecko a mano; I even took my armor off and let them keep theirs. I didn’t maim any of them, or make it vicious. These were my guys and gals.

I stayed behind at the military base as the flyers departed for Hyderabad, though I made sure to clap them on the back and so on. Letting them do their stuff without me is important. For me, not for them. They’re soldiers. They know their job and the risks. I’m the one who has gotten way overprotective of friends and my people. Working alone as an assassin, or as a supervillain? Not a dealbreaker then. A problem now. And not one I can solve with a visit to the puppy butcher’s. It’s something of a delicacy with people here, like veal.

So while my guys went about handling the last leg of Dr. Creeper’s and the Institute of Science’s shopping list, I decided to go hit up my personal shopping list. No, better than that, I needed a brand new shopping list all my own. Dr. Creeper’s handling the scientific development. Ricca already had a lot of data we recovered and some advances beyond the norm. Thanks to our notoriously free markets, we have routes for proliferation. What else could a guy possibly need?

I need people. I know, I’m real touchy-feely today. But this isn’t more of that existential crap like realizing I fucked up with a time machine or that I’m not overprotective. This isn’t the sort of situation that involves laying on a couch and talking it out. This is the sort of situation that involves Hu, my still-acting head of Intelligence. I was fixing lunch for this increasingly-large bunch living in my palace residence when I asked him. “Hey Hu, I understand China’s got a shitload of prisoners, but I don’t know anything about how they handle superhumans. Maybe I just never paid attention, maybe they hide it really well, but I’m hoping to figure out what they do with all of those types.”

“Your Imperial majesty, Beijing worked hard to suppress information on superhuman holding procedures, but information is a tricky prisoner. For many years, the Chinese government dispersed its superhuman prisoners in customized holding cells distributed through conventional prisons. It is said they altered this policy and created ten prisons for a small number of prisoners, known as the Ten Courts of Hell. Prisoners remain in both forms of imprisonment to this day.”

I took all this in before flipping the burgers on the grill. All the excess grease from the sausage meat mixed in caused a flare up, but I just pointed a finger and said, “Stop that.” The flames eased off, because fire knows not to play with me. If I wanted anything set on fire, I’d have fucking told it to light on fire. Fire is a tool, but sometimes it’s such a tool.

Once I was sure I wasn’t turning burgers into briquettes, I had another question for Hu. “Any idea where the Ten Courts of Hell are? Are those prison cells in every prison, or just in certain ones?”

“Ricca does not have this information.” I guess he put it that way to clarify it wasn’t just about what he personally knew. “I will look into this matter more closely if it is your will.”

I looked up and posed, spatula pointing into the sky, both speaking and typing my answer for Hu. “I so will it.”

“Will what?” asked Sam Hayne, walking over to check on the burgers. “Ugh, so greasy. I hate greasy burgers. It’s like you added fat to them instead.” She squinted and leaned in slightly to examine my meat.

I turned and pointed the spatula at her. “Sic ’em!” The fire flared up suddenly and Sam backed off.

“God, you almost burnt me eyebrows off!”

“What happened?” Mix N’Max said. My friend checked over Sam, then walked over.

I shrugged. “Eh, just some friendly fire. She got too close to the grill and it had a flare up.”

He looked at me. I raised an eyebrow. “Or do you think I can suddenly control fire now?”

Max shook his head and walked back to Sam, who had walked off to go get a drink or something. “Good fire,” I said, patting the grill with the spatula.

In the meantime, I got to watch the mission to Hyderabad unfold once my guys arrived, radar missing them. Right off the bat, it seemed to justify the superstitious crowd. Small arms fire greeted the flyers, until the pilots activated the side turrets. Twin machine guns, one on each side with a wide range of fire to suppress and eliminate personnel threats. I’d originally wanted machine shotguns but opted for something with better range. With some of them dropping and others taking cover behind walls getting chewed up by automatic fire, guards did the calculus and soon figured out how much their lives were worth in comparison to what they were getting paid. They ran for it, and the flyers let them go.

After that, my people had the run of the place. Locks were blown open and researchers hustled out, at least until Tiu made the call from his flyer to have them help carry stuff to make it go faster. I hardly think it was worth it. Indeed, it may have contributed to what occurred. One of the scientists must have been working on some good shit, because he snorted something and started attacking my guys. Threw one of the soldiers several feet.

Another one close in was at least able to deflect the wild blows and grabs of the man enough to get away, allowing the others nearby to unload on him. He kept coming, despite the blood spray and missing flesh, at least until someone hit his spine and he lost control of his legs. Once he was down, it was much easier for one of the men to step up and plant a couple bullets in his skull. Tiu, watching through their helmet cams from the flyer, ordered them to confiscate whatever powdery stuff he’d been carrying and carry everything themselves. The soldier who’d been thrown around turned out to be fine.

After that, the tension seemed gone. The unanticipated problem had been dealt with easily. It was just a matter of rounding up all the stuff we didn’t want to pay for. It all went well and fairly quickly, and they were just about to withdraw, when a reject from the Blue Man group jumped in from afar. Shoeless, shirtless, pants, and skin painted light blue. Guy started drumming on my soldiers with these maraca things, some sort of maces. Getting shot didn’t see to do anything to him, but one of my guys dropped a grenade at his feet, even with his comrades close by. The force of the explosion tossed him away where the flyer anti-personnel guns started firing on him. He got the fuck out of there after those put some holes into him.

The field medics loaded up the casualties. Not fatalities. The grenades hadn’t done anything to instnatly smear them over the ground, instead knocking air out and doing soft tissue damage. I oughta get shirts for them. “I got blown up by a concussion grenade and all I got was this shirt and a concussion.” And even that was quickly being worked on by the nanites already in their systems via Ricca’s water supply and by those administered by the medics. Helicopters scrambled, but the flyers just didn’t show up to them. Might as well have been invisible. They mostly were, from all sides. Even the satellites looking down couldn’t hardly see anything. On top of that, the flyers themselves screwed around with Indian sensors to screw them up. Some could tell something was there, but not well enough to get a lock.

It was a beautiful dance of advanced conventional warfare and cyber warfare. They were lucky to see us; lucky to hurt us.

It’s almost a shame I want to spread it around to more and more people. Going to be hugely disruptive, too. Revolutions, new wars started, new peace treaties written, borders redrawn. They’re only human, after all. If they want to stand a chance against an ancient god of death, they’re going to have to become something better.

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Shopping List 2

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In the end, we were able to settle on three spots to hit for everything my guys needed. The guys Hu had selected weren’t too bad at their research.

Bayani Tiu had been working in the field for some time. Hu’s research showed he had some authority issues, but those mainly cropped up when he thought the authorities in question were being dumbasses. That was in the file like that, but it also included an incident where he got a safehouse and a few other agents captured due to his recklessness. He had a tendency to drink and sleep around more than his superiors felt was important to his cover and missions, but he’d been in the game a long time, knew what he was doing, and he’d been promoted a few times despite himself. He’d disdained protocol and standard procedure just as much in those cases, leading to a great deal of success and angry superiors knocking him down the chain before reassigning him. Despite his penchant for property and vehicular damage, Tiu managed to blend in with his cover after The Claw’s death until Hu got a hold of him.

The other fellow went by Pagan. Just Pagan, no other names. No mention of his religion in the file, but Ricca’s not the sort of place where someone takes that as a name to be edgy. He hadn’t stood out as much as Tiu. He did his job and didn’t make waves. Whereas Tiu had actually been better at sabotage or stealing information, Pagan had distinguished himself in assassinations and observation. He had a black mark early on from a witness spotting him escaping. They almost saved the victim then, but a follow-up got the guy. Pagan had made up for his previous failure by bombing the guy’s hotel room. Ruined any chance of the death being seen as natural causes, unfortunately. After that, he’d devoted himself to trying to be as undetectable as possible, which caused a hiccup or two in cases when silence wasn’t an option. He moved up in part thanks to his friendly nature and his efficency. He turned out to be good at the schmoozing and was an efficient leader. Hu, ever the bureaucrat, didn’t seem to rate the politicking all that highly. He also noted that Pagan’s record managing a team wasn’t quite as good at pulling out impossible victories as Tiu’s.

Hu wouldn’t have sent me these guys as potential picks unless they were capable and I got to see it during the planning of our little raids. Tiu made a few catty comments but that was all the friction either of them showed. Tiu even had the good sense not to hit on me. They both agreed on not running all three raids at once, even.

“It’s not necessary and it creates more attention. Three raids on three facilities at the same time is the work of a major threat.” Pagan noted. “Better to space them out.”

“Agreed,” Tiu said. “I prefer having backup if something should go wrong and it decreases the likelihood that whoever is coordinating will make a mess of it should that happen.”

Despite being pretty sure that wouldn’t happen with me around, they made good points. I was going to defer to them anyway, give them enough rope to hang themselves however they want to run their stuff, so this works anyway.

The three targets we picked were chosen for each having an abundance of the equipment we needed, with some overlap. If someone didn’t do as well as expected, another team can try to pick up the slack. Site One was a college in Japan with a name translated as something like the Kyoto Emerging Technologies University. Not everything fits perfectly into English. If it wasn’t known to be a proper noun, Mephistopheles would keep popping up in English as “Not-light-loving”. Kyoto’s one of the major areas for academy in tech-related fields, complete with state of the art research labs. The Japanese aren’t only obsessed with robotics; they put a lot of work into studying geology, biotech, miniaturization, and so on.

Site Two is a warehouse belonging to the PangTong Group in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen’s one of the top cities in China for electronics manufacturing, with PangTong working on equipment for all sorts of testing. There’s no guarantee it’ll be full or have everything they can produce in there, but it seems like a good place to nab a lot of it.

Finally, Site Three takes us all the way to Hyderabad, India. Yeah, three different countries may seem like we’re spreading this out too much, but they all dislike each other with their own reasons to avoid collaboration and information sharing. Hyderbad’s more useful for what we need to get in relation to chemistry, biology, and pharmacology. It’s the pharmaceutical capital of India, and this huge company called HealthCon has a campus there devoted to studying drugs and producing knock-offs.

None of the targets were all that heavily guarded. Probably some decent protection to keep most regular folks from just wandering in, but nothing on the level of mercenaries or military. Supers were always a possibility, but there’s only so much that can be done there. Or that’s what I could have said before VillaiNet.

The villain social media hadn’t been abandoned or imploded yet, so I did my part to keep the cogs turning. I hired a few local villains to pull off other heists in the area. They didn’t even need to be successful, though I told the guy I sent after a bank to go ahead and keep whatever he took from it. Thus it was that I was flying in with a raid team of Riccan soldiers in the back of a Psycho Flyer. The new uniforms and flyer weren’t known outside the country, probably. Even if they were, I had plans to sell somewhat inferior versions to criminals anyway. Inferior versions, of course.

The flyer cut through the bright night and came in fast, the pilot flying low as he navigated the Kyoto skyline. Emerging Technologies U spread open below us, the buildings to be hit glowing faintly in our augmented reality HUDs. They were across a short stretch of campus from each other, with a sculpture off to the side of a chicken-legged robot with a squat, oval body and three-fingered manipulators on the end of its arms.

I reached up to a cable against the wall and took hold of it with both my left hands. One push of the release later and a trapdoor opened, as opposed to the rear hatch coming down. I tugged the stubborn cable along with me and hopped through the rounded floor opening. The cable didn’t roll freely, so it slowed my descent enough not to fuck up my legs even if I had a normal human bone structure. As soon as I hit the ground and let go, I radioed back up with “Clear.”

The cable zipped back up and disappeared through the hole. The rest of the team just opened the rear hatch and came down that way with another couple of cables and these little zipline things they attached for controlled descent. Slightly less quick, but nice and easy. “Spread out and let’s get this done.”

I figured the university would be a good test run out of the three. That’s why I came along. That, and I really wanted to hit people. That’s why I grabbed some girl walking by, seemingly unaware of everything with her eyes glued to her phone and earbuds in, and knocked her the fuck out with a punch. She woke up after a minute and ran off crying, and a very stupid part of me hoped she’d somehow bring me a fight. Plus, I keep constantly hearing how college students are destroying the world, despite also being weak. You know, kinda like how the Jews supposedly run the world while being racially inferior, or how women are physically weaker and less intelligent but control everything. Odd how that theme keeps being used, especially when there’s someone like me around to be an even bigger threat to the world than any of them… well, when I’m not busy being a woman, that is. Kinda proving that one, I guess.

Back to the action, unnecessary fights aren’t something I should hope for, actually. Better chance that this would go wrong. Like, for instance, when alarms started going off once the men broke through some doors or something. I was hanging out in front near the sculpture when the sculpture stood up.

So let’s just go ahead reclassify that from sculpture to chicken-legged autonomous walker. It turned to me, it’s almost-egg body devoid of any identifiable facial structure- oh, there it was. A frowny face appeared in a yellow circle, then became a face with an inquisitive, raised eyebrow. It called out in Japanese. “There is a crime in progress. Identify yourself. You have twenty seconds to comply.”

I gave him four middle fingers. “Kiss my ass you piece of shit bastard afterbirth of a Circuit City-”

“You now have 15 seconds to comply.”

“-fuck your motherboard right up her universal serial ass, bend her over, and dump out another load of you. Then I’ll raise you to be the sort of moron who goes to religious colleges so you can learn how Xenu created a flat earth.”

“You have five seconds to comply. Four. Three. Two. One. I am now authorized to use physical force.” The walker’s manipulators flattened out along the sides of its arms and a pair of barrels extended. The face on its front shifted to a red-faced emoji with gritted teeth. The infamous constipation emoji. It stepped one leg over to take a more stable stance before firing at where I stood. Plumes of dirt exploded into the air as shot after shot killed the crap out of some grass. Didn’t do much to the hologram it’d been shooting at, though.

I jumped onto its oval body from its spheroid main body from behind, arms glowing. The two lower arms smashed holes in big enough for me to get a grip and hold on. The walker tried to turn and swing me off, but those chicken legs weren’t the most agile thing around. I came down hard with my upper right, cracking down into it. I punched further with the upper left. Amazingly, that didn’t put the walker out of the fight. So I popped the heads off a couple rubber chicken grenades and shoved them into the hole.

I flipped off it and landed on my feet. The walker turned and fired wildly, so maybe I hit something. “What’ll hit first?” I asked. “The chickens or the egg bot?”

It adjusted its aim and then exploded.

The roof of one of the buildings exploded as well, but that was for a different reason. After the men loaded up the smaller stuff, the flyer lifted off to hang over the opening. Some of the men dropped cables while those on the ground attached a bulkier thingamabob. That’s probably not the technical name. Only once they got it up and the rest of the men were onboard did I take a running jump to land on the flyer’s ramp. Just before I closed the door, I spotted something approaching in the air. Small, man-sized, leaving behind a rainbow streak in the air.

“Pilot, we have a flying super on approach. You able to outrun?”

“Close the hatch and I’ll leave them sucking my exhaust,” he responded.

I punched the button for the hatch to close as a Japanese man with cat ears and clawed gloves flew closer. As soon as it was closed, the flyer shot forward. Amazingly, the whatchamacallit down below didn’t tear off the cables. Even better, the pilot managed to swerve between a pair of skyscrapers without smacking our cargo into one of them. Hell, I think we had more problems inside with some of the stuff that was less secure trying to scoot around and smash us. The flyer steadily inched further and further away until we got out over the ocean. At that point, it zoomed on out of there. The hero didn’t have a chance. I don’t know how long before he turned back, because he had no shot of catching us at all by then.

And so the day wasn’t saved by Nyan Man, the Psycho Flyer proved itself, and I wrecked a grad student’s thesis project. I might have to recruit whoever built the thing, because I’m still thinking of the future, and of that Mot guy who’s going to show up and start eating supers. I’d rather stick a bomb on Nyan Man and let him get eat, then unload on Mot with an army of giant robots. And since I didn’t fight Nyan Man, I may still get that chance.

Ladies and gentlereaders, I have a dream.

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Shopping List 1

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“Too much has been looted or destroyed. The equipment takes too much time to build, and your coffers are not limitless. I have come to the conclusion ve must acquire the equipment by alternative means. On a side note, the labs housing such equipment vill also contain other supplies we need.” Dr. Creeper laid another stack of paper on my desk. One major downside to working with an old-timey mad scientist is his insistence on leaving a paper trail when digital documents and Augmented Reality notes would do.

The head of my Institute of Science had come up to me while I was lounging on my chair in the Directory Building. Yes, they’d actually put more work into building the thing and it looked much less like a circus now. I had my own seat to watch over proceedings and make myself available for discussion, but no one had bothered me today. I spent my time remotely overseeing developments over on the military base, like the distribution of new combat uniforms. I’d had some put together so my guys are a little less expendable than most people expect, even the Security guys.

I was also enjoying the training flights with the new VTOLs. Squat, but smoothly, beautifully curved, the exterior was black by default, with the ability to shift to other patterns and colors to hide itself, born of the ability to stick a paper-thin monitor, and holodiscs, on anything. Those same curves combined with the primary alloy to make it rather difficult to get a lock on with conventional radar, and I threw in a nice electronic warfare package that didn’t require too much fuss to get working. In place of wings, it was held aloft by two large, saucers that operated via the Coandă effect instead of like a conventional jet or rotor. Fluid, in this case air, is bent to provide lift and help move the thing. They could angle somewhat for maneuvering, but didn’t have the range of motion of the rear jet. That one could turn for more agile moves, and provided most of the directional thrust when in full-on flight mode.

The men, which also includes the women, had taken to calling them Psycho Flyers. It was either a tribute to me or a description of its flight properties. More likely, it’s the first as a way to cover for the first. I need to come up with a theme, though, as I don’t want everything associated with me called “Psycho”. Just think what they’d call American sympathizers of my regime? Or that chain of motels one of my citizens is starting with his mother? Or even the paths through forests and parks meant to help citizens exercise and enjoy nature?

But enough about American Psychos and Psycho Paths. Sadly, enough with the Psycho Flyers and the new combat armor. Dr. Creeper had come and explained to me that we had an issue with important scientific equipment you can’t buy down at Bobby’s Bunsen Burner Emporium. Not being one to shy away from theft and figuring it was a pretty nice cause, I glanced at his little shopping list and said, “Sure thing, Creeper. I’ll see what I can scare up.”

He nodded and threw in the customary bow. “Now eef I have your permission, ve have a new scientist arriving and I vould like to show her around.”

“What’s her doctorate in?” I asked.

He shook his head. “She has a masters. A masters in disasters.”

“I like it, but let’s make sure it’s not like that guy with the theoretical degree in physics. I heard his head just exploded from all the equations, that true?”

Dr. Creeper’s face looked like he’d eaten a pickled egg upon mention of that idiot. “Yes. Zat is what happened. He looked at ze whiteboard and ze next thing you know, boom, his head has gone kaboom all over the place. I really must go.”

“I completely understand, Creeper. Have a nice day,” I waved him off. He turned, patted the finned, thin-barreled death ray hanging on his hip, and walked out of there to go meet our newest contractor.

That was when a Directory servant, one of many hired to help the Directors find and wipe their asse while they were distracted with other things, walked up carrying a tray holding a wireless phone on it. Not a cell phone, but a home phone without a wire.

“Who’s calling for me?” I asked.

The servant bowed. “That is correct, Empress.”

I blinked a couple of times, then took the phone and addressed the head of my Intelligence Service. “Hey there, Hu.”

“Greetings, Empress. I need to discuss a matter of urgency with you, but I was forced to leave the island on an errand.” I heard gunshots in the background.

“Must be pretty important to call in the middle of a firefight. Mind if I ask where you are?”

“It would be better if you didn’t know. There are diplomatic concern at stake,” he said.

Somewhere in the background, I heard shouting in Spanish. “Protect the ambassador!”

“You’d be surprised how many countries speak Spanish,” I told Hu.

“I am certain I would be, Empress,” he responded. “I have come to the realization that field work is not my area of expertise. My leadership skills, too, are questionable.”

“Hey, don’t say that. You didn’t do too bad a job coordinating the evacuation and salvaging what was left so it wasn’t build completely from scratch.”

“Yes, Empress. You flatter me. I should say I am a bureaucrat to my soul. The Service needs an individual with true leadership potential.”

“What about you? It’s quite a thing to give up leading the bunch. How about you stay on as second in command? Help handle all the mundane stuff that looks less inspiring for the Head to do,” I looked up as another servant approached, bowed, and held out a manila envelope. “Is this your package I’m seeing?”

“I am going to assume you mean the envelope I asked to be delivered to you. Yes, that is from me. It contains files on three candidates I feel you could trust in. I would be more than happy to coordinate a test of their abilities and loyalty for you.”

I took the envelope and popped it open. “Truth is, I’m more disappointed that everyone’s relying on paper today.” I opened it up. “And typewriters. Wow. I’m not sure I actually came back to the present after that time travel trip. Tell me, Hu, how far back did I go? Are doctors recommending smoking as healthy way to lose weight and eliminate stress?”

“My most majestic eminence, computers can be hacked. Files may be intercepted. Paper burns. Those are the only copies in all under heaven.”

“Good man. You’re right, you’re right. Same way Russia’s been able to hide stuff from people for so long.” I really need a digital equivalent, but he’s right. Any code can be broken, even the otherworldly stuff I use. I could have every damn Riccan Intelligence Service computer using my home dimension’s coding, and I’d probably just end up with someone smuggling a key to another country.

Hmm. An idea comes to mind already. Paper-thin camo sheet like that on the exterior of the Pyscho Flyers. To everyone else, it appears to be a normal poster, or magazine page, or flyer. Then the right person touches a hidden DNA scanner while wearing augmented reality contacts and it to display the image just for them. It’s brilliant and perfect for fieldwork.

It’s also more expensive than just burning paper, too. I’d be stuck with paper while everyone’s running off doing cool shit with high tech spy gizmos. Speaking of gizmos, though…

“Actually, you don’t have have to worry about a test. I have something in mind I can take these guys on.. well, not this one, I already know that.” Hu had nominated the same agent I’d personally brought back from the United States, the one whose son had refused to stay with him in the business of aiding an overseas dictator in favor of helping a bunch of teenage superhero friends instead. The father’s loyalties were clearly torn on this point. “I’ll give these two a chance helping me out with something and we’ll see how things turn out. Thank you for your Service.”

He continued speaking at his normal volume despite the abundance of shredding guitars and cutesy Japanese being sung by young girls. “The Empress honors me. If you will it, I must end this call.”

“I will it and so it shall be,” I said, trying to sound all majestic and commanding. “Enjoy your concert.” I hunt up on him then and handed the phone back to the first servant, along with one of the pieces of paper. “Bring over a trash can, set those inside, and burn them all.”

The servant bowed and hurried off to do so. The other one stayed as well, awaiting my command. I checked over the files of the two candidates left. I tore off just the name portions and handed them to the man. “Find these two and have them meet me at the military base.” I looked down and activated the augmented reality overlay, then saved encrypted files attached to the paper. They each were to get a copy of Dr. Creeper’s shopping list and instructions to find locations with the equipment, prioritizing targets that can account for as much of the list as possible at once. “Give them each their scrap and tell them to take a close look. Off with you.”

He bowed and left.

I looked around the legislature hard at work on the minutia of running the civilian end of things and stretched. Then I stood and began taking out the golden comb and other weird doodads that Citra had elaborately wpven into my hair. Some of the Directors even noticed as my lower arms began to loosen the dress I wore, but they soon found themselves staring at my new armor instead of my bare body. Form-fitting, dark grey with orange lines between each of the flexible plates. I pulled the hood up and closed it entirely, leaving not even a mouth exposed for attack thanks to several add-ons I’d made for armor and utility. I flexed all four arms, showing off the orange Eastern dragon design that ended with the heads encompassing blue-accented gloves which concealed my power sheathe technology instead of any bulky gauntlets or pistons. I reached up to the midnight blue collar and tapped the central jewel, causing a shorter version of my black and blue cape to drop from the rear of the collar armor.

I looked out at the Directors, some of whom were definitely appreciating that the armor’s lack of padding and bulk. Those didn’t enjoy being under the gaze of my visor, which dipped in the middle enough to resemble something of a frown in combination with the fanged mouth armor concealing a filter and other equipment. “Don’t mind me, everyone. Just gotta get dressed to go out shopping.”

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Back To The Past 7

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Archive Decompiling…

Section 8 Complete

Archive Begin Transmission

“When did you escape from this dimension?” Mobian asked.

I gave him the date of my D-Bomb detonation. “But you’ll need to be close. There was a force shield up around me to contain the blast.” He nodded once, thanking me, while I clung to my family. I hugged onto Qiang, probably harder than I should have. It felt like Mobian took forever to get out of there.

“Are you going to leave all your stuff in the ship?” Citra asked.

I nodded. “We need to go as soon as we can. The ship is wrecked, I think. I just need to go.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked, reaching out to stroke my hair. Qiang looked up at me, too.

“A lot of very bad shit happened to me when I was a kid. I could stop it if I wanted, but I would never have met any of you. It feels like I’m responsible for everything I went through back then now. So I want to run out there and save myself.” My HUD offered a helpful music selection from a band called Stabbing Westward that I had to decline.

“She destroyed your armor,” Citra pointed out.

I gave my armor a quick glance. I’d lost my helmet and one of my gauntlets, and the chest plating was wrecked. Fallen off, or barely clinging to the underlayer. Upon closer inspection, I could see all sorts of less obvious damage arising from the fight. The holodisc had taken a hit at some point. Venus’s armor had been able to go toe to toe with a charged up version of mine, which was impressive. It also meant some likely problems with the pseudomuscles and exoskeleton when we were punching each other’s hands. Her’s hadn’t been nearly so bulky, either. I need to steal me some of that.

And as for how I felt about finally getting her… I wish the fight went differently. At the end of the day, she’s still dead and I’m still alive, but it doesn’t sit so well with me for some reason. Though, it didn’t sit well with Venus to kill me and look where that got her. This is why a professional killer shouldn’t make it personal. I can’t help but wonder if my own obsession with her may mirror her obsession with saving me, and to similar ends…

A flash of light signaled that we’d jumped forward in time while I was distracted. The wall displayed down below us, where my old girlfriend knocked me the fuck out and left me laying next to a D-bomb. We must have been hidden from view, because nobody so much as blinked as the ship swooped down to hover close over my semi-conscious body when the force shield was activated. This time, I could see the mixed relief and worry; triumph and defeat. As much as my followers at this point had hated the way they’d been treated, I was the only one who felt as strongly about it as destroying the planet. It probably didn’t get any easier after that, but hopefully some humans were smart enough to recognize that homo machina are people too. But probably not.

When the D-Bomb went off and we were all thrown through the Universe Divide, those thoughts cleared away for a moment. It really was an amazing sight, seeing the multiverse laid out like that. Then we were hovering over the scene where the me from this point in time had arrived on the Earth where I almost sorta fit in better. Lots of things destroyed, and another me down there. As strongly as I tend to feel about there being no doppelgangers, I dunno, I’m not in a hurry to drop down and kill myself. Maybe it’s the time aspect. Maybe warnings about fucking with something that big do resonate with me. Hell, maybe I simply can’t. Something might come up to stop me just to prevent the paradox of me from the future killing the past me, which would then prevent future me from existing to kill past me.

From my perspective, the effects of messing with time travel have been ambiguous enough.

“I would have shown you the future, of the year 2033, but that period is in temporal flux at the moment,” Mobian said. He shot me a look. I scratched my eyebrow with my middle finger. “I have archives of the great war with Mot.”

“What is Mot?” asked Citra.

“A god of death,” Mobian answered.

“That story’s real?” I asked. “I guess it’d make sense for Venus’s actions, but I’d kinda been going on that just being made up to get me in the trap.”

“Mot is very real.” The walls changed around us, showing a being walking along a grassy plains. He looked like a man. Just an everyday guy. Beard, hair grown out and back in a ponytail, a slight beard. But every footstep stripped the plants and left perfect footprints of dirt. He had followers, for some reason. I guess if a guy might just kill everyone, he attracts the occasional person willing to serve them if it makes the threat stop. The surprise is that this supposed God of Death didn’t just kill them too. Suddenly, a glowing green man in a costume the colors of the American flag flew in. This one looked a lot like a guy I’d seen before, a super with a tank strapped to his back that nuked a militia base. I guess this time he decided tanks, but no tanks.

He held his hands out, then a mushroom cloud erupted, centered on the weird rippling guy. It didn’t even clear before the rippling man was flying at the nuclear man, who tried to outrun him. His target reached an arm out, and kept on reaching well past normal human limb length to grab the nuclear guy.

The nuker beat at the arm, and his skin even flared up in a brighter green, so I think he was tryting to do something. I have to assume that’s the case, because none of it made Mot stop. He pulled himself right up toward him, then collided and smacked over him like he was liquid. One moment there were two people there, then just one. Mot started to fall, then stopped. He looked at his hands, then toward an approaching group of tanks. He wiped them out with a nuclear explosion of his own, just like the guy who had disappeared into him. Then he looked back over to his followers, who were ensconced in a glowing dome of metal that retreated into the ground. None had been hurt by the blast, though that’s unlikely to be true for long unless he’s clearing away fallout.

“So he eats people and takes their powers?” I asked. “I dunno, I expected something weirder. Like, I dunno, tentacles? There are always tentacles involved. And that it’d be giant, with no real face. This just looks like a man.”

“I believe he was an early powerful superhuman treated as a god. I think his original, or most important, power is what he did there. He absorbs people and takes on their powers. He eats every superhuman he encounters,” Mobian pressed something else on his console.

The view shifted to Mot leading his followers into a small town. Locals stop and stare at him. He halts and raises his hands. The crowd of dark-eyed people moves past him, running for any people or animals around. They fight like their lives depend on it, beating the resistance out of folks. It was like a horde of pimps seeking cash from a couple dozen hookers. Someone did manage to shoot one of the followers, and that guy went down. The ground underneath the shooter shook and dirt flooded upward around the guy’s legs, trapping him and pulling him back under as it retreated. The prisoners were brought before Mot, who put his hands on their heads. He ate most of them. A very few were released to join his flock, though at least a couple of those hung their heads in shame. The more worrisome types were the ones to hold their heads up proudly and smile.

“Mind control?” I ask.

Mobian shook his head. “Not that anyone is aware of. It is discovered just before he is defeated that he has limited telepathy. The one who discovers this said that it was as though Mot peered into his mind and could tell that he was more afraid of Mot than of anyone or anything else.”

“He’s like some sort of extortionist cult leader,” Arsehole said. I still hadn’t bothered asking the name of Mobian’s companion, but, more importantly, I just didn’t care.

“How’d he die?” I asked “Might help me do so more quickly on this go-round.”

The scene changed yet again. Now, Mot stood in a city I didn’t recognize offhand. His followers swarmed like ants, many armed and firing back at soldiers. I noticed a pocket of them shooting uselessly at a tank until one of them closed her eyes and ran for the tank, arms wide. She exploded upon reaching it, cracking open its armor and leaving it a smoking heap.

Then I saw the monsters arrive. A killer clown with a ridiculously exaggerated head sprayed bottles of liquid on followers of Mot that left them smoking, acid-eaten wretches. A hulked-out man with a metal skull for a head ignored gunshots and swung a hook on a chain at followers. A long-haired woman clung to the side of a building and pulled people up toward her with a tongue that wrapped around their throats. Their heads disappeared under her long hair, which hung down to hide her head. They shuddered, then fell, headless.

Spinetingler appeared, his armor black metal and bone, to wield a scythe against Mot. Meanwhile, several of Mot’s followers clutched their heads, then turned on their fellows. Spinetingler’s daughter walked among them a flowing black dress, playing with a pet white rat in her hands.

Mot and Spinetingler fought, briefly. Spinetingler tried to cut the God of Death into pieces, but Mot’s limbs regrew like liquid spurting back out. Before Spinetingler could truly comprehend what was going on, Mot spread out like a human sheet that wrapped around the horror villain. Tingler struggled. Just imagine a human hand pressing out of a big, pliable sheet of human flesh. Nice images. More things to scare my daughter to sleep.

The squirming mass pulled itself back into just Mot. Then some of his followers began to warp and shift into monstrous forms of their own. The day suddenly became night, which seemed like just Spinetingler’s powers until the view shifted to show the sky blotted out by a massive ship. It fired Mot, catching the thing in a blue beam. Mot raised a hand to stare tiny parts of him disintegrated away, slowly enough for him to watch. He started to pull himself back together in spite of it, until the beam pulsed. The view shifted to outside the city, showing the pulse work its way down the beam until a it sweeps out as a wave, fading away before it reaches whatever is recording. The entire city just… blows away. Buildings, people, streets, plants. What’s left is a smooth, circular depression, deep into the Earth.

“The People’s Republic filed only token objections about the destruction of Beijing. After Islamabad and New Delhi, humanity knew the city was already dead.” Mobian said.

Qiang clung to me, hiding her face against my chest. I rubbed her head and kissed the top of it. “There, there, I can stop it.” I looked up to Mobian and nodded toward the space ship. “And the aliens?”

Mobian pressed a button and the walls of his ship whited out again. “That is for me to know and you to find out.”

“Fine… just know that once I take out Mot, I want the title,” I pointed at him with one hand as the others began rubbing my daughter’s back.

“The title?” he asked.

“That’s right, once I find and kill that bastard, I want to be called the God of Death.”

“You see that and you want to find it?” asked Arsehole. She threw her hands up in the air. “He’s a bloody madman!”

“You saw how well waiting for it worked out for everyone,” I explained. I looked down at Qiang. “Now let’s go see your momma.” I looked up at Mobian. “The little girl you just scared would like that, I believe.”

Mobian nodded.

When we landed at that time, Qiang rushed out of the timeship first. Citra and I followed, but I bounced off the opening and she went on through. I tried again, pushing at seemingly empty air. Citra turned to look at me, then reached out for my hand. She tried pulling me through but it just didn’t work. “Go, make sure she’s safe,” I told Citra. I whirled on Mobian, but he and Arsehole ducked through the door quickly. I tried to reach through and grab them, but I was stopped again.

Mobian raised his hands. “I will not give you the opportunity to screw things up further. That is all. This isn’t a trick or trap; neither ambuscade nor set-up. I promise on my life I would never allow your child to come to harm.”

I pointed to the corpse of Future Venus. “I somehow doubt that. I told it to show you what is happening so you will not be unaware. I will release you should anything go wrong.”

And with that, he walked away. Because he could. Just left me banging on a door. Muttering angry sounds to myself, I turned and looked around at the walls, wondering when they were going to show me anything. “Well?” I asked, raising my hands up.

The walls unwhited again, changing to show me Qiang and Citra holding hands, Qiang finding her way through a small town to a house. Mobian and Arsehole ran to catch up as well, but Qiang wasn’t focused on anything but finding her mom.

Nothing seemed to be happening so, having so recently used her as an argument, I snuck on over to help myself to a teeny tiny sample of Future Venus’s future armor. A gal’s gotta stay up to date.

“Mommy!” Qiang said, launching herself at a woman who was rather plain looking, with a scar on one eyebrow that caused a slight break in the hair there. A shame, though. If only I had Qiang’s birthday, I could have gone back about nine months beforehand and made sure she was mine. There wasn’t a man around there anyway. Also, note to self: find out Qiang’s birthday and throw her a party.

Qiang’s mother humored the little girl, having a young baby of her own now, especially once Citra explained to her quietly, “She lost her mother when she was young and you look like her. Please humor her.”

The woman smiled and agreed. Mobian patted Citra’s back but she shot him a look. I’m liking Citra more and more after this trip. I just hope she’s not in love with me or thinking this is more than it is. The group had a pleasant time there, it seemed. They sat and talked. The Citra, Arsehole, and Mobian all fawned over a baby I assumed was Qiang, while my present Qiang told her mother all about me saving her and being her dad and crazy adventures we went on. Yeah, a child’s recitation of my real life doesn’t make for a believable story.

Finally, it was time to drag her away. I knew they’d have to. If that mother was saved somehow, Qiang probably wouldn’t be mine. But knowing that doesn’t count for much when you see your daughter broke out into tears and start struggling to get free of a couple adults.

I launched myself at the command console with a growl, pressing my cheek to it as if that’d make everything merge together faster. Just as the nerves reached out and began to link to what passed for circuitry on the ship, a shock threw me on my back. The walls whited up again, not that I could watch anyway. I was shocked again every time I felt ok to stand or even roll over. It hurt like a brick up the ass.

A few minutes later, Mobian’s voice rang out. “There, go to your daddy if she’s quite done touching things she shouldn’t.”

“I swear, all I did was lick absolutely every surface on that console,” I said, chuckling to myself. I felt Qiang run over and hug me where I lay and I pulled her tight with all but my lower left arm. That one rested uncomfortably under my back. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

“I hate him. I hate stupid heroes,” she said through sniffles.

“I know. I hate them too,” I said, turning to shoot a hostile smile to Mobian.

He snorted and walked up to the platform on his ship. “What I do is necessary. For that matter, my life is if you want to go anywhere. I think it’s for the best if you have a lie down while I see to our travel arrangements.”

Without my helmet, I couldn’t keep as close an eye on everything. I had Citra and Qiang though. Citra to brush my hair and Qiang for me to brush her hair. And Mobian did finally let me up to leave.

I was happy to be rid of him, though. Happy to be back in Ricca, and only an hour after my last stop. Nothing really to clean up after all this, save for the bundle I had wrapped around my lower left arm. I kept it behind me and under my cape as I left Mobian’s ship, so he didn’t really notice. It really was amazing armor, what Future Venus wore. With one of my armor’s working holodiscs attached, Mobian may not even realize she’s missing it.

So I worked on it in the Institute of Science, keeping an eye on him as he began seeking out people with doctorates and more bills than morals to fill out our science team. They certainly would have loved studying what happened with my log. Time travel did odd things to its attempts to send off. I didn’t gain many new readers in the Cretaceous, but that’s for the best. As far as time travel trips go, mine was probably more of a bogus journey than an excellent adventure.

I lost so much I had to redo, too. I rebuilt the nanite mini-foundry, and the armor maintenance tube. And, finally, I finished my new armor. Gecko’s back from her little vacation. Well-rested. Re-armed. Ready to steal some shit and kill some people.

They say that in strange aeons, even death may die.

It’s time to bring the strange.

Dammit, I just realized I got roped into saving the world again. Because now Future Venus is dead, and I’m left alive to deal with a guy who eats supers or get eaten.

Venus is so damn annoying, she makes me want to kill her twice.

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Back To The Past 6

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Whatever damage had happened to the ship, at least it let me leave. I’d made sure Citra and our hostage were alright enough, then headed out to go see what the fuck was going on. I almost tripped over what I’d thought had been part of the wall. A column had fallen down and cracked open, spreading more of those colorful alien uniforms everywhere.

In contrast to the Cretaceous and my brief stopover in the Enlightenment, this place was full of digital noise. I’d gotten used to a lower level of signal traffic, and it was something of an adjustment for me to be here again. The ship had crashed onto a hilltop across the river and outside of a city with architecture you wouldn’t see on the Earth I’d become accustomed to. I knew this city. Home.

The city where I’d been born. It was even snowy, just like my earliest memories. The ones starting just before men with guns busted in the door. I realized a building whose unbuilt top floors I’d once used as a sniper’s nest didn’t even stand out on the skyline. That’s when I checked the date.

Oooooh. Oh no. No no no. How the FUCK did they know that date? Was there time to save myself? Should I?

That explains what was going through my head and why I wasn’t paying so close attention when Venus called out from behind me. “You seem distracted!”

I turned, throwing a wild punch, only to end up with her grabbing my arm and using my own momentum to toss me onto my back. I checked her out while slowly getting to my fight. The armor plating was flush, looking like puzzle pieces, but flexible. The boots were wider and thicker, probably for the sake of leverage. Same went for the fists. Light grey, save for a little remaining pink on the chest, it had seen better days. I found those pockmarks I’d seen on it before, along with scorch marks and thin surface cuts. The armor came up and guarded her neck where it met a helmet. That greying hair was hidden behind a helmet of armored V-shaped plates that swept from the back of her neck down to cover her eyes with one-way mirrored glass. The only skin I could see on her was her mouth.

“Done looking me over?” she asked.

I brushed my thighs off, biding some time, trying to stop the loud hammering of a tell-tale heart that gave away my thoughts on being back here and now. “How’d you know to come back now, to this time?”

She smiled. “I thought you wanted to kill me?”

“Oh, I do. You fucking used me! Just throwing my life away, taking my daughter and running. And now you bring me here. What the fuck?!” Ok, so I was bit on tilt. For the folks who don’t enjoy poker, that means I wasn’t thinking all that clearly.

“What day is it?” she asked.

“You brought me back to it, how can you not know?” I looked around, then up to where Mobian’s ship floated. “How do you know, you time-traveling limey piece of shit?!”

“I cannot tell you that,” his voice sounded from the floating orb.

As pumped full of adrenaline and emotions as I’d become, I wasn’t in a mood to hear that. I looked between that ship, then back to Venus. She took a fighting stance in anticipation of my attack. As far as she knew, I took one of my own. That’s what the hologram did while I stepped to the side. I moved around to her left before trying to catch her around the neck with a grab. The plan was to grab her and squeeze that pretty throat until her head popped or he neck crunched.

She was good, though. She didn’t react to my presence at all until I’d lunged for her. She spun out of the way and hit me in the back with a kick that sent me stumbling. Only then did I let myself become visible again.

“I don’t want to fight you,” she said.

“You picked a hell of a time and place to prove it,” I said, holding my arms straight up and activating my elbow rockets to rise to my feet.

“What’s the matter, something distracted you?” she said. She took another stance in anticipation of my attack.

And I so wanted to attack, but she was right. I was distracted. I want to just jump on her and scoop her ribs out with metallic hands. I also really wanted to go and see myself. I didn’t even remember their faces. And she brought me here, knowing, somehow, when and where, knowing I’d want to go there and do something. I clenched my teeth under my helmet. “Gonna chase me if I run?”

She shook her head. “No, but I think it’s a bad idea.”

“Yeah, you would. Out there’s a little kid whose parents are about to be gunned down. He’ll be kidnapped and tossed into a secret government program that’ll abuse him almost to death because the guy in charge has a hard-on for power. What does protecting the timeline even mean? Just protecting the devil you know for no other reason than you know it?” I put my top hands on my helmet, wishing I could run them through my hair or something. I’d started pacing around in a circle, but I jumped at her, throwing my upper right fist for a punch. What she probably missed was my lower arms shooting straight forward and pulling me along with their rockets.

Venus didn’t react in time and I caught her in the head. She grabbed that wrist with one hand, then went to smack me in the helmet with the flat of her palm. I deflected it with one of my lower arms, then grabbed her wrist with my left. I held my arms out to the side, my lower arms taking it to her belly one after the other. She jumped and wrapped her legs around my lower right, trying to drag me to the ground. She let go of my upper right as well, trying to put that one arm in an armbar. I grabbed hold of it with the lower left arm and used my upper right to pull her leg free. I swung her overhead and brought her down on the grass, tearing up clumps of it as I smashed her on the ground.

I got a few good smacks in that way before she a burst of fire shot out of her back and pulled her forward. She slipped out of my grasp that way, but not before dragging me toward her into the same torn up grass. I set my upper hands into the dirt and rolled until, with my body above me, I launched myself up and onto my feet. I landed right in front of where she was hunched over in the middle of standing. She turned and that giant right shot off her fist like a pneumatic jackhammer, knocking me flat on my cape in what was starting to become more dirt than grass. I slid a little, trying to recover my breath.

Meanwhile, the fist that had come off her about another forearm’s distance slid back along a pair of rails until it locked back on where it served as a gauntlet. But before I could even begin to get up, she’d lunged and planted her knee in my throat. She stood up over me and stepped to the side, careful of my arms.

“You are both freakishly fast. I should know, I hang around enough freaks,” said Mobian’s voice from above.

Venus ignored him. “You’d be abandoning your friends and family. You go and change time, guess what happens to every one of them whose lives you saved? No more Qiang, no more Max. Instead, Spinetingler would have Empyreal City and Ricca’s plot would have gone off without a hitch, maybe. It depends how the alien invasion would go, if they didn’t kill that henchman of yours or the statue. So I care and I know you do, too. Do you want to lose your daughter forever?”

That’s just a fucking low blow. And given my crotch situation, the only one she can pull off that actually hurts.

“You done yet?” I asked, then finished with a few coughs. I sat up. “You’re the hero. You’re supposed to be the one running around saving kids.”

“Cheap shot,” she said.

I scrambled to my feet, prompting her to back off just a little. “So, you want me to condemn myself to every fucked-up thing that’s ever happened to me for the greater good of your world.”

“And your family,” she added. “You want me to save someone even though you know it will hurt your loved ones and the world.”

One good thing about a pair of extra arms? I can flip someone the bird without compromising combat readiness. “Making some things right is just more important than your consequences. Like not being complicit in the torture and abuse of all of us in the Psychopomp Program. I’m not me yet, see. I’m some kid out there, enjoying the solstice holidays with my parents. I even have a real name!”

“You have a real daughter up there,” she raised her chin to indicate Mobian’s ship floating overhead.

“What the fuck do you want from me you turgid gurgler?!” I asked, flailing for words. I was just yelling at her at that point, fighting be damned.

“I don’t want to kill you, but I think I have to,” she said.

“You’re starting to sound like me before you decided to run off with my kid,” I said.

“I was taking her to the Master Academy!” she yelled. “You never let me explain, because you wanted to assume the worst. You disappeared in 2018 and somebody dropped Qiang off at the Academy.”

I pondered. “So this entire trip is when I supposedly died…”

Her stance tightened up again as she grew expectant of an attack. “Then you survived the ambush by the aliens and actually came after us. I knew what that meant. The timeline says you don’t go back.”

“You and that gorram timeline,” I said. “Here I thought you might still want to save me. Nope. Just kill me and abduct my daughter.”

I lunged. She moved back to put some distance between us. This time, I didn’t project invisibility. I projected a whole lot of visibility. I lit up with a bright flash of light that blinded her enough for me to sidestep and punch her in the throat. She stumbled and covered up her throat, leaving her with just one arm to counter more punches. She used her legs instead. She even jumped up, hitting her little jetpack, and staggered me by kicking with both legs. It put some distance between us and she flipped around to land on her feet. Then it was her turn to come for me.

I tried to block her punches, but that piston thing was stronger than I expected. I felt something crack in my lower left forearm. She swept my legs, but I managed to jump back and avoid it. She cocked something back on her right fist, shooting a canister out of the right knuckle. I went to swat it away but it stuck and electricity began to course throughout the armor. It didn’t do much to the armor, aside from help charge it, but it got through enough to leave me grinding my teeth, my muscles involuntarily spasming.

It only lasted a second, but was long enough to leave me open to a flying spinning kick from Venus that whirled me around. I turned around quickly and punched at what I was sure would be a follow-up with my upper left. The glowing gauntlet unloaded its energy on her right gauntlet. And that’s it. They hit, her gauntlet unleashed a couple streams of steam, and neither moved. I tried with my right lower arm, but she intercepted it with her left fist, no give, just steam. Same for my right upper, but I sent the wounded lower lefty flying for her face, only to be stopped by her grabbing my arm, raising it up, squeezing it, unloading on me with a big, pistoned left to the chest.

I lost my breath again, and lower left did pretty cracking, but she didn’t let go. I tried to fly away from the hit but she yanked me back in for another hit, this time to the head. It had me seeing stars. That strong of a hit, I thought I might even see Ziggy Stardust in a minute. Then my helmet was gone. How’d that happen? Of course, that question had to wait for me to keep getting the shit pounded out of me. It’s hard to think while doing me best impersonation of an asshole on getting a train run on it.

When Venus let me go, my chestplates had been trashed. I didn’t have a helmet. My lower left arm was broken in all kinds of places and the gauntlet was missing. Oh, and I spat up a bloody mess of what used to be most of my teeth. Venus knelt over me, looking down, even as my hands twitched around, my lower right one hunting for my belt. She raised her fist, and it looked big. You don’t know how big. So big, I musta had a concussion, that’s how big.

“I don’t want to kill you. That’s the kind of hero I was taught to be. When Master Academy was founded, it wasn’t about heroes. It was Oligarch who created it. He wanted kids with powers loyal to him. He just made it seem like we were heroes. He didn’t torture us, but he wanted to make us weapons like your general out there. We were taught that we were supposed to be better than everyone else, elitist jerk. Mender found out and confronted him. That’s how he ended up crippled, but he exposed Oligarch to the rest of us and we drove him off. Since then, Master Academy is about improving ourselves. And we can be better than we were.”

Her voice had gained a backbone then. She lowered her fist, then stood up. “You can still change.”

I tried to laugh but it came out as a cough. Instead, I settled for telling her “Fuck you.”

“You can still change the future,” she continued.

“What are you doing?” asked Mobian.

“He’s right. Some things are worth changing,” she called up. Then she looked back down to me, but still spoke up loud enough for him to hear. “I don’t want to become a murderer just to protect your status quo!”

It was almost inspiring, coming from a woman who led me into an ambush, beat the shit out of me, and kidnapped my daughter. Plus, whatever this was, this whole thing where she brought me back to before I was kidnapped to get an edge on me. These were the thoughts racing through my punch-drunk skull at the time. And I remembered something else that didn’t seem right, which mildly amused me to note. It was a bit arrogant, actually.

I raised my right hand. I think it was the upper one, because things were fuzzy at that moment. “Wait, wait, wait… one sec, hold on… before you go into any more preaching… you said just I disappeared, only me…”

A spear came flying out of the night right toward the side of Venus’s head. She turned and actually caught the thing, causing even Citra’s jaw to drop from where she threw it. Venus stood up. “I didn’t know about-” then she looked down to where a headless rubber chicken squirmed against her in my grip. I amped up the power on my suit’s leg pseudomuscles and kicked Future Venus through the chicken, causing Venus to drop the spear and sending them both flying. The chicken detonated in mid air and helped Venus carve out her own divot in the grass.

I grabbed for the spear and helped myself up, then jumped high, arcing down toward her. I don’t know where Citra got that spear, what it was made of, or what Venus’s armor was made of. All I know is that I came down on top of it with all my weight right into her mouth. It didn’t penetrate the armor on the other side of her head from her mouth. Instead, it slid and dropped me while the blade sliced upward through her skull. The rest of the stumbling I did dealing trying to catch my balance wasn’t any better for her head. I could barely even stand, barely even register what was going on as her body twitched its final twitches.

Instead, I held a hand over my face while searching through my belt for anything helpful like, ooh, a syringe! I had no shortage of places I could inject it with my armor beat to crap.

Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the glowing orb above us had started to rise.

“Come back down here!” called Citra, and I saw she now had Arsehole, Mobian’s companion, by the elbow. Arsehole was still tied up, but her leg restraints had been loosened enough to let her stand and move on her own.

“Yeah, get your ass down here, Mobian. I don’t think I’ll kill you,” I slurred, then vomited up a tooth.

“Hey, don’t leave me!” called Arsehole, and that really got him in a hurry to land. The glowing orb descended and the dark outline of a doorway appeared.

The older, British-accented time traveler stepped out into the doorway. “She changed the timeline.”

“Have that sit on a big purple dragon dildo. I changed the timeline,” I said. Citra came over to help me stand even as microscopic machines coursed through my body to mend tissue and organs. “We changed the timeline,” I said in response to my wife’s aid.

Qiang pushed past Mobian and raced toward me. Citra and I both bent down to hug my beautiful baby, despite the rather poor state I was in. The doubts I had about maybe going and saving myself washed away. They didn’t leave, not completely.

Mobian gave us wide berth as he stepped around to untie Arsehole. “I could still leave you.”

“You wanna try that again, Monty Python?” I asked, raising a lower left fist that felt stronger already. “I could still screw things up for you. Save myself, maybe build more D-Bombs, come back over early. Or, and hear me out here, we all just go back to 2018.”

He locked eyes on Venus’s corpse for a long second. “Let me bring her. She deserves a proper funeral for all I’ve known her.”

I nodded, then turned my attention to kissing all over Qiang’s face. “You smell like blood!” she said, giggling. Aren’t we a pair? Or perhaps more than a pair, the way Citra clung to us both.

“Come on, let’s get inside the ship before he changes his mind,” I said, leaving Mobian and Arsehole to drag the body of Future Venus inside by themselves.

Mobian did indeed bring her in, finding us three sitting down and cuddling, me all bloody and snotty in torn-up armor. It wasn’t exactly Christmas Card material.

“Before you go back to 2018, I have something I want to show you,” Mobian said. He glared at us, which just goes to show how he took all this too seriously. Who could glare at my little Qiang? “Something to make her sacrifice worthwhile.”

In spite of her presence, I glared right back at him. “Good, because there’s someone my daughter needs to see as well.” For emphasis, I jammed a big ol’ syringe into my neck and pushed the plunger, injecting myself with more nanites. He looked away first.

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Back To The Past 5

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“Tell me, creature, what are you and why do you interfere with the glory of France?” asked a rather pudgy fellow who spoke French with a bit of a different accent than most of his buddies. He sat facing me in a fine wooden chair he imported.

I rolled my eyes under my armor. Our audience was not quite private, but at the same time, the General had been informed of the efficacy of his weapons on me. He kept a pair of guards in there in case he needed to sacrifice their lives for his. I suspect those two young men hadn’t been told how useless their muskets were against me. I wasn’t about to take my armor off and give them a chance, especially as it would immediately destroy my credibility. Women’s chief role in warfare at this time involved sex, either as a camp follower or a victim. “Monsieur Bonaparte, I know your ambitions reach further than mere glory for France. A man such as you could rise to emperor, if you weren’t loyal to the Revolution, that is.”

That was about as close as I’d hint at it here. It may be going too far to outright say around guards that he plans to take over. That would technically be the sort of thing he could be guillotined for, though they were done with most of that by this point. Napoleon’s a man seeking only to elevate himself. That’s why, in the main timeline, he tucks tail and runs back to France when things get bad. With his fleet already sunk, that means leaving almost every other man of the expedition behind. Those who don’t die of the plague. In this siege camp at Acre, I am literally surrounded by dead men, and in an audience with one of the few men who matters.

“My loyalty remains with France. Long live the Revolution!” Napoleon said. A servant brought us a glass of wine each. I couldn’t tell if it was a good year, but I knew it was an old vintage. Couldn’t have been any more recent than 1799. Just a bit of time travel humor. Not many get it. You had to be there.

“Long live the Revolution,” I said, not downing the drink myself. Once again, the helmet was an important part of my cover. I watched as he partook, and continued on once his thirst had been sated. “And sure the best way to aid the Revolution, your men, and the glory of their general, would be to wrap up this siege as quickly as possible. Congratulations on defeating that relief force, but it still leaves you without the cannon you need to break the backs of the defenders.”

“Yes. The British confound us and the walls are strong enough that even the inferior peoples of this land may hold out against the superior cause and army,” Napoleon said, at least as much for the benefit of his soldiers.

I nodded along and projected a hologram of Acre’s defenses as the ship’s scans had presented it to me, focusing on blind spots and proposed timelines for penetration at the French army’s current strength. I could be more exact if I had the relevant info memorized, but I didn’t anticipate it being so important to my schemes before going off to fight a god of death. “Acre can and will hold out for long enough unless you accept my help.”

“You believe you can defeat walls that hold back France’s greatest army?” he asked.

I nodded. “I am more than capable of breaking through, but I believe my enemies, who originate where I come from, have a trap waiting for me. If I enter alone, I may be captured or killed, and your army never takes Acre. They won’t do anything with you and your men there with me. You get Acre. I get the renegades I’m looking for.”

“These are incredible tales you ask me to believe,” Napoleon said, leaning toward me.

I stood. “The difference between a psychopomp and a god is that belief is not necessary for men to die. Let’s go see shall we?”

I led Napoleon along as I trudged closer to the range of the enemy’s guns. He stayed back, of course, and called over a servant with his horse, a brown Arabian. “You’d look better on white,” I yelled back at him, remembering a painting not yet painted.

I started charging my gauntlets, then took off running across the battlefield toward Acre. Cannons boomed and balls bounced off the sand around me. For morale’s sake, I waited until one of them was coming right at me and gave it hell with four fists, which is normally something I reserve for an orgy. One-armed, that likely would have left me three-armed. With all four, I shattered the cannonball. A cheer went up from the French line behind me. I bowed toward Acre and turned with a sweep of my cape, walking back toward the French lines. The Ottoman forces inside kept firing, and actually got a lot closer, but I sidestepped the only one that would have gotten me. Then I jumped, showing off that my mobility was far beyond that of a normal human’s. I landed right in front of the future Emperor. “So, when’s the soonest you can attack?”

The attack commenced a couple hours later, after having given everyone time to get together. I led the charge. The Ottomans had upped their game. A shot almost hit me right near the beginning of my charge. It went right through and I disappeared, only for a half dozen more of me to appear. Grapeshot peppered some of the other mes around. Ah, holograms. The Ottomans could spend all day shooting at them instead of French soldiers. Some of the officers on the walls began to realize that as well, but by then I’d gotten rather close to the part of the wall the French had weakened the most.

On top of that, the defenders of Acre got to deal with an attack from the air, something none of them were used to. Drones hovered above them, picking out targets for potshots. People without an understanding of radiation or the speed of light got skewered by lasers. Bombs destroyed artillery emplacements that might have hit me. And I set to work on the wall, invisible to everyone. The French began to move forward while I put together a lovely bouquet of beautiful bombs to blow the wall. They could have charged up behind me, but I warned them they didn’t want to be too close when things went off. That’s why, once I was done, I jumped onto the wall and got hoppin’ to avoid being there when my work went kablooey.

It was more of a “Wawoom!” sound, truth be told. Rock rained down, the wall split open. Bodies fell and men screamed in pain while soldiers charged and cannons thundered.

“Now this is an occasion that requires some music,” I said to myself. The men around me, Ottomans with a few limey supporters, looked shocked as I became visible again. “Music, random,” I said as men pulled pistols and swords.

“Now Playing: Wow Wow,” my HUD read as I grabbed the arm of a British officer trying to tug his sword loose. Someone fired impotently at my back. I tugged on the officer’s arm, pulling his sword loose and into the belly of the man behind me. I broke it and tossed the sword’s wielder off outside the city.

A musket ball bounced off my helmet from the side. I grabbed the rifle from the man, broke it over my knee, and stabbed the jagged part of the front half through the unlucky shooter’s throat. One fellow who was just tugging a pistol free of his belt, got the stock of it in his nuts. He dropped the pistol and screamed. I shoved the stock into his mouth. “Bite down,” I said, then did a split and punched him in the nuts so hard he fell backwards from the fortifications into the city.

I was whirling, nut-crushing death incarnate, but that wasn’t my only goal here. After clearing myself some breathing space, I turned to look over the city and an entire secondary wall built further in. The French couldn’t take the city so long as it still stood. More important to that was a scene atop that wall. I saw Mobian’s timeship perched there, with Mobian and Future Venus standing there. Venus looked ready to beat some ass, but she wasn’t looking at me or the horde of rampaging Frenchmen. She was looking at man in a turban with much of his body covered, save for a hand gripping-

I jumped, having put too much power into the jump because I’d operated on instinct. I landed hard further down the wall past the man who held my daughter. She turned and yelled, “Baba!” as she stabbed at the man, but he didn’t seem to react. Problem was, it’s hard to stand on broken legs. I knelt there and tugged out a couple syringes of nanites. Then it was time to crawl.

Venus moved like a flash, a large metal fist encasing her hand just before she punched the living daylights out of the guy who had my daughter. He went stumbling back, falling over Qiang, who was then picked up by a Venus ensconced in dirty, pockmarked power armor of her own. Qiang’s knife bounced off Venus’s throat armor and fell off the secondary wall. I didn’t have as good of a few after that because turban guy’s turban fell off as his head grew into a flesh-colored spike. In fact, his whole body grew until it broke free, looking like a fleshy starfish.

Mobian yelled something at Venus, who grabbed the starfish thing and tossed it at me just as I was standing up. I threw it off to the side, getting amazing distance on it with some sort of Frisbee effect. Unfortunately, I saw it gliding toward the breach where the French were fighting their way into the city. Even more unfortunate, when I turned my attention back to Mobian’s glowing orb ship, I saw the outline of a door had closed. The ship itself began to rise.

“No, you fucking don’t,” I said. I pulled the drones away from the main battle to fire on Mobian’s ship. A light shot out, like lightning, and I lost connection with the drones. They froze in midair, then crumbled away into red dust.

“Get back here and die like a man!” I yelled and launched myself into the air. I grabbed more syringes in midair, making sure to keep myself full of healing nanites. My legs snapped with every landing, even in the sand outside the city. I reached out and let myself be shrunk and pulled into my timeship after an agonizingly long time, though hopefully not too late. Mobian’s ship never moved from its perch over the city.

I found him hailing me again as I reached the command center. “Gecko, whatever our conflict, we mustn’t disturb history. I believe it will go more or less as planned now, but we cannot continue this fight here.”

“I’ll do whatever I have to. You didn’t have to take her!” I yelled at him.

“Give us back our daughter!” yelled Citra over my shoulder.

“I understand you are perturbed at the moment, but you have a nasty habit of, er, murdering people. I want this resolved with as little loss of life as possible.”

“Yeah,” said Arsehole from where she sat on a little stool in the corner. “I’d like very much not to die, if you please.”

“So just land and hand her over now. Or you could have just left her for me, dammit,” I said. “You keep jerking my chain and someone’s gonna die!”

Future Venus spoke up on the line, “We’re afraid you’re already about to kill someone.”

And that’s when I gave up my fucks. Just whoosh, there goes the last one. I had the timeship rise and had it move to intercept his.

“We’ll all die, you can’t-” Mobian started, then my ship detected his exit from this point in time. The ship, acting according to its orders, jumped as well. The ship shuddered, sensors suddenly showing us having collided with Mobian’s ship. The top point penetrated into the side of Mobian’s orb. We appeared in space, briefly, the ship’s unusual way of telling time informing me we were in 2016. The year of the alien invasion, where I defeated the ship with a Dimension Bomb.

“I didn’t expect him to follow so closely,” said Mobian.

“It’s fine. Let’s end this,” I heard Venus say.

Over that, I heard my daughter’s voice cry out. “Baba!”

All around us, a fleet of alien vessels. “Now!” said Mobian. He tried to time jump, but my ship went with it, either due to physical attachment or the last orders given to it. At the same time, I felt the familiar pull as the Dimension Bomb blew a hole in spacetime and everything in the radius of the detonation went through.

It got really confusing then, as even the view of floating above many spreading Earths changed, the planets pulling back into one another until there were fewer.

When we came out, my ship wasn’t handling the stress that well. It fell to the ground and thumped end over end. The interior was protected, amazingly, but it didn’t look good for the timeship. And Mobian’s was still there, in the air, the side closing in where it had been damaged.

In the midst of diagnosing the damage to the ship, I discovered we’d headed back in time another couple of decades. Despite that, the signals and development of Earth definitely didn’t match up with the Nineties. Or at least, as I soon realized, not that Nineties.

“That did not exactly go as planned. Is everyone alright down there?” asked Mobian. Sparks shot out of the console for some damn reason as he began speaking and his voice sounded further away than normal.

“Yeah,” I said, before looking around. Citra was on hands and knees, throwing up. Arsehole had bumped her head against the wall, but seemed fine otherwise.

“Good here for now,” Arsehole said.

Venus almost sounded said when she spoke. “Good. I think it’s time we finally settle up.”

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Back To The Past 4

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“What would anyone want in 1799?” asked Citra.

I looked over the place, wishing I had my internet connection. “Well it’s the Middle East, 1799, blue uniforms… Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign. This alien map thing is telling me nothing, but at least I’ve got my own map in my head. We’re a little ways from Egypt, but Napoleon was all over this area. He just beat the pants off those Turks. Though…” I shook my head, getting my facts straight. “Yeah, they had pants by now. Hard to have fought in the Alps without them.”

“Where is our daughter?” asked Citra, shaking the spear she’d brought along at me.

I grabbed it and eased it away from me. “Easy there, Bard. That’s what I have to figure out. This thing’s pretty handy at following a trail it leaves behind. Particles or an energy signature or something. All I know is, it led us here, so now let’s follow it further. And, maybe if this is over quick, we can get in a little tomb raiding. This is when the French started nabbing all the good stuff, like the Rosetta Stone.”

“You know that but now why this time is important.”

“From a criminal standpoint, stealing gold and other valuables is the more important thing about this time and place.” Still, they weren’t important now. That’s why I really didn’t pay Napoleon’s army of 4,000 routing a force of 35k much mind. Killing ranked more highly for me than theft.

The computer came up with two different trails. They started as one near where we showed up before breaking off. It dipped low near the French soldiers below, where part of it broke off. The rest continued onward to the northwest, toward the water. I considered just taking us down into the soldiers and seeing how things shake out. I’m supposed to be concerned with timelines, right? Except I’m trying to think about how this goes and how killing a few people would change anything. That bunch of infantry down there don’t even have any cannons with them.

So after pondering it for a few seconds, I sent the pyramid ship into a dive toward the sands below. The French forces scattered. “Ok, I’m going to go out and negotiate for the transfer of whatever dropped off Mobian’s ship.”

“Would Qiang have survived that fall?” Citra asked.

“Not the question you should be asking,” I said, mainly because I wasn’t thinking about it. “We can’t do anything about it yet. Now, let’s go have a chat. And be us, I mean me.”

Citra looked at the viewscreen and saw all the French soldier surrounding us, readying rifles, bayonets, and swords for those lucky enough to have them. “Have fun, dear husband wife.”

I popped off my helmet and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for not insisting on coming out there.”

She grabbed my cheeks and held me. “Don’t misunderstand me. She is my daughter and I want to be your partner, but I am not stupid.”

I nodded and locked my helmet into place. Just in case, I also locked entrance and exit authorization to just myself. Then I went out, the deminiaturization process spitting me out into a crowd of Frenchmen. Fully aware of being a metal being in a flying ship with four arms, I raised a hand and gave them the Vulcan salute. “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”

A man rode up on a horse with a significantly fancier uniform. He took one look at me and the ship, then raised his sword. “Fire!” Things got really loud then as every damn soldier’s rifle balls bounced off my armor with a lot of clanging. Balls. Balls everywhere. The fire stopped suddenly because these are the sorts of guns that take a minute to reload after every shot.

I waved with all four arms and stepped closer to see the man on the horse. “Am I to understand you’d like me to for war instead?”

“What manner of creature is this?” asked the mounted officer, mouth agape.

I posed, crossing my top pair of hands over my chest while the bottom arms rested on my hips. I took a few deep breaths. “I am Darth Theodore Logan Vader, Dark Lord of Eternia, from the planet Minbar. I have come here to take back those who have wronged me. My vessel, the Enterprise, is a Firefly-class vessel with the power to destroy an entire planet using the awesome power of the Force.” Here I raised a clenched fist. “Have you had any strange visitors drop from the sky recently, aside from myself?”

“Bring forth the prisoner!” he ordered, raising a sword.

“Bring forth the prisoner!” the order echoed throughout the army until a new line came back like a receding wave. “Bringing forth the prisoner!” Along with it came a soldier with crappy boots leading the same blonde, middle-aged woman I’d seen on Mobian’s ship, her hands tied together. “The prisoner is brought forth,” said the soldier.

“Thanks, dude,” I told him. I stepped over and grabbed the rope leading to the wrists of Mobian’s companion. “For your efforts, know that I shall bless your leader Napoleon. Truly, his expedition here to Egypt will be remembered for generations, and not just for the Rosetta Stone.”

“What is this Rosetta Stone?” asked the officer on horseback.

I shook my head. “I can say no more, but know that you men will be a shining example of the sort of leader he is. Huzzah!”

That started a cheer I used to end this little chit-chat. I grabbed the blonde woman and pulled her close. We stepped over dented musket balls until I got within range of the boarding device. It detected me and sucked us both in thanks to her proximity to me. As soon as we were miniaturized and safely inside the entry area, Citra started whacking the companion over the head. “Child kidnapping son of a toad!”

I let her get a few good whacks in before grabbing the spear. Citra stopped easily enough and tossed the spear aside, over by a pile of ammo bandoliers. The companion didn’t seem all that hurt. “Are you bloody well done?!” she yelled. “I’m sorry, fine, no need to beat me.”

“Tsk, tsk. Look at you. Such a soft life if you think that was a beating. Citra was being nice, since we need to have a talk to you,” I said. Citra nodded along. “But first, I need a name.”

“How about arsehole?” she suggested.

“If that’s really what you want us to call you, Arsehole, we’ll be more than happy. Citra, let’s find this Arsehole a chair.” I pointed back behind us, to the wall that closed up behind us after entering the ship. “Or I suppose you could make a run for the safety of the French.”

She looked at me a second, then turned and ran, not stopping until she bounced off the wall and fell onto her back. I stepped over to check on her. “Aaaand she’s out.” Citra appeared at my side, a bundle of rope in hand. “Ah, perfect timing. Thank you, dear.” She smiled as she handed it over and I began to tie up our new guest. “Ship,” I called out as I tightened things. A tone and momentary shift in lighting indicated an answer from the alien vessel. “Take us up a mile and begin to follow the other trail we spotted.” The ship indicated a positive response and began carrying out my will.

It having only been about a minute, it was nice to see Arsehole wake up. It meant brain damage was unlikely. “Hey there sunshine,” I said as she groaned and tried to sit up. “Wakey wakey. You’re gonna be late for school.”

Citra brought over a stool someone had left. She hefted Arsehole up onto it, who then had to swing her body around to keep from falling off. “Ow. Thanks for tellin’ me to stop before I hit that wall.”

I shrugged. “You’re a grown adult. I expect you to know not to run headfirst into a wall. Once again, my confidence in humanity doesn’t pay off. Seeing as I’d rather have a daughter than you, we’re going to go find Mobian and trade you back. But what I’d really like to know first is why y’all kept her in the first place. Come on, kidnapping?”

“They didn’t want to bring her along,” Arsehole said. “Venus and Mobian needed you. They didn’t want the girl to come with you, but you weren’t coming and we needed you.”

“You needed to hand me over to aliens to be imprisoned or, more likely, killed.” I knelt there, looking her in her eyes. It was a more difficult discussion the other way, with her tied up and unable to pierce my fanged helmet with her gaze.

“That Mot, it almost destroyed the world until the aliens showed up. They saved us, then they found out about you. You committed some crime against them years back, they remembered, so they wanted you or they wouldn’t help save the world. Earth was dying. They knew Mobian could get you, and he knew Venus had to do it. It’s just, your daughter threw a fit when Venus came back without you. She stabbed Mobian while he flew the ship. We come out here, spinnin’ like a top, and I get thrown out the ship. We didn’t mean to take her.”

I shook my head. “I stopped back in 2018. You didn’t return her.”

“Maybe she was gonna-” Arsehole started, until I slapped her across the face. She tumbled over the back of her little stool.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” I said, standing. Actions and intention. Good acts without good intention aren’t so bad, but good intentions without good actions are just so many worthless thoughts and prayers. I mean, this is all time travel stuff here. Mobian and Venus could have lost Qiang, looked for years, and returned her to me at that point in time. No need to wait. Whatever’s going on, Qiang wasn’t being dropped off at Ricca.

“Don’t come any closer!” came Mobian’s voice over the ship’s internal sound system.

I ran for the command center to find we’d been hailed. Mobian continued. “There is a bomb here set to detonate in your vicinity. Stay away!” I stopped us. It may be a bluff, but I’d have time enough to figure that out stopping. I still set the ship to scan for any projectiles or other sorts of attack.

“I thought you didn’t like bombs, Mobian,” I responded to the hail we’d gotten.

“It’s not mine. There are… creatures here. They have a device that does not belong in this time,” he answered. “I’m sorry, but when I examined it, it started tracking your vessel. I see you survived the ambush, Gecko.”

“No thanks to you.”

“I’m sorry, as I said, but they are trying again. This bomb will blow us all up and irrevocable change history if your ship approaches too close to the city.”

I checked our location. We were still about a mile southeast of a city, near a camp of more French soldiers. Checking on the map I brought to the future, I saw we were technically within Acre as of 2018. At this point in time, the city hadn’t grown out enough to encompass the area.

“Fine. Send Qiang out with Venus, I’ll hand over Arsehole, and we’ll settle this.”

“Arsehole?” he asked.

“I asked your lady friend for a name. That was the only response I got, so that’s what I called her. You’ve been a naughty boy, not returning my daughter.”

“I’d like to, but something came up. We cannot open these gates to return your daughter to you. Napoleon has besieged the city.”

“I see that. Open the gates, let the blue bastard in, and we’ll be on our way.” I checked over the siege. The camp didn’t look too good. Napoleon didn’t have a lot of manpower. Given what he’d just done at Mt. Tabor, that’s not too big a deal. The problem was the lack of cannon. The French didn’t have enough artillery to break in that quickly. That meant this was probably after the English destroyed the fleet the French sent along.

“The French lose this one. This is the turning point of the campaign. We must not interfere. You don’t know what changes it will make to the timeline!”

“There is always a way to sneak people out. You’re on the water,” I responded.

“Er, well, about that… Qiang ran away into the city and Venus is still searching for her, but the monsters around here are making it harder on all of us. Let me disable the bomb so you can fly in and settle this without any more bloodshed.”

“Oh dear, that means I’d have to head in there by myself, where all sorts of traps could be laid,” I played up sounding concerned. I’d walked into one ambush already. I had another idea how to handle what appeared to be another one. I thought it over, once again considering Mobian’s concerns about the timeline. “I wasn’t born on this Earth. Not a damn thing that happens here is going to prevent my birth. My daughter isn’t from around here, either. It seems like I could interfere quite a bit and not drastically alter much that would threaten the lives of anyone I find important. So I think what I’m going to do, is I’m going to get the future Emperor of France and head in there myself. All of us. Just the whole French army, unless you get me my daughter. Otherwise, I’m telling the timeline to go fuck itself.”

“You can’t do that!” he protested.

I took the ship down toward French lines, wary of getting much closer to the city. “I’m doing it. You know what is required to stop it.” I grinned as I noticed a big tent in particular.

I crashed my ship right through a part of it to reveal a command meeting. The men inside did not cower, though some might say they ran to get reinforcements. Others had pistols and swords at the ready to intercept me as I appeared suddenly. “Greetings,” I announced. “I have come to aid General Napoleon’s entrance to Acre. Where is he?”

The men looked to each other, confused by so much of this incredible sight, until one spoke up. “He has gone to aid General Kléber.” One of them pointed off in the direction… that I’d just come from. I miss the internet.

“Ah, yes, he’s succeeded at that,” I said, considering ordering someone to paint me a picture of a naked woman. Like I said, I missed the internet. “I shall await his return to camp. Please inform him I am waiting. Together, he and I are going to make history.”

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I barely slept as I tried to figure out the alien languages I’d surrounded myself with. It wasn’t just the programming language and operating system; I had to figure out the alien language itself well enough to fit into my translation program. I actually passed out at the console exhausting myself. Luckily, the dreams were more of those flashbacks to memories of bad times, which me up again before I could waste a whole night getting nothing done.

I had to find her, though the her vacillated between saving Qiang from Future Venus, and finding Future Venus to murder her. Pretty sure it’d work within those rules of the Parliament of Rogues if anyone wants to make a big deal about it. And if anyone wants to give me shit about aliens in costumes, I’ll remind them this happened in the Cretaceous, like 65 million years before any such agreement existed. I still dumped the body of the alien off the ship with the others in a big cloud of bugs.

Big referred to both the size of the cloud and the size of the bugs. They were tall enough to ride the roller coaster.

Between desperation and anger, I had all the motivation I needed to shove a shitload of information into my brain. I learned to read this weird language as best as possible, which involved touch sensitivity on the buttons as well. I probably don’t even have a mouth capable of making the noises necessary to pronounce the spoken version. And while I didn’t figure out absolutely all the ins and outs of this ship, I learned enough to get it going. That part was kinda important to me. I wanted well away from the ground so as to avoid any more giant gators or giant bugs. Everything’s giant back in the Cretaceous, and here I am without a penis.

I’d lament my timing, but I have at time machine! And with it, I shall find that future copy of my nemesis and tear her apart, molecule by molecule if need be. The only shot she’s got is- no. No shot. No more. Not for this one. Having figured out how to work this thing, I’m going to head back to the time I left and I will see if they returned Qiang. If she’s back unharmed, Future Venus dies quickly and painlessly. Relatively. There actually is a more painful way to tear a person’s heart out through their ass. My favorite version involves music, interpretive dance, and a fistful of rusty, glowing hot nails. The rust doesn’t even do anything at that temperature, but a lot of pain is psychosomatic. So the nails are to mess with her mind. The Thai dragon peppers impaled on the nails, those are for the body.

But like I said, if Qiang is returned to me, I make it easier on Future Venus. I’m undecided on Mobian, mainly because I put all the blame on Venus. But figuring out all that blame won’t exactly work if I’m wrong on time travel. So, once I figured I had the systems under control, I activated Time Navigation Mode. The ship’s viewscreen of the surrounding area shifted from its strange, blue-heavy that analyzed the threat posed by whatever birds, giant bugs, and pterasaurs were flying around. Instead, it sorta whited out, like looking at a wireframe mode. I noticed something off there, though. It showed me some sort of path. When I told the computer to clarify what I was looking at, it came back with the alien equivalent of “Temporal Slipstream”. Flying closer and swapping views, it appeared to be coming from where Mobian was parked.

“Cool,” I said to no one in particular. “Let’s get this bad boy up to 88.8 miles per hour and give it some jigawatts!” I switched back to Temporal Navigation and started charging it up, setting in a course to follow this slipstream. The viewscreen showed it as if I would follow the thing, but instead it created a field around the exterior of this weird little ship to match something it detected in the slipstream. The ship then rose along the same course and existence blinked.

When it came to, the ship had moved quite a bit in various ways. Gone was the marsh, instead replaced by barren plains that grew only scorched grass. And because this is alien, it didn’t use a time system or coordinates in the same way I knew them. I tried reaching out to satellites and the internet, but the ship blocked that. So I figured I’d stop by Empyreal City. At least the ship could give me enough of a view of the planet to navigate manually.

Even from a continental level, things had changed. Where California had been was now an archipelago. Florida hung out from the southeast side of North America, but an awful lot of the east coast north of it had become a bay. China was entirely desert, the middle east was setting off radiation alerts from the other side of the world, and my country was just gone. Ricca and Mu were so thoroughly disappeared, you’d think the Argentinean military snatched them up. I’m just kidding. The Falklands know just how bad Argentina is at stealing land.

And I know just the place to stay up to date on the news. This thing could fly, too. Nice to know in case Maverick and Ice Man were wingmen any time. But I didn’t get any response at all, despite this thing likely being detectable. It became more apparent why when I came into visual range of Empyreal City. The place looked like it’d been home to a kaiju gang bang. Buildings were toppled or half-missing. There were scorch marks everywhere. Then I spot a chitinous leg sticking out of a building, its torn off portion exposed to the sky like it had held up something even bigger. I immediately checked myself for any more of the prehistoric bugs hitching a ride. Satisfied that I hadn’t somehow caused this by exposing the world’s biggest cockroach to time travel, I decided to land.

The streets turned out to be abandoned by people. Not so much cars, but there weren’t many people around. Most hid upon seeing the ship lower. Some of them outright ran when I popped out, but then that’s a normal enough reaction to me. “Hello!” I said, waving at everyone. The dirty, scared people looking back said nothing. The silence deafened, which is when I realized the amazing lack of cars and internet. The phones were almost entirely silent. Satellites? Only a few left. Shit had gone down. Empyreal City’s had its fair share of problems before, but this was a big deal.

“Hey!” I called out to somebody wrapped in an oily blanket. “What year is it?”

“You a time traveler or somethin’?” the boy called back. “It’s 33.”

I looked around. “2033?”

“No, 1933, ya dumbass,” the kid responded. Nothing in those rules I agreed to about not killing civilians.

“Y’all stopped that Mot thing, right?” I asked.

“Shit, no thanks to you, time guy.” He jerked around as a wail started in the distance, then began running for it. “Shit, they doin’ curfew early! Better fly, time guy,” he said as he ran off. Everyone did.

Well, I didn’t know the big deal with curfew, but I knew I was here looking for somebody. And there was one place to find Venus when everywhere else failed. I zapped myself back into the time ship and took off for the East Coast campus of the Master Academy.

It turned out to be nothing left but a pile of cinders and some shiny land that looked like it’d been glassed. So… yeah. Over on the west coast, I found the the original campus of the Master Academy torn to shreds. Not a single whole building stood amongst a campus dotted with crescent moon divots the length of a car. This future version of Earth had been fucked up its earhole.

That didn’t matter. Knowing the year, I was able to make a few conversions and put in a course for home. One second I hovered way overhead a reef in the Pacific, the next I was looking down on Ricca in the year 2018. A little adjusting put me back there right after the disappearance of Mobian’s time ship. I actually wondered what would happen if I tried to stop it from leaving. I’ve seen the future. Fucking up the timeline could only help these people.

Instead, I waited. And waited. And when they didn’t fucking show back up off Qiang, I set it down in front of the residential palace.

“What’s going on?” Silver Shark asked, her large, cyborg body gleaming in the sunlight as she stepped out to greet me. “Where’d you get this thing?”

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I shrugged. “Carjacked some aliens. Time traveling super bitch stole my daughter and is probably trying to raise her to hate me. I need explosives.”

She set her jaw. “How much?”

“All the explosives,” I said. “And a shitload of rusty nails.”

I loaded up my armor stand for repair and maintenance, nanites for my health, knives for Venus’s health. I didn’t know how long this bogus journey would last, but even a most excellent adventure would still end with me making damn sure that someone was going in a grave. Oh, and I brought rusty nails.

Silver Shark tried to come with me. So did Max, but I held up my hands. “Uh uh. No. This is something I have to do myself.”

“But Gecko, why?” asked Silver.

“Because technically I’m not supposed to be murdering superheroes for no reason nowadays. So I’m going to go have a very intense… discussion… with this Future Venus. A real tongue lashing. Going to chew her out.”

“So this is sexual?” asked Sam, Mix N’Max’s assistant.

“Oh, she’s already fucked,” I said. “I’m just gonna widen the hole.”

Max offered a hand. “If you ever need us, just say the word.”

I shook it with three of my four hands. “If anyone asks, I’m not murdering a super.” He nodded. I walked over to my ship and it seemed almost like a dramatic moment, but then I was like, “By the way, as long as I succeed, I’ll be right back. Like, I’ll be gone, then I’ll be here again, and you’ll all be disappointed you felt like this was a big deal.”

“Boo!” called Max’s other assistant, Holly, causing me to smile under my helmet.

So I took to the ship, got myself settled into the command center, and flew the ship up, navigating conventionally and temporally. When we blinked through time again, we were back where I’d first come into 2033. I set the ship to scanning for any more temporal slipstreams. I whirled as someone stepped into the command room. It was Citra, my wife, carrying a spear in one hand with a bandolier of bullets over the outside of her dress and handgun sticking out of a sash on her waste. “The hell are you doing here?” I asked.

She set her jaw, which made her look more pouty than anything. “She is my daughter too. I am going to kill the bitch who stole her and left you to die.”

“No, you’re not,” I said, turning around as we got a hit on the trail left by Mobian’s timeship. Citra versus Venus? Not so much a curbstomp as a footnote.

Citra walked over and held the spear out to block my access to the console. “You are my husband. Qiang is our daughter. I want to do something.”

I shrug and gesture behind me. “Whatever you do, don’t get in my way. That’s kinda important since I don’t know where we’re going. Now let’s see what time it is these Mobian folks went to…” I hit the button.

When we came out, it was over Palestine. Zooming in to see what might be significant, I found a large force of cavalry getting their asses handed to them by about 2,000 soldiers in blue coats. “Ok, Citra, you thought this would be nice and easy. Now let’s figure out what they’re doing in 1799.”

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