“The ayes have it. We’ll keep on developing our own social website instead of turning over development to Zuckerberg,” Ouroboros said from the middle of the tent.
A man in a white and light blue costume with a giant lower-case f on the chest stood up and pointed to another villain. “Not fair, Beholder was counted more than once!” A glance at the man in question, who had multiple arms with eyes on their palms lowered them sheepishly.
“That’s enough, Facebook the Villain, TM,” Ouroboros said, pronouncing the trademark symbol of that bozo’s name. Facebook the Villain is actually sponsored as a supervillain. That’s technically illegal, just like Facebook technically claims the villain was meant to be a superhero who went rogue instead. Nobody’s buying it, but Facebook is buying enough Senators to keep the heat off. I’m still leery of the guy. He keeps trying to take selfies with everyone and post them online. He didn’t do himself any favors trying to give his boss control over this thing we were building for ourselves.
“Besides, the vote was almost unanimous in opposition to your proposal,” Ouroboros added. “There are no more proposals in need of discussing or voting on today. Per the last vote yesterday, we are taking proposals for the device you decided on. Our host is willing to donate time at his manufactory’s for the fabrication of prototypes if we need it. Let’s dismiss until tomorrow.”
Facebook the Villain walked to the center of the tent where Ouroboros was to object, but Ouroboros rapped him on the head with the flat of one of his curved claw daggers and declared, “Dismissed!”
Facebook turned to me, “You’re going to let him do that?”
I shrugged. “I’m only making assumptions about extreme offenses until you vote a tap on the head into a capital offense. Come back once the rules people make that happen.”
Facebook the Villain stormed off in a huff. He’ll probably get over it once he understands why it’s probably a good thing I’m not killing everybody who hits another person on an island full of supervillains with access to drugs and liquor. Just the other day, Captain Zombie got high on Bath Salts and tried to force someone to eat a bunch of vegetarian tacos with him. With vegetables in them, not vegetarians. He was aghast at what he did when he snapped out of it.
Luckily, Ricca is on the forefront of brain cloning technology to help handle his appetite. They’re just empty, data-less brains, though, so the only people lining up for transplants are from a website that believes pizza places are secret child sex dungeons. I went through all the trouble of making my own actual conspiracy and they pull shit like this. Anybody who’s anybody knows pizza places are the secret cremation sites,. The gossip spreads like wildfire, with all sorts knowing that deep dish. Damn conspiracy theorists are too thin-crusted to admit they’re wrong though.
Back to the matter at hand, my refusal to do anything about Ouroboro’s assault is not my usual hypocrisy. I said I’d be the executioner who handles the very worst punishments. I’m not going to be the hall monitor who tells a bunch of other villains to stop making out in the hallways. I enjoy watching too much, and that’s way too stupid a thing for me to do. Let them do councils or juries or whatever to figure that shit out. I have to go see a man about a Nazi.
Ok, ok, so I was just meeting Dr. Creeper instead. He’s related to a Nazi. One of his mothers was the Baroness von Kampf, a German noble who took up their cause and traveled the United States as a saboteur. For her trouble, somebody branded a swastika on her forehead and her son was taken to be adopted by a heroine who fought her. Dr. Creeper’s lived a fairly quiet life, but he’s finally getting a chance to live his long-time dream of being a supervillain. Except just as soon as he starts building old-fashioned giant Nazi robots, the United States decided to have itself a little civil war with American Nazis killing people.
I put on my armor to meet him formally at the airport. I had wanted to bring him over by submarine for added flavor, but I don’t have those anymore. Kinda wish I knew where those nuclear submarines with missiles got to. They’re probably sold off to some other dictator by now, or sitting in the hidden subpen of one of the masterminds out there that I didn’t bother to invite. It’s like Al Capone said, “You can get more with a kind word and a nuclear submarine than you can with just a kind word.” Classy guy, that Al.
I met him myself, but just myself. He stepped out, loaded down with all sorts of luggage and dressed in labcoat and goggles. “Psychopomp Gecko!” he called. I waved. He dropped a suitcase as he waved back. It was caught by a woman in a dark green dress and white hair. Despite the color of her locks, she was no old lady. She’d be his daughter, the second Baroness von Kampf. She smiled as she looked around behind mirrored sunglasses.
“Hell again, Creeper. And you must be the new Baroness von Kampf.”
“Kampf,” she said, trying to correct my pronunciation despite me totally getting it right. Like I’d mispronounce a word in a language I don’t naturally speak.
“Gesundheit,” I responded. Ok, so maybe I did purely for the sake of a joke. Creeper laughed, though it only got a polite smile from the Baroness herself. “Welcome to Ricca, Creeper and Baroness. I’m glad I remembered y’all, actually. I’ve been holding something of a convention here to determine important social matters for villains going forward. Something to help us organize. It was just an oversight that led to me not contacting y’all.”
The Baroness gave a playful, smiling wince. “No, it wasn’t. The message you left my father was garbled and slurred. The only thing he got from it was you asking for my number. The message you left me wasn’t much better.”
I shrugged. “I was degreasing a Soviet tank and ended up drunk as a result. A couple years later, the tank tracked me down with a little technical alongside it and insisted I take responsibility.”
They didn’t burst out laughing. No, that would be too much to ask. But at least they smiled. Their expressions weren’t quite so joyful upon seeing where Creeper was to work.
“It has a nice… personality,” the Baroness said, trying to maintain her smile.
“Does anyone else smell bacon?” asked Dr. Creeper.
My armor remained sealed, so I didn’t, but I realized what he was referring to. “Oh, that’d be from the corpse disposal.” When they started to blanch, I added, “Don’t worry, they weren’t human.”
“Oh. I will try not to let it dampen my appetite for this meal you have left us,” Creeper said, walking over to a table with slabs of pork chops covered with a mushroom sauce.
I stepped over and guided him away. “Those are some of the remains from the fungal men and mutant pigs.”
“Even the buffalo wings?” he asked, glancing at them.
“Pig wings,” I corrected.
I left Creeper to his new duties overseeing the place while I went about grabbing a pair of the Alternate Reality glasses to alter with a translation program similar to mine. I’m fairly certain the Riccans know enough English to get by in their interactions with most people, but I expect him to work more closely with them. They had plenty of home-grown scientists, unless those got snatched up by other countries in all the chaos. I got my eyes on you, Peru and Argentina.
I was still working over the issue when Ouroboros visited my box in the next session of our little parliament of rogues. Hey, that’s catchy. Ouroboros got right up in front of me and began snapping his fingers to get my attention. “Ahem.”
I turned my helmet away from where I’d just happened to have been looking while I did other things in my head. “What’s up?”
Ouroboros glanced back at where I happened to have been looking, which turned out to be at the dark-haired woman in the harlequin outfit sitting in an area designated for Spinetingler. “Never mind. That’s not my business.”
“What isn’t?” I asked.
“Whatever is going on there,” he said, looking at me but nodding at her. “Every time I look up, you’re looking at her.”
I pointed at my helmet. “Just so happens to be where my head’s pointed. I can see a lot of different things in here.”
“Like I said, this is none of my business. I thought we should talk about something I’ve heard through the grapevine,” he said. He pulled his own chair over to sit down at my table. “I’ve heard a rumor going around that people I trust confirm, and we need to get ahead of it before it gets out of control. They haven’t brought it up here, but a sizable proportion of the people here are expecting us to inaugurate this entire thing, this legion of doom, with some score we can only accomplish together.”
I leaned forward. “You think this is an issue?”
He nodded once. “They have their hopes up. They expect this. Some of them think we’re hitting Fort Knox.”
I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “That’s ridiculous. So many people have robbed it by now, there might only be a single real gold bar left in the place. But yeah, I can see how this could bite us in the ass. If they think something awesome might happen where they get to do cool shit and make a lot of money, and nothing does, we could see rioting.”
“So you see the problem. Good. I hope you have ideas, because I doubt there is anything on this planet big and important enough for us to steal to live up to the hype.”
I steepled my hands in the traditional evil mastermind thinking gesture. “Yeah… especially after I got rid of the Kremlin and the White House, and that time with the Eiffel Tower, and Big Ben… Any money we stole would have to be enough to fuck up the world economy. We could hold another country hostage, maybe?”
Ouroboros shook his head, also just the once. “We’re stuck with a country if no one pays, and then it looks like you’re doing what Claw tried.”
“Yeah, you’re right, that’s so been done. Guess that’s something for us to work on here. Let’s keep this in the back of our minds, work on this, see if we know anyone else who has a good idea on the down-low. I’ve got a couple thoughts, but I need to do some calculations to see if they’ll work.”
“These sorts of team-ups are much more difficult with villains who don’t want to destroy the world,” Ouroboros said with a chuckle, casually standing up.
I nodded and stood as well. “Yeah, and that’s not what any of us want nowadays.” I didn’t point out we now had access to other worlds via the portal in Canada and my dimensional breach technology. “Just like we’d all tear each other apart if we tried to take over and be a ruling body. Doom isn’t our business. We, sir, are the Parliament of Rogues. Hang together or hang separately.”
“Uh huh. Yeah, I got you,” I said to an idiot I never intended to talk to in the first place. “So, is Dr. Schwartz still with you over there, or did he already leave the room? Uh huh.” I’d tried to get in contact with a research scientist. He rejected my offer, or that’s how I’ve chosen to take his decision to pawn me off on this other guy. This doctor I’m on the phone with is a psychologist. While psychology could still be handy for other areas of my empire, this guy’s most noteworthy feature is this cult he runs on the side. I’m all for religious tolerance in Ricca, but I’m more than happy with the cult I’ve already got over here. They believe in makin the Earth a utopia for their followers by developing it and growing an abundance of food.
It’d be a step up if this guy’s cultists wove rugs or baskets. All they do instead is harass people online and complain about Disney movies. Real bottom of the barrel stuff, but those are the kinds of idiots you pick up when your profound message is “Clean your rooms.”
“Anyway, I’d love to hire you,” I said, figuring I could at least make some use of this guy. “I really would, but there’s a black mark out there. Yeah, it IS the secret cabal of postmodernists and Marxists, how did you know? I know, man. Tell you what, once you’ve managed to destroy college, we’ll see, ok? Yeah, goodbye now.” I hung up on him. Geez, with professors like him, there’s certainly someone undermining western education. I’m sure he’ll be tweeting about who he thinks it is any minute now.
Times like this make me wonder if there might be some truth to the Chinese notion of the Mandate of Heaven. The idea is that Heaven’s where the gods live, and the gods keep watch on how Chinese emperor’s do. Every once in awhile, the emperor lapses in his duty and becomes all hedonistic and unable to protect the empire. As a result, the gods decide to hand over his mandate for ruling to someone else, and allows a new dynasty to take over. It’s all just a religious way to justify a dynasty overthrowing the last bunch, but sometimes the world skims close enough to narrative causality as to make one wonder.
Don’t expect me to get religion all of a sudden. Especially not when I get a chance to once again walk through the Institute of Science. Aside from that time I stopped in briefly to salvage a few things and make sure the place wasn’t going to blow the entire island apart, I haven’t had time to come down here myself. Too many problems, too few of me. Instead, I threw other mercenaries of both the mundane and superhuman stripe at the problem until they got lucky. The regular mercs haven’t been seen since. I looked. This batch of villains who succeeded had someone walk me around the place to look it over and I have yet to see any uniforms, guns, or identifiable body parts that belong to those guys.
The guide continued rambling about their little adventure while I walked alongside, my interest or lack thereof hidden behind my helmet. The skinny fellow with goggles strapped over his face didn’t seem to mind. “Olympian and Berserk worked together, but the rest of us were all strangers. We collectively agreed post-victory that our success insinuates natural compatibility. Ergo, we intend to maintain our relationship as a cohesive unit. The team voted to call ourselves Power Company, which I maintain sounds cheesy.”
“What would you have preferred?” I asked as we passed by an open door that used to be one of the animal testing labs. Power Company had left the bodies of the killer mutant test animals all over the place. No wonder the world’s so fucked up. If the wings and ceiling bloodstains are any indications, we’re at the point in time when pigs fly.
“I thought we should call ourselves Future Force, but I was outvoted. Over here is where we fought the Boar Lord!” He led me to another of the rooms, a supply room. Inside it lay the body of a man-sized pig with bat-like wings and tusks that curved around the side of its head like horns.
I gave it a prod with my boot. “I’m sure there’s a story behind this guy, but it’s probably a boar.”
I ended up paying off the Power Company with some money from the auction of Amelia Earhart’s plane. Now that we’ve let the revelation out and confirmed the presence of her bones, we’re getting some amazing offers on buying up all the remains, though we didn’t advertise that it was our Deep One immigrants who dragged her up out of the ocean. The Directory and I have come to an agreement that we shouldn’t advertise how much more easily we can exploit underwater resources now in case it affects international prices or immigration policy with other countries that focus on that sort of thing. I’ve even invested some of my own money in a company of Deep Ones going into the oil and mining businesses with deposits nobody else can reach.
So we have money, which buys off the Power Company. What we need is knowledge, which is power. Which brings us back to needing some scientists. I brought in Dr. Quincy at first. He seemed enthusiastic about seeing the purpose-built facility for science, up until he found out it was in dire need of remodeling and cleaning. “Mind the corpses,” I told him. “Some of them should be retained for study, but I imagine many of them can be used to fertilize some of your experiments.”
“Are you sure you need me in a building full of dead bodies?” the plant biologist asked.
I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “The dead are nothing to be afraid of, doctor. They’re rarely responsible for the death of the living, at least nowadays. There was the Black Plague, of course, and that incident with Sigurd the Mighty being killed from a bite by a decapitated man, but we live in an age of science and reason. Not like back in those old times when people thought holy corpses didn’t rot or that black people had some sort of physiological deficiency that made them naturally less intelligent than white people. This is no time for silly superstitions about dead bodies.”
“Sir, are we being recorded?” he asked as he picked his way carefully around dried stains.
“No,” I lied. It’s for the best most people don’t realize I record stuff to the cyberized portion of my brain.
“Oh. It feels like it, because sometimes you seem to speak to an audience that isn’t present,” he followed up with.
“Ha! What a kidder,” I said, then played a laugh track through my suit’s sound system where he could here it. “Now then, let’s get a good look at the place and figure out a few things before the guys with the wheelbarrows show up demanding we bring out our dead.”
Between the both of us, we were able to pinpoint several things needing to be repaired or replaced beyond the basic engineering of the place. I was going to have specialists come in to look at that part of things as well, but I wanted an assessment of the type of building features that’ll be more important for the place’s function, albeit an incomplete assessment due to differences in fields. We were, sadly, both stumped by one particular room. It was in a floor set aside for General Studies, a sort for miscellaneous projects or research into areas that hadn’t yet led to specific avenues of exploration for weaponry, energy, and so on.
It was one of the stops the mercenaries had clearly been by. They’d left markers in the form of portable emergency lights they bolted to the walls. Occasionally, bullet holes testified to their passage through the place. The only problem is that this room appeared to be the last place they put up lights. It didn’t look like anything violent had occurred in there, either. The room was centered around a broken transparent container with some odd shards. Quincy stooped to pick up one of the shards. “This isn’t glass.”
He handed it up to me. The weight was all wrong for glass, but my suit was able to figure it out it. “Clear aluminum. Strong stuff. This glowy thingy was important.” I said, pointing the broken piece of clear metal toward the thing floating in the middle of the container. The thing looked like a cylinder of some sort of clear material with lines of a dark metal running through it. It glowed blue for us, becoming even brighter as Quincy stood up and approached.
“Uh uh, doc. Let’s not touch the mysterious glowing thing that appears to have blown out a holding cell of thick aluminum,” I told him.
“Don’t you hear that?” he asked, otherwise ignoring me to keep moving toward it.
Uh uh, I’ve seen how this movie ends. I grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and yanked him back. He skidded along the seat of his pants on the floor. The scrawny fellow tried to get up and move past me, but I carried him out the door and pulled out my latest laser potato peeler to weld the thing shut. “I know you don’t mess around with this sort of super science stuff on a daily basis, doctor, but we do not touch mysterious glowing things in the middle of abandoned rooms. That goes double if you start hearing things. You got me?”
The doctor was flushed with excitement and frustration at failing to get past me, but he slumped against the wall. “You don’t understand, it was calling to me.”
“I think I understand better than you, so let me lay it out for you. If you go back in there, you better hope it kills you, because I will make sure you end up dead no matter what. That lab is off limits until I get something in there to contain it.” I bopped him lightly on the head with the piece of transparent aluminum I’d carried out. “Something tougher than this. Now come on, there’s going to be a lot of hard work and elbow grease spent getting this place ready for action again.”
“I didn’t think you would be so eager to roll up your sleeves, uh, sir,” Quincy added, trying to make the comment sound at least a tiny bit respectful.
“Psh, no, I mean come on, let’s get out of here so the guys I pay to do all the menial work can come in and do all that. I’ve scheduled my daughter and I some massages, and then I have to boss people around to find a dwelling for the dude I’m getting to run this place. Before that, though, let’s go hit up a rice stand. All this pretending to work business has me hungry.”
So that’s a secret cabal of supervillains, a Nazi, monsters secretly controlling a source of oil, and a mysterious glowing object hidden in an underground lab. All I need to do is find Bigfoot in a lab and fuck a Chupacabra.
Just because people don’t want me in charge of anything doesn’t mean I’m resting on my laurels. For one thing, the laurels are out being dry-cleaned. I mandated that only the softest laurels be used for my resting needs. The Directory took it upon themselves to have those laurels treated the absolute best because of a combination of loyalty, respect, and pants-wetting fear. The ratio may lean heavily toward fear.
I kept my spies in place watching events under the big tent. If that makes it sound like a circus, it kinda is. Ouroboros is in the center ring. It’s probably a bad idea to give him too much leeway, but I trust in him being pedantic enough to do a good job. It’s not that villains can’t be obsessed with details, it’s just that not everyone cares about the same details. Some people like math, others are into the weather, some even dig geology. I know my way around murder, power armor, and dimensional breach technology. But I picked a government with separation of powers precisely because I know how bad I am at handling a lot of the minutia. Ouroboros is significantly better at that than me.
But I’m still keeping my eye on him, because of those damn communists. Lenin and his buddies took over Russia, but they didn’t care about running all the boring stuff. Let a guy named Joseph Stalin handle a lot of important duties. Next thing you know, the secretary rules Russia with an iron fist and an iron mustache. He turned it into a police state where people surveilled each other and informed on each other about loyalty.
In order to keep this from happening, I have set up recording devices all around Ouroboros and where he lives. I have also bribed some of those taking part in it to let me know if he does or says anything that might be intended to spark a coup against my regime.
It gave me something lighter to tackle while sitting around teaching Qiang and dealing with some guests being rude. “What are you?” Sam asked.
“I am homo machina, also a world leader,” I answered while Qiang and I worked through natural history book. It had pop-up animals and fun facts about them.
“No, I mean you always seemed too sexist and offensive to be a transwoman. It makes it hard to think of names to call you behind your back.” At least she was up front about it. Plus, one of these days I intend to use her adjustments of her piercings to teach Qiang about the human dermal layers and the human nose.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a transwoman, though some people,” and here I eyed Silver Shark for emphasis. She was watching Jaws with an intensity I normally see from a hungry dog catching glimpse of a steak. “seem to think I’m happier as a woman than as a man. But let’s be honest, I’m the same me no matter which form I take. How I look is a product of how I feel and a way to keep anyone from pinning me down for too long at a time.”
“So you don’t care if you have,” she looked to Qiang, who glanced up at us before turning a page and getting a face full of pop-out hyena. “meat and potatoes.”
“They’re nice, but so is what I have now, though these bad boys up front can be an annoyance at times.” I gave them a little jiggle.
Sam rolled her eyes and stood up to go raid the fridge. “Whatever. I’ve always heard how the average guy wishes they had a pair of their own to play with.”
“If there’s anything about me you should keep in mind, Sammy, it’s that I am an average nothing. Not an average man, an average woman, an average any sort of trans. Just think of all the times you’ve seen me naked if you need a reminder how above average I am,” I smirked at her.
She grabbed a spoon and pointed it at me. “I remember that time you and Max broke into an ice creamery and he dropped something that melted your clothes off. You looked plenty average then.”
“Ooooh,” Silver said.
I shrugged. “Just imagine what my norm is like if being half frozen drops me down to average.”
“Keep your nonexistent penis in your pants, sister,” Sam said from around a mouthful of pickles.
“Look, the female has a thingy!” Qiang said, pointing at one particular pop-out of the hyena.
“Yes, dumpling. In fact, that gives me an idea…”
Sam grabbed her bottle of pickles and headed for the door. “Uh uh, I’m out, this is going to turn into some weird shit, I’m out.”
Hey, all I said is it gave me an idea. I didn’t say I’d go through with it. Besides, I barely had time to design a look when the island started shaking. I ran out to check on it, calling up the Intercept team. I wish I had a team of geologists too, but my science-fu is lacking. I ran outside to see a paved-over portion of the grounds explode up and release a man-sized mushroom. It roared and ran away from a man wielding a glowing sword who yelled like a hemorrhoidal maniac. It’s like a homicidal maniac, if the maniac had really uncomfortable growths on his asshole.
The giant shroom ran for its life and managed a pretty good distance from the swordfighter, but another person ran out of the same hole, which I recognized as one of the closed-off sections of the old underground rail system. This person also seemed to be a guy, but a smaller one. Wiry. He held a discus in each hand. He jumped into the air almost as high up as the height of the mushroom man and threw one of them past the shroom. It stopped in front of that thing and hung there in midair until he threw the other discus. The shroom tried to dodge to the its left. The discus in front came back toward it. They met in its waist and cut it in half.
I gave them a polite golf clap. “Not to rain on your parade, but was that thing worth killing? He seemed like such a fungi.”
They both facepalmed, careful to avoid stabbing themselves in the face. “That was horrible,” said the swordsman.
“How far did y’all get?” I asked.
“We think that’s the last of it. You should probably keep away in case we missed one of them. Wouldn’t want a delicate lady to get hurt,” said the discus-thrower.
“Next time I run across a delicate lady, I’ll let her know,” I responded. “But congrats on killing the things. Looks like we can finally find some science guys and get them in there.” I turned to Silver Shark, who had followed me out. “Think we can get Bill Nye?”
She shook her head. “He’s not a scientist.”
“Let’s get our biologist in here, the guy I kidnapped. See if we can tempt some people. Ooh, I got it! I know a guy. He’s a bit old-school, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders. Plus, he’s not opposed to working for dictators.” I turned to Silver Shark and hopped up on her broad, beautiful shoulder. I pointed into the distance. “Bring me Dr. Creeper!”
She began walking in the direction I pointed, but muttered to me, “I don’t know this guy at all.”
I pointed again. “Fetch me my cell phone.”
“You don’t have a phone!” she said, stopping.
“Right,” I pushed on my nose. “Damn unlock screen.” I held my fingertip to my nose and dragged it up and over. “I do not remember putting a passcode on this. Hold on…” I cupped my hand under my armpit and gave it a few pumps, squelching out some noises. “Yeah, changing that to something easier, as soon as I get done talking to this Nazi.”
Of course, one of the first things Creeper said as soon as he picked up was, “I’m not a Nazi anymore!”
“Oh, guten tag. Who is this?”
“I’m sorry I did not recognize your voice. You sound like a woman over the phone.”
“I get that a lot these days. I don’t know if you keep up with the news lately, but I recently became a world leader.”
“Ja, I heard! Congratulations. I’m glad you do not let the celebrity go to your head.”
“Thanks. I’m trying not to let the power go to my head. Hold on,” I tapped Silver on the head. “Stop here, minion, and let me down off your shoulders!”
She grumbled and picked me up by the waist. She ALMOST dropped me. I know she wanted to, so I turned and gave her a hug when she set me on my feet. “Thanks, hon.”
She got all quiet and headed off to the residence again to finish her show, quietly tossing a “You’re welcome,” back toward me.
“Ok, anyway, it’s been pretty fucked up here, what with sabotage and people abandoning a sinking ship. But the ship isn’t sinking anymore. On the plus side, the rats already floated off. Unfortunately, all this really means I’m having some personnel problems. I’d probably have called you earlier, but my science complex was taken over by scientific abominations created in the darkest pits of man’s imagination. Luckily, the pest exteriminators probably just finished cleaning it up. By the way, it’s also important that you’re pretty good at defending yourself with giant robots.”
“Are you offering me a job to work for you as a scientist?” he asked.
“Creeper, I’m offering you a chance to head my Institute of Science.”
“Oof, you should have told me sit down first. Though I am sitting down.” I heard a car alarm go off from the other end of the line. “I did not mean to walk over that. You left me kerfuffled.”
“Tell you what, you get things wrapped up over there. I’m going to text you a number you can call for an airline pilot who doesn’t get paid enough even though he once landed a crashing plane in a river and saved a bunch of lives.”
“I saw that movie! You mean-?”
“Yeah, they do not fucking pay those guys well. Just wait until you’re out of public before you call him. Secret identities and all that.”
“This sounds amazing! I can’t wait to tell my daughter.”
“Isn’t she a hero? Hold up… a villain, right? Wait, no, she married into Canadianness, I remember you told me.”
I shook my head. “Uh oh. It’s spreading. Soon you’ll be converted to socialism in the great white north!”
“I do not know what you are talking about. My daughter is cool. You should meet her. You know, things didn’t work out with that Canadian boy.”
I looked down at my dress and sandals. “I doubt I’m her type. If you want to bring her, that’s fine, but don’t be playing matchmaker, you old Nazi bastard, or you’ll go from Operation: Paperclip to Microsoft Word Paperclip in my eyes, capische?”
“Yes, il duce! I look forward to seeing you again soon!” I heard an explosion on the other end. “Er, I have to go now. See you later!”
Eh, the guy’s only a former Nazi, and that was pretty much just for the gimmick. How was he supposed to know the Nazis were going to return as a prominent political force in the 21st Century? Besides, at this point, he can hardly make me look worse than most of the other world leaders out there. It’s just your average reclusive island nation with a conspiracy of the world’s criminals working with a Nazi scientist. I dare someone to write an article on us!
I made a minor miscalculation on the timeline of getting all this shit done. I didn’t think as much about showmanship among villains as I could have. To be fair, this is probably the biggest single gathering of evil people since that Nazi rally in Virginia. As far as supervillains go, only Ricca pulled off having this many together in one place, and that was because they were all under the effect of a memory erasing drug that affected them. Pretty sure there were battles in World War II that didn’t feature as many supers as I packed into one gigantic tent.
When people started to enter, all the smaller potatoes entered first. A strut here, a saunter there, maybe someone’s motto or a rude hand gesture thrown up for good measure. As time went on and the villains became better known, they slowed down their entrances and tried to make them showy. I don’t even know when they had time to set up the pyro a few guys used, and one idiotic woman almost set the tent on fire with a flaming dragon.
I actually had to hold Max back from walking in with a fog that’d have everyone tripping balls. After some insistence, he opted instead for fog that made everyone see various mythical monsters all bowing to him as he entered. That’s what I heard people saying. I was in my armor and left my box to try and expedite the whole mess.
At least Ouroboros wasn’t flashy. I can respect that about him. He’s a businessman. I think he knows what he wants, and I expect he’ll be more amenable to this. I’m less sure about Spinetingler, whose entrance more closely resembled an evil circus with him as a ringleader with glow in the dark makeup on. His daughter accompanied him, dressed as a harlequin in a very nice outfit that showed off a body no longer starved to skin and bones. Like many homicidal madmen who suffer from uncontrollable bouts of laughter, I have a thing for harlequin women. That said, I’m glad to not have a dick to stick in that crazy.
Not to be outdone, and intending to put an end to this whole entrance thing, I sent in the troops. My soldiers marched in with full body armor, forming a cordon. Drones flitted about, training rockets and lasers on people. Then began the movie theater countdown that preceded The Nearly Deads’ “My Evil Ways”. And yes, I wore the ridiculous coat with the peacocks. Tossed it off to someone in the audience before leaping up to my box.
Once everything settled down and the soldiers left, I raised all four hands. “Now are we done with the pagentry or do we have to crown a heavyweight champion of the world first?!”
That got some laughs and, at last, everyone was ready to stop. “As your host, I think I’ve figured out the first order of business: let’s just walk in and grab some seats, people. We can’t do this shit every single time. We’ll run out of tent first.” I pointed over to the scorch marks on one section. “Seriously though, get it out of your system now. I know we all like a bit of fun with this shit, but we’re here for some serious business, too. I know, I know, boo. Do try to save the drug and alcohol use for the after hours.”
It got a bit of chuckling. The laughter took on a more nervous tone around Max’s entourage and Spinetingler’s table. He and his daughter were being given wide berth by most of them there.
“So let’s get to why I called all y’all together here today. I’m sure I’ve annoyed many of y’all with a question lately. What do you want? Most of you have tolerated the questioning well enough, helped no doubt by the need for a vacation from pursuit. All the cool shit you can buy here doesn’t hurt.”
As if waiting on my cue, a couple of carts rolled in. One vendor called out, “Hot dogs! Fresh hot dogs for sale! Have mutt and mustard! Have Collie and ketchup!”
The other was quieter, instead having drawn up prices on the side for bowls of rice, soup, sushi, and skewer food. Well, that’s what one side advertised. The other had prices for surplus Chinese firearms. Might be handy for henchmen. Personally, I aim to invest in banned goods. I’m working on a 3D printer that can whip up some ivory and sealskin.
But I had some speechifying to do first. “Most of y’all want money, freedom, and infamy. Nice stuff, sure, but what’s money without something to spend it on? Being free tends to attract more and more people who want to toss you in jail. And infamy can be lonely.”
My thoughts started to wander to Carl, Moai, Qiang, Beetrice and even Citra. “Ok, so I’ve been around heroes. Some of them even woke up in the middle of the night and saw me. I’m here to tell you they’re grouping up. They’re better at cooperation than we are. They have a school. They hold giant parties with heroes from across the nation and even other dimensions.”
“We all have parties!” someone yelled.
“Yes, but the heroes get along. We all distrust each other. There are people in this room who have tried to kill me, and some I have tried to kill. We’re not friends, but we’re facing a new world. The heroes are organizing and a lot of supers killed my predecessor, the supervillain known as The Claw. Heroes and villains killed.”
“Is this meeting just about hearing yourself speak?” called out someone. That one I saw, and I held myself back from killing her as much as I wanted to. Fucking trust building. I’d settle this with a bunch of trust falls, but then we’d have plenty of head injuries to treat when almost everyone lets their partner fall.
“This meeting is to give us a chance to figure this out. We don’t need our own mafia, but we need a community. We need a structure of some sort, a way to keep in contact with people. Rules, even. If the heroes bring a team, you should be able to get your own team together easily. Easy access to the markets of Ricca from across the world. Conflict resolution with some sort of representative meant to handle that, if you’re into that sort of thing. You could set up a panel of judges for all I care, so long as they handle the less important rules.”
I got several boos. Boos? How dare they? I will crush them beneath my fashionable high heels! I will scatter their ashes to the solar winds! I just need to see who’s first…
One of the hecklers, a guy, stood up to toss a piece of paper at me. I suddenly felt like making littering a capital offense. “Why the fuck do we need rules? We’re criminals!”
I folded my top hands. “What if some super fucker rapes you, eh?! Or cuts your arms and legs off? The only solution you have right now is hoping you win and attacking them, going back and forth with escalations. He tries to kill you, you murder his family, he murders yours and fucks your mother’s corpse, and so on. Where does it end? Oh, that’s right, with one of you eventually trying to kill the other. And if he kills you, don’t you want to know some badass is going to come along and enforce the punishment for that?” I then noticed my lower hands hadn’t been quite so controlled. They were waving a pair of middle fingers toward the people.
That put an end to the heckling, but someone had a reasonable enough question. “Who the hell would we trust to go around killing- oh, nevermind. It’s you, isn’t it? You’re going to make yourself executioner.”
“Steal my fucking thunder why don’t you?” I asked. “There’s not a lot of trust you can put in me, but you know my reputation as a conniving expert in the art of murder. You make the laws, and any of them y’all decide is worth a good killin’ gets the services for yours truly.”
I wish I could say I got rousing applause, but that simply didn’t happen. Instead, I opened the floor to everyone. In theory, any of them could have started proposing stuff and figuring it out. In theory, I’d left this whole thing with so little structure, it could have devolved into a mess right then and there. In practice one of the villains I’d jumped through hoops to get had some familiarity with imposing structure on a criminal underworld. While babbling spread throughout the ginormous tent, Ouroboros stood up and easily made himself heard. “This sounds like an idea long in the making. We get our very own Legion of Doom, but we’re the founding fathers this time. It will be messy and you don’t have the head for this stuff. Let the ones who want to organize get together and figure out how we want to take things. We will put it to a vote to everyone. That way gives us all exactly as much say as we want. Who is agreed?”
And we got ourselves a majority on that one through the tried and true method of people raising hands. A lot of those gathered there left to go party or do whatever they wanted. We’ve had some people raiding other countries with the aid of enterprising boat owners.
I stayed too. Yeah, it was boring. It was about setting up rules and boundaries that even I was technically supposed to adhere to. It’s the last thing you expect from a self-described agent of chaos. But I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for my loved ones. I toughed it out for them, even as Ouroboros started figuring out teams for rules, communications, shared services, and representation.
I watched with one eye. With the other, I held a video conference with Qiang. She was in the kitchen with a steak and a knife, listening to me teach her in her ear about cutting with the cleavage. Once she’s old enough to start going through puberty, I’ll give her a bra with a switchblade built into it and expand on the lesson.
I’d realized Spinetingler left, but it wasn’t until I’d finished my lesson with my daughter that I noticed he’d returned. He pulled up a chair beside me. “I expect to be exempt from these rules,” he said.
I nodded. “You likely will be if anyone’s smart about it. I’d hope you don’t go flaunting that or this whole mess might just fall apart. I remember our truce though.”
“As do I. This is all boring to me. Perhaps I shall go drum up terror from the depths,” he said.
I waved my hand away. “That’s fine. I didn’t know how much you’d care about the fine details, but your name has weight.” And with me hosting the thing, I can only exert so much influence before it looks like all of this looks like a plot of mine. “The people of Ricca are mine, but your daughter and all these other fine, upstanding members of society are guests. Feel free to go terrorize places that don’t belong to me. Take a crack at Australia if you want. With fauna like theirs, it’d be interesting to see if you can terrorize them. Giant spiders are just a regular thing down there.”
“There is always darkness inside a man’s soul and terrors to be stoked,” he whispered back, his voice growing quieter to be ominous.
“Sounds great. I’m stoked,” I said.
His grunting “Heh,” turned into ominous laughter that didn’t feel as forced as I figured it was. The man knows his theatrics, that’s for sure. He faded into a shadow with far too many limbs that crawled its way out along the floor and walls.
Naturally, with things going so well, I decided to put the Intercept team on high alert. Why? I’ll tell y’all what I told my wife Citra when she asked why I got her a strap-on and a gallon drum of lube. “Because nothing ever goes smoothly for long with me, and it seems like the world wants to fuck me in the ass.”
We’re still working on our marriage, and I think it’s going well. Getting fucked in the ass is a thousand times easier than restraining myself from killing these morons.
The island of Ricca welcomed all kinds of new guests here, and I think it’s time to get this musical rolling. For once, there actually will be a meeting of a bunch of evil people to plot against the world. The best part is, all the conspiracy theorists will say it’s fake news as soon as we all inevitably leak it.
I remember when I heard Ouroboros was on approach in a jet. Sam, she of little hair, saw me throw on my formal armor coat and said, “You sure he doesn’t expect a red carpet? He’s probably got a jet with its own grill.”
I adjusted the tasteful giant red and gold coat with peacock feathers sticking out of the rear collar and put my helmet on. “Psh. Some of us have both dignity and exquisite taste.”
It turned out to be a regular jet with some boring company name on it. A fake company. Easy enough to make: take a noun or a verb and add Solutions, Management, or Global to the end. Throw them all together and you get Global Management Solutions, as generic and fake a name as they come. I’m not even going to check, but that’s still probably a real company.
I was going to make fun of it probably selling mercenaries to third world dictators, but I’m now a third world dictator and the mercenaries I’d been using up and left the island. Apparently they throw a tantrum and leave whenever they suffer lots of casualties for little pay. Bunch of spoiled brats with rifles if you ask me. At least there’s plenty of resale value on their guns. And on their organs, actually.
In fact, and this is brilliant, I’m sending an email right this minute to the hospital to start cloning valuable human organs using nanites and whatever spare meat they can get. Ooh, and maybe we can sneak in tracking devices. Or some sort of robots that separate after implantation and attach to the optic nerves and ears in order to let us spy. Perhaps some sort of nanite killswitch…
I couldn’t stand around thinking all day though. I had to get out there and meet this guy. Plus, that’s kinda what we sell prosthetic organs for anyway. We could always capture the market that doesn’t want prosthetic, though…
The airport had been plenty busy with people coming and going. We had some air traffic coming in through South Korea, Japan, China, and Australia. Russia threatened to send me a plane full of Polonium right to my front door once. I politely informed them that they don’t want to mess with me, because I know where their bodies will be buried. The radiation detectors didn’t find anything unusual in a scan of Ouroboros’s jet.
I stepped out there with Mix N’Max standing a ways behind me, and Sam and Holly behind him. At the last minute before the door opened, I turned and motioned Sam over. “I need a hand with something real quick.” She looked to Max, puzzled, but stepped over. I slid the heavy jacket off and tossed it into her arms. She almost dropped it. “Here, hold that for me.”
“Motherfucker!” she started, then walked back to behind Max, who smiled at her. He leaned in to whisper something and Sam went to find a place to dump it out of view of any important people. Yeah, I did it just to fuck with her. That was my plan the whole time, or at least I expected someone would say something I felt deserved it.
Soon after she walked off to see to my coat check, Ouroboros graced us with his presence. The man himself left the jet in a suit with a version of his mask on to protect his identity. He brought with him a few aides, including an older, wide, and thick fellow with white hair. I held my hands apart, all four. “Welcome to the island of Ricca, home of the Empire Ricca, and its lovely capital.”
“The city of Ricca?” he asked, a slight smile coming to his face. He setepped down the stairs and walked over to me for the official handshake that would have been photo-op worthy if we weren’t both wanted people.
I called up the latest Director Speaker guy to confirm. “Yes, the city of Ricca. As you can probably tell, the last administration lacked creativity. That’s why it took me to gather up a bunch of us for this meeting. We’ve had an increased trickle at the end here, but I think we’re about ready to start.”
He nodded. “I saw you had a problem with the navy.” He leaned in. “You did all of it, didn’t you?”
“I would have to be some kind of evil mastermind to pull that off. Thank you for the compliment.”
He smirked. “You impressed a lot of people on the fence about this meeting by stopping that nuclear bomb and protecting everyone else. My people thought it was surprising and devious. I felt it was serious. You’ve seen my city and I would love to see yours after my people have had time to bring my things to where I’m staying.”
Sounds like he wanted to make sure he had a nice place that wasn’t going to blow up. I don’t blame him. It also gave me time to pick a tour guide from the Directors. I’m too important as the leader of an entire nation to go around showing some glorified criminal mayor around. Notice I didn’t even give him a lei or throw him a luau. Leave that for greeters or the assistant to the greeters or the intern to the assistant to the greeters. I assume there’s protocol in place for all the little people. I wouldn’t know. I first showed up in Ricca as a hired consultant to build weapons of mass destruction.
As a person with plenty of lackeys, little things like saying “Hello” or showing supervillains to an Ikea mansion are beneath me. If I want, I could hire someone just to wipe my ass. I could pay them nothing but I wouldn’t. Because I’m classy and because you don’t want to screw over someone whose job is putting their fist near your pucker.
There was one last major attendee to grab. I gathered some of those lackeys of mine in a clearing on the edge of the city. Amid chanting, we started a massive bonfire. I had a table brought out, as well as a large pig. I hefted the pig onto the table and reached over to one of my black-robed lackeys. He held out a knife.
Suddenly the chanting grew quieter. I looked over to see Holly standing by a wireless speaker, her finger just leaving the volume down button. “Is this really necessary to get this guy here?” said Holly. She, Sam, and Max were all waiting at the edge of the clearing, along with Silver Shark, Citra, and Qiang.
I pulled my hood back. “No, that part’s easy. We have a mirror for that.” I pointed to where a few of the lackeys were standing up a mirror next to a cooler full of beer. “But I figured it might be rude to summon him here without something to eat. So then I got to thinking about it and figured I’d bring us all out here for a barbecue.” I turned back to the pig and stabbed the knife down. One spurt of blood later, the oinking stopped.
“You know how to do that thing where you cut it into pieces to cook it?” Sam asked while I set to work. Qiang rushed over to watch me.
“Butcher,” Silver Shark said.
“Thank you,” Sam said.
“It wasn’t a correction,” Shark responded. Still sore I cheated on her back when I was handling her meat, I see.
A couple of lackeys finished driving supports into the ground on either side of the bonfire. Then they hefted a grill into place. “Bring me the sacred herbs! And spices.” Another robed lackey stepped over with a bowl full of seasonings for me to toss on the meat.
Max clapped for me. “Excellent job. Was that a new record?”
“I know I was watching it, but how did you clean and butcher it so fast?” asked Silver Shark.
“I have a lot of experience cutting animals apart,” I said and tossed some loin and chops onto the grill. I headed back to work on more cutting.
Sam walked over, “Do they all come apart the same way?”
I shrugged and saw how Qiang was watching me cut. I handed her the knife and let her give it a try. “Generally less, though there are some specifics that depend on who you’re butchering.”
“Who?” Sam asked.
“Who who?” I asked back.
Holly pointed at me. “You said ‘who’ you’re butchering?’”
I pointed at myself too. “I did?” I looked to Max, who nodded.
“Don’t you consider humans animals?” asked Holly.
I looked down to see Qiang’s rough hackjob on some of the meat. Eh, there are always some spare pieces to throw away. I glared back at Holly and mouthed a silent, “Yes.” Ok, so I love the girl. I might even have feelings for some of these damn, dirty apes all over this planet due to a form of Stockholm Syndrome I haven’t had formally diagnosed.
Regardless, I should cut back on some of the outright, if deserved, bigotry against homo sapiens. She’s still half human, and that kind of thing could send a pretty fucked up message if she ever starts to think about it. No heir of mine is going to go through life a brainless bimbo. Plus, she’ll probably have to marry one of these backward chimps they call people in this universe. None of them are good enough for her anyway, which is yet another knock against this sad excuse for a species. I want her to be happy though. Coincidentally, I’ve already put out feelers online for used shotguns, the dirtier the better. I have to have that thing ready to clean the night she first starts dating.
“Can I change the music?” asked Citra.
I nodded. “Fine.” I can’t expect everyone to enjoy Sunn O))) or even to pronounce it correctly. It’s the parentheses. Very difficult for human tongues. She grabbed the mp3 player I’d used because I wasn’t about to let people hook a speaker up to my brain. That way lies madness and comments they don’t need to hear about themselves. The next song was less droning, but still quite My Imperial Majesty’s jam.
Holly leaned over. “Is this song seriously called ‘Rock N Roll Nig-‘.”
I cut her off, “Hush, we’re getting to the good part.”
After a few seconds of the song continuing on as normal, she asked, “I don’t hear anything special.”
“The whole song’s the good part,” I said. I tossed some ribs on the barbecue. “I think we’re doing well enough to bring them over.” I turned to the mirror and, with no ceremony whatsoever, said, “Spinetingler, Spinetingler, Spinetingler.”
The flickering flames of the bonfire disappeared from the mirror. The reflective surface went entirely black. Some of the blackness moved and grew out, a nub of darkness. Some of it then fell to the grass as strands of hair hanging down from a head. An arm poked out of the mirror as well. A woman crawled out in a white dress. She crawled over to me, then pulled herself up on my robe.
It was Spinetingler’s daughter. I don’t recall if I ever learned her name, but I do remember her face. Big nose and big brown eyes. Or they were before turning all icey white. Her hair used to be blonde too, but there’s not a lot of good horror from being stalked by a blonde. “Hey, you’re looking better. You eating better?”
She stared at my face for a long few seconds. “I heard you were a man.”
“I often am. Where’s your dad?” I looked past her to the mirror. I heard cawing, then a swarm of some sort of black bird flew out of the mirror and moved as one gigantic flock until they dove at the ground near the bonfire.
The birds disappeared into a dark puff of feathers that resolved into a black-clad figure with red trim. Black boots, black gloves, all looking like leather. I couldn’t pin down the pants and shirt, but it had kind of a leather creak going on. His face was hidden under a black hood of his own with red eyes glowing from within. He leaned over the grill. “Smells good. Do you have any beverages for myself and my daughter?”
“Lackeys, beer the man!” I called to some of the minions, a few of which were here from scenic Missouri. “Feel free to take the robes off if you don’t mind getting smoke and all in your clothes. I, however, will stay dressed in the formal evil barbecue robes as mine are light and airy, and I’m not wearing anything under them. Come on, folks, let’s get this party started!”
Ah, lovely Missouri. The trees! Ok, so the trees suck. The weather! It’s too cold. The mountains! I don’t like walking uphill. I was lying about the lovely part, too. About the only good thing you can say about Missouri is that it loves company. If the stories from the fountain drunk, whose name I found out was Seawalker after a gift of a bottle of scotch, are any indication, they really love company. Company brings in new kids to kidnap. Company brings business. There could have been quite a conundrum there, whether to wear armor or dress. I solved it by remembering I didn’t like these people and had other shit to do other than leave the country just for their sake.
I gotta watch out for that, ya know. I’ve still got the reverse of diplomatic immunity going on. Ricca is at peace and no one will try to drag me before any courts for my numerous crimes against everybody and everything, including that time I took the world hostage and declared myself Emperor. The trade-off is that I am not supposed to leave the island. Luckily, I have all these nice little robots, the Dudebots, so named because they represent the most awesome dude around and let me chill. Plus, they give me plausible deniability for when I do leave. Everything can just be dismissed as one of these robots.
I still had the Dudebot hiding out in Florida. I’d locked it in a storage locker along with the robot horse I built for wrecking a prison transport. I kept it, and I didn’t’ even have to feed it or clean up after it. I really should market robots as the ideal pets. Hypoallergenic and probably not part of anybody’s plan to conquer humanity. I’ll have to remember that one.
I stayed behind to put the finishing touches on a venue for the big meeting. I know, it keeps getting drawn out, but most people put more planning into a thing before they announce it and start kidnapping guests. While I stayed behind bodily to do my part and keep a tight rein on the Directors also working on this, I activated the Dudebot in Florida to handle lovely little Missouri. It was the robot, and its horse, that arrived to deal with this little problem presented to me. And why focus so much on it? Because helping people is its own reward, and so is murder.
The target was a little town off in the mountains, a ways from anything resembling civilization. It looked pretty crappy, honestly. They didn’t have shit. No farms, no paper mills, not even a call center. You know you’re in bad shape as a township when a call center would be a godsend. I’d expected some of that, though. The story as told to me involved the place having no other income after the mining stopped. That’s often the problem with small towns. The jobs are all elsewhere, but they’re too stubborn to go there.
Speaking of mining, I paid that old area a visit next. I had looked over the town from its borders at sunset, but now had to contend with the darkening of the forest. The horse made the trek easily enough, crashing on through the woods and leaping downed logs in a single bound. I came out of the woods not far from where a dirt road entered the clearing around the mine and its sign with fading letters. There was a building nearby, old and rusty. A refinery where they keep victims alive and dispose of those they no longer want. Of course I’d check it out. It’d be like going to the moon and not visiting the set Kubrick used to film the moon landing.
So I went in there. I disabled a pretty obvious sensor on the place, broke the lock, and stepped inside. Back in Ricca, the Directors around me got quiet and backed away when they saw the look on my face. I called in to the military base that I was going to need some medical teams to deploy. Then I had to arrange for some flights with any local pilots looking to make some money from their side hustle. And when those choppers arrived, I had to convince the pilots the best thing they could do was fly them to certain airports for extraction. All three of the ones I got in were ready to jump out and kill someone, even the guy who didn’t have anything but a rusty chain for the job.
It shows how backwoods the place was that I didn’t even get any visitors until then. I had just helped carry a kid out who had been strapped to a bed for several months when an SUV and a truck painted up as Sheriff’s vehicles arrived, lights flashing. I calmly walked over as a deputy exited each vehicle. “What the hell is going on here?” asked the one closest to me, raising a shotgun through the open window on the door he used for cover“Those aren’t yours!”
I didn’t stop walking as he fired a warning shot, which was his first mistake. The second one was firing an actual shot at me, which did nothing to slow me down. The pellets bounced right off me without breaking my stride. The deputy pumped the gun again and waited to fire until it was right up against me, as if that’d make it any more of a threat to me. I grabbed his head and pulled him forward while poking my fingers into his eyes. I dragged him halfway through his truck’s window before snatching the shotgun from his hands and smashing it over the back of his neck. His struggles stopped along with the snapping of his spine.
His friend was calling in for reinforcements over the radio when the device went exploded courtesy of the boomstick I held in my hands. He turned to me only to get a mouthful of hot barrel. I held him like that for a moment, trying to think if there was anything I needed from him, like information. I shook my head as I realized that wasn’t the case, then grabbed the man’s head and quickly jerked him down against the gun, the stock of which slammed into the ground. A couple seconds later, so did the second deputy’s head, the entire rest of the gun sticking out the back of it and dripping with grey matter and blood.
I got an ovation from the choppers, pilots and rescuees both. Refugees, I should say. Ricca is going to become quite the melting pot.
The unshot radio from the other vehicle squawked. “Hawkins, what’s going on out there? Why’d you go quiet?!”
I yanked the door open and leaned in. Plucking the microphone off its cradle, I held down the button and told them, “Hawkins can’t come to the radio right now.”
“Who is this? What happened to Hawkins?!” asked the thoroughly perplexed voice on the other end.
“He ate his gun. Send more cops,” I said, glancing back using the armor’s 360 display. It’s much easier to keep track of in the Dudebots than in my personal armor. I think if I rework it to be more digital and less visual, that’ll fix the issue. I could also adjust my eyes to make them better integrate with the display. Ideas for later.
“Hawkins, what’s going on? Who is this?” asked the dispatcher or whoever it was on repeat. Sounds like this town doesn’t see a lot of action. Well, considering the rescued young’uns, perhaps they’re too used to seeing the wrong sort.
I gave the radio one law little squawk of my own in response to them asking my identity. “The end.”
The robo-horse galloped up behind me and I hopped onto it as it passed. One of the good things about both being phenotypically female and doing all this by robot is not fucking up my balls trying stunts like that. I miss the wang, though, and I’m not just calling it that because I gave myself Asian features. I took off down the road, cape billowing behind me because that’s cool looking even in the dark.
I found a makeshift barrier at the end of that road and dropped a pair of chicken grenades on the head of the deputy who had just finished putting down a spike trap the horse jumped. I watched as the guy tried to catch one of them and tripped over his own shoes, falling onto the spike trap. He scrambled to get off it, but was caught on top of a chicken grenade when they went off.
I slowed down as I reached down. It seemed appropriate I brought the horse, as it was truly a one horse town. I regretted not painting it white. Shots and ricochets rang out as someone fired on me from the cover of a nearby gas station. I charged up the Dudebot’s optic lasers and set off the gas pumps. Things got bright and loud, but the would-be assassin learned the value of picking the right cover and concealment.
I rode over to check out the house catching fire next to it. A good start. I turned and swept the optic lasers across every building in my path, aiming more for trees, bushes, and anything wood. This proved disastrous for the lumber store and the antique store that sold rocking chairs. From further down this main street, I spotted another sheriff’s truck swerve around the corner, lights on. I heard the engine rev as it spotted me silhouetted against the flames. I cranked up the energy sheath in the Dudebot’s left fist and charged.
It felt like it took way too long for us to play that game of chicken. I could almost see the whites of the driver’s eyes through the windshield, seemed like. Then he dove out the door and rolled along the edge of the rode while a speeding truck came at me, bro. I turned the horse, sparks flying up from skidding metal hooves. A hard punch with my left unleashed all the gathered kinetic energy. It crumbled the grill of the truck and the hood, momentum trying to keep the metal and plastic moving forward in spite of the resistance. The back end of the truck rose and continued, the vehicle flipping over me and my horse to scrape the top along the road behind me.
Before I could take in too much of that lovely accomplishment, I felt, heard, and saw more bullets ineffectually trying to penetrate the nanomaterial cape over the Dudebot’s back. I turned and hopped off the horse to see the Sheriff himself there emptying a nice, heavy revolver into me and doing fuck-all.
“Who the fuck are you?” he asked.
The gun clicked and didn’t fire, so then he tried to whip the barrel at my helmet. I caught it and yanked him forward by it. I grabbed him by the throat and lifted him. “I’d say I’m Death, because that’s normally what I do best. I kill people. With you, I think I’ll take my time. How many was it in that refinery?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he lied.
“You’re not talking to a rube civilian or an out of town cop here. You know many superheroes who kill cops? No, better question…” I tossed him down. He backed away on his ass “And it’s not the one I’ve recently obsessed over. Who are you? I already know. What I want to ask you is… how many bones are there in the adult human body?” I stomped on his foot and ankle to stop him moving any further from me. “One-hundred and eighty to go.”
Before I left town later that night, I made one last change to the sign with its hokey old population count. I burned that part off and left the remnant’s of the Sheriff’s skull hanging as a large zero.
“What do you want?” I’ve taken to asking people. The question’s been on my mind a lot lately since Max drugged me the other night. I asked it of a person on the street. She said money. Kinda petty, the sort of thing a job can handle. I asked another one, a guy. He said he wanted to have sex with a beautiful woman. I introduced him to the first woman and things sorta worked themselves out from there.
I’ve been asking the villains, too. Hexadecibel got his money and brief amount of fame for stealing a nuclear weapon. He’s already getting job prospects emailed to him, as well as the usual opportunistic offers for him to be in a porn and him to be in somebody’s Youtube music video.
I talked to the passed out villain when he finally woke up. He wanted to forget about his ex. It took a lot to keep me from giving him brain damage to accommodate him, but then I asked further, to see how much Unity I’d have to swing for him. The drug could block long-term memory and take care of that for him, but then he told me quite a tale. It was rather long for a full recounting, beginning with his moving to a new town as a kid, following his noticing all the runaway and missing kids. He and his childhood friends investigated.
The story turned out to be relatively simple. There were no monsters under the bed, just monsters down the hallway. Just your average small town that kidnapped young girls for human sex trafficking. Not a fun scenario to be stuck in as a teen. In the end, the friend who was a girl fled. The friend who was a guy stayed in bed with irreparable brain damage and a nice, restful coma. “And I got the fuck out of that town!” he said. “I got out and I drank and I thought ‘I’ma fucking get some powers and burn that mother down!’ Then I get ’em and try to get some people together, but everyone says I’ll get sent to Butt-Fuck City if start killing the police. Fuck the police! One of ’em already took me to Butt-Fuck City and that was my own dad! I need a drink.”
I agreed. “You know, I like you. I can’t help it, I just see a little bit of myself in you. Don’t worry, not in the butt. And it just so happens that I am the perfect person to fuck the police. In fact, that’s part of the reason I gathered you and all these others here.” I sat down beside him. “I want to help folks like yourself deal with law enforcement. Right the sorts of wrongs that cops ignore because you’re a criminal, or because the so-called do-gooders did ’em. Tell me the name of the town and I’ll slaughter them all mercilessly.”
He looked up at me, blinking. “All the people, or all the cops? It was mainly the cops who did it.”
I waggled my hand. “I can start with the cops and see where it goes from there. Collateral damage really depends on the mood I’m in day to day.”
See, it’s folks like that who need me. Those poor unfortunate souls in pain, in need. I do intend to take care of that guy’s problem with law enforcement, but it had to wait. I was on a stakeout of my own.
I had the nuke moved to one of the office buildings in the financial district. Rather than risk my own guys, I contacted the same mercenary group who lost a team to the Institute of Science. They were quite eager to make up for the loss of personnel and equipment with some quick cash, so they took the gravy guard duty job. I didn’t like that situation either. It occurred to me that I needed to learn how to put my own people in real danger. Shielding my soldiers and security forces wasn’t the same as shielding my old minions like Carl and Moai. I can’t do all this on my own and the forces under my control need to be competent in the field. But I think this case is clearly worthy of exception.
They set up cameras and motion sensors. They maintained drone sentries at various points. They had guards in full gear while others patrolled dressed as a hot dog vendor or landscaper. Ya know, a more innocuous profession that looked like it belonged there and gave someone an opportunity to hide a gun inside a leafblower. I even noticed where they began setting up sandbags and armor plating around a few choke points and the main storage room in question. It wasn’t a bad job. They knew their stuff.
I could still spy on them via their own cameras and my own. I wanted to call it out as a weakness, but them I remembered I’m their boss. Just another of those weird moments where I remembered I’m the authority now. Hell, I’m something of a voice for reason now. Fear for any world where that’s true.
The SEALs were professionals too. More than that, they were the guys who didn’t decide to quit all the tough training and hard missions to take a bigger paycheck pulling easy duty. Plus, while the private contractors can pull some pretty nice deals from some companies, they don’t get access to the kind of freaky dark project shit the military develops. I’m not talking about the cheapos they shove off on the regular military because the people pushing for a bigger budget prefer spending millions on jets that’ll never fly instead of hundreds on gear for the infantry grunts. With the exception of the marines, the best of the best tend to get the best of the best.
I probably sound like some sort of camo-wearing cheerleader right now. I have the legs for it, but this is simple pragmatism. Some enemies aren’t worth underestimating, and I’m one of the few villains who reasonably rates a military response.
It was about four AM Riccan standard time when the first cameras went down. I didn’t have an alert set up; I was just awake when it happened. Doing stuff. I don’t have to explain what stuff to y’all. And no matter what anyone says, none of it involved dressing up as Sailor Moon.
Anyway, it was four AM and cameras at the office building went down. The obvious ones, anyway. The drones didn’t catch anything because the guys meant to send them out were sleepy. That’s why they went in so early in the morning. Any guards active in their way went down, quietly. They were just in the way, then they were dead and gone. It was impressive how well they were disappeared. And, as a dictator now, disappearing people is something I’m supposed to specialize in. It was mere minutes before the SEALs slipped into the room where the nuke was kept. The mercs wouldn’t have seen it. Their stuff was all shut down.
My cameras ran on their own power sources as repurposed holodiscs. That is, disc-shaped hologram projectors, with the cameras being usable for spying as well. The holographic camouflage and self-contained power supplies likely contributed to their survival. I watched as they entered into the room containing the nuclear bomb. Or that’s what I told people, at least. “Does this look like a nuke to anyone?” asked one of the men in a whisper.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. But when the boxy thing in front of them began to count down, one of them did lean down to start cutting wires. Was it the red one that deactivated it? Oh wait, I know this cliché, so none of them did anything. They were just wires I put there to look good. They and the whole floor of the building went up in an explosion that absolutely ruined the city’s sleep. Which is good, because I wanted a lot of witnesses for this next part. Sure, it’s nice to have camera footage of the U.S. Navy sneaking into a building, killing guards, and then messing around with an object that then explodes. What’s even better?
Alarms set off and the old Cold War alerts began to play. “Nuclear launch detected.” Is there any other phrase that could cause people to go from zero to 100 on the “losing their shit” scale? As the leader of the nation’s military, I immediately go on the line with the military base and ordered them to fire the missile interception system. That’s how history will record it, at least. You know how fancy this place is, with all the mad scientists. It’s entirely possible someone worked out a way to intercept a nuclear missile that actually worked.
The base prominently launched a barrage of missiles into the air, including a perfect replica of the United States’ own rockets with a nuke attached. Some distance away, a pre-placed explosive detonated and knocked recognizable portions of the rocket loose. The warhead tumbled a little off target. I had hoped, of course, that it would land right on the deck of the destroyer floating around a few miles off the coast of Mu. That’s where the SEALs came from if the tracking device shoved into the traded prisoner is any indication. I love it when a plan comes together. I also love it when a nuclear warhead detonates. Sure, the thing wasn’t on deck, but close still matters with horseshoes, hand grenades, and hydrogen bombs.
The military’s listening operation went up in a mushroom cloud the world would see and register. I suspect the President of the United States was shitting his onesie within minutes. Everyone would know one went off. Meanwhile, I was comforting Qiang and reassuring her that she didn’t have to fear the American nuclear arsenal anymore. She cried and hugged onto me, but I patted her with all my arms and squeezed her close. “Don’t worry, I stopped them. We’re safe.”
Before long, the BBC reported on Ricca’s nuclear warning system going off and the Intercept team’s fast deployment of a missile screen to stop the launched projectile. My guys did absolutely nothing to stop reporters tagging along on the salvage operation to recover the rocket for the sake of confirming the identity of the assailant. I loved the footage, even if the camera work was a bit awkward from the radiation suits. No sooner had divers from the cruiser hauled up a piece of rocket with the star spangled banner on it than a la loud horn blew. An American destroyer cruised up with an officer announcing via bullhorn, “As part of salvage operations on behalf of the United States of America, this site is off limits. Vacate now!”
I could kiss that captain right now. Both captains, actually. The Riccan one refused to acknowledge the American ship’s hails, and then the American one for projecting the hostility just as soon as evidence appeared to confirm they were behind the attack on my nation.
I made damn sure to put as many foreign nationals as I could before the camera. My first instinct was women and children holding puppies, but I remembered I wasn’t in America anymore. Americans don’t give a shit about foreign kids and foreign puppies. Just like with that whole Hawaii business, the only thing that matters to them are their own business interests. This whole operation worked so well, I didn’t even have to threaten them to go on TV about it. They heard the drills. They saw the pre-dawn sky illuminated by a preemptive nuclear strike upon a nation the United States hadn’t declared war on.
Rumors were already circulating that the military was claiming they had nothing to do with it, that someone just happened to steal a warhead and nobody knows where the rocket came from. The general response from all the Riccans I hired to troll on Facebook is, “How stupid do they think we are?”
Hexidecibel can brag all he likes. The President could release footage of his heist. They could put the unedited tapes out there proving that the SEALs didn’t set off a bomb on Riccan soil to try and destroy our early warning system. A dozen little things can happen to poke holes in the theory I crafted that makes me appear to be a victim.
What do you want?
People want to believe the worst in the world, and the scenario I’ve created is worse than the reality. People want to be afraid. No, really, they do. Because once someone has terrorized you, they’re the bad guys, the bullies. You get to be the victim. It’s incredibly difficult to get people to believe the truth after they’ve already accepted a lie like that. And even if people believed the truth, what then? Do they really want to acknowledge that I can arrange for nuclear weapons to be stolen from the most powerful nation on Earth?
What do I want? I want the United States to stop trying to spy on my little meeting of supervillains. I want villains to think I can protect them from anything up to and including a nuclear missile.
Now, what do I want next?
I know what everyone’s wondering. I know it because I keep getting asked over and over again. I’ve been asked it by Sam. “Can’t you just make your own nuke?” And by Holly, “Don’t you have any nukes around here?” Even Silver Shark weighed in, “Aren’t you smart enough to build your own?”
I am indeed capable of throwing one together. There are probably plenty of villains on this island who can help with that. My answer was simple. “It’s not about making a nuke. It’s about taking one.”
The crowd of people who have all taken to camping in my palace didn’t find that satisfactory. “I bet Maxxy could even build you a nuke!” Sam said, gesturing toward Max.
I looked over to Max, who stood in my kitchen, pouring cereal into a pint of yogurt before taking a spoon to it. “Gecko knows what she’s doing. Leave me out of this,” he said, chomping on fruit loops and congealed dairy.
“Thank you, Max, you are a scholar and a gentleman.” I nodded toward him and crossed all my arms. I looked down to see Qiang mimicking my pose and reached down to hold her against me with my two lefties. “As I was saying, I am easily capable of making a nuclear weapon. I’ll even teach my little psycho bunny here if she wants to learn when she’s older.” I turned and kissed the top of Qiang’s head, then pretended to bite her hair. She giggled at that and hugged onto me.
I will, but only when she’s old enough to handle nuclear weapons, so at least fifteen or sixteen. I don’t want to pressure her into it, though. After all, she might prefer for her first WMD to be a chemical or even biological weapon. I can help with the chemical part, but I’ll have to impart on her that a biological weapon is a huge responsibility. I don’t want to help her build one of those for her to just forget about it and leave me to take it out and clean up after it.
“Making a nuclear bomb also does some weird stuff as far as international treaties. Now, even though people don’t invade countries who develop the bomb precisely because they now have that bomb to use against invading countries, it still creates some international tensions. More importantly, I don’t want to make one because it’s more important for it to be stolen. I have a lot of old files stored away, hogging valuable gigabytes I could use for more important stuff, like porn. Some of those files include the location of places where a certain large nation of imperialist pigs.”
Holly held up her hand. “Question! Do you have to call us pigs like that?”
“Yes,” I answered bluntly. Then I held up a booklet. “It says so in the manual.” I handed it over to her. The cover featured a row of grinning prisoners standing in front of a happy firing squad. “So You’ve Become A Dictator,” read the title above it. She took it and started reading through as I continued.
“There’s a group of these guys around, they’re spying on Ricca, and some of them have almost certainly come ashore without us detecting them. In retaliation, I’m going to steal one of their bombs. Just a bit of harmless tit for tat.” I pulled out another booklet and threw it at Sam just before she started to stifle a laugh at the thought of anything tit-related with me now. She caught some more of my educational reading, “The Dictator’s Guide To Preemptive Strikes”.
“Now, this next part will require all of you to practice the important skill of shutting the fuck up… but I’ll leak that we have it in some hidden site and wait for whoever they’ve got on the island to make a move for it. Then I snap the trap before Admiral Akbar can so much as perform vocal warm-up exercises.”
The joke landed a bit flat, in part because Max was busy with his cereal and Holly had become engrossed in the dictator manual. And that was the only reason nobody liked such an obviously phenomenal reference. “Wow, this is really mysoginist,” Holly said, never taking her eyes off the booklet.
I shrugged. “High turnover from purges, civil war, and regular war. They pretty much all turn women into baby factories.”
“Even the women dictators?” she asked.
“Check out the roster on Page 78,” I said.
She flipped to it. “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”
“That’s why they’re not called vagtators,” I said. “So, we have any questions about the plan?”
I got a rousing chorus of mildly disinterested “No”s and one question from Qiang on if I was going to fix hamburgers. I told her yes and set her down, then realized she was wearing the same dress as me. “Who got you this? You’re almost as pretty in that dress as your dad.”
“I didn’t used to hear these kinds of sentences until I met you people,” said Silver Shark, shaking her mechanically augmented head from where it sat on a neck that could adjust to let her shift it to face directly up when in the water.
“Miss Shark got me this!” Qiang answered, pointing at Silver.
“Aww, did you tell her thank you?”
Silver Shark spoke up. “I told her about Valentine’s and helped her get a dress in case she got a Valentine of her own.”
“Huh,” I said, thinking about it. “That’s right, Valentine’s. Completely slipped my mind. I didn’t even notice if they celebrate it here.”
“They celebrate it,” Max spoke up. “The women give chocolates to men in this part of the world.” He looked at me, then down at his pint of yogurt and began to sidle off to the side.
“That’s remarkably astute. What an amazing thing for you to know, Max. Mind if I ask how you know this and, come to think of it, why my wife didn’t get me anything? Where is she, anyway?”
Sam crossed her arms. “She’s probably sleeping off the sedative Max gave her after she caught him eating all the chocolate you were supposed to get.” She stuck her tongue out at Max. “Happy VD, Maxxy.”
I turned to find a Max-shaped hole in the wall. That would be this one chemical that weakens most forms of wood only in spots with pressure put on it. Useful for making personalized doorways, but not so much preventing someone from following. Still, I was more concerned about checking on Citra. She was indeed still asleep and loopy. I figured I better get her something to make up for missing Valentine’s. With the aid of Qiang, I worked on a pink, heart-shaped cake.
“Oh god, the attention to detail. That’s so gross,” said Sam as she watched me finishing the icing.
“Don’t look so grossed out,” I told her. Qiang passed me a more red shade of icing that we’d whipped up. “Everyone has them.”
“I can’t believe you think that’s a romantic gift,” she countered.
I rolled my eyes. “You’d whine the same way if I pulled out my actual heart and gave it to her. Some people just aren’t happy, and you’re one of them.” I stuck out my tongue at her, then returned to careful decoration of the large muscular blood pump, all while thinking about stage two of the nuclear plan. A gal’s gotta have secrets, even when she’s a dude. Especially when she’s a dude, some might argue.
I had plenty of time to finish before it was time to send Hexadecibel on his way. We had to wait for an appropriate time due to time zones, but I soon strapped on my armor and gave him a set of Riccan augmented reality glasses to wear. We launched from the villain village. One moment he was there, muttering incantations in a circle, the next he was gone and in a bunker somewhere. I lost him there for a few seconds until a smaller portal opened in the circle that let the signal through.
“I got shunted, man. I’m nearby the room.” he said as soon as I could see and hear the situation. Teleporting in like that set off alarms. The glasses overlaid a path for Hexadecibel to follow to the storage area. I saw through is eyes as a squad of guards tried to accost him. Arms grew out of the concrete around them and pulled them against it. He stopped to rifle through one of their pockets before I urged him to forget about mugging them and get the big stuff. It took a bit of maneuvering until he found himself coming out into a two-story room. The floor gently sloped up in a ramp to a door on the second story. Underneath it was the opening of a bunker. “Back!” I yelled just as the opened fire. Good reflexes on those soldiers.
Hexadecibel didn’t go back. He magicked up a concrete wall. A big, beautiful wall, the best wall, nobody builds better walls than Ricca. “Shit,” he said.
“You got this?” I asked.
The view moved from side to side. “I don’t know. Maybe I can. Let me try something.” He jumped up and threw a fireball at them. The rate of fire sounded like it picked up dramatically as he landed, but so did the screaming. After a couple of seconds, the shooting stopped while the screaming continued. Hex dropped the wall cautiously, but no fire picked up. He headed up the ramp and stopped in front of the door’s keypad. “Do you know the code?”
“Give me something big enough to bring my hand through,” I told him.
He put his hands together, made a few hand gestures that created glowing runes in the air, then pulled them apart. A small portal opened, about as big around as a softball. I pulled my gauntlet off and pushed an arm through the portal and against the pad. Soon, my body connected with the wiring and allowed me to interface with it. I had it open for him, then pulled myself free and back to my own location as soon as I could. “You’re good to go.”
When he opened the door, it led to row after row, rack after rack of warheads. He stood there for a moment. When it looked like he wasn’t moving, I ahemed and said, “Hey, there may be soldiers coming up behind you. Get in and shut that door.”
He hurried in. “Sorry, I think I peed a little. There are so many.”
“The country’s had the ability to annihilate all life on Earth for more than half a century. That’s a lot of spares left laying around.”
“I guess I didn’t think about how many that means. How many do you need?”
“I said just one and I meant it. Preferably one of these near the door. They’ll be a bit more fresh.”
“Ok, you should back up.”
I moved further away from his little circle. Meanwhile, the connection showed him pulling out some mixture of a powdery substance and spreading it in a circle around one of the racks that only had a single warhead. There was some chanting, some more runes, even a bit of a red glow then… pop! The air made a little popping noise as Hexadecibel and the nuclear warhead just appeared in his little circle on this side.
“Whew!” he shouted and clapped his hands. “That was intense, man. Hey, I still hear the alarm though.”
I heard it too, then I realized. “That’s not so much an alarm as it is a loud squee.” Too late, I looked up to find myself tackled by an enthusiastic giant bee woman. Queen Beetrice, ruler of the insectoid-humanoid Buzzkills and the nation of North Korea as part of the Riccan Empire.
“I thought you were watching the Olympics,” I told her.
She just hugged me tight. “I heard you were getting me a nuclear bomb!” she said, attempting to squeeze me out of my armor like Popeye opening a can of spinach.
“Let’s talk this over elsewhere,” I said to her. I had to give the military guys the orders on where to hide our bit of ill-gotten goods. They’ll see to it.
I, on the other hand, had to go make another cake, and bees have really weird-looking hearts compared to humans. Meanwhile, at the rocket plant, custom orders began to trickle in every few hours, spread across different shifts, meant to match different sorts of rockets than the we use on Ricca. With the nuke secured, I was ready to prepare stage two.
The diver we detained sang like a bird. After he finished tweeting, Mix N’Max tweaked the formula a bit and got him to talk instead. I know, we didn’t handle things the way the civilized countries do, with waterboarding and torture. All we did was treat him ok to gain his trust then subject him to drugs that loosen his tongue, like savages.
“Who are you?” Max asked after giving the guy a hell of a dose.
“I’m a lance corporal with the United States Marine Corps,” the man answered, groggily.
“Yes, but who are you?” Max asked.
I stood outside the room, watching through a one-way wall. Basically, we had this thin fabric on the wall, something they derived from cuttlefish skin. A camera fed us a view that was put on a wallpaper-thick monitor. As far as the person inside was concerned, there weren’t mirrors for us to watch him through. You know, because we’re trustworthy here. And speaking of trust, Sam and Holly were standing on either side of me. Sam took a moment to tell me, “If anything happens to Max, I will choke a bitch.”
I waved off her concerns, but she added, “And you’re the bitch.”
“Yes, yes, sure, sure. You’re talking as if I haven’t choked more bitches than a big-dicked zoophile.” Come to think of it, I have slept with humans while male, so that’s an accurate description of me. No, wait. Huge-dicked. Megaladong, leviathan of the watery, moist depths.
I turned my attention back to Max and our captured Lance Corporal. “Enough with who he is. I want to know what he wants and why he’s here.” From my lips to Max’s ears courtesy of a thing in his ear.
It’s entirely possible that we have some folks around here who aren’t supposed to be. We’ve seen lots of naval activity in the area because of the island of Mu. They’re looking at the place. A whole new age of colonialism may well begin, but I’ve got first dibs because I married into the royal family of the Bronze City. With my own guys in place scouting around there, I think I’ve found some options for advancing them a little further along the tech tree and conquering the place. Truth is, it’s my ambassador who came up with that idea. Mine tend to involve turning them into super soldiers with enhanced muscles and armor embedded in their skin.
The guy we’d captured was nothing like that. Plain ol’ human. If he had any powers, he hadn’t used them. What he did have was a tongue he could use to tell us what was going on. “We were briefed that villains had gathered on Ricca. We are supposed to monitor the situation.”
“You would think they’d be glad to be rid of them for a time. Why do they care?” Max asked.
The marine shook his head, but also nodded. “Marco heard from his boyfriend who works the radio. He overheard one of the brass saying they think this is the same thing the last guy did.”
I realized he was talking about the Claw and the Unity drug. His people gave it to supers, blocking access to their long term memories so they could convince them they worked for him. So, I guess I hadn’t realized what this might look like to outside groups.
“Why are you here?” Max asked.
“I’m supposed to scout the island for infiltration,” he answered.
“Him and what army?” I asked Max through the earpiece. In my experience, recon marines don’t send in just one person to take a look. They typically operate in squads.
“Was anyone with you?” Max asked.
“My squad. You captured me, but they got the job done. We always do. Oorah!” He sat up straighter.
“I think we got all we needed out of this, Max. Hey, by the way, that stuff you gave him isn’t fatal, is it? Especially knowing you gave some to me.”
Max shook his head as he left the room. He waited until he was out of there to answer. “No, you’ll both be fine. Did you want to kill him yourself now he’s talked?” Max gestured toward the door.
I shook my head. “I have a better idea. I’m going to make an example of him.”
The next day, after he’d sobered up, I marched him right up to the docks. He stood there, hands tied behind his back. “Care for a final smoke?” I asked him as he faced the water.
“No. Let’s just get this over with,” the Lance Corporal responded.
Soon, a boat arrived with a group of pissed-looking marines aboard. Before they got too close, I offered again. “Seriously, man, you know this is good shit.” I held up a joint for the marine.
“I’ll be lucky if they don’t discharge me after this. They’ll probably stick me in Antarctica.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. I bet they’ll reassign you even harder if you’re high. Hey there, fellas!” I waved at the incoming marines. “It’s not the halls of Montezuma nor the shores of Tripoli, but welcome to Ricca.”
They really wanted to use those pretty guns of theirs, but instead made sure not to point them anywhere near me. That’s the sort of thing that causes international incidents.
I pushed the Lance Corporal toward them. “As the leader of this fine nation, I gladly and publicly return your soldier and ask that the United States refrain from trespassing again.”
Drones with cameras hovered into view, recording and broadcasting for posterity and international viewership. It’s not a good day for the States’ military or its State department. Then again, what State department? They still haven’t rebuilt it after all the damage caused by the one Moron President last year.
The marines got their man back, the marine got to go back, I got information, and it looked like everything was one big happy, stupid deal. Thing is, I’ve been the devil in the deal before. I tracked them back to their ship and I put the drone guys on alert to check the entirety of the island. We’ve had visitors.
I mean that in two senses of the words. First, we’ve had these recon guys here. We’ve also had all these villains around. The two are linked, and not just because the latter caused the former to come out here. Having a bunch of unfamiliar people around makes it easy to sneak someone in to get a look.
I know, why bother? Not like we’re doing anything wrong here. But as a serial killer, I’m used to being misunderstood by people. They never want to see the good side of me. The caring philanthropist fighting overpopulation, for instance.
More than that, this is an opportunity. Lots of things are. Mistakes are opportunities to learn, for instance.
I took myself a walk out to the villain village. I saw that one guy again, the rocker dude with the occult tattoos. He had his glowing hands up as he directed these magical rock guys walking around, picking up litter. It looked so much cleaner around. Still had a guy sleeping on the fountain, but he hadn’t wet himself, and there wasn’t technically a pollution law in place to deal with the wet farts the guy kept ripping.
“Interesting powers. Magic, right?” I asked him.
He smirked and waved his hands around, shooting a burst of flame from his wrists. Then he returned to directing the little stone men. “I know what you’re wondering. Where did the lighter fluid come from?”
I chuckled under my helmet as I approached. “I’ve had a certain question on my mind lately, and I was curious how some other folks might answer it. A simple question with a complex answer, which is how you know it’s a real son of a bitch. Unfortunately, you can’t look in the back of the book for the answer this time around. What do you want?”
“I want to get this shit cleaned up because it stinks and I hate stepping on it. People were afraid to wear flip flops. Oh, was that the question?” When I nodded, he paused and looked off into space. After several seconds. “I want money and I want to have fun.”
“But why?” I asked, aware that question is far more annoying to most people.
“So see, I actually wanted to be the lead guitarist in a band. My friend and I called ourselves the Sex Change Psychopaths.” Dammit, they stole my band name. “It was just us two, so we weren’t a real band and we didn’t have instruments. We thought we could attract some real rockers if we made a kick-ass music video and then they’d teach us how to play, my man. My buddy, Robert, he said that wouldn’t work because we’d need to know how to play to make a kick-ass music video in the first place. And I’m all ‘Uh uh, man. We just need to go to a crossroads.’ He’s got this annoying little brother who wants to be part of the band and we didn’t want to let him, but we need him to drive us.”
I pulled a bag of popcorn out of my utility belt. “Sorry to interrupt, but can you warm this up for me?” I held it out to him.
“Sure, no probs.” He took the bag in his hands. They glowed red and the bag expanded amid a chorus of pops.
I took it back when he finished. “Thanks. Now please continue. You needed Robert’s little brother to drive you.” I moved my helmet up just enough to expose my mouth for eating the popcorn.
“Yeah, see I had a problem with this cop in town, Derek the Dickwad, and I got my license revoked. Rob kept failing the test, so that meant we had to go with Ralphy, Rob’s brother. We go out to this crossroads at night and do some stuff we read about online. Nothing happens, so we pack up and go to leave, but Rob’s pissed and makes Ralphy give him the keys. Rob’s leaving when he hits this guy’s goat. There’s some people out there who raise goats. We get out to check and see what Ralphy’s gonna have to get fixed and I notice the goat landed in the pentagram we drew. Then things get freaky as fuuuck. The car dies and we hear laughing and shit everywhere. We left some candles out there and they flare up, and Rob was too close. He’s on fire and gets too close to the circle and this hand just grabs him. I don’t remember anything until the next morning.”
He finished with his little stone men. With a gesture, they all marched over in front of one of the buildings and settled into place as little statues. “We realized we had these powers. We could do things, make shit happen. Ralphy, too, and he threatened us with going to the cops if he didn’t get in the band. We kicked ass for awhile, but Rob, man, it screwed with his head. He started murdering people, and I wasn’t into that. Ralphy wasn’t either. He and Rob got in a fight. Ralphy got hurt and Rob got away. Last I heard, he’s trying to find some way to end the world. Ralphy’s hunting him down and he’d sometimes come after me. I tried the band thing, but it started making me try to be like Rob and kill shit. So I became a supervillain to make money and be famous instead. It’s been wild.”
“So that’s it. Just money and fun. What about if you’re caught or killed?”
He pointed to his chest. “That’s what Hexadecibel’s about, my man! I’m Hexadecibel, by the way.” He didn’t bother with a handshake.
“Nice to meetcha. Say, I have a way you can earn some scratch. Depending on how your skills are, it might even be real easy.” I tossed the bag of popcorn away to the side.
“Hey, I just cleaned that. And I’m good. I can make these stone guys, I do stuff with sound. I’m not cleaning there again, but I’m the right guy.” Eh, not so much. The best guy for the job would have asked what it was before talking themselves up for it.
That became apparent to him when I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “Hexadecibel, I need you to get me a bomb. But not just any bomb. I need you to steal me a nuke, and I know just the American installation with a few to spare.”
It’ll be purely for hunting purposes, of course.
Today, the great nation of Ricca welcomed a most esteemed visitor. He stepped off a boat, pale of skin, velvet of jacket, and frilled of shirt; Mix N’Max at last arrived on the island. He stepped down the gangplank right toward me. I met him in friendly hug, the both of us exclaiming the other’s name. “Gecko!”
“Gecko?” asked a feminine voice from behind him. It came from one half of his assistants, Sam Hain, who I barely recognized without her purple hair. She’d gone for something of a punk cancer look, except for this tiny puff of it at the front that was bright green. She also looked pale, but I never remembered that as an affectation she liked to share with her boss. I figured it had more to do with her shaky walk down to the ground that ended with her bending over with her hands on her knees for a few seconds. She had the sea sickness, that Sam Hain. And yes, it’s Sam like Samantha, not pronounced like Samhain. She had on her boots, her fishnet stockings, a lacy black skirt. Excellent seafaring gear, of course. Takes a brave woman to think a corset is appropriate gear for seasickness, but maybe she was trying her hand at formality.
Her friend did not have same issues. Holly Wayne ran down in a flowery dress that didn’t quite match up with the purple highlights in her bleach blonde hair. Even tugging along some of the luggage, she seemed no worse for wear. “Oh my god, Gecko? You look… pretty.” People can be a bit unsure of how to refer to psychopaths having sex changes. Ooh, that’s a nice band name: Sex Change Psychopaths.
“How do we even know that’s Gecko?” asked Holly, standing up. She held her back ramrod straight as she walked toward me.
“You can’t tell?” asked Max, turning toward her with his arm around my shoulders. He held up a hand toward me face.
I did likewise. “Yeah, it’s totally obvious.” I sent Max an email with my picture on it. The rest was the same teamwork that once made us part of a deadly trio of villains. The Dark Triad had been comprised of the three villains known for so many years as the only few to survive breaking one of the unwritten rules of superpowers by murdering other supers. Mix N’Max, Psycho Gecko, and the Good Doctor.
Doc had been a good guy, and I don’t just say that because he’s dead. He had been a good guy blackmailed into villany, but I know he had a taste for it. Once his blackmailer had been dealt with and he had a chance to live with his daughter, he took it. I never did accept it, but our difference of opinion didn’t become truly problematic until I killed his superhero daughter. It was for a good cause, but that didn’t matter. Once I started to accumulate my own family, he showed up to try and deprive me of it. I had to kill him.
“How have you been, dude?” I asked Max. “It’s been too long.”
“I had this great setup in Vegas. It was awesome!”
We spent the evening getting caught up. I showed him my palace, and my daughter, and my wife. Well, technically Citra’s just pretending to be my wife, but close enough. They took it pretty well.
“Who would give you a wife?” asked Holly.
“Who would give you a child?” asked Sam.
“Is this all the alcohol you have?” asked Max.
I answered in order of importance, starting with pointing Max toward the vault where I hide the seashine.
After quite a bit of drinking, we wandered off into the most somber hours of the night toward the big state cemetary. I say somber hours, but they’re the same early hours that super criminals like us often do our best work. This wasn’t about robbing, not even graverobbing. That business isn’t as lucrative as it used to be in the days of undisturbed Egyptian pyramids and medical colleges needing cadavers.
There was more drinking, some alleged crying, and some strange substances were ingested. I won’t specifiy too many of the actions, except to note that I smoked something and then took a trip away from the graveyard. I was being sucked away from the Earth I was living on and toward the Earth I came from. Screw that. I wanted my Earth, not that old one. My Earth, with my daughter, my obsessed bee woman, my old magical Moai statue, my former minions, my current friends, and even that poor woman who decided to be my wife. I wanted to grip the ground and hold tight no matter what forces tried to tear me away.
Then I found myself back at the tree. This pissed me off because I hate extended dream sequences. I would torture a damn tree if I needed to. I figured I was safe once it grew the face of Good Doctor. That kind of cheesy symbolism was a better indication of my own mind playing tricks than having never left the tree. It didn’t make me feel any better toward it. Its branches grew at me like claws. I grabbed it by the trunk and squeezed like I could choke it off. “What do you want?” I asked it.
The words echoed. The tone changed and the tree moved its mouth in sync with them. I really gotta cut out… whatever the hell it is I smoked. The damn echoing felt like it wouldn’t stop. Felt like it reverberated deep inside me, so I tried to yell things to stop it.
“I want Qiang to be safe! I want to get rid of the worst people!” That didn’t work. It surprised me, because I thought those were pretty good answers. Revelatory stuff that went a little deeper into my core and how I’d changed than most people would expect. While true, the answers didn’t stop the echoing question, so I kept throwing out answers. “Truth, justice, freedom, reasonably priced love, and a hard-boiled egg. I wanna be free. I wanna be free to do what I wanna do. And I wanna get loaded. And I wanna have a good time!”
It just wouldn’t end, so I sat there, punching the face of a tree monster, trying to figure out what I could say or do to make it shut up. I tried kicking it in the balls, for instance. No balls. Poked it in the eye, but it was just wood. I even tried thinking really, really hard. After what felt like hours of dealing with antagonistic plantlife, I was tired. I hung there, slowly thunking my head against Good Doctor’s face in ineffectual headbutts. I finally stopped, sighed, and said, “I just want to live and make this place better.”
I paused. “Wait, how long have I wanted to live?” I looked at Good Doctor’s face. “And don’t you get any ideas about that other part. I said make it better, I didn’t say saving kittens out of trees and flying around with my underwear showing. Those types have sat around letting bad people do plenty of bad things because it’s easier than rocking the boat.”
I awoke the next morning to find myself laying on top of a mausoleum. I crawled to the edge and tumbled off, startling Max awake from where he slept curled up on a grave. “The fuck did you give me last night?” I asked my friend, grabbing his neck and lightly swinging his head side to side.
He coughed and pulled away. “Drugs. I made this strong stuff that’s like LSD on steroids and Beta blockers.” I couldn’t easily process this statement at the time due to the LSD on steroids and Beta blockers in my system.
“I made it to get in people’s brains and mess them up for questioning.” He groaned and rolled over to me, his face really close to mine.
I slapped him. “Dick move, dude. Why would you give me that?”
He held his hand to his cheek. “Sorry, I think it happened while we were drunk. I think the seashine melted my fillings. I didn’t realize you might have smoked it until you were yelling things at the sky!”
“What things?” I asked, grabbing onto his lapels. Then a massive, nasty burp came up and I just let it go in his face. He winced and tried to keep his mouth shut, then turned his head and coughed a few times.
“It was all gibberish. A lot of things were messing with its intended purpose, but I didn’t hear anything private and nobody else could either.” He patted my ands and I reluctantly released him.
“Fine… gah, let’s get back to the palace. My mouth feels like I had a hobo-eating contest.”
It was Sam who opened the door to the palace, which looked to have had quite a party on it sown. I saw Silver Shark sprawled over a couch and Queen Beetrice hanging over the counter. Sam yawned and looked at me with my hair resembling the starship Enterprise. Then she looked to her boss, Max, whose clothes were all frumpy and wrinkled. “You two have yourselves some private fun?”
In deference to her being Max’s minion, I didn’t try as hard as I could have to hit her.
Later, after being rested, showered, and enjoying some hair of the dog that bit me, an idea crept into my brain. My brain was recovering from a lot, including my admission to myself that not only do I truly have some altruism of a sort inside me, but I don’t really want to die anymore. That wasn’t as important as recognizing a problem that Max’s drugs provided a solution to.
Armoring up again for appearance’s sake, I dragged Max along with me to the military base where they held our unknown diver. “The guy’s spoken in English before, and his gear matches up with U.S. Military, but it only tells us so much. We don’t know what they’re doing here, what he was sneaking in to do, even if he was the only one sneaking in here. For all we know, they could have a whole base set up in those old ruins off in the western part of the island.” I stopped and smiled to myself at that one. “Ok, that’d be pretty funny if they did that. Problem solved if that’s the case. But until we know, I figured you could give our friend in there a sample of what you gave me last night. I want him talkin’ like a Furby.”
Max smiled and pulled out his syringe gun. He swapped out a few parts right there in front of me until it more closely resembled a bong crossed with a super soaker. “I’ll smoke him out.”