The Empyreal March 5

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A little sleep goes a long way, as does good nutrition. Good nutrition injected straight into my veins, just like the Psychopomp Project used to make. Well, it tried it for a bit. Back in the early days of it, before the guys running it really went off their rockers, they tried weaning us off food for a bit in the hopes it would make us more efficient. There were some failures, which then led to teaching us the basics of cooking, including which recipes made the best use of people. Just in case. As long as you have a corpse, you have food. Hell, as long as you don’t mind losing a limb or two, you still have food in desperate situations.

I may have deleted some of those recipes from my memory.

After a little rest and a long shower, it was time to get to work setting upon my enemies and scouring them from the face of the Earth. Which, admittedly, involves getting a video from my brain. Hitting my head against a desk in the library, sadly, didn’t help ideas for that come any quicker. I stopped when I realized I had enough other people around willing to slam my head into things that I didn’t need to resort to it myself lest they get in on the act. And that reminded me of the person who most liked bashing my head against things. Or at least the most prominent person to get away with it: Venus.

And she gave me ideas. Many fun ideas.

Problem was, where to find her? I looked all over that school. I failed to find her, but Good Doctor found me while I was checking the gym. He had normal clothes on, presumably happy to be out of his gear, but I noticed a belt of scalpels around his waist as he stepped in there and walked quite purposefully toward me.

“Hello there, fellow escapee,” I said, smiling. He popped me in the throat with his fist. I held a hand up toward him and put the other one to my throat. I bent over, not wanting to fight him. Just because he didn’t think he was a friend didn’t mean he stopped being one. He took advantage of the position with a kidney punch. Fucker would know how to hit there. And he kept hitting there, which hurt a hell of a lot. I let myself drop, hoping he’d just start kicking instead, at least until he kicked me there a few times.

He left me laying there, and probably with plenty more bruises ready to join the leftovers from my beating. I rolled over. “Gonna be pissing blood for a month now. You happy?”

He was on top of me in a flash, holding a scalpel to my throat. “You took away the only happy thing in my life, you bastard!” He raised the scalpel.

“Stand down!” yelled Venus. I recognized the voice.

Good Doctor heard it too and looked up, then back down to me. I could see the struggle written on his face. “Why?” he growled. “What excuse is there this time? What lies has he told to make you believe his continued existence is necessary?!”

I almost said something, but it occurred to me that pretty much anything I said might force his hand. Plus, I wasn’t sure if Venus had an answer for that. I was curious.

She might have been, too. I looked up and she paused briefly before continuing to walk. “You’re not the courts. You don’t have the right.”

“The right?” His eyes widened in disbelief. “I don’t have the right? He killed my daughter. I have every right. He doesn’t get to hide behind rights and courts after all he’s done.”

“That’s what he says to justify why he kills. I know it’s hard to hear, but you’re a smart man. He killed your daughter and you are compromised by emotion. ” She stood over me. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up between her legs while she’s worn jeans before.

I looked back up to Doc’s face, and I could tell he was learning why I hated her so much. He wasn’t going to do it. I thought he’d slam the scalpel into the floor next to my face. Instead, he clenched his fist and lowered the scalpel to his belt where it slipped into place among a few of its brethren. Taking deep breaths, he stood up and backed away from me.

I just looked up to Venus, who held her hand out to help me up out of instinct, then pulled it back before the offer got all the way out there. I put my hands under my head. “Heya there, Venus. You know, you look good in casual clothes. Also, I need your help with something.”

“I don’t want to know, do I?” she asked, standing well away from my head.

Huh. She looked a lot better in jeans and a shirt than she did in skintight costumes. I could give or take the mask, but the body makes me want to go “Oh yeah, baby, I’m gonna disappoint you so hard.”

“Well, you would need to be closer than that,” I explained. “See, I have this video I took on my eye. Sadly, y’all disabled wifi and cellular connectivity, which means I can’t call it an eye-phone, nor can I upload it in any way myself. And since you teamed up with a supervillain to strip me of my powers, I can’t just connect to something else to get it out there. So I’m sitting on some really useful knowledge, some video that could really help the situation, with no way to get it out there. So I got to thinking maybe you would be able to connect to me and transfer some data.”

“This is some kind of trick,” Good Doctor said. Venus nodded her agreement with his assessment.

“Look,” I leaned up on my elbows. “I’m serious. I didn’t stay in there that long just to get my ass kicked. I don’t entirely know why I went in there, aside from a bad experience with a flashbang and a bunch of soldiers. But I have something useful. Something that could lead your pansy asses to a less violent means of victory. I got my ass kicked for this. An old woman with some serious balls got shot in the face for this, and not by me. Other supers died in that fucking explosion. Look past me and think of the sunk cost fallacy, people.”

They didn’t know what to say to that, possibly because I seemed to give a damn and possibly because my last sentence took the piss out of the whole rest of it. I rolled my eyes then and raised a scalpel I’d stolen off Doc’s belt to my temple. “Ok, so I’ll cut in there, find whatever hole or patch y’all left from when y’all went in the first time, and open the way.” I held a finger from that hand out to dig into my hair, looking for an irregular spot close to where I knew the brain-based hard drive to be. “Venus, you need to stick a finger in, but I’m probably not going to be able to guide you. Come to think of it, that’s a bit of a setback I haven’t thought about. Just look through this last week, particularly my time in captivity. Good stuff. You’ll love the part when I’m on the chair.”

I didn’t give her a chance to respond to all that before I dug the scalpel into my scalp in what I figured was the correct spot. I gritted my teeth. She rushed forward and grabbed my hand, yanking it away. I winced up at her. “Ow. Pull out, not to the side. That hurt.”

Laughter broke her shocked expression. I didn’t laugh with her, just pulled up a small flap of skin and hair. “If you’re doing acting like I’m Patton Oswalt or something, there’s the matter of the data I still need to get to so you can get to it.”

She didn’t let me take the scalpel to my own head again. “No. I don’t even know how to do that if you could get to it!”

I sighed and let her take the scalpel. “What the fuck have you been doing with those powers, huh?”

She stood up and held the scalpel out to Good Doctor who took it. Couldn’t make out much of his thoughts on the matter, but maybe he was glad at least one of his tools got a taste of my blood.

I stood up. “Dammit. The needle and thread’s going to itch like hell now, too.”

“Needle and thread?” asked Good Doctor.

Venus answered back. “He doesn’t get access to nanites, even though he’s just a human now.” I just shook my head, once again being reminded of my horrible and disfiguring medical condition: being human. I headed to the door, keeping a hand on my scalp. Wasting my damn time, that’s all that was.

“Doc, can you tell some moron not talk about me like I’m not even here? Nevermind, give me a few seconds.” I didn’t let the door hit me on my way out and walked to the infirmary for a little bit of self-stitching. They had a couple nurses there working on students, so I just handled myself. Though, I did expect more. They managed to bring in more specialized staff for myself, unless they also have healers. And in this case, it wouldn’t even matter.

Venus caught up after a couple minutes while I was putting my head back together. She stuck her head through the door. “Don’t close up just yet!.”

I sighed and shook the needle at her, the thread still running back to my scalp. “Why the fuck not?”

“What if we plug something in that you could download the information to it?”

“It’s not like I built in USB connections.”

“Well there has to be some way,” she said, exasperation filling her voice.

“Some way other than restoring just one capability to me. This city is dying while we sit around, you know.” I crossed my arms as I looked up at her.

She glared at me. “You don’t get to pull that. It was never that simple with you. Now I’m about to go and have a good time. If I hear you caused any trouble while I was gone, I’ll let the Good Doctor have his with with you and NOT how you want. I’ll tell him it would be more fun to leave you an armless and legless.”

“Geez, Boopsie, a little high strung?”

She messed with her dark hair with one hand. “I have a Valentine’s Date.”

I raised an eyebrow and let my eyes wander in the direction of the city.

She added, “In another state. If you mess up anything, you will be back in that cell. Maybe you’ll keep your legs.”

“T’would be but a flesh wound, m’lady. But fine. I’ll sit here. What am I going to do, email my brain to someone?” I waved her off. “Now go on with your life. Go ahead. I’m just the nemesis you don’t have anymore time for. Shoo, shoo.”

Well, Venus left to go get ready for her date. Which she went on. With Psychsaur. Bit of a surprise there. Psychsaur picked up my attractions, but I thought Venus was Catholic. They weren’t the only ones doing couple stuff, which just further rubbed in that I was likely to be left rubbing one out alone. I had options, but that wasn’t the main thing on my mind. No, before I grabbed a box of wine and a pair of hoses to drink it with, I had to build myself a small transdimensional receiver.

It’s one of those capable of picking up a signal I bounce out of another dimension. Venus gave me ideas, sure, but not just the ones Psychsaur got to share. Ideas like “how about I trick the heroes into fixing me a little?” And it didn’t quite work yet, but I think I know how to make it work. So I fixed a receiver and prepared a small section for broadcast into another dimension, at which time it will be bounced back to the receiver, ready to be attached to a secured and untraceable email pointing out that Master Academy is in possession of an extremely damaging video. Sure, the White House has filters and all sorts of ways to track people down, but I know full well just how secure they are and aren’t. It comes with being emperor and doing interesting things in the Lincoln bedroom with a pair of Korean twins and a Japanese schoolgirl. We got so wild, they could have renamed it the Kennedy bedroom or the Clinton office.

And then it was off to MY date. Because I can totally get one, and not just with hookers. I know it’s not polite to call them that, but the chances of them ending up dead with me are pretty high, and they’re hookers when they’re dead in the trunk of your car.

On that note, Happy Surviving Valentine’s Day.

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The Empyreal March 4

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You know what else I spy with my little eye? A boot. To be fair, the kick lost something since they sat me back in the chair. “Answer the question!” yelled one of the trio of soldiers in the room.

“Ok! I’ll tell you what you want to know!” I spat a glob of spit and blood onto the floor, then nodded toward the soldier to my right. “His mom was the better lay.” That earned me a punch along the jaw that felt like something popped over there. I think he felt it too. The human head is one tough bunch of bones.

That’s not a lot of comfort when his buddy got me in the gut with a punch from the left and the one in front kicked over the chair again, spilling me to the floor. With my hands tied like that, I couldn’t block myself. That makes a bit of a difference. After a couple of stomps, they righted myself and the chair. This time, I hocked a tooth chip loogie before laughing.

“Yeah, keep laughing. We’ll knock the rest of those teeth down your throat,” said one of them. It didn’t matter which.

“When you’re done with that, break out those sexy spiked heels you look so pretty in and walk on my chest a bit, will ya?” I threw my head back to laugh and caught a fist to my ear that caused me to stop and wince. Fucking ears, man. They just had to turn this torture session uncivilized, didn’t they?

They’ve dragged me in a couple of times, asking me who I am, where I come from, and what my powers are. The only answer I’ve given them so far is that I’m just a citizen who exercised my right to self defense. They didn’t believe me the first, second, nor apparently the third time. This time, instead of taking me back to my tiny cell in the reptile room, they dragged me to a larger holding pen. It had plenty of grass, rocks, and thin little trees that would make a very poor and very obvious ladder if someone attempted to use them to climb the steep sides of the enclosure. Not that any of the other people waiting around in there was aiming to do so given the lack of anything to down the trees with other than their own bodies.

“Shit, they got him good,” said a bearded fellow with tan skin who bent over a pile of branches, bark, leaves, and grass.

“You should see the other guy,” I said. I took a few steps, then flopped right on my face on the dirt.

I had an eye up where it could still look in that direction and saw the man pause and look at an old lady sitting nearby. Her wrinkled old face looked at me over the blanket she bundled up in before she said to the guy, “He’ll wait. I’m freezing.”

I gave them both a thumbs-up. “Don’t worry about me. I’m just gathering my strength. I’m secretly ready to pounce. Any minute now. Any minute.”

Bearded guy’s eyebrows raised and lowered real quick as the only commentary on that statement while he went ahead and started knocking some rocks together, trying to get sparks to catch. “What’s this place they dragged me to?” I asked.

“This is for the normals,” old lady answered. “They beat everyone to make sure we don’t have any powers. They expect someone would try to fight back or break out before now. I was a reporter when Jimmy Carter’s evil twin from another world showed up. Now, his men knew how to put a beating on. If any of my kids tried to beat someone up like this, I’d smack the taste out of their mouths.”

The fellow with the beard tried to one up her even as he worked. “It’s still not as bad as that time when the Chernobot attacked.” The sparks caught and he cupped his hand around the burning grass, feeding leaves to the flames in hopes the fire would grow big and strong.

“That nuclear-powered wimp? My cigarettes are more likely to give me cancer,” responded the old lady.

“What about the Rat Emperor?” a voice called from elsewhere. There were other people sitting a bit higher up, in groups.

“What about the Rat Emperor?” the old lady asked by way of answer.

“Psycho Gecko,” I suggested.

“He destroyed my apartment,” she said.

Meanwhile, our fire was starting to grow. The would-be Prometheus looked up and said, “My daughter’s school, too. He was an asshole drama queen. Good riddance.”

“Ooh,” I winced.

“There, there,” said the guy who just insulted me. “You’ll be back on your feet in no time. I’m afraid we don’t have any medical supplies, but you’re welcome to a room in our swanky hotel.”

I spent a couple days recovering, otherwise my escape would have been much quicker. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t walk, just that it was really painful. I wasn’t going anywhere, anyway. Just an enclosure with high, thick metal walls all around except for the observation window. I didn’t see anyone back there most of the time. They kept them out of sight.

The lack of food didn’t do much to help that, either. They gave us stuff from military Meals Ready to Eat, just not the heating pads. The entrees are really not fun cold, but our civilization has discovered fire. Just not sure whether we should work on the wheel, pottery, or writing next on the tech tree. It takes a lot of work to get railroads by a time period best known as the early Middle Ages.

Sorry, but I made use of some of my downloaded games while I was infirm. Probably sounded a bit weird to the other around, but a guy’s got to stay entertained. Plus, it helps me practice. There’s nothing quite like being told you’ve ended Russian civilization. Now, if only I can get a rabbit’s foot and ramp up wine production, I’ll be the undisputed agricultural ruler of Stardew Valley!

But y’all didn’t come here to read about me playing games and drinking the little bottles of Tabasco that come with the MREs. Or listen to podcasts, though I’ve found some delightful ones. No, you came here to read about my amazing exploits as a premiere kicker of fine keister.

I soon found myself a night owl again, seeing sights others miss during the day. One night, for instance, I needed a break from Hotline Miami because the game was designed to cause headaches if played too long and found myself coming back to the world looking in the direction of the old lady. She had huddled over the smoldering remnants of her fire, her back and blanket toward the entrance area and its obvious cameras and the big window. She had her hands cupped over the fire and a small floating fireball between them. The old broad has been holding out on them.

A few hours later at dawn, the feeding door opened and a half doze soldiers rushed in, keeping an eye on everybody awake. They spread out, the moonlight glinting off uniforms that seemed unusually shiny and lacking in armor. Heat and fire-resistant material, if I had to guess. A pair approached the old woman, who sat up suddenly.

“You have a choice,” one of the men said to her.

She shook her head slowly. “You’re sworn to uphold Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I have as much choice as you do. Are you going to defend your people, or murder because someone told you to?”

I could see the man frown down at her. Then he raised his rifle and pointed it right in the old woman’s face. A part of me got some wood from it all. The next few moments, I figured, would be pivotal.

“We have our orders,” said the soldier. The shot echoed through the enclosure and woke a lot of people up. I heard a baby start crying. The soldier looked up at everyone, then lowered his gun to put another couple of shots into the old lady’s chest. The others kept up a defensive posture, ready to respond if anyone tried to react while the pair that had approached the woman dragged her body off toward the feeding enclosure. I just watched and let them go. It’s easy when you’re as coldblooded as myself, especially because they almost certainly had reinforcements nearby in case anyone reacted emotionally.

Most of the group seemed to be in the dumps about it. Nobody, not even the bearded guy who seemed to know her, moved to take their place by her fire. They huddled up and tried to get to sleep under their blankets and next to their fires and all that. Everything was peaceful for about an hour. Then I calmly stood up, did some light stretching to knock the kinks out, and yawned. I turned sideways so I could address the people higher up on the ridge, which I put at about two dozen, and keep the window in my line of sight. “Anyone want to get out of here?” I asked.

“What?” someone asked. I turned and shot a laser from my laser eye, carving a quick circle in the glass of the window. Hurt like hell, the heat starting to cook my eye socket, but that’s the price I pay.

I ran for the hole, giving a Tarzan yell. A pair of soldiers stepped up, aiming their guns. Even if I wasn’t hurtling toward them due to momentum, I wouldn’t have stopped. Instead, zigged to the side until only the one on the left could aim at me through the hole and popped him in the eyes with the laser. He dropped his gun and held his eyes. His friend moved to take his place and got a hole through his forehead instead. I jumped through the opening left, wondering if the folks behind me would follow.

I know, why didn’t I just let them in on the plan? Because there were cameras and ways for the soldiers inside to figure out when people were colluding. The old lady’s death showed that much.

Once I got through the gap, I found it was a curved corridor with some nice plaster walls. I didn’t notice so much last time, what with all the beatings. A pair of soldiers came up around the curve to my right. I swiped my hand, catching one’s eye. He screamed and went down, but his buddy had a good chance for a shot. Would have, anyway, if I didn’t drop down to the ground as fast as I could. I quickly popped my fangs down and forced the venom sacks to squeeze their contents into my mouth. I rolled over and spat a spurt of Tabasco sauce into the second soldier’s face. He screamed as well, leaving one eye between the both of them. I barely even felt it this time as my laser eye shot out and severed the trigger finger of the one still capable of seeing.

That gave me enough time to stand up and slash their throats with my blackened zirconium fingernails, shooting blood into the air.

I heard gasps behind me and turned to see a crowd of the normals standing there, looking at bodies. “Grab a gun if you want to fight,” I said, panting. With a moment to think on it, I felt pretty damn tired. It was the laser. Imagine a sugar crash without the rush. But I didn’t have to do it alone. Some of the normals did step through and grabbed up guns from the soldiers. That’s when I noticed the bullet holes in the glass. “Hand me one, too,” I said.

I only needed it so far as the next enclosure up. The section the others had come from turned out to be another enclosure. Through the glass, I could see a pretty big group of folks, a burnt line in middle of an enclosure that had lots of dead, brown grass along the bottom, still wet from morning dew. On each side of the line stood men and women, a dozen in total. I guess they didn’t want to put too many superpowers together in one spot. Except, it occurred to me, they’d use tougher glass for that. It meant my eye wasn’t likely to do a lot to it.

Though, and this is when I felt kinda stupid, they still had a door that was pretty easy to open from this end. I threw it open and waved out at them. “Hey!”

I ducked as a fireball flew in and splashed against the wall behind me. I jumped out, showing my non-military clothing. “Hey!” I yelled indignantly this time. “Cut that shit out! We’re escaping, after all.”

The line, it turned out, curved over so that it divided up the ground leading to this door as well. On the left side, the supers started to approach. It was the ones on the right side, including one with fire, who were more cautious. “And who are you anyway?” Then he stopped and got a good look at me covered in blood and with weird stains on my face from the Tabasco.

When we opened the door to the next interior section, we found a squad of soldiers for about a second before fire and energy blasts flew. The soldiers quickly decided to regroup elsewhere. While they were at it, I spread out, opening doors and cages. People from a number of different legal situations took one look at the conditions they’d been thrown into, then at the escape attempt, and decided that the saying about the enemy of my enemy sounded pretty damn good. Good Doctor was in one of the low-power enclosures with another eleven folks. “You, with me. We need to find a weaker wall out of here. I have an idea where to look too.”

He looked around at the growing chaos, the sounds of screaming in the air, and nodded. “We’re going to need someone with some punch,” he said in his lovely British accent.

“Anything you can see that’d show us where they’re hiding folks like that?” I asked.

He scanned the area, utilizing his power of what’s commonly called x-ray vision, though that’s an inaccurate description. There appears to be no radiation involved, and it has different parameters than x-rays. “There,” he pointed into the interior of our little curving circle. “Lead blocks and rooms. Lead is often used to contain our stronger fellows.”

I nodded and headed for one of the intersecting corridors. We were finding little resistance, various superhumans spreading throughout the facility. They pushed back the military, which did not want to face them in this initial attack, and helped release their own kind while Good Doctor, the normals, a few other supers, and I all headed inward to find the rooms for the stronger sorts. The ones who could jump free, or fly, or punch their way out. So many handy release buttons on the outside of these rooms, many of which appeared to be custom-built.

One room had Elita the Warrior Woman chained to the floor, which was all one piece with the rest of the room. Lead, too, from the sound of it. I just smiled my fanged smile and hit a little button on the outer wall. The chains snapped open. I had to stand back as she punched through the door. “Hey there, darlin’,” I said. “Some of us can’t fly. Mind opening a door?”

A roar and explosion from what I figured was the front of the facility caused her to sneer.

“I think we should go sooner rather than later. I fear they have some means to contain a full-scale outbreak that will be going into effect soon,” said Good Doctor. “Let’s go back to the area you found myself in. The walls there should present no challenge to Elita here.” He nodded deferentially to Elita. She snorted and cracked her knuckles, but followed along as we all headed right back.

I know, boring trip, except for the rumbling all over the place. Some of those really powerful ones we’d let loose might have come along peacefully, or maybe they’d been contained by special means, but now they were free and angry. It felt like a low-grade earthquake, at least until the sound of extremely rapid-fire gunfire started up. Miniguns. And explosions punctuated everything. Whatever the hell was going on, I was missing it, and I didn’t need to see it yet. I was in no shape to. I just had to hope the adrenaline would keep me upright long enough.

Elita smashed right through the window back to Good Doctor’s holding area and took a running start across a rocky area with a small stream running through it. A series of punches bent a section of the metal exterior wall down and provided us a ramp to freedom, and just in time. I heard helicopters take to the air behind us. They seemed focus on that area, so our exodus, and those of others jumping and flying to freedom, went unmolested. Indeed, the zoo turned out to be at the edge of the military’s staging area, without even a Concertainer wall to hold us in.

I stopped as we got out and looked around. To no one in particular, I said, “Ah, smell that?”

“The smell of freedom?” asked the bearded man, carrying a discarded rifle with him.

I shrugged. “No, I mean I think I crapped myself. No time to stop now though.”

A burst of speed brought forth from our freedom, the freed prisoners got the hell out of Central Park. I barely stepped off the grass when an explosion behind me leveled the Central Park zoo.

Soon, having stolen a car, I made my grand entrance into Master Academy with a crash at the gate. Apparently they’re keeping it firmly closed, even when Psycho Gecko, the Good Doctor, and Elita the Warrior Woman are all carpooling.

I woke up in my cell underneath the school, hooked up to an IV drip. I’m already working on editing everything I saw to the best possible light. The beatings. The heroes chained up. The old lady and her defiance before taking a shot to the head like masochist bukkake.

I spy with my little eye, a turning point. In this conflict.

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The Empyreal March 3

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“You’re pinning the blame for this new loyalty oath thing on me?” I asked. I hadn’t performed any major operations in the few days since that announcement, instead working on my armor some more. Since I couldn’t leave maintenance to the nanites or a machine designed to repair everything, I had to put more time into keeping it in working order. I’d been interrupted in the middle of a bit of necessary crotch maintenance. Totally letting it out some to accommodate me. Yep. Nothing to do with bad smells at all.

Venus stood in the library, holding an empty box. Minotaur stood back a ways, doing more watching than helping. An orange young man with six hands carried an empty box in each hand. “They’ve reviewed what you’ve been doing and it looks like everything you do is just making things worse.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ve done stuff, but they’ll use any excuse to do what they want. The doofus said he’d send in troops if there was another explosion. There hadn’t been any, but gosh if a bunch don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. All I did was sneak in and play dress-up with the lean, mean killing machines and he’s gone all House Un-American Committee on y’all. If it wasn’t me, it’d have been something else. I bet that’s why the army was situated in such a lousy position anyway.” I pointed at her with the objects in my hand; a screwdriver and the portion of my armor that’s more or less a codpiece.

“You still gave him the excuse, and got those heroes caught so they could be his exemplars of this new way of doing things.” She started grabbing my tools and scraps and started piling them into the box.

“Hey now, those are mine. I stole them fair and square,” I admonished her.

She didn’t stop. “We’re relocating you back underground. You don’t have to stay down there all the time, but we don’t want you out in the open. There’s going to be a tour of the grounds for some very important people.”

“I suppose I can understand that. Y’all wouldn’t want to show the proper authorities your little hidden prison anyway, especially with the Loyalist heroes’ little buddy held down there. You know, I don’t think my time beating up Ukrainians adversely affected anything.”

“Did it help?” She turned and looked at me with one skeptically-raised eyebrow. “Did it accomplish anything, or was it just an excuse for you to hurt people?”

“I mean, hurting people helps me. It’s also valuable training. Not to mention, it curtailed various Ukrainian mafiya operations around the city while they relocated and got set up again. Y’all were stopping muggers. I stopped the people who don’t make such obvious waves.” I winked at her.

She rolled her eyes at that, then looked over to Minotaur and Swiss Arm-y Guy. “Enjoying the view?”

Minotaur snorted. “Just tell me what to lift.”

She pointed off into the corner to my armor-makin’ machine. “That looks big enough. And you can get more of the little stuff,” she said that to the other one. Finally, she grabbed my helmet where it rested on a bust of Mark Twain and tossed it to me. “You’ll probably want to wear that down there.”

“Like it? A little different, but I’ve liked the idea of having multiple eyes on it, even if only in an aesthetic sense. A subtle way to get to people. And I’m not stuck with pink, gold, and white as my color scheme.” I spun my helmet around and set it on the table while I continued refreshing my crotch armor.

“I’m not stuck with those colors. Besides, I heard you like pink. Your ex mentioned it.”

“A master criminal such as myself is allowed the occasional indulgence,” I responded.

“Pink nails, pink shoes, a poofy pink dress, pink ribbons for your pigtails…”

“You should have seen me in the tight pink dress.” I bit my lip and let my eyes roll up. I looked damn good in that thing. I looked ‘guy checking you out accidentally walks into a sign’ good. Sadly, I hadn’t quite mastered ‘girl checking you out accidentally walks into a sign’ good before everything happened with the alien invasion and another sex change. There’s alw- crap, they won’t let me fiddle with nanites.

My occasional foray into pink notwithstanding, the relocation was cheap and easy as myself when I wear lots of pink. They didn’t restrict me, really, just wanted to keep me under wraps, though I think Venus’s talk was meant to be a subtle hint not to stir up even more trouble.

To be fair, I didn’t set out to do so this time. All I meant to do was buy a shitload of hot wings for the big night of watching great commercials and a short concert interspersed with a football game. I have nothing against a bunch of men in tight pants piling on each other to see who can touch the other groups’ ball. Hell, that could easily describe most superhuman conflicts right there. I just don’t happen to follow it.

All I did was set out to obtain some delicious hot wings. I got myself a big box of them, and was walking home. Just minding my own business, thinking of maybe picking up some pink nail polish, when I was accosted. Accosted, I say, by a trio of rogues intent on besmirching the good name of Empyreal City by engaging in street crime like common riffraff. Like Riff Raff, I had a hunch, though mine was that they didn’t know what they were getting into but were aware that the city’s superheroes were grounded. I could not allow such perfidy to stand, I say. And I said as much to them, until the gentlemen pulled a firearm on me.

Well, I didn’t have a weapon of my own to ready in hand, so their call of “Your money or your life,” was instead answered by myself grinning and going, “Do you accept payment in chicken instead?”

Sadly, I had to go back and get more chicken, but I don’t believe those street hoodlums will be causing me anymore trouble. Indeed, the one will be lucky to walk if he ever makes it off that fire hydrant, and his friend with the gun was last seen trying to hack up a box of chicken wings, box included. I impressed the third one so much, he accidentally ran into a sign while trying to run off. However, it left me replacing my wings and passing by the same area in time for cops, some soldiers, and one of those idiots with the loyalty oath to finally have responded. I just hoped to pass them by, walking on the other side of the street and behind some parallel parked cars. I didn’t take it as a good sign when one of them, presumably the one from the hydrant since he lay on that stretcher belly-down, pointed in my direction.

“You!” called out the super with the flamethrower. He pointed in my direction.

I looked around, confused, then pointed back behind me. “Oh, he must have gone that way. If you hurry, you can still catch him.”

He raised his flamethrower. “Stop and put your hands over your head.”

“One, don’t just point a weapon at someone,” I said as he approached. “Second, you might pick words more carefully.” I indeed raised my hand, throwing the boxes of chicken wings into the air right toward him. He raised his arm and shot a spurt of flame at them. Spicy.

I jumped up and slid over the car hood, almost singing my eyebrows as he lowered the stream of flame while firing. I stayed low to rush him, and even he wasn’t stupid enough to try and lower his aim to take me out. Not with a car there. Cars really don’t explode easily when shot with a gun, but flamethrowers are a different story. I reached inside my jacket to wrap my hand around the handle of my laser potato peeler. At last, its time has come!

I’m still not entirely sure where the flashbang effect came from. I don’t think I saw the actual grenade, but then everything lit up like a flashbang and my ears were ringing. I felt myself thump into the flamethrower guy, and tried slashing. Something hit me in the face and burned, but it was solid, so I figured I didn’t have to worry about losing my hair. There were a lot of arms and fists all of a sudden, take my face’s word for it. I stabbed and slashed, but something metal hit my hand and knocked it loose. My eyes and ears adjusted quickly to find myself being knocked on my ass by a squad of soldiers who, to be fair, were being much less lethal than you’d expect from soldiers. One of them did the barrel of his gun against my forehead and say “Stop.”

They had these big magnetic shackles for my legs and arms. Put a pair on and they were pulled together. And as much as I hated it, I’m not so suicidal as to try and when the gun barrel’s right there. So, after getting trussed up like a pig for a barbecue, they frisked me and it was off to the zoo!

I wish they’d at least left me the laser potato peeler before tossing me into one of the reptile enclosures. At least they remembered to take the big metal cuffs off.

But I’m cool with it, I think. There’s no need to fear, I am here. No, no, no, just think about this. I’ve been planning stuff, and things have been going to shit. So clearly, my mind is the problem. To exceed the limitations of my mind, I must lose my mind. I must stop planning. I must become one with the piss which I take from my enemies. Because I care about some people at that school. I care about stopping these assholes, solving the Ukrainian mystery, and eventually stopping the Claw.

The more fucks I have to give this situation the more fucked-up it becomes. And from that perspective, I’m in a great place. My enemies surround me. No prison has ever held me. And while they’ve upgraded the defenses of this makeshift, the look I got at them showed those walls, emplacements, and sensors would do a great job of helping keep people out. This zoo, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have too many more additions made to it. Certainly not enough, I think, to hold off a big escape with all these superpowered prisoners.

So what do I spy with my little laser eye, hidden fangs, blackened zirconium fingernails, and paralyzing scream? Opportunity.

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The Empyreal March 2

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Times like these make you wonder how much a city can take. It’s been one asskicking after another for Empyreal City. The military occupation isn’t making the rebuilding effort go any faster, especially the way they’re sent out to investigate any and all superhero activity. I assume crime is up, but that’s because it doesn’t take too much to realize that.

The reason why “in broad daylight” is a statement of boldness for criminals is because most prefer to rob a place when no one will likely see them to report it. With Empyreal City’s resident crop of nighttime rooftop-dwellers grounded at risk of having a .50 caliber rifle shoved in their face, a lot of criminals are back in action. Hell, I even robbed a bakery. It’s part of an evil plot, I swear.

As for what they do when they actually catch heroes, there’s some sort of detainment. They were trying to keep it quiet, but they didn’t have very good cells. The first breakout made it pretty clear where they were squirreling captured supers away to. Officially, they’ve been declared criminals and villains, whether they’d always been heroes or had only recently gained that distinction thanks to the big post-invasion amnesty. That’s the problem with letting the law decide such issues.

And then there’s me, taking it all in while running around and doing my thing. Fixing my gauntlets while scared library regulars watch the TV for the latest round of outrages. Eating a midnight snack in the refectory after knocking over a few costume stores and supermarkets while nocturnal supers sit around with coffee and smartphones to see if any friends got busted. Even sparring against Leah in a mostly-empty gym. “Kinda empty in here, isn’t it?” I asked.

She didn’t say anything, at least in response. Unless the gasping and groaning was meant to be a response, but I figure it had more to do with her discovering the joy of being on the receiving end of a kidney punch. I sat down on a nearby bench while she recovered enough to crawl over and pull herself onto it. She lay there for a few seconds, then said, “Ow.”

“See?” I asked. “Really effective. It’s kinda like it knocks the fight right out of you.”

She nodded her currently-bright red hair. “I thought wrestling with you would be more fun.” I think it was meant to be innuendo, but the pain in her voice messed that up.

“Well, ya know, they warn you your first time’s going to be painful, but at least you finished quickly,” I told her with a smile.

She smiled back with a bit of playfulness in her eyes. “I’m just glad it was with you, Master.”

I rolled my prosthetic eyes at my young former ward. “You and the innuendo. You keep this up, and no one will believe I haven’t messed with you that way. Then, when people see all the bruises, we’ll really get a reputation.”

She sat up and rubbed at her biceps. “I don’t mind. In fact, I’m glad it was you to beat me up this time. The way you do it is like a real fight. I know what to expect when I get hit for real.”

“Why is this place so empty again? I believe I asked that question once already, but you have been avoiding answering it.”

She shrugged. “Kids don’t want to be heroes so much if it’ll get them thrown in jail by that jerkwad. I’m surprised you’re not more opinionated about him.”

I shrugged. “Who wants to hear my political opinions? Or hear me salivate at the schadenfreude of his voters turning against him? Or listen to me rant about how he seems more popular to protest against than vote against? This is the section of my biography where the writer’d be like ‘Did anything happen that didn’t seem to be about the new President?’”

“Come on,” she elbowed me.

I turned away. “No, and I’m frankly appalled by the implication, especially while they’re serving fried chicken in the refectory. I don’t know about you, but I’m showering.”

That night, I set out to put my plan in motion. That had been a large motivator in not letting a sparring match with Leah go on too long. She needs to keep up on her whoop-ass studies, but sometimes a guy’s just got shit to do. Plus, she learned a valuable lesson about kidney punching. It really is very important for someone who wants to mess people up for a living.

I needed my strength, after all, for my target was well guarded. It was the base of the guards, the military shantytown in Central Park. Whatever commanding officer consented to send his people in apparently drew the line at quartering soldiers in people’s homes. Instead of setting up outside the city of commandeering office buildings, they somehow wound up in Central Park. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a matter of even more politics, them trying to hold onto an exposed open position in the middle of a city. Maybe because they’d taken to holding supers in the park’s zoo.

They still had fences and guards up to deter casual entrance to the camp, but I didn’t trust it to be that easy. Mostly because it shouldn’t have even been as easy as it looked to be. Instead of barging in against these guys, I stopped to observe the section of perimeter fence I’d opted to try and penetrate. The whole thing just seemed too easy. Therefore, it had to be. If only it wasn’t the time of year most animals were trying to avoid the cold. I figured I needed a dog that could pass for a stray.

Half an hour later, I returned with something to approximate a vicious feral street dog. According to the collar around the Chihuahua’s neck, his name was Spanky. I stood back and punted him toward the perimeter fence, then ducked close to the grass and activated a hologram. These holodiscs aren’t as awesome as my old system, but their invisibility screen ought to hold under those circumstances.

Thirty seconds after unleashing Spanky’s yapping fury upon the fence, a fifteen-foot walker stomped onto the scene, sighting on the annoying little yapper. Sadly, it didn’t open fire. It just stood there, a bipedal machine with two thick, humanoid legs that stood on three-toed feet. The legs met at a platform that held thick, boxy torso with the pilot inside. It didn’t have a head so much as a set of sensors, none of which resembled a face. Its right arm consisted of a pair of box-like missile launchers . One on the outside was connected by a rotating joint to another. Its left looked like a minigun, so it had that going for it too. I got a very good look at it in the moonlight, especially when it decided to point both arms in my direction. It didn’t advance, though.

I jumped back, looking like some weird blur that tried to blend into the sky and background as my holodiscs struggled to hide me in vain. So on top of the motion sensors, they had something magnetic or something that could detect whatever heat I put out.

Operation Whitewash would have to be heavily modified. First, by unleashing Operation Yapper. I visited more homes and plenty of Pet Stores before heading back. I let everything out. Kittens. Puppies. Parakeets. I had all sorts of animals running all over that perimeter, keeping the guards busy all night long. If it hadn’t been for seeing me earlier, they might have just disabled the alarms or lowered their sensitivity. I had to stick a lot of metal on those animals, even use a hairdryer on a few to make sure they were good and warm.

They kept responding, albeit turning it into less of a full-blown emergency each time. By the time I stopped, they had resorted to sending out a single walker again unless they saw something worse. That time, he very nearly opened up on a bunch of snails all sliming their way around a bush. It stepped forward instead and poked the bush with the minigun, dislodging a few of the slugs. It was when it swiveled back around to head back toward the main area that I stepped out of the bush and followed along underneath it with my cargo.

When the soldiers fell out the next morning, it was discovered that someone had made a joke of them, just in time for someone to have tipped off the news. Soldiers were rushing all over the place, their faces painted bright white, wigs of jarringly bright colors stuck to their heads. Then they had to worry about tripping over their own feet given the giant shoes, many of which were just oversized for the person and painted red.

Needless to say, the new President threw yet another tantrum over it. His Press Secretary tried to cover it up by informing the press that the camp hadn’t been infiltrated, nor had any soldiers been painted up as clowns while they slept. The differences between that statement and the truth almost caused the press to miss his next announcement. He brought out the three militia supers I’d had an altercation with but hadn’t disarmed. “We are now implementing our own special Super Federal Marshal program. These brave patriots have taken a personal oath of loyalty to the President and are ready to be sent into the field alongside our military to ensure the safety of Empyreal City now that the heroes there have proven themselves to be so untrustworthy that events like what happened last night could occur.”

One of the members of the press raised their hand. The spokesman pointed to him, prompting the question, “If nothing happened last night, then how did the events of last night prove heroes were untrustworthy?”

“Next question!”

I was just sitting in the common room at the time, looking for a change of scenery while working on my gauntlet. I don’t know why all the adult Master Academy capes in the room were staring at me. When Venus started to say, “Ge-…Puss…” I just shrugged.

“It really is offensive, you know,” I said without looking up. “You know how damn hard I worked on it? I planned and plotted. I had to deal with fucking aliens. I laid groundwork years in advance. Then this motherfucker comes up and gets elected while bragging he could shoot people and grab women’s pussies. This is why folks like me don’t believe in the American Dream anymore. Work hard, take over the world, and everybody wants to take you down as quickly as possible. But if you’re born with money and have everything handed to you on a silver platter, you can go around bragging about all the despicable things you’re going to do and still win an election legally. It’s a damn shame.”

“There there,” Venus said, patting me on the shoulder. “If it’s any consolation, lots of people hate him too.”

“I don’t see people building giant robots to oppose him! Seriously, you want a giant robot? I’m going to need materials, but I have the hookup. Hell, you get me wood and some lasers, I can carve one up for you, what do you say?”

No takers, not even when I mentioned that I could use peach trees and call it “The Im-Peach-inator.” For some reason, they remain committed to nonviolent opposition against this one. I don’t see why. I think I was much more benevolent of a dictator.

I’m beginning to think I just don’t understand this world.

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The Empyreal March 1

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Apparently taking in refugees causes something of a shitstorm. Mender was not happy to see all these kids running around on his lawn. I offered to program his computer with the cranky old man voice so he could yell at them to get off, but he turned me down. He almost blasted me with his cannon when I counter offered with Gran Torino Clint Eastwood instead. He made sure to call me into his office, where he locked it down and secured it from his chair. He then proceeded to attempt to ream me for bringing them in.

I say attempted because I didn’t care. I say ream because that’s another term for someone plowing the backfield. There’s a popular meme that the Inuits have a bunch of different words for snow, as opposed to those sensible English people who only have a bunch of other words for snow. Flurries and powder aside, English has a lot of different ways to describe attempted verbal sodomy. I suspect it’s the Germanic roots of the language. German sounds like the kind of language that would do that.

So now that we know the English have seventy different words for tearing someone a new asshole, I’d like to reiterate that they work best when someone gives a shit. Damn, there really is a lot of ass-related stuff on the English tongue.

Getting off analinguistics, I think my meeting went pretty well. Mender didn’t send me back down to the cells underneath the school, probably because he’s so worried about drawing attention to them at all. His idea to keep my stuff in the library under better lock and key isn’t so bad. Plus, have y’all ever heard Stephen Hawking try to yell at someone?

Note to self: still gotta work on my moves. I’ve got a list of grudges to settle now, and I shall be avenged for my dance-off loss!

Sadly, that must wait. Always with the waiting. Because now we’ve got soldiers in the city. I hear the governor’s losing his shit over it, because he never asked them here. There haven’t been any additional bombings so far. The National Guard would probably be fine for him. He’s asked for them, but these guys are actual Army. So, in addition to displaced citizens camped out on campus and the hunt for whoever pulled off this bombing, there are protests over the illegal use of the military on U.S. Soil.

In the middle of all that, as Mender very much reminded me, is me trying to avoid anyone knowing I’m alive. And Vicky’s very much considering that the costs of having me around are outweighing the benefits.

I suggested that perhaps a group of superheroes hiding their illegal detainment of prisoners shouldn’t act so much like a group with something to hide, but I left that office with the idea in my head that I might better do something to get in his good graces. And, as I told him, the students themselves could use something humanitarian to take their minds away from worrying.

Oh, and Venus complimented me on opening up the school and finding a way to take kids. Awful lot of crap I’m catching just for wanting to buck up some teens hiding in a library.

I relocated my machines behind a few bookcases, then took a walk well away from campus. It was easy to use a hologram to sneak past the campers. It’s not like we have the whole city there. Once past them, I just reverted to looking like myself. My current armor is different enough from my older models that no one recognizes me based on it. Well, almost no one.

I made a tour of the blast sites. They’d gotten everyone out by now, emergency workers and supers working tirelessly around the clock in the days following the attack. I was trying to figure out some crap, but almost everyone else had an advantage over me in the investigation anyway.

Post office, hospital, police station, firehouse, an apartment building, and a satellite FBI office. It’s an odd list of targets in my eyes, and the places themselves looked weird to me. The apartment building, for one thing. Low-income housing, with lots of colorful graffiti. Specifically, the colors of red, green, and a mix of yellow and purple.

For those who don’t remember, which includes me half the time, the Reds, the Greens, and the Yurples are local Empyreal City street gangs. I have, from time to time, gotten mixed up with them. This looked like they’d all been marking their territory here, fighting over it. Could just be a piece of territory. Could be something more. Won’t know that until I chase down someone.

The police station’s a normal target. Everyone wants to blow up a cop coop. Go out there and knock on any random person’s door, they’ve almost certainly thought of it. I bet a kind, old granny would even have it mapped out and a batch of ingredients in the pantry. She’s got nothing to lose at that age. Granny don’t give a fuck.

The same could be said of the FBI office. So much crap around Empyreal City that could fall under Federal jurisdiction. Then factor in the anti-gang stuff: task forces and specific anti-gang intelligence gathering. Oh, and the anti-super task forces. Can never rule that out.

The fourth one I stopped at was the one at Crater Probably Memorial Hospital. That just seems suspicious because of the militia guy being there. And how there was no warning or evacuation. Everything would be wrapped up in a nice little bow except that he’s not among the victims. He was warned, so his little group had some foreknowledge of the attacks. Which means they let them happen. It’d be great to use against them, too.

And that, finally, is where someone showed up who did know me for a bad guy. I don’t know when the person spotted me the first time. I tended to travel by jumping, albeit carefully enough not to break my legs, and this guy was stuck on land. I just don’t know which guy it was because more than one showed up.

I was checking out the wreckage when a larger truck rolled up. They hadn’t lifted it up and stuck it on giant tires, but it had armor plates on the front and doors, with one of those chrome things just behind the cab that had lights mounted on it and a person standing and holding onto it. The driver and passenger doors opened, and three individuals hopped down onto the street near the hospital. The driver had this helmet on, thick metal with large, dark holes where the eyes would be. It encased his entire face, stopping at the chin but probably making it very difficult to talk.

The one from the rear had hands encased in thick metal with large bolts at the knuckles and thinner bands that stretched up to his elbows. From seeing him in action before, those bolts could extend on the edge of pistons. The one who stepped around from the passenger’s side had his left arm encased in a pair of cylinders joined by thick hoses attached to tanks on the upper arm portion, the lower arm portion ending past where a hand would in a nozzle with a pilot light flickering to life on it at that moment.

In other words, more of these newbie militia heroes had arrived on the scene, all together, while I was examining the hospital one of them was kept at. Fun times.
“I recognize you. Boy, you’re in a whole heap’a trouble now,” said the one with the piston fists.

I cocked my head to the side. “You sound pissed-off, but you look pist-on.” That got a groan from the one with the flamethrower. “See? You friend over there’s flaming and he knows what I’m talking about. Blow that light out and it doubles as a glory hole.”

“I’ll glory your hole!” He said. He almost rushed forward, but the one with the helmet and presumably laser eyes stopped him.

“Like you’d even fit!” I yelled back, then laughed.

The one in the voice tried to say something, but his voice came out like some sort of Mrs. Doubtfire wannabe. Like his helmet was stuck on Bane from Dark Knight Rises, except the accent was Midwest. When settlers settled the Great Plains, they didn’t have room in the wagons for soft As. “Hit-Man,” he nodded back toward the one with the piston fists, “He says you were the one who attacked the camp. You are not going to come quietly.”

I shrugged. “You got me, I’m a screamer. Oh, wait, you meant bringing me in. Eh, I could do that, but then there’d be all this evidence the cops got their hands on. Stuff like the camp and the weapons and the prisoner in it. Ooh, and quite possibly that bit where you guys knew about the explosion here and dragged your friend out. But if you’d like to risk that getting out to the police and the news, be my guest.”

They all chuckled. This Hit-Man fellow, with his exceedingly insulting name, said, “Nobody believes the lamestream media anymore. This is our country now. America’s for real, native Americans!”

I cracked my knuckles. I mean, I’d kill a regular person off the street just for using that stupid term, let alone people I already disliked, like these guys. “So, you wanna be Native Americans, do you? Better get ready for a history lesson.”

A thingy shot up from his back over his head and erupted in bright light. So not a flashbang after all. Just a flash. Still, this is not the first time in my life I’ve been flashed by three guys by a destroyed hospital. I’ve been to New Orleans during Mardis Gras, after all.

Figuring on laser eye starting something off, I raised one arm and cranked up my gauntlets with my free hand, then brought it up. The energy sheaths are pretty good at deflecting laser blasts of all sort. The modifications I’ve made haven’t changed that, though they’d be useless against a laser even when complete. They’re not done yet, but I hope to allow them to do things in reverse a bit and draw energy from certain attacks into the batteries.

Between the time it took for me to crank it up and the different ideas these assholes had, flames roared and the temperature soared. My sight cleared to get a glimpse of the flames, which blinded me up until they stopped. Except, just behind the flames, a giant piston fist came my way and pounded me in the chest, the pistons shooting out at the moment of impact to add to the blow and knock me back into a broken wall. It broke as my hands pounded against it with the stored power from the energy sheath. I thought the standing upper portion over my head would fall on me, the whole mess was so flimsy. Then I took a laser to the helmet. I quickly charged my gauntlets and smashed them back again, knocking the upper portion down in front of myself and giving me some momentary concealment.

Good thing, too, because I got wonky diagnostics from my battery. Of all the things, at all the time. Could have been the impact or the heat, but something went screwy and that was a bad place to fix it. I thought to check over my holo discs as well. It didn’t look too good at first, what with all the soot and fire… except I still had one on under my cape on the rear of my suit. I swapped it out for the front one and had it project my surroundings as best I could so that when I shuffled back away from the approaching trio, they didn’t notice anything suspicious. Well, not until they all jumped around in a pincer attack that caught a poor, headless chicken just trying to cross the road.

The explosion knocked all three back and left them vulnerable. I stepped forward, drawing the newest iteration of my trusty laser potato peeler. All the deadliness of a potato peeler, coupled with the unbridled kitchen handiness of a laser in one package.

Right about then is when a quartet of fucking APCs rolled up along the street and knocked the heroes’ truck out of the way. The gunners trained some really big rifles on the three heroes while the vehicles themselves began disgorging heavily-armored soldiers, many packing the kind of guns they use to snipe tanks. They came deployed to deal with supers, and increased toughness is pretty common among supers.

I didn’t know how many of those things it would have taken to turn me into Swiss Cheese Man, but I knew how many they’d use. And I still would have been willing to take them on if I’d had a reliable power source. Unfortunately, my battery was fucking up and this armor isn’t something you want to walk around in without powered assistance.

Instead, I figured we’d just have to call this one a tie. I backed away until I got to a safe distance, leaving the three heroes to explain the fight and explosion. I’ve been here at the library ever since, cleaning, repairing, and upgrading my armor. Extra holodiscs behind the cape for repairs and other tricks. Reinforced battery to keep my power supply secure. And I’ll have these gauntlets done in no time.

Then, just like Stephen Hawking, I’ll kick their heads open and dance all over their beautiful minds so hard, they’ll never walk again.

<a href=”https://villainousintent.

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New Year’s Retribution 8

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This city has gone to hell in a handbasket. And don’t just take that from me! It’s all over the news.

I found out after tinkering with my gauntlets some more. It was partially about upgrading the energy sheathes and partially about making sure they were clean after where I stuck one. The day seemed unusually quiet around the library. Even that couple who uses the study room weren’t showing up, which was really rude of them. What if I’d been hosting a webcam show, only for my main attractions to no-show?

When I headed out to the refectory to grab something to eat, I came across the first real confirmation of something unusual: a bigass cake. For those picture a cake in the shape of a butt, sorry to disappoint. Though it’d be awesome if one of those had a stripper pop out of it, right between the cheeks. A black stripper.

That probably comes across as racist, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than finding a pale green stripper.

I didn’t know what the celebration was about, but that’s no excuse for skipping over cake. I even ignored an alert from my phone about the motion sensors. There hadn’t been any significant movement from visitors other than check-ups, so I felt confident in ignoring it for the time being. I ended up getting three pieces. Fighting uses a lot of energy, so I was going to get two anyway, but then I just felt like getting an extra one for another person. It wasn’t consideration or anything. I just knew I’d need another for another person. I kept it to the side until Psychsaur walked in and sat down next to me, taking her piece without a word.

I looked over at her and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged and took the extra fork I’d brought over and ate. I squinted and looked back at the cake and the line for it. She pulled out her phone and looked up a video, then handed it over.

The video was of a local news broadcast announcing a complete lack of major or super crimes the night before. Muggings, attempted murders, and so on, but nothing big was pulled off. I mean, attempted murder sounds bad, but they were stopped before it became a completed murder. Nobody robbed a bank or stole a shipment of computers or anything like that. Crime in Empyreal City had dropped to a record low as part of a trend since the chaos immediately after I was supposedly killed. Empyreal City always had its heroes. In addition to them, the city now had Master Academy, reformed villains, and even these newbies. The poor criminals just couldn’t keep up for very long, even with me adding in a little bit of hijinx.

Darn thing must have been on auto-play, though. It loaded up another video right after that of the new President threatening to send the military into Empyreal City if it doesn’t clean up all the carnage. Turns out that one was from after the announcement about low crime, too.

“I doubt he’s heard of Posse Comitatus,” Psychsaur said, reading my mind. Not practically reading my mind, just literally reading my mind. It was a bit weird with how easily we seemed to be thinking each other’s thoughts, especially because I couldn’t really feel her in my head anymore. And yeah, we both thought it was odd, though apparently she suspected it might happen. She’d been trying to avoid me because of it, but slipped in out of habit sometimes when she was close enough. She wasn’t used to having such a long range, either, but she could keep up with me much further than anyone else.

I didn’t put a sympathetic arm around her, but it’s the thought that counts. It did weird me out having some sort of weird two-way telepathic communication where we simply thought each other’s thoughts. I’d prefer hearing voices in my head. That one made her laugh, though she quickly stifled it. I’d noticed we were drawing looks, and the thought went through her mind as well.

It wasn’t just those kinds of thoughts passing between us. I realized that soon after when I looked through and found myself feeling like I could really go for some Chinese. Or maybe he was Japanese. Regardless, he was a bit more on the buff and overly-muscled side for my normal preferences. I shot Psychsaur a look, but she was staring at the ass of this girl in tight leggings. We agreed the trade went both ways there.

So it was a teensy bit weird, and oddly calming, to sit beside her. Just enjoying a snack and another person’s presence, and not in a romantic way. She was perfectly attractive, but I didn’t feel any urge whatsoever to do to her what I’d dreamed about a few times, even if it would have been a perfect time to bender her over a table and be all like “Oh yeah, baby, I’m about to disappoint you so HARD!”

Then Venus stormed in, an irate expression upon her brown face. Psychsaur, being such a perv, really liked what she looked like angry.

“Have you seen the news?” My nemesis asked in a huff.

I cocked my head. “I thought it was news you liked. Crime down, heroes helping build schools and so on… that kind of crap.”

She held up her phone, where a news show on the most-watched news network in America was saying, “Unlike the biased mainstream media, we’re showing you the facts, and the facts are that monkeys have been causing chaos and panic in Empyreal City.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Geez, they’re not even hiding the racism anymore, are they?”

Cut to a picture of a baboon on a motorcycle with a pirate hat on, then another few pictures of a baboon fighting someone’s excuse for a superhero. They even repurposed the photos I’d staged to make the heroes look bad, only now they claimed the newbies were putting down a riot. Any idiot with a working memory would know it’s a lie… which meant this channel’s viewers were buying this hook, line, and sinker.

I looked between Venus and the screen, then settled on Venus. “I mean, I think it’s awesome that Animal Planet revamped Law and Order. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Because,” she said loudly, then noticed plenty of people paying attention to the argument. She lowered her voice and leaned forward over the table. I maintained eye contact. Psychsaur looked down her shirt. “You know what, just keep on listening.”

“That is why the new President of the United States has declared in a press release today that, in addition to his inauguration clearly being the largest in U.S. History, he will send in the Feds if anything else happens in Empyreal City. This is a direct quote from him, he said, ‘Does the President care about Americans? Of course I do. I love Americans, especially Real Americans. Nobody loves Real America more than I do, but we cannot allow all these explosions and gang violence to continue in Empyreal City. If they don’t fix the carnage in their city, I will send in the Feds. It will be the biggest and quickest cleanup of crime in an American city in history. Nobody cleans up crime like I do. Nobody.’”

I rolled my eyes. “Put that away, Venus, you’re killing people’s appetites. Psychsaur over here keeps imagining having to call him the Commander in-” I held up a finger and took a moment to gag before continuing. “Not going to finish that sentence. Besides, I don’t know what anyone’s talking about with gang violence and explosions. I’m one person, and I’ve kept a firm hand on all my cocks. They don’t just explode all over everything, willy-nilly.”

A fireball erupted out of the corner of my eyes, off into the city, followed quickly by a half dozen more and a lot of rumbling. I also noticed a beeping from my phone, but that wasn’t so important at the moment. I held up my hands, “It wasn’t me this time.”

Venus grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt and started leading me to Mender. Psychsaur started to follow, then stopped and turned toward the students. “Everyone, stay calm and eat your cake. We’re going to assess and handle the situation.”

I couldn’t keep up with her so well once Venus and I got out of range, but I knew Psychsaur’s mind was racing. She didn’t seem that worried though, so we had that in common.

Venus and I didn’t have to go far to find Mender. We spotted him roll down from the next floor up, drift around that little middle landing of the stairs, then roll down the next flight. He looked like his wheels were being pulled against the floor, his descent was so controlled.

“Sir,” said Venus.

“What she said,” I said.

“What is going on?” he asked.

“Explosions in the city,” I answered. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess car bombs, but a lot of them. It’s gotta be something big that they managed to get into place. Or something really, really big in the sewers. I know a few recipes, but I was saving them for my guest lecture in Chemistry.”

A voice spoke up from Mender’s computer. Psychsaur’s voice. “He’s remarkably calm, but he didn’t have anything to do with it. He’s got a lot of explosives experience, though.”

“Psycho Puss, stay on campus. Venus, with me,” Mender said. Venus nodded and away they went, leaving me to fend for myself in a harsh new world of exploding buildings.

“Anybody else feel like s’mores?” I asked no one in particular as I wandered off back to the library. I actually had a few students cowering in there with me, including Quincy, the skinny guy with the glasses and glass powers, and Chloe, the girl with pigtails, thick glasses and hair powers. The couple from the study room were out, hopefully after the guy had the decency to ask her, “Did the Earth move for you too?” after the explosions.

“Are you going to do anything?” asked Quincy while I walked over to turn on a giant TV I’d put in.

“I was going to put on Labyrinth, maybe, but if you’re going to whine about it…” I’m not a hero, and a bunch of people hurt in explosions doesn’t faze me. I’ve caused a lot of them myself. And while I could probably be a lot of use helping rescue people from the rubble, I just didn’t care that much. I slipped on my armor just in case. I felt itchy, and not in an addict’s way. More like a good time to be cautious.

I did put on the news for the students while slipping on my suit. The youngsters were old enough to be kept abreast of it. I thought it was on mute at first, but the people trying to talk were stunned into silence as they showed helicopter footage of several damaged buildings, with heroes from all over the city now rushing out to help. I even picked out Master Academy capes already out there, scrambling over the blast sites, including a familiar hospital. I whipped out my phone. One alert when the bombs went off, which makes sense. Both movement and that the bug was shutting down. Fifteen minutes prior, an alert came in of several individuals moving in and out of the mauled speedster’s room.

Huh. They’d tried to evacuate. I briefly wondered if they managed to get him out, or if he had something to do with this. One explosion could be some delusional asshole’s plan, like McVeigh in Oklahoma City. More than one stinks of a plot, and the smelliest of plots are the product of supervillains. That, or just a whole bunch more extremist Christian fundamentalists, like the militia guys.

The TV cut in on my investigation with an urgent message, though. “Alert! Breaking news. Preempting an announcement of a state of emergency, the President has ordered the United States Army deployed to Empyreal City.”

“Well, that’s a fucking beautiful sight,” I said. “Better buckle up, little people. We’re in for a bumpy ride. Something tells me things are about to get messy.”

Ukrainians, militia, new heroes, and a president who talks about sending in the military if any more explosions happen before any explosions happen. This is turning into a really-fucked up Twelve Days of Chinese New Year. No wonder it’s the year of the flaming cock now.

I looked at my little group, who certainly hadn’t steeled themselves. “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t the first time something this bad has happened. Have you even seen last year? You got through that. I know that it just adds up and up. You feel like you’ve reached your limit as bad shit piles on you, and every little cut the world makes against you feels like you can’t take another. But you got through every cut before. You survived that same crap a thousand times. Don’t let just one be the end of you. Especially not when you’re all tougher than this.”

They hesitated. No breaking out into applause. Oh well. So I went on, “Now go get more students. I’ve been told to stay here, but there’s reason it just has to be us. We’re going to need food, water, blankets, tents, and all that. Get those gates open. A lot of people just lost their homes.”

Chloe asked, “What if the people who did all that,” here she motioned in the direction of the city, “get in here and do it too?”

“Then the baddest man on Earth will fuck them up,” I said. “It’s not courage if you only got it when times are good. Besides, there’s no damn excuse for a bunch of so-called heroes to turn away the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. Now, what the hell movies are popular with little kids who need their minds taken off giant explosions?”

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New Year’s Retribution 7

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“That chase got out of hand,” said Mender. “Do you know how many cars you wrecked?”

I shrugged. “If a person doesn’t understand to get out of the way of a rampaging semi truck being chased by a horde of cops, there’s only so much I can do. I can’t pull them into the cab to give them remedial lessons on basic cognition.”

“You damaged a cop car,” he fired back.

“It was that, or throw a wounded superhero down onto the highway as it sped by. I chose the option less likely to kill him.” I folded my arms in front of my chest and nodded.

“At least you weren’t stealing anything valuable.” Oh yeah, hadn’t told him about that. He probably doesn’t need to know about all that anyway. Can’t see how that knowledge helps matters.

“I disabled one of the guys giving your people trouble in a most excellent way, dude. I even got most of his leg piece for analysis.” I held up the bloody appendage. “Don’t worry. I swept it for bugs. Only oddities I found were a couple of tabs from canned drinks.”

“Can you tell me anything about it yet?” Mender asked. An arm popped forward from his headrest and held a monocle out in front of his eye as he pivoted to take in the cybernetic limb.

“It’s mad science,” I said. “Physics bowing to the whims of brains thinking thoughts far in advance of what you know of as science.”

“Ahem,” he said, his monocle shaking itself.

“Ok, so maybe not you specifically, but a general ‘you’ for humans,” I told him.

“You too, human,” he reminded me. I shuddered.

“Anyway, this thing wasn’t properly installed, so it was going to screw up anyway. Ideally, something like this should be attached to better bones. Like take out the old ones and put in something new that can handle the stress. Might have even ripped out more easily because of that. I bet his feet were killing him, but I didn’t get a good look at him or his footwear.” It looked like a big cuff that attached to the calf, with a series of pistons on the back end. The one in the middle glowed bright yellow, as if it was clear. They appeared to be able to bend to accommodate different strides, which is one of those areas that wouldn’t make a lot of sense given its industrial metal aesthetic.

“That yellow bit, I think, is either the power supply or it leads directly to it. I’m being cautious getting to it, since sometimes those things blow up. Ya know, either on purpose as an anti-tampering mechanism, or accidentally because someone didn’t pay enough attention to the dangers of glowy thingies. And the first rule of Glowy Thingies 101 is that you never underestimate the explositivity of a glowy thingie that might be a power source. Naturally, the place I was trained made sure that anyone who survived the course paid very clear attention to that part. The ones who did, passed. The one who didn’t, passed overhead in a ventilation duct. Pink mist is a pain to deodorize.

“Are there any calling cards or logos?” Mender asked. It was as good a question as any.

I shook my head. “Haven’t spotted anything yet. Always a chance. You know how villains are, after all. Running around, so proud and egotistical. They keep wanting to put their name or symbol all over the place to make up for their lack of accomplishments.” I paused for a moment. “Not all of them can be as great as me, after all.”

“Proceed with your examination with all necessary precautions. I will not hesitate to have you brought back to life just so I can kill you if you harm any students with your experiments,” the monocle flipped up and withdraw into its little arm, which pulled back into his headrest.

“Yes, yes, you’ll hang me upside down, cut out my liver, and give it back to me as a suppository. All the usual threats. Nothing I haven’t heard countless times before. One guy used to tell me that he was going to crawl into the bathroom and slit my throat, then use my throat hole if I took too long. Ah, those careless days of youth. Anyway, off to go play with the nuclear-powered machine we hardly understand.”

I did take it back to tinker with it in the library for a bit. It went together so well, and showed definite signs of being personally machined. That didn’t really surprise me. If someone could put together a hundred of these and outfit the wearers properly, they’d have a hell of an army on their hands.

I’ve stated before just how overpowered I think superspeed is, but this machine makes it somewhat weaker. Sure, it gives anyone superspeed regardless of powers, but that means regular folks whose bodies can’t handle it so well also get those powers. And there’s so many things a speedster needs to survive. I’m surprised the guy could even see; maybe I should have pulled out one of his eyes to be sure. Without more extensive modifications, the guy I beat up would always have a speed limit. Just catching up to me might have pushed him past it a little, and not in a good way. People do not get stronger immediately after tearing their body up.

It was all mechanical. Nothing digital for me to try and manipulate. If I had a proper room, I might have risked cracking it open. Without something that could handle an explosive, I reached the extent of my exploration before it got to that point. It’s a shame, too. It’s always fun to learn about new ways of powering fancy gizmos, and I wouldn’t mind a bit of superspeed added to my arsenal.

Caught a bit of lunch with Leah, who has taken to visiting me there in the library. Times like this, I wonder if she still has that stupid crush. Still nice to see her, and it might just be that she sees me as a friend due to my influence on her life. No need for me to imagine more there, especially in my present situation. Maybe I should get better about names. A times I’m tempted to think of the hilarity that would ensue if half the student body was grinding up against me. After all, the others from that little group I was in with the vampires upstate stop by sometimes. Cam and pigtail girl, and that other guy with the glass powers. I should get better about their names, but they’re probably just hoping to absorb some residual awesome just being near me.

While taking a break to examine possible adjustments to my gauntlets, I received an alert from a bug I left in Number Three’s hospital room. It wasn’t that hard to find a guy checked into a hospital for those kinds of injuries in that incident. I’d initially searched because I figured they didn’t have their own services. Then, bam, found him checked in to Crater Probably. That’s short for Crater Probably Memorial Hospital, which was dedicated in 1979 in honor of Judge Joseph Crater.

I’d stopped by to plant a bug at his room and install a backdoor into the computer network so I could keep track of his medical records. If I want, his life is one moved decimal point away from ending.

The bug that went off indicated people had entered the room, and they weren’t at the normal nurse intervals. I took the bug off standby so it would start transmitting video and audio. I got faces, sure, but what made me hurry off was the fellow who stopped by with lots of metal blades sticking out of a backpack. He pulled it off while in the room, adjusting a pair of metal wings. Sadly, the definition on my bug was too low to get a great look at them, but I’d taken a good picture of them at that convention a short while back.

I didn’t bring any of my young visitors along for my next magic trick: making a jackass superhero disappear!

I made it to Crater Probably Memorial in pretty good time, likely because I could leap tall buildings in a single bound. If cars could just drive through buildings, they’d make good time, too. I thought I could catch him leaving, but he didn’t exit at ground level like his friends. I looked up then, toward the roof, then began to climb with careful jumps up the side. I found him there, having changed into a costume with a flag on his chest that left off most stars from its flag. On his back were unfolded a pair of metal wings, more like solid pieces of metal with thin slats at the edges. Not really birdlike. That lump in the middle turned out to be a pair of small jet engines attached to a central block.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” he asked, turning my way. He shoved a flight helmet onto his head quickly, as if remembering he was supposed to have a secret identity, in theory. I punched something in on my belt, the hologram projectors showing me as a baboon.

“I’m your worst nightmare: what your momma dreams of fucking at night.” I laughed and turned to run and jump off the edge. My legs powered me across the street to the side of another building, where I hit the side and pushed off. I bounded my way down the street as he took off, engines screaming in the air.

His flight gave him a clear mobility advantage, and oh, look at that, he’d brought a gun into a hospital. He pulled out a submachine gun I didn’t bother zooming in to identify, and opened fire on the street. Another fan of automatic fire in a crowded place. That, more than my appearance, sent people fleeing in all directions. I didn’t see his comrades anywhere. They got out of there surprisingly fast.

On the one hand, I couldn’t kill two birds with my stones. On the other, I needed to work on keeping this guy low enough for even one good punch.

Not that he was trying to avoid that. He swooped down to shoot at me, then pulled up when I didn’t really react to gunfire. I ran forward and grabbed his leg before he could. He didn’t lift me up at first, but the engines whined and he started to gain some ground. I smiled under my helmet as I got an idea. In my head, I started to play “The Cyborg Fights,” and reached down with my other hand to crank up the leg power. Then I maneuvered myself right underneath him and aimed him up. He started to gain speed with my weight, but I yanked his leg around and let go.

He shot upward before he spun around head over heels. It threw him off from being straight up, but I could adjust my aim. He was too focused on getting straightened out in the middle of all his spinning, not really gaining any ground in any direction because of it.

I knelt and jumped, my legs propelling me upward at furious speed toward the spinning man. I think he saw me just before I reached him, looking with fear down between his open legs.

My punch connected, and not with mere skin and muscle. Ok, with mere skin and muscle, but the skin and muscle of the human anus. My fist passed through as if it wasn’t even there, tearing and stretching effortlessly. And while I could feel shit around my hand, that was nothing compared to how shitty my opponent felt. His screams were like a fire alarm through my helmet. For a moment, I forgot the jet engines were trying to compensate, because I couldn’t hear them. Just the scream of a man with a damaged ass because the kind of lube he needed could more accurately be called “elbow grease” at this point. I uncurled a single finger of my fist, the middle one, to let him know what I thought of him.

I reached up with my other hand and smashed one of the engines. We both fell. I handled it better than him, but he did survive. He’ll be in the hospital along with his friend for awhile. Might never walk again, and not due to spine damage. But he’ll live. After a bit of straining to pull my hand out, I rolled over the shocked and helpless hero to take a closer look at those wings. They’d been fixed to him too, bolted onto his back in multiple places. Lucky for him, they tore off more easily where the supports met the main contraption. I tore it free and left with my little souvenir.

Mender called me into his office to give me a little talk while I soaked my glove in a variety of cleaning agents. “You nearly killed him,” his digitized voice said critically.

I shook my head. “No, no, there’s no need to exaggerate. I didn’t near kill ’em, I just rectum.”

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New Year’s Retribution 6

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“I can’t say I like the civilians being involved in this way, but nobody died. I also disagree with your petty theft. It was a surprise that you chose to make this about public relations instead of violence. You did well.”

Did my ears deceive me, or was that actual praise from Victor Mender, the head of a school of superheroes who captured me to do his dirty work? I checked the playback, then stood up and walked over to him. “Victor, if you can hear me and your wheelchair gained self-awareness, blink three times quickly. I just want to know while I make a deal with Skynet to share the world. Skynet, I want Eastern Europe for all the porno babes.”

A cannon rose out of the back of Mender’s chair, highlighted against the window of his office. The bright daylight filtering in framed the weapon, which appeared to be the one he’s shot lightning at me from in the past. I backed out of his face and circled the desk to take my seat again. After a couple of seconds, the gun withdrew back into the chair. “Do you have any other operations in mind?”

I nodded, pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of this encounter, despite the setback. I’d expected him to go full-on Chief on me, yelling about me being some cowboy cop and yada yada. Maybe he’s trying to arrange for a hefty older black man to fill in for him later. “I have some ideas. Once again, try not to kill anyone. I was originally thinking of petty crimes that y’all don’t respond to, but that may not get any response and end up messy. Besides, believe it or not, I’m not big on petty crime all the time. Poor people just don’t have as much expensive stuff. You can make more robbing a diamond store than you’d ever make robbing Seven-Elevens or burglarizing regular folks’ houses. Same reason why it’s more profitable to assassinate rich people than poor people.”

I paused here to keep myself from running off on a tangent. “I intend to put myself in a criminal situation that will draw one of those heroes best suited to respond, and find a way to subtly track him and his compatriots.”

“Do I want to know?” Mender’s computer asked.

I shrugged. “I dunno. You’re surprisingly chill about what I’ve done so far for a hero.”

“I am not a hero,” he responded. “When I took over the Master Academy, I became responsible for the education and lives of my students. They are my highest priority, even when this conflicts with my teachings. I will dirty my hands so they can be heroes.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Huh. You know you can’t protect them forever. That’s what you’re training some of them for.”

“Yes, but I can protect them while they are my students.”

Well that’s quite an interesting understanding of the situation to find myself in. “I know the feeling. The world does need its bad guys. Without bad guys, who else is going to kill all the bad guys?” I smiled. “Anyway, I’m going to draw out the one in the number three jumpsuit and super speed. It’ll be a bumpy ride.”

“As you will,” Mender responded. “I have to check on a camping trip some of my students made. Our new President shut down the Department of the Interior’s social networking because the park service tweeted a photo showing actual inauguration attendance. Someone needs to keep them informed in case of wildfire, tornado, oncoming thunderstorms, bears, big cats, or rampaging supervillains.”

My little plan started with something relatively innocuous in Empyreal City: riding down the street on a motorbike with a giant harpoon in hand with a little pirate hat on top of my helmet. Oh, and I looked like a baboon while riding the bike.

I drove along, checking semi trailers in front of me. A bit of archived information I had from my time as Supreme Most Benevolent Leader of Earth included the names of a few shipping companies that move stuff off the books for intelligence agencies and the military. Non-official cover stuff. I mean, they could just move it normally, but then it’d be on the books and official forms and all that. You know, stuff anyone could find out after one night of rifling through someone’s embassy office.

So to keep all that quiet, certain agencies invent companies that people can be hired by or that can move nice stuff around. I’m not even entirely sure what they had in this truck, but it was going to be a hell of a lot of fun finding out. Hence my baboon harpoon. For reasons of interdimensional national security, and because it’d be too much of a hassle if Optimal Outer Control goes to prison, I won’t say the name of the company shipping stuff for the government. They’d probably toss him in Supermax to rot in isolation, and then who would share the good word of Gecko with your world?

It was easier to track them than it was a superhero. I mean, come on, CB radios. So I found one in Empyreal City. Didn’t know where it was going. Didn’t care. Just wanted it stolen.

In my helmet, I put “I’m Gonna Be A Monkey,” by Ren & Stimpy. “Ok, Stimpy, it’s time for your evolving lessons!” “Oh, rapture!” I drove onto the median so I could pull up to the driver’s side and stood up. The driver noticed something wrong with that whole picture and started fumbling for something. A radio, a gun, something. I jumped, leaving my motorcycle to head off on its own and crash into a hot dog cart on the opposite side of the road. It exploded with a fireball, likely due to the pressure-activated explosive I attached to the front of it for dramatic purposes.

As for me, I had jumped onto the side of the truck and used my power armor’s enhanced strength to drive the pointy end of the harpoon into the window. Basic life tip: stick someone else with the pointy end. Works with swords, bayonets, spears, polearms, pens, and genitals. I drove the harpoon into the window. The enlarged tip opened up a larger hole, which I felt needed additional filling to my satisfaction. I reached for my belt and pulled off a can of beer, shaking it up. One arm around the harpoon, I opened it and held the top of it to the hole, spewing foam all onto the driver and causing the truck to swerve.

I dropped the can and focused on holding on with one hand. With the other, I cranked up the power. I raised my gauntlet as it began to glow as power transferred to an energy projection around what appeared to the entire world to be a monkey paw. The driver’s swerving seemed to become intentional, as if trying to knock me off. I heard crashes, too, but focused instead on the truck. The driver was trying to yell into a phone or radio of some sort. When I gauged enough energy had accumulated in the energy sheath, I punched the window. The energy amplified the kinetic force I imparted on it, allowing me to burst through and probably make physicists cry in the process.

I fell inward through the broken glass, along with my harpoon. “Crazy pirate monkey! I swear! No, I’m not drinking!” I helpfully ended his phone call.

He stared at me for a moment, then tried to pull a gun. Really not the best time for it. I backed out of the window, tossing him out onto the hood of a car we passed going the opposite direction before climbing in myself and buckling up. Safety first.

Besides, he probably lived.

Despite the skepticism of whoever the driver had called, it was no secret by now that something had gone down. Sure, I got the truck under control, but the flashing red and blue lights behind me indicated some general concern by local peace officers. Let them keep the peace all to themselves; I’d rather have some chaos.

Using the driver’s own GPS system, I figured out I was near the interstate. Good. Heedless of pursuing cops, I raced around an easy corner and headed onto the I-87. My pursuers used their car’s bullhorns to say something, probably some boring stuff about pulling over, but I didn’t listen. Instead, I honked at all the people going so slow. When that didn’t help, I just drive through them. Amazing how much more quickly people get out of the way when someone’s about to hit them. I’m sure that’s a valuable life lesson that can easily be used in some sort of heartwarming moral. At least it could, if some bright red compact car didn’t ignore me. The driver got to live life in the fast lane before it swerved to the side and went flying over the guard rail.

I kept speeding up, and so did the heat. They multiplied, too. Soon, it seemed like I was surrounded by cars. Someone tried opening fire from the passenger side, but I swerved over and they backed off. Someone else pulled up next to the driver’s side window. He had a gun in hand, but didn’t shoot because of a double take over the baboon hologram I still had on. Before he could, I reached down to my utility belt for a very special item. He got a faceful of sticky brown gunk for his trouble. Relax, it was just delicious chocolate pudding.

Then I caught site of narrow cloud trail in the rearview mirror. “We’ve already had our pudding, but it’s time to eat my meat.” The door was yanked off by our friend in the jumpsuit, his legs pounding the street like a blur. He raised a handgun big enough to break someone’s wrist if fired.The shot left a ringing in my helmet and cracked the glass of the windshield, but didn’t make a hole.

I swung the harpoon I had brought with me, knocking the gun loose and hooking him on one of the pointy barbs. Yeah, I’d say I made a hole. The blood made a good case for that. He kept running all the while, trying to keep up lest he lose a hand. He finally jumped onto the cab instead and focused on trying to pull his hand loose. I pushed the harpoon and let him fall back, but caught him by one mechanically enhanced calf.

“Nice worksmanship. I’ll have to examine this in more detail. Tell me, is this just something you wear, or actual cybernetic prosthetic?” I asked him.

“Get your hands off me you damn, dirty ape!”

“I are baboon! That’s a monkey, you damn, dirty ape!” I yelled back. I still gave him what he wanted with a tearing sound. Turned out it was cybernetic. Then I tossed him onto the hood of a pursuing car.

He probably survived.

The cops lost me pretty quickly after I abandoned the truck, and I don’t think they were trying too hard to catch up once they saw what I did to a superhero. One down, and some nifty new tech to study.

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New Year’s Retribution 5

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The less said about the normal functioning of that rally, the better. People who worship a god who claims to be the only one in existence are already iffy for me, and more so when they have to talk about it all the time. Like a teenager who has to add in every conversation that he’s got a huge cock, or that he’s straight, or that he likes black people. Then you get people who start deifying a living being, and we start getting into cult status. You take almost anything written in a religious book and have it be spouted by some living person who wants you all to worship him, and it’s amazing how much less people trust it. Of course, it’s a bit worse for them that pretty much everything known about the old toothless general indicates he’d have reacted very badly to the idea of being worshiped the way these folks do. The guy had a hell of a lot of integrity to turn down being Ruler for Life. I think we’ve previously established that I wouldn’t do the same.

I know, it sounds like the typical political rant from me. It is, kinda, but it’s also about history. It’s like going back and saying Thomas Jefferson didn’t like owning both his political appointments and his girlfriends, or that Andrew Jackson would have been totally ok with Southern secession. For those who don’t know their history, that second one would have made an awesome alternate history.

Anyway, these creepy jack-offs weren’t exactly in the spirit of the day. This guy in a tight and tucked-in shirt gave a speech about how the Civil Rights movement and all its marches divided America. There was also a panel about fighting back against PC culture by reclaiming all English language, including quadroon and mulatto. These fucking Apple owners are getting out of hand. I thought it was the console wars at first, but then I remembered it’s the PC users in that one who claim to be the master race. Ridiculous. I was the master race.

Petty squabbles of humanity aside, there wasn’t much entertaining to the whole place. The firing range they put in there didn’t even have live targets in it, and the clothing looked like something Paul Revere shat out after a night of booze and French hookers.

It proved quite a pain waiting until things had whipped up enough. Let them all get even more fervent after canoodling with people who only share their own opinions. Allow them to delude themselves into thinking “I am normal.” I certainly got that vibe from the surprising number of anti-super shirts and signs around. One person sold t-shirts with a shotgun image on it and the words. “We don’t call the cops or capes.” Another one had a target. “Look, up in the sky! A target,” it read.

I’d like their enthusiasm more if I didn’t know it was all about replacing one group of heroes motivated by foolish altruism with another group motivates with political orthodoxy. Before too long, that leads to people kidnapping the children of minorities, forcing them to fight and kill and rape until they’ve trained one up to be a mindfucked puppet of their agenda. At least until he runs into a bunch of real heroes one day who cause the safe little illusion he hides in to break apart, and then his handlers try to blow him up with explosive toilet paper.

Moving on, that theme of normality stuck with me as I stepped up to the podium on the main stage, interrupting a performance by a trio of young white girls singing a spiritual. They had these vases of lilies on stage, too, like it was supposed to be a garden instead of a place for entertainment. And it was about to get entertaining. I needed to rile some people up. And if there’s any way to rile someone up, it’s with my best Charlie Chaplin impersonation.

“In the spirit of unity, I am up here now to tell you what you all need to hear. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world, there is room for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, barricaded the world with hate.”

A bit of murmuring had started up in the crowd, and not the good kind of murmuring. I know that kind. The words picked out in that kind of are more along the lines of “I’d like to suck that fine man’s dick,” or “I want to pull him behind back and shake his hand,” and other sentences like that. Hard to hear the specifics with them all talking at once. These mutterings were more hushed, like people were wanting to do something illegal. Something they knew they weren’t supposed to be proud of.

“To those who can really hear me, I say do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And as long as men die, liberty will never perish. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!” Not that there’s anything wrong with machine men, minds, or hearts, mind you.

“You are not machines! You are cattle!” It totally ruins the flow, but at least a few of them in the crowd were a bit iffy on not being cattle. What else do you call blank-stared mammals who stand around doing nothing but chewing tobacco cud? “You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate; only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural. Don’t fight for slavery. Fight for liberty!”

By this point, I’d spotted a few guns out, some of them from security, but none of them pointed to the crowd. Odd how that works. Here I’m talking about hate and bitter men who fear progress, and this crowd of people who claim to be all about unity and God are getting offended. Just out of nowhere.

I didn’t get any further into my stolen speech because security decided to play football, and I was the ball carrier. Bad form, though. Way too high. I’d say that was their first mistake, but I do believe they made many, many more leading up to the point. Included among that would be trying to assault me, of all people. That sounds like a leadup to a fun session of cathartic violence, but I have appearances to worry about. So I ran. The crowd followed.

Now, if it wasn’t obvious by now, quite a few other people objected to a group like this holding such a meeting in Empyreal City, saying the sorts of things they assumed were said. They were outside. It’s not like they surprised me being there. I saw them. I counted on them being there.

People might compare this to, say, The Joker. Where does he get all those wonderful toys? How does he know this is going to happen or that people will act this way? Because people can be very predictable. Some people are just going to be assholes, the way the scorpion always stings whatever carries it across the water. And some people are going to object to that sort of thing. Not many. Not a majority. But some. And if not, I would have just bribed people to be there anyway. Probably with booze and French hookers.

So as I ran out, I appeared to be Charlie Chaplin rushing out toward protesters, leading a mob of angry white people against a more diverse crowd. Oh, and I was pointing. As expected, mistakes were made interpreting all this by the protesters. And then the two sides met like a flabby version of 300. All I needed was one of those ab-tastic guys to stand up, flip around a full head of hair, and say “I can’t believe it’s not Sparta.”

With this sudden outbreak of violence underway, I dropped the Chaplin act and instead dialed in a more generic look. It took the discs a second to compensate, but I had carefully ducked under any blows as both sides took out their frustrations on each other. When I crawled out of what seemed to be the front lines, I looked nothing like the tramp I’d appeared to be when I ran out.

I expected these new heroes to show up any minute, and they didn’t disappoint. It was more like any second for the one with the things on his legs and the jumpsuit. He raced out and pushed one old lady with a huge hat away from a younger fellow with a shaved head and a star-spangled shirt. Someone from that side of the lines rushed forward with a sign and the would-be hero punched him in the mouth. Busted his hand open doing so, too.

That wasn’t so much a problem for the reinforcements who showed up. A pair of young men doubleteamed this guy who pulled out his rifle, only for the a guy in a mask with giant mechanical hands to grab it from them and knock them both down with one punch, also to the heads. Pistons hissed and drew back into his knuckles as he offered the gun’s owner his weapon back and a hand to his feet.

A gout of flames forced protesters to back off, caused by a man with an arm encased in a flamethrower. That can’t be healthy. Lots of heat in all those things. The arm might be a prosthetic replacement. He wore a fireman’s outfit to protect the rest of his body. Not too much could protect his reputation once I got a picture of him turning up the heat on people.

Yeah, I was taking it all on. Getting a good view. And these guys were playing ball, too. One of these guys had a pair of whips that slid out from the underside of gauntlets. He went for the dark and brooding look, with a grey costume and blue cowl and cape. And according to this photo I took, he whipped an old fleeing black man.

Moments like this really go back to something I’ve said before when I quoted a Mongolian dude about how if there’s a God believed in by my victims, then he’s using me to punish them for their sins. In this instance, it’s more a matter of these people are the sorts, primed by their beliefs, to do some really fucked up things. That they look even worse when I begin working against them just goes to show it. I mean, as much as someone might think I corrupt people with my likable sociopath’s personality, have I ever ingrained it into people?

I’ve forced people to compromise, but I never controlled them so thoroughly that they’d do such acts without even thinking it was wrong. I never used mind control to make people think it was appropriate to attack and even kill protesters. I never ran around teaching children to associate manual labor with a derogatory term for people of a different skin color. I never forced someone to think it was a good thing to walk up and grab random people by their sexual organs. In many ways, these institutions are far more evil than I have ever been. They’ve killed and hurt more people over a much longer period of time than I ever have.

Truth be told, I had a short supply of sympathy for the other side as well. An army of protesters coming out to oppose people who won an election. If most people were really so opposed, so outraged, this victorious meeting of Revolutionary War fetishists wouldn’t exist in the first place. They’d be off on the sidelines somewhere, grumbling about another loss and jacking off in Mexican-made tricorns to Chinese-made flags. And if I can take joy in the one group being corrupted into becoming oppressors, then I can also take joy in another group whose willful apathy made it happen. I rub my fingers together playing “My Heart Bleeds For You,” on the world’s smallest violin while people who refuse to have anything to do with politics erupt in sudden anger that politics turn against them.

So of course, when it was time for all of this to be reported on by news media of all sorts, the headline showed superheroes beating up protesters who were defending themselves from an angry convention. Breaking news: this former Civil Rights marcher’s nose against the hand of a man with metal wings and small jets strapped to his back. The Daily Stormer’s hit new writer, “Totally Not Hitler,” posted it five different times in the same article, even.

Sadly, the story where most of the convention vendors’ profits were stolen during the whole brawl didn’t rate nearly as much attention. Tsk, tsk. I mean, if greed is part of the problem, I might as well try to actually help, right? I’m working with heroes now, after all. These are the actions of someone technically staying on the right side of the law(as far as anyone knows)!

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New Year’s Retribution 4

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More heroes have been appearing. Yippy. The market is saturated. Master Academy, amnestied heroes, and now these newbies. Not all new ones seem to be these guys I’m looking into, which makes it tougher to separate them all. Plus, several of the former villains who continued on as heroes have issues with property damage. My point is that it’s not quite so clear cut who is who, but chances are good that the former villains aren’t working with them. Unless they cloned Hitler again, maybe.

I’m also making guesses based on the kinds of powers. Somebody flying around as a skeleton that wields a scythe made of fire is unlikely to be one of them. Someone with mechanical piston knuckles and a cybernetic spine that releases a blinding flash is more likely to be their type. I’m finding out more and more, and not just as I expand my own little private pieces of surveillance. I used to be able to listen into anything by forcing myself into pre-existing systems from afar. Now, I have to go in manually, being a backdoor man and otherwise doing dirty deeds dirt cheap.

I got a bit of an edge on that since the heroes still can’t completely compartmentalize things from me. School’s back, and that apparently means younger supers who intend to be older supers are going on journeyman patrols. I assume that they don’t make future cake decorators go out and fight people. Anyway, I hear things from teenagers. And possibly because I slipped a bug onto someone. But in this case, eavesdropping.

A couple of students were talking. “These unfair douches show up and start blasting the place. One guy had this helmet that shot lasers out of the eyes. Another one had an arm that was a flamethrower.”

“You mean he shot fire out of his hand?” asked the other.

“No. Bro’s arm is like a gun that shoots balls of fire.”

Hmm. I swung over between those stacks. “Now, when you say fire-”

“Ah!” They yelled in unison.

I held a finger up to my lips. “Shh. This is a library. Now, as I was asking, was the fire chemical in nature, like napalm? Or perhaps plasma? Or what?”

“What’s plasma look like?” Asked one of the many interchangeable body shields I freely invite into my current lair. Like, average build, dirty blond or light brown hair. Penis.

I shrugged. “It’s not exactly the same color as normal flame. They can be a variety of colors due to energy states and ions. Also, some plasma weapons go off prematurely as they get really excited.”

“They looked like fire,” said the one I didn’t answer. Dreadlocks. Hispanic. Also penis-equipped.

I nodded. “Good. So the first guy’s helmet, was that all mechanical and/or high tech? Or just a helmet for protection, like for biking or motorcycling or reclaiming the holy land from the Muslims?”

“It looked like something a scientist made. Sci fi, with glowy bits up here,” he answered, pointing to the sides of his head.

“Hmm. Thanks. Compiling information. Don’t mind me. Just go about your business.” I slowly swung back around the corner. “Don’t mind me at all. Talk all you like.”

“Hey,” called the dirty blond. “Which supervillain were you, anyway?”

“No supervillains here. Nope. I’m just a simple librarian.” I grabbed my helmet off a table as I pulled myself by and carried it over to the mannequin with the rest of my armor. I reached under a nearby table to press a sequence to disable the booby traps around the armor. Anyone expecting a single button will not be happy.

I heard loud muttering from behind me as they walked out. “Whatever. I bet he’s a bad guy who doesn’t want to be a good guy, but he won’t be able to stop himself and he’s going to help out the heroes. Because he cares for us deep down and has a core of humanity that can’t help but empathize with people. He’ll discover how good it feels and decide he wants to be a hero, probably falling in love with one of our heroines or maybe a really nice and shy civilian woman who makes him want to be a better person.”

“Twenty bucks says you’re wrong,” said the other.

Thanks for believing in me, random person whose name I don’t know. I’m gonna get you that twenty dollars, little buddy. You can count on me. Whoever you are.

I did consider intervening, or going out to shadow a patrol to help out in one of these conflicts. It’d certainly be fun to tear one of the new guys apart. On the other hand, that’d also solidify the relationship of this mysterious killer in the power armor. They could make a good case for me being part of the Academy. There is another concern as well.

It can be iffy determining when someone’s a superhero. Someone like Captain Lightning, flying around and throwing lightning bolts, can’t be easily mistaken for a regular human. But what about someone with a gun? What’s the difference between someone with a fifty caliber anti-material rifle and someone with a less-powerful helmet that shoots lasers? What’s the difference between a really good martial artist in a costume and one who merely trains suburban kids for money? It’s really iffy, to be academic about it.

Now, armed militia guys? Probably not that big a deal that a supervillain killed them. That kind of thing happens. Just like a regular criminal can die if they attempt to engage a superhero in combat, though the heroes generally try to prevent that. But we go back to the thing I’m really good at: killing superheroes. More than that, it’s the thing very few villains would ever do. It changes things. Ups the stakes. There’s probably a certain idea of supers treating each other better, too. A mild bit of prejudice. Still, a villain who runs around killing superheroes, even these new ones with their agenda, is going to stand out and gain infamy. Or he’d be suspected of being one of the already-infamous ones.

Stupid brain with all its thinking. Times like this are when I miss fighting killer chickens. So it’s a bad thing for me to show up and wreck some faces whenever Master Academy patrols are hassled by these new guys. That doesn’t mean I can’t look into them more.

So we’ve figured out where any extra super weapons have likely gone. They used them to make their own supers. Why? Based on their rhetoric, they aren’t big fans of current supers, but the main area of super protest around here is Master Academy. There could be a few different reasons for that. Replacement? Making them look like they’re the ones out of control somehow? Eh, I’d say I favor the replacement theory out of that. I can’t help but think we’re in a war over morale and PR.

…This is stupid. Fighting morons on behalf of children. I don’t want to play this game, on the defensive. That’s the superhero way. Villains have to be proactive. There’s no crime until we make it happen. I undid myself from my library harness and dropped down onto the floor. No fancy landing, just on the upper portion of my back. Didn’t put me in a chair, otherwise I’d have never caught up to Victor Mender, the disabled leader of the Master Academy.

“Yo, Vicky baby, do I have a proposal for you?” I asked him, showing him my best and currently only smile. I haven’t had time to assemble any new ones out of knocked out teeth.

He stopped his wheelchair and shot me what I assume to be a look. To the student next to him, he said, “Go on to class. We will continue this meeting another time.” She hurried off with her backpack to whatever kids these days do in school. Read, maybe? Why, back in my day, we did school entirely differently. We had to walk through three feet of snow and strangle a hooker. Up hill, both ways.

“Okily dokily, I have an idea to use my unique set of skills to go all Liam Neeson on these guys who’ve been dogging your students on patrol,” I said.

“How did you find out about that?” he asked. Hey, I think he upgraded his voice module on the computer. I actually heard question inflection. Or perhaps there’s a virus and he’s got a question inflection infection.

“You guys are bad at keeping secrets,” I said. Some little kid stuck his tongue out as he walked by us. “Bed wetter!” I called out to him. His eyes widened and he ran off. “So I was thinking, instead of sitting around here doing things the hero way, where nothing gets done, I could do a little something to help us all out.”

“Will you kill anyone?” he asked.

I played up a wince. “That’s a rather results-based question. I was thinking more intention-based. I don’t intend to kill anyone. Just do something that’s a bit of that voodoo that I do, in the hopes of drawing out some of those you-know-who’s, take a little pressure off you, and let your people return the things of value. I’ll lay off the ultraviolence, keep it down to maybe extreme violence, mild violence, or even guacamole violence.”

“Guacamole?” he asked.

“I hit people with avocados. It gets messy. I’ve gotten complaints for People For The Ethical Treatment of Plants. They’re opposed to violence against plants just because the little buggers can do advanced math and communicate by sound.” I understand feeling sympathy for life forms that aren’t me, but I’m against the idea of advancing their interests in place of my own. Doubly so for members of my species. Aw, crap, I’m human. “Anyway, you know it’s problematic for me to attack people who aren’t a threat to me. Doubly-so after Pyschsaur’s little visit. This is part of why you bothered to keep me around after everything you did personally to kill me.”

In the end, I think it was the part where I pretended to still be under Psychsaur’s mental compulsion that did it. I got the go-ahead to start engaging in crimes that might possibly draw these new heroes to me, which were to be ignored by the Master Academy heroes and anyone they let in on it. I really don’t intend to use it to do just anything I want, however. I have a few ideas on targets, too.

Number one on the list is this event that I hit upon while searching for gun-related events in the area. Madison Square Garden, in the midst of its renovations, is hosting a big Martin Luther King Jr. Day “Victory of Freedom Rally,” that, according to the flyers and poorly-made web page, is all about showing Empyreal City how to learn to love God and their country again. For some reason, I’m reminded of the year 1939. Anyway, something tells me that interrupting that will draw the speedster with the Nascar jumpsuit out again. And when he shows, his face is going to know what a race car feels like after I wreck it.

After all, the human body is amazingly resilient. You can do all sorts of things to a person without killing them.

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