Break It, Bought It 1

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You didn’t think it would be that easy, now did you? Eh, I suppose that depends on your definition of easy.

I awoke on an operating table while some very nice doctors were sewing some organs shut inside me. It was important business and I didn’t want to scare them, but the screaming is really automatic at that point. First, because I thought I might be in a morgue. Then, because I was opened up and being sewn shut. It’s a perfectly acceptable answer to waking up and finding that they have to force some really delicate parts of you together like a damn quilt.

The lead surgeon didn’t panic, though he did pause long enough to indicate to someone else in the room to put a gas mask over my face. After that, things went back into dreams.

I had a weird dream. I was all cut up in an butcher’s shop and I was trying to slowly will pieces of meat to come to me so I could create a body for myself. I knew, in that way you know things related to your dream situation, that I had to pull myself before the vegans arrived to destroy me. Just before I woke up, the butcher’s shop began to shake from the thunderous sound of an approaching monster sent by the vegans. The tofurkey approached.

I woke up to mild discomfort before the tofurkey could gobble me up and found myself in a hospital room. My eyes focused on the faces of the people around me. Citra, Buzzkills, and Qiang, who had to be held back from glomping me. I looked around at them, then had a thought. I opened my mouth slowly and raised my arms in spite of an IV feed. “Braaaaains!”

One of the Buzzkills almost took my head off, but another one stopped her from following through when I started laughing. That first one huffed, but then wagged its finger at me when I started to groan. There was still a little pain in my chest. Some tenderness. Like, that tenderness where it feels like you need to scratch.

“You should not laugh,” Citra said.

“Might pop a stitch, right?” I asked. I reached over and pulled Qiang over to kiss her on the top of her head, then ruffled her hair. She giggled.

“That should no longer be a problem, sir,” said one of the Buzzkills. It saluted.

“At ease, kiddo. What’s not a problem anymore? I saw the stitching going on myself. The anesthesiologist might need a refresher course or two.”

“Father,” the other Buzzkill spoke up, the one who believed my zombie act. “Father, sir. Sir. You were very bad off, but then your fiance brought us a new batch of nanites.”

I looked over to Citra. She blushed. “Silver helped. We met with the Yakuza about power to the island. They did not restore it, but they are helping to build replacement power sources. We convinced them to power the nanomachine factory. It would cost us, but your recovery should be much easier.”

I felt around on my chest. “Then what was the surgery for?”

The more formal Buzzkill spoke up. “Sir, I’m Bzzkck, leader of your personal guard unit. You were badly injured in the attack by the Claw’s… imposter… and they had to stabilize you. When you were well enough, Queen Beetrice had you moved to the island of Ricca to keep you away from everyone. There’s a lot of arguing going on there.”

I nodded toward her. “I’m surprised I didn’t wake up in custody, or in another dimension in a room with voyeuristic intentions. Well secluded, where I can’t see at all. But enough of that mind flip, we mustn’t let time slip away from us.

Bzzkck, whose name absolutely won’t get annoying at all, continued. “That is what the arguing was about. The Queen wanted you far away but within the jurisdiction of the Empire.”

I thought about this a moment, “So nobody gave me up to the Dimension Rangers?”

“No, sir. There are laws against that sort of thing.”

“Not even with all those supers there?”

The less-experienced Buzzkill had been fingering the tip of her sword before pulling her finger back all of a sudden and jumping. When Bzzkck looked at her, she put the stinger sword behind her back and said, “I think not everyone wanted to hand you over after how you helped them, even though a lot of them said bad things about you.”

I chewed on this a moment, then started unhooking myself. “Well, sounds like I should enjoy my freedom while I have it. Citra, any idea where my clothes are?” I paused with the IV needle half outof my arm. “Oh, right.” Looking around at the others, I asked, “Where has my armor got to?”

“I took it to the residence,” Citra answered. “When the doctors clear you, we will return there. The bees are crawling all over it.”

“At least we won’t be short of honey,” I said.

Despite me jumping the gun and getting myself up, the doctors at the Imperial Medical Center, because every damn thing’s got to be The Imperial, acknowledged that the new nanites had restored me well enough. They even gave me a tube to take in case anything popped open on me, since it really was better than them for most situations. They didn’t say anything, but I think they needed the room. The place was absolutely crowded, and it also just got power back. As I walked out, I told Citra that she’ll have to put me in contact with those Yakuza guys.

For my part, I was glad to be away from the murmuring and bowing by all the little people waiting to be seen. Someone with a broken leg shouldn’t be getting down on their knees just because I’m around, though it might be a good way to hurt someone in the near future. Still better to just kill someone outright. I think I’ve shown by now how risky that can be.

The island has seen better days. Silver Shark pulled up with a reinforced convertible with a Pope-style protective bubble on it. “It’s the only thing I can drive,” she said by way of explanation. That led to even more of a show, exposing me to a bunch of people who have been trained to worship the guy in charge and others who look more resentful. It also gave me a view of the island as we passed through. The luxury locations haven’t taken the Empire’s withdrawal from the island well. Regular folks were just trying to get by. Most of them had no time for dancing and probably little appreciation for people living the high life.

On approach to the grounds of the former palace, I thought the place had seen a surprising number of well-wishers. The car had to slow to navigate around piles of photos and flowers. Even some of the tiles had been torn up from the courtyard. Zooming in, I saw pictures of all sorts of peoples, names written on tiles, and a few signs that asked “Why did they have to die?”

I hope they won’t hold the Claw against me. After seeing him wiped out by an army of angry superhumans, I’m not eager to end up in a similar situation. I could definitely use those guys here, but I don’t feel them anymore. They must be well and truly purged of nanites by now.

My armor, it turned out, went to pieces. A lot of it is salvageable, but it’ll take some work. A bit less with nanites, though they are the inferior Riccan variety. First thing was popping it out so I could even fit into it, then they’ll focus on patching the holes from my recent perforation.

Word must have spread of my release, because I soon had quite the crowd of well-wishers outside the residential section of the palace grounds. I waved at them through some windows. “I appreciate the food, but I think they let it get a little ripe,” I said for mine and Qiang’s benefit. I had her with me. We’d been talking and getting caught up with what she did while I was hurt. Some kind of fruit smacked the window near me, which didn’t bother me. The things were built to be bullet proof at minimum, possibly on up to rocket proof. “But go on, sweetheart?”

“So the one guy said that he would take me with them to their place so you would do what they say, so I got him with the knife, and so I ran and got away. Then Citra found me.”

Silver Shark came running up and pointed out toward the crowd. “Gecko! They’re revolting!”

I made a so-so gesture. “Not necessarily the prettiest cross section, but I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Sir,” said a Buzzkill who ran from the other direction. It might have been Bzzkck, but it’s hard to tell. “The people are angry.”

A bullet bounced off the glass just in front of my face, startling Qiang. She hugged onto my leg. “So it seems,” I responded. Perhaps I’d been wrong about local leader worship.

When stepped out to address them, I had changed back into the hospital gown and was helped out by Qiang. I took a big risk doing it this way, but the thought occurred to me that this was not the time to counter violence with violence. I kept the Buzzkill detail and Silver Shark, but all this was up to any potential shooters.

“Hello folks!” I said, waving to them with my free hand. Qiang kept a tight grip on my other one, squeezing it really hard. She didn’t want me coming out here and she brought a knife in case she needed it. More quietly, to her, I whispered, “It’s ok. Sometimes, people get really mad. You may not be able to make them stop, but you can control how you react and do your best to stop it. If I come out here in my armor, lots of people will die and everyone will be worse off. If I don’t do that, people only maybe die, and only maybe be worse off.”

“Come on, let’s have a talk. I hope you don’t mind if I sit, though. Many have felt the Claw’s wrath lately, all of us included.” I said as I sat down slowly. I exaggerated pain and tenderness, of which little remained. Some of the people approached, cautious of the Buzzkills and the shark cyborg. I waved them on. “I apologize I have no tea for you all. My daughter wanted to brew some, but I told her it would take more than the pot she had. Please don’t hold it against my family.”

There’s such a mish-mash of cultures, and I never bothered learning Ricca’s own peculiarities, so I’m just aiming for stuff about family and weakness and so on. Got the idea about showing weakness from George Washington, though. The guy once broke up a conspiracy of unpaid Revolutionary War soldiers that way.

I looked up at the people around me, some of whom yelled. Most just muttered. I patted the ground. “If there’s anything I can offer, it’s a seat. Please do.”

I put on a benign smile and waited. The closest ones eventually sat down, though many further out continued to stand. “I understand there are some problems here.”

“The Emperor left us to die!” I heard. “He ruined the island,” someone else added. Amongst a chorus of agreement, someone else added, “We don’t have food or water! We had to fend for ourselves!”

I took it all in for a minute, then raised my hands. After a few seconds, they quieted down. “The old Emperor messed up. That is part of what led me here. If anyone else wishes to become the sole man responsible for fixing this situation and sitting where I am, I would appreciate it.” I paused for a moment as the area became plagued by a sea of invisible crickets. Then a baby started crying. I pointed in that direction and spoke to one of the Buzzkills, “Go fetch some food for that child and their guardian, please.” The Buzzkill saluted and ran back in.

I turned back to the people. “First thing’s first: I don’t know where all the members of the previous government are. Many fled. I need people to help me. Whatever councils or groups or gangs have been coordinating in my absence, I wish to meet with. Power is being restored. I want to meet with the farmers or whoever provided food before so we can work out how that’s going to go. We’ve got the nanite factory running again, which will help if anyone is sick or injured. There is only so much to go around, but we will try. That is why I will be out and about to help keep order and prevent murders and looting. Let us build a new Ricca together.”

I actually got applause. I guess that’s good. I was banking on someone taking me up on being Emperor instead, and spaced a little when nobody did. I might have to make sure I kill some people’s uncles while I’m out and about, because I need someone to take over great responsibility for me.

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Korea Harder 6

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Lots of lost sleep. It’s the memories. I’m there, back in the other world. Back as a kid, or back at the original dimension bomb. I almost snapped Qiang’s neck. I woke up and I didn’t know who she was. I only knew something was going on and I was being attacked. After all, I’d just been back in the old world, surrounded by enemies. And once I realized where I was, I seriously considered going ahead and breaking her little neck anyway. It might have been the better thing to do.

That whole thing where I was of two minds about everything wasn’t something as nonsensical as a split personality. Just the closest thing I had to a conscience. I don’t know if that was the part telling me to go ahead and kill her. I can’t tell anymore.

I couldn’t get back to sleep until I’d scratched a certain itch. I left one of my eyes to keep watch over Qiang and Citra, then headed out. I ran across a custodian cleaning up the place in the hours when most were asleep. “Hey, good job,” I told him, then pointed behind him. “What’s that?!”

They found him in the morning, hung to death off a balcony of the palace by his underwear, which had been pulled far up his backside, deep into his crack, and around his neck. When I do an atomic wedgie, Japanese people die.

That made me feel better, like I could get back to bed. But then, I realized I’d hit upon a decent solution. I soon skipped along until I found a crew setting up in the kitchens, getting them clean and prepped for the day. “You there!” I shouted. “No one’s in the chair! Come and visit your old friend Sweeney.”

I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, but I had a good time, and that’s what counts. Sent some messages out. Stuff for Master Academy in the event things went badly. Like how to fix supers brainwashed by the Unity chemical. Still none around here after the island lost power and all the others were sent to the supers and soldiers of the front line.

At the meeting the next day, I had to represent Claw’s interests. That meant only going back to pre-war, not pre-expansion, in terms of territory. I didn’t mind if the Empire went to some sort of democratic system, and figured I’d use that as a concession for better terms, but now I’ve got to insist on remaining in power as a way to protect the institution of the Empire. Or some crap like that. The rest of it is crap about economics, trade, and UN seats.

I smiled up at the glass of tea dropped off for me by the servant in the room. “Thank you. Please, don’t leave. We may need more orders. Just stand to the side, if you will.” He nodded and did as ordered while I addressed the others. “Listen, folks, these talks are fascinating. Truly, they are. I’m just a bit bored by threats at the moment, so why are these guys still here?” I asked, pointing to the Dimension Rangers.

The red one looked me in the eye. The Rangers tend to assign that color to the field leader of their teams, though at least one team was led by the pink one. It’s not unheard of for a later member to take over the team, as well. Still, the red one’s as good a person to talk to as any. “We are here to keep you from causing trouble. We are here to see that peace is achieved. We will then take you back.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why would you ever want me back?”

Red continued. “We did not know you were still alive. You can’t be allowed to run free and ruin this dimension. These people don’t want you here disturbing their lives and destroying their world.”

I looked to the edge of the chamber, where I’d ordered Citra and, more important, Qiang to attend. I called Qiang over. She ran over, doing a great job at keeping that knife of hers hidden. I took her hand and pulled her onto my lap, where I took her hand and felt the trademark connection of a homo machina. Everyone else around here could die. I kissed Qiang’s head, then looked to the Red Ranger. “This world is my home now.”

“Our world doesn’t want you back, but we can contain you. You have corrupted this world with knowledge beyond its natural development and killed untold numbers in the process. This world is not yours to play with. It does not revolve around you, nor do they want it to. We can move onto the important work after we clean up this nuisance you have created.” It’s a good thing the language we spoke wasn’t the same. Some people might take offence to that part about restricting knowledge.

“What if I just want to be left here in peace?” I asked.

He scoffed at that. The one in black laughed outright. I smiled and said, “Who doesn’t like a good joke? Isn’t it enough that I don’t want to destroy this world and kill everyone?”

Red wasted no time on a response. “No.”

“You do not get a pass because you are a mildly better person here,” said the outraged Black ranger. “This world is better off without you saving it.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “I’m sorry,” I said in English, so more people would understand. “You’re right. I’m a horrible person. I shouldn’t try the save the world. I shouldn’t do that anymore. I tried, and ended up creating the devices the Claw used to help wash some brains. Oh, and he had the White House destroyed. And I shouldn’t run a country. I’m just negotiating here because I killed the last guy and figured I could at least get some peace goin’. Of course, then it turned out the Claw set me up to kill a body double and probably snuck me some poison that can kill me if he manages to get any more to me.”

I paused here to hook my cup of tea with me finger and raise it to my mouth. Eyes went wide around the table as I did so. I lowered it some and smiled. “Don’t worry. This wouldn’t be the catalyst that kills me. Not when I’m supposed to be doing the Claw’s bidding here. Because he’s already given it to my daughter, and to that lady,” I nodded my head back toward Citra, who looked horrified. Lip quivering, eyes wide, all that. I added, “I mean, it could be. But life involves a gamble or two.”

I paused here and looked down at little Qiang. Wish I had that little thing inside me to give me a little guidance, even if it meant I’d listen and do the opposite. I looked to the Black ranger. “Take care of my daughter, please? I have to kill the man who tried to kill her twice already and almost ruined my world.”

I stood up. So did the Rangers. They took a defensive position as I held Qiang out to them. The Red one took her, though Blue and Black stayed on guard because I would gladly use that opportunity to punch them most of the time.

Instead, as soon as they did so, I lunged toward the servant who brought me the tea and put my fist through his chest. The speed of movement and contact caused the illusion around my arm to fail, allowing the black and blue of my armor to show through. He trembled and stared, mouth agape, at my fist. “Come on and change back, you bastard,” I said. “I killed this servant this morning, shoved him onto a bidet and forced the water through him until he died. Anal water boarding.”

One of the Buzzkills chimed in, “My Emperor, he has a twin brother.”

Oh. Crapbaskets.

Then the door opened and in walked the same servant with an assortment of finger foods on a tray. Every head in the room turned to him, except the guy I’d fist impaled. The man himself looked at me and his dead doppelganger. “My twin brother!”

I held the corpse out between he and I and pulled my arm out, disappearing. Before the body hit the floor, my next punch flew toward the Claw’s face. He slapped it aside, disrupting the hologram and allowing everyone to see up to my elbow. My follow-up to his gut hit nothing. One second his stomach was there, the next my left went through a hole. I pulled it out before he could clamp down. He deflected more punches, didn’t react to ball shot, and I might as well have headbutted George Washington on Mt. Rushmore for all the good it did. In retrospect, the nut punch was a dumb idea in someone who can relocate his nuts. I should shift mine around sometime.

I directed energy from the batteries to my right fist and pulled back, telegraphing. The Claw didn’t bother reacting. Of course, I just had to open my big mouth in the middle of a fight. I did it to release a scream on the frequency that short circuits human motor functions and paralyzes them instead of bragging, though. My helmet and ears protected me from the effects while he was wide open. And while it’d be a great time to shove an explosive down his throat, I had stronger explosives than I had space in the same room as my kid. Shouldn’t matter. Not like he could dodge.

He dodged it and let me tear up the door instead. Then he grabbed my arm and jerked it back. “You think you are clever. What innovation! Punch me. Scream at me. Betray me. Pretend you can keep your loved ones safe from me.” His head transformed into the bulbous, yellow, many-folded form I’d seen in the old photos. His eyes were large red slits on black, and he had more fangs than the Tepes family in that mouth of his. “You are not the hero of some story, just a cunt.”

He squeezed my arm, bending metal and breaking bones. When Buzzkill guards stepped forward to try and impale him with their stinger swords, he swiped at the air. He didn’t need to touch them to carve lines right through them. I jumped up and tried kicking off from him. I flipped back, but he didn’t let go. I landed on my head, shoulder popped out of its socket. He picked me up by the afflicted limb and slammed me into the ground several more times for good measure, then brought one of his titular claws down on my back. It pierced my armor and spine with ease. “Hey, you dick. I need that to walk,” I coughed out.

He stepped over me and toward the Rangers and Qiang, who started to stir. I popped the Unexpected Surprise, the molecular-edged blade, and sliced through his ankle. He grabbed the table and turned around. He opened his mouth and a glowing beam slammed into me, grinding me along the floor and leaving me smoking by the wall. He simply regrew the leg and turned back to the Black Ranger and Qiang. He reached for her slowly, getting a knife to the hand. When Black tried to push him away, Claw backhanded the man upside his jaw with a hard crack.

Claw went for another chance. It must have surprised him when I came running for him. He turned and sliced the air in anticipation of catching me. He lost that claw, then his head. The head rolled forward before his other hand caught it. I tried stabbing it with the blade, but he raised it up. I hit chest instead, and then the stump of his severed hand hit the side of the blade and snapped right through it even as it tore the stump to pieces as well. I tried to grab it, but it was sucked through his body, shooting out the back and leaving a hole in the wall behind him. His head grinned as he set it back on his neck, his hand regrowing.

You know, it’s mildly frustrating being the one on the other side of the constant regenerating.

“Get out of here already!” I yelled at the damn Rangers, mainly because they were supposed to be keeping my kid out of this. I didn’t give a damn about everyone else, who were also trying to get out after their brief paralysis. Then I looked Claw right into his furiously unkillable eyes and said, “Come on, you bastard. You’re not getting to her while I’m alive. Go ahead. I’ll even broadcast it. Get you some attention. You’ll always be known as the man who killed Psycho Gecko. That’s a lot more impressive than killing a little girl.”

Another mouth beam knocked the delicious chocolate pudding out of me and left me gasping for breath in my Psycho Gecko-shaped impression in the wall. He grabbed a chair then and threw it into me with enough strength to lodge three of the legs through my chest and pin me in there. At that point, everything below the hair hurt. Air eluded me, and blood was running like rats from a sinking ship.

“I will be the one to break you and hear you whimper,” he said calmly.

“I mean, if that’s all you wanted, I’m not a big fan of the bondage stuff, but-”

“Before this day is through, it will be cemented in the minds of all that you are just a weak little man with a reputation far greater than your means or ability. Who are you to challenge me?”

“Dimension Squad, Transport!” yelled three voices, followed by an explosion. I looked up to see the three Rangers had called their shiny costumes. The resulting explosion from their morph had wrecked the wall of the room. Instead of standing, they fled through the hole with Qiang, calling for everyone around to evacuate. They left me, but that’s no big loss.

“I think you missed your chance. Even now, I feel my salvation close at hand,” I meant to chuckle, but something solid lodged in my throat. Spat it out. Odd shade of pinkish-orange. Are there orange organs?

The Claw looked back at me, but stepped out after them, cutting his way through walls to follow after. I tried moving, but my body didn’t cooperate. I tried thinking of Qiang, or inspirational power up music, or something like that. But that kind of thing happens to heroes, and I’m not the hero.

I projected my consciousness outward, along the networked devices of the palace. Like a security camera nuclear alarm system. “Hey, Claw, whatcha doin’? Hunting down Rangers?”

He sneered and cut through that intercom, but at least the cameras had sound. “No more stolen nanomachines, no more stolen weapons. The Gecko thief has only cameras and speakers to steal. I doubt you burgled anything that can stop me now. Is there any part of you not stolen from someone else? From my understanding, your name is not your own. You have nothing to save yourself or your stolen daughter now.”

He pushed down the doors of the palace. Outside stood the diplomats, my few supporters such as Silver Shark and Beetrice, and the Dimension Rangers in what should have been the sunlight. But the sun behind them was blotted out. A veritable horde of supers crowded around outside the palace, all facing the Claw.

“This too is something of mine. You stole my Empire, but it is mine, and my subjects answer to me,” he said to mock me. I heard it perfectly, through so many ears. War Man stepped forward holding a grenade launcher more fit to be mounted on a tank.

“About that,” I said from a nearby phone being held by one of the Chinese peace envoys. “I have stolen many things, but not the Unity drug, nor the memories of so many superheroes. I am indeed a right cunt. But didn’t you ever wonder why I didn’t bring in nanites to replace those you destroyed, purse myself of your poison? They were sent to the front lines instead, to heal those who fought for you. You’re right. I was not strong enough, but I think they are. It doesn’t throw off your big finale if that memory block’s gone, does it?”

I went to laugh back in my little wall cradle, but the coughing started, and the distant thunder and multitude of lights and beams and lasers aimed at the Claw and directed by a bunch of very pissed and eager people. But I couldn’t stop coughing, and shaking and just before I lost co-

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Korea Harder 5

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I’ve been working non-stop to try and find the Claw. I’ve also kept Citra, Silver Shark, Beetrice, and Qiang under constant surveillance by bugging all of them. I wasn’t going to stick around them all the time. Especially Beetrice. I need my hip. And my nuts. I found Lefty. He’d gotten scared and decided to hide in his shell. I know balls don’t have shells, but he didn’t. Had to pop the little bugger down.

But, you know what they say: what doesn’t kill us traps us in a hole in its basement and makes us put on lotion. That one really means a lot to me. Someday, I’m going to put it on a plaque. Probably hang the plaque over the pit in my basement.

But enough about future tailoring options, I was searching for the Claw. He still hasn’t made his existence known to a wider audience, which suggests something of a strategy to me. I think he wants peace. I expect that’s something of a tall order, unless he fakes his death.

So that’s why I’ve been working my way around, testing people around here. Mainly the humans. It doesn’t take much. Just some bodily fluid of some kind or another. For the guys in the palace, that means a little trip to the Imperial Glory Hole. I’d like to take all the credit for that, but someone in the Kim family wanted the full sex bathroom dungeon experience. You don’t want to use the shower there.

After carefully testing dozens of men, I have eliminated them from possibly being the Claw. A quick DNA test showed no oddities in DNA. It’s all human. No weird radiation, or animal-DNA, or anything like that. There aren’t nearly so many women here. I don’t know if that one’s the Claw or the Kims, but dictators tend to prefer using women only as baby factories. Having been uncomfortably close to one while she was giving birth, I doubt many soldiers would want to see that rolling toward them on a battlefield with a gun in hand. Even worse if you could get the opposing army’s mothers. “Francis, what the hell do you think you’re doing out here, running around with a sword?! You could get hurt! And just look at your uniform. You take that off this instant and go to your bunk so momma can clean it, and don’t you even think about coming out of there until I say so, young man!”

Cue Private Pyle shooting himself.

My work on the women is more subtle. I walk up in a nice suit, whisper sweet Romanian nothings, hold my cape over my mouth, then bite their necks. I have fangs, after all. In addition to molesting them for their blood, I’ve done the staff here a great public service by dissuading them from every getting involved with vampires. Getting your neck bitten hurts, and then there are the infections. That reminds me, I should tell all the guys from the Emperor’s Glory Hole to get themselves checked, too.

My little rumpus in the restroom hasn’t turned up the Claw just yet, but I like to think it has prepared me for the peace talks. I was mainly meant to be there as a figurehead, but now I have to try and figure out international diplomacy on the fly in a country where almost no one has been taught to think for themselves since World War II. I ended up conscripting a couple of Riccan generals and having Beetrice show up for the big meeting.

As much as I’d love to go deep in depth on that one, we’re talking about a combination of drudgery, formality, and potential execution. The most important part of it for me involved the ambassadors and who they brought. It was the American who decided to spring the surprise on me, perhaps because I had been a pain in her country’s ass more than any other. “There is one last party who wished to be attached to these negotiations. They approached us with concerns about their jurisdiction. They made a good case, so they will be sitting in on these negotiations.”

I shrugged. “As if I know what a normal peace talk is like. I’m usually not involved in these sorts of things. Well, not on the talking side. Made my fair share of talkers disappear, or people who didn’t want to talk. Who do we have here? The Master Academy?”

The ambassador motioned toward the doorway to the conference room I had the staff throw together. This place is a jumble. I’m expected to talk on behalf of a nation that’s barely a nation anymore, made up of a bunch of people unified solely in terror of the last guy who was in power. I’m going to have plenty of rebellions as people ask themselves the fairly reasonable question of why they should listen to me, follow anything I decide, or perform any orders I give. After all, they certainly didn’t vote for me. Strange men sneaking into palaces and pulling out hearts is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, even if that mandate lies purely on avoiding being killed.

I think we know how well that worked out for me last time. But I digress, both here and in the events in question. Because the special guests walked in. The one leading the way wore a uniform with a red longcoat. His second-in-command wore blue, though her hair was of a more rebellious style I recognized from the lower class on my world. Like cornrows, except lots of shaved mohawk rows instead of braids. I barely avoided growling the word “Rangers” under my breath. It’s a habit, much like the even less family-friendly words I swallowed when the third member of the Ranger delegation entered. This one still wore an inky black costume that looked like a walking hole.

And here I was without my armor. Mine was locked up in a very secret room where I spent some of my late nights going over it with a fine-tooth comb looking for any tampering or interference. It’d go easier if I could get nanites, or the machine I had that produced some. Unfortunately, we left that machine on a boat that has disappeared, and Ricca seems to be completely out of nanites. They had been sent to the front lines and rapidly used up. The island of Ricca was the only production center for the Empire, and it still lacks any sort of power. I had to resort to manual labor to do the job, and do it thoroughly. I killed Oligarch by messing with his power armor and setting off the self destruct. I’d rather something similar not happen to me.

I pointed to the last one and addressed the American. “This one has already tried to assassinate me and is still dressed for battle. There are weapons on that armor. Are you really sure I won’t say something that won’t start this person starting a fight around a bunch of frail humans like yourselves?” I grinned at her. The United States had a tremendous fucks deficit concerning my life, but she almost certainly cared about her own. And I’m exactly the sort of guy who could provoke a fight that gets other people killed. I think the recent war proves that one.

That one put their arms akimbo on their waist and disappeared in a brief flash of light to be replaced by a man around the same age as the Rangers. He had the glare of someone I personally wronged, and held my gaze. “You’ve been awfully intent on killing me,” I said in our shared language, cleaned up in this to avoid the constant headaches of dealing with an accurate translation that resembles a heap of typos. “Should I know you?” I asked him.

“You killed my father,” he said.

At least Inigo Montoya gave a name. I shrugged. “Should I know you?” I asked again in emphasis of the point. Then I turned and headed toward my end of the table. Beetrice and one of the Riccan generals waited for me there. I announced our side, called in someone to drop off some finger foods and drinks, and we prepared to get underway.

“Should you trust him?” asked Beetrice in a whisper, nodding toward the general on the other side of me as we sat down.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I tested him.” Meanwhile, the general grabbed my hand under the table and attempted to guide it to his crotch. I slapped his hand away and turned to quietly inform him, “This is not the time.” Then Beetrice’s hand came roaming for my crotch and I had to push that away too. “Not the time,” I reiterated.

On the plus side, I might be able to sex an entire nation into loyalty. Might have to install a new asshole to handle that.

The meeting wasn’t all that productive. I informed them that the guy who had been talking for us before turned out to be something of a traitor, but I’d be willing to at least consider the framework of what he agreed upon. My real goal is to leave the island of Ricca with nothing but the island and other stuff it had before all the recent expansion, but I told them I wanted a peace without renouncing claims to any territory Ricca has taken in its recent conquests. There was some talk of military occupation of Ricca. They sounded like they meant it, but nobody likes that kind of thing nowadays. It’d get them their revolts and they’d stand a great shot at putting friendly governments into power, but they’d be leaving their own personnel right there in the middle of a revolting country and immediately legitimize resistance to the new regime by painting them as foreign puppets.

Just because I usually don’t think doesn’t mean I can’t think, and a person can at least use their mistakes to learn. This public service message brought to you by Fixodent. Fixodent, ruining blowjobs for old people since ’69.

I don’t know how the discussion took so long, but we soon came up on a break, then another one, then we called it a day. We hardly did anything, but a we’d been at it for hours. It was like Mormons fucking.

After I’d ducked Beetrice, I headed back to my quarters. I found Qiang and Citra tied up together in bed, muttering through gags and straining to see through blindfolds. I also saw a sheet of parchment on the floor with a flash drive. The paper turned out to be some sort of list of demands about the talks, including an insistence on keeping power for myself. Curious, I let my body connect to the flash drive to hopefully provide some context.

It contained a video file that began in the palace kitchens. I’d stopped by there to make myself a midnight snack a couple of times and to meet the people who would be cooking for everyone. It wasn’t so much about testing them as it was getting the lay of the land and thanking the little people for doing a good job. Do not ignore the plight of those who fix your food or clean your toilet, lest they think to conspire together.

The view shifted to focus on a chef, who smiled. His face rippled into a many-folded yellow thing with a huge mouth of fangs before settling back into looking merely as grotesque as your average human. “Greetings from his most sublime Emperor of Ricca to the pretender Psychopomp Gecko. Every being on this pitiful planet exists to serve me, even those who insist otherwise. I now bring you into the ranks of the enlightened, who know and do so willingly. This,” he raised up a glass containing a clear liquid that could have just been water. “is a poison beyond the reckoning of the primitive peoples of this planet, such as this one.” He swung the camera around to show the cook he’d replaced, tied similarly to Qiang and Citra. I should probably let them up sometime soon. The Claw took out a syringe and filled it with the liquid, then punctured the gag and sprayed it into the man’s mouth. The man squirmed, but could do nothing but sit there and take what Claw gave him to swallow. After my loyalty tests, I could commiserate.

The Claw set it down and lifted another glass, this one filled with brown liquid. “Either half of this poison stays within the human body for months at a time. Either is completely harmless.” He tossed aside the first syringe and pulled another, which he then used to force feed the captive chef the same way. Almost instantly, the hostage tried to yell with everything he had, but his voice petered away into nothing within seconds. His skin went ashen grey, then pulled in. The man dried up, like a mummy. The claw then picked up the first glass and stepped over to a pair of trays containing food.

It abruptly cut from the kitchen to my quarters, focusing the same trays that had been eaten from, and the tied up Qiang and Citra on my bed. The Claw smiled and laid the parchment on the floor. “I am the eternal Emperor, and you will do as I command knowing how easy it is for me to force this poison upon your loved ones and yourself. You will be the instrument by which I remake Ricca, beginning with peace on my terms. Do not disappoint.”

I may be the instrument, but the Claw’s a damn tool. I’m gonna break that hoe.

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Korea Harder 4

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“There you are!” shouted Citra and Silver in unison. They stood in the doorway of Beetrice’s queenly suite. I had managed to crawl out of bed and a few feet to the door, but it was tough going.

“Help,” I called. “I can’t hardly walk.”

Citra folded her arms and huffed, but Silver stepped over and easily picked me up in a princess carry. “Did she break your hips?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so, but it’s too close to tell. I need fluids. Lots of electrolytes. And I can’t feel Lefty.”

“Lefty?” asked Citra.

I pointed at my crotch. “She just kept on and on. Eventually, I was running out completely. It was like a straw sucking away at nothing and closing in on itself. First it hurt, then it just went numb. Either I literally busted a nut, or it ran away. Here boy! Here Lefty!”

“Happy Independence Day to your balls,” said Silver Shark with a grin.

“Hurry before she comes back. Has the armistice lasted?” I asked.

Citra spoke up. “No one is fighting anymore. The details are being negotiated, but they don’t let us in that. My father is doing most of the work.”

I lolled my head over. “You father? Which one is he?”

She lowered her head. “Mother never wanted me to admit it, but the world has changed. The Majordomo.”

“I wish we had someone else than him,” I said. “I’m not the finest diplomat on all the details. I don’t even know all the details. The whens and wheres and what compositions. And so many of the lesser bureaucrats never dealt with anything quite this big before. Consolidation of power is a bitch when the ruler dies.”

“Is that guy treating you any different now you’re open about who you are?” asked Silver.

Citra frowned. “He never said anything before but he was critical of me. He watched me. Now, he does not react to me at all. I am just another servant to him.”

“Hey,” I chimed in. “Don’t be a servant. Things are changed, he left you behind, and he’s not paying you enough for all this shit.”

“We worked for room and board,” she said.

I pointed between the two of us, moving my hand back and forth. “Well, your mother traded you to me as a wife, so you’re not a servant anymore. Tell them to go fuck themselves if they ask you for stuff. But, uh, I’m not necessarily going to own you and make you be my wife and fuck me. For starters, I’m bone dry. Geez, there’s so much to work out now. Say, how do you react to being abandoned?”

Silver slapped me across the face. “Don’t do that.”

“Ow… where’s my armor?” I asked, wondering about returning the favor. That, and walking. That thing would go a long way towards making me mobile again.

“Mother was overseeing the washing because no one else wanted to touch it. They were worried you left traps in there. They thought they smelled the chemical gas.”

“That’s just rude. We should go slap them. And someone needs to fetch me my daughter.”

“She’s already here,” Silver said. I heard a child’s giggling, but didn’t see her anywhere. She crawled up onto Silver’s shoulder and looked down at me.

“Hi daddy!” She hopped down onto me, knocking some of the air out of me and nearly poking me with the knife she carried. “I was practicing sneaking, just like you taught me.”

I hugged her as best as I could without getting stabbed. “You were very good at it. A lot of people would be creeped out by the laughing, too.”

We cuddled for a bit before I had Silver Shark set us down. I really could walk, but it was still nice to have someone carry me well away from Beetrice’s chambers. The bee queen had a forceful and enthusiastic personality and had absconded with me to her chambers to attempt to kill me by dehydration. It wasn’t easy to eat like that, either. She kept insisting on feeding me certain foods, like bananas and hot dogs. A sub sandwich. On the other hand, the middle of sex is no time for soup.

People dream about these kinds of relationships. I suppose they’d be nice, but I have other things to deal with besides having even more people foisted on me as responsibilities. And as I’ve bitched and moaned about before, it tends to make me wonder when someone likes me enough to put my dick in ’em.

Chief among those suspicious individuals is Technolutionary. “Any word on Technolutionary?” I asked Citra as I walked hand in hand with Qiang.

“I don’t know. I could go find out,” she responded.

“Go do that for me,” I said. She turned to head down a different corridor when I put a hand on her shoulder. “Wait, wait, you were supposed to tell me to go fuck myself.”

She froze, then started to say, “Go fu-.”

I cut her off again. “Too late. Now if you say it, you’ll be saying I because I told you to, and I told you not to do what someone tells you to do.”

She waited there, unsure what to do, then finally said, “I’m going to find out about Technolutionary,” and scampered off. It’s a step. She’s learning. It’s like one of those koan things.

Silver started coughing before we even reached the room. “All the chemicals they’ve been using irritates my nose.”

When we opened the door to where my armor should be, it lay on the floor underneath the blunt hooks that the men in hazmat suits set it on when I first left it with them. One of these now held Wangi right through her middle, just below the ribs. I checked around the room quickly before heading after her. From behind me, Silver called out, “I’ll get help!” That left Qiang at the doorway. I turned and glimpsed her face scrunching and tearing up. Crying, not ripping. Considering the wounds on Wangi, it seemed a necessary thing to point out.

She had several slices taken out of her. There were three parallel marks in each group. Then she’d been tossed on a hook. But she wasn’t quite dead yet. Close. I checked on my armor and around the room for any nanites like those I’d bottled up. I did find a medical kit thrown off into the corner, but the nanite gel was missing and I don’t think a bandaid was going to fix this one. I turned to Qiang. “Go find another one of these, ok?” She stood there in the doorway for awhile before I clapped my hands. Then she ran off. Hopefully she did what I said, but I also didn’t want her getting too close a view of all this. A guy can hold out some hope for a kid having a better childhood than he had.

I walked over and slapped Wangi’s face. “Wakey wakey!”

She gasped, opening her eyes.

Wangi’s eyes blazed with intelligence even in the middle of all the shock and mortal injuries. I put my hands on the side of her head. “I think we both know what’s going on here, but I have people trying to bring help nonetheless. What happened?”

She tried to take a deep breath, but that proved a little difficult with the hook’s positioning. I looked her in her eyes and tried to feign sympathy. It’s so hard when you have to think about it, like a millipede trying to watch its step.

“Lu didn’t know. Her or me,” she finally forced out.

“He did this to you?” I asked.

“No. He isn’t Lu.” She began to cry. “Please. Look after her.” I held her, trying to keep from adding to her pain. My mind wandered, though. Not to Citra and any thoughts of taking care of her. More to Lu. As if sensing my thoughts, Wangi told me. “His hand changed. He isn’t Lu.”

I just held her. It wasn the only thing to do, especially when Qiang came back, crying and shaking her head. Silver Shark returned soon afterward with a medical kit of her own, but she tossed it away in frustration after opening it. “All of the gel is gone,” she growled. “I called the doctors. The emergency team is on their way.”

They didn’t get there in time. Citra’s arrival on the scene then caused my ears to automatically sensor out the damaging high pitch of her screams. I left her to it, except I made sure to tell the doctors not to leave her alone at all on pain of not-death. I like a chance to be creative with someone’s punishment in such a way that they live a nice, long time with it.

I didn’t let Qiang or Shark go anywhere either. I huddled us out well away from the bawling and crying, only to be hug-tackled a weepy Beetrice. All of her arms, including the middle pair, wrapped their fuzzy selves around me and she lifted me up off the floor. “I heard someone was killed. Are you ok?!”

I patted her, keeping my face well clear of her unusual mouth parts. Bee mouths have, like, their own legs and stuff. “Put me down,” I ordered. She must have figured out a difference in my demeanor, because she did as commanded. “I am unhurt, obviously. The Claw has been masquerading as Lu. He murdered Wangi when she realized he wasn’t really the Majordomo. Have Lu found and arrested, if possible. With all this out in the open, we can’t hide that we know. Wait, we kinda can. Have them look for an assassin who may or may not have Lu or have killed Lu. They likely can’t kill him on their own anyway if they tried, so maybe he’ll play along and let himself be arrested.”

The Buzzkills swept the palace for an assassin. Telling everyone their Emperor was still alive would be counterproductive, and I preferred them over possible loyalist Riccan elements. Odd that he didn’t want anyone knowing he was alive too, but it confirmed my suspicions over Lu’s changed demeanor. Where I thought he’d gotten all sycophantic toward me just because he was in charge, it turned out Claw was telling me what I wanted to hear to reduce suspicion. So I was right, but for the wrong reason. I’d have rather been wrong for the right one, since I’d fallen for his trick in the first place. The Claw was more than a man in a mask, after all. He’s controlled all the information surrounding him for so long, he played me.

Even after they found a dead body, I had the Buzzkills continue on into Pyongyang. They were more than happy to take up policing duties and increase the guard at the palace because it made their queen happy. There might be some genetic obedience thing mixed in too, but I’d have to study up more on bees. You know, because that’s obviously going to tell me everything I need to know about a race of bee humanoids.

I examined the body they found myself. Face missing, hands missing. He could be DNA tested, but that’s worthless without a database to compare it to. He was dressed in Lu’s robes, but he was way too fresh to be the original dead body. Claw killed this guy, stole his clothes, and replaced him.

It went without saying I slept with one eye open. What required saying is I slept with both of them open. Even with Qiang in bed with me, I made sure to pop my eyes out so they could cover two different directions and alert me if anything moved.

And, making all this worse, I’m now saddled with seeing to the delegation that’s about to arrive to hash out all the final peace stuff. I guess we’ll see if Claw objected to Emperor Gecko being cut up and stuffed into enough baggies that every hostile nation on the planet could have a piece.

It feels a lot less peaceful around here, and despite me no longer being tied to Beetrice’s bed, I feel more fucked than ever.

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Korea Harder 3

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My escape did not, in fact, involve a minotaur. I’d tried wandering around finding a quiet way out. I know, I know, me quiet? I could have bounded right back up the furnace and punched through the floor, probably. But I didn’t come all this way, play dead, play with fish, and spill pudding down my pants just to blow the stealth approach this late in the game. I made my way through the maze in the general direction of that distant noise I’d associated with a roar.

This wasn’t some kid’s menu with a nice top down view, so it was harder to get a sense of maze’s size. I took a page from Ricca’s augmented reality and left a glowing trail behind me for my eyes only. I corrected for dead ends and back tracking as well. The music in my head helped make the trip tolerable. For some reason, “One Night In Bangkok” felt appropriate. I even caught myself circling back around to a four way intersection and taking a different turn due to the process of elimination. Then I said “Fuck this,” and cranked up the armor. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, you see.

The maze ran out of walls between myself and my target before I ran out of power. I ended up peeking my head around one last corner from whence I heard the sound I’d been following. Despite it not sounding bestial, I legit expected to find a minotaur, or perhaps some genetic abomination. It’s not like it’d be hard to make a humanoid bull at this point. Hell, I’m banging a cyborg shark woman. Rawr.

I didn’t find one of the epic classic monsters, like a cyclops, hydra, or dragon. I didn’t even get one of the weak modern monsters like chupacabra or the skunk ape. I got… some people by an elevator with cleaning supplies. There were four of them, they all wore jumpsuits, but one had a vest over his. “Remember, if the Majordomo asks, remind him it is improper for him to address lowly staff directly. He will probably remember that, but he has been up my ass about cleaning down here the past couple of days. This is an easy job. Do you want to be reassigned to the war?”

“We heard you the first four times,” answered a subordinate of his with wild, uncombed hair.

“You are really nervous about this, boss?” asked another, a woman.

She turned to nod to the last of their group, but I stood there instead. “Yeah, what’s the big deal?” I asked. Under my arm, the original fourth mumbled something. I couldn’t hear him real well, so I twisted his neck around. I heard that one real clear, before the screaming started. Always with the screaming.

The maintenance elevator took me to a subbasement, but that turned out to be accessible to a sub-basement. Having gotten a good look at the uniform of these workers, I used the incomplete holographic field of my armor to mimic one. I wanted to keep my armor on. I was confident I could sneak in it easily enough.

Nobody really looked twice at me as I left the elevator. Once, sure, but I must remind y’all once again that sometimes the best way to sneak by people is to look like you belong there.

After that, it was almost insultingly easy to move about the palace. I was a worker. I was beneath official notice, and I was already in. Surely, someone else must have already checked me if I got this far. So curiosity met apathy, and apathy won.

One of the common themes among dictators is an over-inflated sense of self-worth. They get it into their heads that they’re the greatest instead of hiring someone to whisper sweet “Sic transit gloria mundi”s in their ear. St. Petersburg becomes Stalingrad, Saddam Hussein gets a painting of him slaying the hydra, and one of the guys who used to live here grabbed or invented 54 different titles to appear important. They’re all only worth as much as someone will pay to kill them. Everyone’s like that, except for the assassin.

And as the best killer around, I’d say I’m worth a lot more than the others. I’m like the big game hunter of heroes. I should add that to my list of titles. Maybe add an asterisk there that includes, “and villains.”

So the assassin swept through the palace, forgotten for dead, ignored in continued life. I wore no helmet, but no man remembered my face. I glided silently, a heavily armored enigma in the night. I was a deadly breeze that absconded with any life caught in my embrace. I left bodies when I had no choice. Their necessary deaths and disappeared corpses were the cobblestones that eased my approach.

My trail took me past a corridor where Buzzkills guarded a door. The bee people had segmented eyes, but I took pains not to be seen. I climbed further, to the largest and most luxurious of the personal suite. I found a trio of men outside in heavy armor of their own. The armor they wore looked unpowered, but thick and plated all over the place. Pads weighed them down from the shins, knees, thighs, waist, arms, and shoulders. Faceless helmets concealed their faces, finishing the work of their gloves and high-necked shirts to completely obscure their skin. They might have been tinted enough to mitigate some of the impact of a bright flash, and possibly a bang. I wouldn’t give them a bang. Even if I didn’t use one, the guns in their hands hinted at many loud noises in the future. They stood with two to the sides of the door and one across from it.

I set my hologram and readied myself. I checked the ceiling, seeing what I had to work with. Twenty feet or so. I’m still not th ebest at imperial measurement despite my own stint as emperor. I whipped out a chicken grenade. Instead of pulling its head off, I tossed it high. It hit the ceiling just above them, sooner than I meant, but momentum let it flip and flop over to the side of them. They all turned to look, but the one on the furthest side of the door was the first to turn.

My kick knocked the gun out of his grip, though a strap saved him from losing it completely. The one across the hall went down with an enhanced punch to his throat. With one hand, I grabbed the hand of the one on the closer side of the door. A hell of a lot closer, eh? With my other hand, I grabbed around his head in a one-handed twist. He went down. The one who had turned first tried to yell something, but was muffled by his helmet as he raised his rifle. I jammed my finger in there behind the trigger and chopped his throat. My hand went from his throat to the bottom of his torso armor and I lifted, swung him overhead, and slammed him down onto the top of his head. I figured that probably got him, but for good measure, I stomped down on the back of his neck after he finished falling over.

Some moments are too perfect to say anything. Others, you’re trying to silently assassinate someone.

I started to open the door when I heard a clicking sound from behind me. I turned to see two of the guards standing back up: the one I’d punched in the throat and the one whose neck I broke. That one twisted it back into place.

I sighed. From underneath my left forearm popped a blade. Where I normally install a Nasty Surprise, I had instead traded it out for a broken piece of the atom-thin blade I’d broken off the suit of my stalker from my home Earth. I figured it would make an even more fun surprise. One swipe later and the bodies of the guards dropped, followed swiftly by their heads. Strangely, they lacked blood. I removed the head from the one still laying down for good measure before checking the room.

The locked door put up more resistance than most human vertebra. The designer was good, but not good enough. I popped that lock like a 90s breakdancer, and entered like a smooth criminal. So did my friends out in the hall, in case anyone happened to pass by. I dumped them all on their sides on a sofa with its back turned to the door. Layouts being fairly standard, I figured I wouldn’t find his bedroom adjacent to the kitchen or main living room. There were guest rooms, but a good rule of thumb is to find the one separated from the others so that mommy and daddy can give you a little brother with at least a tiny bit of privacy.

That one didn’t have an electronic lock either. This one I picked with the help of my laser eye and let myself in. I’d come all this way and the Claw laid before me. With my eyes, I had enough light to see the inhuman visage of the thing laying in the bed. Humanoid, with a large yellow head, pointy ears, and a huge mouth barely hanging open over folds that hinted it could go further.

I’d pondered a bit of speechifying. Giving him a piece of his mind and making up some stuff about how I’m so much better than him. But that didn’t matter. Knowing why he would die wasn’t important.

I shoved first one hand, then another into the sleeper’s chest, tearing him in half before he could awaken and pulling out his heard. Then I squeezed his shaking head until it burst.

It felt ok. Not astounding or even great. Just ok. A bit of a let down. I thought I’d feel better about it all, especially after the guy tried to kill me and my daughter. I prefer letting people know I have a way to hurt them so they stay in line. His way was nothing but a last laugh to have. In this case, it was more of a provocation.

I checked over this much-storied villain. Just a man in a mask, as far as I could tell. Maybe he was super powered, but a bit of a letdown from the theories about being alien or fae. I pondered the oddity of it all over a late night snack. I grabbed his heart and gave it a nibble. Standard human heart, aside from a surprising level of physical fitness for a man his age.

Movement woke me from my thoughts. Shaking kind of movement. The sounds of warfare. In the middle of that, I heard a creak from outside. I walked out and saw Lu standing there. His eyes narrowed and halted. Silver Shark swung around in front of him.

“Hey babe,” I said, smiling with blood around my mouth and chunks of heart. It’s not a tender cut of meat.

“Did you murder the Emperor?” asked Lu.

I shrugged. “The Emperor is dead. Long live Emperor Gecko. What’s shaking out there?”

I walked toward them and out the door. Silver Shark kept up with me easily. “It’s a war out there. Bombs are getting through into Pyongyang. You sure waited long enough! The war’s going so bad, this guy broke me out to do what you hadn’t.”

I turned to look at Lu. “Since when do you turn coat?” When he opened his mouth to answer, I interrupted him. “Forget that, get me to whatever command center you have here, and have the other women who came with me released unharmed. They’re alive, right?”

Lu bowed his head respectfully. “I had them imprisoned in the dungeon. They are otherwise well cared for.”

I eyed him. He noticed it and added, “This course had become madness. I dislike that you made it happen. I realized also you could save the empire. You would not have made it this far if I had not learned of your voyage and cleared your path. I knew you lived, and knew you would survive the fall and labyrinth. When you took so long, I suspected I was wrong and recruited Silver Shark to take your place. I do not know what form the empire will take now as it continues, but it continues.”

“For the moment, it’s a totalitarian Geckocracy. One man, one vote, and I’m the one man. But all that isn’t going to matter unless we deal with this little problem we have vis-a-vis the whole world knocking on our door with nuclear weapons.“

“You there!” Lu called out to a scampering servant. He gave the man orders to release Wangi, Citra, and Qiang, and to bring them to us in the command and control center. After exasperatedly demanding the man hurry, he came back to me and smiled. “Let us hurry. Things go poorly.”

I was ushered into the place where all the wartime magic happens, finding it a crude attempt to stick 21st century equipment in a room designed for individual computers that barely fit on desks. There was a back portion with a set of chairs, one central. From there, the room moved down in tiers, with a long planning table on the next one down, and then desks with computers. On the wall opposite, a humongous screen was divided up to show multiple different views. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but there was a lot of white and red in places that looked bad for this half of the peninsula. “Sup, people. I need you to get me the belligerents on the phone. Everybody. The Russian asshole, the American idiot, the Chinese businessman, the German alliance builder, and whoever the hell the British have after their election bit their PM in the ass.”

“What about the Japanese and French?” asked some random person at a computer.

I pointed to him. “Good point. Get me all of them. Everyone. Anyone who has declared war on us, I want their face on that monitor as soon as possible. And someone bring me a chair to sit in.”

Lu motioned to a chair behind me. “This is the ruler’s chair.” He sure has cozied up to me. I’d rather he be as much an ass as before. I don’t think I can trust him like this, the way he set things up for me to supposedly waltz in and kill his leader. He never struck me as the type to do that. I better keep my eye on him.

And why didn’t he just do the job? If the Claw was just a regular guy in a mask, and probably an older one, why get me? Or Silver? Why not push him down a flight of stairs?

Lu put his hands on my shoulder to guide me around since I’d taken a moment to think instead of paying attention to the chair he meant for me to sit in. Some thick golden monstrosity. I pushed it onto its side and sat in it, at least confident it didn’t have a bomb hidden underneath. “If this is all you have, then it’ll have to do. Crap, we’ll probably have to wake up Beetrice sometime soon, won’t we?”

“If she hasn’t awakened already from the bombing. She is an important political figure going into the future of our nation. Her support will mean something,” Lu said.

Silver Shark just kinda stood around looking awkward. I waved her over. “Hey there beautiful. Am I dead? Because I don’t know if I’m seeing an angel or a succubus.”

She shuffled her large cybernetic flipper feet and looked down. “Ha ha. You think you’re funny.”

“I hear I’m a riot. That must be why people keep trying to beat and pepper spray me. But I’m not joking about how you look.”

“Stop,” she said, and a bit more seriously than because of my flirting. She looked back up and toward the entrance of the room. I saw the older and thicker Wangi, her waifish daughter Citra, and my Qiang. The little girl ran toward me with my helmet on her head. I caught her in a long hug, holding her until called out that they had representatives of Ricca’s enemies ready to present on screen for a visual.

I sat Qiang on my knee, keeping an arm around her waist. “You look good in daddy’s helmet,” I told her. She looked up at me and nodded, the helmet exaggerating the gesture.

“This is General-” started someone from the monitors. I looked up to see they were all lined up there on the big screen, this conversation taking precedence over everything else.

“Yeah, yeah, nice to meet you. How’s the war going for you?” I asked in English, smiling. I tossed the heart I still carried from the hand holding Qiang over to my free one so I could raise it and take another bite. I didn’t bother waiting for an answer before starting in, “The Empire of Ricca has made a grave mistake and is willing to correct course. As part of this, to you, the nations that have been wronged by recent actions, we offer unconditional surrender.”

“There may be repercussions for Emperor Claw for his role in recent events,” spoke the American General. “Do you have the authority to negotiate on his behalf?”

I wiggled the heart in my hand. “The Claw has faced his final repercussions. My authority comes from my standing as Emperor Gecko. Now, let’s talk peace.”

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Korea Harder 2

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As easily as the Claw abandoned Ricca, he’s not fooling around with North Korea. I’d been pondering his decision to flee the island rather than try to hold it. It bothered me, even though I made it happen. The guy did have supers. The palace was replaceable. They had to have bunkers with alternate power sources.

Traveling across North Korea, I got it. I understood. Because even though I spent a lot of time hiding and staying under cover, I still got to see a sky dotted by supers. Men, women, and that technicolor rainbow in between, all flying across the sky. They didn’t blot out the sun. Too many of them kept moving to do so. Some had wings, some capes, some jetpacks; all manor of ways to move through the air, powered internally and externally. So high, I couldn’t see colors or fine details, just shadow after shadow moving through the air. At one point, a some of them disappeared upward into pinpricks. There were a pair of explosions. The first was nothing, more or less. A plane, maybe. All I know is it wasn’t that big of an explosion. I didn’t get that good of a look before the second one went off.

I didn’t see much of the second one. The flash was incredibly bright and would have blinded regular eyes staring directly at it. That didn’t matter to my cybernetics. What did matter was a humongous electromagnetic pulse that hurt like hell and shut parts of me down for awhile. Not permanently, not with me, but it was a hell of an EMP.

After the explosion finished being loud and the group around me finished their gasps and screams, I still couldn’t see anything, but I could hear. I’d just suddenly gone from walking to being on the ground.

“What happened?” asked Wangi.

“What does it look like?” I asked, more sarcastically than anything else. Pain doesn’t really bring out my better angels, and my nerves were on fire. “Qiang, how do you feel?”

“I feel funny. Everything’s dizzy,” she responded.

“You’ll be ok. This is just temporary. This can happen sometimes,” I reassured her.

Another voice broke in, a harsher one. I may be really in to Silver Shark, but her voice is yet another part of her that isn’t so conventionally appealing. “I can’t see! I can’t hear! Help me, someone, help!”

I tried crawling toward the voice and eventually found her on the ground as well. I tried to take her massive hand, but she grabbed me and pulled me into a hug. That, or some attempt to squeeze me to death. When she calmed down enough to release my arms, I tried giving her a check-up. The fact that her implants were mostly mechanical prevented a lot worse. I guess it was a smart idea, considering she was designed to swim around the ocean. Salt water, weird organisms, and wild animals all tend to be hell on circuitry.

Once she calmed down, I popped open her eyes and ears to fix them up real quick. We did have a cart I confiscated from some dead peasants I made, but we couldn’t move her big, beautiful ass on it AND have me work on it. So I set to work amidst the questions. “What was that, dad?” asked Qiang.

I glanced at her, wondering how much to explain. “Not all of this will make sense, but what you felt, you felt because of what we are. Some things, like lightning, hurt us a little more. It isn’t as bad for you because you don’t have all the stuff plugged into you that I do, and maybe because your mom wasn’t like me.”

“That was no lightning,” Citra said, moving to my side.

I nodded, even as I dug around in Silver’s eye to workaround some damaged circuits. “That was nuclear electromagnetic radiation. They detonated a nuclear bomb way up in the atmosphere. I expect someone wanted it to land closer to the ground, but those supers got to it first.

I looked up to see the swarm had moved to another part of the airspace, little more than shapes in the distance.

Those were just the supers in the air. I don’t know if Ricca had a formal air force with machines, but that would also pump up their numbers. There’s also the millions of Koreans up here, and however many Buzzkills that fight for him under the banner of Queen Beetrice. I figure they were relying almost entirely on that forcefield for domestic protection, with a little help from supers like War Man or Dame.

We were picked up by a truck of soldiers headed to the DMZ with fancy new Riccan toys. I didn’t get the best look because I dropped “dead” as soon as they came into range, popping off my helmet again. The women gave the story about me being the dead traitor Psycho Gecko, the one whose body they were ordered to retrieve for the Emperor. The sergeant of the unit knelt down to inspect me, coughing at the smell. He was a graying old man, way too old for most militaries, especially as infantry. The others had the opposite problem. I’m pretty sure at least one of the others in this unit hadn’t even started shaving yet.

One who was a little older, maybe eighteen, joined his sergeant. “Sir, what do we do? We were ordered to the border.”

The old man looked up, gazing off into the distance. He sighed heavily and squeezed his eyes shut, then fixed his face into one impassive and uncaring. “We have a higher purpose to serve for our Emperor. It calls us away from the front lines. We take them to Pyongyang.” The boy he addressed had a hint of a smile on his face as he turned away to get the others organized. They loaded us all up for the trip far back from where people would shoot at them. Hopefully, at least. The old officer seemed to get more and more tense as our journey went, perhaps fearing that he might have still gotten the kids under his command killed.

As for me, I decided to replay this one game about vampires. Just me running around as an immortal, superhuman killing machine who feeds on human blood and drives people insane. I also occasionally argue with stop signs.

We soon rolled up into lovely, crappy Pyongyang. Sadly, I just had to lay there and listen to people talk about it. I’m sure it was a nice, quaint little place. The dictators of North Korea saw that all the big boys had cities of their own, so they threw their own together to play in. Same reason there’s a theme park around here. The theme, I’m told, is repression. It’d be a much better park if the guys from Monty Python designed it.

I didn’t get to see any of that because I was playing a dead guy. The hardest thing to keep up was the stink. It took quite a bit of chocolate pudding stuffed down the back of my pants to achieve this smell and maintain it. Going to have to do a lot of cleaning once this is done.

I was into the Kangdong Palace, the soldiers careful to keep me from scraping luxurious marble floors. This isn’t to be confused with Bangdong Palace, an Asian-themed gay club I know back in Empyreal City. They wondered at all the gold and ivory. I assume there were other things to look at, but dead men tell no tails. Not when they put a fucking sheet over you for most of the trip. When they laid me down, I thought my chance was nearly here.

“Come no further! Leave him there and stand at attention!” Ordered Lu, the former Majordomo of the Claw’s palace back on the island. The soldiers set me down and stepped back. Lu approached and moved the sheet from over my head, looking into my eyes with a flashlight at hand. Ooh, smart. I hadn’t even thought of that one. Pupil dilation is a good way to tell if someone’s faking the dead. It’s automatic. Of course, the reason I hadn’t thought of that might have to do with my own cybernetic eyes not dilating where everyone can see. He realized that himself with a frown and dumped the sheet back over my head. “He certainly smells bad enough, and he’s bloated.”

Well now that’s just rude. The food hasn’t exactly been high quality and I’m a little backed up. Also, I’m retaining a lot of water and I have big bones. He might also be referring to some stuff I shoved into my mouth. Our trip here involved living off food stolen from the residence wing of the Riccan palace, but Silver Shark managed to improvise something out of fish and this really groovy strain of Mary Jane growing in the wild that I could hold in my mouth. Having something in there makes my cheeks look puffed out, and it contributes to the smell of death. That and all the dead blood I’ve been smearing on me. Dead things have a very distinctive scent, and chocolate pudding can only go so far.

“Sergeant, remove your gun and place it against the temple of the little girl,” Lu ordered. I heard a gun unholster and a girl whimper. Someone else shuffled around and then something hit flesh. “Stay out of this!”

If Lu was fishing for a reaction, he doesn’t know what he’s dropped his pole in the water for. Already planning out all the stuff I’m going to shove up his ass until he dies. And, sadly, this is what caring for people does. I didn’t jump up and start killing my way to wherever the Claw’s holed up.

“No reaction. He may be dead. He is not supposed to be one who acts this calmly. Then why isn’t she dead as well? Take them into custody. This doesn’t need to concern the Queen Bee or the Emperor direc-” I didn’t get to hear the rest as he must have pressed something. The floor opened up beneath me. It was quite a fall, but I scraped along the walls to slow the momentum. It helped that I landed in a bunch of really soft ashes. You know, up until I realized I landed in ashes. It was completely dark. Even the trapdoor above had closed. Then it got less dark as the pilot flames appeared on the ends of six holes arranged over two walls of this square room.

Would the Kim family have built a palace with a trapdoor leading to an incinerator in one of the foyers? I think so.

I reached for my cock and found one of my rubber chicken grenades. I quickly tore off the head and tossed it at the corner between two of the holes, hoping to clear enough space to avoid a flamebroil. It got up and began to walk to its right, toward one set of flames. When it got too close, it went off.

Holding my head and now knowing what a soccer ball felt like, I glanced over. Light flowed in from a hole in the corner. I rushed over to it, missing the two remaining holes opening up with jets of flame. I dove through to find myself in a corridor that traveled around the incinerator. I’d been much closer to a door than I’d known.

But not a door to the outside. I walked this way and that through a twisted maze. When I pulled up a mapping program to trace my progress, I uncovered an even more annoying truth: I was in a literal maze. A labyrinth. Oh joy. They built an incinerator situated in the middle of an underground labyrinth, and I’m pretty sure I hear something roaring off in the distance.

This is what happens when madmen get crazy billionaire money. I’m jealous. I hope they have monsters down here.

Now find my way through the labyrinth and to castle in the heart of the goblin city to take back the child they have stolen from me. Then, Lu and the Claw both will pay for cock-blocking my murders so long.

…the way this damn assassination’s going, I’m not getting out of here until I bang a minotaur.

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Korean War 2: Korea Harder 1

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“What do we have here?” asked a Riccan sailor of slightly higher rank. He peered down from the edge of his patrol boat. Qiang, Citra, and Wangi. I don’t think he expected to find three females wanting to go to the Empire’s new base of operations, let alone whatever suspicions he had over race. Citra might be somewhat mixed in comparison to her mother, and Qiang no longer looks fully Chinese herself. I’m not even going into the more intricate ethnic details here. I think I’ve done pretty good learning the ins and outs of my inferiors. And before I get anyone whining, I mean humans. Worthless, incompetent humans.

Case in point, it took this guy way too long to notice me there. I laid there on the deck, doing my best not to move. I’d learned plenty on playing dead. It’s incredibly useful for killing people. They get a lucky shot off at you, you pretend to play dead, they let down their guard. Ya fucking shot me! You got more bullets! What are you going to do with them, take them out and have a tea party? Double tap that shit. Nope. Instead, they walk right up and I turn their organs into a meat patty, violating their 67th Amendment rights.

This wasn’t much different. I controlled my breathing to look like I wasn’t and kept my eyes staring blankly up with my helmet off. I even maintained a bit of rigor mortis, though I doubted the sea men would check down there thanks to my armor. I looked like a dead body. The man glanced down at me, some dead guy in power armor. “What is that?”

“It’s a dead body, idiot,” said Wangi. She’s been a lot more assertive since the other day. She’s still got it in her head that I’ll marry her daughter or something, though she also seems possessive. It’s like she’s fighting with me over Qiang. Citra’s been trying to be nice to me, but is awkward about the whole situation, especially her mom banging me. Now I just need a woman who looks like a little girl, a princess, a space pirate, and/or some member of law enforcement all attracted to me, then it’d really be a party. Citra knelt down over my dead, deceased body while her mother cussed out idiot sailors.

The officer pulled a submachine gun out of a holster on his waistband and fired it into the air to shut up Wangi. She put her hands over her ears, then started yelling at him for almost deafening her. When he pointed the gun at her, she tried to lunge for it, but Citra and Qiang grabbed her to hold her back. Holy shit. I stuck my dick in that. Like, a lot. It’s enough to make me wonder if I’m such a corrupting influence that my damn sperm can drive a woman insane. And what if she gets pregnant? That fucking baby would sit inside her as long as it damn well pleased, then probably claw its way out of her belly when it wanted some fresh air. Or maybe it’d be way too dumb to survive. It’s a good thing I already had a boner, because a lot of confusing and arousing thoughts were going through my head at her reaction, and I don’t mean the head with a face.

Note to self: draw a face on it.

Citra cleared her throat before speaking up. “This is the body of Psycho Gecko. I was ordered to bring it to the Emperor himself.”

“A washer woman like you wouldn’t be asked to bring the Emperor his clothes,” the officer responded, then shared a laugh with his comrades. You know, the real obnoxious kind, where the guy in charge has clearly prompted them to do so at once for his own ego.

“He is a special enemy of the Emperor whose death we were ordered to provide proof of,” said Wangi.

The officer looked at them, the smile leaving his face though his teeth still showed. “There must be a reward of some kind for such service.”

Citra bowed her head. “We only wish to serve His Grandness.”

The officer turned the gun on her instead. “A common maid should not get the reward for this over loyal warriors in the Emperor’s navy. We will take the body.”

“No!” cried Qiang. She ran to cover me up. The officer trained his gun on her. Wangi grabbed her and pulled her away, holding her against her. He kept the firearm on her for a second before raising the barrel to the sky, satisfied that no one would interfere.

“Good. Help me men bring it onboard.”

They didn’t let the women on the boat, instead passing my body off to more men to try and stick me in a storage closet. The guy who stuck me in there just dumped me and let my head smack against the wall. “Ow,” I said.

His eyes went wide and he went white as a ghost. Before he could scream, I pulled him after me and knocked his teeth down his throat. Don’t try that at home because I was wearing gauntlets. Before he could finish coughing up his incisors, I laughed and said, “Brains!” Then I tore his throat out with my teeth. “Live brains!”

I waited until he was good and dead, though I didn’t chow down on his grey matter. For starters, I wasn’t a zombie, but it’s also not that easy to bite through a skull. He’d just about stopped quivering completely when I heard someone outside call out. “Cheol! Where are you, fool? The food may be bad, but it’s better than starving.”

I slammed the door open, hitting the person calling out. I jumped out and grabbed him by the top of his head. My eye laser lit up and carved through his opened mouth, right through the middle. His body fell away from underneath the detached part of his head. Since I’d left my helmet back on the other boat, I wore this guy’s head instead. It’d be my little disguise.

It proved less than effective at fooling those on the boat, who tragically all came down with a bad case of murdered-itis soon after I found them. The officer I’d seen wasn’t the captain of this little love boat, though. I found him below deck at one point and jumped right in front of him so he’d see me. He tried to quick draw McGraw me with that zip gun of his, but I broke his wrist, his gun, and then banged his head against the wall until he decided to take a nap.

When I got to the bridge or wheelhouse or whatever they have on little ships like this, I decided to test one of those new things I’d put together. I opened up an electrical panel and tapped into the power. My gauntlet drew from the ship, filling up my battery and storing excess in a capacitor. Once it showed one filled, I let go of that and reached back under my cape. It came off with a twist, the size and shape of a large can. I pressed in a pair of pins and yanked a tab out that caused it to whine. I pulled the door to the wheelhouse open and tossed it in before closing the door, catching a glimpse of the words “Whoop-Ass” briefly. When the can opened itself up, the room went out with a bang.

My gun-happy friend was just waking up when I returned to him. “Now then, let’s see what prizes we have in store for the man who pointed a gun at my darling dear daughter..”

Believe it or not, it IS indeed possible for someone to have their head up their own ass. It’s the kind of thing that’d kill most people who tried it if they didn’t have someone knowledgeable in human anatomy to help them. The bending was the hardest part for me, really. For him, it was probably the part where I planted my boot on his head and slowly forced it into his ever-widening anus. Don’t know what he was screaming and then mumbling about, to be honest. I hardly felt a thing, not even when I picked up the whole mess and brought both his pelvis and neck down over my knee hard enough to break them both.

I then wandered up on deck, waiting for the women to catch up to me. This rendezvous might have worked if they’d agreed to escort us all to wherever the Claw’s hiding, but not so much if they were going to take all the credit themselves. I’d established beforehand that I’d get free if contact went badly like that.

It was up on deck that I caught a glimpse of something shining in the sea. I backed into a doorway to better observe in case I hadn’t already been spotted and activated my holodisc belt to hide myself from view. The silvery shining object moved faster and faster. As it approached, I recognized it as the triangular fin of a shark. A big one. The shark dove out of the water, a very un-sharklike thing to do, and I saw it was some sort of robot. Or maybe a cyborg.

The Silver Shark landed hard on the deck, but on two large, flipper-like feet that supported a body little more than seven feet tall. My eyes wandered up thick tree trunk legs and an equally stocky tail, past hips husky hips, up a torso that almost looked organic in the middle. It had the texture of skin, but a similar metallic sheen to it as the more overtly cybernetic parts and stretched taut over muscles. The Shark looked absolutely ripped, though armor covered the upper portion, preventing me from seeing any nipple.

Aside from the expectation of NSFW pinkness, the same physique showed through for a portion of the arms that weren’t encased in gleaming metal and tipped with barbed claws. It didn’t so much have a neck at the top as a portion of the torso that stretched upward and narrowed into a head that faced upward. With a loud click, it shifted to face the front instead, a wide face with no eyebrows or lashes and a nose replaced by a filter embedded in the silvery skin and stretching out to a point. The mouth didn’t even shut anymore around all the replacement teeth. For whatever reason, he didn’t have his prominent chin dimple removed, the only thing that marred his beauty. He looked like he wore goggles with lenses of dark black, but the edges of the goggles disappeared into its flesh at the corner of its eyes.

Yes, from a conventional human standpoint, he was one ugly motherfucker. From mine, he made such a magnificent piece of cybernetics, I wanted to stick my dick in it.

It must have sensed the increased blood flow or perhaps my unique electromagnetic signature, because it looked right at me. “Who are you and what happened to this ship?” he said in short barks of a voice that spoke through a modified throat. Not a pleasant singer, this one.

“I dunno. I just swam up, found it like this, and haven’t left,” I said. My invisibility was so good, he saw right through the lie. And reached for me. I ducked under the claw and punched it where the groin be if it wasn’t replaced by metal, then jumped and headbutted it on the underside of its butted chin. It responded way more swiftly than it should have, dropping an elbow on my shoulder and kicking me hard down the hallway.

I coughed and tried to stand, calling to him, “Oh you marvelous beasty, if you surrender your tailhole now, we can still reach an amicable conclusion to this! No one has to die, except the petite mort.”

“You’re no smooth talker, asswipe,” he said. Not a singer, and certainly no comeback artist. He charged me, bending the walls to accommodate his bulk. “Who do I have the pleaure of ripping apart?!”

“Psychopomp Gecko, the one and only, and I’ll merge with those circuits of yours if I have to tear them out of you!”

The Shark slowed. “Psycho Gecko? You’re like Technolutionary, right? You do the thing with the touching?”

I raised an eyebrow. “Technolutionary is like ME. And yes, I’ve been known to touch lots of things. Good touch, bad touch, touching on the doll, sometimes just touching myself. You seem less angry to run across me.”

“You’re a traitor.”

“Or maybe not so happy after all.”

He held up his meaty hands and clasped them together. “Please, fix me.”

Not something I normally hear from a guy. “Come again? You’re actually not wanting to fight me to your death?”

He nodded. “I need someone like you to help me, but all the people I know who can touch me like you do are loyal.”

“Connect some dots for me here. Help you with what?” I asked.

“They did something to me. Implanted a thing in me.”

“I hear that’s going around.” I eased over cautiously and undid a gauntlet. When I pressed it to his chest, I got nothing. I kept a careful eye on his face for any signs of bluffing, though I got the idea this wasn’t the Claw’s smartest henchman.

“Try my eyes first. They watch me some of the time. I’m only able to get away with this because they haven’t spied on me as much since everything went wrong for them.” He lowered his head to me. I pressed my fingertips to his eyes, quickly connecting and getting both a glimpse of him from my direction and acknowledgment that they were transmitters. I disabled that part.

“No spying on you now at least. Any idea where your thingy’s at?” I couldn’t get much further. The cyberization was more mechanical than digital.

His chest stomach pulled in like he was forcing a burp and the armor on the top part opened up, revealing a plug with teeth like a gear sitting on the surface of the skin above the heart would be and between a pair of breasts that would be underdeveloped on a woman but were a bit overdeveloped for a man to have. That explains all the muscles. Steroids have interesting effects on the male body, kids.

I reached over and made a connection with this device, finding that the entire thing was a bomb meant to split the chest open and destroy the heart. It had its own receivers, one linked specifically to the eyes as a backup. I didn’t so much shut them down as heavily alter the protocols for connecting to them, in case this was still some sort of trick. A bit of reformatting, a bit of change to the code, and I was soon playing around with arming and deactivating it to prove I could. As I pulled my hand away, I smiled up at him and said, “There we go. Deactivated, and they can’t connect to it now at all. I don’t think I left this place in any position to get it out of you, but no one will be blowing you up if I have anything to say about it.” Honestly, my ability to blow him up meant I was the only one with any say in it.

He pulled me up into a hug, threatening to pop my armor open. I almost armed the bomb until I heard him say, “Thank you, thank you. I’m a free woman again at last!” He, or she rather, looked down at me. “How can I ever repay you?”

I looked down at her sad little breasts, then a bit lower where the metal protected her crotch. “I don’t suppose more of you pops open, does it?”

Citra’s the one who eventually found us, the gang having arrived at the boat at some point, waited, cautiously explored the outer deck and wheelhouse, then splitting up into two groups to try and find me below deck. I looked up from the Amazonian cyborg when the slim young lady gasped from doorway to the crew bunks. Silver Shark stopped as well, looking between me and Citra. Citra also looked at myself and Silver Shark, which didn’t take as much head-turning as it did for Silver.

“Well, this is awkward,” I said, finally breaking the ice. “So, let’s get to some introductions… this is my fiance, apparently.”

The women looked at each other.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you two-” Silver Shark started.

“I’m very happy for you two-,” Citra began.

Both recognizing the mutual misunderstanding, they shared more looks even as I began to put my clothes back on.

The tenseness between them all lasted even after we made our way up on deck to find Wangi and Qiang coming this way, Wangi muttering something about a daft girl getting lost.

Qiang ran out of Wangi’s grasp and right toward me to get swept up in a hug, yelling, “Papa!”

“Who is this?” asked Wangi, approaching Shark.

“This is Silver Shark, a new friend who is going to help us on our journey,” I announced, heading to the boat and hopping down into it. Qiang wiggled free to fetch my helmet and sat it on my head for me. “And we’re all going to play nice or I’m turning this assassination around, ya here?”

They heard, and so we resumed our voyage as the absolute worst harem in the entire genre. Tenchi Muyo, eat your heart out.

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Deep Cover Mudskipper 8

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Now, while it may be everyone’s dream to live in a palace with their two beautiful Asian servants and their kidnapped Asian daughter, but getting into that position creates several problems. Might raise a few questions about myself and race, too. Nonetheless, it simply wasn’t going to work for long. The power was off and order had collapsed on the island.

For most people, that wasn’t such a big deal. Your average person is more concerned with living their life, paying the bills, and eating their dinner. Except the biggest employer just fled the island, I cut the power, and any criminal elements on the island are running around, fully aware they can get away with murder. Well, unless the Dimension Rangers get them, but what are they going to do about it? They’re used to killing monsters and mutants. It’s a bit harder to justify cutting someone in half when they’re a toaster thief just trying to support their son Daquan.

The boss is gone. Now most people don’t have jobs, and those that do won’t for long because most of their customers don’t have jobs or they can’t do them without electricity. People are afraid to go out unless they’re in armed mobs, and that mistrust means killing people over misunderstandings that used to be part of everyday life. “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought that was my pack of cookies. Please don’t lynch me.”

I don’t even know where they get their food here. If they imported most of it, this place is all going to starve. If they grew it somewhere around here, they need to get gas into trucks from storage to get it where people can eat it.

In short, I kinda fucked an entire island over.

I think any militaries interested in getting back at Ricca realized something was up, too. They didn’t open up on the place as wildly as one might have expected. Instead, a day after I forced the Claw and his people to retreat, people showed up to offer aid. It’s a little hard to get good information without being there myself, so I can’t tell if the first to show up were the Yakuza or Cape Diem. Cape Diem is an international aid organization run by the Titan. He takes heroes and villains alike, doesn’t mess with politics or crime, and instead focuses having people with powers help those around the world who are in much worse situations than your average Gotham City. As for the Yakuza, it wouldn’t be the first time they provided aid after a disaster to ingratiate themselves with a populace. The arrival of either group might be an attempt by international forces to establish a beachhead.

Soon after they arrived, there was a brief clash. The Dimension Rangers attacked the Cape Diem camp, maybe looking to get one of the villains taking refuge there. Ricca left plenty of people with superpowers and cybernetics behind, and not all had their brains washed with the Unity drug.

I was out keeping track of things, having already confiscated all the supplies I needed from the residence wing of the palace. A group of five young men and women approached in color-coordinated clothing, looking all around as a telekinetic in the Cape Diem uniform planted a perimeter fence in the ground. They looked to the food tables, pointing to someone in the middle of a bunch of kids and old people. “Ranger Dimensional Enforcement Team, Go!” they called out. A blast of light engulfed them. The light dissipated to reveal them in armor that could be confused with spandex. As they posed, the ground exploded behind them and destroyed a part of the fence the telekinetic had just put down.

All the people eating noticed the explosions and fled, while more uniformed Cape Diem personnel ran up. These guys had a band across their chests and arms that read “Security” in multiple languages. Before they could step in, something flying overhead cast a shadow over the land. A large man landed, the ground shaking under his boots. He stood up, tall as a semi and built like one to boot, with dark blue skin highlighted by orange, especially where bone showed through on his wings.

“First warning: do not attack my people,” he said, eyes glowing.

The red one spoke up. “You aren’t going to hide the unjust forever. That man is thief, and almost a murderer!” He pointed to the now-abandoned tables.

“A warzone is the wrong place to discriminate against people for what they have to do to survive. Stand down now and leave now. You only get one pass.”

The Rangers posed, then weapons appeared in their hands. They charged, but Titan swept his wings forward and knocked them all over. He jumped forward, grabbed each of them by the leg, and threw them to the other side of the island. I guess he was serious about giving them a warning. On the one hand, it’d be fun to see him sent after the Riccan government in North Korea, but I managed to pull this one out pretty well.

I didn’t have much time to worry about that. While the main action is going to be in North Korea now, I expect we’ll get plenty of people showing up here to loot the place. Thar be science in them thar hills!

I returned to my section of the palace to see the younger of my two lady servants running back to the main bedroom. Curious, I fingered the water bottle on my belt and followed.

It was Qiang, sick in bed. And not just regular sick. Blood from multiple holes sick. The older servant kept her eyes on Qiang as she tried to smear more and more of the local nanite jelly onto her. “It isn’t working!” she yelled

I pushed them both out of the way, pulled off my gauntlets, and pressed my hands against Qiang and the jelly. She whimpered as I asked went in for diagnostic. The data being shared across the nanites showed a massive viral infection, and a foreign object the size of a pinky finger just below her heart. I reached down and pulled off one of the bottles of my nanites and poured that into her mouth, making sure they dug into her. These were more highly concentrated than what the Riccans normally used, and better programmed for delicate work. I diverted some to keep her stabilized and fighting whatever this was.

Over the course of the next couple of minutes, the majority of the additional nanites examined the object and pushed it to the surface. I tore open Qiang’s shirt just before they opened her skin, pushed it out, and closed it up again without a scar. It was hollow, with a nub right next to the opening. When I cracked that open, the nub turned out to be there just to prevent me or my daughter from connecting to the small system inside, which was a simple remote opening system. Something sends a signal, and it pops open. That’s it.

“Traitorous bastards,” I said, aware of the irony. “They left a little something in case I turned on them.” I took a swallow of my other bottle of nanites and sent them to look all over for a similar foreign device, starting in the same area. They almost immediately found infection by a similar virus already. Lethargy, too. And I’d gotten really damn sweaty. “I think I need a lie down too,” I said, settling on the bed next to Qiang with my armor on. It really wasn’t the time to leave it off.

I caught the virus relatively early, but the thing was designed to hit hard and fast. I still ended up in bed there next to Qiang for almost a day, with a bit of light hemorrhaging. Just like treason, even a little bit is still enough to cause major problems.

The servants stayed by us, bringing food and dealing with all the smells. I don’t know why, but I’m going to find them something large and golden to keep for that. Maybe gemstone-encrusted. Regardless, I owe them for looking after myself and Qiang. I certainly owed them their lives. I tried to tell them. “You don’t have to stay with us. The Empire is gone.”

The older one looked to the younger one, who bowed her head. Then the older one put her hand on the chest of my armor and leaned down. “My lord has been good to us. I know what happens to women with no place to go in a lawless land and what you did not do to us. If we leave, who will protect my daughter?” She turned to look back at the younger one and held her hand out. The young lady moved forward and took it. “Her father left us behind when the Emperor evacuated. Do you want revenge for what he has done to you and your daughter?”

I nodded. Her smile was thin as she looked into my eyes. “You will need us to deliver news of your death.” Hard to argue with that, especially when I was busy trying not to shit my pants and hoping Qiang would still pull through. Then she added, “My daughter will need an ambitious husband. Our lives are the playthings of heaven no more.” That raised my eyebrow, though she patted me on the head and left to go get some more soup, leaving me in the room with her blushing daughter and an awkward silence.

The next morning, the younger one was tending to us, giving Qiang a sponge bath, when I heard crashing from the outside. The older maid ran in and locked the door behind her. She ran around the bed just before a scooter broke through the door. Seriously? They really skimped on the craftsmanship in this place. The guy wearing the moped stopped it and a couple more people joined him. All of them wore denim jackets. The one on the left had a top knot and pulled out a katana. The one on the right raised a spray can to spray his pompadour, then pulled out a lighter. The one who busted down my bedroom door sported a mohawk made of Tesla coils sticking out of his head.

I bent over Qiang to grab my gauntlets and slide them on. “What do we have here?” asked the scooter rider as he looked everyone over. I think he asked it first to be intimidating, then he noticed me there. “One of the nobles who left us to fend for ourselves?” I put up my gauntleted dukes, but he laughed and said, “You brought fists to a lightning fight.” Electricity crackled up his coils and then arced at me.

I caught it with my gauntlets, the instantly charging them. I jumped right at him, a punch to his torso turning him into a giant splatter of red. Noticing I’d gotten between his buddies, I ducked. The pompadour goon sprayed flames over my back and screamed as the one with the top knot caught him with a slice of the katana.

“Ooh, a swing and a miss,” I said. I stood and yanked the katana out of top knot’s hands, then threw him out of the room. Pompadour was too busy putting pressure on a wound in his shoulder when I picked him up and carried him back out. “We didn’t start the fire,” I sang, badly. He raised the can toward my face along the way, but I bit his hand and he dropped it. “It was always burning since the world’s been turning.” I then tossed him on top of the rolling, screaming friend of his and pinned him there with the katana, sticking them together. “Shishkebab’s almost done!” I called back to the room.

“Dad?” called out a voice I hadn’t heard except in whimpers for the past day. I made it to the bed again in an instant, hugging Qiang to me. “What happened?”

“You got sick, then I got sick, then some bad people broke in. Then they got very sick.” I paused, hearing the screams still coming from the other room. “Very sick. But we’re both a lot better now.” I looked over the two servants. “And we’re going to be leaving here soon, when you’re feeling better.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“North Korea. Daddy’s going to teach you how to assassinate people.”

And while all air transport is gone, I know some of the other nobles of the Riccan Empire have to have their own boats. I don’t even need a yacht. Just enough to take me, a kid, and enough food and water to make it there. “But first, I’m going to need get clean.”

I drew my own damn bath and peeled my armor off there, dumping it aside to be cleaned later. The door opened behind me and someone stepped in, someone heavier than Qiang. “You know, we can drop the whole ‘my lord’ business. I don’t need someone to wash me.” When arms wrapped around my chest, I sighed. “And you don’t have to do all that because your mother wants to hitch your wagon to mine.”

I turned to find it was the more muscular one looking up at me with a smile. “I have needs of my own.” She shoved me back, where I tripped over the edge of the jacuzzi and fell into the water. As she stepped up to the edge of it herself and began to undo her clothes, she added, “She can have you when I am finished.”

I left that bathroom feeling less clean, actually. And I left the island feeling slightly less fucked. But only slightly.

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Deep Cover Mudskipper 7

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I have been hard at work building bombs. And while building bombs, I’ve been keeping Qiang with me to learn. It started when she ate something that disagreed with her. The color also disagreed with the carpet, so I brought her with me to keep an eye on while I work. These things are easy enough to make for me now that I can focus on her and help her understand the changes that are going on in her body.

And if that sounds awkward, just wait until I go female to help her through puberty. I’m gearing up to be one hell of an embarrassing parent. She doesn’t realize it yet because it’s new to her, but most of the civilized world frowns on someone listening to Barbie Girl or Cotton Eye Joe. I think she also likes learning how to fight back against people. There aren’t so many assistants waiting around, but I have taught her some tricks for dealing with them. You don’t have to be large to punch someone in the balls. It is a little trickier for women, but toes and shins are still within easy reach of her.

I also have her messing around with a tablet that I added games to. Educational stuff. Like a game to help her with math, or science, or movement patterns of guards. There’s even one in there about firearms and how they can be taken apart. It’s so easy, even a child can do it.

I didn’t have her help me with the bombs. I just kept putting them together, looking all dutiful and all. I might need them. After all, the world was kinda screwed. Despite my intervention, perhaps erring on the side of “because of,” the Claw managed to take over entire other nations. He wiped their memories with that Unity crap and had his own men standing in the wings, ready to replace their muddled confusion with assurances of who they were and who they served.

He can do the same to any country where the leader is in a fixed position and power is more or less concentrated. That’s a lot of countries. It works just as well on Prime Ministers as it does on Presidents. If that doesn’t work for some reason, I can help him send a death squad instead. Or a conventional bomb. Or a bomb that tears things apart by sending a chunk of it to another dimension. The world is Ricca’s oyster, and I helped them crack it.

It’s the apocalypse, alright. I always knew I’d have a hand in it.

At night, I carried a sleepy Qiang back with me to my room, where I put a little work in on something that occurred to me on my armor. Smaller, secondary capacitors, that I can detach. It might seem like an easy way to keep extra batteries on hand, but I rigged them to be capable of exploding, if I say so. It can only be triggered if they’re detachd from my armor, too. I killed the Oligarch with his own power armor’s self-destruct system; that doesn’t mean I’m eager to be hoisted by my own petard. Petard hoisting is hard on the boxers.

And, more than that, I still had the Rangers.. On the day of their projected arrival, I made sure to get up early. Like, before the PM. I know, right? They were still a ways off. I wiggled free of Qiang and let her sleep while I pulled my armor out from under the bed and got equipped. The batteries were charged, except for the extras. I threw that on just in case. I like having my armor.

It was great. They had the stupid ship with eyes and everything. I caught a better glimpse of it through a satellite feed. It belonged to the Russians, but they’d given Ricca unprecedented access to their defense infrastructure recently. How about that?

I caught a glimpse of a young man and his friends, five in total, standing on the ship, looking toward the island. The frontmost one wore red. By his side, a blue one started pointing toward the island. That’s when the yellow one ran back toward the bridge and the ship stopped.

I panned out, curious and expecting to see some giant monster unleashed. Instead, I saw a shimmering half sphere cover the island. The ship, something of a big, modern-battleship looking-thing, turned sideways and unleashed a broadsides. Anachronistic offense aside, the attack did nothing. The shield gave a little, rippled even, but didn’t disappear. If anything struck the island, I didn’t notice. The ship just stopped there.

Curious, I headed out to the main palace, looking for answers. I found Lu watching a small army of assistants scurry about with their duties. “Hey there, Luey Luey. What seems to be the officer, problem?”

He set his jaw and looked at me. “The island is under attack. It will be sorted out shortly.”

I pointed up. “I noticed something’s up with the sky. What is that? What’s going on?”

He turned toward me and bowed his head. “My lord, the protective barrier is in place to prevent any hostile incursion or bombardment of the glorious homeland of the Empire. We are perfectly safe. Your devices are the only way in or out to my knowledge. Go back to whatever you are doing and the situation will resolve itself soon.”

I headed back, but I didn’t care to just let things resolve. Uh uh. I needed to find whatever generated this barrier and take it out. Positioning suggests it is centrally located. However, I know it’s possible to have the shield generated by one machine and distributed evenly by other nodes. That’s a potential issue. My first two initial ideas were the palace itself and the Institute of Science. Somewhere on this damn island has to be a military base, but I never bothered going there. I should be able to use the satellites to find it, but not everything’s so easy around here. The island stretches down quite a ways, even harnessing geothermal power to keep the island lit up.

And there it was. So simple. Just kill the power. No matter where the thing was, it would need power, and a lot of it. If anything, it’s surprising that it managed to power up at all without causing a brownout or blackout. Except I don’t know where that is, either. I’m beginning to suspect keeping me segregated from most of the island was a strategic choice, and one I went along with way to much.

Maybe I should destroy a lot of stuff and hope I hit something vital. Either way, I should see to Qiang. And at least warn off the servant girls in case they get shot just for being in the same room as me. I get the feeling I’m going to be on Claw’s enemy list soon if I do anything about this forcefield.

I didn’t have time to set on a strategy before I made it back to my place and found Dame waiting there for me on the couch. I raised an eyebrow looking at her. She stood up, walked over, put her arms around me, and whispered, “I couldn’t help seeing you again.” With barely any vocalization at all, she added, “The forcefield cut me off.”

I nodded. “I know. I’ve been thinking about it, too. I think it’d be quite a feat to separate us. But if we did get together and all that, then break up, I’d want you to take the kids.”

She raised an eyebrow. I nodded toward the bedroom with Qiang. “But take good care of them. They’d mean the world to me, or at least the lives of everybody you’ve ever been friendly toward.”

“That’s if I could leave you at all,” she replied.

I hugged her. “I’d never force you to stay with me if you didn’t want to. You’ll have to trust me that I’d leave you a way out. But enough about that. I just came here while I thought about what to do about this crisis. I’m going to have to get out there and do something.”

“Something to help?” she asked.

I nodded. “I need to go to work. I wouldn’t want to wait around here all day with some sort of attack going on.” It was possibly the best heads-up I could give her.

But first, I went to the kitchen area and grabbed some bottled water. I emptied a couple bottles and filled them both about three quarters with what nanites I had manage to stockpile again. Dame left, pausing to look back at me before fleeing, making nary a sound.

I made my way to the Institute of Science, keeping my eyes peeled. I never understood that phrase. I mean, sure, I found a nice pair of eyes on this guy who had stopped to take a selfie in front of the palace. They’re blue, and maybe 20/20, but I don’t know what peeling them is supposed to do. It defeats the purpose, really. I mean, there’s the eye jelly, but you don’t see more with all of it exposed.

At the Institute of Science, I kicked the door in, charged in, and yelled, “Ok, motherfuckers! This is a dick measuring contest, and today y’all came up shor-!”

The wall behind me blew open and in stepped a power-armor clad pursuer in smooth, rounded, pitck black armor with a sword in hand. The assassin who had come through from my old world had switched into that bulky armor soon after arriving. While our last meeting didn’t see them wearing it, they had it on this time. I looked at him, then back at the security guards. They pulled out glowing rifles and fired at him.

I suppose there’s one good thing about being on their side. “Go to it, boys,” I said, crawling past them. Checking back there, I saw they shot him with lasers. After a few shots, his armor shifted into a mirrored shine that took the edge off the shots. Oh great. I’m fighting the fucking Borg here. Guess I’ll have to make sure I take him down in one good shot.

I left them to it, letting the guards get nice and slaughtered, and ran for the elevator. It dinged open to reveal War Man with a black 35x32mm barrel sticking in my face and a large drum under that. I scooted to the side. War Man spread his legs and fired a burst of grenades at my assassin, who just finished playing hibachi chef with the guards. The Man O’ War stepped out to deal with the threat, for which I gave him a small salute and took the elevator he left behind down.

I felt plenty of shaking from up there, but nothing messed severed the cables. I wasn’t at risk of dying so much as being kept away from the bombs I needed. If anything, this assassin’s arrival might help cover things for me. I won’t bet on it. Instead, I calmly walked down the hallway to my replacement lab, setting up targets and timers.

Another unfortunate thing I’d forgotten was to figure up just how damn thick the Institute was. I set up the bombs with a way for me to access them, but didn’t think about how far underground and how there was no way to connect to them from outside the building. This was the wrong time to be making mistakes, especially with the barrier already putting me on edge. Times like these, I begin to suspect I’m not as clever as I otherwise think I am. Then I remember I’m the smartest, prettiest, handsomest, and most humble son of a bitch on this planet and any other.

Something crashed down into the elevator car behind me. It turned out to be my bestest best friend in the whole world, the anonymous killer guy.

I turned around. The armor really didn’t look that bad. Part of one arm formed a thick shield, though they still had the sword in their right. My unwelcome stalker stepped out of the elevator and turned, swiftly slicing the bottom half so that it fell. A moment later, War Man plunged down through the hole in the roof made by my uninvited guest and down the elevator shaft after the bottom.

I snorted. “Ok, that was pretty good. Say, how’d you get in here, anyway? Swim ahead or something?”

The reticulated and inarticulate taintmuncher didn’t even grace me with an answer from they’re hoity-toity mouth. They charged, and then ran into a D-bomb that appeared right in front of them, clanging. Then they both just up and disappeared. They weren’t the only ones. The entire island quaked.

Now, I suppose I could have targeted everything underneath this place. The whole volcano or what have you. Just completely disappeared it. Problem with that is the lack of buoyancy up here. It’d get really wet here, and this armor feels inadequate for navigating marine environments for a long period of time. Rather than end up as a cameo in the next Finding Nemo movie, I put a hole right through the mass of land, allowing water to flow freely through the middle. I doubt I got rid of the geothermal power station, but based on the way the lights went out, something’s telling me it finds it harder to operate.

I know, I know, most people wouldn’t blow a hole through an underwater mountain just to turn off the lights. I had to climb out of the building to get a signal up into space, which wasn’t that hard. Nobody knew I’d struck at Ricca yet. The power was down, as were most electronic communications. I stood there, in the ruins and corpses on the first floor, and pulled up the satellite view.

The Ricca Palace Central Complex, gone, but not the residence wing. The barrier around the island, gone. The Kremlin, gone. The White House, gone. The Great Hall of the People in China, also gone.

I was spent, or I’d have aimed for the United Kingdom, too. As it stands, I took out the two main tools of the Claw’s, and some innocent bystanders who happen to be part of the UN Security Council’s five permanent member states. Or the Empire of Ricca attacked them, as far as everyone knows and I’ll disseminate.

It’s the apocalypse, alright. I always knew I’d have a hand in it. Only, now it’s not half the world aimed at the other half. It’s the world aimed at one specific nation. Ooh, and here some anonymous source from Ricca’s Institute of Science has leaked to the world that Ricca used up all of its available bombs, with no way to replenish their stock. What well-hung devilish rogue did that, I wonder?

It was along the way to pick up Qiang that I confirmed things weren’t over yet. I saw a massive VTOL plane take off from the Palace grounds. Escort helicopters took off with it. The island rumbled around me and I turned to see the giant battle ship had become a giant robot. The choppers engaged, firing missile after ineffective missile. Then it was the Rangers’ turn. The robot’s arms folded in front of it so its outer sides pointed forward. They were the same sides with the broadside cannons, which they put into play with a coordinated barrage that destroyed the Riccan choppers but bounced ineffectually off the escaping plane.

I’m not counting the Claw dead until I see his body, and Qiang and I didn’t see any freaky alien genotypes in the wreckage of the palace. They didn’t kidnap her or anything, which was a count in favor of the Claw being smart. Kidnap the girl I’ve claimed as my daughter? Definitely going after him. Don’t kidnap her? Fifty-fifty, even accounting for my moral peculiarities.

Despite my disappointment, the visit to the ruins made a nice field trip. I had the servants pack us a picnic lunch. We ate it as the island descended into chaos and the Rangers began fighting off loyalists and others who took advantage of the power vacuum to have their way with the innocent.

If only I had a fiddle.

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Deep Cover Mudskipper 6

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In the days after my brawl and the adventure in the Institute of Science, I was informed that my services at the lab wouldn’t really be needed for a short while and that they’d be more than happy to provide me anything I wanted in my room. That’s a fancy way of saying I was under house arrest, as if they expected me to agree. I did ask for a bit of company, perhaps the lovely Dame whose offer of companionship I’d rethought.

Then it was time to watch cartoons with Qiang while braiding her hair. It amused me to see they shoved her into some tight dress again for my satisfaction. They have a skilled spy and thief on their hands and they shove her into tight clothes to dangle her around for my attention. It takes more than just a beautiful, if slim, body, pretty face, a butt stuffed into jeans you can see the thong through, and boobs that look like they want to pounce out to distract me, though. Not much more, mind you. Oftentimes less, actually. I still noticed the way she gave my little nanite armor bath a wide berth.

It had been doing double duty for me lately; healing and upgrading, and the little medical dispenser couldn’t keep up real well. I’d been trying to think of more changes I could make to Qiang. It’d be tough to mess with her bones at this stage of development. That’s not a very subtle change to make. Reinforcing them causes this excessively annoying itch that can’t be scratched because it exists underneath the skin and muscles themselves. I think my daughter would notice that.

Daughter. Daughter. I was more comfortable using that word as a lie than taking it as truth. I shouldn’t have to clarify, but I’m not actually her dad. Just on the off chance someone’s confused out there and thinks I took a dip in the Yellow River while killing my way through Asia. I’m making it up. And even if she tried to steal my helmet and run around with it on, she’s still more honest company than anyone else around here.

Which brings us back to Dame, in her tight jeans and her tight top that looked like someone tied a bandana around her chest. I swear, I could almost count her boob freckles. Of course, I wouldn’t feel confident in my rough tally, so I really should confirm the true number… but that’s not why I invited her there. Nor is it why we hung out and I let her get close. She waited awhile this time. I even meant to fix dinner for her first. Next thing I know, my face was real close to hers and tongue was going everywhere, but mostly inside each others’ mouths.

Qiang didn’t like that demonstration and tried tugging me free. When I waved her off, she stomped off and went to the kitchen. I heard some metal banging around in there before the maids pulled her off. Sounded like a hell of a wrestling match in there, and I have no doubt the tenacity of my daughter would have won out if I hadn’t stopped macking on Dame to go cook.

As I stood up, I ran my tongue over the tips of the fangs I added to my physiology, and then back along the sacs in the roof of my mouth. I’d emptied them of the nanites I’d gathered in there before our little rendezvous this evening. While some didn’t get any further than my own mouth, many others were racing through Dame’s system to find any diseased connections or blockages or otherwise improper build-ups of chemicals in the brain outside what baseline humans are supposed to have. It worked on Sexahol, and the regenerative capabilities of America’s super soldier could defeat it, so why not? The part where I made out with a hot chick is completely incidental, just so we’re clear. Completely. Fun though. I suppose if I want to be sure, I can see about getting some in my dick and then…

Nah, that just sounds painful and rapey.

After a lovely and delicious meal, Qiang wanted to keep me all to herself rather than let the bad, bad woman take me away from her. Luckily, Dame needed to visit the little dictator’s room. I call it that because it has its own throne. She didn’t come out for awhile, and I eventually called over the older, thicker of my maids to ask her to check on my guest. As an added benefit, older one’s got a nice booty too. The younger one’s a little too skinny, which is something I like sometimes, but the older one’s done some physical labor. Possibly some childbearing labor, too. Either way, she’s got some muscle and some fat of her own. Fun for the whole family.

When she rushed back and told me Dame needed medical attention, I had a feeling my tongue had fully worked its magic on her. I found her in the bathroom, losing the dinner I worked very hard to make into the toilet. It wasn’t a pretty sight. It never is. Almost cost me my dinner, especially when I held her hair and leaned down next to her hear. “Hey, you ok? How’s your memory?”

“I can-blurgh!” Another round of heaving later. “What happened to me? How did I no-…” she waited to see if she had anything else to lose. “-not think about everything?”

I shook my head. “The way you’re throwing up, whoever’s been assigned to eavesdrop on me must think I’m a terrible cook now.” I leaned closer to whisper to you. “Don’t worry, though. I didn’t put anything in your food. Maybe it was some kind of reaction though. You never know what you can come down with in a foreign country. Could be Genghis Khan’s revenge. Don’t know for what, though, lucky bastard’s the ancestor of half the world. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”

As I helped her with that, I saw Qiang in the doorway. “Sweetheart, our guest will be staying the night. She’s ill. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please be nice to her.”

“I’m not going to have a threeway with your little-” All of a sudden, her face smacked the corner of the toilet. Must have been my hand slipping as I tried to stand up.

“Whoopsy. Sorry about that. Sounded like you were about to insult my daughter, though. Now stand up and let’s get you clean.”

I got her cleaned up and she stayed with me, but Qiang cuddled me close as we talked into the night. I covered the sound a little with TV, some crossover between the Prophecy and Drive Angry created mostly so people could see Christopher Walken and Nicholas Cage in the same movie. Gary Busy got nominated for Best Supporting Actor in that one, but nobody could figure out if any of the actors involved were actually good, except Samuel L. Jackson. Either way, Mike Tyson’s singing scene was perfect for covering up my talk with Dame.

“Venus asked me to spy here. The bastards caught me and took my gadget. My replacement gadget, thank you very much. Some smiling asswipe in a tailored suit took it for himself. They took all the prisoners, lined us up, then killed a couple for show. They gassed the rest of us. Since then… ugh. They told me I was loyal to them. I did things for these guys.”

“Well, you don’t have to do things for this guy. Just try to make your exit from the island subtle, so they don’t have a reason to come down on my head.”

She nodded at that. “Is that all you want?” She pleaded.

I rolled my eyes. “I ain’t banging you. Not tonight, at least. Just get out of here. And maybe keep the Rangers from fucking me in the ass when they storm in here and stop the Claw. I know you can’t trust me, because I’m me. But because I’m me, I know better than to take over a country or the world again. I sincerely believe the world is at stake. Sincerely. I know it’s hard to justify that preemptively. The good guy never draws first in Westerns, and people always assume that you’re just jumping to conclusions or hyperbolic if you say they’re doing this or doing that. Nobody believed William Dodd about the Nazis before it was too late. Nobody believed Markopolos until Bernie made off with people’s money. Yarnell and Mitchell called Pearl Harbor, but nobody listened. This is happening. It has to be stopped.”

I don’t think she took me seriously, either. She looked at me like I was strange. Maybe it was everything that’s happened. She’s had quite a shock. Or maybe, like everyone else, she thinks I’m seeing slippery slopes that aren’t there.

You know who took me seriously? The Claw. The next day, Lu the Majordomo stopped by. “My lord, the Emperor must impose on this vacation you have taken. Your presence at the Imperial Institute of Science is required. An escort will be by within the hour once you have freshened up.”

I left ahead of the escort, mostly fresh already. I just had to peel Qiang off me first. She’ll have to learn to share. I advised her to make sure nobody came and caught her while I was gone, and to keep an eye on my things. Giving her a job seemed to calm her a bit.

I took my armor with me, but didn’t go below ground. I have nothing against mag lev trains. I have something against mag lev trains with giant doors that close over portions of the track. I went to the Institute like they wanted, I just made sure to take the scenic route.

A man identifying himself as the assistant to the Directors topped me outside the lab space they’d given me. “I am sorry, but your original work space is no longer usable. There was an incident.”

“Oh yeah? What, someone try to make their own and mess up?” I folded my arms in front of me.

“I am not privvy to the details. It appears the device you created was also damaged by vandals.”

I nodded. “Sad to see such horrible actions here. Good men often live long enough to see themselves become the villain, often because they tried to do the right thing as far as they knew it.” In other words, the people acting under orders would be declared criminals and saboteurs to cover someone’s ass.

“Yes. Traitors are given no mercy in this country,” the assistant added. “I hope they are merciful toward the families of the traitors, who will face consequences for what they did. It is enough to deter most.” And that’s what I call a threat. It’s not that different from “Nice house you have here. I hope nothing happens to it because you rejected my generous offer.” or “I hope you stop investigating my friend. I need your loyalty, because I would hate to have to fire you.”

The assistant led me to an alternative work space, already full of everything I needed. “Great,” I said, grabbing a crescent wrench. “How big do you need it?”

He directed my attention to a container full of pink gas. “Big enough to transport this. We need two.”

They brought in guards, quite possibly the same team meant to escort me. I didn’t pay them any mind. I had enough dexterity in my armor to build what they wanted for the specific mission they had in mind. And something about Dame’s rejection of the seriousness of all this just didn’t sit right with me. She should take it serious. She has to know how bad it is for someone to be able to do all this to someone. What’s happened to her, she has to know?

Just like nobody else was doing anything different. Russia? The U.S.? All the rest of the world? Nobody was knocking down doors and beating dictators’ faces in. They had support. Popular support. Militias and useful idiots abound.

That container? They’d get it somewhere whether they had me or not. Look at it. One little container. Drop it from a low-flying plane or a helicopter. Smuggle it in a diplomat’s bag and have someone plant it in the right place. Sneak it onshore in a minisub and let someone drive it to where they need it.

No, that’s bullshit. I made myself and my knowledge available for a reason. I can get things places where it shouldn’t be. I advertised that and put it on sale to force a wedge between the alliance I saw growing up. That I did. I succeeded on that front. I also wanted to escalate the situation so people know what the fuck it actually is. Instead of letting the water gradually boil around the frog, this was about ramping up the heat so the frogs realize what’s happening.

So I built the damn bomb around the damn container of Unity and I set the damn coordinates where they said. Coordinates I traced to the Oval Office. Then I did the whole thing over again for the second one. They had me wait before sending that one to the Kremlin.

They never told me where it went. Compartmentalization of information. I wasn’t the only one that didn’t get the full story. The new President, the former VP to the guy they dragged kicking and screaming out of that building the previous morning, held a press conference. It took place less than a half hour after the gas would have arrived. He had a Riccan ambassador with him despite the recent expulsion, and he announced an attempt to lower tensions between them and the people of the Empire of Ricca.

The Russian asshole didn’t even bother to make an announcement. Makes it pretty easy to take over a whole nation when you have so few minds to change.

Yay me. Some heroes saved the United States. Progress, right? Yeah, right.

I had the States handled. I figured I’d come up with something for Russia. Looks like the Dimension Rangers are my last hope.

I went back to my little palace and decided to put on music matching my mood. Infected Mushroom’s “U R So Fucked”.

I’m bad at subtlety for an assassin.

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