Days of Future Tense 5

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As was explained by the woman we rescued, the not-so-utopian future I saw is one where superheroes and villains never existed. Where Teddy Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla never adventured through time. Where Captain Lightning never gave Hitler a wedgie. Where there is no Psycho Gecko or Darklight or Mobian. And while some of those people could definitely make the universe a little better by not existing, Jaguar Slayer’s real goal appears to be wiping out all of us in the name of order and perfection.

Our charge, Keiyona, told us a bit about her experiences. “Superpowers are from comic books or blockbuster movies. Maybe half-decent TV shows that networks cancel before their time.”

“Your military doesn’t have exoskeletons and rocket packs and so on?” I asked. Even our guys in the present have that stuff.

Keiyona shook her head. “There is no military.”

Alexander raised his hand. “What do you do about other countries?”

Keiyona thought about it a bit. “I don’t know. We never hear about them. Jaguar Slayer controls the government and the internet. I think there are other countries, but it’s hard to get news from place to place short of physically moving it, and travel has to be approved by an Ingram. Since the robots do all the work for us”

I think we all pretty quickly picked up some signals on our Shit’s Wrong-o-meters. I mean, on paper it sounds pretty nice. No cops, no military, no work. Probably cuts down on carbon emissions, too. Too bad the way the world got there was by the control of a killer computer program. I can’t really blame it on the people picking this, not when this computer started pulling this shit.

She continued, “My brother liked to tinker. It was his hobby. He had little kits that let you build simple robots and inventions, but then he told me he met some backdoor hobbyists. People who sneak around where the system is blind and do things it doesn’t approve of. They’re harmless and they’re everywhere. This time, the backdoor club was found. The last I saw of my brother, one of the Vigilants, those big robots, had scooped him up and was taking him to processing. I kept waiting to hear he had gotten some sentence or restriction, but I didn’t hear anything. I kept checking, but the system refused to tell me. Then another backdoor group found me and showed me video proof of the graves. Pits of bodies, for anyone who inconveniences the system too much.”

Heavy shit. And not, as some might guess, due to a problem with the Earth’s gravitational field in the future.

“Alright, what’s the plan?” I asked, wondering if they’d finally let me in on something ahead of time.

“My armor’s on the fritz. Want to take a look?” Qiang asked.

Oh, so that’s how this is going to be. I went with her down to my basement lab to take a look at the armor. The pseudomuscles were so compact and worked so smoothly, but it held interlocking armor plating that worked like scales. “Interesting, what seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is that no one’s being all that honest with you, but I know you hate that and are just as likely to take it out on us when you find out the truth. The others don’t personally know how that works with you.”

And then, she told me why. And it was indeed something that should stay just between us girls. What I can relay is when she went to a different subject. “But if you could take down Darklight, that would be a big help to us.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about her,” I said. “She reminds me of someone from my past.”

“Could be,” Qiang said. “Slayer might have known you’d get involved, or he grabbed someone who hated you to fight us. It’s dark, but there are people who would do that.”

“If it’s the person who I think it is, she has every reason. And it sounds like if I go after her, that’s something I have to do alone. Is there a way the Long Hall can get me somewhere on its own?”

The grown up version of my daughter affirmed there was and led me to the Long Hall, a really long hallway in the House of Shadows and Spires where every door can lead to a different point in time, including alternate timestreams. Last time, pun not intended, it allowed me to see what Jaguar Slayer was going for. A World War II devoid of superheroes. A future with his robot minions in control and where superpowers are considered fantasy.

“Say please,” Qiang told me.

“That’s it?” I asked.

She patted the wall. “The House is alive. If it wants to help, it will help.”

I nodded. “Ok, then, House. I have some ideas. Will you please help me?”

A painting appeared on the wall that wasn’t there before. It looked like a children’s drawing of a smiling sun. I gave it a thumbs-up. “Ok, good. I need a few things. First, I have to go steal something that shouldn’t be that tough to do. It’ll be so easy, I won’t even recount it until it’s critically important to make myself look clever while creating a sense of narrative tension that wouldn’t be there if they knew the whole story. Besides, it won’t come up for awhile.

Next, I decided I’d go punch that Darklight person. Keep it simple after all that. I figured we’d try one of those places I’ve never been to before. The picture in the Long Hall was an old-timey black and white photo of a skyline under construction, kind of like old Empyreal City. I asked for part of the Golden Timeline that Jaguar Slayer was trying to build.

I stepped out of a building to see plenty of dirty streets and mildly-leaned up passerby. Also some horses and old-fashioned cars. People looked at me like I was completely foreign of a being. Which I am. I set down a case that’ll become important later. A bunch of them scattered away from me. I held out a gloved hand. “A newspaper, if you please.”

The crowd pushed a paperboy forward who stepped up and handed me a newspaper. I handed him a gold coin. Real, by the way. With time at my disposal, a little gold is such a trivial thing to give away. Money is no object. Head into the future far enough, and there is no lack of resources. Perhaps Jaguar Slayer’s decision to destroy other timelines isn’t such a bad idea. Otherwise, I can see too many people like me using it for temporal colonialism. Oh yeah, I’m tempted to use and abuse this situation.

But that would have to come after I finished with this alternate Empyreal City, this New York City. This essential part of

Now comes the part of this story to save the multiverse that requires a villain. I threw the paper back at the whole crowd. Then I raised my hands, took a good horse stance like it mattered, and let out a paralyzing screech. It’s such a cheap trick. Probably why it was first used on me by prison guards. The thing about us supervillains though: we tend to be thieves.

Everyone in sound of me dropped, paralyzed. Didn’t stop their breathing. Caused some car accidents. Just small ones, and only into sidewalks… and people on sidewalks. Buildings. Other cars. Pretty sure this is one of those situations where I have to be at least a little bit as ruthless as the AI I’m hunting. I didn’t figure I’d have to do much before I got the result I expected.

It didn’t. A bright light appeared in the sky. From it flew the burned woman in black, Darklight. Or some version of Forcelight, I would guess. A version with a better name.

She came flying in, landing with a crater. I left a hologram nearby to at least attempt to talk things out. “Hey, whatever timeline you’re from… I probably deserve all the hate you have for me. But you’re helping someone who has killed way more people than me. Whatever that other me did to you, I’m not her. Or him. I realized some things about myself. But anyway, helping Jaguar Slayer means you’re doing to trillions what that me did to you. And in the end, you won’t even get whatever you want. It’s going to erase all superhumans.”

She pulled off her mask, showing off that burnt face. “I made those nanomachines to help the world and you used them to threaten everyone. Then you took control of me and left me to die in space. Jaguar Slayer saved me, but the deal was, I get to kill you. He even got you to be his spy on the inside, feeding him information through that stupid blog.”

By this point, I was sneaking up behind her. That’s why I didn’t see her eyes shimmer until she turned around and tried to put her fist through my chest. I blocked it with both arms, watching her watch me. She could see me. With a pulse of white light, she dispelled my holograms.

“New tricks?” I asked. I followed it with another paralyzing screech that didn’t do anything to her. Worth a try.

“Killing you will be a treat,” she said through a strained grin as she pushed back against me. Then she grabbed my wrists, flew up just enough, and pushed me down onto my back on the street. Both hands were right there in front of me, but then my nanite cape formed a pair of arms that wrenched them away. Blasts of dark light melted cars and concrete around us.

“I’m sorry and I was wrong. If you’ll let me, I can heal you. It won’t make up for it, but I want to be better,” I said.

She glared down at me and kicked me in the boob. Then another kick to make sure she got the second one. “You killed my father you fucking freak!”

Ok, I think I’ve established diplomacy is not an option. I kicked up into her gut with both feet, then formed the nanites into one arm to whip her against a nearby building. I deployed a trio of mini drones from my armor that zipped toward her, exploding uselessly. It was enough to cover up when I came running up with some old-timey Beetle car and smashed it into her.

Black light blasted it out of my hands, leaving me holding my hands above my head and ripe for a haymaker to the jaw that made it snap out of place. I gave her one right back. I caught her return punch, and she caught mine in turn. “You’re not stronger than me anymore. If I wanted you dead, you would be.”

She stomped on my foot, then uppercutted me. I slammed back onto the street. Then she dug her heel into my ankle. She flew up. Way up.

“Stop now, before I’m forced to hurt you,” I declared to Darklight before she flew down fist first. I didn’t say it loud. I lost so many teeth from that uppercut.

The nanites pulled me to the side and left us both crashing down into the sewers. She fell much harder than I did. I got my bearing more quickly in the rubble and extended the laser claw power I’d stolen and genetically modified into myself since I’d last encountered Forcelight. She groaned. I stood there and lifted her up by the hair, bringing the claws in close. Then I dissipated them. Instead, I tossed her up onto the street and hopped out.

Darklight’s boss wasn’t too happy. There was that big device with the red light that pulsed quicker and quicker. The thing he uses to annihilates rogue timestreams. I hit the remote activation sequence for that suitcase I’d dropped and was happy to see it responded after all that fighting nearby. I grabbed Darklight and carried her over my shoulder, making for the door as fast as I could.

The Time Annihilator neared its activation. Off down the street, next to a pile of metal and some dazed people the Jaguar Slayer would sacrifice anyway, a suitcase popped open to display a shrunken clockwork device that once stood in a clocktower in the mountains of Romania. A grief-stricken father tried to use it to stop time after his son died. I think I regretted that kill even then. I studied it then, but realized I could also just find something to shrink it down and abduct the original. Now, its imminent activation caused Darklight and I to rubberband back and forth. I was at the doorway with her over my shoulder, then I was back in the hole, then I was where I thought I was supposed to be and ran for the door.

The door slammed itself shut behind Darklight and I. A photo hung next to the door of the scene outside. It was smashed up from our fight, but it was still there, frozen in time and holding that device at bay.

Mobian Jr. was the first to arrive, followed quickly by Wattson. “I’ll get her to the stasis cell,” Wattson declared.

Mobian Jr. looked over to the door, looking at the photo. “You trapped it, you clever primitive.”

I waved it off goodnaturedly while still getting my breathing under control. “Maybe now… you can stop giving me the… what’s the phrase?”

“The reach around?” Mobian Jr. asked.

I pointed at him. “Yes, that’s it exactly. Keep using it that way.”

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Days of Future Tense 4

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In the days I’ve been in the basement of the House of Shadows and Spires, I’ve had time to learn a few things. The laundry room is on the first floor, the kitchen is stocked with all kinds of unusual ingredients, and it’s possible for someone to leave the house for a time and place the house as a whole isn’t at. It’s called the Long Hall. The kids showed it to me while I munched on an allosaurus and fried dodo egg po boy.

“Each of these doors ways leads somewhere. Sometimes it changes,” Alexander was eager to show me around. Qiang let him, smiling to herself. “The hallway wasn’t here before Mobian’s time vessel merged with the House. They think it’s some complicated time shit now that everything’s going to hell.”

I smiled around my sandwich. Qiang snorted and added, “Only Mobian really understood the whole of the timestream and its branches, if he even did. Calab, that’s his kid’s name, thinks he bluffed a lot of stuff, but he kind of has a point. Time travel without restriction might cause you to wreck a lot of lives, even if they’re not the ones in your own prime timeline. Or you might disappear to everyone you love and live out your life with copies of them. It’s scary.”

“Is that what happened to me?” I asked.

“No, you died,” Alexander said.

I waited for a moment for anyone to continue, but they left me hanging. “Any idea how?”

Alexander looked to Qiang. Qiang sighed and said, “You dying is in our past. If we change that, you live with a different Qiang and Alexander, but not us.”

An awkward silence settled over us. I mean, rationally the thing to do is to let me live and bring happiness and joy to at least one timeline, but there’s emotion involved. And any rationality that doesn’t take emotion into account is failing itself. If I had to guess… “Worried I’ll be abandoning y’all in favor of some kids you’re jealous of?”

“You may not even have me if we tell you,” Alexander said.

“Ok, getting real curious about the circumstances of both your birth and my death. We’ve got time to figure this out, I hope. Feels like forever in between stuff.”

Qiang nodded. “We’re doing things roundabout. It won’t make a lot of sense until we’ve already won. We have to do things that way. But the House can’t stop you from sneaking out from time to time. Maybe it’ll put you somewhere you can help us. It’d be great if it gave you a final showdown with Darklight so you can work that shit out.”

“Who is Darklight?” I asked. “Y’all know her.”

Alexander shrugged. “We know Slayer picked her up and sent her after us. She’s tough, she doesn’t feel pain, and she punches like a truck. You saw that black light she gives off, too. She’s too burned up under that mask to identify, but she’s really hated sis and I. Now you.”

I nodded. “Right, someone I probably pissed off.”

The air glowed red and a siren went up. There were no special lights to turn red. Come to think of it, there weren’t any lights, but the hallway was just lit on its own. Alexander pulled out his repaired shield and stuck it to the underside of his arm. “That’s a red alert. We’re up, mom.” Both of the future, young adult versions of my kids hugged me before setting off. Qiang stopped briefly to wink at me before leaving me all alone in a corridor of doors that supposedly led to various places in time.

I tried the first one and found myself thrust outside into a pretty nice day, all things considered. The people around me noticed me immediately. There were statements of astonishment in German. I checked the door behind me and found it led to some small, boarded up shop. The door itself had been mistreated with kicks and so on. I turned to one guy who was passing buy, head buried in the newspaper, and grabbed it from him.

“My god!” he shouted, seeing me.

“One moment, I need this,” I said. Seeing as I had my armor on me, he wasn’t inclined to disagree.

The date was 13th February 1945. It was the city newspaper of Dresden. Oh great, sure. It wasn’t enough for Mobian to lie to me, I guess to keep there from being too many alternate versions of myself, but this weird ship/house merger sent me to Nazi Germany, to a city that’s about to light up like the most drunk Fourth of July party you’ve ever been to. Drunker, probably, what with the German beer. On the other hand, Kurt Vonnegut was somewhere in the city and I am something of a fan. And it was dark. That didn’t give me a lot of time for sightseeing.

Air raid sirens went up, letting me know the time for fandom was up. To bring back a saying I stole, I don’t know how many bombs it would take to kick my ass, but the low end of the estimate is 3,900 tons of high explosives were what the Allies were about to start dropping for the next couple of days.

I noticed something off, though. Instead of superheroes flying high in the sky to screen the Allied bombing run, there were just planes. Unless Captain Lightning and the rest of his friends really padded their resume, this wasn’t how things went. I glanced back at the newspaper and found the news different than I remembered. No supermen lobbing Panzers. Nothing about the Nazi expedition uncovering Mummy Man and getting beat to death as a result.

I decided to duck through the doorway with the paper in hand before I ended up extra crispy, but the House had shown me an interesting lesson. “Hey, House. I don’t know if you’re conscious or anything. I kinda got the sense Mobian’s old timeship was. But if you are, and if I had to guess what you were trying to do there, it was either to get me killed or to show me you had access to alternate timelines.”

The fact that I could think up a lot better places to dump a person to kill them didn’t mean it wasn’t an attempt. I’m just a better murderer than this house. I folded the paper and left it on a table, then tried another door.

In contrast to Dresden’s darkest hour, the place and time I stepped out into while still invisible was bright. And clean. Way too fucking clean. Despite people walking around, the walkways looked too clean. The buildings shone and even the flowers looked too bright. I was in some sort of square or park or something, someplace and time when the grass looked too green. Like the difference between good green beans, and those green beans that are overly green and taste nasty. Maybe that’s just a me thing.

I heard the distinctive rattle of an aerosol can being shaken. I looked over and this woman had pulled a bandana up to cover her face. She hadn’t even raised the can to spray it when she got dogpiled by these robots. They were thin, like stick figures. Didn’t stop them from tackling the shit out of someone for attempted graffiti.

The door I had come out of said “Maintenance”. It was embedded in part of the wall that arched up taller, with some structure behind it. I hopped up there to see what I was dealing with before connecting to the various networks I could feel.

Probably the thing that stood out among the astonishingly clean and shiny cityscape was four-story tall robots that patrolled the streets in between a small amount of traffic. A sign nearby changed from being some sort of plaque to displaying a digital message. “The peace of the Jaguar Slayer is nearly upon us. Another criminal is captured and will be made to fit into our order and peace.”

Yeah, that’s just straight-up dystopia shit.

My attention was pulled away from the news update by a pair of those patrolling robots turning toward a building that could have been a hotel. The side of it blew open in an explosion. Rockets flew out, smacking the large robots in the heads and torsos with explosives. The robots, which were thicker and mostly blue and red with skin-colored faces, fired eye lasers at something or someone. They kept going even as whoever shot at them went down some levels. One started to circle around, swiping an arm at the third floor to try and interrupt the escape.

For all the talk of perfection, the AI that could wipe out entire timelines didn’t seem capable of keeping its own utopia intact in the future. After a few minutes, the robots gave up, having dug a hole straight into the sewer where their quarry eluded them. Maybe Jaguar Slayer just couldn’t reset what it couldn’t find. Or maybe this was close enough and it was willing to put up with a little bit of imperfection.

I turned back to where the robots captured the one woman. They had tased her into a quivering and urinating mess, leaving her laying on the ground. Some people were watching, until a few of these robots approached. The onlookers decided they had better places to be.

I projected the form of that hairy guy who could regenerate stepping out of the maintenance door, popping the Nasty Surprise under one arm. That gave me enough of a cover for when he pounced on the robots, dicing them. The robots weren’t easy to chew through. They were tough for their stick figure forms. Still, they went down and I grabbed up the downed woman.

An alarm went up and the walls in general starting displaying the face of the form I had assumed, with a “Be on the lookout!” warning coming. I rushed into the Maintenance door and back into the House, dropping the illusion.

The others were waiting around in the dining room as I brought in the woman and laid her down. My nanomachines were already spreading out to see if anything had been dangerously fried.

“Who is this and how did she get here?” Mobian Jr, I guess Calab, asked.

“She’s from Jaguar Slayer’s would-be paradise, where he still hasn’t managed to fully get things to his liking. I fucked around with them a little,” I explained.

Mobian Jr. turned to Qiang. “You showed her the Long Hall?” Turning back to me, “You could have been trapped forever in a random point in time, or even an alternate time.”

I nodded. “Yep. But I got in and out. Even put on the face of that one guy with all the hair who can regrow a head.”

The group looked at each other, then Wattson stepped forward. “This provides most interesting data. We were in the field some hours ago and the individual you mentioned, Feral Fang, was at one point captured by Jaguar Slayer’s own people and removed from the timeline. It looked permanent.”

“How permanent?” I asked.

“We detected a complete erasure from every timeline. In all of the multiverse, Feral Fang no longer exists, unless held captive by Jaguar Slayer.”

“Neat, I helped,” I said.

The woman gasped and clutched at her belly, rolling over to the fetal position.

“And I even recruited someone!” I said.

“What was Slayer after her for?” Dr. Ohms said, electricity arcing along under his skin.

“Graffiti,” I mentioned to groans. “But it was irritating enough to warrant a response from the AI. There’s no act of rebellion too small, especially spread out among the infinite expanse of the multiverse.”

“Quit selling us on her, we get it, you wanted to save someone,” Mobian Jr. said. To the coughing woman, he added, “Welcome, ma’am, to the House of Shadows and Spires. We’re the ones who are going to wipe out your evil AI overlord.”

Wow, they really sound this awful and idealistic? All we really learned is we can make Slayer kill off his own minions with some trickery.

The woman choked out a few words. “Holy shit, superheroes are real?!”

Ok, so we learned a little more than that.

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Days of Future Tense 3

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Now, even though I joined this bunch pretty readily, I have to admit my focus was on the endgame. “What’s winning for us? What stops Jaguar Slayer from doing all this and lets us all go home?” I asked Mobian Jr.

The son of the time traveling hero looked at me in surprise, holding a pair of coffee cups in his hand. “I thought you needed me for a coffee order.”

“No, that was because I wanted answers from you. About that, and another question,” I said, holding up a new gauntlet for my armor and shaking it from side to side so that an empty finger wagged at him. I’d only been with them a short time, and most of that had been taken up by Alexander wanting a tour of my new workspace and armor. He was also showing off some of his gadgets that seemed to be from a variety of supers I’d been involved with in some way or another. The breastplate was that Thunderbolt stuff, a tough meteoric alloy brought to Earth in an asteroid that a bunch of supers got together to blow up before it could hit us and cause extinction.

Most of them don’t realize that was the same meteor that brought an important alien robot to Earth. I was able to bridge the gap between humans and alien robots, and we’ve reached an agreement. The robots are settling on other planets in the solar system. I’m sure there are a lot of paranoid people worried about that whole setup on both sides; robots are inherently distrustful of organic life that created them just to serve as slaves. Humans, and pretty much any other sapient species I’ve run across, are paranoid about their creations rising up to exterminate them.

I suppose in a way, the humans are ending up correct. Jaguar Slayer is some future artificial intelligence that’s decided that the only way to build a utopia is to completely warp the past leading up to its present.

And that leads to Mobian Jr.’s answer to me. “We need to change the timeline to prevent Jaguar Slayer from existing.”

“Last time I tried to change something majorly relevant to my own timeline, it started to do stuff to me,” I told him. “Your parent made it clear that doesn’t work.”

Mobian Jr. sighed. “Um… he lied. He was good at it. He had this little sonic gizmo, and he liked to use it to trick people into thinking they were dying if they were changing their own past. He mainly did it to people who were important or who he didn’t like. It might make you feel better he also considered you important.”

At least he wasn’t pretending Mobian liked me. I’m pretty sure this means it’s multiversal time travel at play, but that’s probably contradictory to my experiences as well. Fuck it, why do I bother still trying to make sense of time travel? I’m pretty sure they just change how it works every time.

I finished rubbing at my forehead with the empty gauntlet. “Fuck. Ok, back to the original question here. How do we stop Jaguar Slayer?”

“We’ve been fighting it for some time and we’ve tried to blow it up. We’ve gotten pretty good at it, and the raid we had gave us crucial data about its origins we can exploit to get rid of it. We’re going to stop at crucial periods in the development of what would become Jaguar Slayer and destroy it.”

“Ok, and what’s my role in all this? Need me to steal important data? Assassinate a key programmer? Protect a beautiful woman from a killer robot while nailing her?”

Mobian thought about it for a minute, which gave me some hope about the sex part, before answering. “We might need your help to fix some stuff, but you’re here to keep you safe. You beat that bunch then, but you have a whole life they could target that affects two of my team. Darklight would come for you again, and we can’t risk that. That’s all.”

I pondered it. “Darklight, huh? That’s the woman in black?”

He nodded. I shrugged. “Fine. I’ll just be down here, preparing for when I inevitably have to save the day.”

The first stopover was a dark and stormy night in the Scottish countryside, year 2050 CE. Great setting for the House of Shadows and Spires to appear. I came up because of a lightning bolt that flashed across my basement window. I couldn’t have told you how long we’d been traveling. My atomic clock was doing screwy things in this place. I found Alexander waiting around in his armor. He jumped up to hug me, making me once again wonder what is supposed to happen in my future that I have a son who is that eager to see me again. It implies I met an unfortunate fate.

“What’s the job, kiddo?” I asked. Dr. Ohms was putting on an outfit that looked like doctors scrubs with circuits visible in the material. Qiang, this future version of my daughter, had her armor on and was doublechecking the seals. It more closely resembled the version I used that had the fanged grin on it and a trio of eyes above.

My future and presently-unborn son, Alexander, pointed over to her. “Dr. Ohms is going to intensify the storm to provide cover for Qiang while she sneaks into the base and wipes a server containing targeting data that Jaguar Slayer uses. Without it, a lot of people the Slayer has picked up will simply be undone the next time they set foot in the time line.”

So my official job was to… sit around and let my daughter do all the work. Turns out I don’t like doing that. I don’t know how much of it was thinking I could do better and how much was being worried for my kid. Still, she hopped the fence and turned invisible well enough. This big window in the living room zoomed in to show her slipping in a door.

“Relax, she’s great at this,” Alexander said, leaning against me.

I put an arm around him. “I’m used to doing stuff.”

“Temporal signature active… they know we’re here,” Mobian Jr. said.

Wattson, the chrome detective, stepped up to the window. He pressed something on a clock sitting by it and adjusted the view.

Two windows appeared, in the computer sense. Picture in picture, which figures. We couldn’t have just zoomed in on Qiang infiltrating the base. One of the pictures showed a couple people, IDK. I focused on the one that showed this huge fight between two giant robots. One was piloted by me, and the other was controlled by a server containing a copy of my consciousness. The fight had its explosive conclusion that destroyed the server and left me half-dead, buried under rubble. And then Darklight appeared.

She blasted through the rubble. “She’s looking for me,” I said. Hey, wait a minute, “If this is multiverse stuff, how can me dying prevent Qiang from living?”

“It’s complicated,” Mobian Jr. insisted.

Alexander volunteered an answer. “Slayer’s killed you off every time you were in a different timeline. As long as you remain preserved here, you had to come from some time, so your prime one is saved. This is a weird attack, but it doesn’t serve a purpose.”

Certainly didn’t make me feel good to watch this super I knew I could beat uncover a dying past version of me and step on my throat until I shuddered and crapped myself. And then Medusa was there, in her power armor. The past version, when she went by Venus. She confronted Darklight, who told her something, even pulled off her mask to show off a face like Liam Neeson had been caught in a laboratory fire. She stepped close to Venus and the pair of them disappeared in a column of light. They were replaced with a device, like a cylindrical tank that tapered out at the bottom and top.

“What’s that?” I asked. I was over right in front of the window. I think the others had started rushing around due to something else, but Mobian Jr. was right there with me.

“That is the ultimate version of flipping over the board when you’ve lost the game,” Mobian Jr. informed me. “We believe that it’s derived from technology stolen from this very vessel when it was destroyed and the Mobian killed.”

I watched as a light on the middle section went from dark to an intense red. And then darkness, along with the words, “Timeline purged.”

“So you can do this too,” I said.

“Shit,” he said. I looked up at the other window. It was that hairy short guy again, but in an officer’s uniform. They had some others with them, including someone who looked like a woman version of him. They were all spreading out inside a building, a bloody Ohms slung over the shoulder of some guy I couldn’t identify with skin that had a scale pattern over it.

I looked back around. Wattson was gone, as was Mobian Jr. Alexander was with me, scanning the windows the windows showing what was happening. Qiang appeared briefly, grabbing the woman by the head and flinging her through a brick wall. Most of these Slayer fodder rushed for her there. It was the snake-scale guy who ended up finding her when she reappeared and uppercutted him onto his ass, taking Ohms from him. They both disappeared then and she made her way back.

Darklight appeared in the sky overhead. It was the column that showed it off. A bulky suit of power armor dropped from where she appeared, the main body of it resembling an iron maiden, with arms and legs like steel girders. They were coming for the house.

Iron Maiden ran for Wattson, the robot looking outgunned with only his cap, jacket, and cane to protect him. He wielded the cane like a sword, then tapped it at the ground once. He turned to run back to the porn where Mobian Jr. and his raggedy friend with stood nearby. The friend had on a bizarre fusion of armor, like football meets SWAT, with a facemask joining the top half of a welder’s mask to the bottom of a hockey goalie’s. Mobian Jr. was charging up the void cannon thing I’d fixed for them while the guy in the mix and match clothing twirled a gigantic wrench in his hands. He settled it against his shoulder and fired glowing chunks of metal out of the back end at Darklight.

Iron Maiden reached the point Wattson had tapped and shot up into the air like gravity had reversed itself. Alexander was out there too, raising up a pistol with a big round barrel that expanded when he pressed the trigger. The barrel spread out and fired blue plasma into the air. Unlike with my turrets, Darklight tried to dodge these projectiles, ducking to one side where Iron Maiden was about to hit her.

Mobian Jr. fired the void cannon then, leaving a streak of nothing in the air that pierced Iron Maiden through the middle and split it from sternum to fun bits. Darklight flew out from behind it, throwing a ball of darkness at us. Alexander holstered his pistol. A disk on the back of his glove grew larger, spreading out as meddle holding a forcefield shield inside it. He jumped into the air, rocket boots firing. The backpack he wore reached out a pair of metal arms that braced the shield to help it fling the darkness elsewhere.

Oh, and Iron Maiden seemed to be dead.

Qiang appeared with Ohms in a fireman carry. “We need to go.”

Alexander heard somehow and shrank his disk back down, giving Darklight the finger before rocketing back toward the house. Wattson had already pushed past everyone to head inside. The moment Alexander crossed the threshold, the scene around us changed. Gone was the night and the storm. Instead, a vast rolling desert spread out.

“Inside,” Mobian Jr. ordered.

I glanced out at the landscape, swearing I saw a puff of dirt off from one of the dunes. And the suns were bizarre. Purple, swirling. I felt a hand clamp down on my shoulder and turned to see Alexander. “Hey, don’t stare at it too long. Um, you think you can help me fix my shield?” he held up the small disk. Some of the portions that formed the edge were smoking and hadn’t closed in properly.

“Sure, kiddo.”

I followed him inside to see a whole slew of those windows, with one larger one in the middle that had Darklight and the rest of Slayer’s minions. “They certainly have the numbers, eh?” I commented.

In rapid succession, that device I’d seen before appeared where the House had been, and the lights went out. Wattson took off his hat and held it agains this chest.

Mobian Jr. rubbed his face. “It’s never easy see it.”

“What’s happening?” I whispered to Alexander.

“Slayer’s pruning the timeline. Destroying universe but the one where he confronted us and won.”

It didn’t quite feel real. Sure, you could create a universe easy enough, but did that mean that someone destroying Earth, the galaxy, and the universe a dozen times over was truly slaughtering that many people?

The people who felt I was worth protecting seemed to think so, and I agree. Guess they need my help more than they think.

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Days of Future Tense 2

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The House of Shadows and Spires is what this bunch call that old-fashioned house. The future version of my daughter pulled my future and unborn (that I know of), son off me when the robot, Wattson, issued some alert.

The guy with the future clothes held up a bag. “Here, more metal. I’ll take the void cannon now.” He tossed the money at me and took the gun. Had he not been an ally of my children, I might have had a more negative reaction. As it was, I let the Rhodium drop to the floor while I gave future Qiang and my future son a nice big hug.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Alexander,” he told me. “And I have to go save the future.”

I guess in the past I’d have made a big show of cringing over that. Instead, especially because I didn’t know what the fuck was up, I just kissed his and my daughter’s foreheads and told them, “Go. I’ll be here when you’re done.”

It’s a bit sappy, but sometimes we need sap in our life. Without it, how would we get delicious syrup, the only thing that makes waffles and pancakes edible? I daresay it’s downright patriotic, at least if you’re a Canadian, to believe in properly-applied sappiness.

They left me with many questions, including the standard paranoia-induced ones about if I might have been duped by someone who had gotten hold of my DNA and a picture of my daughter. The Rhodium was real, though, so they more than made up for it. Whatever future they come from, they know got enough heavy metal to shut Iron Maiden up.

I spent the night doing a heck of a lot of thinking, especially about Alexander. A bit classical of a name for myself and… well, let me have some secrets. Some confusing secrets I’m not sure about. It’s not everyday you meet a kid you’ve never had yet. Heck, the whole bunch had just disappeared as soon as they exited my door, taking their house with them.

The next day saw a different crowd come into my store. An Amazonian figure stepped in, dressed in all black from the bottom of her boots, straight up her lightly-padded pants and top, to the full face mask that hid even her eyes. With her was a short, hairy man with wiry black hair and a skunk stripe right through the middle of it. “Hey there, you seen anyone unusual come through here lately?”

A third person walked in, bald and wearing a simple robe, eyes blindfolded. He answered his companion’s question, “That is too broad a question given your entrance.”

The hairy guy gave the blindfolded man the finger. The blindfolded man grabbed it and twisted, eliciting a yelp from the hairy man. He addressed me next, never raising his voice. “My friends and I are looking for people who came through with some ill intentions. A band of shapeshifting temporal terrorists. We know from your past work with the Mobian you respect the sanctity of the timeline.”

I shrugged. “I think I’d like a redo on some mistakes I’ve made if it’s all the same to you.”

“Nevertheless, Miss Gecko, we know you saw them and we would very much prefer it if you came with us,” the guy said. No sight, but plenty of brass balls.

“Not my name,” I told them. “And if your only reason for coming in was to ask me questions you know the answers to before trying to arrest me, then you’ve made a serious error in judgment.”

“No, but our benefactor wished to give you another chance to aid us without turning to violence,” the blindfolded man let go of his hirsute companion’s finger. “The truth is that we do not care for the timeline either, and can facilitate the change in your circumstances. It would be beneficial to us as well.”

Mixed messages like that aren’t a good sign either. Someone who starts contradicting themselves to tell you what you seem to want to hear is someone you don’t trust without good reason.

“Jaguar Slayer is not your enemy,” the blindfolded man said. Yeah, sure, but the tall, muscled woman in black was circling around one way while the hairy guy subtly spread out in the other direction. My turret guns and traps were armed and ready to pop out, and I had some armor ready.

“The world’s wrecked. It’s hopeless,” the hairy man said. “It’s nothing but shit.”

“Jaguar Slayer was created to bring about a utopia, and it could, but there are anomalies, individuals who threaten to undo any attempt to perfect the world. They are deeply rooted, so Jaguar Slayer has decided that the timeline needs a change.”

“That’s not how time travel works,” I told them.

The blindfolded man smiled. “The imperfect timeline had a naive defender who feared all change, another such anomaly. When the changes become too great, the timeline breaks away. It can still threaten the new timeline because of the multiverse. Jaguar Slayer has found that the only way to make the world the best it can be for all would alter the timeline too much. And these other universes are a threat to that perfection.”

“And I’m one of those threats, I take it?” They couldn’t see my legs or feet behind the counter, where helper robots were already pulling part of my armor onto me.

“You are someone of immense utility and regret that Jaguar Slayer wants to give a chance to. You can erase your past, be the correct gender from birth, be a hero, and never worry about the blood on your hands.”

I shook my head. “That’s not how it works. The fact that I killed so many people wouldn’t be gone. It would have just happened to, what, another universe you want to wipe out as well?”

The woman in black made the first move. She was fast, flying over the ground with a punch aimed right at my heart. I pulled the armor up onto myself, getting at least the chest and arms secure enough to catch her punch. She was strong, but so am I now.

“Monster,” she said with a voice like she had a toad stuck in her throat.

My face disappeared behind my helmet, which projected a blinding flash of light right where here eyes would be behind that mask. I clocked her one in the gut that stumbled her back and let go to confront the hairy leaping guy whose fingers had become a set of bloody claws. I slapped him in the chest hard enough to drop him onto my display case, cracking the glass. Meanwhile, the turrets dropped from the ceiling to rain hot plasma onto his friends.

I pulled the winded man onto his feet. He clawed impotently at my throat, so I grabbed him by the chin and swept his head hard around with an “Ole!” His neck cracked, and a hard push sent the body tumbling back into the main floor of my store, where the blindfolded man was absorbing everything shot at him in a golden glowing ring of unknown characters and designs that hung in the air. The woman in black just tanked the shots, her melting uniform revealing burned skin.

She held a hand up, palm toward me. From it came a beam of what I have to call black light. Not the blue stuff that shows where you’ve been creaming; this was pure darkness in light form. I raised my gauntlets, which have the ability to absorb energy and repurpose it to strengthen my own blows. The black light overcharged the system, blowing the absorbers and capacitors without charging them. I took the hit and crashed through my own cement wall.

No matter how many cement walls you go through, they’re never as fun as your first time. I suspect that’s because of brain damage.

The hairy guy oughta know what I’m talking about. He came after me again, head back on straight and no worse for it. I rolled out of the way and let him land on top of the mine that fired a pair of taser darts into his taint and shocked him until his head exploded.

Back there in the shop, blindfolded man had sprouted a pair of iridescent butterfly wings that shattered into a bunch of small butterflies. The turrets shot some of them, poofing them into smoke, but most managed to swarm the automated defenses and blow themselves up, wrecking the weapons. Meanwhile, the woman in black had a lot half her mask shot off. The shots never did anything worse to her skin than burn it, though. The eyes glared at me. I got a good view of them when she flew through the wall and grabbed for my throat. I felt her thumbs pressing in, and not in the safe spaces you can choke a person for sex. She was out for blood, not any other bodily fluids.

My blow to her larynx weakened her grip. The strikes to the insides of her elbows as well. I meant to deploy my Nasty Surprise and whatever I’d taken to calling its whip-equivalent in the other arm, but that didn’t work out. Instead, I formed my nanomachine cape into a pair of tails that jammed into her chest and head. I heard her cry out in pain as the machines dug in, stabbing deeper despite some sort of protective aura and tougher bodily tissues than normal.

“Enough!” called the blindfolded man. He clapped his hands together once and columns of light encircled the woman in black and the guy who was regrowing his head. The columns threw my nanomachines out before I could secure the kill. Another clap and those two opponents disappeared into thin air, and a new column now surrounded the blindfolded man. “I am sorry for my companions. Perhaps soon you will be more willing to pursue redemption.”

“Redemption doesn’t mean annihilating everyone who knows you did something wrong,” I told him, as if I knew what the fuck I was talking about. Redemption is an impossibility for me. “A tip though… anyone willing to throw away that many lives isn’t really interested in making the world a better place.”

“Spoken like one who still has a world to go back to,” the blindfolded man smiled, then made a gesture. His column disappeared. Just then, the door flew open and the other crew from the future came running in. Qiang even had her own adult power armor! It was cool. And Alexander had a whole different look to him. A dark green breastplate, a Mix N’Max-style syringe gun, leg braces resembling Silver Shark’s cybernetic parts, and a backpack that looked like it belonged to Troubleshooter. I think I even spotted Ouroboros’s knives hanging off his belt. The guy had a stuff from all over the place, not just his other parent.

I dusted my hands off and stepped out of the backroom of my robots and nanomachines swarming over the damage to clean it up and fill things back in. “Sorry for the mess. Y’all need anything else?”

“Told ya,” Qiang nudged the future guy. Oh neat, he had these transparent forcefields around his limbs, head, and body. Looked like he had balloon powers, almost.

Wattson changed his hands from a gun and a set of blender blades back into actual hands and doffed his cap at me. “I’m terribly sorry for that, ma’am. We believed it was a possibility Jaguar Slayer would try to eliminate you for aiding us, but we took the risk and, as your daughter suggested, we believed you capable of defeating a direct attack.”

“Sorry, momma,” Qiang said. “But we don’t want to interfere with you more than we already had to. It’s just that the Slayer erased our tech girl, PK.”

Didn’t sound like anyone I was familiar with. “Well, they did. I got the feeling this one woman really didn’t like me, but it was the guy who couldn’t see that’s the real danger there.”

“He is,” Bubble guy nodded solemnly. “He’s the one who killed my father, the Mobian.”

I leaned onto my damaged counter, the glass seemingly flowing back into place on a wave of tiny machines. “Really? Because that sounds kinda completely unexpected. I didn’t like the guy much, but he always struck me as trickier than he looked.”

“He was,” Kid Mobian said. “We found his timesphere heavily damaged in the crevices of the Inner Circle of Fault.”

Ohms patted Kid Mobian on the shoulder. “Good thing Wattson and I were in the area. We joined it with the house, turning it into the House of Shadows and Spires. The mystery led us to Jaguar Slayer and his actions to wipe the multiverse clean. And while you beat the pants off two of the Slayer’s toughest, we managed a big raid. Your cannon worked perfectly.”

Wattson looked around at Qiang and Alexander. “I think perhaps we better ask you to come with us now, ma’am. The temporal annihilation war is dangerous. If you are not in the House, you may become erased as well. I don’t believe the Slayer would risk getting rid of you, but nonetheless….”

I held up a finger. “Will you return me here so I don’t lose any time as far as anyone’s concerned?” I glanced over at Qiang. She would know well how much time I spent away as a kid. And as for Alexander, I still have to conceive that guy.

Wattson nodded. “Indeed. A most agreeable term of service.”

The amazing thing was how they managed to, in a flash, transport my most valuable equipment and armor into the formerly-nonexistent basement of the House of Shadows and Spires. A tiny basement window showed me we had left the town of Radium, a nebula drifting by instead.

Good thing there’s almost no documentation on Qiang’s mom. And Alexander… I’m still wrapping my head around that one, let alone spouting off about who some future AI needs to kill to keep my son from ever being born.

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Days of Future Tense 1

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It feels so nice to just mind your own fucking business and not have any problems. After everything I’ve been through, this regular domestic shit and the issues surrounding it are easy mode. It helps having extra bodies and the ability to control robots from afar, sure. I have the anti-mosquito drones patrolling the backyard, my grow house is automated, and I have a small army of robots keeping the house clean. Correction, I have an army of small robots. Small army, small robots. They have a sort of mechanical spider shape, because they’re also programmed to swarm intruders.

On top of that, my store’s doing well. We got some PS5s in that fell off the back of a truck, and other gizmos are keeping up the appearance that my money is coming from legitimate stuff.

I know I give updates, but it’s not like I’m ever going to just have an update that’s nothing but me doing laundry and cooking dinner. Of course, that means something happened.

This time, it started when some out of towners came into the store. Unusual bunch, but I’ve gotten unusual before. The place is starting to get a reputation on VillaiNet and through the hero grapevine, so I sometimes get people stopping by who aren’t settling down but clearly have powers.

The first one to of this bunch to step in was a guy whose clothes had been torn up and patched in places. He looked like the sort of guy who would try something. The way he glanced around to pick out defenses, I thought he might. The next guy clapped that one on the shoulder and winked at him. The first guy relaxed a bit and the second guy headed my way. I caught a third and fourth member of this party entering, one of them staring at me while the woman with him tried to get him to pay attention to gizmos and electronics on display. The young man, probably in his early twenties, gave up and tried to be less obvious about his staring.

“One moment,” I told the guy who stepped up to the counter. He set his box down, which was fine by me. I had to get to a stopping point with the companion bot I was building. I was using some of the advanced thruster and hover technology from my home dimension, along with some really light materials, to make it a platform for a simple flying robot with a holographic projector and a tablet built into it. Power’s an issue, but the thing has a number of different plugs it can use to help itself to power sources nearby, including a car adapter. Once I got the tablet fixed back into it, I brushed it aside. “What can I do for ya?”

“I hear you’re good at fixing these sorts of things,” the guy told me. He pushed the box forward. It looked like a big metal tube you could fit all the way around your lower arm, and that turned out to be the case. The front end looked like some sort of barrel.

“Weapon of some sort?” I asked.

“Yeah. We don’t have a manual or schematic for it, so we understand if it takes time. We have as long as it takes,” he said. Come to think on it, his clothes were a little different, too. Not this Earth’s fashion, maybe a bit too clean and straight. Maybe folks from another dimension. Those refugees come to this Earth, too. There’s a portal in Empyreal City to a kind of mirror image world. Villains are heroes, heroes are villains, that sort of thing. The don’t have me either way, and the place is kind of boring if you ask me. I’ve caught myself wondering from time to time if I should raid it and show them how properly villainy is done, but I have to remind myself I’m trying to not do that.

“Let me take a look at it,” I said, pulling it out of the box. I reached in and found that my body went ahead and did its homo machina merging pretty easily. It was designed for it, with simple computer that gave me some details on its performance and issues. “What’s it do?”

The battery was still good. I popped that out for a look, wondering what kinds of batteries it would take, and this thing looked like a jury-rigged version of some of the stuff they’ve started shoving into plasma rifles. I already knew I could give them an improvement there, but that’s not what the issue was. Someone had put a failsafe into this thing, and they put it in easily-understood language for anyone who came along later. Some things called “director plates” were no longer sending or receiving signals indicating they were still functional.

“It’s a weapon, like you said,” the man told me.

I shrugged. “I think I can fix it, but if we test fire this thing, I don’t want it taking half the building with it.”

The man turned back to the rest of the bunch. By now, they were all staring at me. The woman, half Asian and half white, was shaking her head. “You don’t want to test fire it inside. We’ll test it,” she said.

I frowned. “I think we better talk about half payment up front then.” And maybe I’d steal some ideas from it.

The guy who’d approached me set down a bar of small bar of metal on a solid part of my counter. All he said was, “Rhodium.”

I raised an eyebrow and hefted the bar. The weight was exactly a pound. I gave it a light bite, just enough for nanomachines in my saliva to spread onto it and examine the molecules. It came back as pure rhodium, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars even as a single pound. I set it back down. “Good thing I take alternative payment like that, right?”

The man smiled and set down a second bar of the same size.

I put in some good work that night, because that thing was interesting. It worked along some principles connected to the stolen interdimensional knowledge I use, except more advanced. This focused the effect into a projectile beam weapon. A projectile of damaged time-space. I had the facilities to not only fabricate new and improved parts for it, but to build something on a smaller scale to test it out. My test dummy was a spare Enforcer robot with all its digital parts removed. Listen, I can’t help it if the Office of Superhuman Resources accidentally leaves the supply closet unlocked. They should know better. Someone might steal something.

There was the problem of limiting the range of the effect. I turned on the firing range’s force field. It’s based on one of those nifty ones from my original Earth as well. The shot is difficult to describe, like super fast bullet of pure darkness. A black far darker than anything else because it’s a complete absence not only of light but of existence. Also, it swiss-cheesed that Enforcer, and immediately suffered a similar failure as the bigger version. The wires melted. It was actually the same problem as the bigger version. So it looks like my new and improved wires weren’t going to cut it either.

I put a halt to the part about copper wire and decided to substitute in some silver, trying it on the little one first. It didn’t burn out after the first shot. Or the second, which I timed thirty seconds after the first. So I decided I’d test that little one to the breaking point.

I was so focused on it, I nearly missed dinner and my daughter telling me about her day. “And then a bunch of us were daring each other to run up and touch the house.”

I shook my head. “House?”

“The big haunted house that appeared!”

After dinner, I had her show me. Sure enough, at the end of a street that used to have an overgrown lot there, was a classic haunted house. Three stories, with gables and pointy lightning rods and old shutters and shit. Couldn’t see anything through the windows, but none of it looked rundown or broken. Just older than it should for the area, and out of place.

My daughter was surprised I just shrugged and headed back home. “What if there’s ghosts?”

“You’ve met ghosts before. If they want a house, why not let them? Did they hurt you somehow?”

“No,” she said, still sounding disappointed that I wasn’t kicking down doors to fight the Wolfman or something.

The next day, I was getting the weapon ready. I had new batteries, fully charged and with their own charger. Also included was a kit of some basic materials and tools for repairs. And just in case they decided to screw me over, I had a forcefield ready.

The young guy who’d been looking at me so much was the first one in. He ran in with a face that, now that I glanced at it, looked familiar. I didn’t know where I knew this guy from, but he started crying.

“Who are you?” I asked.

Now, because of the oddness of the situation, I showed restraint and didn’t kick his ass when he lunged forward and hugged me. Guy was ruining my dress, but one does not simply kill everybody who has a mental breakdown, hugs you, and calls you mom. Wait.

“Mom?” I asked

He sniffled. Ok, I figured it was time to put those nanites to work again. No nibbling on another person, though. These crawled down and performed a quickie DNA test that came back with this guy being homo machina and being my son. I didn’t know how to take it either, except to know that it was just about physically impossible for me to have conceived this guy that long ago. Plus, the other half of the test…

The door opened and it was that group again, along with two others. One was a robotic man, looking like someone had appropriated an unarmored Enforcer with a cyclopean head and stuck it in a suit with a bolo tie. The other guy was dressed casually, but his skin was lit from within by the occasional arc of electricity.

The Asian woman ran up and hugged the guy hugging onto me. I gave her a little closer look. Yeah, still don’t know what to think about all this, but at least confirmed my suspicion. “Qiang, what’s going on?”

“Shit,” she said.

“Perhaps I can explain,” the robot said. He stepped forward and a card appeared in his hand. “I am the caretaker of the House of Shadows and Spires, Investigator Wattson. Two Ts. And as you clearly have deduced, we are from the future.”

“We needed your help, mom,” my future son said.

Wattson put his hand on his shoulder. I waved them away and tried doing some of that maternal shit. I held him close. “Shush. What’s going on?”

Qiang answered, looking up at me. How did I not see it the first time? “Evil AI from the future is trying to destroy the past. It’s complicated, and you finding out might mess it up.”

“Why?” I asked. “Was I supposed to do something that I now won’t?”

“No,” the electrified man spoke up. “Because Wattson here says you’re definitely being monitored by our enemy, Jaguar Slayer.”

“We’re going to have to figure out a way around this,” said the guy who I’d negotiated with the day prior, with his too-neat clothes. “I hate this.”

Future Qiang nodded, and told me, “It’s more complicated time travel bullshit, mama.”

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Outlaw X Presents: Heavy Metal 2

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Seeing as our friends at Outlaw X were kind enough to leave y’all with a cliffhanger, I figured the least I could do is not make everyone wait another month to find out about the fate of random people you only learned about a few days ago.

Note to self: try to sound less like a jackass.

Hey, all of this is some new and useful knowledge for me. It keeps me abreast of emerging supervillains and superheroes. I get to understand a little bit more about that metal. I saw that video they mentioned in the first part, too. Might be I’ll find myself up against a mysterious telepathic metal capable of doing all these things. Sharp, too. Able to hold an edge that can take down a well-armored robot.

So let’s continue this voyeuristic journey together, shall we?

**

“Ya heard it, ya heard it, ya heard it on the X!

Outlaw X here, back in black and twice as beautiful. I’d like to thank everyone for their fondest wishes for my well-being due to my recent absence. I especially want to think the evil magician Perfecto and his assistant, the Malicious Maiming Melinda. Better luck next time, shitlickers.

With our dedications out of the way, I see it’s almost time for us to kick off two hours of throwback 90s Gangster Rap goodness. The one hit wonders, the sellouts, the hitmakers, and the dead but not forgotten, all in one. In a way, it reminds me of supervillains. A lot of supervillains fit into those molds as well, but be careful who you call a sellout unless you know for a fact that they talked.

First, we’ve got the second half of a story to share. Looks like this one’s going to spoil me. Thanks a lot, Perfecto.”

**
So I’m trapped in the fourth and top floor of a lab that studies metals, calling myself Green Falcon because of my thunderbolt suit and small thunderbolt knife. Zeus had his bedsheet and thunderbolt javelin, Gauge had his thunderbolt darts, and Mist had some guy she’d taken hostage. She brought him into the room with her and closed the door. We’d all heard the elevator ding and the pounding of heavy SWAT boots and Enforcer legs on the floor.

Mist put her hand on the poor guy’s body. “I have something in mind.”

“Please don’t hurt me,” the man cried. I didn’t see what she had that brought her here looking for more of the mysterious meteor metal, but I knew people who didn’t have it would want it too. It’s valuable if they want it for themselves, and I bet you could sell it for a lot of money if you knew how to do that sort of thing.

Mist smiled and blew a kiss toward him, a dark cloud moving out of her mouth and into the crying hostage’s mouth and nose. He coughed, sneezed, and gagged like he was about to throw up. He was fine, but the Latina in the green dress patted him on the shoulder. She called out, “Don’t shoot, I’m sending out the hostage as a sign of good faith!”

I walked back to the window to glance outside quickly. “Yeah, there’s still a shitload of them down below. You sure you want to give him up?”

Mist smiled and opened the door just enough for the man to leave, hands raised. She slammed it closed quickly, locked it, and moved pretty fast in those flats to get out from behind it. No one wants to give guys with guns a good idea where you are.

“Flyboy, how much can you carry?” Gauge asked me.

I shrugged, then pointed to the hunk of meteor. “I came prepared to take all that with me. I got cords for it.”

Zeus, being super helpful, walked over to the meteor and smacked it with his javelin, drawing everyone’s attention. The meteor crumbled. I should say the fake meteor crumbled. Looked like dried mouthwash somehow.

“Heh,” Gauge said. He turned back to me from Zeus’s big reveal. “I hope you got enough for the weight of another man.”

“That’s cool, I can fly myself,” Zeus said. Nobody had asked him.

Mist opened her mouth to say something, then thought better. As if someone pressed a button, we heard screams from the hallway, including a noise like someone dropped a watermelon from atop a building. Then, more screams.

Mist pumped a fist, but it was short-lived as a metal hand punched through the door to reach over and unlock it. The door opened and the armored Enforcer in the lead caught one of Gauge’s darts through the head. It kept coming, so the others took it in the chest and slammed it out into the hallway, knocking over one of the smaller Enforcers. Two more of those came running in. They have a weird gait, like someone programmed them after that old movie with the killer robot made of liquid metal. Zeus’s javelin whipped out and pinned one through the chest, then turned and impaled the second one the same way. He tried jiggling it to knock them off. Another armored Enforcer came in, ducking under the javelin in a fluid motion that didn’t look right coming from it. I sent my knife out, the blade circling the neck and cutting the head off. It flew through the hole and bounded around inside, whirling around and just cutting through whatever. I held my hand back out for it as it came back to me through the open neck hole of the falling robot.

“What did you do out there?” Gauge asked. Outside, where it wasn’t fogged up my Mist’s mist, things were looking gross shades of pink, orange, and red.

“I like my metal gaseous,” was all Mist said to enlighten us. It was enough. From the way Gauge nearly tossed chunks, it was more than enough. I was going to the window to give the cops below a sample of my vomit when a helicopter flew in from the side all of a sudden. I saw a laserlight dead in my eye. If I’m lying, I’m dying. Gauge’s darts got to the police sniper first, and the pilot next, then came back to him. The chopper began to spin out of control, but hit the building lower down.

“That’s the kind of chaos we need to get out of here,” Gauge said.

Another armored Enforcer stepped through the doorway, this one’s armor shining the same dark green everyone there was familiar with. Zeus’s javelin spun, knocking one pointed end against this new Enforcer’s breastplate, then the other. The impaled Enforcers went flying, but the Thunderbolt Enforcer was lightly scratched.

“Guys, I don’t think this one’s fake,” Zeus said. The Thunderbolt Enforcer smacked the javelin away, the side of it knocking Zeus on his ass.

Gauge tried with his darts, aiming for the elbows, shoulders, and throat. The didn’t stab into it. Mist even put her mist to work, trying to find a way into it. There had to be, right? Why make these things airtight? Aside from air powers, water powers, shrinking powers, fog powers… fine, it was smart they made it airtight. Smart for them.

The Thunderbolt Enforcer advanced, reaching for Gauge. I got an idea and reached for a length of cord hanging on my waist. I made it into a quick lasso and tossed it around the upper body of the Thunderbolt Enforcer and flew back, out the window. The Enforcer came with me. Once we were out in the air, four stories up, my knife sliced the rope off halfway between us. The robot clanged to the ground, but I didn’t see it burst apart. Feeling things whiz by me, I flew back inside. Nearly whizzed myself.

“Smart thinking,” Gauge said.

“You get it?” Mist asked.

I shook my head. “I think it was still intact. Don’t know if it can fly. You know if robots can use this stuff like we can?”

“Why wait to find out?” Gauge asked. He walked over to me. I looped some cable around through a harness I’d brought, snapped a carabiner onto him in a couple places. Mist, meanwhile, was sucking her fog into herself like a golfball through a garden hose. She headed out through the door, checking the hall.

“Where are you going?” Zeus asked.

“They were shooting at the Falcon on that side. I’m going out this way,” she said.

That was a good point. Zeus followed her and used his javelin to bust in the door and through the window on the other side of the hallway. Gauge and I hobbled after, trying not to get tangled up. Zeus jammed his javelin into the floor and hopped onto a pair of straps on top, tightening them. “Saw this on these gnarly rockets you could use to fly around on,” he said. He went first, probably not realizing he’d have been our indication if they had guns readied on the other side. When he didn’t get shot out of the sky, the rest of us followed.

I brought Gauge and I as if it was nothing. I’d never tested the full extent of the meteor metal’s ability to lift stuff. Maybe I should. Also good for that point, the particulates Mist sucked in were enough to lift her into the air without fucking her up like whatever she’d done in the hall. My mind kept thinking of a human balloon. Part of my ego also hated that I’d used the metal for a suit when most of the rest of us figured out a way to use it that was more impressive and still gave them flight.

I dropped Gauge off at a quiet, out of the way bar I knew that had no trouble with criminals. They had enough drug-dealing bikers in there, they couldn’t look down on some people in costumes. Mist had followed us, too. Maybe she wanted someone to throw in the way of the cops if they came after us. She even waited out in the parking lot for Gauge and I to separate ourselves. Gauge ran in first while I tried to bundle up the cable and get it set.

The news showed the Thunderbolt Enforcer flying through the wreckage back at the building while a reporter talked about an attack by supervillains. “Shit, I didn’t think about cameras,” I said, sitting down where I could watch the news and motioning to the bartender. He ignored me.

“I got to the cameras,” Mist said, sitting down beside me. “You boys would be hopeless without me.”

Gauge came back from the bathroom, patting down the front of his costume with paper towels. “We wore masks. Except that one dipshit.”

“My guys!” a familiar voice said. Even in a bar full of drug addicts, bikers, and supervillains this late at night, a man wearing his bedsheet stands out.

“Is it too late to act like we don’t know him?” Gauge asked.

“We should do that more often!” Zeus walked up behind us and hugged us all in turn.

**

Holy flying robots, bad man! Heh, that’s something to keep an eye on. Those Enforcers got a lot of people edgy, folks. Now we got one that’s tougher than all the others and can float.

We have new opportunities, too. This new thunderbolt stuff means more enhanced individuals, more mad science at work, and more ways to make cash money.

Keep an eye out, folks. And be careful if you find any of it. Wouldn’t want to put an eye out, unless it belongs to Johnny Law and his Lawbot.

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Outlaw X Presents: Heavy Metal 1

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Folks, as usual, I’ve got shit to do that isn’t interesting and y’all want funtimes, so rather than me bore you with all that, I’m handing off storyteller duties to the radio. It’s a lot like being a bad parent. But at least some of these stories are interesting, from time to time.

**

“Alrighty folks, that song there was the tribute to the greatest song in the world, and a great segue into tonight’s story of felonious fun. If you’re just joining us, I’m Medley, sitting in tonight for Rebel Rebel, who is out under FBI surveillance. She’ll be back as soon as the heat is off.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in the middle of nowhere, you’ve noticed the popularity in our profession nowadays. I’m sure we’ve all seen the new metal, the stuff they’re calling thunderbolt ore. I hear “thunderbolt iron” is a nickname for meteoric iron. When metal fell from the skies, ancient peoples made spearheads, swords, and talismans out of it. Talismans or talismen?

Potato, potato, I don’t care. But for some time, ever since shortly after a bunch of our guys and the good guys joined forces to blow up that asteroid trying to hit the Earth, people have been finding something new that’s believed to be from that asteroid. Some new alloy of deep space metals with new properties. Listeners might have seen those in action. We’re already seeing some of these villains invited into the fold, or other villains enhancing their abilities with this metal.

This is a story submitted by one of our newfound thunderbolt friends. No, that’s a horrible phrase. “Thunderbolt Friends” sounds like a kid’s show. I’m sure we’ll come up with something.

Here’s the story submitted to us under the name “Heavy Metal”

**

I found my first hunk of thunderbolt metal on a hike through these woods near the suburb where I live. It wasn’t like I expected from movies or TV. There wasn’t a huge crater or a cave it created. One day, there was that big clay ditch area, the next there was a bubbly, dark green thing sticking out of the clay. I’ve seen Joe Dirt, so I didn’t automatically assume this was a meteorite. It was a little bigger than a basketball with a melty-looking point on the end that was sticking out. As far as I knew, it was an airplane shit dump. I wasn’t going to touch it.

It was a curiosity until I mentioned it to a friend of mine, Frank, who dabbled in Society for Creative Anachronism. He likes blacksmithing, and we came up with an idea to break the bits up into nice-looking necklaces and sell them to people at the next Ren Faire. We were going to call it meteor metal, or maybe joke and say it was supposed to be orichalcum.

It was a whole to-do getting that big hunk and we used gloves. Frank was looking at it odd, but he said he’d spend a couple days messing with it and tell me if anyone had peanuts. He called me back during dinner the next day and told me we’d found something unusual. All he told me is he found something incredible and I should come over. I told him to let me finish my burger first and he had a deal.

“I broke off a segment and noticed this was definitely metal. Thought it was too awesome to waste on Ren Faire people unless we charged out the ass for it. I worked some of it into a rough ring and I wanted to make another part from that into a knife.”

He explained all this to me in one go as he walked me to his garage. He had the block of metal up on a bench near his workspace. Laying nearby was a ring that he’d ground down, smoothed, and polished. The knife looked like something from the stone age, with a simple cloth wrap around a jagged bit of metal that formed a very rough blade. He hadn’t even gone as far as making it into an old caveman chipped stone knife.

“Watch this,” Frank said. He put on the ring and held his hand out. The knife lifted up off the table and floated to his hand. It wasn’t like how a string would raise it up. I waved my hand over both, checking the ceiling for anything that helped him do that.

“Holy fuck,” I said.

“Here, you try!” He pulled the ring off and handed it to me, then set the knife down.

“How do I do this?” I asked. I thought of the knife flying up and it did. Simple. Easy. I thought of it embedding in the wall nearby and it did that too.

Frank wasn’t even mad. He jumped and smiled at me. “Yeah!”

Curious, I turned and tried to lift the whole rest of the misshapen chunk on the workbench. Nothing happened. “Why didn’t that do it?”

“I don’t know,” Frank said, throwing up his hands. “I tried it to. This is cool shit, but we need to figure out how it works.”

“This is, we could do stuff with this. Fuck selling this in a booth, man, we could be rich,” I said.

“We can’t be the only one with this metal,” Frank reminded me. “There’s got to be more though.”

“What made you break off just this section into these two pieces?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “I guess the cleavage of the metal. That was one section.”

“You should experiment. We need to do something with this,” I told him.

Now, it might seem weird to most that our first thought for doing something about this was making money and committing crimes. Money’s good. Fuck, we can use money. Frank seems to enjoy his hobbies and he spent a lot of money on that equipment, but my life’s shit. I started going on hikes because I was morbidly curious about the best spot out there to shoot myself in the fucking head. I hate my life. Give me a lot of money and everything changes.

One of our first thoughts was a sword, but that was a lot. That was a big thing, and we didn’t think we had enough metal. So we went looking. Found as much as we could, checking that area and asking questions. With a little inspiration and some materials off Etsy, we managed something for me to take out. All the risk for me. Half the money for Frank since he helped build it.

It was a suit. We built it to slip kevlar plates into, but most of it was lined in enough of the metal to let me fly. The first draft was rough and mostly black because that’s the stuff we got. It ended up looking like motocross gear, but here’s the secret: this metal’s really strong and really sharp.

I practiced. I tested what I could lift. I got good. I even robbed a couple of convenience stores first before I tried something worth the suit and took a bunch of jewelry. That wasn’t so fun because Frank and I realized we didn’t know anybody we could sell it to, so after that we settled on electronics or cash. Getting rich like that wasn’t as easy as I thought, but it still amounted to hundreds of dollars a day without needing to work.

I wasn’t the only guy in the city doing this and they showed me more. I saw the videos of this one guy with some sort of green pads painted to match the color of the sword he held. He had a hoodie on and the hood up. He had a bracer on his main hand too, unusual because that’s an archery thing, but I noticed the color of the bracer matched his sword. He walked up to the ATMs outside this one bank and chopped right through them. Made me wonder if I could do that with the knife. He had a friend to bag up the money, but I could just fly it out of there.

Then one of those new cop robots walked up and he cut it up too.

The knife’s blade wasn’t long enough to through an ATM as quickly, but it got me through to the cash box. I wasn’t the only one inspired by the example. Others came out, getting more daring. I don’t think anybody else had focused on a flying suit, but Frank was still working out something bigger with the main chunk of metal we found. He said he needed better tools to cold-work it, which is when you work the metal without heating it up. We had both worried at first that heating it might destroy its special properties, but that sword had us reconsidering that.

In retrospect, I think they were trying to lure us out. Someone made the connection between the newbies and the metal and put out an article in the news about the discovery of a hunk about the size of the one I found. A troupe of Girl Scouts discovered it and it was being turned over to a local metallurgy lab, Anvil Industries. Up until the plant let us go, we used to service them some.

Getting in was easy. I floated in and cut through the glass. Most of these alarms are really for entrances and exits only. I figured I would work my way down the four-story building, but I spotted the elevator’s floor indicator moving. I ducked into an office nearby. They were all offices that I’d seen so far. Glancing out, I saw raven-haired Latina in an old-fashioned emerald-colored 60s-looking housewife dress. She looked hot but was grouching like a motherfucker. “Move it!”

“I am moving it. Don’t hurt me!” said a guy in a button-down and slacks. “We put it over here.”

He walked her over to a door and swiped his keycard, messing it up the first time due to nervousness. He opened the door and flipped on the light.

“Holy hell, who are you?” he asked. He ducked and whizzed himself when a metal dart flew by his head and stabbed into the wall on the opposite side.

“This is my meteor!” a voice inside called. I turned to the window in the office I was in and started cutting, the jumped out. I came around to around that side of the room and found lit-up tinted windows, too obscured for me to see anything but the light. I waited at the edge and carefully cut a hole in.

“Look out below that way!” someone called out. I looked up and there was some long-haired guy wearing a bedsheet on top of a spear. I covered my face as his spear smashed through the line of windows near him and he went skidding into the room, cut up along his arms.

Things were open enough for me to see the situation. There was the meteorite strapped to a heavy metal table. Next to that was a man in an athletic top and loose pants with a bunch of thunderbolt darts floating around him. Half aimed at the woman and the other half aimed at the guy in the sheets. The woman in the dress stood near the hostage she took. Toga guy was rubbing at his arms, getting blood all over the sheets that I realized were supposed to be a toga.

He looked around at the others. “Hi, I’m Zeus.”

“Bullshit,” the woman said. “You almost ended up Eunuch Man.”

Zeus, which is one hell of a name for some random-ass guy in bedsheets to claim as a supervillain name, held up his hands. “I sense a lot of hostility here from the three of you. But not you, you’re just scared.” He spoke that last part to the hostage.

The guy with the darts didn’t put them away. “There’s no harm in telling you the name I picked out. I’m Gauge.”

“Mist,” said the woman. “Not ‘Miss,’ but Mist, like fog.”

“Awesome sauce. What about you?” Zeus was calling outside.

“How hard did you hit your head?” Gauge asked.

Down below, I heard shouting and guns cocking. I looked down and saw that in the short time all this had been happening, SWAT were spreading out with Enforcers in front of them. They might have put one in me if I hadn’t noticed them that early. I stopped hovering near the broken window and swung myself into the room.

“Hey guys, I’m,” I didn’t really have a name, so I grasped, trying to come up with something. “…the Green Falcon.”

At least I didn’t say Hornet.

“Lame,” Zeus said. Mist scoffed at that one. Gauge shrugged.

I held up my hands to show I was unarmed before realizing I still held my knife. “The building’s surrounded. Cops and Enforcers galore.”

Outside the room, we heard the elevator ding.

**

That’s all we’ve got for you this time, folks, but Outlaw X would like to remind you to tune in next time for the conclusion of this story. Will the Green Falcon survive? Will Zeus realize he sounds like a jackass? What’s that Mist woman got going on? The answer to these questions and more are in the next episode of Outlaw X Presents. This is Medley hoping to see you next time, and happy criming.”

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Freeze Tag

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The full moon, my true monthly visitor… I wasn’t sure if being on the actual moon would do something there and bring Reindeer out. Like what if I’d transformed into my weredeer form from simply seeing the whole moon on approach? Thanks to me, the entire were- community now knows more important things about the condition that various people were afflicted with after some magic environmentalists tried to hijack the Northern Hemisphere’s wintry time to make the Earth greener.

I don’t think the spirit of Winter is in bed with the oil companies, I just think he’s territorial and big on balance. It’s the season of death.

I had time to finish dinner and the dishes before my alarm went off. The moon was coming, and it’s been taking more time from me before and after. My body stayed behind while my mind took control of the Platinum Hind armor. I still don’t like power armor capable of opening this way or acting on its own, but it was a necessity in this case and Reindeer isn’t out long enough for people to take advantage.

The alarm was set thirty minutes before official moonrise. Twenty minutes before, Reindeer changed, and changed quickly. The hero deep inside bounded down the stairs. “I feel incredible! You think the moon did this?”

I shrugged. “I think lycanthropes and other such animal-thropes are the very definition of something that’s not a science.” Reindeer was bouncing, which I found funny enough. She recently discovered an ability to fly and fire beams of light from her antlers. “You sure that’s moondust you sniffed?”

“You’re getting drug names all mixed up,” she told me. She stopped bouncing up and down, though. “Are you ready? I can’t wait to go.”

I made sure my complement of non-lethal armament was still as ready to go as when I put the armor and Reindeer’s costume away, then tossed the costume to her. She had it on in no time, then went ahead and stepped into me, setting the helmet on her head. Instead of the stairs and the front entrance, she went right to the trashcan tunnel, shooting into the still-light sky. Below us, the trash can swung over from on its side to stand up over the hole again. That’s the power of science and magnets.

As heavy as the armor was, Reindeer wasn’t using the suit’s rockets at all. She flew quickly, and in an arc through the high atmosphere where she would have difficulty breathing. We came down in Minneapolis and soon picked up that something was wrong by the sight of a person on fire flying too close to an airplane trying to land.

“However good you feel, remember that jet turbines feel considerably less good,” I reminded her. She’s too buoyant and happy for my taste. It’s hard to trust a version of myself that isn’t at least partially miserable.

“I know,” she said. “Do you have to be such a backseat driver?”

“It’s my backseat that gets cut off if you take a shortcut through them there engine tubes,” I pointed out. I made sure to highlight the engines on the HUD as the “Danger Zone”. I also showed avenues that would likely get us sucked into the engines, dubbed the “Highways to the Danger Zone”.

“Who are we dealing with?” Reindeer asked.

“She’s a real Firecracker. That’s her name,” I explained. “Fireproof and able to fly using fire. Can project it out a bit as a result, of course, and I wouldn’t give her a hug.”

“You need to come up with more nonlethal gadgets,” Reindeer advised. “I’ll have to hoof her.”

Reindeer gave the armor’s rockets some juice on approach, trying to come in overhead Firecracker. “Might I remind you which direction heat travels?” I asked Reindeer. She responded by diving down and flipping around to plant her hooves hard in Firecracker’s upper back, sending the flaming super head over heels past the airplane. Reindeer directed herself away from the tumbling super and came around.

“Figure out how we intercept her to keep her from splatting,” Reindeer advised. I came up with a few plans for that based on how Firecracker fell. We kept close, but then Firecracker turned her flame off, flattened out, and flamed back on once she had her fall under control.

Firecracker turned to us and shouted, “Tag, you’re it!”

“Neat,” I told Reindeer. “Piggy radio says arson and other trouble in Minneapolis today. Looks lik the Fire Gang’s in town.”

I know I’ve mentioned them at least once. A group of supers with fire-related powers who hang out together. They’re a real niche group because if you can counter the strongest of them, you should be able to counter all of them, but the powers express themselves in different ways and with different quirks. Plus, they have numbers. Fire is a fairly common power.

Reindeer followed after Firecracker. Kind of easy to track of woman on fire as she flies across the sky. My better half came around the side of a building and bodychecked Firecracker. “Tag!” she called out.

Firecracker bounced back a ways before getting control again, but I could see she was smiling. She lowered down to the ground and Reindeer followed. When they were both safely grounded, she put her hands on her hips. “You’re playing?”

“What? Playing Tag?” Reindeer asked.

Firecracker smiled, her bright red lipstick going well with the all-red outfit she was in. “Yeah. If you can handle that, hero. You get to be It, but tag us and we stop doing whatever we’re doing. I’ll call it in to the others. Or you can do things the hard way.”

“Sounds fun,” I told Reindeer.

Reindeer nodded. “Sure, I’m in.”

Firecracker reached up to an earpiece. Her power definitely has some sort of area it works on other than just skin and hair-deep. “We have a player, Gang. Reindeer’s It and she’s already tagged me.” She looked around at where she was, focusing on a café nearby. “Anybody needs me, I’m going to get a smoothie. It’s hot out here.”

“Hey, who all’s playing?” Reindeer called out.

Firecracker didn’t say. She just held up a hand with all but her thumb out. “There were four, now there’s three,” she explained while folding her index finger in.

I checked around for more signs of distress. “Alright, good one, I’m picking up that someone’s leaving flaming trails at the Elko Speedway. Additionally, there’s a guy spouting flames at Capella University, and then there are little burning bipeds running around the Mall of America causing havoc. We are closest to that one.”

“Point me to it,” Reindeer said. I brought up path on the HUD showing her toward the Mall of America.

We found a man in burnt dark red robes inside the M&M store, cackling. Fire moved at his beckoning, fire in the shape of tail-less monkeys. They hopped all over the place, tossing M&Ms and trashing displays. The floor was becoming a mess of oozing melted chocolate. “Now you see the lie, Mall of America! This candy’s reputation is but a hill of lies. Lies!” When I had enough to identify him, I flashed his name onscreen: “Banisher.”

He turned around and jumped at Reindeer’s approach. With a wave of his hands, his smaller creations disappeared and a giant one appeared between Reindeer and Banisher. Reindeer pulled out one of the various helpful grenades I made her but didn’t activate it before tossing it in front of the sonic weapon on her forearm and firing it. The air it generated through the metal ball at Banisher’s robed chest and bonked him, knocking him over into the hot chocolate. Reindeer then ran and skidded between the large fire creature’s legs to grab hold of Banisher’s leg.

“Tag!”

Banisher huffed and dismissed the fire monster. “Help me up?” We did and let him walk off to drown his sorrows in the Cinnabon.

Next stop, Capella University. It was an online university, but a fellow out front was trying to make it live up to the name in person. A thick-set fellow stood out front in scaled armor, singing a capella. He had clawed gloves on his hands. Gouts of fire sprayed from devices he’d set up that provided backing sounds to his take on “Ring of Fire”. A hunk of metal around the man’s neck looked like a bear trap worn as decoration.

“That is Fafnir,” I informed Reindeer. “Big fan of pyrotechnic devices.”

Reindeer watched all this, then told me, “I have an idea.”

I landed the Platinum Hind armor in front of Fafnir just as he finished his song. Fafnir snapped his head toward me, the “bear trap” closing up and forming a fanged metal helmet around his head. The helmet spit fire at me, and it would have been fearsome for a being of flesh. It wasn’t too fun for someone relying on circuitry, but it didn’t kill me.

Fafnir turned at the touch of a hand tapping him to find Reindeer there saying “Tag. You’re out.”

The metal helmet unfolded back around his chest. “Damn. Spent too long setting things up.”

Reindeer patted him on the shoulder sympathetically and walked over to me. Before she could enter the armor, a large fireball knocked her into the building and knocked me down. Fafnir was unharmed, but scrambled to get away.

Standing before us was a man in a black leather motorcycle getup with a flame decal on the top rear of his jacket and a fireball on the helmet.

Reindeer’s furry hand-paw thing raised up out of the side of the building. “I’m ok!”

“Hello Nitro,” I said more for Reindeer’s benefit than mine. It wouldn’t help her much as she didn’t have access to the wiki page detailing Nitro’s enhanced durability and usage of firepowers to propel him in intense bursts, enough to count him as a speedster. Plus, the black leather outfit looked badass.

Reindeer threw herself out of the building and landed on her feet, firing off one of those air pulses real quick. Nitro turned to her, a fireball building up behind him. And as we’ve previously established, fire isn’t so bad for me when I’m possessing a suit of power armor. I wrapped the Platinum Hind’s arms around him from behind and turned my back toward Reindeer. I German suplexed Nitro in that direction and rolled with it, coming up in time for Reindeer to slide into the armor from behind and announce. “Tag!” We finished it up with a second suplex, then left Nitro there, the flame petering out like a fart.

He stood up, seemingly glowering, then pulled the helmet off. Guy had an overbite, a bit nose, and some really bushy eyebrows, so not nearly as hot as the costume would suggest. “That was pretty awesome, like a wrassler!” Also, he sounded like a Cajun. “Want to play again sometime?”

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Ex-Weapon 8

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“You sure you’re ok up there?” Sam asked me over the phone. I may not exactly be with Mix N’Max’s assistant but we figured we’re staying in touch. Medusa’s keeping tabs on me too. Adrian called too. I ignored the call from a hungover Senator Goatse because I don’t care what he’s calling about but the best case scenario was being upset that he paid for my trip into space. The SpaceSex rocket has been remarkably well-maintained. And it’s been a lovely experience once you get over the realization that you’re a tiny bit of metal from certain death. I’ve loved most of my life in that kind of situation.

“You’re humming again,” Sam said.

I laughed. “Was staring out a window again. I keep thinking of that Aladdin song about showing Jasmine the world. I’m actually seeing it, all of it.”

Sam sang a few lines for me before stopping to say, “I wish I could see it.”

“There’s always the feed from the International Space Station, but it doesn’t do it justice. It’s not the same as when you cross the Universe Divide, either..” I pushed off the side of the service module and toward the command module to check on the distance to the moon. “It’s been nearly three days now.”

“I’m surprised it takes so little time. We just never go anymore,” Sam said. “You bring a flag along?”

“Let’s see, I got power armor, food, toiletries, and a spacesuit with its own thong. I’m fully prepared for pretty much every situation that could come up on the moon. And for the record, it turns out the fake engines they strapped to the side were completely unnecessary. It’s a good thing they fell off with the first stage. Barring anymore modifications like that, I’m good to go.”

“Not yet you aren’t. You’re thinking of Disney tunes. You need something to get your head in the game,” she remarked.

“Ha! Save it for the lander. Which, according to this thingamabob, is actually in good condition. To be completely honest, I was half sure this thing was going to pull itself apart when the first two rocket stages fell off. Like, though when the second part fell away, it’d take part of this one with it. I headed out of the command module and through the service module. I’m also super glad I actually took the time to read the manual and some instructional videos. There’s a whole thing where the third stage separates from the part that goes to the moon and you have to flip the the ship around and dock with the lunar module. I nearly missed that. Wouldn’t want to be without the beauty I now headed for. I opened the door and got a face full of sex toys, a veritable rainbow of dildo. A plethora of peggers. A variety of vibrators. And a surplus of strap-ons, too.

The shifting mass did something. I felt something break away. I don’t know, but I made sure the door back to the command module was just fine. I think I heard something, or it was the shuddering of something breaking. In space, nobody can hear me cuss and dive into a lunar module full of sex toys. “Sam… looks like I’m on approach.”

She started playing “Fly Me to the Moon” from the Bayonetta soundtrack.

I had to dig my way through the toys to the computers and cross-reference the data it gave me with my brain’s info on the base. The register in my store has a more advanced computer than this old thing. The base we were looking for was on the other side of the moon, but those manuals made it pretty clear I had to get this lunar bit away from the rest before I could even think of bringing it down. I wasn’t able to tell Sam I had to let the lunar module get miles away from me until the song was over.

Despite all that, the descent mostly went ok. Took me a long time before I came around on a course for the ICE base, which seemed unaware of me. I was quickly relieved of that thought when I saw through the windows that the base was looming close and various pieces on the outside of it were rotating around toward me. They had at least spotted me. “I could use that music now, Sam.”

There was a brief snippet of her voice, followed by just silence. Oh, right, we were on the dark side of the moon. I guess I’ll have to supply the music. “Gloryhammer” by Gloryhammer ought to do nicely. I believe it’s from their album Gloryhammer. Perhaps a key why was in the belting of Angus McFife XIII: “Galaxies swarming behind me, nebulas lying ahead. This can only mean, that I have arrived into space, oh yeah.”

While Angus sang about feeling the astral fire inside him, I was noticing that the moonbase didn’t fire on me. Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe they didn’t have exterior turrets set up for people invading. They’d have to get them at some point, but much of this moonbase looked like they’d taken prefabricated buildings and worked them in with moon cement in a ziggurat with a wide, flat top on it sporting radar dishes and communications towers. A pair of large metal engines poked up from the dusty moon’s surface on either side, almost like a sci fi power plant. I brought the module in for a landing on that roof, right near one of the things that was watching me. I hopped right out and kicked the thing away, it turning out to be nothing but a camera.

“Well, maybe this will be easier than I thought,” I meant to say, but the intense cold hit me like a bucket full of ice cubes got shoved under my skin through all of my holes. I saw a huge thermal signal nearby and headed toward it. My HUD identified it as a heat exchanger. An important piece of equipment, it kept my nibbles from flaking off and I knew there’d be an access point. Sure enough, they had a roof-mounted airlock for all the sensitive equipment up there. I quickly let myself in and started cycling it.

Just like that, I was in and using the power of holograms to blend in with the environment. I managed before a gaggle of guards in spacesuits came running up with ICE-issue plasma rifles. I clung to the top of the corridor, which wasn’t that far above everything, and projected a hologram of someone cutting into the airlock from the other side, throwing up smoke that didn’t hang around. The Icers readied ther rifles and spread out for maximum lines of fire.

The cutting stopped suddenly, as did the appearance of any effect on the door. As one, I and my nanomachine tendrils pantsed the entire group. I grabbed the two nearest me while they were trying to figure out what was going on and slammed them into the others, creating a bloody, panic-firing mess of guts and flesh. I left them all behind and headed to the next section, thinking, “Suck it, Vader, I’m not even breathing hard.”

The next room, the door behind me sealed shut magnetically as soon as I was through. Visible or not, the doors still open and close. According to my suit, the atmosphere outside was thinning out. The room wasn’t hit or anything. They were venting the corridor on purpose, which was a neat way to make an advantage out of their use of prefab building sections. They didn’t count on me appearing and charging up the energy sheaths surrounding my gauntlets. Weight is an entirely different thing on the moon, but mass and energy are universal. I smashed a hole right through the floor, and the next floor, and into some sort of large, impressive command room. I bounced off a statue of someone on the way down, but I don’t know who. Ended up coming to a comfy bounce next to a man in a uniform with way too many medals. He even looked like the statue.

“Who are you?” I asked the guy near me as I came to a comfy bounce. I was going to ask their wifi password, too, but I’d cracked that easily. I guess they didn’t figure someone else would just come in off the street up here and steal internet from them.

Various people in ICE spacesuits and DIE jumpsuits surrounded me with a variety of weapons. One guy even had what looked like a pointed drillhead spinning between two chainsaws. Nice. Impractical, but nice.

The man drew himself up to look more imposing. He also edged away slowly. “I am the Supreme.”

I left a holographic double of myself in place while following this Supreme guy. Didn’t like the way he was leaving me standing in the middle of a bunch of armed, hostile people.

“You have come here to the moon and invaded our base,” the Supreme declared. “Surrender now, and we shall allow you to live while we analyze your armor.”

The hologram of me looked around at everyone, then up to the Supreme. “Nah. Guess you better kill me.”

“Do it!” I yelled from Supreme’s position with a sample of his voice. I clamped my glove over his mouth while the various people charged forward. I shushed him and showed off a pair of my round orb grenades, a regular old blower-upper and an incendiary. I tossed them into the puzzled crowd, who were watching as the guy with the drill-saw combo tried to take the hologram’s head off.

“So, Supreme guy… what are the,” I for the explosion and resulting screams. I went ahead and threw a third one over my shoulder to silence those. “Neat place here. Must have taken a lot of work interfacing with the alien systems. But what I really want to know is where are you keeping your prisoners. Like, a big metal box in a Faraday Cage.”

I moved my hand away to let him answer. “The girl has friends in high places.”

Yeah, about 238,900 miles up. “I’m her best friend. Now, not too long ago I’d have killed everyone just for making me come all the way up here, but I like to think I’ve changed. I don’t know if I have, but I like thinking it and am going to try a more peaceful method of resolving our conflict. Give me the woman you captured and we will leave.”

A piece of one of his minions plopped off the nearby statue to himself.

The Supreme raised a hand slowly, then offered a handshake. “Dangerous stranger, you have a deal.”

I shook. “The name’s Gecko. Psycho Gecko. And I fully intend to keep my side of the deal.” I glanced up at the statue, “Say, who’s the loser who needed a giant statue to himself?”

I was shown to a room with four Tesla coils surrounding a metal cage with a big metal egg inside it. The coils were powered down, the cage was opened, and the sides of the egg glowed as they were split apart. My prime body fell out, looking a little more trim and a lot more stinky. I swapped, letting my prime body put on the power armor. The guards were curious, but stayed too far away for harassment when the proxy body transformed into a large panther. My prime body, armored up, mounted the panther form as it began racing down the hallways.

I was passing through the corridor where I’d killed the first set of guards when the alarms went off. “Danger! Evacuate! Self-destruct triggered!”

They really ought to have done a better job keeping people off their wifi. And for fuck’s sake, don’t make your self-destruct internet accessible, even on the moon. Still, they gave me the woman and I am leaving. By that point, they were too busy trying to get into their own rockets to worry about us squeezing into the lander and tossing out a few to-go gifts on the way up. Oh, neat, the bottom legs and such of the lander stay there when you launch it from the moon.

The bad news came when the fuel light came on as soon as we made liftoff. It went off about halfway up, when the fuel ran out and we began a long drift back around. Swung us far enough around the moon that we didn’t get caught by the explosion. The kaboom was not earth-shattering, but it tossed one of the escaping rockets into our orbiting command and support modules, blowing the whole mess up.

Fuck

I didn’t want to be stranded. I expected other fallout. A facility that used abandoned alien space engines to hurl projectiles at Earth’s surface is a game changer. All military forces are restricted from space by international treaty. They can get around that, especially if the possess such a military facility already created by a third party. Possession of giant guns is 12/10ths of the law. But just like I’m not weapon anymore, and the moon won’t be either.

And, seeing as I did a good thing, the universe is making me pay for it, leaving me stuck on the moon with no food or water. All the times I’ve been to space and this time is the one to do me in. Gave me time to contemplate and speak to myself: “Shit. Fuck. Blown on up. So that’s it. Trapped on the moon, three days away from Earth.” I paused for awhile. A minute, maybe. “I regret killing Forcelight. Lone Gunman, too. Miss Tycism. Good Doctor. I don’t even know all the names, but there are a lot of folks who could have done much better without me in existence. So many possibilities and so much potential lost because I was so powerless I had to kill everyone. And now, because I kept being so kill-happy, I’m stranded on the moon without any food, water, or fuel.” I let out a sad laugh.

Imagine my surprise when I got an answer. A jittery see-through image appeared, like a big green mass of pixels that became a rough face. I noticed other shapes moving in and out, forming little green humanoid ghosts off back behind the face. “Psychopomp Gecko, I can save you in return for your fealty.”

I laughed.

The face continued. “I need agents in your time. Serve me, kill for me, and you do not have to die.”

Figures. Fucking figures.

I shook my head and tossed a vibrator at the face. The toy bounced off the window and drifted back, wagging back and forth past my head in the low gravity of the moon.

“Is this a no?” the big green pixelated face asked.

“Correct,” I said. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but you’re gonna lose. Maybe not because of the me, but there are people who can fight you in ways I can’t. You’ll never see them coming. As for me, I’m nobody’s weapon anymore.”

“Pathetic,” the big green head said before disappearing. One of the humanoid ghosts stayed, for a moment before the images completely disappeared. Weird, but I’m due for some sort of time travel adventure this year still.

All of a sudden, a teenager appeared behind me, my HUD labeling him as Dean from Radium. I turned to glance at him. “Hi. Welcome to the moon. The fuck you doing here?”

He shifted uncomfortably, tossing aside a big latex horse dong. He tossed it aside. “I’m glad I didn’t end up with that in me.”

I shrugged.

“Anyway, hey, I’m Dean. You saved my life the other night,” he introduced himself. He held a hand out for me. “Medusa and Radium thought you could use a hand getting home.”

“How’d they know where to find me?” I asked.

“You’re still transmitting,” Sam said on the line with me. “I let Medusa and a few people listen in.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but I grabbed Dean’s hand. Everything darkened around me, and then lightened back up. Myself, my panther double, and a load of adult toys fell into the streets of Radium right near my house. Adrian and Marianne ran up to help me up and hug me. Dean’s parents helped him up and beamed at me. Even the moon, very nearly full, looked a lot happier since we left so many toys for the man in the moon to play with.

Sam hung up before I could start asking who all heard my little confession of regret.

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Ex-Weapon 7

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Agent Skitwell and I sat across from each other at the Grease Garage. We each had finished a rather large meal. Steaks, fries, onion rings, and chicken drumsticks were all devoured, impressing the restaurant’s staff and a few regulars. The Grease Garage isn’t the sort of place to have a $100 dollar steak free to anyone who can finish the entirety of it. If it was, it would be a $100 burger, and most of the meal’s value would be on the oil market.

The meal was done. All that was left was the check. We stared daggers at each other over the check and the question of who should pay. I felt he should. After all, he ruined me getting my body back. Of course he disagreed on the matter. “Do you know how expensive those robots were?” He asked.

I shrugged. “The kind of meat you make people out of is really cheap to grow, but you see it as more valuable. Like my body, for instance.”

“You look like you have plenty to spare,” he gestured toward me.

I cocked my head and gave him a mean smirk. “You got way more Enforcers than I have real bodies, and you seemed determined to put every single one of them in my way.”

“You destroyed an Enforcer first. They saw you as an enemy and acted accordingly.”

“Your robot landed on me first. I was dealing with the problem you decided wasn’t important. How’d you even find them?” I wondered.

“It was a white suburb full of ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flags. FBI policy is to wiretap anyplace with too many of those in case they turn out to be meth labs. They came forward when the kidnappers called to offer terms. You couldn’t stand being rescued by someone like me, or maybe you’re so irredeemably aggressive you’ll attack anything once you get in the mood.”

“My my, what a fine establishment to find you two in,” a Southern accent said. It was a man walking in with Medusa. The man wore dress pants and a polo shirt, but he left some sort of nervous assistant over by the door. “I’m Senator Goatse, from the great state of-”

Skitwell raised a hand to gesture as he stood up, “I know where you’re from, Senator and who you represent. What are you doing here?” Like Skitwell, I too didn’t care about whatever hole Senator Goatse crawled out of.

I nudged the check over toward Skitwell’s side of the booth. He noticed and went to push it back toward me.

“What’s this, a dispute over the bill?” the Senator said. He grabbed the bill. “I can pay this easily, for these important people doing important work.”

“Important people?” Skitwell asked.

I raised an eyebrow. “Important work,” I noted.

The Senator grabbed a chair from a nearby table and beckoned Medusa over. “Ladies first.”

Medusa held her hands up and sat down at the nearby table instead. “No thank you. I’m here as a facilitator.”

“And protection,” the Senator said, as if Medusa could actually stop me from killing him if it came down to it. I guess the illusion was important to him. “Miss Medusa brought me here to see a golden opportunity. A wise man can hear opportunity in the wind, to paraphrase a book I quite enjoy.”

“Senator, at best there is an uncooperative supervillain who got herself mixed up in my business,” Skitwell insisted.

“You visiting me is what made them think we were dating,” I muttered.

The Senator slapped his hands on the table to shush us. “Now, hold on. This lady,” he turned to me, “It is lady, now right?”

I nodded. He continued, “Skitwell, you might be our police force, and we don’t have our army, but this lady is our nuclear deterrent.”

I sent some side eye Medusa’s way. She texted me a “SorE,” and I’m 99% sure she’s spelling that bad on purpose.

“There is a new Earth full of people just as good and bad as ourselves with a major technological advantage over us. Now, do you know who they’re afraid of?” he pointed to me. “Her. That’s why you leave her to herself and stop getting her into trouble. Hey, can we get a pitcher of beer over here!”

Somehow, the meeting became even less enjoyable after all of that, but the jist of it seemed to be that we had a blank check. I don’t even know where Medusa ran off to. She just up and vanished soon after the beer appeared, not even helping herself to a drink. Important people doing important work. At least she didn’t send another text. The Senator stayed, though, and drank. He kept on until mumbling “You treat her good, Skitwell. Blank check, anything she wants,” just before he leaned back to rest his bloodshot eyes and fell into a drunken sleep. I went ahead and grabbed the guy’s glass so I could scan it for fingerprints.

“What are you thinking?” Skitwell looked up from his phone. He’d been working off it since shortly after the Senator invaded our little meeting.

“He said you should give me whatever I want,” I said. “I have it recorded, along with his fingerprints here. We can probably make good on that.”

“You can’t run off with the entire U.S. Treasure,” Skitwell warned. “The continuing resolution doesn’t cover that much.”

“It’ll cover a trip into space,” I told him, my eyes projecting some very sensitive authorization forms that were now being endorsed by Senator Goatse. “I’m not sure you get much out of it, though, unless you just like the idea of sending me to the moon.”

Skitwell set his phone down and tried to look me right in the eye. “I think the idea of you being some sort of walking nuclear bomb to scare people into not attacking is disgusting. Reprehensible. Irresponsible. And I’m beginning to see your point. Tell me I don’t look like that.”

I smiled. “Well, that guy didn’t make vague threats of consequences. I have problems and neither of you care about me. You unleash me, you’re hoping I have more care for the lives of others than you show to me. I can’t guarantee that, which is my own problem. But right now, I need my body back and it’s in a secret moonbase run by your enemies. Damn, declined.”

“What?” he was typing away at his own device, but nodded toward the images in the air. “That’s Cyrillic.”

“Yeah, the States doesn’t send up its own stuff anymore. You guys really fucked something up, though. These rates are terrible.”

“I know some people who can get you there,” Skitwell said. “It’s not going to give you a lot of room to bring anything back.”

As it turned out, being cramped wasn’t the only issue with it. We met at the site the next day, where they’d gone ahead and rushed everything together. When Skitwell showed me the SpaceX rocket that would be carrying me to the moon, I knew something was fucked. Like my head if I went through with this. “This thing looks like it’s going to fall apart. Tesla should be ashamed to have their name on it.”

“Tesla’s name isn’t on it!” said a guy with a messy mop of long hair and a pink button-down with pictures of bananas on it. “We might call it TheSlut instead.”

I glanced at Skitwell, who grinned. “The government sold a lot of old equipment to make a buck. Behold, one of the last Saturn V’s ever built.”

It sat in the California desert, its pink exterior blending in. It was currently fueling up a pair of fuel rounded fuel tanks on its sides, also pink.

“And it’s not SpaceX,” the long-haired man said. “This is SpaceSex, the next stage in science fiction pornography set design. We are one-hundred percent certain that it has an eighty-percent chance of reaching outer space.”

“My people checked it out on our way over here. It’s old, but it will work,” Skitwell tried to reassure me. By now, my expression had gone from skepticism to whatever they call it when someone tells you they visit Pornhub for the informative nature documentaries. “That is a rocket designed to deliver astronauts to space.”

“I’d sooner believe it dropped off seamen,” I responded.

“I was thinking a Cold War period piece,” said the guy with the banana shirt. “A sexy svelte KGB spy sneaks onboard and has zero-g sex with an American astronaut.”

“I hope they didn’t strip away all the seats,” I remarked. “I’m going to need a lot more than the edge of one.”

“You’re going to want the seats completely replaced,” Skitwell advised.

The long-haired guy nodded along. “Yeah, those were some dirty scenes. You might get pregnant.”

I don’t have the equipment for that, but he makes a good point.

Skitwell’s phone rang. “You guys again. Yeah, I saw your light show.” He put them on speakerphone for me to hear.

“The ICE age begins soon, and if you want to see your lover again, you’ll aid us. Turn over the Enforcers to us.”

“That’s a lot to hand over for the life of my girlfriend,” Skitwell turned scrunched up his face as if to communicate that he was just doing a bit. It keeps me alive, anyway. They still have me in that weird Faraday Cage thick metal coffin, passing food and diapers through a slot too small for me to squeeze through.”

“Let’s sweeten the pot then. Our warning shot should be reaching Bangor in five,” the voice said before hanging up.

Skitwell looked up at me, then quickly walked off. I watched him go, then turned to the other guy, “How long before you can get this thing absolutely loaded the fuck up with a week’s worth of food?”

He shrugged. “Try DoorDash?”

The news started coming in ten minutes later. Something had been ejected from the moon at high velocity. A big, aerodynamic metal chunk that was moving more than a million miles an hour. Another twenty minutes after that and people were talking about these big alien engines left on the moon from when an alien conqueror tried to extort the Earth from Psycho Gecko by playing chicken using the moon.

And a few hours after that, Skitwell pulled up a safe distance away from the launch site as my giant pink rocket pierced the heavens, loaded down with fuel, food, equipment, and a proxy body.

Listen, I don’t blame myself for leaving those engines up there. I haven’t been Empress of Earth for like four years now. Someone else really should have gotten around to it. But I was already planning the trip and it turns out they have some really big beds on the rocket already. A lot of cameras… might keep some of the spacesuits though.

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