As Christmas Eve counted down, I stood guard in my armor. That Whirlygig business was then, and this was now, even though now is later for me. Everyone had themselves an exciting night of feasting and fun, and it was winding down. Guests stumbled back to their rooms or were helped by some of the more responsible faculty when they weren’t carrying kids back to rooms. Eschaton ran off to immediately try out this new VR headset somebody left in front of his door that promised it came with several pre-loaded porn videos. I waved off someone who would have helped me with Qiang, who had passed out in the refectory.
I let them empty the place out and I watched over her, alone. Psychsaur and Venus lingered at different times, looking at me. I ignored them until they left. I was still pissed at them. I can’t really be disappointed. Of course their trust was only skin deep and dependent on me “getting help” whatever that means. No, I know what that means. That means prison and a psych ward where somebody tries to rewire my head until my thinking’s roughly in agreement with the kinds of psychos I see walking around every day. It’s a little hard for me to accept that I need to be more like people who are quieter about it.
I’ve seen what people are. I’ve done their dirty work for them. I can’t fight to defend that status quo. Turns out I can’t force a better world on them, either. Those options didn’t matter anyway, though. Inconsequential. The fight in front of me isn’t some grand, epic battle for a greater cause. This is about me and my daughter.
Midnight ticked on down and then… time stood still. It stopped passing. My internal clock even stopped counting along, though I could still move. I heard bells jingle and whistling sounds. A hole opened in reality, letting in chilling air. The giant satyr-like Krampus swung his chains back and forth as he stepped through, snow clinging to his fur and to the hair-clad Belsnickel who waved at me with a switch. Pere Fouettard, or Father Whipper in English, rolled his whip back up as he walked through. Knecht Ruprecht, the old man in the brown robe with the staff, followed after.
“It’s time to give the devil his due,” I told the Companions of Kringle.
Krampus grinned toothily and stepped up close to me. He sniffed at me, then stepped around, eyeing Qiang asleep on the table behind me. Then he jumped right over here and toward the doorway, stalking off with what should be an ominous clip-clop. Ruprecht nodded at me. I turned to look straight on at Krampus as he ran down the hall and spoke. “Eschaton, you might want to take off those VR glasses now.”
“What’s going on? That’s that Krampus guy from the movie!” he said from down the hallway.
“Yeah, it was a bit of a bait and switch on the porn there, bucko. But if it’s any consolation, maybe help a brother out when he needs it. Or she, in this case. Eh, you’ll probably be fine.” I cut the feed. I’m not known for my conscience, but I think it’d sit just fine with that one.
I heard a howl of pain from where the Krampus ran. I also caught the delightful scent of singed fur. “Tougher nut to roast over an open fire than you expected?” I asked Ruprecht.
Fouettard disappeared into snowflakes. I heard whipping noises, followed by a whoosh and a cry of pain. “Say,” I said to the two remaining Companions, “Y’all don’t seem to know a whole lot about technology, do y’all?”
“We mostly give out candy and sweets,” said Belsnickel, scratching at his hairy clothes. “The big guy gets to do all that.”
I nodded. “I hear ya. Just curious about that. And, hey, I did what y’all asked. We’re all clear, right?” I walked over to the tree and all the presents. I plucked a rather large spherical decoration off, softball sized. “Right?” I turned to look at Ruprecht, since he seemed to be calling the shots here. A rogue fireball hit a hallway wall at an angle from further along. Wow. Good construction here, because that looked like wood to me.
Knecht Ruprecht set his staff on the ground. “Yes. You have made a believer of the hero Eschaton and fulfilled your part of the deal.”
“Regarding Qiang, that means…?” I pushed him along. I wanted him to say it for clarity’s sake. And because I know this game. I’m supposed to be the devil people make a deal with who turns the letter around on someone to screw them over.
“We hold no claim to your daughter anymore,” he finished. “We can touch neither of you now.”
I suspected as much of Qiang. I doubt there are very many kids these guys can truly go after. I mean, these beings were invented when normal childhood behavior involved drinking moonshine and mugging people at musket-point. It was that or kick around the ole kickin’ rope. Fun childhood game, the kickin’ rope. Kept plenty of kids entertained, until Daddy borrowed it when that Great Depression thing started. Was a lot harder to kick around after that until they got him down. What, as if they had money to buy a second kickin’ rope?
I popped the top off the decoration and pushed a button on the inside, thinking about how bad an idea it is to extort me. I chucked the thing at Ruprecht’s head. He brought his staff up to knock it away, but it exploded into a fine mist that chewed through the staff and most of his body. He disappeared, but without blood. Maybe he Obi Wan Kenobied, maybe he Nightcrawlered. I didn’t write him off automatically just because I dropped a DIME on him.
That’s Dense Inert Metal Explosive. I tossed another one at Belsnicknel before it could react. The bomb flew through the air and, when it reached its target, the explosive inside went off. The force of it pushed out microshrapnel consisting of heavy metal for all the rockers in the house. It also turned the casing into more microshrapnel. If Belsnickel was mortal, the results would have been quite nasty for it. Within effective range, it’s like getting explosively sandblasted with stuff that can give you cancer. A relatively short distance away, it did nothing to Qiang except make her cry. The first one woke her up already, so I guess I kinda ruined things that way.
“It’s ok, baby,” I said, rushing over to hug her. Most people don’t actually like being around explosions for some reason. I turned while holding her and saw the frosty hole in reality. Carrying Qiang, I headed over to one large square present and tore off the bow, pulling out a large pin. I gave it a push with my free arm and sent it on through the portal. Then I turned and put a little distance between myself and that bomb.
Behind me, it sparked and crackled with electricity and a humming sound ramped up. Just as the sound grew its loudest and wind began to blow through the refectory… the portal vanished with a weak “bloop”. Exactly as bloopin’ planned, with a minimum of disruption on this end of it.
Qiang and I were safe over by the windows. Even the presents were probably still ok. I’ll make sure Qiang isn’t the first to open hers, just in case something slipped in from elsewhere. “Look!” Qiang pointed outside where snowmen were picking themselves up out of all the snow and began dragging their round, legless bottoms toward the school.
It seemed like a good time to walk on over to the nearest fire alarm. I can only guess that the school is actually used to people setting stuff on fire with powers and that’s why Eschaton’s fight with the Companions hadn’t set it off already. Jolted out of sleep already thanks to explosions, Qiang didn’t care so much for the fire alarm either. I’m sure the rest of the school did, but it changed things. My HUD clock went all screwy as more people awoke.
I kept Qiang with me as I ran to go see what was up with Eschaton, Krampus, and Father Whipper. I think the name’s better in English. I actually caught up to them to see Eschaton flying circles around an nude Krampus. He’s a lot less impressive furless and burned. If I had a fork, I could stick it in him. Instead, I had a kid.
Then again, a simple knife may not do the trick. Maybe Eschaton was holding back this whole time due to being inside the school.
He got his chance to shine. Whipper appeared behind him in the foyer, clinging to the wall above the door. Whipper’s whip whipped out and wrapped around Eschaton’s throat. Eschaton had enough of that shit and rocketed out through the door, blowing it off its hinges and smashing several snowmen in the process. Out there, he burned brighter. The French bogeyman of folklore had flown out with him but was dropped back to the ground when Eschaton burned through the whip. Pretty sure it was no normal whip, either.
Krampus threw his chain at Eschaton, spinning around side to side like chain shot. Eschaton held his hands together and intercept it with his own personal cutting torch that sent two pieces careening into more hapless snowmen.
Closer to home, Qiang wiggled free of my grasp. Kids do that. You try to grab hold of them, but you can’t do it without hurting them. She scooped up a ball of snow and threw it right at the closest snowman. It knocked off the hand of one of its thin branch arms. These were not tough enemies.
I saw a pair of wood hands begin to reach out of the snow behind her. I stomped them into broken pieces, then down into the snow between them just in case the thing had a head of some sort.
The cavalry arrived behind us. Heroes and children dressed for sleep arrived en masse. It was really good coordination, so maybe they have plans worked up. I think there are signs posted around the library, but I haven’t bothered reading them. Too busy microfiching Playboy for the articles. As soft as they are, I wouldn’t do it for the porn.
“I don’t know what you did, but we’ll talk later. What’s going on?” Venus said, walking up to survey the situation, which involved Eschaton fighting a whip wielding old man in a robe while a giant satyr slowly regained its fur and unburnt appearance in the midst of the snow.
“I was a little mad about the lack of trust around here, showed Eschaton these guys when they arrived to kidnap Qiang, and they went after him for some reason. I dunno, maybe he’s been a bad boy this year.”
“Yeah, I bet,” she said. “Why do we have Frosties?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. Happened around the time I blew up two others of these Christmas guys and the portal they used to come here. I suspect a link between them and our ambulatory precipitation here.”
“Alright, here’s what we’re gonn-” Venus started to say.
She only got that far because Ball Boy interrupted by yelling, “Snowball fight!”
If Venus thinks she was angry over someone stepping on her lines, just imagine how pissed I was that I couldn’t tell a group of concerned superheroes to stay frosty. Or maybe I’d have said “Slay Frosty, everyone.” The point is, I didn’t get a chance for either one. Thank you very much, stupid happy people.
The resulting battle was as vicious as it was fun. Just an absolute snowbath, because the snowmen didn’t have blood. Waterbath then? That’s just a bath. This metaphor’s a wash, but the fight was awesome. Just so much fun. Ball Boy himself had a great time throwing glowing balls around at all the snowmen. I’d say it was cheating, but nobody really cared.
Krampus and Father Whipper didn’t stick around much longer once reinforcements arrived. They disappeared in swirls of snow. That meant, goodness gracious, the snowmen stood no chance against Eschaton’s great balls of fire. I even joined in, but only after running back in to grab Qiang’s robe, slippers, and jacket. And mittens. A hat, too. This one shivering kid tried to grab the robe from me, but I kicked her cold ass away. Then I sighed, remembered I was supposed to help her, and just dumped all the clothes on Qiang. “Put these on, honey bunny. I’ll be back.”
I grabbed the freezing girl and hauled her inside to pile heavy blankets on her. Helping her is why I wasn’t out there when all the snow on the ground sucked itself up into a pile. The little snowmen disappeared as well, their snow contributing to the body of one far larger than the others, with arms of grand leafless maples trees. I don’t know where it got them from, but I knew a couple good stabs would give us all the syrup we’d ever need. It roared and swiped at heroes. I pulled out a grappling hook and fired it at Qiang to yank her away from where one giant maple hand smashed into the dead grass everyone stood on.
“Everyone back!” said Eschaton, being just the biggest damn buzzkill, even compared to the giant bee woman I’ve had sexy times with.
“But I wanna kill the giant thirty-foot-tall snowman!” I yelled, probably guessing its height wrong. There was no time to have my HUD add Subway foot longs for a more accurate measurement. It didn’t carry over the enormous gout of flame. Steam hissed, and warm water soon splashed onto the courtyard and came rushing toward the entrance as a wave. I grabbed Qiang, ripped my helmet off, and shoved it over her own head. Just as the wave reached us, I saw the digital numbers on my HUD clock roll over and over before settling on 12:01 and-
I sat bolt upright where I was somehow sleeping in the refectory. I looked over to the table Qiang had been on and she also sat up. The clock read 12:01 and the sound of fading jingly bells still floated on the air. I stood up and ran to the window where I thought I saw something flying through the night sky. I’d have sworn I heard the laugh, too. Ho. Ho. Ho.
Despite that, snow still coated the ground. There was no evidence of the fight, including scorch marks where Eschaton had been flaming up the place. It was while examining the absence of my explosive decorations that the rest of the school came in, similarly awakened from the dream. Qiang had been busy examining all the presents hidden on a different side of the tree.
“What the fudge was that?!” Venus wondered in a kid-friendly way. “Did you put something in the food?”
“Not this time,” I answered. “You think this was some kind of plan of mine? No. Face it, unless my only goal was to protect my daughter, I failed here. Everyone’s here and safe. I didn’t even get to enact Plan M.” I gestured toward her as if Venus knew Plan M was the one where she died.
“Here, presents!” said Qiang, holding up one for each of us.
“Who gave me a present?” I asked while Venus asked, “Who gave her a present?”
“Santa?” asked Venus after reading the tag. “It’s sweet you got all these, but I have questions. Questions that,” she glanced around as amped-up kids already tearing into all the new presents on what was technically now Christmas. “Can hold until later, pending a drug test.”
I popped open the crotch access. Venus pushed it back closed. “Later!”
It’s safe to say I hope everyone else out there had a Happy Psycho Christmas as well.
With Christmas fast approaching, I dropped my bombshell on the heroes. I feel really stupid for even forgetting it. Maybe I’m catching the Mad Cow. Maybe I’m losing my edge. Maybe I need to replace my brain completely so that it’s all compact and electronic. Then, I can make it so my head splits open down the middle and can clamp down on the arms of anyone trying to punch me in the face. Regardless, I was stupidly distracted for one reason or another and I actually forgot I had video footage. When told to make someone believe in Christmas again, I didn’t think to immediately show him the video of a mythological Christmas creature saying that.
I could try and pretend it was nothing but a plan, like to add drama, but the best excuse I have is that the heroes likely wouldn’t believe it anyway. My memory’s been all over the place and so has my brain. I think it’s the company. They keep trying to fry my brain with Christmas songs and Nativity scenes.
Regardless, my excuse about trust appeared to be a good one when I walked in on the adult heroes sitting around and enjoying a movie. I had waited for Eschaton to get there because I could and I knew he’d do so. So I just walked in, ignoring John McClane crawling around an air vent, and grabbed the HDMI cable from the back of the DVD player. Regardless of the audience’s protests, I stepped to the side of the TV, faced them. “Ok, folks. It’s time I show y’all something.”
“This better not be porn,” said Triclops.
“Porn is an option?” Eschaton said.
Psychsaur gently thwacked him on the back of the head. “It’s not porn.”
“Correct. This is… ok, so time is getting short and it’s time to come clean. For those who don’t know… pretty much just Eschaton at this point… I’m Psycho Gecko. Yep, laying that on the table.”
Eschaton looked around at everyone else. “Is this a joke?”
Venus shook her head.
“Then why aren’t we beating him up? He’s a he, right?” Eschaton asked.
I shrugged. “Originally, but you never know when a pair of boobs will come in handy.”
“Gecko is behaving herself right now,” Psychsaur said. “She even goes out on patrol with us.”
“Can we not mention that part so loud?” I asked. “People will get ideas.”
“Doing what?!” Eschaton asked.
Triclops spoke up. “You should have seen her with that fire. Broke her arms rescuing people, then part of the building collapsed under her while she was rescuing hamsters.”
“That was crazy,” snorted Minotaur. “The good kind of crazy.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it, roast Gecko for Christmas,” I said. “All this is… well, I’m sure Venus has told you it’s a ploy. A hard one to live with, y’all ruining my bad name like this. I’m not turning over a new leaf. This isn’t going to end with em donning the red undies to save people. I’m just worried because my daughter is threatened.”
“Gecko has a daughter?!” Eschaton asked.
“They’ll take her,” I said.
“Who will take her?” asked Eschaton, eliciting groans from everyone else.
“This story is nonsense,” said Triclops.
I jammed the cable into my ear. For added effect, I changed the setting on my eyes to show a “Please stand by” rainbow screen while I connected to the cable.
On playback, the footage was odd. Skipped around a bit, had errors in it that screwed with seeing anything. Everything that I perceived was there, don’t get me wrong. But I was missing time, and those errors added up. I had to fast forward through that stuff to get to the relevant bits. Let’s just say a few new problems came up with the audio talking about me getting Eschaton for them all, helped by my own narration of the tale.
Still, the first question after I’d out and out shown them all these beings was simple, “What was up with all that ‘magical anomaly’ stuff?” That one came from Ball Boy.
“Oh, that’s just part of my normal HUD here.” My eyes went back to normal and I showed them the normal view.
“Wait, you’re magical?” Triclops turned to Minotaur, then back to the TV screen. “I’m NOT? I thought I had magic in me somewhere!”
It was Eschaton who spotted the analysis software matching faces and body types to names. “You’ve been looking at everyone here and figured out our identities?”
“I’ve been messing with some of y’all for years, and I had access to every top secret file in the world for a little bit.” For good measure, I flashed the identity of D.B. Cooper for a second so they could see. “But at the same time, I haven’t acted on that stuff while I’ve been here, have I? And y’all saw why. Krampus, Ruprecht, those other assholes… Pete.”
“Who’s Pete?” Psychsaur just had to ask. I cued up distorted showing of my encounter with Pete the other night.
“When you start hiring actors in blackface, this has gone too far,” Venus said.
They booed me and threw popcorn. Minotaur got up to grab hold of me but I shook him off and tore the cable from my ear, pain be damned. I stormed out of there, but Psychsaur soon caught up to me as I headed down the hall.
“Hey! Wait, don’t do something stupid,” she called.
I turned on her. I would say I glared, but that implies anger. I wasn’t angry. “I already did something stupid. I came to y’all for help.”
“You always have an ulterior motive. We knew you weren’t serious about pretending to be a hero, but we didn’t throw you out. If you want to seek help, we’re happy to give it,” she said. “Sorry, that sounds cliché, but it’s not just a line. Whatever’s wrong with you, you don’t have to be alone. If you want help, it’s never too late.”
I turned on her and had her slammed against the wall in an instant. Little miss psychic couldn’t read that one happening in time. “I don’t need that kind of help. This isn’t some cry for attention about my mental or moral state. This is a real thing, with real beings, and my daughter really on the line.”
“I’m your friend. Get your hands off of me,” she said, looking me in the eyes. I think then she realized exactly how serious I was. Maybe she could sense how cold I’d gone inside. Not frozen blood or anything. Just cold. No anger or regret. “We’re here to help, but not if you’re just going to use us and not get help. If you do that, you’ll just end up alone or leave Qiang an orphan. You’re always going to need help and that’s why you let people like Moai and Carl close, then push them away to keep them safe because the way you live is too dangerous for love. It’s push them away or change. Now you have a kid.”
I let her go. It was that or kill her, and I just barely like her enough not to kil her. Heedless of a small crowd of concerned heroes looking at me from the TV room, I headed to the library and to get dressed.
Whirlygig, not Gecko. I went out on patrol. It took a lot to not slide into my armor instead of the costume. But it’s all part of the plan. I think we’re on Plan M at this point. There’s really a lot of improvisation in these, though. For example, there’s no way I could have planned around the Greens wrecking a bunch of fire hydrants in Empyreal City’s south side. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but the stuff they were on meant they could take a beating. Coincidentally, I wanted to give a beating.
They weren’t just flooding the streets. They roamed around, a lot of regular guys with a bit more hair than normal in lighter clothes than normal for this time of year. One skinny guy in dreadlocks ripped a hydrant right out of the ground with his bare hands.
They were led by a guy who didn’t get the memo about it being Casual Friday. He had grown, bulged even, but not in the conventional bodybuilder sense. He was barrelchested and -bellied with what looked like a pelt in that low light. All that was less noticeable than the humongous antlers on his head, wider than his shoulders and curved like a moose. “Look at the rack on that one,” I said to myself. Then I put on some music and sang along to the only lyrics in it, “Oh what fun it is to ride a pimped-out getaway!”
Antlers, dreadlocks, and another seven guys, all trying to spread water and then tossing stuff into it. I looked further down the street where they came from and saw plants growing already. As far back as I could see, there were vines and tall bushes.
I started off the fight landing on one guy who had been vaping, which is what made him such a priority target. He went down with my boots on his back, but groaned and started to stand up. I jumped up and backflipped, coming down again on it. Again, he started to stand, so I locked in a sleeper hold while he stood.
With a snort from the big guy, the closest three guys came over to put a stop to me. For an ordinary man, that’d be more than enough. If the boobs are any indication, I am no ordinary man.
Three opponents. Divide and conquer. I checked around for anything and found a turned-over plastic trash can. I set it upright and held onto it while I flipped over it toward the closest Green. Upon landing, I brought the can up and over, slamming it down onto that Green with his arms trapped at his side and a LOT of thin brown liquid flowing down around his body. I grabbed him and threw him at the next closest Green.
The last of the three was bald with a large flower tattooed on top of his head. I spun toward him and sent one of the recently-repaired mechanical arms whipping around to knock him in the face. I kept up the spin to give momentum to the other arm as it came around to catch the back of his calf and drop him to one knee. I followed through to turn around and backflipped, planting a boot on his head and sending him down to the sidewalk. He stayed down, so that was nice.
Behind me, the one in the trash can still rolled around, trying to wiggle his way out of the bottom. The friend who was supposed to be helping him instead came after me. A long-haired guy with half-moon shades, actually. He got in a punch as I tried to stand after my flippy kick, knocking a tooth loose. I spat it in his face along with some blood. He paused to wipe it away and gave me a moment to stand. “You want the tooth?” I asked. Then I dropped my fangs and pumped Sriracha from my venom sacks. “You can’t handle the tooth!” I spat a red mist of hot sauce into his eyes just when he thought it was safe to look around. He screamed and tried to wash his face out in the street.
The third one, meanwhile, was still wiggling. I flipped the can upright so he was balanced on his head and jammed it between a pair of cars that were perilously parallel parked.
The big guy must have paid attention, because I barely had a moment of rest before a redhead was on me. She clawed at my hair and even ripped a few purple stands out, then pushed me down and got on top. Her first punches weren’t that good, but she got better and I began to miss my helmet. Unfortunately for her, being on my back was a pretty good base to send the mechanical arms up under her armpits and fling her off me and into a nearby car whose alarm started to go off.
Again I got to my feet and again I had a superpowered gangbanger, this one in a hoodie, came at me swinging. I caught his arm between the mechanical ones and backed up, pulling him with me while he was off-balance. He caught his foot on the edge of the sidewalk and tipped forward onto his face, at which point I jammed my heel into the back of his kidney and bladder a half dozen times until he was too busy pissing blood to fight.
I barely dodged the broken hydrant Dreadlock threw at my head. He and the last remaining mook, a Green woman with a pair of dreamcatchers for earrings, had decided not to come at me one at a time.
I stepped behind a nearby SUV for cover and a little time to breathe, then dropped down to see how they were going to come at me. Dreadlock’s shoes and dreamcatcher’s sandals stepped up to the vehicle’s front. They pulled it out and away from me. I smiled to myself and ran around to the back. I popped the rear door and easily, then crawled it. I gathered as much speed as I could and brough the mech arms up as a shield and a ram. I smashed through the windshield and grabbed dreamcatcher by the head.
I swung around on her back for a moment, pulling us back from the SUV and dreadlocks. Setting myself back on my feet, I hauled her around to face me by her earring and used the mech arms to throw her into the air. I rolled back then and used all my arms to push off the ground with my boots in the air, catching the falling Green in the face. She rolled off to the side and didn’t move, but her chest kept moving.
Dreadlock almost put his boot in my face, though. Instead it just went through the street as I rolled. My body protested the constant moving that was my advantage over these guys like this and asked kindly if I had any more of that oxygen shit it loves.
I tried to hit this last one with my mech arms, but he caught them. It seemed like a good moment to bring in my hoverboard drones. They had separated and now flew past, shooting grappling hooks as they passed. The lines wrapped around Dreadlock’s legs. He had a moment to think about what was happening before he let go of me to try and grab onto anything to stop him from being hauled off. He almost got the car. The drones flew him up into the air a good bit, aimed, and then cut the line. He crashed down on the annoying car with the alarm going off, his impact abruptly silencing it.
That just left me with several aches, short on breath, and probably something broken, to face the big moose one on one. This would be something of a fair fight. I hate fair fights. They’re a desperation move, and I wasn’t desperate yet.
I called the drones over. They locked into hoverboard mode as they approached and I hopped on, speeding away. Maybe the big moose knuckle even though I was going for real. As soon as I got out of sight over the rooftops, I circled around to catch him from behind. The mech arms wrapped around his leg and I dragged him, racing down the street. I bounced him off the road and against cars parked along the side. I flew us higher and smacked him right into this giant boxing glove sign hanging over a gym. Then I flew us up a few more stories past that and let him go. I looped around so I was right in front of him at the apex and started wailing on him. I went for the gut to knock the air of out him, pummeling with fists mechanical and biological. He his swings were slow, and I could jump off my hoverboard and bring it right back under me whenever I needed to avoid them.
Together we descended, though I still had the ability to stop short before cratering the road like he did.
It was a testament to whatever the Greens were smoking that he’d live. I just had to hope he wouldn’t enjoy it that much with those sirens on the way. The cops were more than happy to bat cleanup at that point. I didn’t stay either. I had vented a lot of frustration, and realized I needed to see to a few other things before the adrenaline left me a quivering mass of person goo in the street.
At least I managed to get back to the school and drop off the presents I had under the tree before I passed out. Venus woke me up in the morning to make the walk of shame from the cafeteria to my quarters in the library. I refused to tell her what happened, but she said something about a report from her friends in the police about Whirlygig. I did my best to avoid her face, not wanting to see the expression there. Pride, I think.
Before she shut the door to the library behind me, she decided to tell me, “You better clean up all that nose blood, and Merry Christmas.”
I held it open long enough to stick my face back out and mutter a “Bah humbug,” before slamming it shut.
Now, when taking vengeance on a teenage girl, one of the most important things to remember is…ah, hell, why bother with that shit? She’s an excuse to get out and murder someone. She doesn’t matter. Venus matters somewhat. Her patrols take her or someone associated with her by a lot more.
She’s gotten something of a team together. I haven’t seen the dinosaurs since that one day, so I suspect they’re back to doing whatever it is they do. You’d think I’d have a better idea about the life of talking dinosaurs in modern times, but I have no clue where a talking speedster raptor goes in his spare time. Though, if I was a talking speedster raptor, I suspect I’d go wherever I wanted. The Saurus went back to his book tour. Didn’t even miss his appearance on Oprah dealing with me.
I can’t hate the guy. He’s one classy son of a bitchasaurus.
To make up for it, the rotation contains at least one other speedster, in a blue and yellow outfit with a visored helmet. He stopped by once and tried to leave a flaming brown bag in front of my door. I grabbed it, tossed it into the air, and shot it out of the sky with my double-barrel bazooka. They all tried little pranks like that of their own until I did that. Blame Ball Boy. He started by leaving a sign in front of my lair that said, “Warning: Convicted Sex Offender Within.”
I bet he got chewed out when I grabbed it, brought it in, and then it wound up in front of EC University’s Fraternity Row without me ever leaving.
Luckily, most of the things I’m sending my two minions on are mostly legal. Matty doesn’t count, because he’s a bystander who refuses to use all that juicy knowledge to help me out.
“I love you, but that’s hardly fair to the rest of the world,” he told me when I asked.
“Fair? So many people say that; I’m curious what their basis for comparison is,” I said, appearing as David Bowie for that response.
“You’re alive, out of prison, and Venus doesn’t want to send you back there. Don’t press your luck, young man.” He lowered his head as he looked at me and tapped his cane lightly against my chest.
“You call it luck, I call it a tendency to put people in horrible situations and give them an out they have to take, then turning on them anyway. Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, ascending, asscending. And seeing as I changed your diapers as a baby, you don’t get to ‘young man’ me. If you’re not going to help me, what are you going to do?” I asked.
He stared off into the distance for awhile. “I might take a stroll through the park or go see what’s playing on Broadway. I wish they still had Cats.”
“I wish I had Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, the notorious catburglar cats, in my bed, but we all have to live with disappointment. That reminds me, I should check up on Dame. Unlike the others, she’s a real catburgler and she has that nasty tendency to find me. Should I bother to ask, or should I shake a Magic 8 Ball?” I whipped out a police baton and cleaned off the blood and fecal matter I got on it while “purchasing” it.
“That should be obvious. Dame always finds you, but Venus already knows where you are. She doesn’t need her.”
He had a point.
That’s when Carl came in from out back. “Hey boss, I got that gas you wanted.” He held up a small two gallon container to prove it.
“Good, good. Set it wherever. Now, I have something very important for you to do.” I stopped when I caught sight of Moai coming in, too. I waved him over. “You too. I got jobs for y’all. First thing’s first: Carl, I want you looking at that ambulance I got from the auction. I’ve had it sitting back there with the cannon on it. Disconnect the cannon if it won’t injure you to do so, then get that thing in fighting shape. We need another war wagon. I’m thinking this one will be more of a Whambulance.” He nodded.
Next, I turned to Moai, “Alright, Moai, my man, you’re stone cold anyway and you don’t have any balls to freeze off, so I need you to stop by junk yards and get me a few items. These items. It’s a mix of various stuff. Appliances, car parts, industrial scrap. Do as best as you can. And if Carl needs anything for the Whambulance, you might go out again and pick that stuff up for him. Or he can go. However it gets done, that’s how we get it done. I don’t care how many grannies get mugged, how many babies you have to kidnap, and how many burly men Carl has to pleasure with his mouth hole.” I pointed at Carl.
“None!” He looked shocked, so I clapped him on the shoulder all friendly-like.
“Carl, you make a persuasive argument. Try to keep the illegal stuff to a minimum. That goes double for you and whoring your tongue out to random men, Carl. Y’all will likely be in the eye of these heroes. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if y’all spot Pink Pixie dropping by to watch y’all. Whatever. Y’all do this today. I have to go visit someone to shove things in his body. Team Gecko on three, ready?” I put my hand in to sound off. Perhaps focusing on the line about shoving things into a body, nobody put their hands in. “Y’all know I wash occasionally, right?” I asked after a few awkward seconds.
“It’s not your hands that need washing at this point,” answered Matatoa. “It’s their minds after what you said you did with your hands.”
After that, I was off to the hospital. Moai and Carl left to pick up what they needed, which let me slip out, too. To hide my footprints in the snow, I rode piggyback on Moai until I got to a good spot to ditch him and run along the salted roads.
The same armor that kept me sweaty and stinky during most fights also helped to keep me warm until I reached Our Lady of Perpetual Infection. Obviously, that’s not the real name. But seriously, folks, wash your hands. That goes double for doctors. There are enough people like me out there, y’all don’t need to let some infectious diseases take work from me.
I have to protect my phoney-baloney job here, gentlemen! Harumph!
I went from invisible to looking like a policeman as I turned the corner and headed for the entrance. Once inside, I checked with the duty nurse. “I’m looking for that villain what’s in here, Urban Croc.”
“Your superior should have told you where you were going before he sent you in here,” she snapped at me. The rather large black nurse didn’t even look up at me.
“They did. They didn’t want me to get sidetracked by the siren working the desk, but then I walked in here, saw you, and forgot both the room number and my pants size. I’ll have to pay if these things rip, so maybe you can give me the number now. Maybe later I can meet up with you again when I don’t have to worry about pants.” I winked at her as she stopped and glanced up. I saw a smile tug at her lips.
She gave me the room number and her phone number.
As for the officer already at the door, I handled him delicately, in a way that would be more difficult to link back to me. I beat him upside his head with the baton, dragged him into the room across the hall, and choked him out with the baton until he passed out. Then I stuck a patient gown on him, plopped him on an empty bed, and covered him up. He tried to get back up after a second, so I hit him with the bed pan. From the splashing noises that accompanied his lack of consciousness, he’d have been better off staying down the first time.
A little less death than I prefer, but otherwise a job well done. I gave the baton a congratulatory whirl as I headed across the hall to the room I wanted. Urban Croc, a college student with the ability to turn into an anthropomorphic reptile creature. Increased strength and durability. Scales tougher to get through than skin. Fangs.
All those powers only mattered when he was shifted into that form. That ability to shapeshift gave him a chance at a good life, too. Not everyone with powers can hide what they are. If you aspired to being a politician or a doctor or whatever, you better hope you don’t get glowing eyes and a tail. Supers like that don’t have much choice but to fight each other.
That’s why this guy did his best to avoid it. Jewelry heists and electronics thefts. Low risk, relatively high payout. Does this guy want to be responsible for the death of a superhero? I don’t know.
I unhooked a two gallon container of gas from the back of my belt and unsealed the cap. It’s not about revenge or justice. I didn’t flinch when I splashed the gasoline over the sleeping man on the bed, or when I pulled out a match and tossed it on him. It’s about sending a message.
I smiled to myself beneath armor cloaked now in the appearance of a doctor in scrubs instead of a cop. The message, ladies and gentlemen, is “Everybody burns.”
Of course, looking like a doctor in a hospital has its downsides. The fire alarms went off, the elevator stopped at the maternity ward, and I had to head out past a small crowd of visitors who fled there for safety during a fire emergency. A nurse came up and grabbed hold of my arm with an emergency of her own. “Everyone else is busy, now we’ve got a fire, you’ll be fine!”
Then she shoved me into a room with a screaming woman whose legs were spread wide in stirrups. Another nurse looked at me. The screaming woman looked at me. If the woman’s legs hadn’t been in the way, I bet the kid would have been looking at me. A nurse slipped gloves onto my hands, which she didn’t realize were a lot more taut over my own gloves, armor, and the sheathe barbed wiring.
Seeing all the blood, crap, and extended lady parts made me realize I wouldn’t be having a hard-on for a few months. “It’s real easy, doctor,” whispered one nurse in what she thought was my ear. “Just catch.”
Well, the baby blew that plan. He peeked out, took one look at me, and went right back in.
“Oh, no you didn’t, you little bastard,” I said. I jumped up on the bed and called on my extensive experience shoving my hand into orifices. I reached in after the little asshole. “You think you’re not ready for life? Get in line! No one’s ready. But you’re here now, and you’ve got a front row seat on the crazy express. Get out here! You’re going to be born even if you die trying, you son of a bitch. No offense, ma’am.”
The mother didn’t seem to take offense. “Just get it out of me, motherfucker!”
Screaming, I stood over and pulled. Screaming, the mother pushed. Screaming, that baby was yanked out of its mother and held into the air. Covered with womanly goo, it cried as I held it up. A nurse helpfully handed over some scissors for me to cut the cord. Then I tossed the baby to a nurse, who caught the little asshole. “It’s a boy!” she told the mother, adopting a much happier demeanor than I think she anyone else in the room had.
One knockout, one kill, one birth. Not much more I can say about that night. I was on fire.
I hope y’all had a Happy New Year. I’m still dealing with a tiny bit of old business from the Old Year. And even that got put off once I got a visitor.
I should have expected it. Actually, I did, just not in this specific way. Here, let me stop being vague and just tell y’all.
The whole gang sat at my lair, going over the plan for taking on His Eggcellency. Venus, Ball Boy, Carl, Moai, and I bent over blueprints of the factory that I acquired. That’s one of the things that took more time than needed. I could have just stolen them, but Venus insisted on doing things legally. Yet there she was, about to barge in on him without a warrant or any sort of oversight, all on my word. And I have been known to lie like a dog.
She made lots of friends in City Hall while cleaning up my mess. She pretty much moved here because of me. Then she found herself working with me to face an army of mutated chickens, a situation so deliciously ridiculous that even Tricia wanted to join in on the planning stage. So we feasted on pizza.
Then the doorbell rang. Which is odd, because even though I’d covered over the door glass, I never added a doorbell. Or a doorknocker, like what we heard next. Even if I did, it wouldn’t have sounded like metal on wood.
I immediately narrowed my eyes as those thoughts crashed on my brain in waves upon hearing someone trying to get us to the door. “Moai, have a peek at the door. I’ll start getting the armor on in case the Krampus wants to crash here or something.”
“Shouldn’t you send someone who can talk?” asked Ball Boy, as if being mute ever stopped Moai and I from communicating in the past.
“Fine, you check the door with him. If it’s a tall guy in a suit with no face, let me know somehow. Scream, maybe, if you have time.”
When they came back, I was barely out of my pants. It was still too much out of my pants for Venus’s comfort level, but I threw them back on in a hurry when Moai led someone in.
I didn’t recognize him at first, then I made the connection. “Matatoa Bobby Doomgex! What’s it been, a year?”
He looked much older, and a lot like his predecessor, save for one very important distinction. When he saw me, he smiled wide. “I think it has, Papa Gecko.”
I cringed. “Papa Gecko? That makes me sound old and like a dad. Besides, don’t you have Papa Moai and Papa Carl to embarrass instead?”
“Who is this guy?” asked a befuddled Tricia as Carl and Moai sandwiched Matatoa in a gentle hugs.
“This is 2014’s Baby New Year. I guess he’s a Father Time by now. Or something. I don’t know how it all works out, but I won’t be killing this one like I had to kill the last one.” I walked over last to hug the baby that had grown up over the course of the year.
“You won’t be killing me. No one will. Time’s just about up for me. I won’t be Father Time. He’s busy fixing more problems created by a time traveler.” He let out a tired sigh as he broke the hug with me. “I wish I’d been a better year.”
“This is for real?” asked Venus. “It’s New Year’s Day. Aren’t you supposed to be ‘gone’ already?”
Matatoa favored her with a smile and set both hands on his cane as he looked over. “When does everything that’s part of one year end and everything that’s part of one year begin?
“Good point,” I said.
Trish looked at me. “You snapped at me last night for all the questions I asked. Where’s my ‘good point?’” She smirked.
“You were here last night?” asked Carl and Ball Boy at once.
“So, come to visit us finally, Matatoa? What’s next for you after this? Write some memoirs, maybe? A tell-all about all the relationships you’ve had called ‘Fucking 2014′?” I preferred that line of conversation as opposed to the other one.
He cleared his throat. “If you don’t mind too terribly, I’d like to stay with you for the time I have remaining. Now, I won’t be a burden on you. I know how you realized you didn’t have anything for the Rejects to do and I don’t need to join you on your adventures.”
“That’s why you didn’t care enough to save them,” Venus realized.
“Young lady, you provided an excellent means for my adoptive father send them on to a better, safer life.” Matty put his arm around my shoulders as he revealed that to Venus.
“You really shouldn’t give her that sort of insight,” I told him. “People might start to suspect I’m playing them more often than they realize.”
“I already knew that, Gecko. I didn’t know the Rejects were part of it, but it makes sense now.” Venus looked down, but not straight down, as she remembered. I noticed her eyes widen slightly before she controlled them.
She didn’t appear surprised when I spoke in a flat voice devoid of questioning emphasis. “Gee, I wonder how you knew which chain of stores to check.”
I heard Tricia give an “Oh my god.” I realized then that I never did find out what story the media presented about the EMP. Venus and the FBI probably covered their asses.
Seriously, all this time and she still hasn’t shown me dat ass. I haven’t asked her because she might hit me, but I’ve thought it hard enough that she must have figured it out by now.
Dat ass. Dat ass. Dat ass. Dat ass. Dat ass. Dat ass. Dat ass.
Well, Venus looked ready to hit me, but I doubt it had to do with my feeble attempt at telepathy. “Nice to meet you, Mr. 2014, but we were in the planning stage for an assault. I’m sure someone can make you comfortable while we get back to that. Right?” She looked around at everyone.
Matty looked completely unconcerned. “I can find my way around. I’ve kept my eye on Psycho Gecko well enough to know this place. I was sorry to see the club go. You’ve really lost a lot over the past year.” He settled in on a barstool and helped himself to the vanilla and chocolate marshmallows I hid in an empty can of Cream of Snake soup.
I knew no one would decide to fix themselves a mouthful of cream, after all.
The only major thing left for me to push for in the plan, especially with Venus’s mystery guest showing up, would be more chickens. I refused to be out-roostered by His Eggcellency!
“Let’s not make this a cock measuring contest, Gecko,” Venus said, momentarily staring daggers at me before forcing a smile onto her face. Dat ass?
Cut to later that night, back at the egg packing plant. It started with a bang; a pair of my chicken grenades tried to cross the road and blew a hole in the lobby on the north side. Dozens of chickensaurs flooded the gap within thirty seconds, a ferocious feathered flood of freaks. I slipped in the docking bay again. The giant, fire-breathing chicken stomped around there. It grew since the last time I saw it. Claws grew out of the ends of the wings, like it was turning into a dragon.
It made sense. The chickensaurs resembled velociraptors, and even the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers had been known to shoehorn a dragon mech onto their team when everyone else on it used old animals like dinosaurs or a sabre-tooth tiger.
Though everyone waited around the perimeter, we settled on a swift decapitating strike to minimize destruction. I’m fine with decapitation, but the lack of destruction irked me.
I navigated through the south end of the plant to find the main packing floor that held His Eggcellency’s dais and throne. Hopefully, the throne held His Eggcellency’s ass.
His royal roundness stood on the dais, organizing chickensaurs into rows and columns like some sort of Roman legion of roamin’ yard birds. He didn’t notice me, more because of my invisibility than because of his long-winded speech. “Whoever has attacked us has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fryer! The day may come when the courage of chickens may fail, but it is not this day! This day, we fight! This day, they die! Should our enemies blot out the sun, then we will fight in the shade. Now, peck hearty, my chickensaurs, for tonight we dine in hell! They may be men, but we are chicken!”
And the crowd went mild. Guess he forgot to teach them English. It’s not his fault, though. He must have been busy. A training regimen like he put these birds on must have left him feeling hen-pecked.
I slipped an arm around his neck and tightened up enough to preclude any tricks like fleeing for his life. I dropped my invisibility projection as well. “Hey there, Humpty Dumpty. Now that you’re done doing the Humpty Hump, how about you put your cocks away and let’s talk man to man?”
“Never! If I die, my horde will not rest until they’ve picked your bones clean,” he responded.
“You’d have better luck picking speck of pickled peppers, Peter Piper.” I opened a line to Venus. “Hey there sweet thing, he’s decided he’d rather surrender than die. Mind dropping in?”
She crashed in through the skylight. She’d planned on that, and I figured she’d have a rappel line or grappling hook to ease herself down. Instead, she dropped and landed easily in shiny, sleek armor. It fit close, emphasizing the gold and white that she took as her colors. The armor itself looked thin, but I could tell from the way she swatted away a leaping chickensaur that she had strengths enhancing pseudomuscles.
“Attack, my chickensaurs! Feast on their bones!” proclaimed His Eggcellency. I let him go and stepped back, then activated stealth mode and disappeared.
“I should have known not to trust you, but usually you’ll keep your end of a bargain,” Venus said in between beating the crowd of cocks threatening to overwhelm her. Then, to someone else, she said “I’m going to need your help. He turned on me. Yeah, you won the pool.”
A blur sped in and bounced against chickensaurs like a pinball in a machine. When it stopped, it resembled the altered birds a great deal. There was no mistaking a raptor in a cape for a chickensaur, though. I called up my guys on the perimeter. “Better clear out, guys. They have a speedster.”
“Who is it, boss?” asked Carl.
“Veloci-raptor. Funny, he looks more like a Utahraptor. I wonder if he’s Mormon. I don’t like Mormons.”
“Why’s that? Did they ever betray you and leave you to die?”
“Shut up, Tricia. I don’t know why, though. I’d like to know why. This isn’t like that thing with Jupiter.”
That got Trish in journalist mode. “What happened between you and Jupiter? Is that a hero or a villain?”
“Your lack of knowledge about astronomy astounds me, Tricia. It’s a planet.”
“What did Jupiter the planet ever do to you?” she asked.
“It knows what it did. But when it comes to Mormons, I refuse to allow my mind to be held hostage by irrational neuroses.”
That set off enough laughter that I reduced the volume of my comma. I moved clear of the fighting to enjoy the show a bit and evaluate Venus’s armor. When the giant dragon-chicken approached the field of battle with a mighty squawk, I knew I’d get a treat.
I didn’t think it would involve a Tyrannosaurus Rex crashing through the wall and picking the fire-breather up in its mouth. Then I noticed the monocle over its eye and the book in its tiny claws.
“Boss, what was that? We heard a roar and a big crash and then you sounded like a little girl at the Lisa Frank house.”
I ignored the crossed reference. “I’ve always wanted to see this guy. That backup Venus mentioned? She has more than just Veloci-raptor.”
The T-rex whipped it’s head around, ringing the chicken-dragon’s neck and then spitting its limp body to the floor. Then, with some sort of British accent, he said “Ptew, that fowl tastes quite foul. The bellicose bird left a bad taste in my mouth. The sweet smell of Nike’s ambrosia shall surely cleanse my pallette of such odious bloodshed. To victory, my compatriots!”
“Who is it, boss?” Carl asked.
“It’s…The Saurus! But seriously, get out of here. They aren’t losing this one.”
Carl, Moai, Tricia, and Matatoa left. I stayed. I think Venus realized it, or she’s still got her insight into how I think.
“You’re still here, aren’t you?” she asked, dragging a black-eyed Eggcellency along a floor covered in feathers and chicken blood. “I hope you got a good look at what will happen to you if you try me again, Gecko. You used to have the advantage with your armor. You don’t anymore. I have friends who can build power armor, too. If I have have to redeem you by knocking your teeth down your throat every time you commit a crime, I will. That’s not what I want. I think there’s some decency in you that wants to reconcile, and I won’t put you back in a place like the Rubik’s Cube. I think I frustrate you more since that day on the roof. You’re so cynical, you’re letting compliments get to you. I hate to break it to your cynical self, but even though the bad guys can win, so can the good guys. Maybe you’d like to go and spend time with your friends now and stay away from anything illegal for awhile, alright?”
What a bitch.
I haven’t been taking this month too seriously. It’s been nice having some time to relax and rebuild a little bit. So I’ve done some dumb and wacky things. But I at least hoped some of my actions would have an effect. You know what I found out? Even that distraction with the meatheads didn’t work out the way I wanted.
I’ve been keeping an eye out on the super section of the news for any word about me. Amidst all the speculation about weird events in Ohio, they had a superhuman interest story. The touching tale of two meat-based villains attacked by a random force, launched into the Arctic circle, and then struggling to survive together. By the time they road into Canada on a grizzly-looking animated polar bear corpse, it became a love story.
That’s just great. I went through all that trouble. I didn’t kill them prematurely. I didn’t even follow up on my plan when it turned out Venus snuck around and disabled the warheads on their rockets. But after all that, did they have enough gratitude to die on me?
Where’s the appreciation? Where’s the decency?
Also, it sounds like I got out of Ohio in time. Something else must have been trapped in the Rubik’s Cube with me, and it appears I let it out. Normally, such vague reports would have been investigated by now, but Ohio is out of the way for most heroes. Forcelight is kinda close, but she might be throwing herself into her company’s new push to release their version of my nanites.
There are holes in coverage like that. Not every threat shows up in a big city. Usually, the kinds of villains who only attack towns are the sorted out by the kinds of heroes who stay around those towns.
Then again, y’all barely ever hear about the bigger-name villains who aren’t me anyway. But what y’all showed up for was to hear about a certain well-trained hero interacting with me. I invited Venus to dinner.
Yep, I sprung for a big dinner gathering at my grand and imposing gas station. I hid just in case Venus brought the cops along. I hoped she wouldn’t. I guess that goes back to people being decent.
Venus lived up to my hopes. She arrived in civilian clothes, as did Ball Boy. Purely to evaluate the threat she may have posed, I kicked open the bathroom door and jumped out. She started and pulled out an EMP rod while staring at the double-barrel bazooka I held on my shoulder.
“Wassup?” I asked with a nod. “How ya been, Venus?”
“I’m alright. You?” she responded, holding her thumb over the button to turn on the portable pain machine.
“I’ve been better. Was looking to enjoy a nice holiday meal. You in?”
“I don’t have anything better to do. I can’t eat with a bazooka trained on me. Two barrels is a bit much.” She eased toward the cover of a set of shelves I left up.
“Really? So is bringing that stick of yours. Hard to work the carving knife when I can’t see?” I winked at her with my empty socket.
“I only have half the work I used to for that.” She smirked. Then, at the same time, we eased up. I started to put down my bazooka and she retracted her rod.
I thought she twitched, so I brought it up again. “Hey!”
She pulled out EMP again. “Hey!”
We went back and forth like that for a few seconds.
Then we both figured out nothing happened, so we put the weapons down. After that, Moai and Tricia came out of hiding as well. Carl had the night off to be with his own family. Ball Boy asked to use the bathroom real quick, though. He’d kinda frozen up there during the standoff, so hopefully he didn’t reach the bathroom too late.
“Who is she?” Venus asked, nodding toward Tricia.
“Oh, just this reporter who wanted to get up close and personal with the real me. I owed her, so officially she’s kidnapped.” I threw my arm around Tricia’s shoulders.
Trish held out her hand and Venus shook it. “Hello. I’m not in trouble, am I?” She cringed as she asked, no doubt sure my lack of tact would be her undoing.
Venus’s response left her hopes quite intact. “I know what Gecko is like. That’s why I almost didn’t show.”
“Well, now that you did, perhaps it’d be a good time to sit down and shove food into our body cavities until we can’t hold anymore?” I offered, holding out chairs for them. They were practically shocked by the show of manners. They both sat, though Venus checked under her chair. As if I’d really hide something under a padded metal chair like that.
I mean, I could have put a mine or other explosive device down there. I even drew up plans for a springy ejector seat. But I didn’t use any of that. Still, perhaps my guests’ paranoia was justified.
So I sat at the head of our little fold-up table with Venus and Tricia to one side of me. Moai and Ball Boy sat across from them. I looked over them all and the modest spread of food in front of us and declared, “I think we can safely say that none of us have anything better to do tonight. It’s not unusual for less uptight heroes and better behaved villains to encounter each other and not get into a fight so…why not us?”
“That was a nice sentiment, Gecko. Should we make it into a toast?” Venus suggested.
They did, which left me feeling awkward and out of place. While I’ve cut a lot of polite chatter and conversations not involving me from this telling for obvious reasons, these despicable dinner guests didn’t stop there. Ball Boy maintained his wariness around me, but Venus actually treated me like I wasn’t her nemesis, or even a person wanted for enough murders to make Charles Manson queasy.
Usually when I say something’s awkward, it’s because I made things awkward for other people or because the situation is physically clumsy. And I’m so good in conflicts that awkwardness never lasts for long. Which, really, it shouldn’t. If you’re ever unsure what to do in a fight, you can always rely on punching someone.
At my polite dinner party, that would have caused problems. While causing problems isn’t a problem for me most of the time, it defeated the purpose of why I did this. See? This is what giving a shit does to a great a person as myself! The moment I erected fetters, even simple ones, someone came along and made things difficult on me.
I knew Venus didn’t like me, but she also started trying to change me again. The “Come to Jesus” kinda thing, that she’s been on since the day she used the magical truth serum on me. I bet she’s been dying to follow up, but why should I accommodate her? My stories amuse. I don’t need to make anyone cry to be taken seriously. Except for Jesus, but a guy has to release the pressure sometime, you know? And he should be sympathetic; the eschatology claims everyone gets a Happy Ending.
I couldn’t do that at the table any more than I could punch someone. No, I had trapped myself as thoroughly as anyone attending a family gathering with relatives. Like the weird uncle who keeps trying to give porn magazines and condoms to twelve-year-olds, or the uncle who insists he’s not doing cocaine even though his nose looks like a ski slope, or the grandma who brought corn mixed with ranch dressing when it wasn’t even potluck. In my case…
“This is great,” Venus said, “You’re not bad at cooking.”
I shrugged. “Well, it’s just like orchestrating a biological and chemical attack on the taste buds.”
“Festive imagery,” said Tricia. “But this isn’t as bad as I expected.”
I rolled my eye, but Venus spoke up before I could, “Gecko has a way with words. I have learned to respect his creativity. He could put it to much better use.”
On and on through the meal, she peppered the conversation with such compliments.
“This was very thoughtful of you,” she said.
“I’m glad you can have a bit of holiday spirit,” she told me. Yeah, sure. I’ve had holiday spirit out the wazoo in prior years.
“This may sound weird, but I’m glad you got out of there.” That one gave me pause. “It was horrible and I never meant to do that to you.”
She smiled at me, and that’s when I knew it. She had turned into an evil genius. Or she’d been replaced with an evil twin. I grabbed the carving knife. “That’s it! Who are you? Evil clone? Other a dimensional version? Is there an alien mind control slug in your head? Or were you brainwashed? Venus, if you’re in there, find a way to let me know. Punch me once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’!”
Venus laughed at that one. Yep, she laughed in the face of danger. She needed a mint. “Calm down, please. You think compliments are that unusual?”
“From you they are.” I sat and set the knife back down. Yep, must have somehow become an evil genius. She discovered a way to hurt me with nice words. To castrate me with compliments. To kill me with kindness. At least Bugs Bunny was man enough to kiss Elmer on the lips when he pulled the same trick on the dopey hunter.
Little did she know it took more than mere words to stop me. She needed sticks and stones at the very least.
Before I could suggest she use the one she’d pulled out of her own ass, a ninja burst in the door. He crashed through it, threw down some smoke pellets, and dove for the back of Venus’s chair with his sword pointed right for her. If he wanted the chair, he got the chair. Venus stood quickly, grabbed it, and swung the back right into his face.
Now, in pro wrestling, people have gotten hit by chairs all the time and lived to fight another day. Of course. wrestlers also know to turn so the side of their head hits the flat of the chair to make it slightly safer. Even then, they’ve suffered a hell of a lot of concussions in the process. Fun Fact: “con” means “with” in Spanish, and it should be obvious what “cuss” means, so a concussion is an injury “with cussing”.
The ninja might have cussed if he hadn’t gotten knocked the fuck out. Instead, he made a thudding sound as he hit the floor. Another dove through a window behind me, bleeding profusely because he’s a jackass that didn’t know glass cuts if you try to jump through it. He didn’t even make it to Venus, not that she worried. I grabbed him, pushed him on to the table, and whispered to him, “If you’re looking for turducken, you’re out of luck. Now, ninjurkey on the other hand…”
He squirmed and whimpered , but everyone else concentrated on the other ninjas that charged in. Moai followed my lead and headbutted any of them in reach. Ball Boy engaged in ball to ball combat, and Venus made them fall in love with peace. I just whispered to the struggling ninja, “Shhh…your reality is pain, desire, and need, because that’s what everyone makes of it. When it gets too bad, remember you can step away from this. Reminds me of a poem. ‘So who cares? I don’t, of late. Let me tell it to you straight; life is candy, cherry brandy, ain’t that dandy, sweetie-pie?’ Make the world what you want it to be. I’d do it soon, too. Who wants a drumstick?”
Sometime in the middle of my cackling, he passed out. Right about then, everyone had mopped up the rest of the assassin assailants and turned to look at me. “That’s not right…” said Ball Boy, cringing.
“It’s a little hot,” I heard Tricia say.
“Is he alive?” asked Venus, ignoring a lot of interesting conversation.
I shrugged. She stepped forward and yanked his black mask off. “Who do you- a Mexican ninja?”
I looked. Everyone looked. Yep. Then we checked the other downed ninjas. All of them were Hispanic.
“I’ve never heard of any gang or cartel acting like this?” Venus said, arms akimbo.
“I think I got it. Hot damn I think I know how we got these guys. And I think you’re right that they’re Mexican, Venus.” I checked over one of the downed ninja’s black pajama costume. “It explains why they’re wearing completely inaccurate garb and wielding swords, too.”
I found what I was looking for and stood up, holding out the tag proudly. It said “Producto de México.”
“You can thank globalization and trade agreements for this mystery. Ladies and gentlemen, these are cheap knockoff Mexican ninjas.”
They quite spoiled the meal for us, however, so I figured I was obligated as the host to make sure my guests could leave safely. To that end, I stepped out of my door in full armor and holding the double barrel bazooka. As I spoke, holographic Spanish subtitles appeared in the air around me.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am legally obligated to begin this public threat by saying I’m a registered sex offender. My name is Psycho Gecko.” A few hidden ninjas ran at that.
“Or, as your government labeled me, Axolotl Xolotl.” That got most of them to run.
“What I have here is a double barrel bazooka.” A frozen over car squealed and pulled out of the area. How many motherfuckers were watching my place, anyway?
“In about five seconds, I’m going perform a little dance I like to call ‘Mating Rituals of the South-Central Extreme Property Damage.’” That prompted some of the homeless guys sleeping under the gas station awning to get up and stumble off to a safer resting place, supporting each other.
“After that, any survivors will be dragged out back and I will be forced to treat them like a certain hairless Eastern European boy that I’m not allowed to get within 1,000 yards of. Now, do you feel me, or do you…feel me?”
At that point, a couple last ninjas ran off, followed by a team in white and grey urban snow camo, a black minivan, a person dressed as a garbage can, and a snowman.
I wound up not making good on my threats after checking the area thoroughly for any body heat through thermals. The dinner broke up soon afterward so they could take the ninjas into custody and get the stuffed one to the hospital, though Venus did say she’d let me tag along if I wanted to get back at the people who broke up my little event.
I shoved food up another man’s ass, threatened a neighborhood, found out lots of people were watching me shower, and ran off a bunch of assholes from my dinner. In the end, isn’t that what anybody hosting a holiday get-together could hope for?
And while we’re on the subject: Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year if y’all don’t hear from me due to a misunderstanding with any Eastern European boys between then and now.
The holidays are a busy time. People are shopping and wrapping. Others are cooking. There are plans afoot, including malicious ones. Oh, sure, there are always other heroes and other villains around pulling jobs. I’d talk about them, but this would be a boring account if I spent all my time discussing other people. If they want their stories on World Domination in Retrospect, they should defeat me in a duel and decapitate me.
There can be only pun!
Everyone has their holiday deals going on right now, and you know what? Me too! I needed some money, you see, so I put a few on my super secret hidden website. Thousandaire drownings. Hundred-dollar hangings. I even instituted a penny pincher promotion so people with less than a dollar could hire me to annoy someone.
Like this job I pulled for $150. Not much to it at all. I didn’t even have to kill the person. I just had to show up at the funeral, make a scene, and tell people what my employer really thought about the dearly departed. In this case, “dearly” applied to the departed as a past-tense verb, rather than as a noun. Or, to put it slightly less subtly, he didn’t like the bitch.
So that’s why I attended the Fifth Street Seventh Day First Church of the Holy Trinity, also known as a church with way too many numbers in its name. If they wanted people to count so much when they named it, they should have built the thing over on Sesame Street.
So there I was, not at Sesame Street and not giving people the Big Bird. Instead, I shuffled up to a coffin in a church, pretending to sniffle and cry. I stood out, a bit, actually. This woman’s death hadn’t affected many people as strongly as I pretended it affected me.
I wore my armor again. Before I left, Tricia actually asked me about that. Anyone who studied supers noted a tendency for those who wear power armor to stay in it a lot. I threw her a bone and said something quotable.
I told her that having powers makes people feel less vulnerable, so they wear less armor or concealment. That’s what the power is for. That’s why so many heroic costumes are skimpy and form-fitting. That little mask is all they need to be great. If someone has on power armor, that is their mask. They know they’re still weak inside, and they need to hide it behind armor that actually makes them worth something for once. And if they aren’t in the armor, someone else could take it and become someone special instead. Because nobody is anything without the mask.
The psychoanalysts will have a fucking hard-on for years if she puts that to print. They’ll barely be able to keep their mouths closed long enough to suck on their cigars.
But enough about phallic objects in mouths. I was talking about the funeral.
Yep, I went up there to view the casket and I just have to say…one of those morticians trained at hooker school. I couldn’t confirm that, but I’ve seen tomatoes paler than that. I even leaned over to the person just ahead of me and asked, “Did she want to be buried looking like Santa Claus, or is that just a seasonal bonus?”
The mourner messed up their face in a scowl and quickly retreated. Like I needed her opinion. If I want an opinion, I’ll go out and make my own! And it’ll have my brains and Venus’s eyes!
Note to self: delete that last sentence before I send this off. Replace it with some line about tiny chocolates. People like tiny chocolates. They get to pretend they are giants eating something delicious. Quake with fear, tiny cocoa mortals!
I stumbled over from the casket to the podium. “Ladies and gentlemen…I can hold it back no longer. I have a few words to say on this solumn occasion. Like everyone else here, I knew and loved Tommy there…”
Amidst the eye-rolling and shocked looks in the line, someone whispered, “Tami,” to me.
“Tami, there. I knew Tami. She didn’t like to be called Tommy except by those who knew her best. So if you didn’t get to call her Tommy, then I guess she didn’t like you.”
The crowd seated in the pews murmured, mostly in disagreement. At least one person near the front turned to the people seated behind him to tell them, “That’s right, she always let me call her Tommy.”
I held up a fist. “Now, little Tami here, she lived a long life. Just look in that box! She had a good run. Seventy years.”
“Fifty-six!” someone yelled out to me.
“That’s right,” I said, pointing off to the back as if I knew who said something. “She lived life so fully, it was like she had seventy good years in a mere fifty-six. And she looked it. I think maybe the one thing she never got around to doing was pursuing her dream of becoming a drag queen. Well, with the help of the funeral home, she finally has.” I pretended to tear up at this point and dabbed at my eyes with a napkin.
“Why did you leave us, Tami?!” I cried out to the heavens, raising my hands to sky. “Oh lord, if the good die young, then why did you wait so long to take her! She had so much to live for. Like the booze. Or that guy Francisco, and all the other mechanics in his car shop. After four measly years of caring for her stroke-ridden father, the man who raised her, she hadn’t even taken him to his first speech therapy appointment! How could you take that from her? Why would you?”
I lowered my head, looking down at the podium. “Well, maybe god needed another angel in heaven. Or the devil needed someone else to poke people with pitchforks. I know it may have upset some of you that Tami there quit her last job because it was too much work…and that she then went six years without any income except that provided by her late husband’s life insurance and her father’s Social Security check…but we should really try to remember her for all the good she did in this world.”
I bowed my head as if for a moment of silence, then immediately looked back up, “Alright, done remembering. Quick, wasn’t it?”
I looked up and projected a smile onto my face, “Remember that time when she called that black guy that name? And that time she said she wanted slavery back? Good times, good times.” I walked over to the woman and spread black paint all over her face, then set her up. Combined with the excess of lipstick, she looked like something out of the 50s.
Indignant murmurs spread through the crowd. “You’re right, everyone, that was wrong of me. Here, let’s cover this up.” I tugged a pillowcase over her face, leaving her covered in white cloth that ended in a point above her head. “There, that’s more acceptable for her, I’m sure.”
By now, some in the crowd understood where this whole thing was going. A few looked amused, most indifferent, and others appeared outraged and almost as red as the woman used to be. I saw one curly-haired fellow in an oil-stained denim jacket pull out a beer and start passing others along to his friends nearby.
“And she was so motivated to keep her son from becoming lazy that she forced him not to look for a job. She went the extra mile and had him work for free maintaining her lawn and house for her instead of finding actual employment. She didn’t let him rest on his laurels, either. Oh no. If he cooked for her dad, she called him lazy. When he had two jobs…well then she doubled down and called him lazy some more. Let me tell you folks, there are people in straitjackets less committed than this woman!”
“Still, when you leave here tonight, don’t think about the woman who ignored her nephew to stay in bed and smoke. Don’t think about the lady who used her husband’s life insurance money to party on the beach with friends. Don’t recall only the times when she left her infirm father, a man with no ability to speak or read, alone in the middle of a bar with only his blood pressure medication and a beer. Tommy wouldn’t like that. You should learn from the lesson of her life. Go out and be more than just a converter of oxygen to carbon dioxide. Be a parent. Care for someone. Let this woman laying here be a lesson to you all: the good die young, but the bad live forever in our memory.”
It got awkward after that. I hoped for cheering. I got something more awkward. Even when you call someone out on their bullshit, people still don’t want to speak ill of the dead. So I did what I’m good at. I improvised. I walked over to the casket, threw open the lower portion, and reached down. That drew gasps, as did me sitting Tami up and using my hand inside her to move her head. “Now, Tami and I would like to thank y’all for coming out, isn’t that right, Tami?”
Instead of having her answer, I whipped out the sax and pressed one of the two buttons with a cloud design on it. This fired a few grenades out that landed in the midst of the unsettled crowd. I just couldn’t remember if it was harmless smoke, laughing gas, or tear gas. Then they started laughing until they cried. Right, forgot I combined those two. Not literally.
That’d be dangerous…wait, why didn’t I combine those two again?
Well, everyone in attendance fled after that, making the whole night an absolute failure for solemn occasions. With them gone, I pulled my hand out of the corpse, brushed my hands off, and grabbed my sax. Hitting the other cloud button, I disappeared in a puff of smoke.
I know what y’all are thinking, but I didn’t start filming my own Cheech and Chong movie then. No, I used the smoke to slip into stealth mode and sneak my way out to the roof. As I’d tried to explain to Tricia over the past couple days, Venus knew that I was out. And I knew that Venus knew that I was out because Tricia had found that EMP rod of Venus that she left behind when defanging my rockets. And Venus knew that I knew that she knew that I was out because she realized the rod was missing. Now, I knew that she knew that I knew that she knew that I was out, but did she know that I knew that she knew that I knew that she knew I was out?
Tricia couldn’t follow that real well. At least Carl had the good sense to nod his head and smile. Smart man, that Carl. He has a good head nodding on his shoulders.
I then had to explain to them that in order to find out how much I knew, Venus needed some way to keep tabs on me. That meant she had me followed somehow.
I found out how on the roof of the church when I saw a teen boy in green and yellow tights with light blue dots on it. He slowly juggled a pair of glowing balls while watching the street below. Then he muttered a curse and turned to jog around the outside of the building, looking down for entrances and exits. Looking for me.
“Found me!” I shouted at the same time I pushed him over the side. He yelled out, expecting to plunge to certain anal pain. He also yelled out because of the certain anal pain that stopped him. “Hope you don’t mind that this glove has been in someone else’s rectum tonight. Did I say rectum? If they weren’t dead, would have darn near killed ‘em!”
I patted my knee and let out a fake laugh at that one. You know, “Ha ha ha!”
The hero, always the sort to be contrary, insisted on doing things in reverse. “Ah, ah, ah!”
Now everyone out there on Reader Earth can go out and tell their loved ones that they learned that screaming is laughter in reverse. Maybe follow it up with a blank stare through the person. Especially if you’re at a holiday gathering you don’t want to be at.
Now this kid, who I recognized as Ball Boy from the Master Academy, hadn’t yet learned to master his panic in dangerous situations. Or his bladder control. Good thing he was hanging with his head below the rest of his body, because gravity taught him a valuable lesson about how water flows.
I pulled him up and gave him a light nudge in the face to shut him up. Just a quick slap with my boot. “Alright, now shut up. I’m going to tell you this once, and I’m going to tell you this hard, bucko. You. Me. Venus. A few people of my choosing. Perhaps a couple more of yours. Anyway, let’s cut some of the suspicion, right? So I’m a murderer, so Venus is an asshole, boohoo. We all have to eat. I know, Venus probably ruined your Christmas. Told you to stake me out, all that. Nothing for you but cold leftovers from the big dinner. That may be fine for you, but I’m hungry. So, we do the reasonable thing and drop the entire conflict for a few days.”
Of course Ball Boy agreed. I didn’t have him by the balls, but I gave him a vested interest in me allowing him to live. I also told him a time and a place. Later, a note appeared taped to the door of my lair. Venus’s RSVP to the Psycho Holiday Gathering in the affirmative.
See? Some people don’t mind having the ham over for dinner after all.
After my enlightening visit with Venus and her two younger pals, I had a new accomplice on my side for when I marched on Emilio Basford. Sure, Venus distrusted me. She hated me. Some might even say she didn’t like me. But as much as Venus hated having anything to do with me, she needed to keep an eye on me while we rushed to get everything into place for saving the world.
That led to an interesting situation in the meanwhile. See, I didn’t trust her enough to stay at that fancy Master Academy with her and all her super-powered buddies. She needed me to lead her to Emilio Basford, but she might have decided to arrest me and hunt for him on her own. She didn’t find the alternative, staying at my place, to be any better. We had quite the conundrum on our hands.
In the end, the young’un Ball Boy presented us with a solution. He wouldn’t let go of the possibility of Venus and I being more than just mortal enemies. Still, his proposal that Venus and I “get a room” proved useful. We could keep an eye on each other while both being at risk.
We sprung for a hotel stay. Moai and the Rejects were in some of the rooms on one floor. Master Academy capes slept in other rooms on the floor.
For his quick thinking, Venus assigned Ball Boy to watch the outside from a car parked on the street. All night long.
I left my suit with Moai as part of the deal. I also submitted to a full search before entering the room. I requested a cavity search, but they felt that was unnecessary. They wouldn’t budge on that one, no matter how much I insisted I might have something hidden up there.
I didn’t know what to expect in that room with its two beds. A stern talking to. A search for what feelings might have led me to be a villain. Excessive flatulence. Instead, I barely got in there when Venus jabbed me in the neck with a needle. I reached for a needle of my own in my pants pocket, but she plucked the nanite syringe out of my hand as soon as I got it out.
“Dirty pool, old chap…” I said, stumbling toward a bed.
“I’ll be sleeping across the hall, I think. Goodnight Gecko,” she told me before I collapsed into sweet oblivion
I awoke to a civilian-dressed Venus yanking back the window blinds, bombarding me with bright sunlight. I tried to cover my eyes and found my left arm handcuffed to the bedpost. She turned to say, “Better get ready. We should start the day bright and early.”
“Do you say that to all men you handcuff to the bed?” I asked. My mouth was dry, like it had been subject to an orgy of cotton swabs.
Venus plucked a few strands of brown hair out of her face and tossed one of my own shoes at my crotch. “A shoe? Who throws a…wait a second. Did you undress m- awww.” I threw back the covers as I asked the question, only to find myself still dressed but for my shoes. Damn, that could have made for some interesting daydreams.
“You’d better get out of those soon or you’ll miss breakfast,” she told me before sauntering out of the room. Like that would happen. Not in any room with a pen in it.
I caught up with Venus, Tupsy-Turvy, that patriotic hero, Steve, and Larry in the elevator. Only between the room and the elevator, something happened to my clothes. The zipper on my pants was torn and my shirt looked like someone tried to tear it off me from the front. I’d even clawed at my chest for authenticity. So when I came rushing into that elevator, humming a jaunty tune to myself, and smiling at Venus, the others got an idea about what went on.
“Good morning, isn’t it, everyone?” I turned, smiled, and waved at the other occupants. The guy in the blue tights, a blue cape, red gloves, and white stars on his chest and head was Bright Star. He scowled beneath his beak-shaped visor. Larry gave me a thumbs-up. I think Steve smiled, but his lips are invisible. Topsy-Turvy’s reaction was best. I could have driven a truck into her mouth as far as it was open. Her eyes had a sort of amazed and amused gleam to them, too.
“Bastard,” Venus said out of the corner of her mouth, looking straight ahead.
“Amateur anesthesiologist,” I answered back. Hey, she could have killed me with that much sedative. Fostering the assumption that we were more than just enemies was the least I could do as far as revenge.
I included all that for you readers because it served a vital strategic purpose. It was funny. And it explained why Venus felt confident she wouldn’t be walking into a trap.
Around noon that same day, I couldn’t say I felt the same way. See, I had known the address of the man who hired me. After all, he couldn’t expect me to visit him at the site of the same fundraiser where we met. I just didn’t expect to see some old Victorian mansion with overgrown shrubs. The gate was some old iron affair with gargoyles on the pillars to either side. More gargoyles lined the walkway after, leading to a heavy door and a demonic door knocker.
Normally, I wouldn’t put much stock in a place looking haunted, but normally I don’t deal with a family meant to cause some form of apocalypse.
“A hundred bucks says there are suits of armor in one of the hallways,” I said to the group with me. The Rejects, Moai, and Ethan Basford joined me in this visit. A luchador outfit disguised Ethan. He filled out the bright green and blue of the singlet pretty well, and I couldn’t see any part of his face except his mouth. The mask featured little fake horns down the back of it and googly eyes above the one-way see-through patches that let him look out.
“Don’t take that bet,” said Ethan.
“What’s your sense of the place, Gecko?” asked Venus in my ear. I had given her a channel to talk to me on while I checked on this place. Unlike Venus and the hotel room, I knew I’d be fucked if I went in this place without protection.
“I smell offal,” I told her.
“That’s probably because you rushed out without showering this morning,” she responded. Then I heard the faint snickering of the rest of her team from that end.
“You know, Venus, I thought you preferred a bit of discretion. I mean, normally I know what you want, but…”
“Go to hell!”
I tried to ignore the yelling in my ear and scanned the door on our approach. To my regular sight, it was just a big, heavy door. Check an alternate vision mode, and it had unseen arcane designs in bodily fluids. “I’ll get back to you on that. Might wind up there before the day’s over.”
A butler answered my “shave and a haircut” knock. He looked as old and musty as the house itself, and silently led us to a trophy room of sorts. He left us there to admire the many dead animals gracing the walls and floor. There were so many stuffed heads on the wall, it looked like a crossover between The Lion King and the French Revolution.
“Mr. Gecko! You’ve worked out incredibly. How do you feel about world domination?” Emilio Basford’s voice boomed out as he stepped into the room, all smiles. He clapped his hands together and rubbed them, looking over my group. Virginia, the wife, followed after. I wondered if she knew she was banging her brother-in-law or not.
The Basford bastard proffered his hand and I shook it.
“Easy there, big fella. It’s just a little murder in your family. And, in retrospect, world domination’s not so bad. Just be careful picking a safe word.”
“This guy, huh?” Emilio laughed. He looked between his wife and I.
“Who is she?” asked Ethan, lowering his voice and speaking gruffly. Odd question, though. You’d think he’d recognize his own wife.
“This is my wife, Virginia, Mr…?”
I answered for Ethan. “This fine fellow is Luchazilla, master of the Kaiju crusher.” My explanation deflected Emilio’s questions, but Virginia narrowed her eyes as she looked at him.
“He brought one over. You bastard, you killed her and brought one over!” Ethan jumped on Emilio and throttled his brother.
Virginia laughed, but did nothing to help her husband, whichever man that was. “Hold up!” I called. I pulled Ethan off Emilio. “You can’t just kill this guy…that’s what I’m here for.”
“What?” asked Ethan. I brushed him off, then pushed him back into the Rejects.
As I stepped toward Emilio, who scrabbled back along a bearskin rug, I looked to Virginia. She just stood there, doing nothing to hinder me. I pulled Emilio to his feet. “Hey there, Emilio.”
“H-hey Gecko. Thanks for saving me. You know I have your money in the other room, right?”
I tilted my head to the side, keeping an eye on Virginia. I didn’t trust her. “Money? No, why would I be interested in money? I hear you have something bigger on the table. I hear there’s something about demons and destroying civilization. You know, you and yours ruling afterward. I got it about right?”
He nodded rapidly. “Yes! You want in? I’ll deal honestly with you this time. No small stuff. Power. You and I, we can rule this world.”
I nodded. “If I did, what then?”
Venus spoke up over her channel. “We’re moving in. You better not turn on us, Gecko.”
Emilio pointed to Ethan. “Just kill him like the others in the family. I found a way to bring over the things we made a deal with. They just need a human body.”
“Why are you doing this, Emilio? Don’t you care about your own family? What makes you think that everything will be better when it’s ashes and blood?!” Ethan lectured his twin from behind Moai.
Emilio gulped. I lifted him up high enough so he could respond over me. “If I had to choose between taking over myself or letting someone like this maniac rule, I’d rather be the one in control. You act like we have a choice, but the world is going to hell no matter what we do. The seas rise and boil, the plants die, mankind consumes itself.”
“Emilio, we were born better than that! We don’t have to give in to that temptation.”
“No we weren’t, Ethan. You didn’t make things worse, but you never made anything better.”
Virginia finally lost her patience and snapped her fingers. Emilio disappeared from my grip and appeared with his throat in her hand. She glared at him, eyes glowing with pale light. “You are being tricked. We must act, not talk.” She laughed and it echoed throughout the room. More quietly, she said, “Bring me their hearts.”
Around us, animal heads came to life. Wolves and hyenas growled. A lion roared over the mantle. The rug growled as well and snapped at Ethan’s feet. I heard clanking out in the hallway as suits of armor became mobile. Then I heard yelling, banging, and other sounds of fighting.
I left a hologram in my place and rushed toward them both. When I reappeared, I swept Emilio off to the side with a mighty blow that knocked him onto the grand horns of a snorting deer head on the wall. I followed it up by planting my laser potato peeler’s blade in the carotid artery of Virginia. She pulled it out like nothing and backhanded me, knocking me against a wall. A plaque with a taxidermied crab fell onto my lap. The reanimated crab pinched at me.
Virginia looked to Emilio, but there wasn’t much she could do. Not with an antler speared right through the man from back to front. The buxom blonde cried out in rage. She whirled around toward the rejects and swept her hand to the side, tossing Moai to the side by me. A miniature Venus De Milo sculpture fell onto his head and began writhing on him.
Writhing, I say to you. Writhing!
Virginia approached Ethan, her body changing. She grew taller, thicker. Amazonian, you might say. Her face and body looked every bit as carved as the little statue giving Moai a lap dance, with the effect enhanced somewhat by her hair going white and her skin going grey. What looked like a horn burst from her forehead and swept back over her head, then down low to form in to a split-ended tail. “You must serve me. Bring more of my family into yours. Then I will be yours as I was your brother’s.”
Showing great resolve, especially in light of the woman’s charm utterly disappearing, Ethan thrust his chin up and told her, “Never, you harridan. You corrupted my brother, but there’s nothing I want from you.”
I liked the little term of endearment he called her. Harridan.
Harridan continued to change as she approached Ethan. Headgame pulled him back to safety in arms that became thinner as they stretched. A hiss issued from Rattler’s head. Ray X lit up like a plasma globe. Before any of them got the chance to do anything, Moai and I leapt into action.
He charged at Harridan. I jumped in front of him, then hopped up and pushed off him with the aid of my jump enhancers. They hurtled me into Harridan, where I extended the Nasty Surprise mini chainsaw under my left forearm. Her head, severed from the rest of her, flopped to the ground. I rolled onto my feet next to it, then ducked as Moai collided with her and sent her body over my head. She crashed through the wall, into the hallway, and through another wall.
“It won’t be that easy,” Ethan said. From the sound of it, he was right. Someone let out a shriek so loud and intense that, even through my helmet, I thought the sound was in my head.
As it ended, I called up Venus, “Yo, Venus, you guys see her? The headless woman thingy, she’s one of those big Cthulhu people who wants to destroy stuff.”
“She’s not headless anymore. Whoa, she’s really ugly. And she’s growing. If you still want to walk out of town without interference from me, you’d better come give us a hand.”
I shut her off and purged the connection between us. Turning to Ethan, I asked, “Can she bring any more of her folks into this dimension?”
He shook his head. “That’s what we’re for. Even if she could, the ritual requires a dead body to inhabit temporarily.”
I pointed at Meltman. “Melty, go cremate Emilio.” He nodded and stepped toward the corpse, sucking in air to expel as flames.
Turning back to Ethan, I said, “You might want to lay low for a bit. The heroes can stop her, I’m sure, but they’re going to be really pissed and I think this is going to get destructive. They said she was getting bigger.”
As if to punctuate the statement, we heard an explosion from elsewhere in the manor. Everyone but Moai and I ducked. Looking up at me, Ethan asked, “You’re not going to stick around for your money?”
“Hell no. There’s plenty of ways you can pay me without me being here. Besides, you really think I’m going to give Venus a chance to turn on me again as soon as the threat’s over and the place is surrounded by cops?”
I pulled out a rubber chicken, swung it around like a nunchuk, then popped the head off it. I tossed it into the mouth of a fox head on the wall, which tried to chew on it. It blew the head and wall wide open.
Roberta scrambled over to the hole, reconning. “It looks like the billiard room.”
“Gods, man, that way’s closer to the exterior.” Ethan pointed to the side of the room where Meltman stood over Emilio’s ashes and a rapidly-growing fire.
I patted Ethan on the shoulder, “Fear not, then. We’ll be out of your hair in a minute. Well, you get the expression.”
With that, we extricated ourselves from the situation. I was right, the heroes could handle it. Granted, they wound up fighting a fifty foot woman with a head that resembled a horse’s head with tentacles, but I knew they were up to the task. As for me, I was up to evading the task force. No way would I allow Venus to take advantage of me after a fight wore me down.
Plus, there was another reason…
“We’re not heroes.” I told the Rejects again as we sped out of California in my car. We divided up between the car, trailer, and van, but I spoke to them all at the same time. “Heroes protect society. I saved the world the moment I killed Emilio Basford, so what are the heroes fighting for? Harridan’s already lost and they’re just rubbing it in some more. I mean, maybe I’d go to those lengths to humiliate someone, too, but I don’t set a very high standard for heroic behavior, now do I? By the way, kudos to whoever got this bobble head.”
Zane turned to me from the passenger seat. “Um, Gecko, that’s the little statue from the house.”
The Venus De Milo bobble head on the dash was indeed the same undulating artwork from Basford Manor. “Dammit, Moai, we don’t need anymore pets!”
From the back seat, the puppy Spike Smooshyface barked his enthusiastic agreement.
Ok, maybe I could have let Harridan destroy a little bit of the world. Just enough to get rid of long car trips with puppies that lack bladder control. Urine? I didn’t know you were out!
In the days following our jailbreak of Ethan Basford, we spent a good amount of time preparing to escape from L.A. Confusion was key, though my crew of Rejects directed most of it my way. They didn’t understand why I wore an eyepatch. They didn’t bat an eye at long hair, stubble, and leather pants, but for some reason my apparent lack of an eye stood out more to the various mutated humanoids. Steve looks like he has no skin and muscles!
My plans tend to turn out interesting, but I felt the situation necessitated a way out. Ethan, all too happy to be out of that prison uniform, confirmed for me that my seeming invisibility to the police was a standard part of how the Trust operated.
“We use the same ability on ourselves. It has mundane uses: no parking tickets, no speeding tickets, no DUIs. We also made it work for other major organizations like Faustus,” he explained to me while we sat down at a cafe.
I just nodded while munching my Cuban sandwich. It’s not that I found the roast pork, ham, mustard, pickles, and Swiss cheese to be more important, either. Every time I pursued information from Faustus, I felt like stabbing something. Preferably a person. Sure, the enchanted Luger turned out to be merely a knockoff of Hitler’s sidearm, but the whole stash of relics couldn’t be ignored.
I swallowed what I had and asked, “What about Venus showing up? She had friends this last time, so does this not work for heroes?”
He tapped his finger on the table. He’d barely touched his sirloin sandwich.
“You’re not eating. Something wrong?” I inquired.
Ethan ran his hand over his bald head. He didn’t look up at me. Instead, he shifted his gaze over the table before letting out an exasperated breath. “It’s nothing. The friends I’m staying with, the vampires, there are a lot more of them than I thought. I think I might try veganism once I’m safe.”
“Oh, sure, torture the poor, defenseless plants, why don’t you?” I nommed a pickle from my sandwich.
He looked at me that time, but only to my chest. He gesticulated as he spoke, raising a hand as if holding me up. “Just great. You killed my daughter and all those others, but you’re worried about the feelings of plants.”
“Plants are good people,” I said between mouthfuls. “Every species of animal on earth is at least a little bit of a dick. Dolphins are gang rapists, monkeys have mastered fecal warfare, and don’t you even get me started on those little bunny bastards with their maniacal fluffy tails.”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “For crying out loud, what’s so evil about bunnies?”
“A species with powerful hind limbs for kicking that can breed uncontrollably? Clearly those fluffy-butted barbarians want to overwhelm the world, using their amazing hearing to seek out the last human heartbeats and chew through them with their big teeth.”
Ethan tilted his head, rolling his eyes up. “I can’t believe you’re my best chance at getting my life back.”
I shrugged. “True, normally I take lives instead. And I do so, in part, by looking harmless. Like a bunny.”
“Enough with the bunnies! Are you almost ready to do this thing?” he asked, meeting my eyes.
I shook my head. “No. I have to arrange a couple of things. We’ll need to skedaddle as soon as they realize I’m not on their side anymore.”
“Why aren’t you?”
I raised an eyebrow. “What now?”
Ethan leaned back as he asked this time. “Why aren’t you on their side? I beg your pardon, but you don’t seem the sort to care.”
I winked at him. “You got me. I don’t care about doing the right thing. I care about entertaining myself. I haven’t had much entertainment lately. Between the war with Hephaestus and these mind-numbing assassinations of your family, I’ve been terribly bored. I would like very much to leave this ugly little city behind and enjoy myself. But if you guys start the Ragnarok and tear up the whole planet, then it doesn’t matter. Y’all fucked up. I’ll clean up your mess because the world’s not so fun when it’s devoured by other-dimensional abominations. And if you’re lying, I can still kill you.”
That led to awkward silence for a couple of seconds as Ethan realized I might still kill him. I slapped the table, causing him to jump. “Well, time for me to go. I have another appointment. I promised myself I’d leave my mark on this town, and I have one last spot to hit up.”
“Do I want to know?”
I stood and grabbed a long ray barrel out from under the table. “Hehe… I wood if I were you.”
About two hours later, my cackles echoed through over Mt. Lee and through the Hollywood Hills. It was followed by humming and then crackling as I tried out a new arm-sized version of my famous Heatflasher. I sacrificed power, range, and cooling ability to make a version of the heat ray that could slide over my forearm. I also left my gang behind in case their presence would somehow trigger a huge team fight with the heroes when they inevitably showed up. I figured that if it was just me, maybe just Venus would show.
The downside to the new version of the weapon was that it fried the flesh of my left hand. I used my time in transit to slip into my armor, so at least most of the extremity had some protection. While I briefly wondered what sort of meat cuts come off of the hand and arm, I mostly stuck to my task: renovating the Hollywood sign. I’ve heard laughter is the best medicine, but I used it to distract me from the pain and the smell of burning meat.
I found it difficult to spell anything fun up there. If I’d brought along a crane and extra materials, I could have moved pieces of the forty-five foot tall letters. Without that, I carved what I could from the steel letters. It took creative use of the heat ray to knock the sign down to “I WOUlD”.
It made an excellent symbol of my frustrations with the place.
I expected a visitor at any moment even as I took a break to jump around and cuss up a storm. Fourth degree burns tend to make me want to hit stuff, so I was taking my frustration out on every damn molecule of air I could swing at. It didn’t help. I couldn’t even use the nanites with the damaged areas that hot. Objects that small don’t handle heat very well.
I didn’t have to wait long. All of a sudden, some glowing see-through blue ball with people inside came floating in on a collision course. I dove to the side, but it turned in midair and sent me rolling. I dragged myself to my feet and held my arms up. “Hold up a minute, Venus, we need to talk!”
Venus hopped out of the blue ball. Funny. I never realized blue balls traveled with her. She was joined by a teen girl in a skintight white costume. Multi-colored spirals spiced up the costume over the chest, one thigh, a calf, a shoulder, and a wrist. It wasn’t very symmetrical.
The forcefield ball thingy appeared to be the handiwork of the individual standing inside it. Another teen. He wore a light and tight costume as well: green and yellow with light blue dots on the chest and each of the legs. A pair of force balls broke away from the large one they traveled there in and moved out to the sides.
Venus displayed her willingness to talk by pulling out another one of those EMP field rods from behind her back.
“I’m serious, Venus. I know you got a stick up your ass, but we really need to talk. The fate of the world may be at stake!” Anticipating her disbelief, I cloaked my arms and holographically projected ones still in the air. I aimed for the rod in Venus’s hand. My HUD assisted in my aiming, helping me line up the shot on it.
Before I could fire, a small army of blue balls formed a wall in front of her. I superjumped over them since that saved time on turning. The EMP effect hit me less severely last time, especially as I got distance from them. I landed roughly, blinded and without enhanced strength. I felt drunk as well, due to brain cybernetics. I slid down onto one knee, then pushed up and tried to keep going.
I didn’t leave my feet, but I felt the world spin around me. My sense of direction fucked up big time and I spilled over to the side. With the ground firmly beneath me, I tried to crawl for it, but then something hard scooped me up and dropped me closer to the EMP.
Readers, if you’ve ever been shocked by static electricity, you know about what I felt like, only if it shocked you constantly through almost every nerve in your body.
I heard mumbling from a feminine voice and a masculine one. Someone tugged at my helmet. I grabbed at the arms, but the grabber pushed them away easily. I was so weak, a baby could have stolen candy from me.
By the way, that’s the only way that phrase works. If I started talking about kids taking candy from me, that would sound unfortunate. Especially since I got a van.
“That wasn’t so hard,” said the ball guy.
“That’s…what…she said,” I croaked out. I raised the finger, but somebody stepped on my hand. On the other side of me, the spiral girl tried to grab my arm Heatflasher, but cried out in pain.
That’s when something else covered my head and tightened around my neck, choking me. It ended with a loud smack and the person who stood on my hand thudded to the ground beside me.
“Don’t fight…over me. I’m sure y’all can…split my hidden treasure,” I finally got out, hoping someone was greedy.
Air moved over my face. Then I heard giggling. “Something funny up there?” I inquired.
“Nope,” said Venus. “Just making sure. You’re really blind now, aren’t you?”
“Blind as a lonely millipede after Valentine’s Day.”
After a moment of silence, I felt a hand grip my throat. She told me, “I’m not going to kill you. I don’t have to kill to solve my problems. We don’t have to kill. That’s how much better we are. But if you want me to listen to you here and now before we drag you into a little cell, you’re going to say please.”
My first instinct was to call her bluff and say something snippy. My second and third instincts liked that idea as well. They distracted from the part of me that swore I could hear explosions and smell smoke.
I had to get up and get away from the bomb. I had to stop my followers from disabling the shield. I was the only one who was ever there for them, no matter what. Now this? I-
Venus gave my throat a little squeeze, dragging me back to present times. “Well?”
“Really? You want to be that difficult? That’s what destroying a monument was worth to you? That isn’t very clever, by the way.”
I reached for her hand. At first she slapped my hand away “I know. Didn’t have a crane. Ok, I’ll say it…I can please a mare.”
“We should take him back now,” said the spiral girl.
“Yeah, we should.” Venus agreed. That caused the ole heart to beat a faster pace. She let me go. “Alright. BB, carry him with us back to the Academy.”
“Fuuuuuuuuuck.” I drew out the word as much as I could. “Ok, Venus. Please.”
“Please don’t arrest me.”
“Please listen to what I have to say.”
She patted me on the head. “Good boy. I should have recorded that. Is that a blush?”
“No. Wait, yes. I’m wearing blush today. And a thong. I think I’m rubbing off on you, Venus.”
“You two should hook up,” said the boy probably called BB. There was a slapping noise from too far away to have been Venus.
I licked my lips as I considered how to solicit Venus’s aid for the upcoming fight. “You know, I can’t lead you to…the person who has been playing us…if you lock me up.”
“Playing us? Like how I keep running into you?”
I slowly nodded. “Let me tell you about a little group called the Trust…”