Tag Archives: Barkiel

Hare-Brained 11

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It didn’t help me get sleep. Maybe it was the lack of endorphins related to killing those particular people, but the tension was still there. Took something a lot stronger than Max’s medicated beer to help ease me out of it. Like some diazepam, and the soothing sounds of a Korean woman saying words in Japanese while moving around. Upon reflection, to people who don’t know about it, that probably looks like some weird fetish stuff instead of a way to relax.

I was quite surprised when I dreamed I was in some room at Master Academy. I looked down to see a pair of boobs I recognized, but only two arms, holding a power suppression collar. I looked up when I heard Venus saying, “This is a lot to ask me to believe.” I looked up and saw we were in an office. She was seated across from myself and… Ares. I thought they found parts of his, but maybe that doesn’t matter so much. The guy had an arm of metal, as natural as if he was just made of the stuff. Perhaps he can regenerate eternal, shiny and chrome. He still looked old, but instead of wearing some old leather vest and sandals, the old man wore bronze hoplite armor, with a bronze helmet sat in his lap. Behind him, at the door, stood several other supers I recognized from around the school, and a few who I have to assume are newer ones based on context.

“After the murder of our peace delegation, I would have no other reason to come before you about this,” Ares said, glowering at her.

“That was Psycho Gecko, not me. He… she’s unreliable and paranoid,” Venus said.

“She should be. Barkiel tried to use my death to justify a measure we cannot take. When I showed myself, he called for the visitors to back him and do it by force. When that failed, he tried coup by robot and tried to destroy us with a small nuclear weapon. Something is very wrong, and I am here to offer our surrender on all your points that are possible while we uncover what has happened over the past months.”

“The god of war asks for peace,” Venus said. She took a moment to look at him. “You said he was trying to call for some measure. What’s going on? Are we about to be hit by some sort of weapon?”

Ares closed his eyes and massaged his nose with a pair of fingers. “There was a god who transgressed against the rest of us and sought to take control over the pantheons. He began consuming healers to absorb their powers and to cow us by keeping our peoples from healing. A group of them allied with the Hindu pantheon to lure him into an ancient prison for gods. The prisoners inside rebelled. It almost failed, but the last of them sealed the way out.”

“You wanted to put us in the prison?” Venus asked.

Ares shook his head, “When we first created our agreement with our human descendants and the visitors to keep our existence a secret and protect Earth, we realized the prisoner, Mot, could be what was needed to cull people with powers.”

Mot. FUUUUUCK.

Ares went on, “The visitors have been more aggressive ever since supervillains started breaking out of prisons all over the world. I think Barkiel’s snapped. Worse, he knows where Naraka is.”

“Where?” I asked as Dame.

Ares looked to me, then to Venus, “I would rather not say.”

“We can help guard it from Barkiel,” Venus said. “Consider it one of the conditions of your surrender.”

“The Hindu prison Naraka is underneath one our shrines in Varanasi, marked by a symbol of three hares chasing each other around in a circle.”

Within Dame’s mind, I got a flash of memory. Barkiel relaying a message on behalf of this Council. “Play along. Give him locations, but warn us first. We want to control where he goes instead of allowing him to pick randomly. Use this map, but not any of the sites I’ve crossed out.”

I remember the map he showed Dame on a monitor. Munich was one of the crossed-out sites. Others included the storage depot I told Venus about. Varanasi, India didn’t have any information about it, even for Dame to see.

“Dame, are you alright?” asked Venus. “Maybe you should put that back on.” She pointed to Dame’s power collar.

I smiled with Dame’s mouth. “Sure thing.” I dropped the collar accidentally on purpose, and reached for Dame’s cell while picking it back up. A ringing in my head helped bring me back to my own body that fought through the drug-induced drowsiness to answer hang up on Dame’s call.

So now I knew where Barkiel was. And, more importantly, I knew this had something to do with Mot. I injected myself with nanites to clear up the sluggishness while I put on my armor, two legs at a time. Because even when I’m a woman, I am a god among men.

I did two things on my way out of the palace. First, I left a note for Qiang, telling her I’ll be back and not to let everyone make a mess. Then I shut off the water to the kitchen sink and pulled it out of the wall. I carried it like a club as I headed to the missile base, where my ordinance technicians were already clearing space out of a missile. The techs all bowed as I helped myself into the rocket, with one ready to shut and seal the hatch of the capsule. But before he did, he asked, “Any further instructions, Empress?” I buzzed him with a pair of drones that I flew in.

“Yes, hand me those two rockets there,” I told him. He dutifully handed me a couple of those rockets a person could stand on that I’d never ended up selling as a means of personal conveyance. “Good, now prepare for trouble, and make it double, once this rocket’s blasting off again.”

He looked puzzled but nodded, “As you wish, Empress.” I fired off a message to his superiors anyway ordering Psycho Flyers deployed to India to pick me up and mop-up whatever was going to go down.

Rockets are fast, that’s for sure. You can get moving much faster than jets in these bad boys, and make all sorts of distance if you’re willing to hit the outer atmosphere. The reason they aren’t that popular a method has more to do with the fact that the human body has trouble going that fast and that high. Bones break, you have trouble breathing, there are pressure concerns. That’s not even touching on the landing. By the time the rocket itself broke off and obliterated itself, the nanites were having to extract my tailbone from my throat and patch me up. And while I could have made a capsule designed for travel given a little bit of time, I was rushing here. Venus, Ares, and the whole lot of people who are supremely pissed at me probably knew I was on my way to Naraka.

I had to beat them there, so I rushed the rocket and had to break my way out of the capsule. Two hands on the kitchen sink, and with a hand each on my rockets, I hopped out and let them slow my fall.

The Naraka Shrine was in another walled-off courtyard with tents and shakes. Folks were milling about, with the tall robots Barkiel used standing guard at the gates and doorway to the shrine. Black but for glowing red accents and a big red oval on their faces, they held up arms ending in plasma cannons as big as some people’s heads. And they were keeping them trained on the people in the courtyard, who had definitely noticed me. Some little kid was there, hopping up and down. “Look, up in the sky! Who is it?”

The robots all turned as one to aim at me, so I let go of the rockets and dropped, letting the blue plasma pass harmlessly overhead. I tried to land standing, with bent knees. The weight of the armor and force of the landing took me down to a knee. Not the best position to be in when eight big-ass robots decide you’d make a good torch.

The closest two got a rocket through their heads and collapsed. From out of my cape flew the drones, a pair of laser drones this time. They carved through the next pair who advanced on me. I used my stance to jump, then flying over a blast to knock the crap out of one of them, then turn and send the next closet smashing into the outer wall. Before it could pull itself out of the indentation it left, I had run forward and impaled it through the midsection.

Behind me, another pair of robots lined up for shots. I turned with the impaled one and caught a pair of blasts with its body, watching him melt away with each shot. The rockets looped around in the sky and came down, tearing through their heads and torsos to pin the wreckage to the ground. I dumped the remains of the impaled robot next to them and quipped, “Vlad to see me?”

I spun when I saw the Hares coming closer, but they didn’t SEEM hostile. One older man raised his hands up. “Thank you! We thought he would kill us before the Council could send help?”

“Who?” I asked.

He pointed into the shrine. “He’s one of the Visitors; said he was the Captain now. He ordered his robots to keep us under guard for what comes next.”

Food for Mot. Yummy. I shared Barkiel’s desire to see them dead, but if any of them had powers, it’d just make Mot stronger, IF he got out. And he wasn’t supposed to get out. I was supposed to have had 30 years to prepare for him, according to the Future Venus from that timeline who spared my life in the hopes it would change the future. So the timeline’s changed… yay.

I headed in and found more robots. Less sarcastic yay! I turned a corner and found myself facing a couple of them guarding a door. I jumped up and hooked my legs around one’s neck, twisting around to wrap a pair of my arms around the second’s neck. I’d hoped to twist the heads off, but I couldn’t bring enough strength to bear for that. Instead, we all tumbled down. They both aimed their cannons at me, so I grabbed them and kindly adjusted their aim just in time to see them put holes in each other.

That room had more captives who were eager to get out of there and I let them. Mot and Barkiel were more important.

Down the hallway, down a staircase, because if they’d imprisoned someone in the air I’d have noticed. Trailing drones, I found myself in a long, dark corridor with a pair of heavy stone doors halfway open on the other end and a couple robots on the other side. They spotted me. Instead of trying to fight, they started pushing the doors closed on me. The drones began to move in a circle, chasing each other in front of me, lasers carving through the door. I charged up the energy sheaths on all four gauntlets as I ran.

When I hit the cut portion of the door, it flew inward, nailing those robots to the opposite wall, which looked to be rough cave wall. To my right was a gentle stone slope that humanity hadn’t built, though it had left skidmarks on. Tread marks, I mean.

I also heard the sound of fighting from up ahead. I started charging the energy sheaths on my upper arms just in case. Around the bend, I saw Apollo hopping around, all nimbly-bimbly, like a cat. He had on a leather outfit with a skirt like something they’d expect me to wear in a fantasy game, but he just jumped around shooting his light arrows from his bow a gleaming blue and nickel machine menace.

It was Barkiel, I saw, in walker armor. Like with power armor, it’s my hands and feet in the boots. His armor was a good twelve feet tall, with his head sticking out of the neck. He probably had his arms and legs down the arms and legs of the armor, but he wouldn’t lose a hand if it did. I thought his exposed head would make him easy pickings until a light arrow sparked and disappeared against a dome that appeared out of nowhere around his head when it got close. Apollo reached out with his spare hand and another field lit up, glowing red, tight around Barkiel’s face.

The alien laughed. “Like my latest apparatus?” A grenade shot up from over his shoulder, bounced against the roof of the cave, and exploded into a thick cloud of black smoke. He jumped to the side, jets igniting on the soles and belt of the armor. When the smoke cleared, Apollo had taken up a new position but was firing nowhere near Barkiel.

The real Barkiel had raised both arms toward Apollo, the ends glowing. Trailing sparks, I skidded between his legs, bouncing my head off the invisible field as I passed too close to him. When he fired, the energy sheaths around my gauntlets absorbed some of the power for the suit’s back-up batteries and deflected the rest at the ceiling. We all looked up for a second to see if this stalactite was going to fall, but nothing. Then Barkiel looked past me to Apollo, who had now turned to focus on the real one. “Is she with you?”

“I thought she was with you,” Apollo said, eyeing me.

“Apparatus. Helping me hunt down you Hares, helping me escape, attacking your own people. You’ve been playing all sides here, haven’t you!” I yelled.

“Ha!” he spat the laugh at me. A quartet of missile tubes rolled over onto his left shoulder from behind his back. “You made such a great enemy, but if you’d like to make up, why not kiss under the missile?” He fired the tubes, but lasers spilled out from one of my flanking drones to detonate them close to him. His shield caught most of it, but I think a little bit was inside it. It looked like we scraped the paint on his ride.

The other drone fired at him from behind, aiming for center mass. The thing wasn’t really agile enough to get us along with it. Apollo leapfrogged me and fired his own arrows at the guy. I stepped out of his path and charged for Barkiel.

A wave of force went out from the walker in all directions, pushing me back enough to halt my run, knocking one of Apollo’s arrows into him, and throwing my drones into the walls of the cavern to their destruction. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Gecko!” I continued my charge and split off a couple holograms, one to dodge to my left, another to stay in place, and then me branching off to the right. Something flew off the chest of Barkiel’s armor and right through the middle Gecko, but I stopped, armor shaking, and flew back until I was suspended over it. I couldn’t reach out without getting pulled back into a huddled bunch.

“You sent the bomb, didn’t you!” I yelled at the extraterrestrial asshole.

“Yeeessss!” He said, sweeping his arms after Apollo. The god tried to outrun it, but then Barkiel just moved his left arm to the side quicker and took him off at the knees. At least Apollo ducked the second beam before it could take off his head. He disappeared in a flash of light then, leaving me alone with Barkiel. “See? He ran and left you to me.”

Barkiel looked at me and winked, then hit the jets on his suit and flew it to a wall I hadn’t been paying particular attention to. “I’ve been on this planet for so long. You have no idea.”

“Why are you letting out Mot? He’ll kill everyone!” I said. Weird to hear me object to something like that.

“I want to go home,” Barkiel said, stepping up to wall with actual stones laid out in around a round center stone, like a sun. He touched the center one, which slowly lit up with a glowing overlay of white light and ancient runes. “I never wanted to be stuck on this backwards planet. We have that in common, don’t we?” He tried to look back at me but couldn’t turn his head all the way.

Whatever this thing was, I had no access. None to his suit or that wall, either. The only machine I could still connect to outside of my suit was a drone that wasn’t getting airborne anytime soon. I tried it anyway, watching it hop around. The laser still seemed usable, though. “I’m trying to remember… this threat that some of the Earthlings believe in if they’re exposed or… Sam said if Earth got too advanced or there were too many supers…”

He cut me off before I could slowly work it out to cover up the sounds of my drone hopping around. “Yes. If Earth is a threat, my people will get off their lazy, aristocrat asses and deal with the upstarts. That is my ride off this rock of ignorant savages. You can leave as well. In fact, do you want to come with?”

“No,” I said. “I left my world, but my world sucked. It sounds like yours does too if they give so few shits about you. This is my home. I have a family here, and friends. How long have you been here stewing instead of doing anything?”

“Fif. Teen. Hundred. Years,” he said. The blocks around the central one lit up. He started tapping on one and the light flew into the center. “Fifteen hundred years with dirty monkey men. I could have had a family. I used to have friends. We could have reported the place as a threat, or advanced you to the point of getting us home. We could have even come forward during other alien attacks and taken their ships. Israkeel didn’t want to risk the stupid barbarians though.

He laughed as he worked on more of those perimeter blocks. A couple more went fast, but he had to stop some to consult a holographic display I couldn’t translate. “You were perfect. One day, you started breaking supers out of prison, and I realized what I could do. The others, they just wanted to use the collars, and I did pass relay orders to make that happen. I eagerly overstepped my bounds. I guided you and made sure you survived. Do you think it’s any accident you’re a woman now? I knew that would rile you up, the big bad supervillain and his fragile male ego, so I put advice in the right ear.”

Well, nice to know he doesn’t know me as well as he thinks. Hippity hoppity, little drone. One of these days you’ll get that laser facing me… “If I didn’t kill Centeotl, he’d have attacked Los Angeles anyway.”

“He agreed with me about the need to assert ourselves over the humans, but he would have been glassed like the rest. I relayed secure orders, always from superiors, to hire assassins. You had me worried when you sent that message back…”

There. I fired the laser of the drone. The drone caught on fire from something not quite being in alignment, but the beam shot out and burned enough that the device crackled and I fell to the ground. I hopped up in a hurry, but Barkiel didn’t pay me any mind. I split off more holograms to try and hide my approach, glad I still had a couple gauntlets ensconced in energy waiting to disperse into him. My free hands took up rocket knives. I jumped as the holograms all ran to catch up. He never turned back to me.

And then he suddenly was turned to me. He caught my in midair, one hand on my waist, the other on my head. The, fuck, the projection he’d left at the wall disappeared. Even the glowing circle on the wall faded. At least he had to stop whatever that was. I punched at his arm, but the attacks did nothing to dislodge his grip. The field stayed, glowing red. I shot a rocket knife into his face, but it bounced off, blade bent. Barkiel gritted his teeth and pulled with the hand on my helmet, aiming to take my head off.

“Fuck, this is good armor,” he said after a minute of straining. He let go of my head and held his arm to the side. A long, round rod of metal flipped out from under his arm and into his hand. A white trail rose out of the far end and formed a curving shape that could have been a one-sided blade. “Make this painless on yourself and hold still.”

That’s not how I roll, so I wiggled and reached up to try and keep his hand away.

“I told you!” he yelled and brought the blade down. Sudden pain shot through my left upper arm, right through the elbow and up near the shoulder. I still felt it even though I looked down and saw two pieces of what used to be that arm rolling to the ground. The uneven flesh of my arm wasn’t bleeding, but I saw smoke and felt a sudden coldness around those nerves. Barkiel tried to bring the blade down on my helmet, but my lower right shot up to grab at it. The blade split that arm and carved it in two. Between that and my shiftng, the blade only took off part of the right side of my helmet, and left that arm hanging useless. When he pulled the blade free of it, I got to see it flop to the ground, severed in the bicep.

“This could have been painless,” He said, raising the blade up to wave it in my face. He thrust it, but I moved my head. After three thrusts, there really wasn’t even a helmet left. “Stop moving!” he said before trying a sweep. I ducked my head under it like a limbo dancer ducking under a green snake in a sugarcane field, but he clipped a bunch of my hair. I could smell it as it burned.

“I don’t normally let this out,” he said, sneering at me, setting the tip of the blade against my breast. “But you things are disgusting to me.”

I flipped my fangs down and opened my mouth to spray hot sauce at him. It didn’t penetrate, but it did cover it for a minute. I threw myself to the side he wasn’t holding my hip from and twisted. It wasn’t the best way to hold a person and I tumbled loose, if not in good position, scrambling away. He stepped toward me, raising the blade. “Yeah, cute. Die now- oh shit!”

A bright light had flared up in the middle of the cavern, headed toward Barkiel. He raised the sword. I didn’t get a good look at what happened, the sword wasn’t there anymore, just as sparking rod and a field that glowed red around edges that weren’t closed around Barkiel. I leaped, but Barkiel kicked me away, into a wall where I could see Apollo, whole again, step out of a beam of light.

I heard footsteps, too. I turned to see Dame running down. “The fuck are you doing here so fast?”

She slid to a stop right by me as I struggled to sit up, probably tearing her skintight black tights. “Once I clued you in, they knew they had to come here right away.”

“Than-” I started to say, but she cut me off with a click of metal around my neck. Everything went black, and my hearing didn’t work right. I couldn’t do much of anything except feel. I felt hands wrap around my throat, squeezing. For some reason the ground was vibrating, but that probably had more to do with the big armor stomping around.

I tried to hit her, but the armor wasn’t working too well. My limbs were sluggish as parts of me didn’t want to function right, and without the armor being a real part of me anymore. When I got an arm up, she pushed it back down with one hand and slammed my head into the ground a couple of times, choking with one hand all the while. Of all the people to kill me, I didn’t expect Dame. And I was wrong.

My head jerked to the side and I could see again. I could punch again! I knocked Dame flat on her ass with a punch and reached for my neck. The collar had been blasted by something. A glow attracted my attention to the light arrow stuck in the cave wall behind me. I tugged the remnants off and threw them aside, then told Dame, “Kill me later. For now, we have to make sure he doesn’t release Mot.”

I scrambled up, but suddenly that shaking from before got a lot more noticeable. I looked and saw Barkiel, with a face full of smile, locking up with Apollo. “It’s too late!” he yelled.

The stones I thought looked like a sun slid inward and the wall slid up into the ceiling. Everything past that was darkness. Apollo backed away from Barkiel and the darkness.

“Quickly!” called a voice from higher up in the cave. I saw Ares running down, helmet on, spear and shield at the ready. He skidded to a halt when he saw the opening. “We’re too late.”

Venus was there as well, and Titan. Venus looked to Dame in particular, my neck, and the wrecked collar on the floor.

“Mot!” Barkiel yelled into the darkness. “It’s supper time!”

“Close the door, Barkiel, while there’s still time!” Ares said.

I crawled until I could get to my feet, running over to Venus and Titan. I had to fight through dizziness to stand there with them. “We have to go.”

“No,” Venus said. “We stop this here and now.”

“Nobody’s getting to this door just yet,” Barkiel said. A tendril of flesh wrapped around Barkiel as he grinned confidently at us. He looked down then and realized too late that he was the closest thing to a very hungry being. He tried to pull it off him, but it whipped back into the darkness, dragging the screaming alien along with him.

“I know what we’re dealing with here, and there is no stopping it. How do I access the door’s controls?” I asked Ares.

He looked to me, then shook his head. “It’s too late. Go, all of you.”

“I’m here,” Titan said.

“That’s a good reason to go,” I said. “Imagine something just as hard to kill as you, but it can absorb anyone it touches and gets their powers.”

He squinted at me, then at the opening. Apollo ran back toward us, and past us. Ares held his shield on guard and told us, “She’s right. Go. I fight in the rearguard.”

“What’s Mot do to people?” Venus asked.

“He’s got a couple thousand years of hunger to make up for. We need to go,” I said.

A burst of lightning flashed out of the darkness and floored Ares. He coughed and stood back up, metal showing through holes in his skin.”Go, now!” A long-haired, bearded figure stepped out of the darkness, tendrils trailing from his back. He wore rags that vaguely resembled Barkiel’s uniform and dropped one of the arms of Barkiel’s walker armor as he stepped out.

“This feels wrong,” Titan said, backing up.

Ares jumped forward and impaled Mot with his spear. Mot raised his arms and blasted Ares with more lightning that threw the old man back. Then his hands became icicles that broke off and flew at Ares. The Olympian got his shield up, but they penetrated, stabbing into his arm.

“Venus, slap him,” I said.

She jumped up and hit Titan across the face, then yelled, “We have to get as many people out as we can.”

I turned to head up the slope as well. I wasn’t as quick getting out of there as I was coming in, especially the way the floor kept spinning. I tried to get some nanites into me, but they flew out of my hand with all the spinning. At least I had time to advise the Psycho Flyers to hurry and take on as many refugees as possible so long as I was one of them. Then there was the rumbling, and I passed the fuck out as things began to collapse around us.

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Hare-Brained 10

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In the days after the bombing attempt on my daughter, I left most of the negotiation strategy to Titan and Venus. Titan, Venus, and Psychopomp. Maybe it’s just paranoia or pareidolia, but I’m seeing a pattern. Really, the culprit be chalked up to some shared concepts. Both our worlds had Greeks. One of those threads I’d pick up before dropping it to focus on the plan, only to grab at it again.

My household had a pretty good idea I wasn’t in a good mood. Most steered clear of me. Max kept offering me sane juice, as if I wasn’t taking my meds. I’m perfectly sane at the moment. I’m just pissed as hell. And I did try to relax a little when it was hard to sleep. Then I found out one of my favorite ASMR people retired all of a sudden in July and I went straight back to being fucking enraged!

Aside from that, I stuck to my own preparations. Missiles built, nanites stored up, and making sure a Dimensional Bomb was ready to go. I didn’t care to talk with Venus and Titan about the plan before I met them, or even after. I stepped through the Riccan base’s portal to Cape Diem headquarters where an attendant offered to take my cape or helmet. I waved them off. “Then allow me to show you to where you can meet with the others,” the guy said. I nodded and followed after, all four arms behind my back.

“Hello Gecko,” said Titan.

Venus nodded, “Gecko.”

They’d been enjoying a cup of coffee in Titan’s office. It looked warm. Not expensive, but he had a few things he liked in there, like books and a few photos. One with him smiling next to a woman with a bow in a Cape Diem uniform. One with a different woman and a girl missing a front tooth smiling. His powers may not be related to the Greek gods, but his libido might be.

“If it’s all the same, I think it’s for the best you two take the lead on this one. Let me stand there looking mean, as if y’all are keeping me from killing them,” I suggested.

“That’s a great idea,” Venus said.

“Just one more time… in order to agree to a peace, the following conditions must be met. Point one, they provide us with a vaccine and cure. Point two, they go public with their existence. Point three, they allow people to leave their group who wish to do so.”

“That’s new,” I said.

Venus said, “Dame told me how insular and controlling they are. They had to keep them like that as part of staying secretive. When they go public, there’s no reason to do so anymore. What do you think?”

“Fine,” I said.

“Is your head in this, Gecko?” asked Titan, straightening up.

“Yep. I’m here. My brain’s here. Everything’s accounted for,” I told him.

They shared a look. They didn’t know what was up, but they knew something was.

As a trio, clad in our respective garb, we all set out to the Cape Diem base in Switzerland, merely a portal hop away. I had a pair of Psycho Flyers on approach before this to throw off the Hares. Didn’t want them assassinating anyone. That’d be my job, after all. The Flyers broke off their approach to Geneva, which we were fairly close to, and instead landed a good distance from the city. Even better for my plants, they could swoop in and drop off a couple squads of my Dragon soldiers in no time.

I wish I had tanks I could bring in, but I think we’re at a point where I can outfit infantry with the firepower of tanks and enough armor to make it count well enough. The nanites provide a boost to healing that aids in muscle growth and stamina, along with a few subtle alterations to skin resistance and bone density.

I put Elda on a more intensive version of the program. She was flown off to the United States, to be dropped off in the midwest with her new armor, sword, and supplies. By the time I was appearing in Geneva, she was waking up to find herself stronger and faster in a country raged by civil war. It was her choice whether she stood up for the weak or took advantage of the chaos for her own advantage. I left a way to track her… a ring on her ring finger. It gives me GPS and even her pulse, should I care to keep an eye on it.

She’ll hate me, but I’m good at being hated. Even though the world might be caught offguard by what I aimed for, they really couldn’t be surprised.

Light rain sprinkled down as we stepped into the Place du Bourg-de Four. As impressive as a group as we made in our unusual party, the folks meeting us couldn’t help standing out either.

I recognized Ares. Smart choice for screwing us over. I thought they’d have Apollo, but they instead had a dark-skinned man with eyes the color of clear water and short, light brown hair. Despite the suit he wore, I caught a glimpse of wave tattoos running up his neck, with others on his face; a dolphin underneath his chin and some other fish bent like it was leaping over his eye. Or maybe not his neck. Their face was more feminine than I expected, and I couldn’t get a close enough look at their chest.

Another pair included an exceptionally pale woman with black hair that covered half her face, with a svelte, muscular body like a dancer’s. I labelled her “Rhythm” on my HUD because I found it funny. She was with a swarthy Asian man with an epic curled mustache. Aside from Ares, that bunch were all dressed in something like normal formal wear. Ares, old hippie that he was, more closely resembled Willie Nelson or Tommy Chong. He even had sandals on.

The last two of their group had another person I recognized. Barkiel stood there without his disguise. I recognized him from when he announced their agreement to these talks. The person next to him was taller, with a long jacket, the bottom of which swept out stiffly instead of hanging loosely. This one had a light, short fuzz of yellow hair on her pink head, and a horizontal scar cut through her right eyebrow. I assume it was a her because of the way her chest stuck out further than Barkiel’s did. This species either had mammaries, or something close enough to it.

Six of them to three of us. Not ideal if they hoped to escape, but I know enough to be wary of Barkiel. He’s got tricks.

We stopped twenty feet or so from them. The alien visitor with Barkiel looked to him. Barkiel stepped forward. “Greetings, honored foes. Welcome to the negotiations. Allow me to introduce our party. Representing the Old Gods are Olokun of the Orisha and Ares of the Olympians.” For reasons of politeness, we shook hands. I had the advantage there, being able to shake both their hands at once.

“On behalf of the humans, we have here Margaritte Manx and Ian Borjigin.” Nice names. They’re gonna die.

“In the name of our group of visitors to your planet, I have here Captain Israkeel, and I am known as Barkiel.” Maybe it’s because I’m used to her looking at me with the expression, but I could tell Venus took particular exception to Barkiel upon his introduction.

Venus looked to me after he was done, as did Barkiel when he had stepped back behind his Captain there.

I stepped up. “I have brought with me Venus, champion of the Master Academy of superheroes, and Titan, leader of Capie Diem, dedicated to serving all and saving the day for everyone. I am Psychomp Gecko, Empress of the rogue nation of Ricca.”

When I stepped back, Venus spoke up. “We have come to see if we can come to an agreement over your unprovoked attack on our peoples and our response in kind or if this must continue until one of our sides is destroyed.”

Israkeel nodded, then raised a hand in front of Barkiel and gestured. Barkiel turned and clapped. The waiters from a coffee shop rushed out, setting up a folding table between our two groups. They ran back to get the chairs when Israkeel turned to Barkiel, “Did you want to try out that gizmo to keep the rain away?”

He smiled, “I’m afraid I left that apparatus behind.”

They brought us an umbrella with the chairs and took our orders. Barkiel and I both declined.

The silence was tense enough while we all waited, though at one point Olokun looked to me and asked, “You were our Tripura Sundari if I am not mistaken.” Their voice was soft then, feminine.

“One of your tricksters used a substance meant to hide my memories and called me by that name,” I responded.

Olokun looked to Ares, this time speaking with a voice that suggested the ownership of dong. “Many decisions were made without my input.” When he turned to look at me, he smiled, his voice softening once more, “I hope you were welcomed warmly into our hospitality.”

When Titan spoke, everyone noticed, “It’s an old tradition among various gods that hospitality is to be respected. Each of us welcomed one of yours with hospitality and was rewarded with betrayal.”

Olokun folded their hands in front of them like a prayer, “I must apologize. Again, there were questionable decisions made behind the backs of the chain of command.”

“With all due respect,” Venus jumped in here, “how can we expect any agreement here to be honored by your people if it is normal for them to ignore your chain of command?”

Olokun shared a look with Israkeel. Israkeel raised her nose before answering, “You have our full attention now and we give you our word we are instilling discipline and respect into the ones who lack it.”

“And we’ll just take your word for that?” I asked.

Israkeel smirked, “We are all here to give our word to an agreement.”

“It’s about trust,” Venus said, nodding to Israkeel, who returned the gesture.

Things kicked off in earnest once they all got their drinks. Israkeel opened things up at that point. “Empress Gecko’s message to us incorporated the phrase ‘unconditional surrender.’ I should hope this was mere affectation.”

Venus responded for me. “We have conditions. First, if you want us to stop dismantling your operations, we will need a cure and a vaccine.”

Barkiel leaned over to whisper something to Israkeel. I cranked up microphone sensitivity enough to hear him tell her, “Gecko is in possession of a cure.”

Israkeel said, “Agreed.”

Except Olokun and Borjigin were whispering back and forth too, with Olokun asking, “You said we were twenty years from a vaccine.”

“I said thirty years, but somebody panicked. You can’t agree to this, because it’s not physically possible” Borjigin told him.

“We agree to whatever they want. They can’t kill us for trying to vaccinate them,” Olokun whispered back. Then, loud enough to where he or she was supposed to be heard, they said, “The gods agree.”

Borjigin tightened his jaw, but added his agreement as well. I saw the other human put her hand on his forearm. I think they all knew they didn’t have a vaccine ready.

“The second thing we demand for is that you allow your members to leave if they want,” Venus said.

Olokun shook her head. “Unacceptable. Our people must stay with us for our protection and theirs. The world would find us out.”

“Our third condition is that you let the world know about your group anyway,” Titan said, grinning.

Manx nodded along to that one. “We would lose our status and become pawns to be used as leverage to co-opt our powers for the worldly governments. We just want to protect ourselves.”

“You lost the right to talk about protecting yourselves the moment you used my portals and their countries to distribute a virus that’s killing people and trying to handicap supers,” Titan said through a smile that could make a shark back off.

“As I said-” Olokun started, but they were cut off by Israkeel.

The alien captain bowed her head, “We took the course of action we felt was best. We have reason to believe the growing population of superhumans is a threat to the entire Earth, including our loved ones among you.” Israkeel smiled over at Borjigin, who flushed.

“Is that why you sent my daughter a bomb?” I asked. Venus went bolt upright at that, as did Titan a half-second later when he’d processed it.

On the other side of the table, the Three Hares delegation looked between each other except for Barkiel and Israkeel. The Captain looked right at me. “None among us did such a thing.”

“Allow me to remind you then,” I projected an image of my shaking daughter holding the box. “Fingerprint scanners to activate a timed detonation. Gun-style, uranium rings and uranium core, with just enough deuterium and tritium to make it spicy.”

Israkeel laid her hands down on the table, palms up. “We’ll do whatever you want to assure you we weren’t behind this and make this right.”

I pushed the table over between us. I punched right through to grab Israkeel’s throat and squeezed, then got another hand on there. Any human and I’d have been crushing spine while blood spurted, but the alien was tough.Venus grabbed at one of my free arms and tried to pull me. She didn’t have much luck until something severed the choking hands. Titan grabbed onto me as well and lifted me in a bear hug.

Venus, at least, had time to notice the lack of blood coming from my wrists, and the lack of flesh within the armor. Then the D-Bomb went off, setting off a cascade of events.

First, I lost contact with the Dudebot I’d given four arms to as the D-Bomb within it tore a small hole in reality, big enough to take Venus and Titan with it. Their intervention stopped me from having to give them a hug. At the same time, another bomb activated on Ricca, disappearing from the bomb lab Dr. Creeper had kept the device in.

Titan, Venus, and the Dudebot reappeared in the Directory building where I sat on my throne in my real armor. In Geneva, another new one torn in reality spat out the shell of the nuclear, hollowed out but sitting on top of a large, black, rounded bomb of the sort seen in cartoons. If the Hares had a moment to read, they’d might have noticed it read “That’s all, folks!” written on the side of the cartoon bomb in white paint. It went off before they possibly could have.

I could have gone nuclear, but for Max’s medication. People hold nuclear weapons as particularly awful, no matter how few their death toll in comparison to conventional arms. A terrorist bombing in Geneva would be glossed over. I was a supervillain. I do things like that. A nuclear attack on a foreign country is harder to walk away from without your metaphorical nuts in a literal vice.

The Psycho Flyer began to move it, the soldiers onboard getting instructions and photos showing them who to make sure is dead.

“What did you fucking do?!” Venus yelled at me in the Directory building.

“They tried to kill my daughter. Peace is off the table,” I told her.

“I should take you in right now. This alliance is over with!” she yelled back at me.

I just laughed, a short and cynical bark. “They tried. To kill. My daughter. And probably me along with her. I warned them. I told them it would happen. If they sent another assassin, I’d send one of my own, and it would be the only one I needed to send.”

“You’re just a scared bastard,” she said, walking up close to make tuning her out harder. “You don’t care about making the world better anyway. You say you want peace for your daughter, but you’ll never get it. You’re too scared of giving peace a real chance in the end, because if people can put aside hate and revenge, they can improve and you’ll know you’re wrong, you’re wrong for killing them instead of giving them a chance, because you’re a hurting, jealous little man who wishes he was a hero but has to settle for killing everyone he thinks is wrong with the world except the worst part of it. Himself. Yourself. You have to make sure everyone stays wrong so you can prove yourself right!”

She slapped me across the helmet, once, then again. Then she punched me, grabbed my helmet, and slammed me to the ground. She raised her fist and extended a spike that I knew could generate an electric current. She didn’t know it wouldn’t penetrate anyway, but still all I did was look up at her and ask, “Are you going to kill me?”

“I should. Do you know how many people are going to die?” She asked, and I swear there were tears in her voice.

“Every Hare I can get my hands on,” I said. “But not me unless you want that speech you gave to apply to you, too.”

She pulled the spike back in, but gave me a punch to the belly that knocked the wind out of me. She stood up and began to walk out, accepting a wing draped over her by Titan.

I smiled to myself in spite of the discomfort and pulled myself back onto the throne of Ricca. Words can be weapons too. I prefer bombs when available, though. They were effective enough in Geneva, as my soldiers soon reported back they had the remains of five individuals in the middle of a wrecked street with some big water main busted and flooding the area. Manx and Borjigin were a mess. Israkeel was in slightly better shape, meaning her body had been blown into a nearby building where being impaled through couple of support beams finished her off. Olokun had stayed relatively intact better than the humans, but that was a moot point with identifiable body parts scattered all over.

That just left Barkiel. The other one who hadn’t ordered a drink. The one who, upon playback of satellite footage over Geneva, disappeared all on his own around the same time our side of the table had.

Tricky little Barkiel. I’ll find him too.

If even gods bleed, I know what he’ll do.

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Hare-Brained 8

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Micro-managing my island is fun and all, but I’m missing all the fun stuff. Despite being a dictator, it’s considered bad form to just kill any of my citizens I’d like. I CAN, of course. Even the Directory’s pretty well gutted at this point. Security, Intel, and the military are all my guys. But it still benefits me not to be a malevolent dictator. Follow along here. If I’m an asshole, that spreads a lot more resentment than necessary and I get people willing to cooperate with coups and assassination attempts. If I keep everyone poor and without the basics, that opens me up to Robin Hood situations.

Machiavelli once asked if it was better to be feared or loved. In The Prince, he concluded that it was better to be feared. He was also a proponent of democracy who argued that the tyrant to be feared should live within a conquered city and arm the citizens of the city. I’m not listening to Machiavelli on this one. I’m just a feared assassin and dictator living in the city I conquered while allowing my people free access to all kinds of goods being smuggled or shipped through- FUCK!

Well, all the more reason not to piss off everyone. And all the more reason to put tiny machines I can control into the water supply.

I think it’s pretty clear I’ve gotten antsy waiting around. Y’all see it. Max has noticed it. Holly actually approached me one day asking if I had any fairy dust to sprinkle on her and help her fly, so she definitely noticed.

I tried to channel that energy toward building more stuff, Dudebot modifications, armor maintenance, etc., etc. And I didn’t take Max’s medication anymore, but I’m willing to think about it. As soon as negotiations are over.

Speaking of negotiations, I finally got word back on that. It happened while I was sitting in on a court hearing. Bank robbers helped themselves into a passing car. They forced the driver into the backseat at knifepoint and tried to escape from Security. Security laid down a tack strip at Wong Way, popped the tires, and now there was a hearing about possibly charging him as some sort of accomplice. The Imperial attorneys figured he might have brought the car along and pretended to be kidnapped to save his own skin.

I showed up to make sure the courts were working smoothly, but I think I’ll have to take a look at finding some way to keep something like this from even making it to court. The attorneys representing the Empire need a little shaking up over it, and I might implement some sort of public defender program. The guy’s just sitting there without an attorney, ignorant of arguments, procedures, motions, and all that.

The judge was quicker on the uptake than the Imperial attorneys. He banged his gavel and declared, “I am not inclined to press the matter further with someone whose only crime was being borne on the Wong side of the tacks.”

I nodded and got up to leave when I saw Barkiel standing there. One of these purple humanoid aliens of the Three Hares, he favored jeans and a denim jacket, projecting a disguise of himself as just another guy with sandy blonde hair. This time, he let the human projection fade into one that more accurately showed himself in a uniform that included a short jacket with poofy upper arms that reminded me of those fancy uniform pants, the jodhpurs.

I raised an eyebrow. Barkiel clicked his heels together and stood up straight. “I have an official announcement for Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca and North Korea.”

“Can we take it outside?” I asked, quietly. Looking around, it didn’t seem anyone else had noticed the projection. I walked through the projection and the door to find a more suitable place for receiving an emmisary from a hostile group. My first thought was to sit on the nearest throne, but… fine, ok, I led him to the lobby of the courthouse. “A most unconventional audience, Barkiel.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Empress,” he said, floating over to stand in front of me and perform a formal Western-style bow. “My superiors wish for me to inform you of the receipt of your message and our desire to meet with you and representatives of the other belligerents.”

“As it happens, my island is a great place to have such a meeting. Here, in the Directory Building, in a week.” I tapped my toe on the floor, figuring the impatience and annoying sound might mess with Barkiel.

He kept his voice calm and downright monotone as he responded, “Your island is unacceptable. We suggest Jerusalem as an alternative.”

I shook my head. “First, that’s insulting to my island. You should go outside and apologize. Second, that’s not happening. Just about the only thing Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in that city can all agree on is that I’m not allowed there anymore. Which is really stupid, because I was Pope once. That changed before I could do anything about the kid-fucking too, and the world’s worse off for it.”

Barkiel tried not to laugh. “We need a neutral location. We propose Switzerland.”

I was going to propose Mu, but Switzerland isn’t too bad… “The Island of Mu.”

“You maintain a client state on that neutral location. Should you agree to a meeting in the public square of Place du Bourg-de-Four in Geneva, we would be willing to acquiesce to your desire on the date.”

A public square isn’t a bad idea. It’d be much harder for them to pull off replacing everyone around like in that John Wick movie, and being outside gives a lot more options to get away if it’s an ambush. Plus, I can keep an eye out with satellites and even launch on the place. It’s bad form to launch missiles at Switzerland, but it’s not like they’ve helped any of the major world powers out in a war lately. The thing about neutrals is that they have enough sympathy to your cause not to attack you themselves, but they’re more than happy to stand by and watch your enemy throw your corpse in a ditch.

I nodded to him, “You bring your leaders, we bring ours. And we meet in a week, when the autumnul equinox has brought me to my full power.

No matter what, my preparations shouldn’t take too much longer, but I have to have time for Titan and Venus. So a week from when we talked: September 24th. And the part about the equinox is just a straight-up lie that might put doubts into someone’s head if he tells them about it. Never be afraid to lie to your enemy… it’s kinda their fault if you’ve killed a bunch of their people already and they choose to believe whatever you say.

Barkiel didn’t stay to goad me into anything. I think someone had a way of keeping an eye on him, because that alien’s been helping me take down his people. Well, technically he’s been helping me kill off the divine part of the Three Hares. He even helped me escape from them. I don’t know what game he’s playing, but I know he’s not entirely opposed to me succeeding.

I immediately sent off a transcript of the conversation to Titan and Venus and called up everyone to check on how we were doing. Still no vaccine. The island shield seemed to do well, but they found some more issues when testing it. Something about regulating the flow of electricity and concerns about heating. They’re working on it. It’s not the first shield the Riccan Institute of Science has dealt with, even with the post-Claw brain drain. It should be ready in case anything goes down when I decapitate the Hares.

But first, it was off to dinner with Citra. My poor wife has gone through a lot. Not labor, ok, but she used to be my maid, then her mother and I had sex and I agreed to marry her, then married another woman and made her pretend to be that woman for awhile. Such is not the origin of a happy marriage, but I’m at least trying not to be a complete asshole.

So I took her out. I’d wanted to get all dressed up and go to this fancy place, but a little bit of Max’s beer prompted me to get the novel idea of asking her what she wanted to do. “Dance with me,” she said. And so instead of fancy dressing up that I enjoyed, we threw on skimpy clothes and went out to this dark club with pounding beats. I don’t normally dress like that, as I’m a villain in the streets and a freak in the sheets.

It was there in the club I discovered my wife is considered something of a hotty. Or at least a lot of the guys thought so when they saw her in a leather skirt and stripper heels. Which, if I’m not mistaken, explains where my pair disappeared to. We should really go shoe shopping together.

Stripping can be good exercise, and you never know when you’ll need to fight using poles. Plus, the heels are really good for inserting into enemy weak spots, like eyes or urethras. I have trouble getting them in on the first swing, but I am known for my dogged persistence. And doggy-style insistence. Which explains why Citra preferred to dance up on me from behind and whisper in my ear, “I got a new strap-on.”

I wrapped my arms around hers, holding her hands and keeping her close to me. “I’m a poor excuse for a husband.”

We danced way too slow for a place with a spinning discoball that helped reflect multicolored lights through the black lights of the dance floor.

“You’re my wife though,” she said, whispering in my ear before giving the lobe a little nibble. “Evil supervillain Psycho Gecko is concerned about taking time off for her wife.”

“I may be sleeping around, but this is supposed to be a partnership between you and I, but I’ve forced you into roles you were never prepared for. Mother to a child you didn’t want or ask for. Wife to one of the most hated people on Earth. Empress to a nation you were a servant in. You’ve had no say in this, and that’s not what I want. So, to once again drag out that most interesting of questions… what do you want?”

I felt her press a kiss against my hair where it covered the back of my neck, then return to my ear, speaking a little louder to be heard over a new song that started up. “I’d like to go to college and be the second best Empress on Earth. And I want to have you all to myself. And I want to put a baby in you.”

That brought a raised eyebrow. “I can think of two ways that last one’s possible right now, and I have to warn you that I’m not into unbirthing.”

She giggled in my ear. “Max has some ideas about that provided you don’t give your daughter and her best friend a baby half sister first.”

I rolled my eyes and leaned back against her. “Just not a lot of guys I feel that way about… and the thought DID occur to me. It felt symmetrical in a freaky way.”

“Mhm, I bet.” I let her turn me around to face her. The face I saw wasn’t hers. It was Dame’s. “Maybe this is the woman you would like a baby with?” She held up her phone and pressed a button, at which point her face began to change again through what I recognized as nanite plastic surgery. After a few seconds, she had Venus’s face. “Or her?”

I smiled in a crooked, skeptical sort of way. “You really don’t want me messing around anymore, do you?”

She winked at me, then noticed something over my shoulder. Her smile faded. “It’s Wong.”

“I mean, if we both agreed I could do it, it wouldn’t be, but clearly that’s not the case here.”

She pointed over my shoulder. I turned to see one of the Directors I recently sent home on indefinite leave. It was him and a half dozen other guys with Uzi pistols and swords that looked like short machetes with handguards, known colloquially as butterfly swords.

I broke into the DJ’s computer and made an alteration to the playlist. The crowd were understandaly confused when the song changed to “Danger! High Voltage” by Electric Six. I kept dancing along with Citra as irritated people left the floor, making plenty of room for Wong and his gang to surround me, illuminated by the colored lights from the discoball spinning overhead.

I pushed Citra down my body. Lower, lower… until she was safely on her knees while I faked moans.

“I knew if I watched, you would make a wrong move,” announced Wong.

“Oh yeah. Right there. There, there, there, oh my ME!” I yelled, raising my face and firing my eye laser. The discoball redirected the laser all over the club and the men who came to voice their vociferous opposition to my tyranny, frying them and catching parts of the club on fire.

I laughed as Citra stood up and checked out the corpses. “As hot as this has been, it’s kinda dead on the dance floor now.”

She smiled and took my hand to lead me off to a night of spousal fun, telling me, “I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want to start a flame in your heart.”

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The Belly Of The Bunny 8

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I don’t know how much it fits my memories, but I have a rough idea of a lot of California being desert, especially to the southeast of Los Angeles. There were suburbs, that’s still a bit of a desert in its own way. And it was near one of those the clouds dipped to the ground.

I’d tried zooming in to figure out what that whole mess was since I got close enough for it to cover a lot of the sky for me. I know something like half the state’s on fire, but this stuff looked different. Things didn’t smell like someone was having a barbecue, either. Not even of people. Wow, I really know what that smells like. I want to say pork is involved?

I noticed something a lot weirder than that as I walked into this suburb, though. There was no movement among the carbon copy dwelling cutouts that made up the suburbs. Variations on a theme. The same style might have a bush in one spot and a tree in another. I thought there weren’t people at all, but then I noticed the dog. At first, it looked like just another part of the bush, until I saw the ear of corn. That seemed out of place, more so when I followed it down to the dog standing next to the bush, hidden under corn leaves. I took a closer look and found corn growing from a car, corn growing out the open window of a house. Even, it turned out, an ear peeking out from a baby carrier next to an affected woman standing in her driveway.

I really missed my environmentally sealed armor in that moment, even though I couldn’t remember it myself. Less than an hour later, I saw where a crowd of corn soldiers picked their way through the houses and cars. They’d walk up, grab a bunch of corn, and assemble it into a new soldier for their army.

I don’t really know how they noticed me. It’s not like they had eyes or noses, only ears. Regardless, they finally picked up on my presence. I waved at them. “Greetings. Take me to your leader.”

A sound went through them like a breeze through a corn field and they advanced on me. I held up my hands. “It’s ok, no need to grab me. I can get there myself. Just looking for this Centeotl guy.” I remembered the guy’s business card. It was a wrinkled, scorched mess, but I still had it and held it up for them. They stopped where they were upon “seeing” it and opened a path through the middle for me.

“About time I got some respect around here,” I said as I walked through.

From then on, I followed the road and a few corn soldiers to the big camp. The guards there didn’t just let me past when they saw their boss’s business card. These children of the corn escorted me along to where Centeotl stood. He wore dark brown slacks and no shoes. Shame, because while sneakers clash with slacks, they didn’t clash as much as the shirtless look and the body paint, and provide comfort for athletics. And his chest had thick lines of body paint at sharp angles, all in black. He sat sharpening a knife as I approached. Behind him sat a large, round pod of pale yellow material that spat a constant stream of something into the air, forming those ominous clouds.

“Heya, how are you Sam?” I asked.

He looked up at me. “Why did you come back?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know why she let me go exactly. Something about her getting a message that you were going to attack the city and her school.”

He studied my face, but I’ve recently become an expert on acting like I don’t know anything. It happened around the time I suddenly stopped knowing things.

“Who said that?” he asked me.

I shrugged. “No clue. We were walking along, my hands tied and all, when she started fighting the air. After a couple seconds, she looked at me and asked what was going on, how I was making holograms. She said it was a guy with a jean jacket and jeans and a bigass mohawk. Don’t know what she was talking about, but she held a conversation with whatever she heard. Then she just said ‘fuck it,’ and ditched me to get back there quicker.

“What is Barkiel interfering for?” Centeotl asked.

“Who?” I asked.

He pointed up to the sky. “One of the aliens you might know as visitors. He watches the world and tracks our interests. He agrees with me, as would anyone who has seen so much of humanity.”

“So he’s one of us, or at least on our side, but he’s acting against you. Is there… ok, so I haven’t spent much time around the visitors. What’s their deal? You know, is there any reason why they might want different things than the gods and their relatives?”

He waved me over to where a couple of corn soldiers dropped off a metal folding chair for me. I took a seat as he explained. “The gods of the east were already retreating from the world when the visitors crash landed. They heard of creators and gods of the forge, and sought them out to repair their ship. The world and the gods weren’t capable of fixing the vessel, so they were forced to send a message back to their people. They got an answer many years later, time enough for demigods to be born, grow old, and die. They were long-lived and their people would send someone to help, but they lived a great distance away in space and their people here were not important. I’ve had drinks with Barkiel and he said his government often ignores the needs of its people.”

He shifted looked at his knife. “Lookin’ sharp,” I commented.

He nodded and slid it into a sheath on his belt. “Their leader, Tetra, spoke with us and told us to be careful. Their government doesn’t care about their own people, but they are easily threatened by other species. If there were too many gods, if our powers spread inordinately, if our people advanced too fast, our planet could be treated as a threat.” Centeotl pointed at my shorts. “Are you hurt?”

I looked down at a drop of blood on the crotch of my short shorts and thought of how slowly I wished I could murder that guy who called himself Apollo and who claimed he reset my menstrual cycle. Because I’m not supposed to have a menstrual cycle.
I looked up and shrugged. “Just some maintenance I haven’t been able to get here lately.”

Centeotl screwed up his face. “Someone must have tampons you can take around here.” He waved to the houses around us.

I leaned back and crossed my legs over the other. “Yeah, sure, but this is interesting. I haven’t heard so many of these stories.”

“I’m not surprised. You must have been isolated for a long time to avoid the same fate as your pantheon.”

I let my face fall. “Um, can we not talk about that? It’s just wild. Sometimes, I wish I knew as little about it as the presidents and prime ministers.”

He chuckled. “The aliens warned us of computer records, but my favorite story is Operation Snow White. Scientology paid for itself when we discovered the United States had started to find evidence of our financial dealings. They were left with stories of aliens telling them to infiltrate the government, and we stole the documents they obtained about us and destroyed them.”

I clapped for him with all four hands. “Nice. Do you use cults often?”

“I don’t. Barkiel loves them. Did he tell you about that Applewhite man?”

I shook my head, but then the projection of the Denim Dude showed up between myself and Centeotl, standing where he could see each of us with just a turn of the head.

“Speak of the devil,” said Centeotl.

“Talking about me were you?” Denim Dude/Barkiel said, looking between us. “I’m so glad you two met.” He winked at me before turning his attention back to Centeotl.

“Tripura is returned to my custody. It’s a shame to come this far and back away, but I can’t justify an attack now,” Centeotl told him.

“Sure you can. She tricked Tripura and sent her back here to kill you,” Barkiel said, cocking his thumb my way.

I pretended to stretch, with two of my hands moving back behind me. Only the ones with all fingers, though. I pushed the safeties off.

“I hardly see how,” Centeotl said.

“Even if she wasn’t secretly Psycho Gecko in disguise, she still has a pair of guns with her,” Barkiel told him.

I pulled the 1911s and fired into him from the hips before raising one in both hand. I fired my eyes as well as the pistols. The recoil would have been worse for someone with standard human strength, especially one-handed and side by side where I can feel the pressure from each firearm firing. Between my strength and sitting feet from my target, that didn’t matter so much. I was looking him right in the eye with my laser eye, and that counts for something.

Centeotl slumped to the side, to the road, his body twitching. I looked down though to a pain in my chest where a sharpened knife stuck in me. I dropped the guns and reached for the knife, seeing how deep it was in. Deep enough to hurt like hell, turns out.

“Not too bad an assassination,” Barkiel said, looking at the corpse, then looked up to me. “You’ve got a problem there.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” I said. I grabbed the knife, counted to one, and pulled it out. I dropped it, not even caring, because it hurt just as damn much taking it out as it did going in, except with the extra feeling of my eye laser shooting into the wound at a lower power setting to fry the whole bloody mess.

I cut the laser as I started to cough, which caused more pain and some tearing from inside the wound. Then came more bleeding, more cauterizing, more pain. Then I tried standing. Want to guess what I felt then? It hurt like hell to breath, to stand, to walk. Barkiel’s presence didn’t help. “Good going, champ. You saved the day and stopped the corn army.”

I looked around to see the corn soldiers had indeed all crumbled. Then I took a moment to do what so few people do. I looked up and saw the clouds were still there. A glance at the big pod showed it had stopped, but I wondered how soon before it came down, or if it even had a real purpose it could still fulfill. Between that and the pain of walking, I figured it was as good a time as any to steal a car, even though I had to pull a stinky, sticky mess of a teen girl out from behind the wheel of the mini Cooper. Sure, I’d forgotten hotwiring a car, but that part’s unnecessary when someone leaves the key in the thing.

I didn’t bother paying attention to see if Barkiel had left or not. I was more concerned with getting the hell out of there, and he didn’t follow. All the corn made driving out of there difficult. Not easy to navigate a maize. Ha! I knew I had some corny puns left in me.

A funny thing happened on the way back, though. The sky fell. Before I’m accused of being a little cock, it was the clouds of whatever Centeotl had been pumping into the sky. I closed everything up as tight as could be and gunned it, now clear of all corn. But I wasn’t going to make it. I had to find shelter. So I gave the wheel a sharp turn, popped the tires as I jumped the front porch, and plowed through the front door. I continued on through a sofa and slid to a stop in the living room just as the opening of the Simpsons stopped playing on the flat screen hanging off the wall.

I sat there, waiting. And waiting. I reached for the door handle, hissing in pain, then remembered that somehow, for some reason, that stuff would fall just as soon as I opened the door and got out. It felt like a dumb enough action it would force laws of the universe to change in order to punish me. Twenty seconds after that, the stuff in the air fell with a dusty impact.Some got into the house, but the dust cloud dispersed before it got past the foyer.

The first cough didn’t hit until soon after I stopped the roads were no longer covered and I felt safe ditching that thing for that didn’t give off sparks when I drove. I had to stop at the next gas station and hack up blood to the confusion of everyone around. The coughing caused more pain, and I couldn’t stop myself putting a hand near my wound.

I felt a leaf poking out of it. It felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breath in and something tickled my airway. It looked like I’d gone from being a plant in their organization to being a plant in a gas station parking lot. I opened the car door and tried to walk to a new car, but my foot caught on something. It caught on roots growing down through the concrete. I tripped over and fell there on all fours.

I heard the squealing of another car, then footsteps running closer. I looked up to see Venus there, reached up to her.

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a protective case, like for glasses. When she opened it, she had a vial there surrounded by padding. She knelt and raised my chin up. “Even not being you, you ran off to kill someone anyway.”

I hacked out an “It’s what I do,” around bloody spittle. I felt things pushing inside me. Pushing around and pushing through.

“I know. I hoped to have a better you as long as possible. Forgive me, Gecko,” she said.

“Who I am, what I’ll be… why save me at all?” I asked. I felt an enormous pressure in my head and something start to grow and block my throat.

Venus tilted my head back and poured the nanites in. “It’s what I do.”

She held me as the nanites disassembled the mass growing inside me, as well as scar tissue and cauterized tissue. It killed the corn trying to grow out of my holes, and made me whole. And as I stayed there, I felt it all start flooding back. Every nightmare, every trauma, every time I had to sacrifice a part of myself to survive.

It was enough to break me once.

But with it came every success and accomplishment. Killing some of the biggest and baddest motherfuckers around. Every fond memory of friends and family. I can’t wait to see my daughter again. And every skill and resource I’ve been able to build up.

I’m not just the me who broke. I’m the me who shatters cities and makes buildings crumble. I’m the me who scares away people like Spinetingler and who destroys alien fleets. I’m the me who nearly killed a world.

And I’ll be enough to break the so-called “gods”.

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