Praetor M didn’t come alone. I counted five like him. I don’t know if Praetor’s a title or part of a name. He and his buddies flew around the world, stopping off in every country and in places important to supers. Master Academy’s campuses got their own visit, as did Paradise City, Cape Diem’s headquarters, and so on. These people are amazingly well-informed for people who claim to be from another dimension. I hope they don’t read my blog.
VillainNet was abuzz. Some of the bars were being visited. Kingscrow’s Low Earthy Bar burned when someone tried to take one of them. Most didn’t fight, at least then. So while Venus called in to double check on the Master Academy and some of her friends, I called up Ouroboros, out of Paradise City.
“Empress Gecko, I’ve expected you to call,” he said. I paced in my personal office.
“Yeah, I imagine a lot of people are calling around now. Somebody’s flying around, telling the world it’s going to be invaded, and asking people to pick a side. Those low enough down with nothing to lose might just take that offer. We villains are known for our ambition occasionally overcoming our prudence. I guess because heroes don’t normally have much to do with ambition,” I said with a laugh. It had come to mind as a funny thought that could disarm him a bit.
He shared a chuckle with me. “Heroes, and others, could be so worried about protecting those they’re responsible for that they’d take that deal. Betraying the rest of the world for power and protection? Who does that sound like?”
“Crap, they probably have visited the government over there already, haven’t they?” I asked.
“There are rumblings from state governments that they don’t know what side they’ll be on when this starts. Everyone’s calling up armies and militias, but they’re not coordinating. They’re pointing guns at each other and asking ‘are we on the same side?’” He put a lot of emphasis on the last part, the question.
“It is the official policy of Ricca that the only person allowed to invade this dimension from another Earth is me. You side with them, maybe they’ll play fair with you. You better hope they can protect you from me, though. Well, not you. You’re too smart to fall for this divide and conquer cockwax. But people on the desperate side, people with grudges, they might be willing to catch bullets for some laughing interdimensional bunch.”
“What do you have planned?” he asked.
There was the rub, as Shakespeare would have put it. The phrase probably originated from him trying to discuss difficulties masturbating, the ol’ pervert. Pretty sure that’s how he came up with the ending to Romeo and Juliet, at least. “They’re watching us somehow. The places they’re going, they know a lot more than they should. Planning for an enemy that sees everything you do is tricky.”
I expect plenty of casualties, so the nanites are being cranked out as fast as we can get the materials. We’ve started taking payment in the metals we need. China, Russia, and the South American bloc give up some fairly common ores and get plasma and laser small arms in return. The power armor’s less popular. People are throwing together militias, and it’s more valuable to have a weak target with a gun to fire back, than someone who can take a couple shots but can’t do anything back.
“Do you have anything that can find out where they’re from?” Ouroboros asked.
“I’m afraid not. Maybe my old world would, but myself and that Earth aren’t on speaking terms,” I said.
“Have the heroes talk to them,” Ouroboros said. From elsewhere in the residence, I heard a familiar squee of happiness as Beetrice arrived. The Queen Bee of North Korea would love me to death if I still had a cock to let her try. Switching to the V-brand didn’t stop her from laying hundreds of eggs with stored sperm. Hundreds of humanoid bee people who serve her and me and I have no clue what to do about having that many kids. I try not to think about them. Or her. I… readers, do you think they all expect birthday presents?
“You better break out some of the toys in that vault of yours. I gotta go. Probably oughta be me who calls up Spinetingler,” I told him.
He laughed. After thirty seconds, I stopped waiting on him to get over it and hung up. I ran to the door and pushed a chair against it. Then I dragged a bust in front of it. It’s a unique one, the only stone depiction of Queen Victoria’s boobs I’ve ever heard of, but sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. I grabbed a nearby bookcase and started to pull it down, but I had to stop. Because how will my enemies learn to fear Psycho Gecko if even I’ve forgotten?
I pushed the bust aside, determined to give Beetrice, Citra, and Venus all a part of my mind, the unwell part. I tossed the bust and chair aside, then pulled the door open. Stepping out, I yelled, “Beetrice! Enough is eno-oof!” The giant bee woman hug-tackled me to the floor, then lifted me up like I was some snuggly kid. I get a size thing every once awhile, but I’m an Empress, dammit! Not a cuddle toy!
She hugged me tight. “Are those pigtails? So cute!”
“Put. Me. Down,” I ordered.
“Not until I get kisses!” she exclaimed, pressing her mandibled mouth close.
My follow-up to the order was quiet. “Now.” She stopped and looked at me, then set me down.
“Good. Glad you’re here. We need to coordinate a response. Follow me,” I headed down the hall for the main living area. Sam and Holly watched the news while Max sniffed a bottle and set it in a centrifuge. “Max, that better not be more of my medicine. This is no time for sanity.”
The edges of his smile retreated, but he saluted all the same.
“I’m so glad to-!” Beetrice started. My hand shot up to cover her lips.
“You can be glad to see me alive. Shit’s a little more important than you treating me like a cat. This disrespect ends here and now. I am not a toy. I’m not someone fun to prank. I am the Empress. Someone has threatened to invade. I need us to get everyone and everything,” I said.
“What’s everything?” she asked.
I smiled, glad she was focused on the important questions. “Any nuclear weapons, MOABs, artillery, experimental weapons, doomsday devices; anything North Korea’s been packing to cause the apocalypse, I need it as a resource.”
She pouted. The mandibles dip a certain way. She nodded. “Tell you what, give me a couple hours to get things rolling, we’ll spend time together. Just send the orders, let’s start prepping everything.”
“Want me to bring it here?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No, keep it spread out. Maybe I’m being completely foolish, but I’d rather not have everything on one little island that could be taken out.”
I had to rush around to meet that deadline. Dr. Creeper was so excited at getting permission to ready everything they could find left in the archives that it was hard to keep him on task. Securing The Gralz was making more adjustments on Arachnoid. I had my armor loaded up in a new maintenance pod to be upgraded, if I could find anything else to add to the thing. Plus, I had to schedule things for my daughter’s birthday party. It’s coming up. It’d be nice if I had everything wrapped up in time, but sometimes birthdays happen when people are trying to kill you.
In the middle of rushing around like this, I stopped to go out with Beetrice. She met me outside the residence and picked me up in her arms, cradling me against her gently for someone with her strength. It occurred to me I might be as strong now. I had the arms to match her. The giggle slipped out a little more easily than I’d have expected.
She rose into the air and took off with me over the city. “Where are we going?” I asked over the flowing of the air and the flutter of her wings.
I felt her mandibles trace over the skin on the back of my neck as she whispered, “Shush. Relax.” She shifted and “Take One Me” began to play from a speaker between our bodies. The Ninja Sex Party cover. I howled with laughter as she carried me over the dark waters of the Pacific.
It was nice. I don’t like her obsession with me in ways that suggests problems with intimacy and relationships with insects in human shape, but I can trust her. I relaxed in her arms and let her carry me, knowing I had nothing to fear from her and her gentle kisses on the back of my neck. When we were far enough out, we arced up into the air. There was a lovely moment where she turned me around and held me. Just held me. I was the on who kissed her.
Then the entire internet focused on one thing and brought me out of it. The Praetor and the others stopped. Safe in Beetrice’s arms, I tossed my consciousness elsewhere. Wasn’t hard to find satellites focused on them high in the atmosphere over either Istanbul or Constantinople.
The order went out. The missile was loaded, then fired. Contrary to popular media, those things fly pretty fast. One noticed it and flew to intercept before it could detonate over them. He rammed into it halfway down the fuselage, so I set it off early and released a giant puff of nanites into the air. The other four were nowhere near it, but the one who ruined my little plan got drenched.
It was less a kill, more an autopsy. Working little by little, the nanomachines transmitted back data about the material of the grey man’s uniform, tissues, and organs. Fast enough to stop a missile? Sure, whatever. Able to survive being taken apart, cell by cell? The answer was no. Just imagine all the fun answers my Institute or Mix N’Max will have to their biology.
The others arrived behind one spewing flames from his hands. It cleared away the nanobot cloud and took out some on his infected friend’s skin. The one with the fire powers focused the gouts on the infected grey man and held it there. I lost most of the nanites, but myself and everyone else spying got data on the heat tolerances of our enemies. When the flames stopped, the man floating there shivered and clutched at himself, skin and clothing completely burnt off. Another floated toward him, eyes glowing, then reversed course suddenly. I lost the remaining nanites when the herald incinerated his compatriot down to the skeleton. It plummeted to the Earth, now nobody’s business but the Turks’.
It was just one. But it was blood in the water. Instead of doubting and waiting on some enemy to bring the fight to them, the world’s powers launched. Missiles flew in waves. The grey men tried to scatter, with one heading into space and another diving to the ground. The other two died in fire.
On the other side of the world, Beetrice held me. The world was silent except for her wings. She asked, “What are you thinking about?”
I smiled. “I think I needed this. This has been such wonderful fun, and it’s just beginning.”
Cue the Pink Panther theme.
Imagine, if you will, dear readers: a robot in my heavy armor sneaking carefully through a neighborhood in Florida. Not Orlando, where King Mickey reigns supreme, or even Miami. Everybody knows all about Miami. Hot as fuck there, especially this time of year, but my target did not hide there. Technically, I don’t think she’s really hiding. But whatever she’s doing it, she’s doing it in the very strangest part of the strangest state in Americastan.
The Florida Keys are odd, even by Florida standards, complete with their own semi-serious secession movement. There’s not much to fear from the Conch Republic, though. I think they’re seceding to get rid of daylight savings time and extend happy hour. They call themselves the Conch Republic; how important could their demands be?
The house in question had its own airstrip behind it, which made it rather easy to locate with the aid of drones. Ubiquitous little spy devices. Give everyone their own civilian drones to play with and nobody pays that much attention anymore to how often they zip around spying on people.
A gunshot rang out.
Ah, that’s right. I hear some people are selling drone shot for shotguns now. Good thing that was a cheap civilian version meant to blend in and help me spy on the area. It’s a little tougher to manage drones and a Dudebot at the same time, but I found what I needed. An airstrip with an older prop plane named “Conch Rage”, a Conch Republic flag hanging from the porch, and the presence of somebody capable of firing a shotgun.
I almost wish I could have felt the humid and windy night air for myself, but my own body was back in Ricca. I couldn’t just go myself. I had to get fitted for a big poofy dress for the party. So the Dudebot stalked the night of Florida’s archipelago.
“If anyone’s out there, fuck yer drone and stop spying on me or I shall unleash a rain of hellfire upon you like a thousand boots to the upside of your ass!” yelled someone from the porch with more cheap beer than wariness of tempting fate. Because fate is a petty bitch at times. Or is that me? Or is that both of us?
I didn’t actually need the guy’s house. It was his plane I was there for. He had a bit of fuel out back in a can, so I fueled up while he got more drunk. The house’s occupant finally came running once I started the darn thing. I started to pull away, but I turned and tossed him a life preserver ring. “Man overboard! Hold on tight!”
Between the alcohol and an unwillingness to let someone steal his plane, he actually did. It was probably mostly the alcohol, truth be told. He grabbed onto that ring as I taxied out and took off, dragging his drunk ass into the air. Once I’d gotten safely into the air, I called back, “Doing ok back there?!”
I couldn’t make out any words, so I figured I’d take it easy on him. “You look tense. Relax a bit!” And with that, I threw him a cool, refreshing beer. It thunked off his forehead and spewed a bit of beer belatedly. “You know what? Relax a lot!” I turned and hefted a cooler, dumping beer and ice at the trailing life preserver. I shook it all clear and, seeing him still holding on for dear life, I tossed the cooler at him too.
At that point, it was time to put in for a landing, and I had just the spot. A local hotel where a Belgian woman was vacationing. A woman with Marie in her name. I could have just snuck inside the place no problem, and in fact I did in order to find out which room she was in. But anybody can break into a hotel room. Being a supervillain means breaking into a hotel room with style. And fucking your nemesis, preferably in the ass. But mostly it’s the style part. Still a bit about the fucking though. I want to make it very clear that fucking is still an option.
It just wasn’t going to be much of an option in the hotel in question when I brought this old, WW2-era thing plowing into the opposite side of the building to the room I was aiming for. Which, come to think of it, meant this was a bad time to look Asian. And I suppose I didn’t have to holographically project the rising sun flag.
The plane caught fire and tore itself apart as it broke through walls and dragged along floor. The wings didn’t make it past the first room. By the fifth room, there wasn’t a whole lot left of the fuselage at all. I actually came skidding to a stop just before the room of my target, Princess Marie-Christine Daphne Astrid Elisabeth Leopoldine. The final Belgian princess.
I got up from my seat and walked around the flaming motor at the front of the stolen aircraft. I politely and quietly knocked on the wall to the last room. “Room service!”
“What the fuck is going on out there?!” cried the room’s occupant, which told me she was indeed in.
“Quiet in there, I’m being subtle!” I yelled back, then smashed a hole through the wall. I found the old bird in bed, hand near a lamp she’d turned on. She threw it at me, but I caught it and threw it right back, knocking her on the shoulder as she rolled to get up. I hopped on the bed, wrapped her in my cold metallic embrace, and set off the D-bomb, hurtling the Dudebot to Ricca.
The Dudebot dragged her over to a waiting Deep One guard. “Book ’em. This is one sick son of a bitch. You wouldn’t believe what I caught her doing in bed with a lamp.” The guard nodded and grabbed the screaming woman for a trip into the waiting castle. Sure, she was the black sheep of the royal family, but I doubt the atmosphere can get much worse there.
What surprised me more was seeing equipment being brought in that resembled enlarged holographic projectors, and seeing the 3D assemblers going at it building another pair of buildings and otherwise crowding out the military base.
Yeah, Venus’s idea to have all this linked to Cape Diem and partially on their grounds was looking better and better. Good thing I have an amicable working relationship with them. They’re fond of kids anyway, and I made sure to let them know anyone housed that site is welcome to the party too. Gonna be harder for the heroes to start shit with all those hostag- guests present. Refugees and Cape Diem capes. Saving the day by doing good deeds in other countries instead of just fighting first world problems.
And as for all that equipment now doing stuff on my military base, I intended to go right up to the guys loading it and find out what their deal was. Then I received an email from Pagan, my new head of Intelligence, informing me he was preemptively implementing additional security measures without my prior knowledge. So, I guess that’s good. That’s what I pay him for. Putting booby traps around without telling me first.
It put me off a bit, that having happened, but I figured it was a good thing. Delegation and all that. Letting other people worry about some stuff for me. It gave me more time to avoid Beetrice, the giant bee woman, queen of the Buzzkills and North Korea, and probably the best diplomat loyal to my Empire. Someone leaked word of Qiang’s upcoming birthday party to her and she arrived bearing presents, a retinue of Buzzkills, and an intense desire to hug me to death.
I didn’t care for the Buzzkills being around either. They don’t seem to be making a big deal about it, but they are my kids too. Only I’ve never shown any affection or fatherly anything toward them. They haven’t been making a big deal about me being their dad either, but it’s just strange to me. Almost all the interchangeable insectoid minions known as Buzzkills are my kids
See, this is why I should have gone after the Toybox. Leave me alone with time for idle ponderings and I end up wondering if bee people are going to call me Daddy. Bee people aside from Queen Beetrice, that is.
Luckily on several counts, I didn’t need to ponder for long. After a couple of days hoping for something to go wrong, something did. That is, I was awoken one night to digital alerts. We had an intruder on the island, at the base, in the conservatory, with a candlestick!
The last two turned out to be false alarms, but I slipped into my armor and jumped right out the door, getting caught by Beetrice in a hug as she flew back to the palace. “There’s a break-in!” she said, slowly turning me into a humanoid accordion with her embrace.
“Take me there, and less squeezing my lungs,” I said. She held me by my sides instead. The side of my boobs, the side of my ass. For a being whose palace has so many hexagons in it, she sure is a fan of curves. I “ahemed” several times as she flew me there, but she just interrupted her humming to ask, “You aren’t getting sick, are you?”
The mother of my children, folks. Take it from your old pal Psycho Gecko: keep the sex out of insects.
Something was wrong at the big pink princess castle, and I don’t just mean the obliterated front drawbridge or downed guards.
“Take me inside, Beetrice,” I directed before interrupting her giggling to clarify, “NOT that way.”
She buzzed on in there, past beat-up guards, broken walls, and Deep Ones who had been smashed with fallen debris. Our interloper burst through walls without regard for all our hard work we put all the machines through to build it. That inconsiderate bastard!
Thing was, the interior was nothing like I knew the inside of the castle to be. I programmed the damn thing. There were way fewer rooms, and no way to the upper stories. I don’t remember putting in a bridge or lava either, which is the room where Beetrice dodged a fireball. She yanked me to the left to avoid a charbroiling and brought us down to hover over the lava, with plenty of heat. “Seriously, where’d they get all the lava from?” I asked myself. “Beetrice, remind me to ask Pagan later if this is from the volcano under the island. I really need to know if we have access to that again.”
“When did we get a dragon?” she asked.
“I dunno,” I said, looking at the dragon and its foe. The man in front of it would have fit in at a bodybuilding competition. He had to be like 6’6”, with vertical teal and black stripes on his tights. Yeah, tights. And they were tight. I could make out butt muscles underneath the round hammer strapped to his back. He took a fireball head on, too, before firing some multi-streamed purple energy blast from his hands. Then, glowing purple, he flew over the dragon, which had advanced down the bridge to face him. Safe on the other landing, he withdrew his hammer and held it aloft, the beams of purple light flowing into the hammer from all directions. When he brought it smashing down on the bridge, the entire thing shook and briefly glowed purple. Then the bottom of the wood began to fall out and the ropes on that end snapped, sending the dragon plummeting to its presumed death in in the lava below.
The man in the costume turned and ran in into the next room. “Beetrice, follow that ass!” I instructed. As we crossed the gap, I looked down at the dragon and saw the hologram fail and paper burning off whatever robotic sentry Pagan had left behind. A frustrated yell came from ahead of us.
The next room was empty save for the hero and a broken holodisc that couldn’t maintain the illusion of a room full of women. Then the walls themselves began to churn and move, with ratcheting noises coming from all ’round. The hero turned to look at me, his face turning from rage to worry as I told him, “Sorry, but your princesses are in another castle.”
The roof collapsed in on him. As I soon found out, the whole of the castle was meant to fall in on itself, a fate I barely avoided thanks to my queen bee. She landed and refused to set me down, carrying me in a hug that didn’t look all that Imperial to all the soldiers and guards who showed up, with flyers hovering in the air. I spotted Silver Shark and VelocityRaptor in attendance as well. The real pink princess castle became visible briefly at the guards’ shift change, but by then they’d dug out the unconscious hero and brought him before me for judgment.
“I’ve agreed to cut back,” I said, trying to look intimidating while aggressively snuggled by an amazonian bee queen. “Take him to Cape Diem. Tell them to shove him through a portal or something. And whoever’s reporting to Pagan, inform him I need a dungeon, preferably with an oubliette or two. Maybe a labyrinth.”
When I dismissed them, I ordered Beetrice to return me to my palace, at which point she confronted me with the burning question of her night. “A labyrinth?”
“Yes, it’d be perfect for the babe.”
“The babe with the power.”
“Oh, let’s not start this again.”
I know what everyone’s wondering. I know it because I keep getting asked over and over again. I’ve been asked it by Sam. “Can’t you just make your own nuke?” And by Holly, “Don’t you have any nukes around here?” Even Silver Shark weighed in, “Aren’t you smart enough to build your own?”
I am indeed capable of throwing one together. There are probably plenty of villains on this island who can help with that. My answer was simple. “It’s not about making a nuke. It’s about taking one.”
The crowd of people who have all taken to camping in my palace didn’t find that satisfactory. “I bet Maxxy could even build you a nuke!” Sam said, gesturing toward Max.
I looked over to Max, who stood in my kitchen, pouring cereal into a pint of yogurt before taking a spoon to it. “Gecko knows what she’s doing. Leave me out of this,” he said, chomping on fruit loops and congealed dairy.
“Thank you, Max, you are a scholar and a gentleman.” I nodded toward him and crossed all my arms. I looked down to see Qiang mimicking my pose and reached down to hold her against me with my two lefties. “As I was saying, I am easily capable of making a nuclear weapon. I’ll even teach my little psycho bunny here if she wants to learn when she’s older.” I turned and kissed the top of Qiang’s head, then pretended to bite her hair. She giggled at that and hugged onto me.
I will, but only when she’s old enough to handle nuclear weapons, so at least fifteen or sixteen. I don’t want to pressure her into it, though. After all, she might prefer for her first WMD to be a chemical or even biological weapon. I can help with the chemical part, but I’ll have to impart on her that a biological weapon is a huge responsibility. I don’t want to help her build one of those for her to just forget about it and leave me to take it out and clean up after it.
“Making a nuclear bomb also does some weird stuff as far as international treaties. Now, even though people don’t invade countries who develop the bomb precisely because they now have that bomb to use against invading countries, it still creates some international tensions. More importantly, I don’t want to make one because it’s more important for it to be stolen. I have a lot of old files stored away, hogging valuable gigabytes I could use for more important stuff, like porn. Some of those files include the location of places where a certain large nation of imperialist pigs.”
Holly held up her hand. “Question! Do you have to call us pigs like that?”
“Yes,” I answered bluntly. Then I held up a booklet. “It says so in the manual.” I handed it over to her. The cover featured a row of grinning prisoners standing in front of a happy firing squad. “So You’ve Become A Dictator,” read the title above it. She took it and started reading through as I continued.
“There’s a group of these guys around, they’re spying on Ricca, and some of them have almost certainly come ashore without us detecting them. In retaliation, I’m going to steal one of their bombs. Just a bit of harmless tit for tat.” I pulled out another booklet and threw it at Sam just before she started to stifle a laugh at the thought of anything tit-related with me now. She caught some more of my educational reading, “The Dictator’s Guide To Preemptive Strikes”.
“Now, this next part will require all of you to practice the important skill of shutting the fuck up… but I’ll leak that we have it in some hidden site and wait for whoever they’ve got on the island to make a move for it. Then I snap the trap before Admiral Akbar can so much as perform vocal warm-up exercises.”
The joke landed a bit flat, in part because Max was busy with his cereal and Holly had become engrossed in the dictator manual. And that was the only reason nobody liked such an obviously phenomenal reference. “Wow, this is really mysoginist,” Holly said, never taking her eyes off the booklet.
I shrugged. “High turnover from purges, civil war, and regular war. They pretty much all turn women into baby factories.”
“Even the women dictators?” she asked.
“Check out the roster on Page 78,” I said.
She flipped to it. “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”
“That’s why they’re not called vagtators,” I said. “So, we have any questions about the plan?”
I got a rousing chorus of mildly disinterested “No”s and one question from Qiang on if I was going to fix hamburgers. I told her yes and set her down, then realized she was wearing the same dress as me. “Who got you this? You’re almost as pretty in that dress as your dad.”
“I didn’t used to hear these kinds of sentences until I met you people,” said Silver Shark, shaking her mechanically augmented head from where it sat on a neck that could adjust to let her shift it to face directly up when in the water.
“Miss Shark got me this!” Qiang answered, pointing at Silver.
“Aww, did you tell her thank you?”
Silver Shark spoke up. “I told her about Valentine’s and helped her get a dress in case she got a Valentine of her own.”
“Huh,” I said, thinking about it. “That’s right, Valentine’s. Completely slipped my mind. I didn’t even notice if they celebrate it here.”
“They celebrate it,” Max spoke up. “The women give chocolates to men in this part of the world.” He looked at me, then down at his pint of yogurt and began to sidle off to the side.
“That’s remarkably astute. What an amazing thing for you to know, Max. Mind if I ask how you know this and, come to think of it, why my wife didn’t get me anything? Where is she, anyway?”
Sam crossed her arms. “She’s probably sleeping off the sedative Max gave her after she caught him eating all the chocolate you were supposed to get.” She stuck her tongue out at Max. “Happy VD, Maxxy.”
I turned to find a Max-shaped hole in the wall. That would be this one chemical that weakens most forms of wood only in spots with pressure put on it. Useful for making personalized doorways, but not so much preventing someone from following. Still, I was more concerned about checking on Citra. She was indeed still asleep and loopy. I figured I better get her something to make up for missing Valentine’s. With the aid of Qiang, I worked on a pink, heart-shaped cake.
“Oh god, the attention to detail. That’s so gross,” said Sam as she watched me finishing the icing.
“Don’t look so grossed out,” I told her. Qiang passed me a more red shade of icing that we’d whipped up. “Everyone has them.”
“I can’t believe you think that’s a romantic gift,” she countered.
I rolled my eyes. “You’d whine the same way if I pulled out my actual heart and gave it to her. Some people just aren’t happy, and you’re one of them.” I stuck out my tongue at her, then returned to careful decoration of the large muscular blood pump, all while thinking about stage two of the nuclear plan. A gal’s gotta have secrets, even when she’s a dude. Especially when she’s a dude, some might argue.
I had plenty of time to finish before it was time to send Hexadecibel on his way. We had to wait for an appropriate time due to time zones, but I soon strapped on my armor and gave him a set of Riccan augmented reality glasses to wear. We launched from the villain village. One moment he was there, muttering incantations in a circle, the next he was gone and in a bunker somewhere. I lost him there for a few seconds until a smaller portal opened in the circle that let the signal through.
“I got shunted, man. I’m nearby the room.” he said as soon as I could see and hear the situation. Teleporting in like that set off alarms. The glasses overlaid a path for Hexadecibel to follow to the storage area. I saw through his eyes as a squad of guards tried to accost him. Arms grew out of the concrete around them and pulled them against it. He stopped to rifle through one of their pockets before I urged him to forget about mugging them and get the big stuff. It took a bit of maneuvering until he found himself coming out into a two-story room. The floor gently sloped up in a ramp to a door on the second story. Underneath it was the opening of a bunker. “Back!” I yelled just as the opened fire. Good reflexes on those soldiers.
Hexadecibel didn’t go back. He magicked up a concrete wall. A big, beautiful wall, the best wall, nobody builds better walls than Ricca. “Shit,” he said.
“You got this?” I asked.
The view moved from side to side. “I don’t know. Maybe I can. Let me try something.” He jumped up and threw a fireball at them. The rate of fire sounded like it picked up dramatically as he landed, but so did the screaming. After a couple of seconds, the shooting stopped while the screaming continued. Hex dropped the wall cautiously, but no fire picked up. He headed up the ramp and stopped in front of the door’s keypad. “Do you know the code?”
“Give me something big enough to bring my hand through,” I told him.
He put his hands together, made a few hand gestures that created glowing runes in the air, then pulled them apart. A small portal opened, about as big around as a softball. I pulled my gauntlet off and pushed an arm through the portal and against the pad. Soon, my body connected with the wiring and allowed me to interface with it. I had it open for him, then pulled myself free and back to my own location as soon as I could. “You’re good to go.”
When he opened the door, it led to row after row, rack after rack of warheads. He stood there for a moment. When it looked like he wasn’t moving, I ahemed and said, “Hey, there may be soldiers coming up behind you. Get in and shut that door.”
He hurried in. “Sorry, I think I peed a little. There are so many.”
“The country’s had the ability to annihilate all life on Earth for more than half a century. That’s a lot of spares left laying around.”
“I guess I didn’t think about how many that means. How many do you need?”
“I said just one and I meant it. Preferably one of these near the door. They’ll be a bit more fresh.”
“Ok, you should back up.”
I moved further away from his little circle. Meanwhile, the connection showed him pulling out some mixture of a powdery substance and spreading it in a circle around one of the racks that only had a single warhead. There was some chanting, some more runes, even a bit of a red glow then… pop! The air made a little popping noise as Hexadecibel and the nuclear warhead just appeared in his little circle on this side.
“Whew!” he shouted and clapped his hands. “That was intense, man. Hey, I still hear the alarm though.”
I heard it too, then I realized. “That’s not so much an alarm as it is a loud squee.” Too late, I looked up to find myself tackled by an enthusiastic giant bee woman. Queen Beetrice, ruler of the insectoid-humanoid Buzzkills and the nation of North Korea as part of the Riccan Empire.
“I thought you were watching the Olympics,” I told her.
She just hugged me tight. “I heard you were getting me a nuclear bomb!” she said, attempting to squeeze me out of my armor like Popeye opening a can of spinach.
“Let’s talk this over elsewhere,” I said to her. I had to give the military guys the orders on where to hide our bit of ill-gotten goods. They’ll see to it.
I, on the other hand, had to go make another cake, and bees have really weird-looking hearts compared to humans. Meanwhile, at the rocket plant, custom orders began to trickle in every few hours, spread across different shifts, meant to match different sorts of rockets than the we use on Ricca. With the nuke secured, I was ready to prepare stage two.
Today, the great nation of Ricca welcomed a most esteemed visitor. He stepped off a boat, pale of skin, velvet of jacket, and frilled of shirt; Mix N’Max at last arrived on the island. He stepped down the gangplank right toward me. I met him in friendly hug, the both of us exclaiming the other’s name. “Gecko!”
“Gecko?” asked a feminine voice from behind him. It came from one half of his assistants, Sam Hain, who I barely recognized without her purple hair. She’d gone for something of a punk cancer look, except for this tiny puff of it at the front that was bright green. She also looked pale, but I never remembered that as an affectation she liked to share with her boss. I figured it had more to do with her shaky walk down to the ground that ended with her bending over with her hands on her knees for a few seconds. She had the sea sickness, that Sam Hain. And yes, it’s Sam like Samantha, not pronounced like Samhain. She had on her boots, her fishnet stockings, a lacy black skirt. Excellent seafaring gear, of course. Takes a brave woman to think a corset is appropriate gear for seasickness, but maybe she was trying her hand at formality.
Her friend did not have same issues. Holly Wayne ran down in a flowery dress that didn’t quite match up with the purple highlights in her bleach blonde hair. Even tugging along some of the luggage, she seemed no worse for wear. “Oh my god, Gecko? You look… pretty.” People can be a bit unsure of how to refer to psychopaths having sex changes. Ooh, that’s a nice band name: Sex Change Psychopaths.
“How do we even know that’s Gecko?” asked Holly, standing up. She held her back ramrod straight as she walked toward me.
“You can’t tell?” asked Max, turning toward her with his arm around my shoulders. He held up a hand toward me face.
I did likewise. “Yeah, it’s totally obvious.” I sent Max an email with my picture on it. The rest was the same teamwork that once made us part of a deadly trio of villains. The Dark Triad had been comprised of the three villains known for so many years as the only few to survive breaking one of the unwritten rules of superpowers by murdering other supers. Mix N’Max, Psycho Gecko, and the Good Doctor.
Doc had been a good guy, and I don’t just say that because he’s dead. He had been a good guy blackmailed into villany, but I know he had a taste for it. Once his blackmailer had been dealt with and he had a chance to live with his daughter, he took it. I never did accept it, but our difference of opinion didn’t become truly problematic until I killed his superhero daughter. It was for a good cause, but that didn’t matter. Once I started to accumulate my own family, he showed up to try and deprive me of it. I had to kill him.
“How have you been, dude?” I asked Max. “It’s been too long.”
“I had this great setup in Vegas. It was awesome!”
We spent the evening getting caught up. I showed him my palace, and my daughter, and my wife. Well, technically Citra’s just pretending to be my wife, but close enough. They took it pretty well.
“Who would give you a wife?” asked Holly.
“Who would give you a child?” asked Sam.
“Is this all the alcohol you have?” asked Max.
I answered in order of importance, starting with pointing Max toward the vault where I hide the seashine.
After quite a bit of drinking, we wandered off into the most somber hours of the night toward the big state cemetary. I say somber hours, but they’re the same early hours that super criminals like us often do our best work. This wasn’t about robbing, not even graverobbing. That business isn’t as lucrative as it used to be in the days of undisturbed Egyptian pyramids and medical colleges needing cadavers.
There was more drinking, some alleged crying, and some strange substances were ingested. I won’t specifiy too many of the actions, except to note that I smoked something and then took a trip away from the graveyard. I was being sucked away from the Earth I was living on and toward the Earth I came from. Screw that. I wanted my Earth, not that old one. My Earth, with my daughter, my obsessed bee woman, my old magical Moai statue, my former minions, my current friends, and even that poor woman who decided to be my wife. I wanted to grip the ground and hold tight no matter what forces tried to tear me away.
Then I found myself back at the tree. This pissed me off because I hate extended dream sequences. I would torture a damn tree if I needed to. I figured I was safe once it grew the face of Good Doctor. That kind of cheesy symbolism was a better indication of my own mind playing tricks than having never left the tree. It didn’t make me feel any better toward it. Its branches grew at me like claws. I grabbed it by the trunk and squeezed like I could choke it off. “What do you want?” I asked it.
The words echoed. The tone changed and the tree moved its mouth in sync with them. I really gotta cut out… whatever the hell it is I smoked. The damn echoing felt like it wouldn’t stop. Felt like it reverberated deep inside me, so I tried to yell things to stop it.
“I want Qiang to be safe! I want to get rid of the worst people!” That didn’t work. It surprised me, because I thought those were pretty good answers. Revelatory stuff that went a little deeper into my core and how I’d changed than most people would expect. While true, the answers didn’t stop the echoing question, so I kept throwing out answers. “Truth, justice, freedom, reasonably priced love, and a hard-boiled egg. I wanna be free. I wanna be free to do what I wanna do. And I wanna get loaded. And I wanna have a good time!”
It just wouldn’t end, so I sat there, punching the face of a tree monster, trying to figure out what I could say or do to make it shut up. I tried kicking it in the balls, for instance. No balls. Poked it in the eye, but it was just wood. I even tried thinking really, really hard. After what felt like hours of dealing with antagonistic plantlife, I was tired. I hung there, slowly thunking my head against Good Doctor’s face in ineffectual headbutts. I finally stopped, sighed, and said, “I just want to live and make this place better.”
I paused. “Wait, how long have I wanted to live?” I looked at Good Doctor’s face. “And don’t you get any ideas about that other part. I said make it better, I didn’t say saving kittens out of trees and flying around with my underwear showing. Those types have sat around letting bad people do plenty of bad things because it’s easier than rocking the boat.”
I awoke the next morning to find myself laying on top of a mausoleum. I crawled to the edge and tumbled off, startling Max awake from where he slept curled up on a grave. “The fuck did you give me last night?” I asked my friend, grabbing his neck and lightly swinging his head side to side.
He coughed and pulled away. “Drugs. I made this strong stuff that’s like LSD on steroids and Beta blockers.” I couldn’t easily process this statement at the time due to the LSD on steroids and Beta blockers in my system.
“I made it to get in people’s brains and mess them up for questioning.” He groaned and rolled over to me, his face really close to mine.
I slapped him. “Dick move, dude. Why would you give me that?”
He held his hand to his cheek. “Sorry, I think it happened while we were drunk. I think the seashine melted my fillings. I didn’t realize you might have smoked it until you were yelling things at the sky!”
“What things?” I asked, grabbing onto his lapels. Then a massive, nasty burp came up and I just let it go in his face. He winced and tried to keep his mouth shut, then turned his head and coughed a few times.
“It was all gibberish. A lot of things were messing with its intended purpose, but I didn’t hear anything private and nobody else could either.” He patted my ands and I reluctantly released him.
“Fine… gah, let’s get back to the palace. My mouth feels like I had a hobo-eating contest.”
It was Sam who opened the door to the palace, which looked to have had quite a party on it sown. I saw Silver Shark sprawled over a couch and Queen Beetrice hanging over the counter. Sam yawned and looked at me with my hair resembling the starship Enterprise. Then she looked to her boss, Max, whose clothes were all frumpy and wrinkled. “You two have yourselves some private fun?”
In deference to her being Max’s minion, I didn’t try as hard as I could have to hit her.
Later, after being rested, showered, and enjoying some hair of the dog that bit me, an idea crept into my brain. My brain was recovering from a lot, including my admission to myself that not only do I truly have some altruism of a sort inside me, but I don’t really want to die anymore. That wasn’t as important as recognizing a problem that Max’s drugs provided a solution to.
Armoring up again for appearance’s sake, I dragged Max along with me to the military base where they held our unknown diver. “The guy’s spoken in English before, and his gear matches up with U.S. Military, but it only tells us so much. We don’t know what they’re doing here, what he was sneaking in to do, even if he was the only one sneaking in here. For all we know, they could have a whole base set up in those old ruins off in the western part of the island.” I stopped and smiled to myself at that one. “Ok, that’d be pretty funny if they did that. Problem solved if that’s the case. But until we know, I figured you could give our friend in there a sample of what you gave me last night. I want him talkin’ like a Furby.”
Max smiled and pulled out his syringe gun. He swapped out a few parts right there in front of me until it more closely resembled a bong crossed with a super soaker. “I’ll smoke him out.”
As the dictator of my own nation, it’s nice having people who listen to me and do what I say. The world would be a better place if more people did that. Alas, they just weren’t ready. But that doesn’t mean large swathes of the world won’t listen. The ones that do are just plain nice, though.
Starting with the Directors. They were exceedingly grateful to be rescued by me. Really reaffirmed their loyalty, but I did have a few things to discuss with them. I’d have had a few of them over, but they didn’t really have a hierarchy now that the last one made such a bad impression and I had to kill them. Instead of inviting a few of them over to discuss some issues, I had to go to the Directory. Keeping with my casual attitude, though, I dragged along my armor for a little cleaning and maintenance.
I carried my armor in there and sat on the stage previously reserved for the High Directorate. Pulling out a gauntlet, I turned it around so I could inspect its nozzle. The Directors were in the middle of some sort of roll call procedure, so I had time enough to spray on solvent and let it work on the gunk. The stuff I use is great for dissolving all sorts of crap, especially stuff I’ve neglected to clean off. The stealth aspect has generally been more important for my use of the armor, so I’ve let the rockets sit uncleaned for way too long. Plus, this stuff has a strong smell shortly after use.
“Emperor… Empress… I must apologize, my lord or lady. Our first concern appears to be your form of address?” asked the secretary pro-tem.
I raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me, my form of address? First thing on your minds after an attempted coup is what to call me? Am I correct in assuming this is about whether to treat me as male or female?”
“That… is correct, your Imperial Eminence,” said the secretary. “Do you prefer to be called ‘Emperor’ or ‘Empress’?”
I waved my hand. “Whatever.” If they weren’t going to focus on the serious stuff right away, why should I help them jack around? I had some important stuff to clean. Scrub, scrub, scrubbing with the copper brush took precedence over helping these guys waste time. That’s why I brought it, and it’s important to really get in there with a little muscle. And just because I went from handsome to pretty doesn’t mean I stripped out the enhanced muscles I’ve given myself. Hell, I can compact muscle like y’all wouldn’t believe. I could snap a man’s neck with my kegels. Like a pair of steely, sexy nutcrackers, except used on a guy’s neck instead of nuts. Would not want to actually fit the head up in there, though.
Another Director stood up. “To reflect our sovereign’s current state, I propose we use the word ‘Empress’.”
Another stood up, “We have Empress Elda. We would need to rename her as well.”
That gave me pause before I remembered Elda. Red-headed, tanned chick. Nice body, crooked teeth. She was the Princess of an important bronze-age nation state on the recently resurfaced continent of Mu. I married her, then betrayed her and almost killed her. Citra, my former servant girl-turned consort, insisted that we keep Elda alive and comatose. It was a wedding gift to her, as Citra’s my de facto wife. She even took on the appearance of Elda to make it look good and everything.
She was a bit shocked to see me back as a woman, while I was suddenly reminded I told her she could look normal. And so she did indeed look like her normal self, but with Elda’s red hair and tan skin. She took it well, all things considered. Awkwardly trying out a kiss, then realizing she didn’t mind it so much. Plus, we can do each other’s nails now, get our hair done together. I’m actually a better fit for a lot of her old clothes since she kept some of Elda’s dimensions, too. No sex yet, and she doesn’t want to be seen with me in public. It’s been an adjustment for her.
As this inane debate in the Directory attests, it’s been an adjustment for many, like when one skinny Director with an impressive pair of shoulder pads in his suit stood up and declared. “We can’t have an Empress married to another Empress? They’re both women!”
Heads looked at him, then at me. “Gay marriage, people. Legalize it. Equal rights for them. Oh, and transgender people.” I wouldn’t say I’m trans mentally. I’ve changed so much of my body around I could have easily lost track of it but for the Psychopomp program only picking boys and making damn sure the training reflected that. Spending awhile as a woman is just a thing I do sometimes. I’m secure enough in my masculinity to wear dresses and boobs and just the CUTEST sandals. Hell, I think every guy should give it a try at some point or another if they can.
But enough about my super manly love of skirts. I stared down the Directors, who must not have thought of that so much. Unlike them, I don’t need to blink. I actually don’t. It’s the cybernetic eyes. And even if I did need to, they can hold liquids. I could just fill them full of saline and expel it in small enough doses so I wouldn’t have to blink. The wonders of cybernetics. I’m actually thinking about putting in some new teeth, like a new row of them. Or a couple more arms might be nice. I’ve been considering that one off and on since I made the Whirlygig arms, and it came to mind again when I only had enough limbs to throw three knives at the High Directorate.
The Directors relented. The Secretary Pro-tem turned to the others. “All in favor?” Everyone said “Aye.” He turned back to me, “The ayes have it.” Damn straight they do. Cyber-eyes. Because when you stare into the void, the void loses the staring contest. “We will work out the specifics later. More importantly, we have decided to declare Psycho Gecko Empress Regnant. For brevity’s sake, this may be shortened to Empress. Empress Elda is officially the Empress Consort, to be shortened to Consort.”
A small cheer went up from the assembled Directors as if they accomplished something. “Alright, you bunch of old ladies, now that you’ve figured out what you’d like to call me, we need to get back to figuring out some shit. We have some work to do here, people. We’re gonna need more submarine pens, bigger docks, larger airports. I’ve got a scientist I kidnapped eager to turn Mu into the breadbasket of the empire. Possibly the hash capital of the world, too, he started asking questions about poppies. I still see it as a win. We’re not just finding our feet again after a stumble; we’re hitting the ground running and then launching into a spinning roundhouse kick that’ll knock the rest of the world on its collective ass.”
I spent the day taking a tour of the island all over again. The Farm cult’s still working along, organizing a mission trip. Old Man Hoodless didn’t seem to enjoy my company so much now that I come with my own door knockers, but he mentioned he’d been speaking with our mutual friends at Cape Diem. Cape Diem were looking for volunteers to go to countries experiencing famine. The Cult intends to head over there, hand out food, and invite people to join them on their multi-story farm compound where they have no shortage of food. Sounds like a winning strategy.
As a welcome-back present, Old Man Hoodless officially presented me with several jars of moonshine that could serve as drink, improvised explosive device, and engine degreaser. I thanked him and told him it would take a prominent spot in the Imperial liquor cabinet.
Then it was off to the military base to hand out medals. The men were a little off their game saluting a commander in chief in a kimono with her hair up. We worked out a way to do medals for the Deep Ones, who hadn’t entirely grasped the concept of modesty. Probably because their penises were retractable. “In thanks for your actions putting down the attempted coup, I award you the Order of Loyalty.” And then I stuck it on the drone operator’s slimy scales. It’s based on some sort of old explosives technology, something called a Lamprey mine.
After the ceremony ended, I ordered a few kegs of beer to be delivered to the base. Even threw in some of that new “seabrew” crap. I understand Ricca’s the first nation with its very own seabrew distillery, which is made from kelp somehow. I had a bottle brought to me for tasting once. More like the makers dropped off a bottle as a gesture of goodwill. I smelled it coming from outside the door and the jar had a warning label to avoid opening in rooms with too many lights on in case it started a fire. I awoke the next morning with a dry mouth and a surprising amount of wood furniture missing its varnish. Decent stuff. It’ll go well with the moonshine Old Man Hoodless gave me.
That said, I stumbled downstairs and found myself caught in the squeeing hug of a giant bee woman.
“I’m so happy to have you back Gecko, I love you, love you, love you!” Beetrice, Queen Bee of the Buzzkills said as she picked me up and spun me around several times.
“Please don’t do that, Beetrice, or you may end up quite dirty,” I said. She stopped, nearly giving me ass-whiplash, and hugged me tight. “I thought you preferred me with a penis. What are you doing here?”
“You called me!” she said. Oh, for fuck’s sake, I drunk dialed my ex. But then, I like to think that this world as a whole is my ex, and I’m just waiting for it to fall in the dumps and want to hook back up with me again.
“I believe I was drunk, so what did I invite you here for, exactly?” I asked. I looked up into some of her eyes, being unable to properly look her in all of them at once.
She flexed one of her large, exoskeleton-clad arms. Unlike my power armor, hers is a natural part of her body. She’s better about clothes than the Deep Ones, though. “You wanted my body. You said something about making arms.”
That sounds like me, so I nodded. “Right. I’ve been thinking about extra arms. I don’t suppose there’s anything else I did last night?”
“Um, you said something about calling a bunch of other people,” she said. She set me down and stepped back to a notepad half-embedded in the wall of the hallway. “These people.”
“Odd, I don’t use paper that much.” I took it from her and found it filled with names and numbers. Men, women, and the technicolor rainbow in between filled up one side; the other had phone numbers and email addresses. Every single one was checked off. Every single one also hit in my recognition software as supervillains. I dropped it on the floor. “Well crap, looks like we’re moving faster than intended.”
“We are?” Beetrice asked, bending down to pick up the list. “You only called them last night. What are we doing?”
I reached out and took Beetrice’s hand, running my fingers over the shiny but firm natural armor where it grew out of her body. “I’m going to host a conference. It’s high time we set up a new system. The heroes have academies and social networks. We need a network of our own. A formal network. A union of sorts. The Mafia once had The Commission to govern all of organized crime within the United States, with their own problem solvers for anything that threatened the greater group. I think we need something similar.”
“You think all the bad guys will join forces?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No, just come to an agreement. Something to help us set boundaries, make sure people aren’t stepping on each other’s toes. Help people find like-minded individuals for heists. If the heroes want to come at us with huge super groups, we have to be able to call on something similar with a lot less hassle. Maybe we’ll even solve that problem of he rest of us kicking the crap out of anyone to do a good job of taking over the world. On top of that, set up a few rules of conduct we can get the heroes to agree for both sides. Murder, rape, that kinda stuff.”
Beetrice giggled as I traced a finger around a particular armor plate on her palm. That hand brushed at my elbow. “Mmm. But you like killing people. Oh, and how will you get criminals to agree to rules like that?”
I smiled up at her and raised her arm and the hand up to nuzzle. “My dear, no matter what form governance takes, there is one thing human nature requires of all of them: an enforcer. If crook or crimefighter steps out of line, I’ll be the one to make sure they don’t do anything wrong ever again. Something tells me I’ll have no shortage of supers to murder. Just disappointed I probably won’t get a shot at Venus.”
I know the island seems like one big lovefest at times, what with the drugs and orgies, but I’m not the one personally selling those things. But people are selling them. Despite the preparations for defense, we’re seeing increased traffic from all sorts. The airport’s having staffing problems, they’re so busy. Faust’s got themselves set up to sell things right out in the open. Others are hocking ill-gotten goods that justify international travel. The really enterprising people are selling smuggling services to get the stuff bought here into other countries. Now those are smart.
Not only would it be difficult to keep undesireables out, but it’s counter to the business and tourism strategy of Ricca. It’s hard to keep an eye on everything, especially with so many of the old security cameras damaged or vandalized. I saw prostitutes plying their trade around newcomers both fancy and blue-collar. I saw drug growers making deals with pilots and boat captains. At a Faustus/Hephaestus street booth, one of their salespeople offered a glowing orb in a diamond-shaped restraint to a man in a tailored suit. Another one used a monitor nearby to show off a plasma sword to a bunch of people who smiled high-fived each other approvingly.
Such a pleasant hive of scum and villainy. It’s almost easy to get lost in all the scheming and deals. I get a cut of much of it, though I’m sure I’ll have to run down someone who doesn’t want to pay. The really awesome thing would be if I could make it even easier to get here and back to anywhere in the world with people’s products. I’d really, really love to get my hands on that teleporter of Cape Diem’s and figure out how it works for just that purpose.
Until then, I’ve got a plan involving flying robots. But, dear reader, you may have guessed they have to wait until I solve this issue with Mu. And do something about that tree over there. A group of justice rangers who have had to repress their hatred of me are not the sort of folks I like being too close to a tree that grants wishes.
This Mu thing. Originally, it was about exploring and conquering it. Then that got hijacked by finding out more about it while fending off attacks. It’s still about conquest, though. Taking over it, neutralizing threats from Mu, and securing the tree so that it can’t be used against me. It was while watching the myriad of people going about their schemes that I realized I needed to be more proactive and less reactionary. I’m good at reactionary, but still.
So for the tree, I need to destroy it or, if that’s not possible, contain it in some way. Explosives are always an option, especially with all the plastic explosives floating around in our market. There’s bound to be some way to destroy this thing. If there isn’t, there’s the containment option. A dimensional bomb could do, if it would do. I mean that I dislike it being in anyone else’s hands in the multiverse. What if it were to end up on another Earth with another version of me? I can’t be trusted with that kind of power. That’s why I must possess it or prevent anyone else from getting their damn, dirty paws on it.
I think I can handle ending the threat of the island and conquering it with related actions. Vercingetorix is coming, and eventually the Bronze City will have its fleet rebuilt to try again. Vercingetorix the barbarian might be on the island already, in fact. There’s plenty of wilderness on the western and northwestern portion of the island, and only so much I can look at. I need to draw him out.
That brings usback to the Bronze City and their Bronze Men. They don’t have much, but they have manpower. Note to self: don’t use that term near too many of the gay ones. They’re pretty old-fashioned. If they’re anything like the Classical Greeks, they’ll have primitive notions of consent. And bestiality. I’ll have to remember that bestiality point if I ever have a feast over there. When a person eats, they like to think nobody stuck a dick in their food.
So what to do about the Bronze City? Rule it, of course! I talked all about it with Elda, Princess of the Bronze City.
“Hey there, mopey pants,” I said, poking my head around the corner to look into her cell. “Are we going to meet the sun today?”
Elda held up well, all things considered. She sat on her bunk, deep in thought. Irritation flitted briefly over her features when she turned to look at me. “You look less ready for war this day, while I am ready to fight one,” she said.
I stepped in and moved to sit beside her on the bunk. She didn’t move her hand away when I set my own on top, which was a good sign. “I know it’s hard when your father dies. As much as you disagreed with him, he still meant so much to you. More than that, you are his heir. All the responsibilities he hoped he could prepare you for are now thrust upon you.”
Her hand clenched under mine, into a fist. “My claim means nothing on its own. My father insisted I learn the games politicians play, but only a king may rule the Bronze City. I told him I should not have to stayin the palace and learn these things if I can not rule and use them. He said that would become clear to me and that a good ruler was different than a hero from the tales. I threw those words back in his face the night I escaped…”
The sentence drifted off, but she took my hand in hers. She held back the sobbing, but not the tears. Then I held her. After several minutes of her calming down and even cuddling against me, I spoke up, “I may have a solution to your problems.” She punched me in the gut when I went for the kiss, but she DID listen to the rest of it.
“So, as you may realize, I’m something of a big deal. I mean, the whole world revolves around me a lot of the time. Yep, totally. But I’m also Emperor. It’s like a king, but better. But I’m an unmarried emperor, which causes people to get a bit jumpy. An unmarried emperor is one accident away from having a bunch of people fighting over my chair. It’s a nice chair, and we’ve even added this memory foam to the cushion, but a lot of people worry there might be someone worse out there to end up with. Others think that fighting over the place will end with buildings destroyed, people stampeded, and cattle raped.”
She nodded understandingly. Really not eating the meat over there, then.
“And you know I am a different sort of man than the ones you have grown up around. This is a chance for you to decide your own fate. If I were the king of the Bronze City, well, you know I have my own land to rule. You could rule the Bronze City in my stead, if you were my queen.”
She looked me right in the eyes. “Why should I trust you?”
I looked right back. “Because the sort of evil and ambitious person who murdered your father has seen fit to declare himself my enemy. Because I tended to your wounds, allowed you freedom even as a captive, and because I am making this your choice. Not mine. Not your father’s. Not Vercingetorix’s.” I’m so glad I wasn’t speaking English for that last sentence.
I had another thing to show her regarding my trust. She didn’t want to be blindfolded, so instead I threw her over my shoulder and held my hands over her hands as I jumped to our destinated, her screaming all the while.”You didn’t wanta blindfold!” I shouted by way of explanation.
When I finally set her down, she tried to kick me and back away. Except then she started to fall off the side of the building, because I’d jumped up to one of our higher buildings. I grabbed her arm and yanked her back up to me, holding her still with my arm around her shoulder. “Look.”
“We’re so high up.” She kept looking down, so I reached over to hold her chin up and force her to look out over the city.
“This is a part of my empire. You ask why you should trust me enough to marry me and make me King of the Bronze City? Because you would be Empress of Ricca. This goes both ways.”
Ya know what’s a great way to lure an old-fashioned hero out of hiding? If the evil emperor holds a lavish wedding to the damsel in distress. Almost always causes an attack. And that very sound logic is what allowed me to eventually bring the ladies around to my way of thinking.
“I swear, she means nothing to me!” I told Citra back in the residence, ducking a vase thrown by Beetrice. Silver Shark held Qiang in one hand and threw a pillow at me with the other. I knew no one would mean my kid harm, but that courtesy didn’t extend to me at all in this instance. Citra cried and grabbed a knife. I held up my hands. “The wedding will not go through!”
She stopped a few feet from me. “You’re sure?”
I stood back up, glad I no longer had to stop entertaining this amusing reaction by laying some hurt on her. “Positive. Vercingetorix is in the area. He may be on the island already. He’ll find out about it and crash the wedding. It’ll be disrupted and left incomplete while we all beat him up. In order to better cause this to happen, I’m going to have them install some sort of environmental hazard, like a bottomless pit or a volcano.”
“You won’t marry her?” Citra asked to be sure, pouting with Venus’s face.
I patted her on the head. “Of course not.” Then, looking over to Beetrice, I said, “Listen, Beetrice, it’s nice that someone is as happy to see me as you are, but there’s nothing between us but raw sexual chemistry. I’m looking for more than that.”
Silver started to open her mouth in response but I cut her off, “Actually, I’m not looking for more than that. I’m looking to not get married at all, but everybody’s making such a big deal about it and I don’t feel like resorting to extreme measures to make my distaste known. Either way, Beetrice, you’ve grown into a fine leader without me. You clearly possess cunning and a strong will to have held together your rule of North Korea and negotiated for my continued freedom. You have my gratitude, and a few hundred of my kids.”
Beetrice ran over past Citra and hugged me. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” On the plus side, I needed my back cracked that well. She set me back down gently and backed away.
Silver ahemed and nodded toward Citra. I addressed the shark cyborg first. “Silver, I like having you around, and you know how much I enjoy your enhancements, but we’ve already talked about how bad I am at being part of a couple.”
“Finally,” I said, drawing Citra close. “I am not a good man. I’m not even always a man. But you helped me deal with the Claw and stood by me during all that’s happened since then. Qiang likes you, and you were willing to give up your face for me. That says a lot to me.” It really does. Corrupting a woman into being willing to do that just to get with me? Rawr.
I reached back behind me and under my shirt. I had to toss aside a few knicknacks from visitng the bazaar. A pack of super trading cards that I hope has one of me, a pair of electro-grenades, and a laser-etched anti-personnel chainsaw. Don’t ask how I held that last one back there, but I have amazingly strong cheek muscles. Finally, I pulled out a finely-engraved gold comb. It featured a gecko on the end of it, a tiny Earth of jade and blue diamond held within its mouth.
I reached up, did up Citra’s hair, and slid it into place. Then I looked down at her purple face, leaned in real close to her ear, and said, “Don’t forget to breathe.”
She looked so happy, I felt a little guilty. I’ll screw it up at some point. But hopefully I won’t have to kill Citra like I’m going to do to Elda at the wedding I’m rushing through in a few days’ time. If the ceremony doesn’t make people cry, the funeral surely will.
I have good news and bad news. Mostly on the good side of things. But first, let’s get into the disposition of my forces.
I didn’t just recruit Deep Ones to try their flippers at VR robot piloting. I recognized they represented an amphibious force. Sure, they weren’t as good on sea and land as Seals, but they’d do adequately for fighting people so far back down the tech tree that they haven’t even researched “Not Dying For Beginners”. Good book, by the way. Sadly, the author passed away before he could write “Advanced Not Dying”. Auto-erotic asphyxiation, though his wife insists it was research.
So I made the rounds among those I’d convinced to come over to the dark side and asked these ill-bred fishmen if any of them have any combat experience at all. Some raised a fin, others didn’t. Some raised and lowered it. “What seems to be the major malfunction here?” I asked.
They looked between themselves before a couple tried to speak up. One quickly yielded the floor to his fellow frog man, whose Australian accent was more subtle. Brisbane, maybe? “We had monthly drills. No one fought for real, like sparred. Just in case the war against humanity started up and we swept across the dry lands to tear your civilization asunder, Mr. Emperor, sir.”
“I’ve heard of worse,” I said.
“They said it would be self-defense,” he continued. I think it was a he. I’m a bit rusty on my sexual dimorphism of amphibians. “But they taught us how to murder lone stragglers so we could ambush a funeral party, or attacking and occupying where people grow food and raise your domesticated beasts. There was very little actual defense in it.”
“I get the point,” I said, raising a hand to forestall more reminiscences. “I don’t think much of that is going to be useful this time around. These guys who are about to hit us, I think we can take ’em out before they ever become a threat. We kinda have to, most of the navy went rogue back when everything on the island collapsed. Anyway, I figure you guys are good at swimming, you can handle being in the water, and their ships are made of wood.”
I pointed over to where a couple of the regular soldiers wheeled out a crate. “I need y’all to swim these things on over to the ships and stick them to the ships however you can. You don’t even need to go aboard. Below water level’s actually ideal here. They’re actually land-style mines, but they’re engineered to be waterproof, with several glowing reviews.”
I was surprised to find one of Ricca’s exports are the “Soon The World Will Be” mines. The mine business is a tricky thing, since they’re kind of a war crime and infamously the bane of countries for decades afterwards, but they do see some supervillain use. Maybe put a field around areas you don’t want people to wander on your private island, or down a corridor you don’t want to assign guards to in your underground lair. Soon The World Will Be mines have a world-class reputation for dependability and versaility, being waterproof, difficult to tamper with and disarm, and a wide range of triggers. They even come with dude mode, where a mine detects someone on proximity, then activates a time delay. Just when they think they’re safe, kablam!
Coming soon to a black market near you. Not recommended for children 2 years and under due to choking hazard. Ask your mad doctor if Soon The World Will Be mines are right for you.
It took away from VR training time, but explosives training is one of those things that has to be done right if done at all. When it goes boom, you DO get more than one chance to make a good first impression. The problem is, if you make a bad impression, you make a good crater. That’s why so many hands-on courses on the subject end up full of high scores.
When they were done, I called over an officer. He gave me a salute and a bow. “They have much to learn, but we will not fail you, Emperor.”
“I’m sure you won’t. Have y’all seen Silver Shark anywhere?” I asked.
“We have not been informed if she is on mission for you, venerated one.”
“I didn’t send her out on one. She got huffy the other day, and I want to find her before she becomes Silver Pufferfish.”
“The Pufferfish was a thorn in the side of the great Empire of Ricca in the seventies, the histories teach us,” he responded, and seemingly oblivious to the pun. Maybe that was something gained in translation.
“Yes, well I just wanted to know if y’all had seen her. Do not organize a search party. This is something personal between her and myself.”
We gave them a crash course, or perhaps a blast course, then sent them off. The Deep One demolition team was to swim out to Mu and wait near the harbor of the Bronze City. When the fleet set sail, our guys were to follow them until they got drowning distance from land, set up the mines, and sink the whole lot of them. Also, maybe bring back a prisoner or two. I’m curious what happened with Vercingetorix. One day, he’s headed to the city with a ragtag band of misfits. The next, nothing. I counted all the ships in the harbor and they hadn’t been stolen, either.
While the Deep Ones swam out to use modern military gadgets on a bunch of triremes, I searched for Silver Shark. I’d originally expected her to come back after her anger subsided, but she ended up staying away from the residence. I went about checking for her by myself, aided by my ability to connect to a number of hidden surveillance cameras planted around the island. I ended up finding her in a bar. One of the more plebian bars. A small, dirty, smoke-filled place where people come to drink, forget, and see if anyone’s desperate enough for a fuck. A fun place to play cards or settle a bet over who can gouge out the most eyes.
When I walked in, there was a brief dip in chatter before people began talking more quietly to themselves. My armor was rather distinctive, marking me as that weird Emperor guy who would actually go into a bar like this, meant more for the regular folk.
“Hey there, sugarcookie,” I said, sliding up beside Silver and taking a seat. The bartender hurried over, and I gave him my order, then told him to leave us alone after he dropped off my sake. Silver glanced over at first, but didn’t attempt to fling me away. Yet another good reason I wore the armor. “You haven’t been back.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I’d say we had some different ideas about the kind of relationship we were in, but that implies I have good ones. I must confess, I’m pretty terrible at relationships.”
That got a short “Ha!” from her. Then she hung her head. “You’re the only one I’ve had in a long time. Most men don’t look at me that way.”
“Their loss. Some people just don’t know what beautiful is. But, listen, it’s not you. It’s me. I’m an asshole. And, even if I did care about anyone as a friend or more, there are some pretty big risks to letting people know about that. A hero might use someone’s identity to extort me, or some street vigilante might go around and kill someone just for having a connection to me.”
“I know, I’m a villain too, remember?” she said, shooting me a look with the void-like depths of one of her replacement eyes.
“Yeah, but you’re not hated by almost the entire world for threatening to kill like, half of them. I mean, I saved them all twice, at least. Three times if you count Cthulhu. What do I have to show for it?”
“Your own island and country,” she answered. “All the wealth within it. A blanket amnesty. The love of beautiful woman. Groupies. Your own private army of unquestioning minions. A giant bee woman.”
“I have groupies?” I asked. I mean, yeah, probably. Fucking Charles Manson has fans, and I have much better facial hair, so why not?
After a moment of silencewhere she didn’t elaborate on the groupies, I just added.”Moving on… I’m not the settling down type. I got issues. I don’t have any desire to marry anyone, but I can see how people see it as important now that I’m a public figure. Which… oooh, those damn toy companies can do whatever they want with my image now, can’t they? Son of a bitch. But if it wasn’t for this big dynastic thing, I wouldn’t get hitched. Hitching slows ya down, and I wanna be free to hop from place to place.”
“Oh god,” she said, facepalming. “Don’t-”
“You’re in my world now, not your world,” I stood and began singing, music issuing from my armor. “And I got friends on the other side!” I looked around to find the rest of the bar ducking and covering, rather than joining in on a magical musical adventure. I cut the music. “Spoilsports.”
“What kind of world do we live in where you lead a country,” Silver said.
I sat back down. “The United States elected-”
She raised a hand. “I got it. Ugh. Don’t even say the name. Point made forever.” She turned to me then, not speaking, but occasionally opening her mouth as if to start again.
I dove in for us. “Tangent over, about us. You and I, and our relationship. I saw it as a more casual thing but never got your take on it. You saw it as more serious, in which case I cheated on you. Repeatedly. Like, a lot. Look at me, Silver. I’ve sucked more Korean cocks than… hold on, I need to look up a Korean porn star.”
“As if you don’t know any already,” she remarked.
“Beside the point. Listen, you’re welcome back at the palace. As far as things between us go, I liked us being friendly with one another. If that involves the occasional roll in the hay, I’m fine with it. Besides, you’re a good example for my daughter. She might ask me for laser eyes one day if she sees how cool you look.”
She smiled at that. “You don’t deserve her or Citra.”
“I don’t deserve lots of things. It’s not a just world. To quote a certain Goblin King, ‘Fair? I wonder what your basis for comparison is.’ Yeah, Citra shouldn’t want to marry me. She shouldn’t have done what she did for me, either.”
“Damn straight,” Silver said.
We had a pleasant time talking, and though she came back to the palace with me, she didn’t crawl into my bed. A quick check showed Beetrice splayed out on my sofa, Qiang asleep on a pile of stuffed animals in the middle of the living room, and a doppelganger of my nemesis waiting for me in my bedroom.
Lifestyles of the rich and evil.
Of course, my brief contentment didn’t last long, as the next day would bring with it the news that the Deep Ones didn’t listen. They swam all night, took one look at all the boats, and figured they would go ahead and set up the bombs where no one could see.
“Emperor,” one of them groveled before me at the base. “The plan was flawless. But then we heard a clatter from the docks. A large man threw guards into the water, where they saw us. He had with him a great bear, a bald woman who moved without making a sound, an old man with wild hair and beard who threw exploding bottles, and an ordinary-looking man saved from injury by amusing slapstick instead of fighting. Together, they overtook one of the ships we had not set to blow and made off. We could not pursue, as the guards were busy attacking us with pikes and discovering our sabotage. We were forced to blow up as many ships as we could there in shallow water. Please, Emperor, have mercy on your humble subjects.”
Well, that’s good. Always nice to have a military fiasco on my hands. A bunch of ships down in the shallow water of a harbor, with most of the men who would have been on them still unharmed and able to fight. If I know how the universe works, the people that escaped were likely Vercingetorix and friends, which makes it worse. “Disappointing. Did you at least get me a prisoner?”
A captain or some sort of equivalent rank snapped to attention. Duizhang, I think they call this one. “Sir, the prisoner has is in our holding cells. We were careful to keep him separate from your other prisoner.”
I nodded to him. “That is acceptable. Find a way to have her find out about him and visit him. Don’t permit an escape, but she can have news of what has developed in her homeland since her capture.” He saluted and started to move off, but I raised a hand to press against his chest and stop him. “And see to it that we find the ship that escaped. Vercingetorix will no-doubt find some suicidally heroic opportunity to attack us. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I turned to look at the Deep Ones as I spoke next. “I must go see the Directory about allocating land to our newest veterans.”
That caused them to droop, knowing I would uphold my end of the bargain after they went against my orders and kinda failed. Because their immigration package to Ricca now includes a guilt trip.
The expedition is away, an armed force of security, workers, and VelocityRaptor for superhuman support. I would have preferred to send some scientists away, but I have yet to see them return to the island. Instead, I just have this bickering around here. It’s like fucking Conan around here, nothing but the lamentation of my women. Except Qiang, of course. It was all too tedious. I considered killing them all, too. I’d moved back in, because I’ll be damned if they’re going to inconvenience me that much. They walked through, bickering, trying to show off how they looked in dresses to make up my mind.
The whole thing messed with me reading Dr. Seuss to Qiang. It was meant to be a prelude to a later unit on post-World War II Japan and teaching her the famed wrestling hold, The Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gradunza. Instead, we had to practice our “Don’t fuck with me” glares. When the three ladies backed off, I turned and smiled at her Qiang. “Good job, sweetie. Did you see the way they stopped in mid-sentence and everything?”
She giggled at that and we returned to our lesson, though the gradually increasing bickering from the rest of the residence left me with the choice of murder or changing locations. So I threw on the ol’ armor and we headed out to the Institute of Science. I could have taken her on a walk around the island, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Everything felt combative, like I couldn’t stay still. Like I needed to beat the crap out of someone and kill. Instead, I took my kid where I could give her some lessons on understanding her connections to the digital world. I hadn’t gone over it with her as much as I’d have preferred.
Growing up with these kinds of abilities, I had time to get used to them. They were a part of me. It’s like the difference between people who grew up with computers and someone who doesn’t have any idea about them and suddenly gets one. It’s not an insurmountable handicap, but the person who grew with it has a lot of instinctual knowledge. There’s a reason superheroes who get powers aren’t instant experts in their usage. I taught her more about her new heritage, which is pleasantly strong in someone who is now a halfbreed.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, mostly because I haven’t done much thinking on the subject. Despite all my talk about hating people on a deep, personal level, I am biased against homo sapiens. They sometimes look gross, and they’re backwards, and they’ve done horrible things to homo machina in general and specific. Maybe I could make Qiang entirely homo machina. Or maybe change the rest of the DNA in her to a more suitable mother to have a child with me.
I wonder what Venus is up to? Just a random question, of course. Completely out of nowhere, without connection to prior statements. But since I thought of her, I figured I’d see about a nice present to send her, showing I’d been thinking of her. I found it as I searched through a computer in one of the offices of the Institute of Science while Qiang played with a monitor she was connected to. “I’ll be right back, baby girl,” I told her. “You keep playing around with that. See if you can make it look really weird.”
I considered grabbing something from infectious diseases. I even stared at the door a bit. Yep. Big, heavy door, sealed, with all kinds of warning signs. There were no windows. I found a computer on the outside. After a reboot, it couldn’t give me any specified status information on the interior of the laboratories inside the whole section. After a bit of searching, I went ahead and ordered a purge. It showed me an image of flamethrowers turning on.
Unleashing uncontrolled pathogens will just have to wait. Nasty business, anyway. The Claw probably didn’t worry so much since he was so utterly inhuman as to not be affected, but I guess I’m close enough to humans for interbreeding. Never occurred to me that was the case, but that’s kinda how evolution works with emerging mutants. They gotta fuck someone.
They had a section specifically focused on drones and robotics, but on a lark I decided to check out what they’d managed as far as chemical warfare and drugs. Those two were in different places, but I’d gotten administrative access to the network that let me see what the different hands had been doing once upon a time. So many different groups working on projects related to each other without ever knowing it. A drug to cause temporary paranoia with specialized storage conditions. A design for a drone with a sprayer and holding tank designed to meet those unique conditions.
Destroyed. Something went wrong in that part of the complext. Looked like there had been some fires.
Or, and this was cool, a few projects all centered around bugs. They have a section called Entomological Warfare, which almost unleashed a project to hold the world’s agriculture hostage during the Great Depression by unleashing bugs on what was left of the usable farmland, starting with a test in the United States. World War II happened at first, and Ricca was caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Bugs are dead, and records of storage were lost.
Normally, I’d pin this all on the world hating me specifically, but that’s really not the case. Shit happens. That’s reality for you. If you want a unifying theory of why history unfolds the way it does, shit happens is the only thing an honest historian could give you. And I do have it nice. I keep getting away with this shit, day in and day out. I’ve lost friends, experienced more pain than most people could while living, and the entire world has nuclear-fucking-fireballs just ready to turn this island into a useless piece of charcoal, but I still got away with it. I’m the leader of a fucking nation.
Now that I’m a political leader, I could round up everyone wearing glasses and murder them. I could withhold food from people of any category. When they’re my own people, it’s fine. It’s ok. I could just keep breaking this place. It wouldn’t surprise people. Hell, they might even be counting on it. Give them a reason to pull those triggers, especially if there’s nothing left on this rock but all the people the crazy Psycho Gecko sees fit to let live.
Ugh, I gotta stop ranting like this. This is the way I start talking before I start killing people for their own good. For some reason, people don’t listen to your reasoning after the first round of murders. I wonder if I can kill that instinct out of people?
Geez I need a hobby. Hell, maybe I should marry Beetrice. If I’m busy screwing her, I’ll be less likely to screw everyone else. Thoughts for later. I had to scrounge up parts. Instead of having a bunch of doomsday weapons handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve got to build something instead! Perhaps something that shoots serrated silver platters at people…
Instead, brought what I grabbed up to the office to put together my diabolical little deathbot. I was putting together a nice ball drone with the ability to roll around and a few limbs inside to help it maneuver up stairs, along with a pair of holodiscs to help mask it. I wasn’t sure on the weapons, what with all the problems this thing would face getting into the States, so I settled on an age-old classic: knives.
With the agility I’ve given this thing, it could play esports on a South Korean level while stabbing people at a Jack the Ripper level. If I didn’t trust this thing to go homicidal, I’d give it a try at making fries. It’ll basically attack anyone on sight. And once I get it sent to Venus, she can go fuck herself at a Vlad the Impaler level. I suppose I should be more cautious about indiscriminate robot slaughter, but caution’s for losers and quadriplegics.
It also gave me a teaching opportunity. “What’s that, baba?” asked Qiang, sitting in my lap despite my work. “Is that a drone?”
I shook my head. “This is a robot.”
“What’s the difference?” She looked up at me.
I kissed her forehead. He skin had started changing a little as the nanites helped rebuild her body according to her altered DNA. This is my daughter. My daughter is half-human. “Robots can do things on their own, like make things. A drone is controlled by a person all the time.”
“I don’t think I get it,” she said.
“I gotta get you a remote-control car sometime. You get a controller and tell it what direction to go. This thingy here will go around on its own,” I told her, “I’m sending this to a friend I miss. She would make a really good mommy for you.”
“Are you gonna marry her? What she look like?”
“Bring me that screen you were playing with earlier and I’ll show you.” She scrambled out of my lap to go bring it to me, which gave me space to attach a few parts. She brought it over right by my head, and I had to make her wait a little while I finished screwing in a support. Then I turned and pressed my hand to the wiring on the rear of the monitor. After a few seconds, a picture of the tan-skinned, dark-haired Venus appeared. She wore valkyrie armor without boots for no reason I care to elaborate on and rode a tiger-striped unicorn in mid-jump over a wall of fire. She still had her mask on over it all.
“Is she pretty?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I know it seems hard to tell, but she is. And she’s a good person. She’s going to be visiting us in a little bit. She might be angry, so try and act real cute, ok?”
We actually had a nice day. I finished putting my deathbot together and arranging for shipping to my nemesis’s home at the Master Academy. By the time it ended, I felt pretty chill. We made a night of it, me taking my daughter around to this new casino that opened up. She liked the slot machines a lot more than I did. She ruined my poker game, which I insisted nobody cheat either for or against me. All it took was her shouting about how funny the guy looked with the sword going into his head and everyone folded, including the guy who had just bet. We had to go around the time we got to this table where a pair of guys were passing around a revolver with only one bullet. Shame I had the kid with me, but she’s going to have a better life than me.
So I was pretty mellow that night when Intercept linked me a transmission from the expeditionary force. “VelocityRaptor here. I was told I should call in because you know my name and it would take too long to explain who another person is and why you should care.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Damn… whoever told you that deserves a promotion. Don’t bother telling me who, I don’t care. What do you got for me?”
“We have encountered Bronze Age villages. We haven’t figured out how to talk to anyone yet. We do not know the language, but we had skirmishes with little resistance. One of the soldiers almost took an arrow to the knee. He’s fine, but we have a prisoner now. Some girl. The technicians are trying to use the translator to analyze what she says and they expect to know more before long. They have samples for analysis if we ever get people who can analyze things.”
“I’ll find people who will put the anal in analyze, that’s for sure. Anything else I need to know?”
“Not at the moment, Emperor. This is the end of our report.”
“Thanks man. You need to check yourself for clowns, because I’m here to tell you, you have It. You’re going places. Now get out there and go some places.”
I sat there on the line for a couple of seconds before adding, “You going to hang up?”
“I didn’t know if you were going to hang up first, Emperor. I can hang up.”
“It’s ok, I can hang up first.”
“That’s unnecessary, I’ll-” I cut him off, hanging up. I do so hate these long goodbyes.
They’re campaigning for the Empress-ship. I didn’t think the batch of people I ruled over even gave a damn about my love life, so long as I didn’t do something stupid like getting peed on on tape. Most of that involves lobbying Qiang, since I’ve been avoiding the palace residence. I’ve been able to call Qiang out to me for lessons or meals in spite of their attention. I just tell her it’s part of her sneaking training.
I’ve been busy aside from all that mess. Like handling this little diplomatic mess with the Faust/Hephaestus people. Alhazred admits he had been a Cthulhu cultist hoping to see his god, and that all three were hoping to explore the island for ruins and so forth. His associates, Pickman and Hero, hadn’t actually done anything wrong while they were here, and Alhazred did help me lure Cthulhu here. In the end, I decided they would be allowed to use the island for storage and trade. I didn’t give them everything they wanted. They aren’t going to use the place for testing or collaboration with our own science people, at least partially because the Institute of Science is still closed. They don’t know it’s closed, but it made a good stick to hit them with, same with rejecting the customer service call center.
As part of my mercy upon them, I even gave the three an aerial tour of the island. I even saw to their safety with who the Shouho claimed to be our very best remaining helicopter pilot. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to them. There was some wariness from the passengers about that, so they made sure to stay restrained in their seats. I reassured them by ordering the doors be kept shut firm on their little ride, including one that separated the pilot from the passengers. That way, there’d be absolutely no chance of them falling out, or onto instruments, or the pilot trying to throw them out. I told them that myself. I promised them, completely out of thin air, that the pilot wouldn’t toss them out of the chopper. I then reiterated that there will be nothing to worry about.
As for the pilot, I told him to show me his best and most showy aerial maneuvers. Good thing the doors were shut for that barrel roll. As soon as they landed, I sent some of the soldiers over with the hoses to make sure the interior was hosed off of our little spew crew in there. They must have read my mind, because they didn’t bother letting out the Faust delegates before starting the hosing. When Pickman, Hero, and Alhazred slipped or fell out, they didn’t stop.
When I saw that, I leaned across to the the Shouho and mentioned, “Give them a little bit of a bonus for this.”
He held out a tablet for me. “Your Eminence, we have a member of the returned I wish to bring to your attention. He is enhanced.”
The returned appears to be their polite term for deserters who come back to Ricca’s service, in case I decide that someone who deserted can be punished but someone who left and returned won’t be. It’s mostly a stupid distinction, but when I once asked the Shouho about it, he started talking about how a military needs discipline and needs to know that desertion will be punished going forward. I picked up what he was putting down, or thought I did until the Issa politely informed me they left the whips and ballgags in their crates in a storage shed. Then I figured he didn’t want people deserting in the future.
This one was a man with extensive cybernetic augmentation, much like Silver Shark. His legs were gone below his thighs, replaced with knees that bent the other direction and feet ending in three-toed claws. He bent forward over the legs, his back weighted down by a gleaming chrome spine that connected his tail with an armored helmet that covered his head in the facade of a dinosaur with a mouth of fangs. The spine had a pair of short pipes around the lower part of it. He was a raptor, albeit a featherless one, with an armored chest and an exoskeleton running along his arms that ended in curved, sickle-like claws. He still had hands under them, and the raptor’s face with its sharp-toothed maw popped back to show it was a helmet. Underneath it, he maintained a neutral expression.
“Welcome back to the fold,” I said. Meanwhile, my eye HUD’s identification program made a match. “You’re the one they call VelocityRaptor, right?”
He nodded. Speaking in the Ricca pidgin, he noted, “That is the name the Americans gave me.”
Good restraint. The name doesn’t sound right in Riccan. “May I have a demonstration of your abilities?”
He nodded and the helmet lowered itself onto his face. The eyes of the raptor lit up red. He turned and those pipes shot flames a few inches into the air before he began running, gathering speed to run to the other end of the base and back fast enough to leave Olympic sprinters in his dust. While he was leaving, a pair of the lowest-ranked men ran up and began setting up dummies that looked like featureless humans.
He skidded to a halt and raised his tail. The end of it began spinning. Once the first of the soldiers had finished and gotten clear, the drilled into the chest of the dummy before swiping the head off. The other one had its chest torn open with his claws, leaking straw on legs that were ripped off one by one by Raptor’s. He ended by using the helmet’s jaws to crush the head and tear it off.
I gave him a polite golf clap. “I mean, they just got them put up and you already destroyed their work. That would seem rude to some people.” I got no response. “From here on out, you owe allegiance to me. You serve this Ricca going forward, and so your oath will be to this Ricca and you will serve out the term of your enlistment from now. Try not to take so long a vacation again.”
He bowed to me as best he could. “Thank you, Emperor. You are generous beyond all measure.”
I walked over and patted him on the back of the head. “No need for all that. Flatter me later, or whenever I feel like it. Right now, I just want to know if you’re ok with entering into new and unfamiliar situations, and maybe with getting nice and wet.”
He rose up to look at the grinning smile projected in front of my helmet where the mouth would be. “Sir?”
I had to throw together an expedition to Mu, and he was going to be part of it. After the first immigrant Deep Ones reached it and claimed a beachhead for the Riccan Empire, I decided to get some Manifest Destiny going. I’m also looking into importing lots of sand and building a bridge right at the surface to connect Ricca and Mu so that I can go there officially without the entire world throwing a tantrum and a nuke.
The peace treaty says I can’t leave the island of Ricca, which is a lot more restrained than if I never left the Empire of Ricca. But an entire new continent just appeared in the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t just dismiss it if a land bridge suddenly appeared to make Ricca and Mu part of the same landmass.
Even thought I spent a lot of time throwing togethe a group to conquer a new world, that doesn’t mean I neglected Qiang. Like I said, I was still feeding her and teaching her stuff. Basic strength training that she thinks are handstands, or crab walking. Good ways to build her up without pushing her too far and damaging anything. There are also our “dance” lessons that incorporate moves for a bit of self defense. She thinks it’s all fun and games until someone comes at her and she gouges an eyeball out.
When she’s not eating or attending Psychopomp University, I give her lots of time to be lobbied by the prospective Empresses. I actually had to assert myself after they got carried away once. My daughter asked for some ice cream and ended up being given progressively larger portions. I’d given her a network communication device, encrypted to keep anyone but myself out. It also means restricts her from calling just anyone or going online, which is all the more important when that kind of thing’s built into a person’s head. We’re talking home-style encryption too, with a different programming language.
So she called the hotline right to my head because she felt bad and threw up. I kicked the door in and tossed everybody else out. The giant shark cyborg, the giant bee woman, AND the ambitious servant girl. I got on to Qiang, but it’s hard to hold her accountable for that. Instead, I considered giving the other three a chopper ride. Between the three of them, they’d wreck the thing.
Instead, I ended up being able to make an example when, in the middle of applying nanites to the sweet-sick girl, Intercept called me with a tip from Flamebeard’s ship. They’d been taking a look at Mu and noticed a ship. A long catamaran-style ship with sails at the front and a number of burly rowers. He’d gladly take it out for us for a good price.
I rejected the offer and had Intercept keep an eye on it to let me know when we had a landing. The pacing was horrible, though. Took them awhile to reach us on that boat, and it’s tough maintaining anger for a long time.
I stepped out on the beach to meet and greet them. They responded with arrows. I suppose if this was that Civilization game, I’d have been beaten easily by the dozen or so loin-cloth clad men who charged forward, sweaty muscles exposed as they wore hardly anything but a little bit of leather and fur. The raised sword and axe and a sort of wooden club with nubs placed around the end.
Behind me a ways stood Beetrice, Silver, and Citra, along with a crowd of Buzzkills, guards, and VelocityRaptor. The three women were obviously not prisoners or tied up in any way. Just guests with a large group of guards, legitimately so in the case of the Buzzkills, who watched me bitchslap the colons of a group of people. Sometimes, the colons were still internal. I suppose it worked out that they were hostile. A peaceful group of traders would have made a different sort of example.
They seemed to be led by a particularly large one, muscular, but not overly so. We’re not talking about bodybuilders with those showy, useless muscles. Big guys, round, with arms used to swinging weapons and backs capable of lifting women and gold from those they come across. He came at me with a sword that bent when it hit my forearm gauntlet. I stomped his foot as he tried to straighten it and kneed him in the balls. When he dropped the sword and attempted to grapple with me, I hit him with an open palm to the throat, then reached down to turn He-Man into She-Ra. He had a lovely singing voice as he fell to his knees.
“Finish him!” my armor announced. I grabbed a gonad in each hand from that sack I took off him, ripped them apart from each other, then smashed them into the sides of his head until the top burst and his brain spurted out.
I turned back to the crowd, where I saw a couple of the raiders had gotten past me and the guards had punched their tickets to eternity. “It seems our new neighbors have a bit more balls than brains.” Then I stepped closer and gestured with a single finger for the ladies to join me in a private huddle. “Someone who wants to be a mother to my child really ought to remember what being a parent means. And let’s also not think too much about hoping to bully me into a position while we’re at it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go teach my daughter how to use her very own flamethrower.”
Kids love flamethrowers.
My people never did find the body. You know what else we didn’t find? A giant octopus-dragon marching around, getting worshiped. Straightened that shit up in a hurry, that fight. After everything that happened, I decided to get healed before organs started shutting down and leaving the cleanup for later. After injecting myself with nanites, I laid down, waved Qiang over, and fell asleep with her cuddled up against me. I woke up the next day to find she had left me a bowl of noodles on the stand next to the bed. First I had to hang up my armor to drain out before helping myself to the cold noodles. A little on the spicy side.
She was happy to see me when she wandered in and caught me in my imperial bathrobe and heart boxers, chowing down on the cold noodles she microwaved all for me. “How’s things, baby girl?” I asked.
“There was a big flood, and then they said a big bunch of land came up, and all the frog people are cleaning up where you had the big fight.” It all came out, mile a minute.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Much is changed. Are you done playing with monsters now?” A feminine hand reached out across the bedroom doorway wearing gold claws over fingers. It was Citra’s hand, which I saw as she stepped out in a red, high-collared Chinese style dress out of theatre or a fantasy movie. The makeup, the headdress looking like horns…
Silver Shark also stepped out, the large cyborg wearing a similar dress, though larger. They went a bit more whimsical with her makeup around the cybernetic eyes on her modified face. “I think he likes it.”
“Daddy, you’re drooling,” Qiang said.
I reached up and pushed my mouth shut. “Well, ladies, nice as it is to see you’ve both had a makeover, there are more important things around than the women in my life.Come, Qiang, let’s go see how the clean-up is going and whatever you’re talking about with a bunch of land.”
I started to walk past them, but Silver Shark put a hand on my chest. “You have to deal with us. We spent a long time figuring out what we wanted.”
“You both look beautiful,” I said. “But I have so much shit to take care of, including something about new land, and a little matter of necrophilia to take care of.”
“What’s necro whatever?” asked Qiang.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said to her.
“You have to deal with us sooner rather than later, because Beetrice arrived while you were resting,” Silver said. “She says you’re supposed to be getting married soon.”
The giant bee-woman, Beetrice, is surprisingly astute as a diplomat, and incredibly enthusiastic about bedding me. Way, way too enthusiastic. If she was here, I’m surprised I didn’t wake up to find myself tied down with a ballgag in my mouth. It’s not that she grosses me out or anything, with the exoskeleton, fuzz, and mandibles. It’s just that I don’t like her the way she likes me. Plus, she likes to almost kill me. Death by snoo snoo and dehydration.
Speaking of her skills as a negotiator, she added a clause to the peace treaty about marrying me that probably isn’t what everybody legally signed. I bet she’d get the United Nations to say it was binding anyway if they knew how much I didn’t care for the idea.
“She’s on the island? Wonderful.” Then I quieted down and cupped my ear, trying to listen out while remotely accessing cameras and digital devices nearby.
Citra stepped up to me and distracted me quite well by cupping my face in her hands. “You made a deal with my mother to take care of me. You know what she wanted.” The cold metal felt nice against my skin.
“You’re not something to be bought and sold. You should be the boss of your own life. Go do your own thing. You can make it on your own.” I grabbed her hands and held onto them for a moment before pulling them away, wondering when the sappy music was going to start up. I only meant to hold onto them for a moment, but she was pretty.
“You don’t buy people,” she repeated back, her eyes flicking over to Qiang. She pulled her hands away and crossed her arms. “What would I do? I have lived a servant’s life.”
I shrugged and gave her a little smile. “You could be a maid? Go to school or something. Find yourself someone you love.” My smile got a little less friendly as I realized something. “But you’d rather keep living in a palace, wouldn’t you?”
“You are another foolish American, thinking everything is about love and doing your own thing.” That caused me to back my face on up a moment while she continued. “The people do not love you. They know you are strong. You will keep them safe if they keep you happy. They like the lifestyle you offer them.”
“First, I’m not really an American.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Second, whatever happened to people liking me for me instead of because I have a big house?”
“I’ve had you. You’re an ass,” Silver Shark said. “You cheated on me, remember?”
I threw my hands up. “I don’t see what the problem is. You could have joined us at any time. What are you doing in all this anyway?”
She ran her claws over the fabric of her dress. “I liked the makeover. Some of the benefits were nice, when you weren’t being a jerk. Tell you what. I hear Queen Beetrice loves you for you.”
“I mean, maybe I should try Beetrice?” I said. “After all, I get a choice in this, too. I’m the big emperor guy in charge. Maybe I’ll chug a bunch of energy drinks and sports drinks, lay back, think of England, and then sell my amazing new combined energy/sport drink that you’d think someone would have invented by now.”
As if on cue, the palace’s landline began to ring, the ID placing the caller as Beetrice. I bent the knee pretty damn quick. Silver and Citra shared a laugh at that. “Damn injury, you know,” I tried to cover for it. “Just fought a giant Cthulhu. No big deal. No reason to give a guy a break before you start throwing booty at him. Anyone got a ring or something? Or what’s the tradition here?”
Citra spoke up. “Your family delivers gifts to my family, but my family is dead. Do you have any family?”
I shrugged. “Just Qiang. Other than that, I dunno. If I do, they’re on the other Earth that the guys with the giant robot ship are from. I think I remember an aunt. Either way, not an issue, but I can always give you presents. That it?”
“Then you give me jewelry in a hair combing ceremony.”
“Pretty easy to see these traditions don’t have anything to do with love. Ok, fi- wait a moment. Before I agree, there’s someone I have to consult on this. I looked to Qiang. “What do you think about her?” I nodded toward Citra. “She been nice to you?”
She nodded. “She’s alright.”
Dammit, Qiang! I needed her to be my wingman on this. “You think she’d be ok as my new wife and your new mom?”
She looked up at Citra, furrowing her little brow. Citra smiled warmly down at her, her eyes ligthing up and narrowing the corners of her eye. Silver wore a smirk. I turned back to Qiang. “You were in on it, too? Quite the conspiracy here.”
Before I could say anything else, I heard knocking at the door. “Hello! Psycho Gecko! It’s Beetrice! I couldn’t get you on the phone, so I came here myself!”
I stood up at that and prepared myself to greet my admirer. She rushed upstairs, wearing a dress that, based on the cleavage, back, and slits, was designed to spend more time on a floor than on a person. I gaped at it up until she wrapped her arms around me and tried to squeeze my lungs out through my mouth.
Why do I always forget about the strength? “How are you this strong?” I gasped out.
“What?” she said, stopping to look into my eyes with segmented ones before stealing a mandibled kiss off my lips.
“Insects can’t really get this big due to atmospheric conditions, let alone mate with humans and homo machina. It just occurred to me,” and here I had to take a moment to cough. She set me down for that. “I might be able to improve my armor if I were to study your body.”
A pair of “Ahems,” came from off to the side, where Silver and Citra frowned. Was it something I sai-oooooooooh.
“Did I interrupt something?” Beetrice asked.
“You know what? I think you did. Beetrice, please talk things over with Citra and Silver. Qiang, dear, let’s hurry on out of here and give them some privacy.”
I took her hand and rushed out under the reaching grasps of all three women, er, females. I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to marry one of them, Citra or Beetrice. I just didn’t really plan on marrying. Ever. Citra wouldn’t be too bad, I guess. I know where I stand with her. Beetrice just turns me off, liking me so much. I mean, Venus would be nice if she and I didn’t want to kill each other.
I think I’m getting some insight here.
First stop, the military base! I had called Intercept to see what they were up to and they informed me they still had a piece of Cthulhu in quarantine. This was conveniently the kind of thing that would keep me well away from the palace. Qiang was excited to see the place and all the soldiers, who had swiftly assembled to salute me in my imperial bathrobe. I didn’t have time to grab clothes, remember.
I gave them all a salute back, as did Qiang, and I met with the commanding officer, of a rank called Shouho, as well as the Issa of the Intercept team. They conspicuously avoided mentioning my clothing choice, and they were more than happy to show Qiang all about this helicopter while they showed me to a holding area with six pylons surrounding a tentacle, a glowing yellow barrier connecting each pylon.
I looked up at them. “Handy. Do they fry anything going forward?”
The Shouho spoke up. “The barriers are kinetic, requiring only power. This is an abnormal deployment to secure the anomaly.”
“Very good,” I said. “These look quite useful. We must construct additional pylons.”
“The military could use an expansion in material and manpower. For that, additional supply depots are required,” the Shouho responded.
I held up my hands. “We’ll handle that another time. For now, open this up for me. I’m going to need some alone time with it. It’s not a corpse, but it’ll do. Bow, bowm, bow bow bow.” I started to saunter forward, continuing to mouth porn music. When I saw them looking, I stopped, “Listen, you don’t want anyone to see this next part. Things are going to get freaky. Look at me, Shouho Whatever.”
I pointed at myself and the Shouho said, “Shouho Zhu Luankui.” He straightened up.
“Look at me, Zhu. Look at me. Freaky. That’s what it’s going to be like. You’re going to want raincoats out here if you stand in the splash zone.” I turned away and continued my preparations.
The Intercept Issa interrupted me before I could get into it. “Sir, what are your orders regarding the island that has appeared?”
I paused and pulled my boxers back up. “Ok, let’s go see what this is all about.”
It took me fifteen minutes to reach the beach with an enthusiastic driver and a few close calls. I found the Deep Ones hard at work on the beachfront. They were taking over most of the clean-up, with the locals more than happy to sell them noodles, dumplings, and so on. I thought we were going to have a problem there, but the Deep Ones had some serious bling. Gold and gems. I stepped over to pat the shoulder of one of them who was helping himself, or possibly herself, to a bowl of noodles. “Is it good?”
It kinda nodded its head from side to side. “Yes, good. Not the same as food from home.”
“You smell funny!” said Qiang, looking at a little Deep One that ate with what I assumed were a pair of parents.
I shrugged and focused on the one I’d stopped. “There may be opportunity there. Provided it isn’t poisonous to us, people might like it. Thank you, and the rest of y’all for helping out here.”
“Uhh, you’re welcome,” the Deep One said. “Thank you for allowing us to stay.”
I nodded and left it to the rest of its meal. Qiang had gotten into a game of tag, so I left her to it.
After all, I didn’t stop here just to gladhand the immigrants. I came to see the giant fucking island right off Ricca. I can see it. Granted, my eyes are better than most people’s, and height limits how far a person can see before the horizon’s a problem, but it’s there. I could even make out the mountains.
The satellite images showed more. Just offshore, having risen from the sea, a landmass roughly with roughly two million square miles of area. An entirely new continent that shouldn’t exist according to all the people who study plate tectonics and geology. The soldiers at the base were already calling it according to the name being popularized by the Deep Ones.
It is the island continent of Mu. It’s right here by Ricca. And it will be mine.
I turned back to the crowd of gathering Deep Ones. “Who wants to go claim some land for their new country?”