Tag Archives: Blackstone

New World War 7

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Now, now. It’s not a happy ending just yet. Other than the ones involving my wife. And sleeping. That whole adventure really screwed up my internal clock worse than normal. Max said if I keep sleeping until dark, he’s gonna by me a coffin to sleep in. Joke’s on him, some of them are really comfy. I told him I might need one anyway.

There was a loose end to tie up and stab to death. I just didn’t want to deal with it until after I spent time with my family.

It wasn’t the bounty hunters I hired to track down whoever was coming after me. In my absence, and the absence of Blackstone, the magical bounty hunters mostly went to ground. The fact that it was me left open the possibility of retaliation. Worse for them, it meant they wouldn’t be getting paid. I got the message out on VillainNet and other grapevines letting them know this is a no-grudges situation.

As for Baron Samedi and the deal with letting the Three Hares settle on my claimed continent of Mu, that’s going to be renegotiated.

I don’t need them to hunt down my enemy this time. Douglas Blackstone has an address and everything.

It was a small, two-story duplex in small town Connecticut. Well, they named it Smalton, but there’s no need to butter a soup. That’s one from the old dimension. It’s been so long. He’s had time to prepare! He still owes me for that bear trap at my closet door even if that’s his own damn fault. The closet bear trap is almost as important as the toilet gun.

I decided to check with the neighbor who shared the duplex. Knocked on the door and an older lady opened it wearing a mumu that perhaps she didn’t realize was thin enough to be seen through in the right light. It was, to my misfortune, the right light. “Ew. Hi, I’m wondering if you have a moment for me to share the good news with you.”

I pushed an arm in the way before she shut the door. “That was a lie, lady. You know many Mormons who wear power armor?”

“I try not to judge!” she said, opening the door. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“I’m a Mormon who wears power armor and I’m here to chat with your neighbor about religion. Do you know if he’s home?” I asked.

“Couldn’t you just knock on his door?” she asked. She looked me over and started to close the door again.

I grabbed the door to stop it from closing. “Allow me to rephrase. I’m here to kill someone. Knock on the door over there, or I’ll have to do so with my own two bloody hands.” She glanced at both raised fists and got the point.

“Let me get my slippers. My name’s Caroline, by the way,” she said. I held the door open for her and kept it open a little long for my backup to sneak in. I brought along a quartet of Dudebots to help out, and I needed one in there so I could put one on all four external walls.

“You may call me Gecko,” I told her. I hope I’m not as slow moving when I’m her age. Preferably, the nanites will have me looking as young as ever.

She stood in front of the door and raised her hand to knock. “Go on then, sweet Caroline,” I said.

She rapped on the door three times, with my giving an accompanying “Bwam!” noise every knock, followed by the three Dudebots on the other sides of the houses smashing through walls. They converged on the living room, just on the other side of the door, where a startled Blackstone sat in a robe. Bath robe, that is. The guy’s a magic user, but he also isn’t fully dressed for the day.

Target identified, I let the neighbor lady go about her business. “You may leave now, Caroline. You probably wouldn’t want to be a witness and have to be dissuaded from talking about what you see here,” I ordered.

I broke through the door and walked in. Mentally, I directed the Dudebots to grab Blackstone. Two held onto his arms while another kicked him in the balls and checked him for the magic book, Los Cincos Soles Dorados. The fact that he hadn’t already whipped out his magic and tried to smack me in the face with it suggested he didn’t have it. It already moved away from him when he plopped us both in the hellscape that is a world without me.

The nut shot was both because I am still petty, and because the reverberations of the orbs would likely distract him from using his magical abilities. That way, he spent his time groaning instead of chanting.

I didn’t find the book on him anywhere, so I stood for a moment, breaking a rule I’ve long held about killing first and talking later. “Blackstone. Looking terrible. At least you shaved. Goatee?” I bent down to look into his eyes at his level and noticed the tattoo on his chest and up onto his throat. “And a tattoo.”

He looked at me, scared. “Please, my name is Doug Blackstone and I don’t know what’s going on or who you are. Something happened and I woke up missing almost a month of time. Then this guy shows up who looks like me and zapped me. I’ve been here ever since not knowing who or what is going on. My wife doesn’t even know who I am and tried to call the cops on me!”

I glanced over at his left hand. Yep, ring on the left ring finger.

I stood back up all the way and looked down on the guy, contemplating. By all accounts, it looks like Blackstone solved his conundrum by swapping places with his analog on the other dimension. But something didn’t sit right. Like the tattoo thing. In the other timeline, Blackstone didn’t have one. So why didn’t his wife notice? All on the chest and throat like that, and the woman who knows him better than anyone only has doubts?

Or the ring. I didn’t notice if Blackstone had one on the other world, but that doesn’t matter here. My would-be assassin is not a stupid person beyond the profoundly bad decisions he’s made antagonizing me. I’ve never gotten the sense that using magic was compatible with being so unintelligent you wouldn’t steal your analog’s wedding band before trying to take his place.

I punched his head off. It shattered and left an exposed lower jaw hanging on. I reached down the throat and grabbed spine, then tugged it out. I thought it came out easily, but the little chink I held in my hand disappeared along with the body being held by my Dudebots. I checked around and all the blood had vanished as well.

There was a pop like someone just pulled a lollipop out of their mouth and another Blackstone appeared. This one didn’t bother with the goatee and tattoo. He made a gesture with his hands, which began to glow purple. And then another Blackstone popped out of the air on the other side of our little foursome. The nearest Dudebot to the first Blackstone ran and put a fist through his belly. The third Blackstone so far got his nuts kicked out of his head by another Dudebot. But, like a damn hydra, more took their places. Blackstones just kept appearing. I did my best to fend them off.

The whole group activated energy sheaths in time for one to deflect a whip of purple magic. I didn’t react fast enough with another Dudebot and it lost its feet. At the same time, another Dudebot popped out his Nasty Surprise underarm saw and gutted one of the Blackstones. Oddly, both he and the one next to him disappeared, despite that one not being hurt. I tossed a chicken grenade and smacked one of the now-dozen Blackstones in the face just before a thin purple line whipped through the air and… took off the head of the Dudebot I was inhabiting.

Hey, I said I had one on each side. I just didn’t mention I was sitting on the roof.

The one who did that got taken out when the footless one sprayed hot laser over that side of the room and took out a quarter of them all at once. The explosion from the chicken grenade got a lot more, but I couldn’t see so well because that’s when the roof started falling under me. I didn’t stop with it, instead falling through the shingles and wood to land in what used to be the attic area but which had now become the ground floor. And over there, on all fours, was Douglas Blackstone, magic book in hand.

I kipped up and lunged for him. Another Blackstone popped just in front of me. I knocked him down and stomped on his head as I passed over him. My next step flew upward as the attic began to rise again. Wood chunks zipped back into place.

I focused on the book, gripped tight in the hands of the real Blackstone, and fired a laser from my helmet. Laser eyes, not just for Dudebots anymore. Fingerless, Blackstone dropped the book. Gravity dropped the ceiling again, dropping us both back to the top of the ceiling that landed on a remaining Blackstone copy.

Blackstone used one of his magic whips like a grappling hook and pulled himself to his feet. He screamed, bloody, sweaty, covered in dust and splinters.

I advanced, laughing. He gestured toward me and my legs locked up, held by an indigo rope of light that wrapped around and between them and itself. He took a moment to try a longer incantation while I charged my lower arms’ energy sheaths.

He finished with a word that echoed and fingers of violet crystal grew from the damaged stumps on the hand that held the book. When I got enough of a charge, I reached down with the lower arms and grasped them, pulling a line apart. As with the whips, the sheaths affected them. That, or the ropes really weren’t that hard to break anyway and I wasted time. I wasted as little as I could freeing myself now that I had my hands on it.

Another grapple line shot out from Blackstone to the book near me. I lunged and smashed through it with my lower right forearm. The line broke and the energy sheath dissipated with it. Glowing purple lines reached from the air and ground to grab my arms and legs and hold them apart. I smashed the line with my lower left arm and grabbed an explosive knife from my utility belt, throwing it close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades. He summoned a floating crystalline shield that blocked it and sent the knife falling to the broken ceiling we now stood on. It exploded on the way down.

The magic whips went slack and disappeared. I followed the screaming through the smoke. Blackstone laid in one corner of the attic, cushioned on puffy pink insulation. His shredded legs weren’t going anywhere, and both his shield and magic fingers were gone. He rolled over and tried to crawl for the round hole that used to hold an attic vent.

I grabbed his ragged legs and ignored the screams. I jumped up through the roof with him in tow and tossed him into the air. I landed on the downed roof and leaped again, my arm bursting through Blackstone’s upper back and reaching up to grip his jaw. I pulled it down as we fell and tore his lower jaw and throat off while swinging him down under me so that I smashed his head through the shingles and wood.

“Time’s up,” I said, then made sure of it by pulling the head off a rubber chicken grenade and shoving it into the hole. I jumped clear before he blew up.

I checked and saw a Blackstone half-sticking out of the rubble disappeared. The remaining damaged Dudebots pushed through the wreck of a former house and checked with me. No more Blackstones.

It’s a wonderful life indeed, for one of us.

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New World War 6

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“I’ve been looking over this book and it’s quite the magical artifact itself. Both science and magic seek understanding of the nature of the universe and manipulation of its forces, and eventually to overcoming the limits of the universe. I found the ritual he used and it’s powerful, like a trebuchet or blockbuster bombs. But crude, imprecise, and flawed.”

Mobian led me up the steps of his ship to the platform with the control panel. “Didn’t these steps curve differently before?” I asked.

“I change the interior sometimes. I have control over spacetime in this ship.” He pulled a lever. An image appeared over everyone, showing Earth, then a bunch of copies of Earth, then moved all of them over to the right and showed lines trailing from them to the left. He also showed a little orb next to one Earth. “Time travel is normally about moving along the time stream, the past or the inevitable futures.”

“The future’s not supposed to be set in stone,” Marivel said from below us.

“It can’t be,” Blackstone said.

“Chaos theory’s a bitch,” I called down to them.

“Quite,” Mobian said. “It’s possible to travel to the past and alter it, but that causes problems.”

“The Universe Divide is a rough barrier to pass through,” I noted.

Mobian continued. One Earth then slid on top of another, covering it and its timeline. “Yes. And that will create problems.”

“It hasn’t yet,” Blackstone said. He pointed to Marivel. “Things are better than ever.”

“I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is so wrong,” Mobian said as Marivel stepped away from Blackstone.

“Yeah,” she said. “Who are you really?”

“I’m Doug, for real. Just a Doug from a worst Earth. Things went wrong there,” he answered

I pointed to Mobian. “The Claw, dead. Ricca no longer on the warpath and all the brainwashed supers free. Empyreal City not ruled by Spinetingler. Mot dead instead of eating people. The Fluidics, all gone. Did I miss anything?”

Images appeared of all of them as I called them out. “Some would see your assassination of the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation as preferable,” Mobian added.

“They’ve killed millions,” Marivel said, looking at Blackstone. “Why did you cause that?”

“I didn’t cause it,” he said. “She did!” he pointed to me. “She killed my mom and dad.”

“We’re getting too much into statistics here,” I said. “Most people here aren’t better off, and you’re not her husband. Just a lookalike from another dimension trying to live his life.”

“It’s the way my life was meant to be,” Blackstone said. I cringed to myself.

Marivel squared up with him. “I’m not an accessory to my husband’s life. My Dougie loves me!”

“Ever meet Kant?” I asked Mobian. He shook his head no. “He’d be perfectly fine with a discussion like this taking forever… feels like we’ve been here for days already… but that’s not what I’m here for.”

I hopped down to the lower floor and walked over to Marivel. She’s such a skinny little thing. She can’t be healthy. One good fall, or twist, and her poor little head might snap off. And if that happened, what reason would Blackstone have to stay? He might try to just take the ritual back to now, but I like my odds of taking him if he tries that. Then we just try with a different mage.

“If I may interject with a compromise,” Mobian said. “The Earth you rightly belong to is not destroyed. It is temporally displaced, but this can’t last forever. There will be temporal bleed. There are already signs of it. Gecko’s presence is one effect. Others are more difficult to detect unless you are as intimately familiar with the workings of time as I am. They will get worse. People will have memories of both timelines as they merge. That could get rather ugly if it doesn’t go smoothly. You ever seen two people mashed together by temporal displacement? You would throw up your stomach.”

“What’re you thinking?” I asked.

Mobian showed moved one Earth off the other on his hologram. “It’s simple. Knowing this is an alternate universe imposed on our own, we should be able to use the ritual to reverse the two. My craft can guide the ritual so that we don’t displace a third universe. The timeline will be a mess for the period the two were one and the same, but you or I could bring Blackstone back to it as himself.”

“What about my Doug?” Marivel asked.

Mobian gestured with a roll of his hand. “You would still have your husband as himself, and then this one would show up as a separate entity.”

“But then she wouldn’t be mine,” Blackstone said.

I rolled my eyes. “She was never yours. This situations’s fucked up. You don’t always get what you want. Welcome to life.”

“Is there one of me on your world?” Marivel asked.

“Probably,” Mobian and I said at the same time.

Marivel looked to Blackstone, who still had that look in his eye like someone who didn’t give a crap as long as they got what they wanted. My poker record is nothing to carve into the moon with a giant laser, but I can still recognize that one well enough. It’s like one of those guys who raises before they’ve even looked at their cards.

But Marivel, who at this point seemed to be the only voice Blackstone might listen to, stepped toward him and cowboy’ed up. “I don’t love you, but it’s possible that the me on your world might. I love another Doug Blackstone, and he loves me. If you stay, you’re hurting your other self and me. If you love me, leave.”

I saw Blackstone bunching up like he was going to argue or pounce. In the end, he did neither. He took a breath, let it go, and unclenched. I stepped up behind Marivel and patted her on the shoulder. “Good going. We’ll have this mess sorted out before the worldwide disasters start for once.”

Blackstone glared. “Get your hands off her.”

“I’ll put my hands wherever I want, but if you really want me to leave her alone, you know how to make it happen,” I said.

At that, Mobian pressed a button. Part of the floor opened up and a pedestal arose with Los Cincos Soles Dorados, the transcribed rituals of Nahuatal time mages, open upon it.

“I have configured this altar to redirect the energies of the book, to focus them on separating the two,” the time traveler said.

Marivel raised her hand to about head height. “Do you need me to do anything?”

Mobian smiled at her, “No, my dear, you’ve done fantastic already.” He gave me a look. Have I clarified before that there’s a difference between looking at someone and giving them a look? One’s a form of perception, the other’s communication. There’s meaning behind a look. This one was something like relief and a warning. I think he realized how close Marivel came to being sacrificed for our cause.

She stepped off to the side while Blackstone approached the book. He looked at me. “The sympathetic magics involved should be more easily accessed, but I need you here with me.” He held out a hand and I took it, standing close. The book really didn’t like me looking at it, but he read from it just fine.

Mobian rushed up the staircase to his control center and oversaw the creation of many bops and beeps.

“I need you to be honest with me, Gecko. What do you want more than anything else in the world?” Blackstone asked in a pause between chants.

I closed my eyes and recalled video of Qiang. “I want to see my daughter. And family. And friends.”

“You aren’t sad to leave an entire new world of victims behind?” he asked.

It was my turn to give him a look, one of incredulity. “I want to go home.”

He nodded and began chanting. I had a bit of trouble with the language, my database not having a lot of Pre-Colombian New World Languages to go off of, especially not in the areas colonized by the Spanish. But I could feel the power in the words. The light rose around us. I looked around and saw markings in the air the same color I’d gotten use to from the book.

“Whoa nelly!” Mobian called from his control dais. The lights expanded and then contracted within the timecraft. A spotlight from the ceiling shone down in a circle around us and the lights began to form a line in that lit area.

I heard Marivel gasping as she watched the whole thing, but I stayed focused on Blackstone and the book. And home. And Qiang.

With a sudden thunderclap, it all gave out and sparks flew from the ceiling. Blackstone braced himself on the pedestal. I caught myself on it as well. Marivel just collapsed. The timecraft jerked all over the place, which put me on my ass. After about a minute of tilt-a-whirl, Mobian got control of his ship.

“Captain’s log, Stardate 01-14-2019,” I said, standing back up on shaky knees. My HUD’s clock blinked 12:00 instead of giving the proper date, so I was going off of when we were before all the magical hijinks. “Something went down. We were… shot through a wormhole… in the… asspull nebula. Mr. Chekov, where are we?” I looked up to Mobian.

“I’m the captain of this vessel,” he responded. “We’re in the correct place, with the correct timeline.”

He brought up an image of the Earth. After a moment, he zoomed in, showing what looked like my city, but paused. “Now we watch as time reasserts itself.”

Eyebrow raised, I kept an eye on it while palming the ceramic knife I kept under my bed. I began to wonder if swiping it behind me without knowing for sure Blackstone’s there would take him out, then I realized with a smile that little deal was no longer in play. I wouldn’t have to throw a knife in the dark at a random intruder or set up bear traps. I could just end it right there.

I turned and swiped for his throat. Before I connected, I was yanked out of the timecraft. It was like being thrown out an airlock, but I was the only one being tossed out the now-open door of Mobian’s timecraft. Suddenly, my clock reset back to December, and the day the world changed. The fall was unusual as well. I didn’t feel the normal wind of skydiving, and I accelerated faster than terminal velocity before slowing and settling on the couch where I’d been when Blackstone’s ritual first took off and separated the world.

I sat there, watching as everybody sped up from moving slowly to normal to rushing in superspeed. Nobody touched the presents and the tree began to dry and drop needles everywhere. And I just sat there, unable to move while the clock on my HUD went crazy, finally settling on January 14th, 2019.

Lights out… and then I woke up to find myself dogpiled by Qiang, Citra, Mix N’Max, and even Silver Shark. I knew she still liked me. “What’s up, guys?” I asked, keeping a firm hold of Qiang.

“You went missing!” My daughter said through teary eyes and snot bubbles.

“Something freaky happened,” Max said. “Nobody believes me.”

“Max was really high. He was talking about another life where he’d never met you,” said Sam, who went for a punk green and red mohawk with isolated bangs.

I hugged Qiang. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, mama,” she said.

I kissed the top of her head a bunch. “You didn’t open your presents.”

“The Little Empress was waiting on you,” Citra said. I kissed her.

“Well, if we’re finally ready for the mother of all belated Christmases,” I said, looking around. “I’ve got a hell of a story for everyone…

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New World War 5

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Update: it didn’t mean what I thought it meant.

I know, I said awhile back I was going to cut down on sleeping round. I won’t deny sex is fun, but it’s not the driving thing in my life and it can be used to delegitimize my rule. Just imagine if someone pops up pretending to be my kid and taking the throne from my daughter? Can’t have that.

But, ya know, it’s a timeline that’s going to be erased without affecting mine. Y’all think I’d be a running around as a superhero if I thought any of this would survive outside my own writing?

Anyway, I dropped some roses off for Rabbit. She came running up to me later, waving them around. It was hard to make out her meaning since the only word she said was, again, “Rabbit!” I turned my hand over and showed her where the rabbit drawing had been and she threw the flowers in my face. Puzzled, I turned and saw some teenagers watching me, one of them nodding and smiling before seeing all his friends shaking their heads and changing his reaction to match.

“Can everybody understand her but me?” I asked, pointing after Rabbit with one hand.

The guy who’d been smiling slid over beside me, running his hand through is hair. “I’d be more ‘n happy to give you oral lessons if you’d like.”

“You mean vocal?” I asked, adding one of my hands to the one moving through his head-based human fur.

“Right, my B. Slip of the tongue,” he said, winking, then wincing.

My other three hands motioned to the teen as he struggled. “Behold, the mighty hair follicle. Watch as even a handful are capable of holding the weight of a human body. Now, one caveat, this hurts like hell for the person being held this way. Side effects may include early male-pattern baldness, irritability, nausea, upset stomach and,” I dropped him. “erectile dysfunction.”

I took a bow when the clapping started.

Anyway, no big deal on not getting anywhere with Rabbit.

The next morning, when it should have been too early to count it as a new day, I was awoken by a strange man jumping out of my closet and setting off my closet bear trap. I sat up and immediately threw a ceramic knife I’d hidden in my pillow at the person. Douglas Blackstone looked up from his trapped leg to the knife sticking out of the other one. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked around the spurting blood.

I shrugged. “It stopped you from barging into my room in the middle of the night, didn’t it?” I asked. It occurred to me this was a neat way to get around the magical prohibition on hurting him. I scooted off the bed. “Here to give in and request my help?”

“Yes! Now get me out of this!”

I sent a signal off to Mobian and proceeded to help free the bear trap from having to chow down on Blackstone. “Darn human. Why’s it so hard to keep your fluids inside you?” I tied off the wounds on his legs and sat him down.

“Blood is everywhere,” he said, looking around.

“Eh, you get used to it, even the coppery taste. You ever wonder why we call it a coppery taste instead of saying copper tastes like blood?”

“What’s the plan? Who is Mobian? Do we have to wait a long time for him?”

“I’m holding off on the plan until Mobian gets here, but it shouldn’t take long.” A light flooded the window outside my room. I stepped over and opened it.

Mobian poked his head through. “Hello. Oh, you’re not dressed yet.”

I shrugged and grabbed a bag I’d sat beside the window. “I got my bug-out bag here. Has everything I need to go rogue.” I turned and looked at Blackstone. “Blackstone, this is Mobian. Mobian, this is the shit stain that messed up time. Let’s see about solving this little problem, eh?”

The trip didn’t take long. Mobian’s timeship walks all over spacetime like a dominatrix over a submissive’s chest. More than enough time to change into an outfit more befitting a prison break. “Ok, here’s the plan. For all its ability to project power beyond conventional means using superhumans and higher technology than most bother with, Ricca doesn’t have as much infrastructure as you’d expect. Much more limited space than, say, North Korea, so they find ways around it. Can you bring up a satellite view of them?”

Mobian pressed a few buttons and a top-down vision of Ricca filled the air in front of us. I pointed to a few buildings. “Much like Argentina, they frequently use detention centers hidden under regular buildings. Under the hospital, under a well-known mechanics’ shop, those sorts of places. It adds a degree of paranoia. People know some of the buildings around them are doing this. They don’t know if they’ll be grabbed. Don’t know if the place they get their favorite foods from has someone in the basement. It’s either care and become exhausted, or become numb to the whole mess. Other than that, the main dedicated prison’s on the military base.”

Mobian raised a question. “What about North Korea? They control it in this timeline as well.”

I shrugged. “They had an arrangement with North Korea, paying the Democratic People’s Republic to hold excess political prisoners. What they sent was a mixed force of special forces and superhumans mixed with a bunch of people unhappy with the Kim regime. The camps were demolished. Still are.”

“How do you know that?” Blackstone asked.

I pointed to my head. “This world is woefully behind on network security. Plus, I already know full-well how their encryption works and how the key cycles. Riccan Internal Security forces lodged a complaint five days ago when the Foreign Service handed over a load of prisoners under Nontreatment Orders. Fancy way of saying they shouldn’t torture these guys. They’re here,” I pointed to a garage. “Someone working for the Claw drives in to get their car services, leave with fewer passengers. Loud noises are good cover. Plus, lots of car batteries and jumper cables for fun.”

“Bastards!” Blackstone said. He stood up and clutched at his legs. “Fuck!”

“Sit down. You wouldn’t be part of this even if you weren’t hurt,” I said. To Mobian, I said, “This thing got a stealth setting or are we putting on Christmas lights?”

I heard a whiz and a few bloops as he pushed buttons. “We’re dark, and now we’re just above the shop. Will the roof suit your needs?”

I nodded and finished pulling on the repaired Riccan outfit I fled with, which would blend in better than all black during the day. I dropped out the door and rolled upon landing. I looked back up and saw nothing but clear skies.

I dropped off the side of the building and headed around for the bay.

“Hey!” called someone in clean coveralls and immaculately clean hands.

I nodded to him. “I”m here from Foreign Service. I’m here for one of our prisoners.”

He looked to one of the other mechanics, a bigger guy holding a large crescent wrench. “Tell me who you’re looking for and I’ll get them for you.”

I sneered. “I’m not waiting on you and your boyfriend. This needs to be done now, not in an hour.” I walked up to him, then pushed past to go into the office. He tried to grab my shoulder, so I turned around, grabbed his elbow, and threw him to the ground. I turned and glared at the one with the wrench. “I’ll be retrieving my prisoner now.”

It wasn’t that well-hidden. The trap door was in the office. One flight of stairs down, I was in a corridor lit by a fluorescent light fixture. It was claustrophobic down there; there wasn’t room to move two at a time. Not a bad way to build a place if you’re worried a group of tired prisoners might revolt. I came to a room with a couple of men in dirtier coveralls. One stared at a bank of computer monitors, while the other washed his hands at a cheap sink against the wall.

“Who are you?” asked the one at the sink. He grabbed a knife and turned to me.

“Foreign Service. I’m here for one of my prisoners and I’m tired of explaining this.”

The two men shared a look. “Fucking foreign service,” he said. “Tell us your ID number at least, so we have something to put down on the form.”

I rattled off an active number for a woman in the service. Even in this timeline, it wouldn’t be unusual for the Claw to have an agent given plastic surgery.

The one at the monitor looked me over, “You don’t recognize me?”

The one at the sink swung for my neck. I caught his wrist and threw him onto the table. An elbow to the throat crushed his windpipe. “Ho ho ho, now I have a knife,” I said to the guy at the monitors. He reached for a big red button on the wall. As a general rule, big red buttons are not a good thing. I threw the knife and got him through the back of the hand. He pulled it back. I came around the table on the same side as the button. He reached for it with his other hand, and I caught it. Cocking my head to the side, I asked, “Just curious, but what about that gave me away? Tell me and you’ll survive.”

“That was my ex’s ID,” he said. Ah, the human element.

I nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.” I smashed his head into the monitor bank and let him sit there in a wriggling, seizing mess. Guess I’m breaking all kinds of oaths and vows these days.

The downside is it turned out they had a couple different cell areas, one on each side. The first one was a dead end, full of Deep Ones. One stood up and rushed to the bars. “You! You saved me before!”

Hmm. “They got you after all, eh?” I looked him over. Burns, lash marks, puckers of flesh missing. I checked the cells. The door had a wire running out of the top and across the ceiling of this little area outside of it. I followed it back to the guard area and to a panel, one for each side. One button had a lightning bolt on it. The other had a door halfway open. I checked the other detention cell just in case and saw her there. “There you are, Marivel.”

She looked up from huddling in a group of women on one side of the cell. “Who are you?”

I smiled. “The name’s Gecko. I believe we talked.”

“You’re one of these monsters?” she asked.

I shook my head. “This time, and I can’t believe it, I’m the hero. I’m here with your so-called husband. Well, he’s outside. I’m here to rescue you.”

She jumped up and walked over to the door. “Dougie’s here?”

I pointed up to the roof and whispered, “Stealthy craft we have parked on the roof. Don’t worry. Just don’t say anything about it. When I open these doors, they are going to rush out of here. Stay at the front and run like hell to stay ahead of the pack. Otherwise, we might get stuck in the escape. Can you do this?”

She looked down at her legs. I saw they’d taken some skin off down there. Then she looked up at me. “I can do it.”

“Good.”

In the guard room, I took a moment to stretch, then pressed the button to release her cell. After a second and seeing her coming down the corridor, I hit the button for the other cell as well. I took Marivel’s hand as we raced ahead of the pack. I wanted us in front so we didn’t get trapped if the guards outside managed to pen them in, but tripping at this point was just as dangerous. I tugged her up the stairs and into the office area where the two guards I’d already seen waited, one with a phone to his ear. I put a hand through his chest. The other one raised the wrench and I tore his throat out with my fangs. Then we were out the door and into the street, prisoners spilling out after us. I pulled her around to the side of the building, pulled her into my arms, and jumped for the roof.

A doorway appeared in the middle of a bunch of floating air, with Blackstone pressed against it, beating his hand against an invisible barrier. I tossed Marivel up into it, and into his arms, then jumped once they’d cleared it.

“Whew!” I said, walking over to Mobian and leaving husband and wife to a very confused reunion. “Nice to be back to some proper villainy.”

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New World War 4

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I had a heck of a day, readers. Any day you take part in a high speed chase through the desert is a good one. The team of superheroes I deign to work with were called out on a tip about illegally-imported goods. That meant flying over the desert, tailing a couple of 18 wheelers. Drillbit had some sort of bottom-facing visual camo activated.

“We could stop them before now,” Advocate explained, “But then we wouldn’t know who the buyer is.”

“Rabbit,” said Rabbit.

Advocate nodded to her. “We think they’re carrying arms. We’ll swoop in and catch both parties in the act.”

In an arms deal, one side is guaranteed to be bringing weapons and the other side is guaranteed to have something valuable and an interest in acquiring weapons. This usually amounts to both sides being armed and cautious because they’re worried about being fucked over. That’s one reason why a trustworthy arms dealer is so valuable to most criminals. Added trust is also a point in the dealer’s favor worthy of raising prices over. It’s either that, or trust a guy’s selling you something worth so little they aren’t concerned it’ll be stolen.

“There’ll be plenty of them there, that’s for sure,” I said, then commenced to coughing. School full of kids and somehow it’s me, the woman without medical nanites to assist my immune system, whose head became a hacking snot pinata. I took a napkin offered by Rabbit and blew my nose, growling when my ear decided to creak. My ears are sophisticated technology and they’re creaking. They don’t have things with which to creak!

Once I’d properly disposed of the napkin in the increasingly-full trashbag I’d brought with me, I thanked Rabbit, who responded in her usual manner.

“Eminence?” Advocate asked.

I waved off his concern. “I told you, I’m good to go. Me on my death bed would be better than Mike Tyson at his prime. When the Boogieman goes to bed, he checks under-,” and that’s when my cough interrupted my completely accurate portrayal of my abilities. Advocate just nodded while Rabbit patted me on the shoulder.

“Rest on the way there,” Advocate advised.

I leaned back in my seat and let myself be talked to sleep by an ASMR person on Youtube who likes Reiki and jellybeans. Despite that, my mind kept wanting to wander to a song that felt appropriate. Between both of those, I was pretty much knocked out when I heard Drilbit yell back,” We’re here!”

I unbuckled and stood, in an odd frame of mind. Advocate and Drillbit were up at the cockpit. Rabbit stood next to the door, which was still closed. I closed one eye and checked through spy satellites. Normally, the United States is way more focused on foreign targets. They had a shitload aimed at their own land instead, and it’s like they weren’t even bothering with encryption in this timeline. Anyone could get in there. I actually had to wipe out a Chinese worm in there to take full control before zooming in.

The semis were stopped at an abandoned shopping center just off the highway. I hummed, hands swaying to the music. Had to divert one to cover a cough as I looked over eight guys standing by the semis and group of four vans with nine guys deployed around there. “Eight guys with the big trucks, nine with the vans. All armed. You know, a cherry bomb would fix this entire problem for us.”

“We’re not here to kill them. We’re here to bring them to justice,” Advocate said. “Drillbit, bring it down, block off escape routes. Everyone else, disable the vehicles first, then move on to the people.” He opened the door, showing we still weren’t all that close to the ground. He turned and held out his hand for Rabbit and myself.

“I don’t seem to have packed a chute,” I said.

“I’ll take care of that,” Advocate said. Rabbit had already taken his hand.

I took the other, “Don’t make me regret this, or I’ll make you regret this.”

He smiled. “Last one down buys drinks!” Then he jumped, taking Rabbit and myself with him.

I heard Drillbit yell, “No fair!” before we began our skydiving without a parachute. I couldn’t help but feel a thrill, even as the Earth rose rapidly for its deadly smooch. Advocate actually let go of me at one point. When I looked over, he’d also released Rabbit, but my attention was soon drawn to a white-yellow aura surrounding her and I. I looked down to see I was coming right at the front hood of a van and-

Wham!

Even though I slammed into the engine block of a van at something close to terminal velocity, the velocity didn’t prove terminal. It didn’t even hurt. I didn’t feel anything as I embedded in the hood. After a second’s contemplation, that faded and I could feel the metal wrapped around me. Pushing my way out was harder to do, and necessitated a bit of wiggling. By the time I pulled myself out, the others were already busy being shot at.

Rabbit jumped one guy in a shirt and suspenders, smashing the back of his head with an axehandle blow, landing with a dropkick on another fellow. She disappeared from the ground in a cloud of smoke as one of the other guards ran over to shoot where she’d have been. He turned around and spotted me, but clenched his teeth in surprise. Rabbit’s hands appeared from behind him, stretching a band reading “Tommy Hilfiger” over his eyes. He turned around to swipe at Rabbit, showing off his boxers stretched from crack to brow. Rabbit dove between his legs and kicked his knees out from under him.

Advocate tanked being shot like it didn’t even matter. He pulled out a toy gun, the sort that shoots plastic balls, and shot the nearest soldier. The ball lit up with the white-yellow aura as well, and smacked the guy around like a good punch. Another pulled a knife and lunged for Advocate’s throat. It refused to dig in and clattered out of the man’s grasp. Advocate’s shield aura appeared around his own head when he headbutted the man.

By now, I’d gotten free enough that I could see we’d all taken out a van upon landing, but the one to my left was still around. A trio of guys ran for that one. I hopped on top of the hood and looked straight down, hitting the laser eye before backflipping off it. Steam whistled out of the radiator and the guys pulling on the car doors ended up pinned under the sides as they fell out from the middle thanks to their pulling.

I heard a semi’s engine roar to life and ran for that one. The driver ran right over the leg of someone in a suit. The second one turned over and started to follow it, both of them heading for the lanes not blocked off by a hovering shuttle.

Rabbit was running as well, so swerved to grab her and throw her in an arc to toward the top of the first semi. She landed ok. Then I took aim and cut out the rear wheels of the one closer to me. The trailer dropped and skidded along the road. I jumped on and managed not to go through the top. I started climbing to try and get to the cab.

By the time I reached it, one of the suited arms dealers was hanging from the open passenger door, trying to aim a rifle at Rabbit, who was fighting someone on the roof of the next semi. I pulled him up to the roof and slammed him into it, sending the rifle falling safely behind us. Hand tangled in his shirt, I kept smashing him onto the top of the cab until it gave way and we dropped in. A pistol clattered to the floorboard under us and the driver reached for his rear waistband. I grabbed his arm and diverted the gun’s barrel to his head. “Don’t do it! You have so much to live for!”

He stomped the brakes, sending me flying against the windshield. Unfortunately for him, I hadn’t let go of his hand and his wrist had a lot more give than my muscles. I held onto that gun with two hands, grabbed his head with the other two, and rammed him into the horn.

Honk! Whoosh! The air bag deployed, pinning him against the seat. I disarmed him and used the passenger seatbelt to hog tie his compatriot, who didn’t take it too well. Then I went to check on the other semi, which I saw had also stopped before getting too far. One of the doors popped off with an arms dealer against it. Rabbit leaned out and gave me a thumbs up. “Rabbit!”

“Gecko!” I said, waving back at her. Looking back, I saw Advocate jogging toward us. He found me, palms together, bobbing back and forth on the hood of the semi like a hula ornament.

“Everything good?” He asked me.

I nodded, “Yeah. Rabbit says ‘Rabbit’ by the way, so I’m assuming that’s what that means. You get the others?”

He pointed back the way he came. “Drillbit’s got them in a hole. State troopers are on their way. FBI and ATF time is hard to come by right now, with our government shut down.”

It was a decent enough wrap-up, and we did indeed go for drinks after we got back. Out of costume, but at a bar with more than a signs about superheroes and people in superhero t-shirts. We did a pretty poor job hiding identities. Drillbit had spiral markings over his arms that matched the ones from his costume, and Rabbit, while looking nothing more than a pretty Native American woman, didn’t widen her vocabulary outside of costume. I could only hide my extra arms so well.

A funny thing happened on the way out of the bathroom, though. I went to push the door open and noticed it didn’t open into the same hallway as before. I stepped back as Blackstone stepped through. The time mage went back to the unshaven look, and smelled like he’d actually slept in the bed I covered with boiled vinegar and hot sauce.

“You’re late,” I said.

“My wife better not be,” he responded.

I rolled my eyes, “Like I said, wasn’t me.”

“I know,” he said, just as accusingly as if I said it was. “I was able to see it. I saw you and your friend steal the book. Who was that?”

“Mobian, the heroic time traveler. You really screwed things up with your little trick. You didn’t think you could fuck with such an important part of the universe and not pay a cost, did you?” I asked, hands on my hips.

“What do you want for the book?” he asked.

“You know what I want,” I said, raising a hand to examine my nails. “Nasty situation you’re in, isn’t it? You can’t beat Claw. You don’t even know enough to sneak in there and steal away your Marivel. If only you knew someone with access to a craft that can infiltrate the island easily, or a sneaky person who knows the island like the back of her sexy, sexy hand.” I flipped my hand around so he could see the back, which had a little rabbit sketch on it I’m still pondering the meaning of. I know what I hope it means, just not what it means. I looked away for a minute and she’d drawn a little rabbit.

“I’m not giving her up,” he said.

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…” I said, then started humming again, a song I hadn’t much associated with my shenanigans since that time I tried to steal the Wishing Stick in Paradise City. My last word to him on the matter was from it. “Doesn’t matter where you go or what you do… ’cause if I burn, so will you.” I giggled, looking at him. I pulled out some lipstick and wrote my number down on paper towel for him. I walked over and stuck it in his coat pocket.

He glared at me and stepped back into the doorway, which swirled with purple light. After a second, the door slammed shut. I opened it and saw the correct hallway outside, where a sign urged me to drink Bud Light instead of beer. I grabbed another paper towel, balled it up, and tossed it out. I followed it when it didn’t disappear.

I think he’ll come around. At the very least, Blackstone will figure out why so many have to turn to murder to try and stop me permanently. Time will tell.

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A Christmas Carnage 8

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Between burns, a missing hand, and skinless zombie dog wounds that got infected, I have had a hell of a time missing my nanites. You can’t go out and play vigilante without incurring some injuries and they’re pretty much the only thing that’s kept me going at my nonstop pace. Without them, I’m stuck healing in a hospital. They better not expect me to pay. Worst bedpan service I’ve ever had, and I’ve hung out with some classy scatophiles.

After some convalescing, it seems popular opinion won over Blackstone enough to visit and do what he could to help. Well, some pushing in the hero community, and by hero community, I mean Forcelight carried him into my room. “I don’t care if you hate her, she got hurt helping us out and I know you know how to do something about it!”

I had been downloading music, movies, news articles, and podcasts that differed between this timeline and the next. I’m not sure how well they’d stick once everything’s fixed, but you never know what handy information might be dug up in one and secret in the other. I have some good dirt on a bunch of people. I stopped looking through things and blinked, bringing myself back to meatspace. “Your company doesn’t have anything better? Regenerative nanomachines, perhaps?”

“Long Life looked into it, but we don’t have the capability,” she said. She glared at Blackstone, then, who at least shaved again in the days I’d been laid up. “Reverse time and get rid of her injuries or something.”

“You will regret this! She’s not to be trusted!” He held a finger up toward Forcelight.

“You didn’t notice any of that out there?” Forcelight asked.

Blackstone glared at her, at me, back at her, then glared at the “Get Well Soon!” flowers I received that sat near the get well nudes I didn’t ask for. Finally, he pulled out Los Cincos Soles Dorados. “You do not simply play with temporal magic,” he growled.

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, aren’t we well aware. I’m pretty sure that thing we need to do, the whole reason we were even in this city to begin with, would work better if I wasn’t the queen of the blisters.” I paused, then looked to Forcelight, “I’m an Empress, by the way.”

“Cool. What planet are you from?” she asked.

“Strana Mechty,” I answered. Blackstone gave me a confused look, but I didn’t want to explain the whole situation. I didn’t fucking know the situation. My adventures with Mobian uncovered that me coming to Earth is necessary, at least on my world. It caused a big chain of events where aliens Justice Rangers arrive on Earth and I leave their crashed ship and equipment on my planet to be discovered and form the basis of the Justice Rangers I knew from there.

Big load of bullshit if you ask me, but there’s some sort of paradox going on and I’m confused. Time travel has some sort of rules, but I can’t fucking follow them.

My pain was noticed. Even though I had my eyes closed, I heard Forcelight drag Blackstone over. He said, “Fine.” I opened my eyes to see him standing there with the book open. He fished around and pulled out a pocketwatch on a chain with his other hand and held it up.

“Purple haze, all in my eyes,” I said, careful not to sing. Bleeding ears would likely affect the healing process.

“Jimmi Hendrix you are not,” he said. The light bloom moving over me combined the tell-tale purple of Blackstone’s power with the gold that appeared related to his interactions with the book. “The easiest way to deal with this is to be kind, rewind.”

I shouldn’t have to explain what being hurt is like, but I can’t explain what having it reverse is actually like. My skin did things I’m still trying to forget about, but I remember the itchiness, the cold, and the burning which then rapidly reversed to room temperature. I got to see my hand rematerialize from ashes. I winced and gritted my teeth as the nerves appeared and everything went through the same process of shifting temperatures and pain.

He stopped and put up his pocketwatch, now tarnished and cracked. “How do you feel?”

“Worst bedside service ever,” I said, tossing the covers aside and standing up. “I couldn’t even get anyone to check my temperature the fun way. Where are my clothes?”

“They’re not healed, but they should be easy to replace,” Forcelight says. Yeah, they were a bit stinky by this point. I had spares from the road trip… in Blackstone’s car. I don’t know if they came through the sewer tunnel with us, but I don’t think I want to get them from there at this point. So I headed into the bathroom to get dressed. When I came out, Blackstone was on the phone with someone.

When he saw me, he finished it quickly by telling the person on the other end, “Yes, dear. I’ll be there. Trust me I will be. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

I squinted and opened a connection, curious. The contact read “Marivel” in the phone. There were texts, but he hung up before I could get into them. “Who’s that?” I asked.

“Could you give us some privacy, Forcelight?” Blackstone asked of her. I dove into those texts when he said that. Fhe looked to me and I nodded, even as I worked through texts about missing Blackstone and wondering if he’d pick up milk on his way back. Forcelight shrugged and walked out the door. As she passed through the door frame, she disappeared from the frame and the hallway with a hint of the sound of an objection forming in the air and disappearing as she was transported somewhere far away.

“What’s up?” I asked him warily. Forcelight’s annoying like this, sure, but not worth teleporting to Timbuktu or wherever.

“This world, how do I say this, it’s not all bad for both of us,” he began.

“I don’t like where this is going already. Who was on the phone, Douglas?” Ooh, a nude selfie.

“You have no enemies here. They think you’re a hero. The ghosts saw it in you-” he stopped when my fist did right in front of his nose. The magical vow stayed my hand no matter how much he deserved it. “You used to want that. You liked it.”

I put my hand down. “Stop pretending you care about me. I thought you said you didn’t have a family?”

“You killed my family, yeah. My sister, my mom, and my dad. I spent my life trying to avenge you. I missed opportunities for happiness, like with a childhood friend. I didn’t miss her in this reality. I didn’t realize it until we were on the road.”

He started to pace, looking out the window. I rolled my eyes. “You don’t even know the woman. You’re just the stranger who took what she thought was her husband’s place. You might as well wear a mask and fuck someone else’s wife. She doesn’t know you.”

“You’re too close-minded!” he said, turning back to me. He held tightly to his little magic book, too, squeezing it in his hand. “That’s why you didn’t notice. You do things to electronics but couldn’t see my cell? Right? You didn’t even look. Watching TV in the motel when you can access the internet from your head? I was scared, but I texted back and we talked. It’s like I’ve known her my whole life. This is the life I was meant to have.”

I reached for the book. Light flared up in my vision when my fingers made contact with it. My eyes could have compensated for it if it was real but my HUD classified the light as a magical anomaly. I flailed around with my arms, but Blackstone and his magical book of getting me the hell out of here were gone. I recovered my sight after a few seconds and checked around. Blackstone stood in the hallway, looking at me.

“Careful. You’ll shoot your eye out.” Jaw tight, he glared at me. “You can’t hurt me. We made a vow. The ritual isn’t complete. You want to send someone after me, you’ll have to figure out how to get back on your own. I think I’m beginning to understand. The best revenge is living well. I have a new family and yours is gone like mine was. Your army and your riches are gone. I’ve beaten you at the peak of your power, while I’m only beginning to tap into mine.” He held up his book. That damn book I helped him get.

I dove for it, determined to grab onto it no matter how blinded I got. I knew it was a long shot. I wasn’t so surprised when I fell out of a doorway into Reykjavik and saw Forcelight standing around looking at her phone. I took a moment on the ground to process things. It must have turned into more than a moment from how the hero came over and helped me up.

“Are you alright?” She bent down to get a look at my face when I didn’t answer. “What happened? Did he hurt you?” She glanced back behind me at the doorway.

“I’m trapped here. I don’t have anything. I don’t have my armor or my nanites or my daughter.” What a terrible day for rain. Forcelight, a hero I actually murdered, hugged me. She’s really that damn clueless. I should kill her again. I should kill all of them again. Destroy as much of this worthless world as possible until Blackstone caves.

No, it wouldn’t work. “They’re all gone because of him. I’m not from another planet, exactly. I’m from another Earth. He was supposed to get me back to my family. I have a little girl, and a wife, and friends. People depend on me.”

“Bastard,” she said, holding me. “We’ll get him.”

“Yeah. We will. But we’ll need help.” I looked up at her, the rain having wet my face horribly. She wiped the drops away.

“I have friends. If you want, I can introduce you to them. I was going to meet them at a party, at a place called Master Academy. They can help you get back on your feet if you’d like,” she said.

I threw back my head and laughed. “That would be perfect.” Embraced by a hero I killed, being led to the Master Academy and all their superheroes to be taken in while I figure out a plan to reverse my predicament. The laughter turned bitter when I remembered Qiang. I’d made deals with devils and built a new criminal underworld all to protect her from those I wronged and their revenge against me.

I failed.

“Hey, you know I’m Forcelight, right?” she asked. I nodded. “So what’s your name? Or even your hero name?”

Hero name? Fucktaneous spazballs, she thinks I’m a superhero. It actually caused me to pause while I thought of something. The one moment the ability to pull a name out of my ass comes in handy, “Uhhh, how about you just call me Gecko for now?”

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A Christmas Carnage 7

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“I specialized in magic that bends time and space in order to finally defeat you. There are other benefits,” Blackstone told me. “It appears the car is not one of them.”

Blackstone tried to adapt the spell where people travel through door frames, only using a tunnel. The result spit us out of a drainage pipe on the outskirts of D.C. in a shower of car parts. It wasn’t wrecked so much as taken apart.

“You didn’t, per chance, invoke some sort of gremlin, did you?” I asked. “I ask because I have a lot of metal parts inside me, and I’d rather not lose my brain or my splanch because you were fucking around. I’m pretty sure you need me for some reason, too.”

“I do, yeah,” he stood up from the seat he was in and tossed aside the steering wheel in his hands.”Where’s my phone?”

I raised up and fished the cup holder out from under my ass to get his phone out and tossed it to him. “At least the smaller stuff seems to be in one piece. Even my glubok.” I stood up and dusted myself off as well.

Blackstone eyed me. “What’s a glubok?”

I chuckled. “If you have to ask, kiddo, then you can’t afford it. Where is this wizard lair we’re looking for?” I climbed up the side of the grassy embankment to get a look around. Blackstone followed, slipping down once while distracted with his phone. “And worry about your Facebook later. That addiction’ll kill you.”

“It’s important. Wait, how is Facebook a drug?” he asked. He reached the top and looked at me briefly before checking around. We were next to a highway. The city looked to be in worse shape than I expected. I heard sonic booms and saw smoke rising up in a couple of columns. It drew Blackstone’s attention away from his phone. “Never mind.”

“I don’t know how heroic you’re feeling, but sometimes it’s good to remember what is your problem and what’s someone else’s problem,” I advised. “We accomplish what we’re looking to accomplish and all this reverts, I hope.”

He held up a hand and did the wibbly-wobbly gesture, tilting it side to side.

“Either way, no need to go ruin our ticket back to save a pretty face,” I told him.

“This isn’t the first time I’ve been around trouble,” he said. “After everything so far, I shouldn’t have to continue to justify my skills to you.”

“No need to get shrill just because your delicate boy parts make you super-emotional,” I told him.

“I hate you,” he reiterated.

I gave him the middle finger. “You took my daughter away from me. Back at ya, fuckwit.”

“We still need a car, dickweed. How are we getting a car?”

I walked over to the road and took a stance, moving my coat back to better project confidence and my boobage. A minivan screeched to a stop. A lady in her 40s rolled down the window. “Hey baby, looking for a ride?”

I blew her a kiss. “Honey, I want to get there and I want it fast.”

She nodded toward Blackstone. “What about your friend?”

“He can fit in the trunk,” I answered as I approached, putting more of a sway in my hips. I leaned down to the driver’s open window as Blackstone jogged around to the passenger side. I winked at the woman, then I turned my head toward the road ahead of us. “Holy crap, Elvis?” She turned to look and I grabbed her with my lower arms. I pulled her out and dropped her to the ground. Blackstone slid into the passenger seat as she came out and hopped the center console.

“Get in,” he called. The woman stood and ran for the driver’s side window, punching at Blackstone. I yanked open the driver’s side rear door as Blackstone started to drive. I hopped in and held the door open to knock the minivan’s former owner to the ground.

When I closed it, I glared at Blackstone from the rear seat. “I had that.”

“She lived, didn’t she?”

Most people think of all the monuments and memorials when the District of Columbia comes to mind. It’s a city. A lawless, ungoverned city. Probably because it’s not a state, so it’s directly governed by Congress. In my timeline, that’s basically worse than being governed by your average PTA Council because the PTA Council generally has less gridlock and the ones in power at least pretend to care about school children.

But enough about PTAs and minivans. The reason I brought up the popular view of Washington is because we were headed into the less popular view. We had to head east, over the Anacostia River. We ran into a little bit of a problem when a couple of androids landed in front of us. They were fairly bare-bones, with a little armor on their torso but plenty of gaps between the moving parts on the limbs. The heads were little more than a single giant camera lens on a rotating mount. Blackstone wanted to take a detour, but I reached up and jammed his leg down. They cracked the windshield and dented the hood to hell, but they didn’t get back up and pursue us either.

The place we were looking for appeared to be nothing but a former Chinese takeout restaurant. “Pretty good front, actually,” I said.

“The food wasn’t bad either,” Blackstone added. I let him lead the way on this one. All the better to avoid lingering traps. Around the counter, into the miniscule kitchen, and into a storage room that smelled like a skunk had choked on the nasty air and died. Times like this really make me miss my armor’s environmental seals. Down the trapdoor was a dank but untouched basement area with walls of stone and mortar.

“Nice setup.” I took it all in. The altar with crystals and an athame sat feet away from a heavy iron slab with a few bones laying on it. A crystal ball sat on a small table in front of a beanbag chair. There were a pair of bookshelves packed with all sorts of tomes of ancient evil, including a third edition De Vermis Mysteriis and a first edition Ann Coulter. Blackstone headed over there. “That’s it, right? Once you have that, we’re good to go?”

“Not scared, are you?” He took a break from looking through the bookshelf to smile at me. “It’s all just hocus pocus, right?”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ve dealt with magic stuff before. One of the more complicated aspects of the superhuman world. I’m just ready to leave. This planet’s like a collection of a bunch of really powerful people who all had grudges against me, except I’m broke and I don’t have power armor.” I winced as a muscle in my calf spasmed just the wrong way. “Nanites would be nice, too. Filthy dogs. Who knows what they’ve had in their mouth?”

“Relax, the nastiest thing they’ve sunk their teeth into was you.” He found what he was looking for, a surprisingly small grimoire with an Aztec-style pattern on the front cover. “I had to use the ghosts to establish sympathetic bonds with your past, present, and future to enact the ritual in hiding. It’s easier with your cooperation.”

The ceiling shook once, twice. “I think the smooth sailing’s over, Dougie boy.” I sighed and opened my connectivity. I’d been avoiding it. I didn’t like this version of Earth. Not really a different dimension anyway. I know what crossing the Universe Divide is like. “We got robots. And worse.”

“What’s worse?” he asked. He tucked the book away. A pair of robots of the same minimalist construction fell through the ceiling, almost hitting me. Blackstone’s purple tendrils tore the head off the one closest to him. The one near me pointed an arm with a barrel on the end at Blackstone. I tore the arm off and shoved it through it’s chest under the armor plates. We both turned as something else fell through the ceiling. She was a pale woman with hair that glowed white. It didn’t contrast much with her white uniform, which featured a yellow aurora around a red cross on her midsection. At least her gloves and boots were black, but it was a terrible costume. As terrible as her name, because I recognized her as Forcelight. In the correct timeline, she’s dead.

“Heroes,” I said as I watched Forcelight stand herself up. It grew lighter as the entire ceiling just disappeared. Looking up, I faced a firing squad of the cheap robots all pointing arm cannons at us. “You got a shield or something, Blackstone?”

“I have something better,” he said. He glowed purple, with just a hint of gold that seemed to come from the open Los Cincos Soles Dorados in his hand.

The bots opened fire, but all of their red energy balls stopped a few feet above our heads and stayed there. “Now’s your chance to hack them,” Blackstone said.

I shook my head. “I’m trying, but they don’t seem to have remote connections, and these things can’t have much of a brain.”

Forcelight looked between us. “We don’t know how they communicate, but we’d better destroy them before they merge.” She lit up as she launched rays of light from her hands that sent the little robots flying. I swept my laser eye across a couple, but she got most of them. Once most of them were gone, she turned to Blackstone. “Are you two going to stand here with your thumbs up your asses, or are you going to help?”

“I will,” Blackstone said despite a glare from me. He waved his hands and the energy balls left in the air fizzled away. Forcelight took to the air, only for Blackstone to call out, “Hey! I can’t fly.” Smirking playfully, she hovered down and helped him out. I jumped out after them and caught a glimpse of a larger mess of metal parts that stood on two legs. Its entire chest was a barrel and the blast it fired at Forcelight sent her flying and Blackstone dropping.

I hit some fight music, Ultimate Battle by Akira Kushida, and ran right for the twelve-foot metal monstrosity. It set its feet and tracked me, but I was fast and slid into the home stretch. There’s only so far down something with a torso like that can track. I crawled underneath it and got to my feet, looking for something to do a bit of wrecking with. I found a motorcycle, which was better than nothing. I grabbed it and slammed it into the back of the robot’s knee. The cycle broke, but the robot knelt to regain its balance.

I hopped onto its back. It struggled to stand. I started tearing pieces off its back, working my hand inside. “Brains. Brains!” I called out, laughing as my special homo machina nerves reached out. I ran into a conglomeration of computer cores, all working together.

It was tracking back up toward Blackstone, and I was still working on figuring out this new programming language, so instead I just intercepted the signals. No more sight, sound, and shooting, but especially no balance and lower motor functions. And since it was in the middle of standing back up, that meant falling forward. I couldn’t figure out everything about it, but with a bunch of the smaller ones approaching, I used what I knew to cut into some of its power cores. It had redundancies there, as well. I couldn’t get them all, but I got enough to slow it down while I hopped off to avoid getting red on me.

Blackstone waved his hand toward a crowd on his end, ageing them to rust. Being a lady, I serviced them one, two, or three at a time. I ducked between them, tearing heads off, grabbing one to use as a club on others. One of them, I grabbed and threw into the windshield of a car parked on the street. I jumped high and landed with all my weight to knock it the rest of the way through, then slid inside. They started to pepper the car with superheated blasts of something crimson when I dove out the passenger window, rolled, and came up with my nails digging into delicate wiring of one unfortunate robot. I threw its body into another of the crowd of robots while keeping hold of what had probably been important wires.

It was tiring, keeping moving like that. I was dodging to stay alive and sometimes taking them out. Ok, ok, I shouldn’t be too humble. I was working my way through plenty with my eye, hands, and enhanced strength. And I had some weapons. I pulled a car door open and kicked a robot inside so I could smash it up by slamming the door. I tore the car door off and threw it into a robot, knocking it down with a door embedded in it.

But there were a lot, and in the middle of the fighting, and things fit back into place. I don’t know when I started laughing or when I lost that hand. I’d gotten tired and it all became a blur, but I knew I couldn’t stop even if my lungs exploded and my muscles turned to jelly because moving was the only thing keeping me ahead of death’s snapping jaws.

I was so disappointed when I realized I lost the hand. I liked that hand, dammit, and because if it were bleeding I could use that to blind some of them. Instead, I had to pick up just three of them and swing them through the crowd.

I turned at one point and brought one down on a familiar hero I’d faced before. Forcelight sent it flying with one of her light beams and slapped me across the face. I growled, dropping my fangs and preparing to strike. Then I recognized her and what was going on. I blinked and turned to see what was going on, but the street was a mess of twisted metal and destruction, with a few rusty and others cut into pieces. I turned and raised the stump to the sky. “And stay out!”

Up there is where I noticed a tower of the robots, all climbing each other and melding into one big orb with a huge opening pointed down. “That’s no moon,” I said.

Forcelight looked up at it. “It’s huge,” she said. “It’s going to wipe out the entire state.” The tower retracted up to it as the body filled out and began to float higher.

“Actually,” I started, because we weren’t in a state, but Blackstone joined us.

“I don’t think I can stop that,” he said. He looked me over. “They got you.”

I waved off my injuries with my stump hand. “It’s ok. Only hurts when I exist.”

Forcelight swallowed. “That might be too big for me,” she said.

I shrugged. “Throw me at it and I can at least stop the thing. Just like…” I turned back to the giant thing I’d toppled earlier. Its legs had been severed, leaving it stuck facedown on the ground. When I turned back to them, I looked to Forcelight specifically. “Throw me at ’em.”

“Really?” asked Blackstone.

“Unless you somehow have enough juice left to get us outta here before that thing puts us at the bottom of a smoking crater, it’s me or nothing.” Forcelight was on it. She grabbed me under my lower arms and lifted me. It was a very different experience to be held in the arms of a buxom hero who hated me.

“You have a way to stop this thing or were you bluffing?”

“There’s very little I can’t stop, except maybe the pain affecting everything below my haireline. But that thing? If I can’t control it, I can crash it.” Geez she could fly fast.

“I believe in you,” she said as we got close. “Where do you need me to set you- oh hell!” She banked hard to the side to dodge smaller shots coming from the orb. The inside of the enormous opening lit up with a red glare.

“My first choice would be any small thermal exhaust ports you see, but otherwise I just need to be as embedded into it as you can get me. And the biggest gap into that thing doesn’t look too inviting to me.

“You got it. Hold on tight.” I wrapped my arms and legs around her. She held onto me with one and raised her hand. She banked hard to throw off the point defense aim while always making progress toward the giant hole of death. We’d barely gotten inside when she yelled, “Shit!” and threw me away from her toward the bottom wall.

I looked back to see her fire a beam with one, then both hands to try and push back the much larger and blood red one from the big floating death orb. I crawled up toward the source of the beam while she raged against the machine that pushed her back like she was barely even there. The heat seemed to suck all the oxygen out and everything smelled burnt. Maybe that was just my nose hairs igniting. Either way, the hot metal scorched my hands before I got close. I got right next to the thing, feeling my skin heat and pop. I pushed my hand into gaps and concentrated on connecting to anything, with one repeated, insistent order. Your data comes through me.

The seconds seemed like minutes but I felt my nervous system physically merge with a portion of the giant death machine. The signals to fire the weapon rerouted through me and went no further. With it no longer a threat, I had time to analyze the programming and data packets further. I even played around by clogging it up with junk data it didn’t know what to do with. But, looking for the simplest solution, I deleted its operating system. The orb started to fall.

I broke my arm getting my arm loose as it turned. I kicked off and jumped out opening while it descended to fuck Capitol Heights up. “Somebody expendable get beneath me!” I called out when I reached the top of my height and gravity reasserted control over the situation. I enjoy a nice skydive the way most people enjoy a massage: with a happy ending. I’m not happy when I’ve splatted.

Which is why I actually was happy to be snatched out of the air by a gleaming woman. “God bless us, everyone!” she shouted, perhaps a bit prematurely in my opinion. After all, she’s the one who had to try and aim a giant ball of metal somewhere less residential with one hand holding me.

Leave it to Blackstone to find a way to halt it in midair and rust it all away, to the cheers of the people who almost ended up homeless. I was just glad I’d survived getting what we came for. I can stomach a little phantom limb syndrome knowing I’m about to get back home and fix it.

I wish we could have reverted everything before the next day’s paper came out showing the three of us as the heroes who saved Washington D.C., but I don’t think anyone in the hospital burn unit can ever be that happy.

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A Christmas Carnage 6

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Worst. Road trip. Ever.

That thought came up a lot. This Blackstone guy and I just don’t mesh. Blackstone had a car with a working heater in this timeline, which did a lot to alleviate the weather problem, but I intended to get better clothing first thing. There was a little town near this asylum he had been concerned about. Apparently Blackstone had a reservation at a little one-story motel where nobody seemed to care if someone walked around with an unknown woman inadequately dressed for the weather.

He went in to check on the room and took the keys with him. I stole his car anyway. Have I mentioned I love how computerized cars have become? And those nice little ATMs? Feels like forever since I was sweet talking all the green out of a machine. Nice to know I have a fallback option as a prostitute to robots if we get back and Skynet’s taken over or something.

By then, the clothing store, located right next to a hardware store, was closed.

I walked up to the hardware store, cut the door’s handle and lock off, and pushed it open. I didn’t have to go far to find anything usable or to set the alarm off. I tossed a pickaxe through the display window and stepped out after it, glad I wore shoes with a decent sole on them back when I was tree decorating. It seemed smart with all those pointy, easily-broken decorations laying around on the floor.

Whistling a tune I’d had stuck in my head (Blue Monday, if anyone’s interested), I picked up the pickaxe and walked over to the door of the clothing store. What do you do when a store’s closed and won’t take your money? Open it and don’t leave money, that’s what. Plus, since I busted the windows to get in and out, I didn’t have fingerprints. It’s like the perfect crime.

You know, until the cops showed up to figure out what was happening with the alarms and broken glass. A couple cruisers showed up. Nice to see they’re getting modern cars out here in the boonies. I wonder if the police out here have nice life insurance policies. So the question is, do I meet my dates outside, or do I let them come in and make ’em late?

The answer would elude me a little while longer. When I checked through a window, the cops who got out were standing around with their eyes closed. I walked out, spinning the pick axe around in my upper arms. The lower arms were hidden from view inside my long coat. Still humming to myself, I walked right up to the one who had his gun out. “I just can’t get this beat out of my head. I wonder if I can get the beat out of yours?” I practically spit the second “beat” as I raised the pickaxe’s pointy end over my head. It didn’t come budge when I tried to bring it down. I looked up. The head glowed faint purple. I looked around. Blackstone stood over by his car, hand raised and glowing the same faint blue as the pickaxe head.

I sighed and took my hands off it. “Fine, I won’t kill them.”

The pickaxe flew into his hand. “Haven’t you killed enough?”

“Nope,” I said, walking over. “Gotta do something, though. I can erase the footage, but erasing their brain’s a different matter entirely.”

Blackstone gritted his teeth and turned to the car. He recited something low enough I couldn’t hear it while I helped myself to some free money I found laying around unclaimed in the cops’ wallets. When I turned back to the rented car, it had gone from silver to red. “Festive, yet subtle. We better hope they didn’t see the license plate.”

He turned and a bolt of purple came right at me.

I woke up in bed the next morning, fully dressed, no Blackstone in sight, at the inhuman hour of 6 AM, unless the clock radio on the nightstand was a broken as it was old. A knock came at the door as soon as the clock turned to 6:01.

“Go to hell!” I shouted, and rolled over. The door opened, so I turned back to see Blackstone there holding coffee.

“Wake up! The day’s wasting,” he said, far too cheerfully for someone awake, showered, and dressed at 6 AM.

“Go masturbate with a hacksaw,” I said.

“You should be ready go to after that sleeping spell,” he said.

I sat up and threw a pillow at him. He dodged it. “Don’t ever cast some spell to knock me out like that ever again.”

He sighed and raised his hand. I woke up in the car this time. I shook my head and turned to Blackstone. He raised his hand. I reached up to pull down the sun visor above the seat and played like I was checking myself over in the mirror. “I’m hungry and I need to pee.”

“Are we going to have any more problems?” he asked.

“Also, I need a shower. You didn’t let me shower. You didn’t, right?” I asked, looking down at myself for wet spots.

“No, I didn’t,” he said. Just when he seemed ready to relax, I pulled the visor off the ceiling of the car and held the mirror in front of me. Blackstone resorted to his trick again, and the spell bounced off the mirror. He slumped back in his seat while we went down the interstate at 60 miles an hour. Being a considerably better person than Jesus, I grabbed the wheel.

I ended up with plenty of time to stop and tend to my own needs while he was under. Just a little highway exit place where you’re pretty sure every inch of the room has had cum sprayed on it some time or another. I took the time to use the facilities, shower, get a bite to eat, and get caught up on the news. A new Chief of Staff had just been appointed, for instance. This timeline’s version of events didn’t include the White House being tossed in another dimension, so they got this guy my facial recognition system pinged as a former target I’d once killed. Dye the hair a different color, add some facial hair, lose the glasses, and it looks like that clone of Hitler made something of himself after all.

Blackstone let himself in after a couple hours of napping, hand glowing. I raised an eyebrow. “Instead of constantly casting spells, you could treat me like a person and do this the easy way,” I suggested.

“You’re a monster. I know what you do,” He said.

I pointed to the TV. “Looks like I’m a useful one.”

He waved to it as well. “There was something in it for you, every time.”

“Yeah. Earth was my home too. I’d like to get back to that version of events. So how are we doing that? I assume you were driving us somewhere for a reason?”

He glanced outside, then stepped in and closed the door. He sat himself down on the lone chair left in the place. “We need a book.” When he saw me reaching for the nightstand drawer, he added, “A specific book on magic. Los Cinco Soles Dorados. It’s a translation off the walls of a lost Nahua temple discovered by a conquistador and his men separated from the rest of their party. It’s said he bound the book in the skin of the native translators he brought who refused to discuss the wall’s writings with him. That’s horseshit. I had the book in the other world. It’s fine parchment.”

“You don’t remember enough to figure things out without it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t have an eidetic memory. I took photos, but they would never turn out right.” He pulled out his phone and frowned, then began to mess around with it. “It’s out there. I took it from the home of a wizard who died a few years back. He fought Captain Lightning in D.C. And it went bad for him. Here, see?” He held up the screen of his phone for me to see, showing off photos of what might have been a book behind an intense reflective shine.”

“You couldn’t turn the flash off?”

“That was with the flash off,” he said. “Anyway, I thought we could try D.C.”

Sploosh. That big white house is just ripe for a break-in while he’s hunting down the book. But with time of the essence, I felt the need to ask, “We’re already going to take long enough on this road trip. Can’t you look into a crystal ball and scry or something?”

He looked down and adjusted his coat. “I don’t seem to be capable of finding it that way.”

“Then do some sort of remote viewing of the wizard’s lair you said you’ve been to before,” I suggested.

He coughed. “I can’t. I think it’s warded.”

A wolf howled outside. He looked up, curious, and checked the door’s peephole. “What in the world… is that a zombie dog?”

I went to go check the window next to the door. Outside was some sort of skinned, eyeless dog padding around in a fog bank that had drifted in. It left a confused mess of bloody paw prints in the snow, and I started hearing this fuzzy crumbling sound like cosmic background radiation. It’s just the one at least. Kinda spooky-looking, but just a dog.”

Blackstone joined me at the window. “That’s not the one I was looking at.” Another walked over to join the dog I’d seen.

“You hear that?” I asked. “Like from an old TV? The snow?” It kept getting stronger and stronger.

“What are you talking about?” Blackstone asked a moment before a dog scrabbled up from next to the window and threw itself at the glass. The cheap window gave in one jump and the blood canine tried to crawl in. I put my shoe on its back and drove its body down into the sharp glass and pushed it to the side. Sanguine muscle tore open and blood dribbled down. The dog twitched and tried to get up, but it stopped once I finished stomping its head in.

The sound got less intense until the others got closer. “Huh… something related to those thingies. Magical interference.” I looked to Blackstone, who stared back out the window. “It happens.”

“It’s about to happen even more.” He said, raising his hand hands and gesturing to leave runes of purple light hanging in the air. I looked outside at the four dogs the pack had grown to. A purple coil wrapped around one of them and threw it high into the air. The other three came at me, bro.

I moved past Blackstone to open the door for them. The one in the lead obliged and got it closed on his neck. I stomped its head straight down. That didn’t stop the second from jumping and pushing the door open. I backed up and raised an arm to catch the bite of its strong jaw. I swung my arm, lifting it off the ground. The dog smacked into the wall and the low ceiling. I held it up and punched it where its nuts hung. It yelped, and yelped again when I grabbed them. It let go of my forearm, but I grabbed onto it.

I was missing a dog though. I heard ripping from the last of the dogs tearing Blackstone’s coat sleeve. He kicked the dog toward me. It took the hint and launched itself at me. I shoved its packmate toward it and watched as it bit down on the other blood hound’s nuts. Forget yelping, that dog fucking sang. The biter let go and went after my leg instead.

I reached around for anything to put it out of my misery with and settled on a lamp. I brought it down, smashing it off the floor. It bounced, then burst when I pushed the lamp down hard onto its chest.

Purple enveloped the dog on my leg and pulled it off me. Blackstone lifted it up to chest level. “Something is very wrong on this Earth,” he said.

I flipped the lamp around, took a stance, and batted the dog into the TV. The TV sparked and the dog convulsed, but neither were working anytime soon. “All the better to GTFO as soon as possible. The faster the better.”

Blackstone smiled. “I know a shortcut. It’s one where we can take the car. The world sucks, but I like the car.”

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A Christmas Carnage 5

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Everyone thinks about the benefits of being a world leader, but not so much the downsides. Yes, I can park anywhere I want, especially when people see the missiles and canons on the side of the Flyer. But I’m constantly interrupted by people wanting my attention, even when I’m heading off somewhere to deck someone’s halls and sleigh some people.

This comes up because, right when I’m waiting to hear back from my team and Baron Samedi, Intelligence Chief Pagan called me up with an update about the Paris Situation. It didn’t help he was confusing me with his facts and nuance. “What do you mean they aren’t entirely right- or left-wing? That’s the damn country that invented those terms!”

“Mommy, there’s a tree in the living room!” Qiang said from the doorway. Young Qiang this time. Not the future version that I saw reach down a man’s throat to pull his heart out. That’d be ridiculous. Her hands are too small. She’d have to use both, and a little kid can’t fit both arms down a human throat. Not sure how common of knowledge that is for you, dear reader, but it’s true. Personal experience.

“That’s for sticking shiny things on and hiding presents underneath it!” I told her.

“I know it’s a Christmas tree,” she said. “The movies are all over the TV!” She smiled at me. D’aww, she’s going to be a real heartbreaker some day. When her hands are big enough.

“You can go decorate it and stuff if you like. I’ve just got a call right now,” I told her.

She clapped her hands. “Ok!”

Back with the phone call, Pagan had invited someone from the France Office of the European Section on to give me a better idea what was going on. “Yeah, ok, so a mix, possibly hijacked, with some astroturfing and all. More importantly, did we get what we were looking for?”

“We retrieved the painting the Deep Ones told us about, and the casket from beneath the cathedral. We successfully masked the thefts. Proceeds from the artwork and gold we obtained are expected to more than pay for the operation. We can escalate the riots at your discretion, ma’am.”

“Nah, no need to toss weapons into the mix. And, hey, if this treasure hunt you’re on doesn’t work out, at least it hasn’t cost us anything,” I told him.

“In my eyes, the existence of the map confirms the Squamous Reaver’s existence. I will claim its power for Ricca.”

Either the guy’s developed a treasonous streak, or he’s just really into hunting this thing down. Some people get like that, you know? I think it’s a very old instinct, evolutionarily speaking, to fixate on a hunt. But I’m fairly good-natured as murderous dictators go, so I told him, “If you need a help, for any reason, feel free to let me know.”

After that, it was a nice night of tree decorating up, cookie eating, and movie watching. As it happened, it was nearly one in the morning when I heard from Baron Samedi. Well, first I heard from Skul. With that bunch of magic users, he was the only one who thought to take a cell phone with him.

“We’re getting’ real close, Psycho,” he said.

“Hand me the damn phone or I’ll shove it up your ass!” said Samedi in the background.

“I discovered, with no help from Baron Samedi, that there is a ritual going on. That was me. If he had wanted to dispute that, he should have brought his own phone and maybe shouldn’t insult my phone case’s bedazzling.”

“I am a god!” Samedi said.

“And I’m an atheist. I don’t believe you’ll do anything about it,” Skul said to the Baron. The next part seemed to be directed at me. “We’re attempting to disrupt whatever’s going on. You have a secret admirer.”

“Are there nudes?” I asked.

“There’s hair,” he answered.

Ew. Not liking the thought of how some hostile person got that stuff. “What do you mean about whatever’s going on?”

He responded more quietly. “We’re almost in. We’re bypassing wards to shield the building and alert those inside to our presence. It’s an old asylum. Does that mean anything to you?”

“Not really. I’ve messed with one or two before, but it wasn’t all that significant. I mean, I DID meet a girlfriend in one.”

“You dated crazy?” he asked.

“Worse, I dated a hero,” I told him.

“I have a bet with someone. Was it Venus?” he asked.

“Nope,” I told him. “What’s this ritual thing look like?” I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, wondering how I’d look with something more in the purple shade for lipstick.

“This is advanced stuff. They took a long time doing it. I see a ghost with sunglasses from my position. Blood. There’s a clock and blood, too. Wait, something’s… Baron Samed-”

Everything changed. The decorations, the tree, my daughter asleep in my lap… it all disappeared. “Skul, what the fuck?”

The response from the call wasn’t encouraging. “If you would like to make a call, please hang up and dial again.”

It didn’t look like anyone had lived in this place for awhile. I got a rush of weird notices from incoming data that confused me, too. Conflicts in scrapers. No access to the Institute of Science. Weird notices about the Empyreal City Nightmare Zone. Stories of the Fluidics in their remaining safe zones fleeing Mot and civil war. Eschaton the superhero burned down Moscow in the name of Ricca. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

There were three things I wanted immediately: my daughter, my armor, and a clue. My first guess was some sort of Ghost of Alternate History, but one didn’t appear. I checked outside the door and found a hallway. Someone didn’t get rid of the rest of the palace in this continuity. There was a servant out watering a plant in the hallway. She looked up when she saw me. “May I help you, madam?”

“You can see me?” I asked.

“Yes, madam. Should I not be able to?”

“I don’t know. It’s still 2018, right?”

She smiled. “Yes, madam.”

“Do you know who I am?” I asked.

“No, madam.”

“Does the name Psycho Gecko ring a bell?” I asked.

She began to back away. “It does not. Perhaps I should fetch someone for you.” She set her water jug down and turned.

I put my hand over her mouth before she could call out. “Tis the season for me to give you a choice. You can either go sit in that residence for awhile and pretend you got knocked out for awhile, or you can call out.”

She made a sound, so I slammed her head into the wall, knocking her out. It only occurred to me after my percussive anesthesia that she might be trying to signal agreement with shutting up voluntarily. I left her safely locked in the residence while I made my way out of the palace.

The secret is to just be cool, dudes. Walk like you belong there. Seeing as it’s my damn country, I know I do. But whatever this is, they don’t realize that and I don’t have my power armor. Or nanites. The lack of my nanomachines is troubling in particular. Even if they for sure didn’t have my face on file after walking across the courtyard, there aren’t many people strutting their stuff with four arms.

Everything felt different in the city. It had that tension I hadn’t noticed until it was gone. The one where regular people know they can’t be too much themselves in public. I didn’t see any Deep Ones at all until I came across one with a cart strapped to him. He was bent over while the owner of the cart lashed him with a short whip.

The Deep One stood suddenly and grabbed the man’s arm. With a pop, he tore the arm out of its socket. The Deep One began tugging at his restraints amid spewing blood and screams. It was locked on, and he was trying to tear off the thick lock with his claws.

“Hold still,” I said, jogging over. My laser eye lit up and cut a line down the harness next to the lock. A couple seconds of effort later and he had the collar off.

“Thanks,” he said before booking it down a side street. I went the opposite direction, and didn’t trail blood after me. I had to find myself a liquor store, so I headed for the traditionally poor section of town. World leader 101: keeping people drunk is an easy way to control them. They can’t even organize like that because if you get enough drunk people in one place, they turn their anger on each other.

I slowed down and caught my breath before heading into one such store. “You have a marker?” I asked of the teller.

The pudgy, balding man with the goatee looked around and reached for something. Before handing it over, he stopped. “What’s this for?”

“Calling a ride,” I said.

He squinted curiously, so I nodded toward the palace and reached for the marker. “I’m on assignment.”

He went to hand it to me. I grabbed his wrist and pulled him into a headbutt, then grabbed his had and slammed it down on the counter again and again. I finished him off with a beer bottle to the back of the head. But I didn’t kill him. No, I just covered him in high-proof liquor and used that marker to draw out a figure of a man in a top hat on a wall away from the counter. “Ok, calling Baron Kriminel. You out there, Baron? I hope you’re not too picky about going through Papa Legba, but I know you do this stuff in Memphis. I got wine, rum, a whole damn liquor store for you.”

When that got no answer, it was time to resort to the bigger offering. I sighed and turned to shoot a puddle of moonshine pooling under the counter. The moonshine lit up with blue flame that climbed the counter and caught the cashier on fire. As expected, that woke him up, and led to screaming and flailing.

Kriminel didn’t show. Fuck. There goes getting out of this with magic.

I headed out the doorway…

…and found myself in New York state, standing outside an old, abandoned home for the criminally insane.

Standing before me was a crying young man, not even to his mid-twenties, with long hair and a beard that existed more for lack of shaving than actual effort. Purple light from his fingertips joined into an orb at his palm. “Come all the way through,” he said.

I looked at the doorway I was in. The other side showed the liquor store that was catching fire as the cashier ran around trying to put himself out.

“Maybe I don’t wanna,” I said.

“It’s the only way we can get back,” he said through tears and strain of effort.

“Back where? Who are you? Where are we?” I asked.

“I’m Douglas Blackstone. I’m the person who has been tormenting you so I could obtain the reagents I needed to get here. A world where you never existed.”

I was on him in a flash, throwing him to the ground. “You got rid of my daughter!”

He pushed a hand to my chest and said a word that threw me into the air. Purple tendrils appeared from thin air and wrapped around my arms and legs, holding me captive. Blackstone stood up, coughing and wiping himself. “You killed my family. If you care about your daughter, think about what you’d do to the man responsible. How you’d spend years preparing for revenge. The things you would give up. I’ve spent six years of my life on this… and I get here and they’re still dead. And things seem worse. What kind of fucking joke is this?” He ran his fingers through his hair to get a handle on himself.

I just raised an eyebrow. “The Aristocrats.”

In a moment of dark empathy, we both started laughing. After he calmed, he looked up at me. “As much as I would love to kill you or leave you behind in this world, I need you for the ritual. If that failure of yours is normal for you, you can’t manage magic of this magnitude on your own.”

“So… you tried to get me to die while you worked on your magic plan to somehow shift everything to a timeline where I don’t exist, and upon getting what you wished for it turns out not to be worth it. Yeah, sounds like a Christmas miracle.” I tried to spit on him.

Blackstone sidestepped it. He shook his head and glanced at a phone laying in the snow nearby. “I never thought you… listen, do you want to get back or not? I vow to work with you and not see you come to harm until we are back in our timeline, and may this vow be binding upon the spirits and the universe. Agreed?”

He made a gesture and interlocking symbols appeared in the air between us.

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I already preferred a world where I existed, thank you very much.” The symbols shifted, then shot into a line between myself and Blackstone. I immediately felt the tendrils loosen and gently lower me to the ground. I walked over and tried to punch him, but my hand stopped of its own accord inches from his face. “You agreed to it, too,” he said by way of explanation.

Instead, I grunted my frustration and began to rub my arms, having not been dressed for snowy New York. “Ok then. What do we need to get back to a wonderful life?”

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