Tag Archives: Bronze Rhino

Manifest Screw Destiny 3

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You could cut the tension as the invasion day approached, but most people were saving their knives for the invaders. We got most of the civilians rounded up. The old geothermal power plant had space, as did the tunnels for the underground high speed rail. Others took shelter in old black sites. Anyone who wished to leave the island was allowed. I’d have pushed for a general evacuation, but there’s really no telling where all will be hit. That’s the same reason I didn’t recall all my agents or my wife. Informing us of the invasion ahead of time may be of questionable strategy, but it created a lot of uncertainty and confusion that can work against us in the initial strike.

Those who wanted to fight were given the opportunity for that as well. The training kept my soldiers ready and helped them focus. We could always use the manpower. Beetrice didn’t stay, but at least we have VelocityRaptor back, mostly healed from that business in Africa. He failed to kill Velociraptor. We’ve also still got Silver Shark, who decided to take up position near the beach with the Deep One militia. Bronze Rhino, another Claw creation, was pulled out of his homestead in the wilderness and sobered up to help defend the city. We needed him to fight, and his alcohol for Molotovs.

So the clocks tick-tocked away, bringing us closer and closer to a clash. I finished doing what I could to my armor. Plenty of integrated nanite-holding quilt on the inner layer, spiked blades on knees and elbows, and as many chicken grenades and explosive throwing knives as I could pack.

Venus watched me as I worked in my study. “Are you ready?”

I laughed. “Is anybody truly ready?”

“Did you have one of Max’s brownies he’s passing around? You shouldn’t have dulled reactions right now,” she said.

I shook my head and turned to look at her, “I am fully in control of my own faculties. Razor sharp, you might say.”

“You look tense.” She walked over and ran her hands through my hair. “How do you feel?”

I closed my eyes, enjoying the feeling. “A little tense and excited. You?”

“The same. The big fights don’t announce when they’re coming. I had the Academy send me my exoskeleton through Cape Diem. Don’t worry, I repainted it in my new colors.” She stopped running my head and I reached up to hold her hand.

We stayed like that for several seconds, then I smiled and made the situation worse with singing. “It’s an emergency, call the police, you left me and abandoned the lease.” The guitar, bass, and drums started up when I put on the actual song to cover up my disastrous singing voice.

Venus giggled, then started dancing when I stood up. I heard a squeal from the doorway to find Qiang dancing there to “Gave You Everything” by The Interrupters. I pulled Venus over so I could grab Qiang and lift her up. Further down the hall, Sam rocked out, then hopped on something and played an imaginary guitar.

It was just stupid fun to music. It was right. It was what we needed and it broke the tension. And it was just in time, because pretty much everything we were using to detect an incursion went off at once. I didn’t know whether to expect a portal or a craft of some sort. We got both, but the portals were temporary and the craft were floating and flying. The things in the sky had hull like ship with a narrow angle. Could have been some sort of floating battleship or destroyer for all I know ship designations. The ones in the water were wider and more round, like if someone made a circular aircraft carrier and loaded the deck with guns.

Some of those ended up cut into pieces when the barrier went up. Explosions rippled across it from where the flying ships had fired already. Some were inside the dome of the shield already when it went up.

I dropped everything and began to suit up, sending out an address while I did so. “People of Ricca, the invasion is incoming. Stay in the shelters unless they’re compromised. If possible, we will evacuate you to areas of the world not under attack. I will not leave you. I’ll keep fighting. You might doubt me as a benevolent leader. Honestly, I don’t think any good leader can be a good person. Ha! By that metric, I’d be an excellent leader. Don’t trust me because of morality. Trust me to be a monster unleashed on your enemies. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go set a new world record for most bowels perforated with a single fist.”

This is why people hire speechwriters. More competent speakers give these events a certain gravitas.

I flexed my armor and reached for my helmet. Qiang held it up for me, in a smaller, less spiky version of my armor. She didn’t have her helmet on either and smiled at me. Mindful of the spikes, I grabbed her for a hug. “I love you.”

“Love you too, mommy,” she said, setting it on my head. It sealed into place and she walked over to the desk where I’d left my helmet, grabbing her knife and helmet.

“I want you underground, staying safe,” I told her. “And keep your armor on.”

“Yes mama!” she yelled, running off with her helmet past Venus. The heroine rested against the doorway, a smile visible underneath the chrome visor obscuring most of her face.

“You ready?” she asked.

I nodded. “You?”

“Yeah. Time to fight the good fight,” she said, as if that line wasn’t designed to make my eyes roll.

Sam and Holly stayed behind, so it was just the three of us setting out from the palace: Max, Venus, and Gecko. Max twirled a syringe gun in one hand, a spray gun in the other, careful of the bandoleer full of smoke grenades. Venus scanned the area and pulled out a staff that extended. I called over a larger drone that attached underneath the armored battery pack on my back, adding a large pair of lasers designed for heavy use hanging off each side of me, and a stand on my shoulder on which a pair of my normal-sized drones settled with their smaller beam weapons.

Out in the waters, Silver Shark and the Deep One marines had capsized a trio of the invading ships, which shot a lot of empty buildings on the waterfront. Some of those inside tried to swim to shore despite segmented armor, but I had more Deep Ones than they had exceptional swimmers.

The seafaring ships outside the barrier had pressed against it. They were glowing some orange color and slowly easing through. I contacted my submarine, who assured me they had everything in hand. The message came through about the time I saw the explosions tear through the ships. My admiral figured that the natural compliment to a shield around the island is a minefield around the shield. There weren’t many living invaders left to argue the efficacy of that.

I was beginning to think I wouldn’t even get to use my armor when white portals began to swallow the battleship aircraft outside the shield. New white portals opened in the air over the water, spitting them back out. They began to adjust targets.

The Intercept team was on it with surface-to-air missiles and drones. The first shots of the battlecraft crashed into the Directory building and probably wrecked my favorite chair. They turned to adjust aim once the first of our missiles began to blow holes in them. My guys focused on three of these things equally for way too long before concentrating fire on the closest. Whatever kept the battlecraft afloat in the air didn’t compensate for the hits and it rocked back and forth until something gave out and it crashed into the water. The other two focused on the military base. Note to self: when rebuilding the military base, include its own shield. Same for the new Directory building and the Palace.

The next craft to go down was dissected in a fucking grid pattern by laser drones. It was beautiful. It swung and dipped, just barely missing the remaining battlecraft. Gotta give them points for trying. That craft ended up smacking into shallower water, part of the hull crumpling on the beach.

The invaders changed tactics. Four portals began to open up at ground level and stayed open for thirty seconds. “Anyone left at Intercept who sees where these things are coming in?” I asked over my command channel.

“Affirmative, Empress. Intercept Field Unit is deployed. We have eyes on rifts and are passing the locations on, triaging per your orders.”

All are equal under the Empress, but some places are more equal than others. The base’s capabilities are reduced, but we need the power plant and the shield. We need the people in the shelters if they threaten any of them.

After that, more opened. I wasn’t paying so much attention to those, because one of those first sets of portals opened right in front of my group. The ones most eager to die were a bunch of guys who must have interrupted their beard-growing contest to get killed being the most prominent group. There were a few others mixed in. It was a pretty diverse bunch.

I giggled and began to dance, pumping out the next song on my murder playlist, Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage. I spun and slid onto my knees, hands in the air, waving like I just didn’t care, while the heavy lasers and the laser drones I personally commanded went to town on them. The first wave just died. Whatever segmented armor they had wasn’t that good at handling light. Some of the ones to survive were grey guys in tights and vests. A small blossom of light appeared where they were hit. Max tossed one of his grenades and hid behind me. They didn’t come out the other side of the thick blue smoke that spread all over the edge of the courtyard. The stream of enemies came around the sides, but something did walk out of the smoke. I caught a glimpse in between mowing down their buddies.

There were three clunky robots. Heavy metal plating and bolts on the torso chest, head, arms, and legs. It had a thick support connecting the chest to the legs, but didn’t bother with all those delicious parts of living critters. These were some old school robots, staring out at us through slots in their heads that glowed with red lights. Venus stepped up in front of myself and Max. She held her staff in her right hand, angled to avoid the metal spike she extended from the gauntlet. Electricity arced from it, then up along the staff which she swept over the robots. Ball lighting flew forth, throwing off smaller tendrils on its way into the middle of the robots. The others who got too close didn’t take it any better than the miraculous metal men did.

We were barely done with that group when another portal opened behind us. The future corpses who ran out of that one included some in old wool outfits and flintlocks, of all things. I held out a hand and gestured for them to bring it. Venus grabbed my arm and tugged me to the side when one of them fired at me, with Max diving behind me. Behind me, a person-sized hole appeared in the wall around the courtyard.

I targeted the flintlock shooters first after that. Max ducked beneath my legs to fire into the crowd with his gun and called out, “Thanks Venus!”

“Yeah, thanks,” I said, a bit grumbly. Ugh, my nemesis I’m in love with saved my life. Time to go write in my diary about how unfair my life is and how I’m so embarrassed I’m just gonna DIE. Wait, is this not the teen drama portion of the narrative? Oh, right, I was murdering folks.

Intercept contacted me for an update after we’d finished with that bunch. “Empress, we have reports of dinosaurs loose in the city. The food growers are under siege and summoned a giant demon plant for assistance. Additionally, VelocityRaptor has responded. The Institute is under attack as well. Dr. Creeper, Bronze Rhino, and Arachnoid are defending. All fronts are holding. The sea battle is over. Silver Shark is bringing the Deep Ones ashore to flank the enemy.”

“Anywhere look like it could stand some reinforcement?” I asked.

“The skeleton crew at the water treatment plant reported an attack. We have dispatched a Flyer and squad to take it back, but we are low on available manpower.”

“I thought we told them to evacuate with the rest…” I looked to Venus and Max. “We’re heading to the water treatment plant to expel some waste. Don’t let them touch the water there if you want to keep them down for good.”

Venus nodded, but I caught something moving toward us out of the corner of my eye. By the time I turned to look, one of those grey fucks was right up in my face, pushing me. The wall we passed through stunned me a bit. You know, like they do. Wrecked my big drone, I think. The grey speedster let me go and I crashed through another wall, and another, and into a small refrigerator in someone’s kitchen. The family left a pot on the stove and rice in a bag nearby. And a superspeedster coming through a hole to stop right in front of me and punch the crap out of my armor. He grabbed my throat. I tried to put a spike through his eye, but he dodged it. I sent a straight at his gut, but he was elsewhere the moment it would have hit. I brought my arm down on his elbow and instead he was choking me with his other hand.

I looked him in his blank eyes and raised my arms. “Really dude?” I asked, despite the tightening grip that threatened to shut off my air supply. But you know what’s faster than super speed most of the time? Light. Guess who has a laser built into her helmet? This bitch. I fired the trio of lasers in my helmet into his eyes and face, for just a moment. The speedy fucker clutched his head.

I laughed my ass off and grabbed him. I pulled open the refrigerator door and pulled him in, smashing the door against his head. He stumbled back away, pushing at me. I caught a beer before it fell out and smashed it over his cranium. I put my heel into his crotch, grabbed him, and threw him against the stovetop. I didn’t need to be a speedster to stick the pot on his head and hit the lasers again. I fried his noggin in the pot. I’d have done it slow, but he was fast. Now he’s a past tense person.

I stepped out, checking on the situation. Venus and Max were on their way to the water treatment plant. I figured I could rendezvous with them, or I could turn right and see why it was suddenly a shady day. I looked, and there stood a sixteen foot tall bird staring down at me with hungry eyes. It opened its beak and roared, showing off a mouth full of rows of sharp teeth.

Command channel time. “I might kill this one, but if we happen to have a spare giant dino bird after this is all over with, I would be happy to have a new pet.” Its beaky maw snatched me up. “This one wants to play already!” It tried to chew me. I put my hands up and stopped it, then stood up on its tongue. I cut the comms channel and addressed the bird directly. “You need to remain calm and stop trying to eat me, or this relationship is never going to work. And it can work! Just look at how things turned out with Venus! All I had to do was change my life, kill fewer people, medicate, have a kid, take responsibility for a bunch of people I don’t know, set up rules for supervillains, and save the world like a dozen times.”

More crap for the diary, in between talking about who I have a crush on and what I want my prom dress to look like, like ohmigosh.

I punched the top of the birdasaur’s mouth. It opened wider and tried again. This time, it caught an elbow blade. It roared and shook its head. I fell out. I hopped up on the birdasaur’s beak and stared it in the eye. “Hey there, critter. I’m your new best friend. I’m gonna hug you and clean up after you and ride you to slaughter my enemies.”

The bird shook its head, then smashed me into the side of the building. I pulled myself up and flipped around to sit on its neck. It hopped and flapped its tiny arms, trying to get rid of me. It rolled over in the street. I don’t crush so easy. I stayed on and gave a “Yippee-ki-yay!” when we came up.

On the street below us, scaly emu things ran along, hissing and growling. I pointed down at them. “Chow down!”

The birdasaur tried to shake me off, but it knew a meal when it saw it. It snatched one up for a meal. At the end of the street, a group of the bearded soldiers and grey men stepped out. They swiped at the emus to chase them off. A soldier raised his sword to point at me. One of the grey men stepped up and raised his hands. A purple ray shot from his hands and singed the feathers on my mount.

I laughed. “Kill, my pretty! Slaughter every last one of them and feast on their bones!” It didn’t seem to need much encouragement after those pitiful attempts to shoot me. It ran into them and started biting. I even hopped down to go after that one grey guy. “That all you got? I killed a guy with super speed earlier. I’ve seen some of your buddies fly and take missiles. ‘Sup?”

He tried shooting me and all the blast did was leave a dark mark on my armor. He tried again and still did nothing. A raider sung at me from the side. I caught the blade and pulled it free from his hands, flipped it around to take the grip, and shoved it through his mouth. I grabbed the blade again and pulled it free, then kicked the body up into the air where my new pet chomped on it. When I turned back to the grey guy who shot at me, he was running. I jumped over him to land in his way. He skidded short and raised his hands in front of his face. “Please-!”

I punched him in the gut just enough to double him over. “I like it when they beg. You want me to like you? Beg more. Tell me things.” I laughed and grabbed him. “Why are you so weak when some of you things are so strong?”

“We are clones,” it told me. It shook as the birdasaur roared.

I slapped its face. “Don’t pay attention to that thing, pay attention to me. You’re clones, right?”

“We are made. Some of us have strong powers. If we are loyal and strong, we are promoted to serve the masters. If not, we serve with the vassals from the provinces.”

I brushed off his tights. “There you go. Good guy, telling me things.” I punched him and knocked him out. I saw a car nearby and carried him over. He fit pretty well into the trunk. My new pet roared at me, read for another go, but then squad of robotmen rounded the corner. I yelled back, “Tag, you’re it!” and ran for them. They raised their arms and shot bolts of molten metal at me. I could feel that, whatever it was. I could also turn invisible, and did so. Shooting like that didn’t make the birdasaur happy, and it couldn’t even eat these ones.

I watched it have fun with them from a rooftop nearby. I glanced up to look around, seeing Psycho Flyers all about. Some of them fired down on hotspots, like one over by the water treatment plant. “This is the Empress. Status update?”

“The portals have stopped, your eminence. The enemy is divided, but most large groups are breaking off to concentrate on the shield building.”

“Reinforce the building as best you can to make sure it doesn’t fall. Let them gather,” I said. I hate that kind of wait. The Institute, farm, and water treatment detachments never made it to the rally point because they got fed pavement with some serious velocity with the help of my guys. The Deep Ones and soldiers used the big gathering to start clearing sections of the city. The weird dino-bird things were the main trouble there. It’s like someone opened up portals to an alternate dinosaur era and let the wildlife run through.

And then, with more than a thousand people banging away at the power plant’s gates, water rose from manholes and drains outside of it. The army might have taken it for a minor inconvenience until the itching started. Being taken apart piece by piece will do that to you. Some tried even harder to break in, but the Psycho Flyers massed to drop my people in there and to concentrate firepower on that front. The ones who tried to run found out hard that is when your feet are falling apart. Whoops, then they fell into the water.

I guided my new feathered friend as best as I could to watch, making sure the nanites knew not to eat this one. Sure, it still tried to fight me and throw me into things, but I think we were getting used to one another. It was a good enough place to watch as the invaders found out that I am quite literally the master of this island.

When the screaming was over, I called up Max. “I got a big boy for you to tranquilize. Or girl. I don’t know how to sex a bird.”

“Come now,” Max said with a chuckle in his voice.

“I was drunk that time,” I reminded him.

“Hey, butting in here, what’s going on?” asked Venus. “Did we win?”

I added Command to the line. “Well, did we win?”

The voice on the other line gave a rundown. “The enemy is no longer a coherent force at anything but the squad level. The city has been 24% cleared. The portals are stopped, the craft are in retreat. The Battle of Ricca appears to be over.”

I clapped my hands. “Very good. I’m guessing, not everyone was as lucky?”

“The United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia, and China were all invaded by significantly larger forces of differing effectiveness. In addition, the United States and Russia are fighting traitors. There are other nations fighting, including North Korea. Some have surrendered. We are assembling a list of others who repelled their invasions.”

“There’s your answer then, Venus,” I told her. “Today, Ricca. Tomorrow… the world!”

My ambition blinded me. It lit up the sky, though Intercept broke in with and explained things differently. “Large rift opening outside the dome.”

The image I saw was basically a giant gun with engines on it to keep it afloat. And maybe something loose in the water way behind it, but the big weapon might just do it for me here. The huge barrel pointed at us glowed, then shot what looked like a miniature sun at our shield.

“Brace your sphincters, everyone,” I told announced.

The energy blast blinded us as it approached, even though the tinting functionality on my helmet’s display. It struck the shield and lashed out like it was releasing solar flares. The shield went red in a ripple that rolled out from that point, audibly crackling loud enough to drown out even the communication device sealed to my head. The shield and the sun both disappeared at once.

“Casualties at the power plant!” I heard someone call out. “Evacuate and triage!”

I didn’t tell them not to bother. I patted the birdasaur and pulled at its neck feathers until its head turned in the right direction and it began to run for the gun. “Status on our D-bomb stockpile?”

Creeper answered, “It appears an infiltrator reached Bomb Storage with an incendiary device. We have no functional D-Bombs.”

“I’m moving to intercept,” I announced.

“That’s crazy,” Venus said.

“Looks like I’m perfect for it,” I told her. I saw the gun’s barrel glowing again. I knew perfectly well I’d never make it, and never be able to do anything to it. But when there’s nothing left but death, might as well let it know you’re not afraid of it.

I had regrets, though. Plenty, including for my daughter.

A beam from high in the sky struck the rear of the gun, pushing the barrel upward. The enormous energy blast it fired went well overhead, but close enough we felt the heat. I couldn’t tell if it was going to angle back to Earth and make someone’s day infinitely more shitty, but it missed us. The gunship began to slowly turn to face whatever hit it.

A blue satellite with a barrel of its own in between a trio of large solar panel arms lowered from the sky. Below it, a yellow aircraft carrier carried a humongous green tank. A pink submarine broke the surface with a jump, and a red fighter jet soared overheard.

“Oh no,” I said.

The aircraft carrier rose up like it was flipping forward. The tank backed up it while its deck split apart. The tank reached the end and fitting onto it. A fore section of the carrier bent at a 90 degree angle as it finished becoming a pair of legs attached to a green tank torso. The sub leaped into the air again, splitting apart. One half attached to the upper left of the tank. The other caught on the upper right and swiveled around. The jet flew up and curved back down, aimed at the rear of the tank. It somehow slowed, the fighter shifting to reveal a metal face as it slid into the rear of the tank, slotted in. Finally, the satellite. The giant robot reached for the tank’s cannon. The cannon split off easily, as did the barrel of the satellite as it came down. The satellite attached to the back of the robot, two of its panels forming wings that hung down behind it. The other panel arm broke off and attached to the barrel that had come undone from the satellite, then that section fitted into the end of the tank’s cannon to form a sort of sword.

“Venus, what did you do?” I asked.

“I asked them for help, like you said,” she informed me, a hunt of smugness in her voice.

The gunship fired again, this time trying to destroy the Justice Rangers. The robot batted it away with its sword, then raised it high. The sword glowed as bright as the sun. The robot went into a stance like it was taking a step to sprint toward it. The robot flew along the surface of the water, kicking up a spray of water to either side as it closed on the gunship, then past it. The sword stopped and the robot straightened up, standing in the shallow water by the beach. Behind it, the gunship fell apart into halves that exploded.

Rangers…

I was saved by the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers.

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Kill Da Wabbit 4

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Things have changed since my men arrived. The Hares were spread out in smaller search parties that seemed like a good idea when they thought they could overpower me. When my guys arrived, they caught several search parties by surprise. Not all made it back, but not enough are in a state to provide usable intel. My guys get first priority treatment with the nanites.

And after days living off whatever I could find in the wilderness, I got first priority on the rations. My weird correspondence with that projection mostly abated, though he showed himself a couple of times. I was halfway through an MRE of rice and pork when he appeared. “I don’t believe I have ever, and I mean ever, seen someone so happy to eat food meant to survive a bomb.”

“All the howling from the wolf and those sniffers drove away whatever game is normally here,” I mentioned around a mouthful of rice. “I have had to eat things you wouldn’t believe.”

“You have a lot of nerve complaining about nuts and berries,” he said, shking his head.

I shrugged. “Not a fan of the berries, but the nuts came in their own gravy. And people prefer the term ‘Rocky Mountain Long Oysters,’ thank you very much.”

“I dearly hate interrupting a meal, but I believe some of the people inside are trying to get away and another team are moving to reinforce the lodge,” he pointed in two different directions.

I called up the commander of the expeditionary force, because we needed a regular military command in addition to my own whims. As a dictator, I may be in ultimate command, but it’s best not to leave every piece of military strategy to a gal who just spent her morning teabagging a corpse with another body’s torn-off teabags. “I have a tip about some runners. Same rules of engagement as the rest of this. Dead bodies are no big deal.”

I set off in the direction my projected adviser said the reinforcements were coming from. He informed me that, “These are good Samaritans. It seems real reinforcements are unaccounted for. Neither group is prepared for the heat you bring.”

I didn’t realize I’d found them until I was hauled off the ground by man resembling a tree trunk with twisted root legs and branches for arms. He held me up in the air and stretched his trunk above the tree line. “Is this the lady causing all this fuss?”

“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” called a man below me. A… rather hunky guy. I’m not usually into that sort of thing on a guy. A long beard, dark as ripe forest soil. A chest bare except for a thick carpet of hair. Stag horns on his head and a fuzzy little tail sticking out above the loincloth that covered up all his naughty bits. The dirty feet weren’t my thing. Most of him wasn’t my thing. But at the time, I could see myself being his thing. “I am a lord of forests. I offer freedom for freedom. You for the prisoners in the chateau.”

“Mmm, how about some petite death in exchange for not giving you some big death?” I asked. “I’ll break your dick off so I don’t break his stick off.” I nodded toward the tree man.

The tree guy spoke up with his creaky, amused voice, though he addressed the horny guy below me. “This may be the rare time your power over women should be tamped down.”

I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “Someone’s getting’ awful assume-y about my gender just because I like having boobs and pretty dresses. Bend over and I’ll show you how hard a dicking I can give you without a dick.”

He shook me around a bit. “Hush.”

I reached down, grabbed the first finger wrapping around my torso, and snapped it to the side. “This wittle pitty went to market…”

He threw me at the ground, where I bounced off and coughed up something liquid in my helmet. Aside from that and the overwhelming pain in my chest, I was probably fine. Couldn’t have broken more than three ribs, the pussy. When I stood, I found the lord of the forest standing in front of me and he didn’t look quite so friendly anymore. I suddenly noticed those hands and feet tapered off into claws. I pointed off to the side, “Holy fuck, it’s Johnny Cash!”

He turned to look. I shoved my boot into his groin. And then I flew back from the force of the kick, my knee feeling like it was going to take a vacation. Or at least a break for awhile. I projected invisibility, but was thrown into the air before I could do much of anything. A friggin’ tree grew up under me and tossed me up to about face height on the tree guy, who swiped and caught me in a mass of branches and leaves where his hands had been before. As they caught onto me, vines grew and pulled my arms and legs apart. I had a little freedom for twisting and pulling, but the forest lord guy put his hand on the leg of the tree guy and I was suddenly pulled taut.

“Hope your men will be more agreeable than you are, Empress,” said the lord as they started making their way through the forest.

I had my personal drones, but I figured I’d wait. Just a bit. While I was at it, I called up my commander. “I’m gonna need our specials for a little job.”

“Yes, Empress. They are not being utilized at this moment.”

“Good, I’ll see to them personally.”

I noticed that whatever strength increase the tree guy got, it faded fairly soon. But I didn’t break way then until the three markers on my HUD got close enough. Then, I brought my drones up. Their lasers carved through the vines holding me and allowed me to tear my legs free. From there, I jumped onto the shoulder of the big tree man.

Down below, the forest lord turned to look up at us. Then a bronze-armored man on all fours plowed into him with a shiny titanium horn at forty miles an hour. Most people would have been killed instantly. The forest lord fell was knocked down. Bronze Rhino had to shake the impact off, too. He’d been one of the rescues form China who used to serve The Claw. I didn’t get his whole story, but he decided to wear the armor again because he had nowhere else to go.

VelocityRaptor skidded to a stop. The chrome cyborg opened the jaws of the raptor head on his his armor and unleashed a gout of flame upon the downed hunk, who went up like a leaf and screamed like a Wilhelm.

“No!” called tree guy. He raised a foot to stomp, but got my cutting into the side of his head with a Nasty Surprise on one arm.

“Hey big guy, got wood?” I asked.

He began to fall. I looked down and saw a buff woman with cybernetic parts resembling a shark pushing on the tree man’s foot, pushing him over. Rawr. Now Silver Shark’s my kind of woman. The kind with more machine parts than organic ones, who barely even looks like a woman through all the muscles. It works for me, may not for you, dear reader. Find someone your body parts want you to be with, either brain or below, and do what comes unnatural and depraved.

Giving Tree here was as susceptible to fire as his friend. With that lordly fellow busy becoming dust in the wind, we chased after a crawling tree to hack and burn away at him. In short, we tore him a new ash hole. And I began to wonder if I needed a flamethrower drone. The real problem’s the fuel, ya see…

That distraction forced my forces a little thin, but the chateau people never got away. We settled in for another night behind barricades made of downed trees that blocked the view of my people from the folks in the hunting lodge. Everything quieted down at night ever since the howling trackers attempted a midnight sortie our first night here. The men built campfires behind the barricades, but the would-be commandos found nobody around them. When they rushed in, they were the only dark shapes moving around bright fires against a background of wood barricades. The fire lit them up, and then so did the guards on duty. Shame, though. It would have been a good strategy if my commander hadn’t proven himself to be a cunning chap. A way to try and wear us down in the dark.

I was happy to teach the commandos some comman-don’ts.

I settled in at dusk, healing those ribs and checking on the embassy attaches in Paris who had the unenviable job of finding and babysitting Qiang when my quick trip here turned into a longer affair. Then my spirit animal showed himself again and I realized I hadn’t seen the denim jacket dude since he sent me after the giant woody and his horny friend. “Good going earlier. Now, I don’t suppose you would want to see the secret entrance to the chateau’s basement, would you not?”

“Would I?” I asked, not entirely sure how the double negatives worked out there. I got it figured out after a little counting. “I might.”

Even as the sun fell, the trip around the entire area didn’t leave me exposed. We had drones and Flyers set up to monitor the perimeter. One of the squaddies or privates or whatever we call them even figured out they could detach breaching cameras to provide a better view. We had the better view and superior communications. Better weapons, tougher armor, and nobody around to stop us. Technically, NATO was supposed to be meeting about us, but the current American President threw a temper tantrum. So it’s pretty much open season in Europe nowadays. I get the feeling a lot more countries are going to start developing their militaries accordingly. But for now, that means I control this part of France.

Even, it seems, a weathered wooden door hidden behind a bush against a hill. “That’s the escape tunnel, eh?” I said. I looked it over. The door had vines crawling on it. It was a good sign that they hadn’t been pulled loose. The dirt around the bush didn’t appear trod upon. A few people might have gotten out if they were careful, but they hadn’t pulled off a bigger escape.

“You should go in,” the denim-clad projection suggested. “Have some fun with them. They won’t even know you’re there.”

I thought about it. And I thought about my aching ribs. And how I didn’t know what this guy was playing at, other than that he was one of the Hares who found some benefit in me killing some of them. Though, if anyone asks, nobody I killed was superhuman. I mean, not like there are any bodies left of the reinforcements from earlier, right?

So I turned and began to walk back to camp. “One moment, let me just get a little something handy…”

The projection grinned as I went back and grabbed a crate out of one of the Psycho Flyers. He wasn’t quite so happy to see me pull out a directional mine and rig it so that anyone trying to get out that door would learn a valuable lesson about being flammable next to explosives. “I could do that, or I could use this thing to track if they’re trying to escape.”

“That’s a mine,” he pointed out.

I nodded, “Yep. It’ll tell me exactly when someone came this way and got blown up.

He disappeared, leaving me to read a story to my daughter over the phone and contemplate just what the Hares, all of the Hares, were up to. It hasn’t escaped my attention that this guy might be sending me off into fights meant to get me caught or killed, that wascally wabbit.

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