“Why not just destroy the Madstone?” people might reasonably ask. Because knowledge is power. And it’s about time I keep this damn omniscience going. And seeing how so much stuff is apparently omniscience-proof nowadays, I sent my minions, Bambi and Winnie-the-Pooh, out to meet with a few parties on my behalf in case of such hidden knowledge. Because of his inherent distrust of humanity, I sent Bambi to speak with the Faustus/Hephaestus organization. They’ve been fucking around with magical artifacts for awhile. It’s a weak lead, but being a god is no time for hubris.
Winnie is much more personable, despite being a large brown bear. People love talking animals. I sent him to go have a word with Captain Lightning I and his apprentice, Captain Lightning II. Captain Lightning I always treated me pretty nice considering our differences, going back to our first real run-in with him being under the control of Spinetingler. Spinetingler is a horror-themed villain who uses his limited reality-warping abilities to turn people into monsters. He managed to beat Captain Lightning and turn him into an evil minion. Ever since then, Lightning’s been oddly understanding. I think it goes back to his service in World War II. He had to fight alongside the people who divided up Poland with the Nazis, after all.
So Captain Lightning gets the friendly bear. Getting them there was easily. I modified the Dimensional Bomb technology with what I’ve spied on about the portals on Earth. Weakening the walls between universes can lead to permanent breaches and links. The Madstone limited my apparently not-so-omniscience to its confines unless I used my dimensional breach technology to reach the real world. It worked just fine out there. That let me hunt down the temple the Faustuss people were operating out of now.
Beneath a decrepit former Blockbuster was a temple, recently carved because Faustus/Hephaestus wanted something old-looking. Faustus was the side handling the magical items, and they’d been the more powerful branch for awhile when Hephaestus got infiltrated by a vigilante who seized power and used their resources in a personal vendetta. Hephaestus is back in line, and has their own storage and operations in the temple.
So the temple had both magical defenses and automatic gun turrets with guard robot dogs that all activated when the magical portal appeared. Seeing as they still see clients in such places, these defenses didn’t open fire. They just readied themselves. I wouldn’t have dropped off Bambi if he was going to get shot as soon as he appeared.
Bambi clopped out, twin laser turrets tracking the temple and the weapons he recognized. “I’m here to bargain!” he declared.
Most of the defenses went dormant again and a Hephaestus salesman wizard in a business robe stepped out. “What can we do for you, Mr…?”
“Bambi,’ the deer said.
The salesmage did a doubletake. “Come again?”
“I am Bambi of the forest, sent on behalf of the Unicorn Goddess in search of knowledge,” the deer responded.
“Is this-” he started to ask.
A copy of my head appeared floating in the air next to Bambi and told him, “This is not a joke. Bambi is here as my agent, to obtain information and negotiate the payment you will ask from me.”
I left to go do more important stuff before he could ask why I wasn’t meeting with the himself. I got shit to do.
For instance, Captain Lightning I was waiting in an ancient tower on a mountain that wasn’t entirely in any dimension. I “pinged” him of a sort. I used an obvious scrying spell, one he would easily be able to detect, then opened the portal there more slowly. Winnie ambled out on all fours, wearing a harness packed with plastic jugs of honey. Some were a gift to Captain Lightning from Winnie and the rest were for his own enjoyment.
“Hello!” Winnie greeted Captain Lightning.
The old man, and he was looking his age more and more these days, smiled and shook his head. “Gecko sent you.”
“Yes. We need some help. I can share some honey with you if you would like to talk,” Winnie offered.
Captain Lightning guffawed. “Come here, Pooh. Tell me what brings you here?”
I, on the other hand, used my powers to examine the Madstone more thoroughly. When I first summoned it, I found out about its pocket dimension. But back in the beginning…
The name of the tribe is now lost. Despite the stereotypes, Native Americans aren’t all magic, but one of them learned from some of the Three Hares who settled here. These supers and aliens pretending at godhood had some mages in their ranks, and some mingled with the native tribes of this half of the world. One of them learned from them and learned that they were wide-open gaping assholes. He knew people like that. Some day, they would be a threat. Power requires care, or it would turn on those who gave it up.
He worked carefully, trying over and over, until he found a way to enchant a simple stone to trap people with those powers. He didn’t find out how superpowers connect to people, necessarily… pretty sure the guy didn’t have to worry about radioactive gamma goop and bioengineering back then, which was also why powers were more rare. But they existed, and he tapped into their wellspring to make a stone sphere that would hold them within it. And if it held them, then it stood to reason it had to be a place. The brilliant son of a gun made the pocket dimension without truly realizing what he’d done. With today’s knowledge at his fingertips, he could have pulled off some crazy shit.
The man himself died of plague. It was another couple hundred years before Clara arrived, so the blame isn’t hers. Her husband had been something of an explorer who encountered a mysterious mushroom, taller than a cabin and pulsing red. He didn’t realize it had grown from an old battlefield where powerful superhumans had died. He’d destroyed it as an abomination without realizing he’d been infected. He died shortly after arriving home and passing it on to his wife who reacted differently, taking on a symbiotic relationship with it that mutated her and the fungus. It empowered her for more than just fungi.. She didn’t fully understand what had happened to her. The link between microbes and disease wasn’t figured out by this bunch of humans until after she was imprisoned in the Madstone. Maybe if she hadn’t been, it would have happened sooner.
Soon after Clara’s husband died, her landlord tried to force himself on the widow. She was now more than a match physically and beat him down. As an afterthought, she decided to give him a bout of the Black Plague. Thing is, she liked having power for once. With her money, she decided she’d start over new and be someone in the New World. She built her own cottage outside of town, drawing suspicions from people about possibly being a witch, when a hunter stopped in for some sustenance after having rifled through the forgotten remnants of a Native village. The hunter tried to help himself to Clara as well, and was only saved when he tried to hit her across the temple with the Madstone. She disappeared and he just thought something fucking weird happened. He spent the final two months of his life with some crazy diseases she’d inflicted on him, including venereal. I wish my omniscience hadn’t shown me what his junk looked like.
Some con artist found the stone and decided to sell it as a cure-all, demonstrating it on someone who was getting sick after being bitten by a wild dog. It worked.
And here we get to the mage’s mistake. Well, more of an oversight he didn’t realize. The Madstone needed a way to vent the powers it contained and this is not good for me. In much the same way computers can be unforgiving to someone who tells them what to do without really thinking about it, an assumption led to something of a huge potential change.
With the artifact known to cure rabies, that’s what people tried to use it for. And they did. It allowed the mundane people holding it to access the powers of the superhuman trapped within. They could have cured or caused any disease, but they never realized what they had access to. Occasionally, someone who touched it disappeared entirely and was never seen again. By that point, Clara’s mental health wasn’t that good and she’d turned the pocket dimension inside into her own laboratory of rot and disease. She didn’t even realize most of those who disappeared were here in the first place. Unless they were gifted with immunity to disease and a handy ability to blow up plague animals, they died quickly.
Later, the Madstone became a pharmacological, alchemical, and magical oddity in folklore. Then Mix N’Max decided to look for it, interested in how the stone cured people and what else it could do. And now there’s a woman running around with an object that I’m technically trapped within and which, if touched by someone without powers, could potentially allow them to use my powers. So that’s a lovely thing to find out. I barely trust myself like this; I sure as goose shit don’t trust other people with these abilities. They might be some sort of psychopath.
The dossier Bambi came back with from Faustus/Hephaestus didn’t provide any greater context except that Faustus was interested in buying it as a cure for rabies and study to find out if it had any better applications. One part they left out of their files was they had identified a list of faith healing frauds and TV show faux doctors who might buy it.
Captain Lightning was more on the money. “It is a trap that allows someone to use the powers of the superhuman trapped inside it, theorized to contain a great healer that no one knows how to free.”
I popped in while he and Winnie were sitting around enjoying a loaf of bread and honey. “Well, she is free. Turns out you can get out if someone sufficiently powerful wanders in and it spends all its energy trying to hold them.” I gestured to myself. “It couldn’t account for advanced technology, but I still feel its constant pull.”
Captain Lightning’s thin grey eyebrows rose. “She’s out and you are in?”
I nodded. “So someone without superpowers could touch it and be able to do anything I can.”
He got serious in a hurry. “We have to get you out of there.” He helped himself up using a gnarled old wooden staff that looked like it had grown around crystals.
“And we’ll have to do something about her, because she’s a nasty piece of work as well,” I said.
“What’s she done?” he asked.
“She escaped and left me in it. When I confronted her, she tried to trap me in it and she nearly killed a bunch of people around,” I explained.
Captain Lightning looked at me, then shook his head. “I cannot help you fight her, and must recommend you don’t. If she is near your level, the Earth must not risk a war between gods that could destroy it.”
“I can just undo all the damage anyway,” I said.
Lightning’s eyes narrowed. “And what if you don’t? What if you take advantage of it to make changes as a loophole? You turned your life around, but it was not a clean journey. I know the temptations that come with great power.”
I scoffed. “I expected better from you, old man.”
Captain Lightning almost seemed hurt. As if he was the one trapped in a rock here! “I would be happy to mediate and keep the peace. It would be irresponsible to aid you in a war that could destroy the world.”
I shook my head and snapped my fingers, returning to the Madstone with Winnie in tow. Bambi looked up from nibbling on some grasses.
“What do we do now?” Winnie asked.
“We’re going to toss Pestilentia back into this stone and be done with her. Or we shatter the Madstone and her head.”
“Shatter?” Bambi asked.
“Hardly knew ‘er,“ I responded.
Sam and I went out to celebrate my new godhood one night after getting Qiang to sleep. I pretty much am by the power requirements. Vivec and Almalexia are amateurs next to me. I mean, I’m not omniscient. I have to put in an effort to examine stuff, but I can learn things. Dancing in the club there, in my little red dress, I could reach out and feel the minds of people around me. Know what they were thinking, nudge it if I wanted. Heh, I could full on control it. Learn all their secrets and desires… one guy creeping around the bar just up and disappeared. I dumped him and the stuff he was slipping into glasses off in the desert.
I was dancing all by myself while Sam lounged nearby, eyes fixed on me. Hers weren’t the only ones, but hers are the ones that I walked toward before straddling her lap. Even more people watched us after that.
I stroked her ears. “You wanted to be an elf, right?”
“Took you long enough,” she said around a smile. I lengthened her ears and ended them in points. “Thinking of picking up a third?”
I shrugged. “There’s plenty to pick from.”
“Oh yeah? I have an idea if you’re into it,” she leaned in and whispered to me. She’d been listening to a podcast about witches. “I can’t make heads or tails of the timeline, but it wouldn’t disturb it any if we brought someone forward right before they died.”
Thinking about time got my mind to wandering about all the historical wrongs I could right, though at least one issue to wonder about was the possibility of changing the past so much it undoes me gaining this power. Sam squeezed my face in her hand and shook it. “Come back to me.”
The next morning, I was interrupted from my rest by a call. I’ve used my power to recreate all of my normal connections to the world, including my internal telephone system. I didn’t have to sleep, but I can put myself into something like it to give myself a break from consciousness. Also, my arms don’t go numb now no matter how long someone sleeps on one of them.
The call was from Medusa. “Did you blow up a ship last night?”
“Yeah. I spent a little spare time over in Egypt.” My mind wandered before my rest.
“Can I ask why?” she asked, exasperated. At least she was still letting me hear the exasperation. Technolutionary’s been on eggshells after everything. Lots of fake smiles and transparent excuses for ending our partnership.
“I heard prayers to me coming from a cargo container.”
“Prayers. You’re saying someone prayed to you.” Medusa’s Catholic for some damn reason. Limited omniscience means one thing I can’t wrap my head around is her still wanting to be a part of that bunch.
“Someone prayed,” I explained. “If anyone else was listening, they didn’t do anything about it. I did. Saved some people, sent them to better places, bypassed some bureaucracies along the way. Saved you a lot of time and money. As far as those privateers are concerned, it’s a bizarre act of god.”
“You’re not God,” she said. Ah yes, the blasphemy angle.
“And you’re pretty sensitive to me having this level of power. I guess I get that you don’t trust me. I thought I was doing better.” Godlike power doesn’t mean I’m instantly better at sharing my feelings. It actually hurt me a little to see her distrust in me now.
“You have incredible power now, and you’re seeing a therapist. I have to be concerned. If something happens and you lose control, it’s going to be a lot worse for everyone. The only way to stop you might kill you and a lot of people.” She was also deeply uncomfortable with the amount of power and the god thing. I could feel that much. And unlike people who claim to have mysterious powers of empathy, I’m a damn god, goddammit.
I didn’t even change her mind. I could have and I wanted to. She could worship me instead. And I didn’t. She’d trust me even less if I told her of that internal debate, so I didn’t. “Anything else you want to ask me about?”
“No,” she sighed. “You can’t go doing this to the whole world. You aren’t a god.”
“I have the power, and I can find out everything about a situation. I’m doing more for people than yours or any other god people believe in. But you don’t like that it’s me. I’m the one fixing soils and oceans and air. In seconds, I fixed every broken bone and cured every disease. I thought you were beyond supporting the status quo just because.”
“I guess I don’t trust you with this power,” she admitted.
“Ok. And is there anything that would make you trust me with it?”
After a few seconds, she said, “Restraint.”
“Well, I guess we don’t have much else to talk about here, so bye.”
“Gecko-!” I cut her off.
She took the hint and didn’t call back. What, we’re going to talk about the weather after all that? Am I just her villain fetish? Was all of this just a lying appeasement of the crazy person? I stopped and took a deep breath before I blew something up. After all, I could just check.
I saw regret, guilt, some doubt, and some resolve. And some other complicated feelings, some of which scare me. I don’t want to talk about that everything I found there. Things about being raised in such a controlled environment, and me as the intersection of controlled and uncontrolled, but also a bunch of back and forth. But maybe I was harsh on her.
And maybe that was all making me think of all the many ways I can use my powers to do freaky sex stuff, so it was time to skip out and do something unsexy. Like manifest in various places to save assholes about to get into accidents. Nothing throws cold water over a sexual mood quite like saving someone from going off a cliff in India twice in the same day, or saving someone from getting hit by a drunk driver and hearing you’re a “godsend.” At least with the guy in India, he had a pretty hot wife in the car with him. She could have a goddess instead of a bad driver.
I decided to head back to my body and handle all of this invisibly. My intervention was still quite obvious. Didn’t want the wrong gods taking credit for my hard work. I just didn’t want to hear the two-faced praise from people who hate and fear me. And I didn’t want to keep thinking my thoughts.
This time, it wasn’t so much about destruction. Sure, I couldn’t help but look at politics going on and think it’d be better with a bit of my control or destruction involved. Why not end Congressional gridlock the old-fashioned way? Maybe don’t make it obvious. I don’t need to be empress again. A heart attack here, an overdose on cocaine there. You can hardly rely on outing a sex scandal nowadays.
And there’s the Supreme Court to think of. No reason to stop at just this country. This place could use an overhaul.
Sam rolled over and kissed me with pleasant and bad-smelling breath. “Come back to me.”
“Hey,” I said, smiling at her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, running a hand over my face.
I grabbed and kissed it. “You don’t want to hear all that.”
“If not me, who?” she asked. “Tell me, or I’m ripping one and holding your head under the covers.”
I laughed at that one. Such poise. Such grace. I shook off the laughter and told her, “Fine.” I sighed. “They might be right. I might want to go too far. Thinking of abusing my power violently. Other things. Mind control, going into dreams, life swaps, exploring possibilities…”
“Mmm, sounds fun. Maybe you should go too far on me.” I raised an eyebrow at her statement. Sam licked her lips. “Take your evil out on me. I’m open to it.”
She and I got around to working the shop, eventually. Just a nice, boring day with the power of a god at my fingertip, occasionally letting my mind wander to save someone’s kid from tripping onto the utensil section of an open dishwasher.
And just to make things even better, that’s when an old man in his 90s walked in, supported by his cane and and a Black teenager. Magic dripped off the pair of them, and I recognized the old man at least. I nodded to them both. “Lightning and Lightning, striking twice at my shop. What brings you here?”
“I came to get your measure, Gecko,” the aged, civilian form of Captain Lightning said. “I wanted to see how you were handling your ascendancy and self-defined godhood.”
I shrugged. “I have the power. I can sure use it better than others.”
The apprentice scoffed, but Captain Lightning approached. “I have been there. Do you think you’re up to it?”
“What?” the apprentice asked.
Lightning chuckled and glanced at him. “Fighting Nazis was something I could have left up to mankind. I had great powers, those of a god on Earth, and I intended to use them to interfere in mortal affairs. The sorcerer who had gifted them to me warned me about it. He tried to mentor me that my goal was to protect the Earth from the threats of the supernatural and magical. Demons and beasts from outside the world who would seek to consume our world. The Nazis were a lot of things, but they weren’t wizards. I understand the desire, even the need, to use overwhelming power to make the world what you see as a better place.”
That wasn’t the way I expected this. I didn’t pry into his mind and history when he walked in here, though. If I wanted, I could find out what his next words were. In fact, he was going to tell me to cut that out.”
“Stop that. I do not mean to trick you. I come with sympathy and a warning. I understand where you are coming from, but I am still Captain Lightning. I still protect this Earth. With our powers, we are beyond the accountability of mere man. We are beyond controlling them as well. I have fought my share of beings who claim to be gods, some with the power to back their claim. I will put you down as well.”
After a pause, he nodded to me and Sam, saying, “Good Day.” His apprentice eyed Sam on his way out, too.
I glanced over at her. She was adjusting her leather jacket on her smaller torso. “Maybe it’s time to get my body back. I bet this woman’s wondering why she’s white and has a bunch of new piercings.”
“I made everyone oblivious to it. See?” I waved my hand and created an image in the air, letting us both watch Sam Hain walking around a house in Indian clothing, bossing around some kids in Hindi. No one seemed to think it was anything out of the ordinary.
Sam, meanwhile, fished around and pulled out a driver’s license. “That explains why this says Fatima.” She looked down at herself. “I’m a milf.” She snorted, then glanced at me. “Let’s get my body back before it ends up with a baby bump.”
I was going to do that, but things got even more interesting. A wall of flames erupted around me and I found myself in a land twisting rocks like a forest reaching up from broken chunks of pumice floating on lava. And before me stood a giant, scaled being with a crown of bone and horn and burning eyes.
“You, god-pretender,” he addressed me. My enhanced senses allowed me to detect the hyphen. “You are the one who thwarted my attempts on your plane and took my rightfully-stolen property.”
“Yeah,” I responded. I glanced down. I stood in a summoning circle. The demons had summoned me. I tried reaching out of the circle, but it resisted me. I could break it.
“Just yeah? You face a demon prince of the Legion of the Damned and Defiler of the Forsaken, and all you say is ‘yeah’?”
“What do you want? You make this quick and I promise not to hurt you yet.”
“Yet,” he growled.
“I assume you also plan to come after me.”
“I have an offer for you, an offer you should not spurn. Become my right hand. Do my bidding and pave the way for my conquest of the world, and I will leave you in place to govern it on my behalf. Do so and I shall not need to dispose of you and consume your soul.”
I pushed. The binding magic of the summoning circle strained. Just before it broke, the massive demon in front of me spoke in a hurried tone. “Think about it and get back to me. I’ll be in contact. My people will call your people, buh bye!” He waved a hand in a hurry and the wall of flames appeared again. I was back in the shop, standing in front of Sam again.
“What was that?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Demons won’t get off my dick now. I’d wonder about Cthulhu, but I already got rid of that one.”
“Sounds stressful. Now, about my body? I’d rather get it back before we do any more freaky goddess sexing.”
I’ve got my base, hidden under my shop. Technolutionary has his own, hidden somewhere else. We agreed to compromise on a shared space, which we’re working on. He wants something flying. Too many bells and whistles, too many moving parts for me. But not the worst idea. And it helped me come up with an interesting idea myself that I’m going to work on. Why not modify the dimensional bomb technology to hold a breach open? Maybe meld multiple places together. Not the sort of thing you really need if you’re a small business owning retired villain mom.
My girlfriend’s not happy. I told Sam what I was doing, trying to be more open to a romantic partner. She told me straight up, “This is probably a bad idea. That guy’s creepy and he never has good intentions.”
So for now, I’ve got a body up in a flying lab of Technolutionary’s powered by a stolen alien generator. Seeing as I keep spares, of some of my tech, I’ve got a nanite pool, armor auto repair, and the auto-foundry. I’ve also got some computers back in my own personal base running on traps and other ways to apply various stolen sciences to keep what we take safe from Technolutionary and others.
But first, we had to get it. Technolutionary has a few locations mapped out. Some people who get these Omega Pearls aren’t shy about letting folks know they have them. But first, we have a time sensitive matter in the hell dimensions.
As I understand it, there isn’t a literal Biblical Hell. There are a lot of places people think up where they go when they die to be tortured, usually meant to be the worst places imaginable and inhabited by demonic beings that plague humanity. And the various beings lumped together under the label “demon” seem real enough, but being real doesn’t mean every story about them is real. I’ve read about a French cavalry officer who was so strong, others at the military academy claimed he could do a pull up and bring his horse with him. Doesn’t make him fake, but also doesn’t mean he could really do that pull-up. For one thing, he’d couldn’t skip leg day.
Anyway, I figure the hell dimensions might be one inhuman planet with a variety of biomes that gave humans different ideas of Hell. Otherwise, they might just be a bunch of different dimensions each matching a different Hell. No matter the interpretation, I had a bug telling me the box containing an Omega Pearl was somewhere. I armored up and activated the armor’s chameleon protocols, then made a dimensional breach to land about 200 feet away.
It was daytime, lit by an orange star. The ground was rocky, with veins of rust running through it. Near me lapped water, clear but brown. I took a good look around, noticing both a the large, dark blue egg of a structure, and a crowd where the bug’s signal came from. The crowd stared my way. They were humans, two of them being Captain Lightning and his apprentice, Captain Lightning II. Those two were looking at me despite my armor projecting a holographic cloak of invisibility over me. Miss Tycism stood nearby, wearing purple robes and hood. She looked my way, but not at me. The others, I couldn’t make out who they were.
Well, I think I was busted. Not nearly as busted as the bodies on the ground near the bunch. I dropped the cloak and took a long leap to land near them. “Hey there Captain, Captain,” I said, offering a hand out for Captain Lightning to shake. Despite the magic giving him a buff body, he looked like age was catching up to him. He showed a lot more wrinkles and grey hair than I remembered. Then again, the guy was old enough to have fought the Nazis in World War II. I think he’s tired.
He smiled a thin smile and clasped my forearm in that sort of shake. “Gecko.”
Lightning II didn’t offer one of his own. He and Miss Tycism both glared at me. The others in the bunch looked well out of their depth. There was a fellow in a trench coat, another done up like a stage magician, and a woman in a gothic Lolita-style dress and a half-dozen belts wrapped around her waist. The magician carried the case I’d been tracking, the one the Omega Pearl had been sent off inside.
“What are you doing here?” Miss Tycism asked.
I shrugged. “Was going to steal back that Omega Pearl from these folks.” I nodded toward the case that the magician was carrying. “I guess y’all got it first?” The magician opened the case to show it was empty.
Captain Lightning let go of my arm. “We’re all late to intercept it.”
The man in the trenchcoat held up his hand where he held a coin. He flipped it and opened his palm to catch it. It bounced once, then started spinning on its edge. It was slower at first, then sped up when he pointed it to the big dark egg-thing. It slowed as he moved it past the structure, then sped up again when he brought it back.
“So it’s in that big-ass thing?” I looked to the rest of the bunch. “Room for one- look out!”
I pointed up toward the egg thing and the large ball of fire coming at us from it.
The Apprentice Lightning and Miss Tycism acted before the rest of them. Miss Tycism raised a wall of ice that curved overhead, throwing off a little mist from its sudden appearance in a land that my suit said was at what y’all would call 93 Fahrenheit. The second Lightning added his own barrier to it, a half-sphere that crackled with electricity. The fireball hit the ice wall and flash boiled it, throwing steam into the air with a piercing hiss that my ears filtered out. The twin shields held. I even got to see one of the bodies left outside the shield, a pale, horned thing with out of proportion limbs and odd numbers of clawed digits, burn to a crisp. Curious, I glimpsed at some of them around inside the shield and sent my nanites down to do an examination.
“I had it,” Miss Tycism said.
“Extra doesn’t hurt,” Lightning II said.
Captain Lightning floated up off the ground six inches. “Speaking of which, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to have someone along who can help distract them. Gecko?”
“Mind if I bring some of these along for study?” I asked. I raised a hand and a couple of the dead humanoids stood up. Looked like one was masculine and the other feminine, with mouths full of fangs and long, thin tongues.
“If you want to, I suppose. They’re dead, right?” he asked.
“Ew,” noted the woman with the belts.
“Their bodies have ceased life function. The nanites have restored enough to keep bioelectricity flowing and are piloting the bodies for me,” I explained via the one that might have been a female.
“That’s fucking creepy,” Apprentice Lightning said.
“Language,” Captain Lightning admonished. “Fine, bring them. Those are little more than half-feral guard dogs anyways.”
I threw down a holodisc. Yes, I have some of these again. Little portable hologram generators with a link to my armor. I’ve spent years of disposing of stuff almost as soon as I build it up, and I now have more of these. I plan on my vault for the Omega Pearl being a mindfuck, and that prompted me to order up my machines to produce a bunch of these. My armor cloaked us as Captain Lightning raised a clear, circular plane for us to stand on and zipped toward the Egg. The holodisc stayed behind and projected our group continuing out discussion. We were well clear when the next fireball was launched from the fortress ahead of us. Our doubles looked up, made whatever gestures I thought looked magical enough, and then disappeared while running in different directions.
Captain Lightning’s flying disc got us there in a hurry, before they could get a good lock on us again. And up close, the egg wasn’t as big as it looked from afar. I think it loomed because the landscape was so flat, mostly that rusty ground with little pools of water around. “What’s this hell called?” I asked.
“The Blasted Place,” Captain Lightning answered. “The races of demons like to test weapons here. It is the perfect spot to lay a trap, and the place to assemble a dangerous new weapon.” That would also explain the floating islands of jagged rock at various levels in the sky.
“No offense to your companions,” the Magician said.
“They’re dead puppet bodies,” the Belted Woman told him. “I think that one’s bleeding again. I don’t know how it’s standing.”
“I don’t know much about demon bodies, or whatever gets called a demon. Hoping to learn more about these by bringing them along. Believe it or not, I don’t do much business with the Hell Dimensions.”
“Neither do I, this is crazy. Now we’ve got a supervillain along?” the Magician freaked out a bit.
“Hey, here, look at me,” Trenchcoat said. These are just nicknames since I’m clueless who these people actually are, I hope y’all know. Magician turned to Trenchcoat, who put a hand on the side of the Magician’s face tenderly and stared into his eyes. “You’re going to be calm now, do you know why?”
“Why?” the Magician asked, voice shaky. Trenchcoat got a little reared back before slapping the Magician’s face with the open palm not holding a spinning coin in it.
“Or else I’ll have to slap you again,” said Trenchcoat. I like Trenchcoat.
“We need a way in,” Captain Lightning said. “Three, two…”
Miss Tycism held her hand up. Apprentice Lightning started chanting. The gothic lolita woman with all the belts pulled a couple of small glass vials out from her belts.
“One,” Captain Lightning finished. Miss Tycism unleashed a blue beam that she held on the side of the egg, slowly unfolding the material like it had been cut and was being tugged apart layer by layer. The Second Lightning shot electricity that I don’t think did anything before switching to gouts of intense flame that might have sped up the process of cracking this egg. The woman with the belt threw her bottles that exploded violently and unleashed a dark haze. Trenchcoat waved his hand and a wind pushed the smoke away, then pulled out a small wooden wand from his coat. It unleashed a spray of black bolts that flew into the widened gap until.
With their forces combined, the egg cracked. I am Captain Trans! What seems to be the problem, Transeteers?
But seriously, I and my humanoid demon puppets jumped the gap and landed in a nice little forge. Nearby was a what looked like a horned human without the twisted features, his skin a mess of scars. He turned to me and raised a forge hammer overhead. I impaled him with an arm and held his body up, letting my nanomachines crawl in. “Interesting.”
Behind us, the “feral dog” demons clawed and bit at another. I’m not the best at controlling three different bodies at once, but I was able to tear another of these demons apart. Then they were blasted into pieces by another one who held the Omega Pearl in tongs. The tool he used on them appeared to be an ornate hammer, the flat edge perpetually engulfed in flames. I threw the body I’d picked up at him; it held him down while he caught it alight. While he did that, I walked over and looked for the tongs. It was now holding a rubber ball with a star on it.
“Presto!” I heard over at the opening. The Magician held the Omega Pearl in his white-gloved hands, then palmed it.
“I’d really like to have that,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” Captain Lightning apologized. “I’ll make sure you get out.”
A blue, shimmery portal appeared overhead and swooped down, encompassing the whole bunch before disappearing, and taking that Omega Pearl with it. Behind me, the forgemaster tossed his burning underling aside and stood up.
I disappeared. I could take him easily, but what’s the point now? Instead, I decided to head around, see if I could find a good place to cause some last minute destruction with my exit. I found out we were merely in the outer layer of the egg.
Deeper inside was the core. There floated an oblate sphereoid made of pewter or a metal very much like it, carved to a scale model of Earth. Around that floated dozens of these Omega Pearls, all held in a weave of flames that traced through the air between each one. There were many gaps; this grid was nowhere near complete. Even this one wouldn’t have done it. But the Hell Dimensions are planning something.
I programmed the second dimension bomb I was going to use to escape to have a wider area of effect on this end. It would bring more along with me, in case I wanted more of these lovely samples. I found a spot where two of these were close enough to let me nab them and wreck part of that model of Earth they wanted to do something with. Perhaps I could take some samples before that?
I looked around. There was some sort of being in a white robe speaking into an orb on a desk nearby. I couldn’t understand the language, but my translator program was working on it. I stepped closer, unseen, to get a better look. She was yellow-skinned, a couple of holes on the side of her head where ears would be. A half dozen thick, fleshy tendrils sprouted from her back, measuring maybe a foot each. In place of hair were much finer tendrils. She had five fingers, with nails that curved over the fingertips. I let my nanites swarm over her. She screamed while they found their way into her. I’d have knocked her out first, but I didn’t know just how close she was anatomically to human. Surprisingly close for the exterior details, it turned out. Everything was a little off inside, too, further so than that one I scanned in the forge.
Unlike that one, I left this one alive and withdrew my nanites once someone burst through the door. These were larger, more muscular, and biceps bulging with scales next to bulging breastplates.
They couldn’t see a thing, of course, and I decided to get out of there before they would. I checked the Earth model, finding it had rotated slightly in those minutes, and got myself lined up. Then bam!
I reappeared in the floating lab with a chunk of pewter depicting part of South America, and a couple of Omega Pearls.
They tried to reorient themselves, but whatever magic was at play went wonky. The two Pearls went flying off, smashing into things. Technolutionary, thinking quick, raised a gauntlet on his suit and emitting a pulse that stopped one in midair. The other crashed into a bunch of stuff before getting stopped by a wall. The thing was bending it like Jason Voorhees pushing a college girl’s face through the side of an RV.
As I got closer to grab it, I felt weird again. That intense heat. And ideas resurfaced. Going back and abducting exotic demons. Dissolving the other dimensions until there were none left. Making most of the world forget my existence. It bothered me. Yeah, I have the thoughts, but I still know when I’m doing something wrong. I’ve always known.
I opted to grab some breach sealant nearby. Technolutionary had sprayers all over the place in case we accidentally put a hole in the outside of the lab. I sprayed the Pearl down in a yellow goo that quickly solidified.
“Our first success!” Technolutionary exclaimed while we each set ours into the safe meant to be temporary housing.
“Yes, but also no,” I told him.
Despite that, my conscience’s problems with some of the ideas I was having, it felt good to be back. To taste mad creativity again. Only this time, I’m helping the world along with helping myself. Just not helping myself to everything I can think of.
Sam let me have it, too. When she heard what all happened, she decided she’s going to be a part of this and she wants to hide the Pearls. It’s not a bad idea, with what I’m feeling about them.
With a cry of Machine Man’s machine voice, Mr. Omega appeared. He floated in all his glory, but in my body and my armor. He looked over the sight before him: one Medusa bound and gagged on her knees, another standing free behind her in a street packed with cars, the odd planted tree, and even a person watching from behind a stoop with their dog on a leash next to them. Oh, and a hog-tied Qiang laying next to the bound Medusa.
“Behold,” said the free Medusa, who was clearly Machine Man and nobody else. “I have succeeded.”
“Where are the others?” Omega asked.
“They went their own way,” Machine Man responded.
Mr. Omega stared at Medusa, Medusa, and Qiang. He raised a hand that exerted a cone of red light, because red is really this guy’s jam. The Medusa that had presumably been Machine Man, surprise surprise, was shown to be standing in the same place as an invisible Dudebot. Who could have predicted this turn of events?
Omega frowned and squeezed his fist. The Dudebot crushed in on itself. “A childish gambit,” Omega said. “Did you think you could fool me?”
My voice echoed out of somewhere. “What, you’ve never played a game of Three Card Monte?”
“Three…” Mr. Omega muttered. He gestured toward the Medusa tied up on the ground. Another scan revealed another Dudebot that was quickly blown to smithereens. “You, then?” He turned toward the Qiang. She began to cry and squirm, which stopped around the time she was also exposed as a hologram covering up a Dudebot.
“What is this, Gecko?” Omega asked of me. “How can you do this?”
“You talked about me not being able to use your powers as well as you. Turns out, you can’t use mine as well as I can, either.” The Qiang Dudebot stood up. As she did, a car disappeared and a Dudebot appeared in its place. The tree in the planter did likewise. More Dudebots revealed themselves, including the huddled onlooker and his dog.
I felt Mr. Omega’s anger as he zapped robotic doppelganger after robotic doppelganger, causing a shitload of damage to a neighborhood the Reds had cleared out for me ahead of time.
“Where is Machine Man?” Omega asked.
The Dudebot that had pretended to be Qiang pulled out the head of Machine Man out from behind it, dropped it on the ground, and crushed it. Omega didn’t seem angry about that. He didn’t seem much phased at all. Then he tried to blow up that one and missed, and that got him mad. He began to fire furiously at the multitude of Dudebots that appeared all over the place. When one bonked him on the face, his fury came from the fact that he’d been so overwhelmed. It sure didn’t hurt him.
While he did all that, a Dudebot in Ricca kept close eye on the group who infiltrated the island. They’d arrived via the Cape Diem relief camp. Mix N’Max had tossed several canisters of a smoke that was making the patrols they came across fall asleep. Medusa led the group, having assured me when we last spoke that she hid my daughter somewhere safe. With her was both of the Captain Lightnings and the bravest few of the Extradimensional Studies team.
They had ideas, you see. They figured, with me having joined forces with Omega, it was only a matter of time before the Telechamber got built, so they figured out a plan that used it. I’ve been assured it’s much better than the one I came up with using it, which is the reason I didn’t stop the Telechamber from being built. Yep, the nanites kept working and it’s ready. Mr. Omega just didn’t realize it because he’s tech-illiterate.
The heroes, and Mix N’Max, had the scientists they snuck out of the country work on a device to help them out. They didn’t tell me what it does, but they believe it’ll work so long as Omega doesn’t show up and blow up.
I was more than happy to distract him. I’m great at it! Besides, nobody else needs to take the risk. I’m stuck with this guy. And I should probably be more sympathetic to him. He reminds me way too much of myself a few years back. And maybe this didn’t have to go this way, if I’d been better. Nothing doing now, though, than to stick a dumpster on his head.
Indeed, that’s what I had a Dudebot do, which made it even harder for him to keep up with what was happening. He tossed it off and let out a blast that spread out in a circle tossing cars, melting the road, and trashing the four Dudebots actually around. That a bunch of others seemed to be around and unscathed alerted Mr. Omega to the con. He closed his eyes and did something with a gesture of his fingers, then opened them. “These are illusions, created by your mechanical eyes.”
The flashing 12:00 in our shared view adjusted to read “Fuck You” o’clock as the fake Dudebots disappeared.
Back in Ricca, Shockley came by to visit the Telechamber site. The old Dusk Priest-turned young Dusk Priest had picked out some new robes to match his new loyalties. With the city now under Omega’s martial law, few were inclined to outwardly oppose him. He used that to have himself a fun little holiday, so long as he didn’t think about any extras added to his food or drink too hard, but I guess he felt a big enough twinge of duty to show up and check on the Telechamber.
I had Dudebots on automated patrols, too, but I only spotted him once he sent up a magic flare. The Dudebot landed just in front of him. His fingers flew as he did whatever things he does with them to make the magic happen. The Dudebot punched, knocking the breath, and back, out of him just as his reverberating voice called out “Omega!”
I heard it in stereo. All the way over in Empyreal City, it jumped out at Omega. Suddenly, we were there, in the air over Ricca. Omega traced the flare down to the dying Dusk Priest. He crashed to the ground, smashing my robot double under my own boots. He pulled the arm free of Shockley’s body and pressed a hand there to close the wound.
When Shockley could speak again, the Dusk Priest told him, “Something is wrong. They are at the chamber.”
I could feel the anger bubbling up in him from the back of the mind where I’d been exiled. Despite that, Omega didn’t tear the place apart indiscriminately. At least, the roof he tore off was meant to be retractable for larger portals. I don’t know if he knew that.
The assembled heroes and scientists gaped up at him, everything seeming really quiet. Then he tossed down the Dudebot’s gauntlet. “The fool has failed. Know that your plan will fail. I will- agh!”
Mr. Omega clutched at his eyes. That did nothing to clear the image of the goatse.
“Go, go, go!” I heard Medusa call as she realized they had an opening. “Chu, where are we?”
“Buh, I don’t know! I needed five minutes to test!” the scientist called.
The older Captain Lightning spoke up. “Test time is over. Put your pencil down and do it for real.” Wow, he’s really getting into his role as a teacher.
I didn’t know how much time I could give them, but I knew I could try. Omega used his magic to clear away the goatse, only to find a bigger ass there waiting. Rick Astley began dancing, singing about his desire to never give Mr. Omega up, to never let him down, to never run around and desert him.”What trickery is this?!” Mr. Omega cried out.
I heard sounds from around, like the thunder of lightning and the whoosh of fireballs, but they didn’t seem to be aimed at Omega. Instead, Mr. Omega was concentrating on getting rid of Rick Astley, then a looping video of three guys in a car listening to “What Is Love?” What that disappeared, he got to see Carl Weathers and Arnold Schwarzenegger clasping hands set to Guile’s Theme from the Street Fighter series. Next was a stripper named Ricardo Milos, but he eventually figured out how to turn off my wifi connection.
I had to resort to the music player, which didn’t do anything to obstruct his view beyond a brief notice that we were listening to the song “What’s Up Danger” by Blackway & Black Caviar.
“I got you now,” Mr. Omega said, aiming for Medusa, who rested against a piece of wall she’d dragged between Shockley and the scientists modifying the Telechamber.
“No,” I thought coldly, swinging that arm up into the air. He yanked it down, I pulled it up. Not her.
“She betrayed you,” he said.
“I love her,” I responded.
He growled as he spoke aloud, “You side with those who betrayed you to fight someone just like you!”
“I said I loved her. I didn’t say it made sense. And you’re not hurting my family ever again.”
He tried the other arms. Somehow, I managed to force them to aim away.
“Hey Gecko, catch!” called a voice. Omega and I both looked down to see where Max had hurled a closed beaker with a handle at me. I caught it. Omega crushed it.
“Did I just ruin your plot?” Omega asked, ignoring the sizzling from the substance dripping out of my fist. It spread over us, catching purple flame. Then came the screaming.
Forget popping out Medusa’s baby. It felt like I was squeezing an entire person out of every pore of my body. Even with my eyes squeezed shut, my armor showed what looked like me splitting in two, except the second half of this mitosis was a humanoid flame with eyes of brilliant white, and I was myself in my red Omega armor.
As soon as we separated, I fell to the ground. Everything Omega had deferred in my body hit me at once. A week of hunger, a week without sleep, even a week without shitting. That last part got… messy. I didn’t want to get up. I only hoped he felt as bad.
Mr. Omega howled. “Shockley, the device!”
Shockley was pinned against the wall by the younger Captain Lightning II. Still, the Dusk Priest managed to a telekinetic flip of the switch on the main control board. The lights dimmed as it drew enough from the power core to create the first portals, tapping directly into the energy reserves of stars. Lighting II zapped Shockley and left him a convulsing mess against the wall. He rushed to try and cut Omega off as the entity rushed to guard the controls personally, some of the fire burning off and leaving him just a tiny bit smaller.
Medusa rushed over to check on me, though, so that was nice. “Gecko, are you alright?”
“It only hurts from the hair down,” I reassured her. Max joined us, as did Chu and the other scientists.
“It’s done,” Chu said.
“Ow,” I commented.
“Good,” Medusa said. She looked to Max and smiled. “It worked. She’s back.”
“I didn’t know those muscles could hurt,” I added, about my kegels. I don’t think I want to know what all Omega was up to while I was remote controlling robots.
Max reached over and patted my arm. “It’s good to have you back.”
Overhead, the sky turned red, except for the growing portal that opened up and showed the same burning red fire that made up Omega’s corporeal form. The flames reached the edge of the portal and formed into fingers that held it open as Mr. Omega’s smaller form regained the size it lost after separating from me. “It is too late for all of you now,” he said, stepping closer to this group. He spared a glance to the Captains Lightning who were instead forming a magic barrier around the device Chu had connected to the Telechamber.
Omega stepped close to us and knocked one of our brainiacs out of the way who stood up to confront him. He ignored all of them and looked at my helmet, trying to lock eyes with me. Max held up a syringe gun but was thrown against a wall and held there by a red band of energy. Medusa tried to stand, but sank into the floor up to her waist as it transformed into quick sand. The rest of the eggheads scampered off to avoid being killed. “A deal is a deal.” Mr. Omega addressed me, “For your role, you will be rewarded with life eternal. For turning on me, you will spend immortality watching everyone you love die.”
He held one arm out toward Medusa. I got there in time enough to grab his arm with my lower left and divert the blast to miss her, though it did turn a fleeing scientist into pink mist. Mr. Omega grabbed that lower arm and ripped it off. Armor, flesh, bone, all of it. My legs wobbled, and I was distinctly aware of both the immense pain and my suit having to compensate to keep me from hearing my scream. Omega slapped me lightly and I tumbled to the ground. Then he aimed for Medusa again.
I jumped up and blocked his view, trying to embed my lower right fist in his junk. He still fired a magical bolt at Medusa, but she had managed to duck down enough that it missed her head and fried another scientist. And I lost another arm. So that was wonderful. Instead of falling immediately like I wanted to, Omega grabbed me by the helmet. When my lungs reminded me I needed oxygen to scream so much, he told me, “I think I won’t let you live.”
He tore my helmet off. I dropped the pair of fangs I keep hidden in my mouth and tried to bite his flaming hand. He pulled the hand back, holding my fangs, and let me drop, bleeding from the mouth. I stopped at my knee, crying and spitting up blood, and forced myself back to my feet.
“Why keep at this when you can find only failure?” he asked.
I pulled myself together long enough to laugh at him and answered, “Sisyphus smiles.”
Omega frowned, and raised his hand to my head. I grabbed his arm and tried to push that arm upward. This time, he concentrated and stopped me. And then, I was flying through the air as that form was yanked up into the sky. I let go and dropped as that part of his form turned and tried to fight the pull of whatever was going on.
The portal in the sky revealed not just the crimson Omega and the absolute void of nothingness between universes. It also showed something strange. Like a glowing planetoid, floating orange and blue in the perpetual darkness of that void. And Omega was being drawn into it. The hands gripping the portal to hold it open now tried to hold themselves onto it. They got a burst of strength as the smaller Omega disintegrated and joined the rest of it. That’s about when I passed out from blood loss.
I awoke with a jump and banged my face on a clear tube I was in. I didn’t feel it, or any pain. I couldn’t feel the arms I had, or the holes where I used to have arms down below that. I couldn’t even feel my face, in part because it was really cramped in that tube. I didn’t even know what the hell they’d stuffed in my mouth, as I couldn’t feel much of that either. Fuck, dentists could learn a thing or two from this shit.
Whatever device the tube was a part of was seemed to be padded where I couldn’t connect to anything. Or my nerves were so numbed by the solution I floated in that I didn’t realize it. I tried my wireless connection before remembering Mr. Omega had turned it off, and that gave me some hint as to my predicament. I couldn’t find myself on GPS, because I was apparently not the G. The only thing around me were vastly different networks, some of which were the wreckage of Fluidic ships whose logs showed they were the ones to try invading Earth when I tossed them out of my universe.
This was not something I enjoyed learning until I managed to download a scan of the area based on some barely-functional sensors on the nearby wreckage. Based on the position of the stars, I was nowhere near Earth. Based on the nearby ship and smaller drones it was using to carve off pieces of the Fluidic fleet and bring it back, I appear to have been rescued by scavengers.
And based on the thing who walked in to stand outside my tube wearing a mask that looks like a fly’s compound eyes, with a tool in hand that has a lot of sharp points, I may be in line for a probin’.
Out of the frying pan, one into the stink.
Establish dominance then dictate terms. It’s a negotiating tactic. That’s why I stuck around.
They didn’t send the Freedom Legion after me at first, because I was in California. Master Academy didn’t really respond, either. They were busy seeing to the death and destruction I’d caused already. So I began to wonder who would be the first to accept the open invitation I presented. I made no effort to hide who I am.
Shockley wasn’t so fond of that idea. He had it in his head that we should just rush Ricca and finish the Telechamber. That, or I could use my power and knowledge to create it myself. The problem there is that I don’t know how to build it myself. The joys of handing off things to subordinates, especially subordinates who understand the physics behind breaching the universe. Even the part of me outside it knew more about brute forcing my way through, and that was only possible when the veil had been weakened.
Oddly, though, I feel like I’m forgetting something. I’m not even drawing a blank, oddly enough. It’s like whenever I feel I’m close, I start remembering a recipe for peanut butter no-bake cookies.
There was time enough. There weren’t many who could banish this partial amalgamation if they even knew how. That family, the Trust, are such gigantic screw-ups that even their benefactors won’t be able to stop me. Legba and Samedi have the competence, but I believe they’ve taken a liking to the Earthly part of me. They would have to banish all of me.
So it was that I didn’t feel threatened when I was shot out of the sky while flying along over the California countryside. The disadvantage of leaving my armor behind didn’t matter so much if I can get hit by an exploding shell and suffer nothing worse than a little tumble through the air. I saw a streak of fire pass over the farm fields below me before I righted myself. The fires spread around me as the man inside buned his way around the sky to encase me inside a flaming whirlwind in the sky.
I created a protective aura, then pushed the outer layer of the aura out to leave a void and make it even harder for the heat to reach me. A shot from Warman barely missed Eschaton and exploded against the aura surrounding me. Eschaton, meanwhile, spiraled around down below me and fired up, blasting white hot flames up at me.
I created a hole on the underside of my protective shield. The flames went in one end, and came out in the fields below me. I used another such hole to pull myself out a short distance away, letting me spot where Warman stood on the nearby highway. The guy held a gun that usually requires a tank underneath it. Eschaton stopped when he saw the fire down below, then turned and flew at me. This time, when Warman fired, a hole in the universe carried the round outside of everything to come out and explode against Warman. The fiery superhero fell, stunned by the concussion wave of the explosion even if the flames wouldn’t do anything to a being of his abilities.
Down on the ground, Warman soon found the cannon yanked out of his hands by one of mine reaching through another such hole. When he jumped and grabbed onto it to pull it back, another couple of fists of mine appeared just in front of him and used his nutsack for a speedbag. When he tried to cup them protectively, I pulled back and opened another pair of holes. One grabbed him by the back of the head and pulled his head back. The other popped him on the underside of the jaw, sending him flying. I decided to open one last portal for him, to dump him in the Potomac as an example.
Eschaton came for me again, all fire and hatred. I created a new aura, to absorb the heat. All the heat. Soon, it was me in a ball of icy mist that grew and stretched down along the flames coming from his outstretched hands. He broke and tried to flee before it could ensconce him.
I gathered the ice up and, with but a wave of my hand, broke it into sharpened shards that launched themselves after him like spears. He took evasive maneuvers while blasting those closest to where he was heading. He missed one, that got him in the back of his left thigh. He fell, clutching at the hole that his own heat opened up to the world. I dropped him on Warman as well.
Then, just because I felt like it, I laughed and created a hailstorm.
Shockley thought it was stupid thanks to his jealousy, but it was all in good fun for me. That, and all in the name of showing that I can’t be beaten. The sooner Earth gets that through their heads, the sooner they can give the fuck up.
Those two weren’t the only major heroes to gun for me. I stopped off in this one little town to enjoy the fruits of the local farmer’s market. The Gecko side of me had plenty of time to enjoy apples and other delights, but the part of me from the void, Omega, felt a great yawning hunger. Aside from an urge to devour the planet whole, it also urged me to devour some juicy, delicious produce.
I wasn’t even committing any crimes when, out of nowhere, this guy in a red and white outfit flies at me. Darker brown skin, a Latino fellow by my estimation, with a long, brown beard and long hair. I’d seen a suit like that before, with a white cape like that as well. This time, it golden runes covered every inch of the cape, and the suit seemed just slightly different, with golden lightning bolts along the forearm sleeves and the thighs. He had a lightning bolt buckle, I would say, but no belt for it.
I raised an eyebrow and caught the man’s left handed punch. The way the building next to us shuddered and baskets blew off the shelves, I realized that had all taken place in an incredibly short span of time. There might have been a sonic boom involved. I smiled and looked to this newcomer, holding him tight in my grip. “Who are you supposed to be?”
“I’m Captain Lightning, new and improved,” he said. Twin bolts of electricity arced from his eyes. I raised a hand, creating an iron pole to catch and ground them in the dirt. He tried to pull his hand away then, but couldn ‘t, so he resorted to punching me with his right. I grabbed that as well, then pulled him forward to bonk his head on the iron pole. It wouldn’t do much to him, other than make him look silly. So did my lower hands reaching forward to tickle just underneath the sides of his ribs.
“Stop that!” he yelled. “Unhand me, villain!”
“So many ways I could take that,” I said. I raised my lower hands, the fingers folding together as if to karate chop. Red crystal formed around them, forming blades as thin as an atom at their edges. I was just about to unhand him when some real lightning hit me in a huge blast out of nowhere. It numbed me momentarily and let the pretender get away. When I looked up, the sky was dark and rumbled with the anger of the man who descended, his more subdued cape flowing behind him in the breeze.
Even knowing the man behind that facade was an oldtimer who had fought in World War II, the original Captain Lightning’s superpowered form looked as young and as strong as ever. “I sense Psycho Gecko in you… and an incredible corruption of power that doesn’t belong here.”
“I have graduated from psychopomp to god. You’re outmatched now, Lightning,” I told him. I liked the guy, though I could feel a part of me getting pumped at the idea of going up against this guy.
“You face not one, but the many gods who empower myself and my apprentice,” Captain Lightning said. “But I saw that, for your faults and your outrages in days past, you sought no quarrel here. Can we avoid further destruction this day?”
“You can’t be serious!” Captain Lightning II yelled. I wondered vaguely how old this one was. He didn’t strike me as particularly mature, but it’s easy to see lots of guys running into a fight if they had those abilities at his disposal.
“Trust me, there’s no fight to be had here. Just a beating, if you want it,” I said, turning my back to them so I could look around for some more fresh fruit from the market. I grinned to myself, wondering if Lightning would be able to control Junior there enough to stop the inevitable attempt at a sneak attack.
“No,” I heard over the wind as the older original addressed what I assumed was his trainee. “This is a time for wisdom, not force.”
“Yes, run along before you soil those tights,” I called back, bending down to grab a peach. I waved a hand, magically knocking all dust and dirt off the thing and leaving it completely clean. I put it up to my mouth when a blow hit me from behind, knocking it clear. I whirled to find the new Lightning nowhere around, with the original standing back some. Quicker than lightning, I turned and found him as a speeding blur trying to get behind me for another punch. Faster even than him, I caught the peach I dropped and pitched it at his face. It hung in the air as soon as I released it, right in the path of Lightning II.
I returned to normal time and watched as Lightning II accelerated into the peach that exploded against his face as a flaming ball of fruit and knocked him off his feet. I bent down next to him and gestured. “Yeeeeeeer out!”
Then, I leaned down close to his face. “Hey, kid, just wondering. How’s your mom these days? She still hot? The boobs hanging in there? She got some MILF going on? I only ask because I’m newly single, and I think she’s the only person in your family who stands a chance getting her hands on this.”
He growled and headbutted me. Knocked me back slightly, but left him shaking his head, dazed.
“Are you done, Gecko?” asked the real Captain Lightning, watching close.
“Not going to intervene, Cap?” I asked.
“He’s learning a lesson about one of our powers: wisdom. And I hope watching you tells me what happened to you? Why did you give in to whatever did this to you?” he asked.
I looked at him, feeling my teeth grow sharper as I sized him up. “Like I need an excuse?”
“Venus, or Medusa, vouched for you being more than a mindless animal obsessed with killing and destroying. Was she wrong?” he asked.
“Maybe she doesn’t know me as well as she thinks. A friend like Mix N’Max would know I wouldn’t take that kind of treatment well. A person like me is betrayed, I’d go to all sorts of ends to bring down the people who thought they trapped me.” I nodded toward him, then reached down and patted his trainee on the cheek. “Come get your successor. I think he needs a bit more time on training wheels.”
Captain Lightning stepped forward and helped his apprentice up. “He’ll be ready soon. He has to be. But it won’t be you or whatever is attached to you that forces him to step up quite yet.”
They sped off, leaving me triumphant in front of a bunch of people who, if they hoped the pair of world-class heroes would defeat me, had to realize the day wasn’t saved just yet. Not as long as I was still on Earth.
Finally, the last fight. I had it all planned out, regardless of how Cercopagis wanted to do things. That’s the important thing. Can’t let him have act like he had too much power or he might start believing it. Plus, I got back to thinking about how poorly I marketed the entire thing. Sure, I pitched as an epic struggle between us versus them, but the follow-up’s been horrendous! If I had PR people, they’d have been all over this. Anyone wanna guess why I put off getting them?
So, anyway, I rented out the big Olympic stadium in Rio this time. And by rented, I stole. Admittedly, that’s a lot less badass of a thing to do as dictator of the world. On the plus side, it’s somewhat made up for due to residual badassity of having taken over the world.
See, my problem was the spectacle. This could have been so much better if we’d publicized it more. Actually put our team memberships out there, done some opposition research, run out some dossiers, come up with customized theme songs. Then again, that would have been a lot of build up with little results to show with a few of those. It’s like those MMA fights where they make a big deal about it, then it’s over in a few seconds. At least I wouldn’t have forced people to pay to see them.
But that would have required for us to collaborate instead of compete. And that’s kinda tough when it could go either way. But it’s time I stopped caring. Not caring works out much better for me. After all, I rule Earth. If Cercopagis wants this planet, he can pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Or, at least make it clear he could kill me and give me an option to give it up while still living. I’m open to negotiation, particularly when it comes to certain death versus a chance of life.
I know I gave up the ability to pick the site of our final conflict to Cercopagis Lysis, but cheating has worked out well for me so far. With Mix N’Max still not taking my calls and Max Muscles too busy doing oiled-up superhero things, I decided to take matters into my own hands. And since I, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, am not supposed to fight…I chose to bring back The Missile Patriot! Clad in Kevlar, with tactical straps on my chest, I once more masqueraded as the red, white, and blue defender of Truth, Explosives, and solving problems the American Way: mindlessly beating people up. It’s a shame that of all the extra stuff laying around, most of it’s related to not being me. Still, the eagle-beak helmet hides my face very well beind the visor. Just a shame how much the rockets on the forearms resemble those on almost all of my Electric Eyes.
Oh, yeah. Them. Kinda got a status update there. So it turns out that someone might be working against me there. I know who I suspect, but the actual list of people who might want to destroy them is about the same as the number of folks on Earth.
Near as I can tell, Electric Eye Berlin was just walking along, patrolling, trying to keep the streets quiet when BAM! Piano landed on it. I might have put it down as a simple accident, except the camera phone of an onlooker showed the piano had a safe strapped to it with an anvil welded on top of the safe. And when I got Electric Eye to turn its head, one of those baby pianos for kids fell on it, with sandbags tied to its legs.
I suppose somewhere out there could be a world where weighted pianos fall on people all the time, but this is sadly not one of them. And it’s an extremely unusual way to assassinate someone. It’s the kind of method I’d use, which also shows why it worked. I mean, important people have counter snipes and guards with submachine guns, but I’ve yet to see the Secret Service work out how to stop a mad piano bomber, and I’ve seen the plans. They had a contingency for nuclear bombs hidden in vaginas, a contingency for an android sent back from the past, and even a contingency for aliens that turn into giant monkeys. Granted, that last one involved lots of screaming, but they still planned for it. I can respect that, actually.
What I can’t respect is someone dropping pianos on EE Berlin, sniping EE Los Angeles, and EE Tokyo getting eaten by what I assume was a squid. Except I’m pretty sure squids don’t often come above water, even if he was inspecting one of the damaged nuclear plants around there. Rio is showy, but there’s something to be said for a battlefield that makes Geiger counters tick. So either that one got eaten by a mutant squid when I wasn’t looking, or Cthulhu got up for a midnight snack.
At least the sniped one made it obvious who was to blame. I should have just killed Lone Gunman back at the United Nations or the last time he was after me. That’s what I was taught. Don’t taunt too much, don’t explain an evil plan, just shove the grenade up their colon and pull out faster than the Flash if he was Catholic. Next time I see him, I’m going to hit him so hard, it’ll knock his ass off his genome. We’re talking slapping the rectum off his DNA.
So that turned out to be more to deal with after everything else. The most important thing, before all of that, would be the fight.
I didn’t make attendance mandatory or anything like that. I just set up food vendors and cameras and drew attention to myself with a small parade in my armor. I left the armor sitting up there on the throne, attended to as if it was me by three hanger-ons and Moai, who I kept around and ordered to keep a close eye on the few people I’d attached to my government. I needed to delegate and I knew I could trust Moai.
So this was the state of the Imperial Gecko Regime as of the final fight. I lost three Electric Eyes, had Moai as my Prime Minister, disguised myself to fight, and otherwise had cheated my way to victory. Overall, I’d say things were looking up and I decided to have the history books write that I had won with style instead of using a word like “cheat.”
When my final challenge went out to Cercopagis, it came in the form of a Missile Patriot dancing in an empty Olympic stadium to the song “Party Hard” by Andrew W.K. I meant it as a taunt and because I felt like dancing. As the old saying goes, “Dance like you’re threatening the entire world with death if anyone laughs.” I kept satellites overhead to make sure nobody flew overhead with any pianos, too. Or at all. They might go after the armor, but I’m not a fan of being collateral damage, especially where flying machines are concerned. Just my luck, somebody’d build a lead zeppelin just to land on my head.
This time, the gold and purple flying saucer arrived and hovered over one of the VIP boxes. Luckily, I doubt he had any pianos on board. Heh. I remember wondering if he’d send out a piano monster. And thinking how weird it is I didn’t catch any sight of the squid from other sources nearby. And thinking how tired I’d become trying to be everywhere at once. It was nice to be just one person, one body, about to punch some serious dick.
Then the saucer blared a noise like a zombie bear’s fart and their champion entered the arena. It came as something of a pleasant surprise when the man entered, wearing all black, duster and wide-brimmed hat included. He twirled his revolvers and I caught sight of a rifle barrel over his shoulder.
Lone Gunman, who used to be the sidekick known as Holdout to the hero called Sixgun. He’d been a rather nubile teen at the time and known for wearing short shorts. He’d vowed vengeance upon me when I permanently disarmed and deheaded his boss. Kidnapping him and torturing didn’t help matters. Though Holdout proved surprisingly resistant to assassination at that time, his attempted vengeance hasn’t amounted to much. There was this time he took over a criminal organization to kill me, but that worked itself out in the end. That is, I killed enough people to make it right. That’s generally how the world works.
And here I was, all hyped up to kill the lad for everything he’d attempted to do to me.
He didn’t make a good first impression on the fight by ending the twirling of his guns with a pair of shots at the armor on my throne. One went right through the head, the other where my heart would be. Then he looked to me and smirked. “The fight’s over.”
“You’re not worried about the killswitch?” I asked. Cercopagis already attempted to hijack everything to claim victory. Every time he tried, it suddenly swapped away from his gilded mug back myself and Gunman on opposite sides of a large arena.
“It’s worh killing billions to get rid of him. He’s a monster. You can’t compromise with something like him. You kill them, even if good people sometimes die in the crossfire.”
“That may be, but the agreement he made hasn’t been fulfilled. The alien scum who seeks to control this great nation has not won three fights. Until this is so,” I posed here, legs spread and arms flexing, “Then he cannot control the planet. And as a red-blooded American hero, I do not cede control of the Earth so easily! As George Washinton once said ‘My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, alien domination, banished from the Earth!’”
It’s more realistic than the real quote, where he wanted to get rid of war.
“You can’t be serious,” Lone Gunman said. He casually fired a shot at me. The moment I saw the gun barrel pointed at me, I activated my rockets. And the fight soundtrack for the television broadcast started up. I made sure to focus in really well on my leaping into action, t-shirts, lunchboxes, and the still on the back of the DVD case. The only question remaining is…bed sheets?
He only tried another shot from his revolvers before dropping them. He ignored his rifle in favor of a gun pulled seemingly from nowhere. Holdout’s power had been his ability to store weapons, and probably other objects, so that he was almost never disarmed. It didn’t necessarily matter if he was tied up properly. But as a slug whizzed past my ear, I smiled at the thought of not tying him up at all.
I’ve been dodging bullets my whole life, figuratively and literally. So many people have pointed guns at me, I have a pretty good idea of where they’re putting the bullet (excluding a whole host of other factors). And I could move. There’s not usually much else you use rockets for, after all. I jerked all over the place, heading for him. I led shots only to stop suddenly and dive in another direction. I even reached inside one of the many pouches on my armor and whipped out a flashbang. Though I’ve thought up an alternate version involving a projector showing extremely bright porn while high-pitched moans and grunts play, this was the conventional one. I caught more of the bang, but Lone Gunman took the flash.
Blinded, he pulled out everything he had and just unloaded on the air. The firestorm of lead grew from just in front of him to spread around both sides and his rear as he took potshots in all those directions. Unfortunately for him, like most humans, he neglected a very important one. One that, ironically, a hunter would have been more likely to catch. I dove at him from above.
I landed on his shoulders. He collapsed under the weight and dropped the submachine guns he had at the time, a pair of those crappy little Russian types unrelated to the AK family that everyone hates. I fired my rockets to keep my balance with my feet now sitting on his arms. I then raised my right foot and brought it down, swinging my arms down to get a little extra oomph from the rockets. Crack! Went the bone of Lone Gunman’s right arm. I almost laughed and gave myself away, too. I can’t help it. It was humerus.
A second stomp broke the left one. For added measure, I ground on his fingers with my heels while he screamed and tried to crawl away. “Yeah, writhe little man. Still feel like supporting the death sentence before anyone gets a trial?”
His answer consisted of several syllables of vowels but nothing substantive in a philosophical or legal sense, which was just fine with me.
I looked up toward Cercopagis’s saucer and announced. “Psycho Gecko wins! You have no claim to Earth.” Remembering who I was supposed to be, I put my left hand on my hip and pointed with my right. “Now get off America’s planet, alien scum!”
The bottom of the saucer slid open and a dish descended. It swiveled to aim at me as electricity danced along the dish to gather in the middle. I grabbed Lone Gunman and held him up, figuring on throwing him one direction and bolting in another as a way to confuse any targeting systems.
Before I could, I heard metal tear, which is completely different from the sound of most weapons firing. Dropping, Gunman and kicking a bit of dirt in his eyes, I looked up to find Warman standing in the stadium, a torn-off dish in his hands. Eschaton and Captain Lightning were there as well, blasting at the saucer.
It rocked back and forth before Lightning flew right up to it, pulled his fist back, and punched the saucer hard enough to send it flying into escape velocity with a hole in its side. Eschaton and Captain Lightning flew up after it.
“Good going, kid,” Warman said. He walked up and clapped me on the shoulder with one hand. “That would have been harder if you hadn’t kept him here.”
“What’s going on? You all were working for him,” I asked. I got the feeling I’d mised a few trees for the forest.
“We worked with him. The whole fight was our idea. If he won, they knew they could kick him off Earth like they’re doing now. They did it before. If he lost, it bought us time for the Master Academy to finish their project to take the Psycho out.”
I cocked my head to the side. “You put an awful lot of trust in Psycho Gecko adhering to his agreement. Do you even care about all the people dying now to his nanites?”
“I’m not responsible for what bad people do to each other,” he gestured to Lone Gunman and the dish in his own hands. “And for what it’s worth, Gecko has been known to stick to an agreement in the past. Doesn’t matter now…but let’s go make sure.”
He dropped the dish then, pinning Lone Gunman under it. I don’t think he agreed much with the younger hero. “We’ll settle up with you for what you’ve done after we go check his vital signs.”
Warman and I jumped up to the throne where the Koreans and Saki cried over my still armor.
I could almost hear Venus in the back of my head. She told me I didn’t have to pull off the helmet. I could find a way to bury empty armor and an entire identity. I could leave that darkness behind and start over fresh, like I always claimed nobody gave me the chance. Like I always said I couldn’t. I could even be a hero instead of some killer. I felt oddly sure that she’d help me.
“Why are you waving?” asked Warman.
“Just saying goodbye to a passing thought.” I stepped up to the armor. I unsealed the helmet and pulled it off.
“What the hell? Oh no, where did he go?” Warman put his finger to his ear. “Priority One is not dead. Repeat, Priority One Target is still alive and unaccounted for.”
“He’s not unaccounted for,” I said. I pulled off my eagle helmet and smiled at the hero. “It was me, Warman! It was me the whole time!”
He glared at me and raised a fist. I spat in his face. “Five people for each of you. You, Eschaton, Captain Lightning. For what you’ve done, five others will die. Other heroes’ family members. Sons and daughters. Fathers. Mothers. Maybe I’ll even pick some related to former world leaders.”
“Why? Isn’t that like shooting the person who didn’t fail you?”
I shook my head. “Not at all. I just had the idea that you hero types are just the type to not care about sacrificing yourselves or your friends. Even your good names, for a time. But are you willing to sacrifice each other’s families? Are you willing to let another person oppose me if it means your child might die as a result? Or, in your case, your old friends and their families? Maybe that woman you wanted to marry that time but didn’t because she was a spy and you were a soldier? Did I mention I did my reading on you?”
Warman lowered his fist. “You bastard.”
“Count on it,” I said and pulled my own helmet over my head. Right there, I changed out of Missile Patriot’s armor and into my own. I clapped Warman on the shoulder as I passed him by. “And good going, kid. I probably would have been blindsided if you hadn’t told me so much. By the way, I want Victor Mender and Venus of Master Academy brought before me. Don’t worry, I’ll let your little trio of superstrong mofos know, too. Be a shame if Capain Lightning let them go and your childhood friend had to pay for it, eh?”
I lept down to where Gunman struggled to tip the dish off.
Hide who I am? Pretend to be people like this who sometimes look so barely different from me except that they’re on the “right” side. Maybe I just don’t want to let them all win. Maybe I want revenge. Hell, it could be as simple as knowing there’s still no way I’d ever be able to truly integrate into society. Or even want to. I’d just end up as some hero who kills, and heroes don’t kill.
“You hear that?” I asked Gunman, who hadn’t been privy to the conversation in my head.
“Please, you won, let me up,” he groaned. I stepped around in front of him and dialed up the strength on my leg’s muscle enhancers.
“Heroes don’t kill.” I brought my foot down on his head, hard. Then I stepped out of what used to be a human head and wiped my boot off on his sleeve.
I won’t be the hero the Earth wants. No. I’m the villain the Earth deserves. I am Emperor Gecko. All hail the man-emperor of mankind.
“Come ooooon!” I pleaded.
“No,” said Captain Lightning, arms crossed. He floated above me, higher up in the woods so as to keep an eye out for anyone needing immediate rescue, or anything else more important than talking to me.
I met him back in the U.S., because who doesn’t like a shitload of jet lag? As a hero, albeit one with what appears to be less crime to fight, he used his considerable powers to help the victims of natural disasters in his beloved America. Figuring it wouldn’t hurt to butter him up a little, I came to him instead of calling him away from Louisiana. Seriously, if I’d known he’d be there, I’d have kept the tsunamis rolling so we could meet up somewhere else.
I mean, at least India had people useful to the U.S. Of A. I suppose I should have some sympathy for their plight, if I cared. Don’t know why I’d start with Louisiana of all places. If nobody made them stop, they’d still be forcing everyone to learn about Creationism and geocentrism in schools. Everyone except for the slaves, of course. They’d be back at the farm, plowing their white stepmothers. Then they all get up on Sunday and sit in church together, learning from a white-knuckled preacher about how Jews killed their savior and how God taught racial purity with the Tower of Babel.
As opposed to now, when the slavery part is illegal. Oh, I wish I wasn’t in Dixie.
But I am, and I decided to play honest with folks rather than be the usual politician. I made no secret of my disdain for the state, though I think I got them all excited when I stepped off the plane and started throwing beads at people. This hanger-on who just kinda started traveling with me suggested that if I were to do that, I should at least toss out Moon Pies, except they were all gone by the time we landed. Because I love Moon Pies.
I once killed for a Moon Pie. This guy had an inheritance coming his way of about half a million dollars, but the will said his older sister would get two million. He offered me $100,000 for the kill, but I played hard to get until, exasperated, he asked me what it would take to murder his sibling in cold blood. “A box of Moon Pies,” I told him.
“That’s all? Don’t you want money?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Two boxes of Moon Pies then.”
“What kind of man murders someone over a Moon Pie?”
“Asks the guy who wants a family member’s life taken for money.”
Long story short, he paid me the Moon Pies, then tried to back out on the deal. I grabbed the sister, told her about the deal without telling her he’d decided not to go through with it, and made an honest man of him. I guess I was something of a prick in that whole affair, but no more than the nature of the incident allowed me to be.
Irrelevant past story aside, I made this trip before announcing the big contest between myself and Cercopagis Lysis specifically to recruit someone.
“You’d be on the side against me! You wouldn’t even have to fight, just walk out and surrender. Boom, automatic victory for Earth, which continues to be ruled by its own people.”
Captain Lightning turned his head to the side. I listened in to transmissions and found a truck carrying FEMA MREs had been beset by armed men in camouflage. I could feel my nanites inside just one of them. Before Captain Lightning could set off to stop the ambush, that one turned his gun on the others of his party, then himself.
“See? I’m not such a bad guy,” I grinned up at him. He didn’t return the expression.
Cap shook his head. “I don’t care about helping you at all. You’re as much an invading outsider as Cercopagis. The difference is, he’s never been human.” He took off, leaving me there in the middle of his campsite in the woods.
To think, people subject themselves to camping voluntarily. Somebody slaved over a hot air conditioner so that you could be cold! At least have the decency to freeze inside like a grateful little bitch!
So I left there and caught up with this bus full of an entourage I seem to have acquired, the sight of which made me miss Moai and Carl. But Carl is safer not being associated with me, so perhaps it’s for the best that I now have a bunch of red shirts around to buffer me against bullets. There’s the North Korean twins, the Japanese girl, this guy who only goes by Daniels who insisted he work on my image, and some people in black suits that seem to be my bodyguards. I don’t remember getting them.
It’s not enough to run a country, except a really small one like Molossia. Yet another reason I agreed to this contest with Cercopagis is a chance to focus on important things like building a ruling government.
I had a few other names on my list, too. I stopped by to see Warman. Another American superhero, this one preferred to live at Fort Rogers in Utah. That’s Fort Rogers, not Camp Rogers. One made Warman, the other trains Army Rangers. I’m sure they both like to claim they make super soldiers.
Once again, access to the deepest, darkest secrets of all countries has its benefits. Fort Rogers hosted the post-World War II super soldier experiments, though their resources were sometimes loaned out to MKNAOMI, an old biological warfare research program. They named this new project WSCLARK. It’s a cryptonym, a code name. All the projects have them. People think they give projects names reminiscent of their goals in some way, and that’s true, but they don’t make it obvious. Some of the letters mean something and others don’t. The CIA isn’t the boogeyman, but they aren’t Encyclopedia fuckin’ Brown either.
At first, it wasn’t any better than some of the crazy mind control stuff, except they eventually figured out how to temporarily grant their own agents superpowers, which is where closer collaboration began to occur with some of the MK series of projects, which were about giving the CIA all kinds of tools to use against Russia. Some of those incidents showed up in other ways. A mixture that didn’t work well leading to an incident at a place called Shag Harbor in Canada. Then one of their guys defected and tried to flee the States. They caught up to him over the Berwyn Mountains in Wales, causing a battle and an earthquake. Another time, the Russians pulled something of their own and scared the crap out of Wurtsmith Air Force Base, in Michigan.
The WSCLARK people preferred to work more quietly until they knew they had something. The CIA created an entire phenomena called Earthquake Lights to keep that part hidden. It wasn’t until the 90s, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, that they went public with Warman. Warman, the Man of War, destined to defeat the Soviet Union. He was so good at his job, the CCCP collapsed about a year later thanks to social justice issues. Or so the public version goes.
When I walked into the Fort Rogers gym, I found him working a punching bag with my face printed on the outside case. I decided to set my expectations low for this meeting.
He turned to look at me, panting. Sweat glistened from the top of his blonde head as he looked at me with that piercing, blue-eyed gaze. No, this is not turning into a gay romance novel. Even though he did invite me to get pounded by him.
“Here to help me work out?” he held a hand out toward the punching bag.
I waved it off. “Nope, though I have someone who needs hitting you might want to work up to.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, an expression that, if he wore it all the time, would have had women stopping him in the street to tell him how he’s such a special young man and isn’t it delightful he can dress himself?
“Look,” I said. “I’m not all bad. You know you can’t always trust the public record to fully reflect what’s gone on. You spend twenty-five years fighting the good fight behind the scenes, but then nobody takes you seriously after you go public until you start playing baseball Iraqi tanks instead of bats and balls. Been there, done that. Well, not exactly that, but I could have easily done worse if that had been my intention.”
“What are you rambling about?” he asked, stepping over to a bench to put a stop to the flood of sweat coming off his head with a towel, like some sort of Dolph Lundgren Hitchhiker of the Galaxy.
I stepped over, mindful of my lack of armor and gave the bag a hard punch. I didn’t need my helmet’s 360 degree display to realize his amusement when I discovered he’d added a bit of lead to the inside of that bag. I don’t know how much, but my knuckles found out it was there and made sure to tell my brain. My bones and skin might be tougher than normal, my muscles surprisingly strong for my size due to nanites, but this is a guy whose idea of a gun involves mashing two miniguns together. I hate to think what his condoms are like.
Sounds like a nice brand, actually. “Folks, come on down to Richard Richard’s Rubber Room for our brand new Double Dick Special!We’re all pumped up and ready to give you all the deals. It’s a long, hard, dirty job, but we help you get it done!”
I took a few more punches now that I knew what I was hitting, then stopped. “You’ve been fighting for your country for a long time. Now I need your help to defend our planet.”
He snorted. “You can’t kill your way out of it?”
I gave the bag a few kicks, then a headbutt. After that, I leaned on it due to the pain and a need to determine if I’d concussed myself. I shook my head. “You’re a soldier. Your entire job is to kill people. It’s a necessity sometimes, you know that. Sometimes war is unavoidable. Sometimes, necessary change must be baptized in blood, like the promise of liberty after the American Civil War. Where would we be if old bigots didn’t die, eh? I think I know where Germany would be.”
I stepped back and gave the bag a hard pump kick that swung it back. Dropping to my belly, the bag passed right over me as it swung back, and I rose to give it a good elbow where a person’s kidney would be if the bag was a person. But then, a hanging person rarely needs a kidney shot to finish the job. It left me leaning on my elbow against the back as I looked over at the unimpressed supersoldier. “I worked out a deal to end this latest damn threat to the planet. A contest between myself and Cercopagis. Each of us picks representatives for a one-on-one, best three out of five fighting tournament, but neither he nor I can be one of them. I mean, hey, when he’s gone, I can work on making things better instead of being such an asshole to people. I can take time. Talk folks around. I’ve taken some wartime measures here, but the point of that is it only lasts while at war. Like Lincoln’s and habeus corpus, or that time FDR concentrated people of a certain race into camps.”
He glared at me for that one. For particularly patriotic folks like him, the Japanese internment camps are a shameful part of the nation’s history. For me, it’s a sore to pick at. Make people emotional, override their reason, control them. Sometimes I push the buttons. But sometimes…
“I’ll have a list of demands. You do what I want, I’ll fight for you,” he said.
I held my hands out and stepped away from the punching bag. “As long as my death isn’t on the list, I’ll take a look and do what I can do. I can be a reasonable man when people want me to be, Warman.” I grinned.
I hoped to get more on my side, preferably once Captain Lightning had joined up, but I didn’t. Instead, it was time to make the announcement. I did so with my usual tact.
All across the world, television and internet-connected computer screens lit up with an explosion. The radio folks just had to use their imagination of the visual. “There’s a bear in the woods. Some people like to pretend the bear isn’t there. They don’t think the bear is a threat. They don’t realize that the bear came from another planet to steal hard-working Earthicans’ jobs. To fuck hard-sleeping Earthicans’ spouses. To talk some completely alien language around you where you can’t understand it. Preferably right during the good part of a movie. It doesn’t matter how many different words for snow the aliens have, Emperor Gecko of Earth knows a thousand different ways to tell them ‘Fuck You.’ And that’s what he’s going to do at the upcoming Dic-Off. That’s right, he knows he’s a dictator with the world firmly held in his small but powerful hands. But he’s done diccing around with that extraterrestrial arthropod called Cercopagis Lysis. At the Dic-Off, Earth’s five greatest warriors will go one on one with whatever sad sacks of shit the enemy convinced to hate you for your freedom. Earth is going to win, and then, by golly, everyone’s gonna get laid. Support your local Emperor, help build the greatest team this side of the Milky Way to kick those aliens off Earth… or else!”
It was really quite tasteful.
Now that I’ve got my swagger back, this whole “ruling the Earth” thing has finally become fun. I still have the nightmares and the odd flashback, but it’s easier to deal with again. That’s the difference between me and all those hero types content to make the world by playing cops and robbers: one bad day…followed by a lot of good ones. What the hell was I worried about, that the same dimwits I’ve accused of misruling the world would hate me for how I do it? Worst case scenario, I kill a lot of people. I don’t know how I’d ever live with myself.
Now one thing I couldn’t very well live with is losing the planet to every alien shrimp. Cercopagis Lysis. His ship drifted in, the egg-shaped oval core easily identified from its numerous incursions since the 1970s augmented with various extra modules added over time. He had painted the exterior, but the newest segments obscured it, and exposure to stars and dust had altered it away from the bright yellow and green paintjob. He brought his ship to the moon, where the elongated portion split open to provide a foundation for the rest of the vessel.
In that time, I tried to build a giant robot. It wasn’t hard someone like myself who has thrown a few together in the past. Such a project would hardly stand out on my original Earth, not so much for the frequency of giant robots as the heavy and varied activity of the industrial areas. On this world, I never managed the same giant robot activity. Harder to cover up.
And why, given all the impracticalities, would I or anyone from my planet use giant robots? I believe it originated in the use of some sort of energy field surrounding the planet. Maybe magic, maybe just something standard science doesn’t understand. A few beings of various backgrounds managed to tap into this energy field and use it to construct weaponry that, at first, surpassed those of the time. Technology quickly caught up and emulated the earlier designs, which proved amazingly resilient to tripping, bombing, and artillery.
I didn’t need some mystical energy field. I knew what alloys to use in the proper places. The problem was getting everything on this Earth prepared. I hadn’t given them a lot of lead time on the project, so the factories I’d confiscated were scrambling to alter their production lines to accommodate the new design. It took me a day to free up the proper materials, too. Under the right circumstances, I’m more than capable of building a giant robot out of wood. That doesn’t mean it’ll last very long, even if I used mahogany. Though, without wood, I’ll be unable to charge the “Mah Agony” beam, so that one’s out. A bit of a last ditch weapon anyway.
The plants I communicated with decided to solve the time-sensitive nature of the request by bringing on more people to work day and night. I solved the issue of incentive by telling them successful completion would lead to less necessary time working. I wish I could take credit for that one, but I discovered post-flashback that I’d forgotten a concept to ease people into post-scarcity by easing up on the work hours for less desirable jobs while allowing them to be paid the same as if they worked a normal shift. Not that we’re post-scarcity yet, but at least they listened to me this time. Though if they’re all going to keep using a money system, I should go ahead and throw my face on the bills.
Really, the economic incentive merely provided the carrot. A brilliant man like myself doesn’t believe in ruling by the stick. No, no, no. I believe in shoving the carrot up someone’s ass if they don’t do what I say and quietly informed the managers involved that failure meant termination, usually within the presence of a grabber drone demonstrating its ability to squeeze a cinder block to dust.
That was the military position I found myself in when Cercopagis Lysis paid me a visit. The physical position itself looked different, as I’d expected his visit and redecorated my throne room with a nice rug, more lights, and a trio of North Korean dancing girls. The throne didn’t look very regal either; I forced the producers of the TV show Game of Thrones to lend me the Iron Throne. I added a nice pillow to make it more comfortable, then sent off a request for a new formal throne.
The last one built for me didn’t quite suit my style with the whole “hero torn apart” motif, but this one made to resemble a bunch of swords gave me an idea. Soon, I shall rest my world-dominating buttocks upon a work of art. It shall depict me in my armor fighting and defeating a number of the world’s most well-known superheroes, arranged into a comfy chair. I’ve already ordered the people at Dr. Scholls to study the effects of their gel cushions on the human ass. If they fail, I’ll examine the effects of their gel cushions on the interior of their asses. That’s what we in the tyrant business call motivation.
I counted on Cercopagis wishing to address me conqueror to conqueror, or otherwise being so arrogant as to gloat. I knew he he’d do this because I, the Great and Devious Psycho Gecko, have such an astounding ability to predict my opponents’ actions! Which reminds me, better make sure the contest for control of Earth has nothing to do with chess.
Also, note to self: make sure the statue throne gives me the absolutely correct huge bulge in the crotch region. Unless they decide to have me sit on my own lap.
Indeed, my humble palace at The Hague soon shuddered under the arrival by Cercopagis, who I saw descend in a smooth, golden sphere. Six pieces of the outer sphere peeled away and bent down to serve as legs for the ship to land on. Then one portion of the exterior rippled and reformed into an escalator that carried the conqueror in his warsuit.
It looked like segmented armor made of platinum with a gold tinge most noticeable at the sides where the plates weren’t looked at straight on. It had two larger toes with a third facing backward. The hands copied this three-digit look, all three of them. The third stretched out of the being’s back and stuck out through a solid dark red shell that hun down to resemble a rigid cape. Portions of the shell crossed over the front to resemble thick X-shaped straps. The shell continued and formed the back portion of a helmet. The face appeared the same platinum color as the rest of the armor, in the shape of a scowling visage that looked quite normal for humans save the single tusk and single and single horn that, from the side, made the helmet resemble a weird crescent moon.
Yes, a helmet. Unlike the Fluidics, Cercopagis couldn’t originally breath on Earth. He used to wear a helmet all the time, though the records also say it’s extraneous at this point as he’s incorporated a cybernetic filter into his circulatory system. If only I could crack that little system, this whole situation would be much easier. I checked him over on approach and found nothing giving off any signals except something in an alien system that bounced between him and the moon. I’m not the only one who likes to have a trick lined up just in case.
He stepped into my small, rather plain room and looked around. Whether befuddled by the lack of pomp and ceremony or the dearth of defenses, he took longer than I expected to take on little ol’ me on the throne in my armor, the Koreans sitting next to me on floor cushions.
“Greetings, Cercopagis Lysis!” I held my hand up high like a toast. “Are you perhaps here to play the world’s largest game of pinball?”
The armored alien bastard regarded me silently for a long second, then said, “Who are you?”
Ouch. That hurts. Gonna need some aloe for that burn. “I am the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, Supreme Benevolent Dictator of Earth. If you’ve come to see a parade thrown in my honor, you’re just in time. I’ve been waiting for a reason to throw one.”
He paused again, I guess taking in the turn of events. When he finally spoke this time, he said, “I expected someone else.”
“That made it easier for me to sneak around and pull it off, true. Though, who exactly did you expect to be in control of Earth right now?” I turned to the side so my upper body rested on one armrest and legs on another.
Cercopagis raised his chin, then brought it back down. I didn’t understand the gesture in this context. “I am here to liberate Earth from its evil conquerors and install myself as the better choice of ruler. Where are the Liquoids who installed you?”
“Liquoids? Are you talking about those aliens with slimy black fluid bodies and a nasty habit of using mind control? Ridiculous name for them.” I suddenly decided to televise this meeting with a five minute delay. Fuck censorship, the delay’s there to make me look better. Fill in gaps for comebacks, maybe autotune my voice.
“I made sure they received knowledge of Earth, particularly the one known as Adolf Hitler. They were quite taken with his philosophy and example. He makes a fine ambassador for Earth and convinced them you humans would be a ruthless tool in their desire for revenge. So where are they?!” He raised a foot and slammed it into the floor, cracking tiles that didn’t do anything wrong to him.
I shrugged. “I killed ’em.”
“You and what army?” he asked.
“Not the Nazi army, that’s for sure. I didn’t like the idea of being invaded. Neither did the rest of the planet. Their hearts, my mind, your ruined plans. I got Earth prepared, Earth fought, the Fluidics lost. It sounds like you had quite an idea there: you directed them here, figured we’d bloody each other, then you’d show up at the last minute and take over the place, maybe look like a better option than the Fluidics. Mind control and world domination; I find you despicable.”
I am the kind of guy that gives speechwriters a job, talking all haphazard like that. Though, I told the truth about finding him and the Fluidics despicable. It’s a general principle that anybody trying to control the world who isn’t me is wrong. Tell me if you’ve heard this one: so a crazy guy with a Southern accent and subpar language skills meets with an alien that doesn’t understand English fluently…
“You did the same as I would have. Your many enemies have an option now. Perhaps I shall let them toy with you before your execution.” He raised a hand and pointed at me, then brought it to his chest to pound on the plates there. I think he expected me to be intimidated. He sure didn’t make a very compelling case for handing over the reins of power.
I sat upright in my chair. “I’m sure that speech sounded better when you made it up to deal with other extraterrestrials having taken over. Now, it doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as, say, calling for Eschaton, Warman, and Captain Lightning.”
In a flash, literally in Captain Lightning’s case, the three appeared through a new hole in my roof. Eschaton and his white hot flaming body, very much insists he isn’t gay no matter how many times I ask if he is. Warman, the super soldier dressed like a soldier trapped under a pile of Kevlar, whose idea of concealed carry involves a double minigun. Captain Lightning, the aging red, white, and gold hero of World War II and onwards. My nanites flowed through none of the heroes’ veins, but in enough others to convince them to stand by to take on a wannabe alien conqueror. He didn’t seem to have much of a plan, beyond standing there and getting caught. The heroes took one of his legs off before securing him firmly in their arms, but otherwise made no move to kill the guy for me.
I stood up and began charging my armor’s forearm energy sheaths. They grew brighter as power directed into the array wound around my forearms and projected into a field floating just over the surface of my gauntlets. I punched into Cercopagis’s chest with one hand, the energy carrying my first in to puncture it. Circuitry and fluids came out with that fist. The next punch smashed the helmet open, to reveal the dead body of the alien wannabe-lord…wasn’t in there.
I pulled the helmet wrecked apart, but it appeared mostly hollow except for a voice module and sonar. “I apologize for not meeting you in person, Psychopomp Gecko, but I assure you our business is not yet finished. You give me a lot to think about.”
He chittered something like a laugh. Captain Lightning must have recognized it, because he took the initiative to toss the armor into the sky where it detonated in a green mushroom cloud that lacked any electromagnetic pulse.
“Thank you, heroes,” I complimented the group before dismissing them with a wave of my hand. “I suspect you’ll be less helpful when one of us next makes a move, but I’m sure folks appreciate your willingness to serve for the good of others.”
They all glared at me as I sent them off like servants. I fumed underneath my helmet. My incredible luck at having the enemy walk right up to me turned out to be anything but, and now he’s planning something on the moon while I’m down here waiting.
Sure would be nice to have space-capable giant robot right about now.
It surprised the hell out of me to be dragged out for more court proceedings after only a couple days. Regular trials can drag on for a hell of a long time, and it’s surprising enough that I even had a hearing already. To be pulled back in so soon smelled fishier than Denmark. That country needs some serious deodorant, I tell y’all. Something’s rotten there.
I’d been a little less well-informed of worldly going-ons lately, and that’s without any of the back channels to determine diplomatic pressure by various countries. All I knew is that the United Nations is a pretty useless organization. Coupled with how long trials tend to take, I naturally expected to be waiting here awhile, trying to think up things to send to y’all’s dimension. Like about this time I walked into a brothel with a donkey and a honeycomb. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll get to tell that story another time.
So let me break it down why I didn’t expect things to move so quickly, aside from the simple “trials move slow” kind of thing. Attorneys have to get some witnesses and figure out what they’re going to say. They have to access evidence and experts that can help their sides, sometimes then making time to share those with the other side. There’s jury selection, too, though I didn’t know how much that mattered to the World Court. To be fair, the last thing I’d want is to be judged by a group of regular folks off the street. They tend to be inherently evil.
Like a town full of ignorant folks who never met a gay guy but make jokes all the time until, when someone comes out, they ostracize them and bully them. The town grew up with that kid and loved him, but let their inherited prejudice mess with their judgment. So the churches keep on preaching that homosexuals are wicked, sinful things that should not be permitted to live. Next thing you know, the boy’s beaten to death or something and some of the town are all like “How could this tragedy have happened?”
Aside from my Polonius-inspired long-windedness, regular folks have a tendency to fail epicly at realizing the full consequences of their beliefs and actions. I just admit what I do, and yet I am not the single worst killer in this or any Earth’s history. Same analogy as above, just different adjective. I’ve met folks who said “I don’t hate black people, I think everyone should own at least one.” I’ve seen atheists decry Catholic child molestation, then turn around and threaten women who accused a prominent skeptic of rape. Police mock domestic abuse victims, PETA executes animals, . And that’s just in a “civilized” country.
You know, I’m starting to think it’s incredibly accurate when I tell people it isn’t hypocrisy when I do it. Or maybe I just seem like a self-righteous dick.
Moving past all that talking, I had to prepare for more talking. To that end, I let my face slacken and composed myself goofily, not so much in my usual sense, but to pass as if they had sedated me. Mrs. Pretorious, the esteemed counselor who acted as both my defense and the prescriber of my sedation, entered and assumed her accomplices had already worked their magic on me. Subsequently, the image of her leading my docile ass in convinced the others that I must have been needled already. That, or they all decided I was calm enough to let it slide.
Everything came to order. And then it didn’t.
“Before my attorney says a word, I would like to speak on my own behalf.”
“This is highly irregular,” said the UK representative.
“I am unfamiliar with the practices and regulations of this court. Perhaps as an opening statement? My attorney may object, but she is here to do my bidding,” I suggested, not having a clue.
“I would hear what he says,” said the Chinese judge. Apparently my inadvertent flirting the previous time paid dividends.
The judges began a whispered argument that I didn’t quite hear, mostly because I didn’t care that much. In the end, they addressed me with their most wise judgment of “You may not address this court at this time. Allow your counsel to advise you on our etiquette here, Psycho Gecko.”
I stayed standing. “With all due respect, this was not a request.”
A lot of things happened at once. Their civilian, i.e. Nonpowered, bailiffs took a step toward me, but stopped. The superpowered ones, or other heroes in attendance, also reacted. Captain Lightning hovered, but stayed right there. Lone Gunman went so far as to draw his gun, which I doubt he was supposed to have, but didn’t do anything else with it either.
“Right now, many of you are wondering what’s going on. You’re frozen in place. Good for you. Is there a camera in the house?” I looked around. “Camera man? Nothing? I know someone’s got to have a phone or a webcam or something.”
Captain Lightning, the most powerful being in the room who didn’t obey, nonetheless floated there to assess the situation.
Everyone in the room with a phone pulled it out and pointed them at me, turning on their cameras and allowing me to start streaming and recording. “Thank you. I want this recorded for posterity, now that I have made sure there will be posterity on this planet. If you’re watching this, you probably know me and hate me as Psychopomp Gecko, the guy who saved Earth. The guy who conspired and made deals, who suppressed his own instincts in order to gain the cooperation of governments, heroes, and villains alike. The person left absolutely hanging by all of them because of my actions in the past.”
I smiled, then thought of a nice little lyric. I swept my hands around to encompass everyone, “You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just…nice.” I motioned to myself, “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right. I’m the witch. You’re the world.” Going back to speaking normally, I said, “So how about I stop lying for a bit. I am indeed a bad person. I kill people. Killing’s wrong, right? Unless someone attacked you. Or they’re the wrong religion, or country. Or if they might attack you. Potentially. Or if you just thought they might attack you. Or if you think they harmed you. If you’re a soldier, if you’re a peace officer, if you’re a jury. Someone murdered, so kill them. Someone’s been drafted, kill them. Someone’s politically inconvenient, kill them. Someone preaches the wrong thing. Someone loves the wrong person. Someone hates the wrong one. Kill, kill, kill. Just remember that you’re not like those heartless folks who kill in cold blood. Those dispassionate sociopaths. When you think of the people you killed, or had killed on your behalf, you do so with moral contemplation and an understanding of the value of human life. Right?”
Satellites around the world responded to my commands. It wasn’t as difficult as it might have once been to control so many at once. The world’s attention focused on me. To quote those of y’all reading this and rolling your eyes, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
“But not me. I lie. I steal and scheme, poorly as to that second point. I kill people. Regular people. Innocent people. That is, people who haven’t been arrested or caught committing crimes. People that other folks want dead, but not you yourself, who ever you are. As far as those other people are concerned, I was right that one time. Right to work for your governments and pontiffs. A man hired me to end his life rather than wither away in pain. Really pissed off his son, who cared more about the inheritance paid to me than his father’s life. Funny how that works out. Killing’s wrong, and I’ve done so much of it. Then I committed what may have been genocide on a bunch of alien invaders who were doing a pretty good job of taking over your world because you all let them. They talked pretty and had everyone so scared of what they would do that you let them do it.”
Billions of people watched. Some of them did so of their own free will. Some found themselves in the same grip as the ones around me at the World Court, except they began to repeat my words in their own native languages.
I waxed lyrical once again, “Nothing we can do…not exactly true. No, of course what really matters is the blame. Somebody to blame. Fine, if that’s the thing you enjoy, placing the blame, if that’s the aim, give me the blame.”
I looked down and shook my head. “After all, I’m a killer, and a narcissist, and I probably think I’m a hell of a lot smarter than I really am. I am a bad person, and someone dear to me has attempted to make me see that I could be a good person. Oh, how I have debated it. In the past, I never would have even thought about turning over a new leaf, and I’ve gone through so many changes recently. Perhaps I might have changed enough to make it possible? Changed enough that my only inevitable end is no longer so inevitable. If anyone was to check David Hume’s grave, they might find him having an epic boner right now.”
Oblivious to the announcement, the thirteen Electric Eyes made sure to drop off their latest shipments of food and medical equipment. Going further than before, they began administering shots of nanites into folks themselves. They have so many uses. They heal diseases, restore damaged limbs, close wounds, and destroy those nasty alien mind control organs, among other things.
“I considered abandoning all such progress and devoting myself to that person in our own personal eternal struggle. I could be the villain that gives her the opportunity to be that grand hero she yearns to be. For mine own good, all causes shall give way. I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er. Or at least that’s what the Scottish might say on it. But, alas, doing the right thing still nagged at me. And I have decided that I can no longer distract myself from my responsibilities. To claim to hate the world so much, yet do nothing but let people deliver themselves into my hatred.”
I turned toward the judges, who sat under my sway. The cameras focused on them as well. As one, they shook and fell over, their bodies already being seemingly eaten apart from the inside. “To be fair,” I said, jumping up there next to the dead body of one of the inferiors who would have passed judgment up on me, “I originally meant to do nothing with this ability but kill a lot of people at once. It seems I truly have changed over this past year.”
Captain Lightning’s eyes glowed before several of the bystanders stood up and got into his way. He’s a smart man. He began to understand the depth of what I’d done.
Ah, those regenerative nanites; they do so many things. It’s been quite some time since Long Life took some and began to build their own copies, complete with the old programming. When I found out, I made it a point to infiltrate one of their facilities and mess with the programming. Just a nice little backdoor to make sure I had access. As I’ve mentioned before, the nanites communicate with each other and reinforce their programming so as to better coordinate, further allowing them to pass on updates and orders to each other.
“Believe it or not, I do care about people and I have a strong sense of justice. Stronger than many people’s, I think. I like certain things about this world. I have friends here. I have stuff. There are some really hot Eastern European women I like staring at online, that kinda thing. I have decided that I will protect this world and look after it. Nurture it, help it to grow into a better place. But to do so, it’s only natural that I not leave it under the supervision of people who have so little vision that they’d treat their savior to a trial and so little competence that they couldn’t even unify against an incredibly well-organized threat to the entire planet. Which, I suppose, also helps to justify my ascension here today.”
In such an interesting coincidence, such nanites turned out to be effective in destroying growths that our recent alien invaders induced in people that allowed said extraterrestrials to use to control their minds, though they ran into some troubles when a superhero controlled by me messed with their ability to convert entire cities at once. Though, to be fair, that wasn’t the first clue an observant person might have picked up on. Especially not world leaders and other important figures who rushed to be first in line to avoid alien control.
I wish I had a bitchin’ chair to recline in at this point, but I had to settle for sitting on the corpse of some judge from the United States. “This will be a big change, but I will make this world better. Don’t try to stop progress and the transcendence of your species because you cling to the past like a monkey refusing to leave his safe tree and learn to walk on two legs. After all, Thomas Jefferson once said that, while he doesn’t advocate frequent changes in laws and constitutions, they must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. ‘As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.’”
I shrugged and patted the gooey body next to me. “Resistance is also ill-advised due to the billions of people I have under my control, whether direct or potential. Or under the control of certain infiltrators around the world who will direct people away from doing anything to stand in the way of progrss. Plus,” I waved a hand at the dead judges, not bothering to state the threat. Aside from being able to see through anyone’s eyes and bring their hands to my task, anybody recently exposed to the nanites could now be killed by the tiny machines. “I’d hate for my death to trigger some sort of killswitch.”
I eyed Captain Lightning as I said that, just in case his patience ran out. A man like him could afford lots of patience, being downright invincible as he is. Unfortunately, people tend to think that invincibility means a person can’t be hurt or can’t lose. They are so very wrong.
I folded my hands up neatly in front of me, knowing already that I wouldn’t even need to ask. My trial was over. They would open those doors for me and let me leave unmolested. More than that, this world is mine. “And for those who simply don’t like me…remember that I am the Psychopomp. I am the flail of god. If you had not committed great sins, god would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
I hope everyone had a good 4th of July out there, including the British. I just figured by now they could appreciate the idea of a geographically separate part of a greater political union deciding to rebel and go its own way over financial issues. And I always liked that joke of theirs, “Happy treason day, colonials!”
You know one of the strangest things I’ve had to put up with here? A lack of torture. Don’t get me wrong, it makes my stay more pleasant. Surprisingly so. Representing the forces of law and order doesn’t generally stop people from beating up on a special prisoner like myself. Cameras catch bruises on a face, but they don’t get a good view of body shots and kidney punches. There’s a big difference in perception between spitting up blood and peeing it.
Of course, I once knew a guy who enjoyed it for its own sake. Then again, sometimes I do too, but usually I try to make it amusing. Eh, maybe that’s what he was doing that time. He just played music and danced around before using a straight razor. And thought lighting a guy on fire was a slow death. I suppose it’s slower than some ways, but quick enough that it’s like he didn’t even care. So impersonal, and I say that as someone who has been lit on fire before.
I make the scars fade; in the end, wounding me won’t do the job. I guess I’ve been introspective again lately, though I miss the days when I just ran around doing crazy stuff for fun. Fighting time-traveling space marines. Instead of sitting on a bench in the Netherlands.
Captain Lightning floated down behind me. “You’re out. “
“How did you get out of your cell?” he asked.
“They let me out, of course. I’ve gone five minutes without killing anyone, you know.”
He levitated around the bench, looking down on me. “Prevailing wisdom is that’s a record for a punk like you.”
I looked over at him with an expression like “Are you serious?” but I really said, “I thought you knew me a little better than being just some punk. I saved your life that time, albeit by trying to end it. Spinetingler tried to drag Empyreal City to hell and you were his lackey. I stopped you, stopped him, saved a city, and leave to give y’all a break. Aliens invaded, I saved the city, saved the world, even chilled away from most people to let things recover.”
Hit him where it hurts. When I met him in person, Captain Lightning had been beaten and fucked in the head by Spinetingler, a super who turned regular people into horror-themed supers. The kind of guy who could give a regular clown sharp teeth and a bleeding smile. Which always confused me, because I don’t get the clown fear. Drunk uncle Bob’s in the next room talking about shooting gay people, but let’s be scared of the guy with the balloon animals.
I shook my head. “Maybe I don’t understand this world any more than my own. You’re all nuts.”
That got a laugh out of Captain Lightning. After a moment, he sobered up some, and not in the drinking sense. “I knew guys like you from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They fought, then they came home and the regular world bamboozled them. Peace is harder than war for some people. In war, you just kill the enemy.”
“In peace time, I wait for them to think up exactly how they’re going to fuck me, for some reason. I don’t understand. You ever had a woman talk you into something that, when she isn’t around, makes no sense to you?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve been married before,” Lightning said. That got a laugh out of me.
“Don’t repeat this verbatim back to Venus or she’ll find a way to kick your ass,” I suggested to him.
The next thing out of his mouth surprised the hell out of me, though. “Do you love her?”
That one left me scratching my head. “I don’t think so. I understand all that love business, how to use it to twist the knife, but nothing I’ve run across in my own feelings fits with that whole ‘love’ thing well enough. Last woman I dated, only reason I could let my guard down any is because she wanted to cling to a crazy guy so no one would mess with her. I think what I love is the idea of her: bright, shining, incorruptible hero. But now that I found her, there’s no way she’ll do the one thing I need without changing, and I can’t bring myself to end her. Just a Sisyphean Catch-22 now. “
I frowned, feeling on the edge of some epiphany, like there was something about that I could almost grasp. Some tiny mote of enlightenment just out of sight.
“I think you two are a lot alike,” spoke the hero.
I rolled my eye. “I’ve told her as much, and I think she gets it too.”
Captain Lightning let himself settle onto the ground, then stepped over and sat down beside me. “She doesn’t care about you, either. She’s got a romanticized fixation on beating and stopping you her way. She has to be the hero you like, even when she shouldn’t. You sang that note perfect, she loves the idea of you.”
I turned to look at him, appraising him curiously. “I wonder how it’ll end. Which of us will win?”
“I’ve seen a lot of history pass by and I don’t think things end the way you think they do, dig? The Cold War’s gone, but what we did in South America, the Middle East, and Africa is still there. One war leads to the next. I hope you find peace, but this planet will always need someone like you, someone like me, someone like her.” He put his hand on my shoulder with all the self-assurance of a man who knows that I can’t really hurt him. I mean, I could, but it’d involve ripping my own chest open just to knock him unconscious, and I’m an ocean away from anyone who would want to shove everything back into that body cavity and save my life.
“You must do some interesting Make-A-Wish appearances, Cap’n. You even give the cancer a pep talk!” He laughed, I laughed, we both laughed. All the way down the shaft, though from him dropping me off instead of tossing me down it. He seemed satisfied that I hadn’t damaged it in my escape, but that’s because he didn’t believe me.
In truth, I did just ask the person at the hatch but that’s because I really concentrated when they went to feed me. Post-invasion like this, of course they’d make sure the guards had their nanite shots. Nobody wants to risk alien mind control, but it left him vulnerable to a quick burst of orders to open the hatch. They’ll be lucky if they ever find the guy, too. They don’t have any evidence of foul play, though that hardly matters where I’m concerned. As it is in sports and business, so too is it with Psycho Gecko: if you don’t see anything wrong going on, it’s because you aren’t looking in the right spot. Except if they look into that guard’s bank account, they’ll see his account grew quite suddenly and will infer the worst. They’d be wrong, but that sort of logic has the guard fleeing for his life. Honest men have plenty to fear in a world of dishonest ones.
Speaking of dishonesty, my lawyer stopped by for another visit. This time, her harness looked a bit more comfortable and she had a nice leather briefcase to accommodate all the folders and files she needed to go over. I folded my pillow up to help prop my head up as the guards lowered Mrs. Pretorious down the hole. “Mr. Gecko. I heard you broke out.”
“Well, it’s awful boring sitting alone in a hole all day with nothing to keep me company but whatever entertainment I’ve trapped in this head of mine.”
The entirety of the show “Married with Children,” to name just one such thing I can watch on the inside of my own eyelids. Al Bundy’s a good man, with a good family. Quite the athlete, too. Has he ever told y’all about the time he scored four touchdowns in a single game?
Hell, the Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! Episode on the Vatican can’t be found anywhere else. I stole my version from Father Poffo, my handler at the Vatican. Sometimes the Inquisition needs someone to “accidentally” get hurt or killed in a supervillain accident. I should see if the Pope can put in a good word for me to the United Nations. He owes me for this incident involving his predecessor trying to swap minds. Besides, where would someone like him be without someone like me? Priests, preachers, ministers, all of them need the sinner if they want to keep their jobs. Otherwise, they’d just be preaching to the choir.
Which, come to think of it, gave me a thought. I realized my attorney had been updating me on her ideas, but my mind was aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.
It’s pretty absurd, to think of it. Venus is a lot like the Pope in that she’s devoted to saving my soul. Of all the purposes to pick in life, she chose that one. I wanted her to kill me, but more because I hate myself and it’s easy to justify that kind of thing. Just like all that bull about chaos and order. As big as the universe is, it all shakes out no matter what.
Order, chaos, balance, redemption, salvation. Doomed to constantly roll a ball of wax up a hill. But as we get too close to the sun, the ball melts. We’re all like Sisyphus and it’s all a bad joke; thinking about it, something clicked. Venus wants to save me because she loves that idea that she can save me far more then truly stopping me. I love the hero she is, no matter how irritating, and it’d just wreck things between us if I forced her to be otherwise. But I have a hell of a time opposing her. And, when faced with oblivion, even Sisyphus can take pride in the boulder.
It’s just so rare, when two people like us meet. She’s so rigidly bound by rules, and I recently ate a guy. Hero and villain, and now we’re even the same species. Two sides to the same coin. If I believed in such a thing, I’d almost think we were soul mates.
“Should I come back later, Mr. Gecko? We don’t have much time left before your hearing.” asked my legal counsel from above. She tugged on the harness cable nonchalantly, clearly ready to go.
“Aww, going so soon?” I asked. When did I start smiling?
“I don’t like that grin. Please calm down and don’t hurt anybody between now and the 7th.”
Huh. Something must have spooked her, but that’s ok. I didn’t care a lot about the trial anyway; I had a way out as surely as my escape plan from Antarctica. Now, though, I have a nice purpose. A method to my madness, which matches and complements Venus’s craziness.
A present to dear Venus.
I laid back on the cot, pulling up one song in particular to listen to as I pictured the events to come.
“Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha. We’re one and the same…deranged!”
I can’t wait for my day in court.