Tag Archives: Clunkers

Three Criminals and a Baby 5

Torture among supervillains is usually a very violent affair, as my interaction with Holdout shows. There are a couple of reasons for this. One reason is that, like most people, some villains think that physical torture is effective. Anyone with sufficient knowledge of the human mind can tell you that isn’t the case. A person can trick themselves into thinking you’re bluffing right up until you hack off a finger. Then they get to do it all over again about the next finger and soon enough they’re out of phalanges.

Oh, and another reason why it doesn’t work is that the defensive side of an engagement comes across as more heroic. They were just minding their own business when someone attacked them. They didn’t want any trouble. They’re locked in a cell somewhere doing nothing to deserve a guard coming in with a popsicle dildo to add some grape flavor to your asshole. It’s not like they can reciprocate in kind, so it’s a pretty blatant abuse of power by someone. You can abuse your power to get away with all kinds of stuff. You can threaten to fire a woman unless she sleeps with you. You can hint that a man will only get a promotion if his politics agrees with yours. You could give tax breaks to your religion automatically while forcing other groups to apply and meet standards. People will put up with a lot of shit as long as it isn’t physical

Plus, if they know you’re only hurting them for fun, like most in my line of work would do, then they know that you won’t stop no matter what they say.

And people will say anything if the alternative is dumping them into a vat of piping hot sweet potatoes and marshmallows. If you’re in it for information, you’d then have to try and verify what they said, which gives them more time.

No, no, no.

The way you get information from someone is psychological. You play on their fears, you threaten what they value, or you break them down psychologically so that they are no longer the hero in their own mind. That is how you get intelligence.

But I still like to have fun in the process. Hence why I oiled myself up, sprayed on some body glitter, put on a bright yellow thong, and slipped into some ballet slippers. After 16 straight hours…well, not exactly straight…of creatively imagining famous theater to loud RuPaul music, he cracked. It was good timing, actually. I was on the table in front of him, bouncing my sack off his head.

“That concludes my one-man dramatization of ‘Waiting for Godot’. Now I will begin my special holiday presentation of a little play I like to call ‘The Nutcracker’.” I twirled around, raising one leg straight out over the prisoner’s head as I rotated around to give him a slap in the nose. “Look, no hands!”

“I can’t take it any more! I’ll tell you anything you want to know! Stop it, stop it, for the love of God, stop it!” he screamed through tears and the bruises that dotted his face.

I kicked his chair back from the table and hopped down onto his lap, putting my arms around him. “For Christmas this year, I want to know who sent you. And a pony. A pony with a Utahraptor’s head on it, and flaming horseshoes, and a scythe for a tail that whips around like a scorpion.”

“I’m just a union man, okay? Countess Clockwork hired us after the clunkers she had moving some baby failed to report in. She wanted someone nearby to help coordinate them. Clockwork robots are dumb as a box of rocks.”

“What’s so special about the kid?”

“I don’t know.”

“All this talk is boring me. I feel like dancing.”

“I swear I don’t know! Some guy asked and she fed him to her octopus.”

“She’s got a man-eating octopus?”

“No. It choked on the guy, but the rest of us got the message. No asking about the baby.”

“Alright, little fry. Tell me where I find the big potato?”

“We’re based in the amphitheater at Abney Park.”

Abney Park. I should have known. Never has there ever been such a pit of scum and Earl Grey tea as Abney Park. It’s a small park that’s a favorite hangout of steampunk fans during the day and prostitute fans after dark.

“A steampunk villain hiding in Abney Park…it’s so stupid it’s brilliant! I should have thought of that, actually.” I really should have. It’s what I would have done. Then again, I’d have a robotic killer octopus, and this person, this Countess Clockwork, she only had a flesh and blood one capable of choking. Stick that in your windpipe and be unable to dislodge it!

“Why thank you, nameless enemy minion. You will be greatly rewarded for this.”

“Just let me go, please, and shut off that music!”

“You’re right. That is getting repetitive and annoying.” I pushed a button on the radio, switching it to a station playing nothing but Christmas music.

The poor guy started wailing and crying some more.

I left the room and found Carl waiting with a sandwich, trying to avoid looking anywhere near me. I tried to pick it up, but the damn thing slipped out of my oily hands and tried to come apart. “Dammit, so hard to hold on to my meat like this. Uh, and the mayo just shot out and got everywhere. I’m going to have to wash this thong, you know?”

Carl didn’t say a thing, just kept on looking up at the ceiling.

“Well, anyway, we can leave him behind. Maybe stop by the animal shelter, feed him to the kittens later, I don’t know. Before that, there’s the matter of handling the person who has been after our little Matatoa…how’s his teething, by the way?”

“I put the Twix bar in the refrigerator like you said, but he still chewed through it.”

“Damn, that boy’s got some chompers on him. Maybe I can replace his jaw so he can unhinge it…”

“No! Bad boss!” Carl exclaimed as he pulled out a spray bottle and squirted cold water on me.

“Mwahaha! You have failed miserably Carl. You have forgotten that oil and water don’t mix. I am immune to your attempts to prevent my cyberization of Mat, for I am an oily god! May your salads quake with fear. Now, it’s time to celebrate a little Christmas Eve-l”

So after a short time to gather some common household ingredients that are usually perfectly harmless, we set out for Abney Park in the van that Carl built. “The old battle wagon,” I called it. Carl disapproved.

“She’s Bertha.”

“Bertha the Battle Wagon.”

“Just Bertha.”

“Big, fat, ugly, bug-faced, baby-eating Bertha.”

“Just Bertha.”

“I prefer my name for it. Now, let’s be off.”

I was not in my armor. Alas, it was not yet complete. Besides, I was still oily and I didn’t want to try and clean all that crap out of the torso armor and helmet. It’s ok. I had my crew backing me up. Carl, my personal thug with his mini-revolver and bladed knuckle glove. Moai, the Beast from the East-er Island. The statue that’ll whack you. And Matatoa Bobby Doomgex, the boy we’re all protecting. Taking him to the lair of the person trying to get him may not seem like protection, but the other factor was Spider. A gentleman in clothes from the same time as these Victorian Era steam punks, or so he seems. I know from personal experience that the appearance is a lie. He’s appropriately named, though, and a dangerous opponent. For some reason, he’s tried for Matatoa, so coming with us into a fight is safer than hiring a babysitter.

It was mostly a pleasant little trip with the heater working on full power. We did have to worry about some dogs running out after cars, but I took care of that. Hey, if their owners really cared, they wouldn’t let them run out into the streets, now would they? I just wish the van’s doors weren’t so high as to preclude smacking the little shits with the doors. They can make other people crash all they want, but I hold my transit to a higher standard. A double standard.

The park was easy to find, as was the amphitheater. So was the rear loading ramp, a relic from when someone thought it might be used as something other than a hard surface to lay some pipe.

Carl didn’t even need to ask how we wanted to make an entrance. I reached over to Mat, who was in the back with me, and ruffled his hair. “Now you hold onto that bottle, alrighty?”

He giggled and once again tried to lift the gallon bottle that used to hold bleach back before I started mixing stuff up. Now, it was considerably more dangerous.

Carl gunned it. I held my bottle between my legs and put my hands up as we sped down the ramp, hit the twin doors, and smashed through. Carl joined me as we ran out of road and smashed into the edge of something. We fell.

I couldn’t help laughing even as the others screamed in terror. It was a thought. Comparing my traps to this, I thought, “Kudos on the pit trap.”

It wasn’t much of a pit, though, as we soon smacked down on some sort of platform. Then I realized we were rising. I opened the door and knocked a clunker away in the process. It was an elevator of sorts, with a contingent of clunkers smashed beneath the van and letting out loud grinding. Actually, it wasn’t just the clunkers. The grinding came from the elevator as well. Then it stopped. Then it began to fall, albeit in a much more controlled manner.

It dropped us smack dab in the middle of an underground lair. There were many more clunkers interspersed with the occasional lieutenant standing at attention facing a platform backed by a large water tank. On the platform was a woman in a regal, floofy Victorian dress showing clear signs of corseting, and a clunker with especially large shoulders holding a staff topped with two gears marched along inside a ring and a third small cog between the two. Huge, inefficient computers flanked the elevator on two sides. We’re talking card punchers. Coiled wires along the ceiling provided light over brick floors and walls covered in levers and rotating sprockets.

Just one of these bombs, as long as the blast wasn’t blocked, ought to do a good job of wrecking the place.

Everyone was quiet and still for a few seconds. They were shocked by our sudden arrival. We were recovering from the fall. I broke the silence by stepping out of the van and holding aloft the homemade bomb I had with me and dragging along an uncooperative pooch that didn’t want to leave our van well enough alone. “’Scuse me, but did somebody order a pain and pwnage pizza? We promise your asses handed to you in thirty minutes or less.”

“How dare you?! Who dares to invade my headquarters?!” boomed the woman in the dress, almost certainly Countess Clockwork.

“It is I, Psycho Gecko, savior of Christmas, temporary Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Crosser of Dimensional Boundaries, Slayer of Space Marines, the Sixgun Killer, Ender of Long’s Life, the Reality TV Star Destroyer, the Scar of Venus’s beauty, Terror of Yabloo City, the Paradise City Pandemic, the Molester of Marscow Prison, Liberty’s Reaper, Shieldwall’s Breaker, and the current protector of that little baby you’re after. I hope to someday add ‘Mayor of a Little Town up the Coast’ to that list someday, but I have my doubts.”

The clunkers started to march toward me, but the Countess stopped them. “Halt! For his transgressions against our cause and the invasion of my sanctum, he will face a greater fate.” As she spoke, something made of glinting metal rose from the water behind her. “Steamtopus, attack!”

The copper tentacles gleamed in the lights of the underground lair, and there were more than just eight of them. A massive plume of steam rose from the water, which retreated, presumably into the towering robotic octopus that rose in the middle of those tentacles. It settled the big bulbous head back and exposed its mouth. A beak, with saw blades whirring behind it, snapped at me, then steam shot out from it.

I raised the terrier in my hand toward the steamtopus in a challenge. “A robotic bastardization of nature, eh? Why don’t you come down here and fight me like a-“ And that’s when it raised me up in the tentacle it wrapped around me with surprising swiftness. I have to give her credit for that one. This thing was much quicker than the clunkers.

“Yes, my pet. Crush his bones with your steam powered might.”

The steamtopus tried to comply and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do with my arms against my sides. Except let go of the bomb, of course. Heat was a better way to set it off, but a sufficient bump like that might have done it. I didn’t get the chance, though, as I shot out of the steamptopus’s grasp and into the air. Another tentacle tried to grasp me, but it squeezed too hard and I slipped out of it as well. Another got me by the leg momentarily, but I fell right out onto the body of the steamtopus right near its mouth.

I laughed. I’d figured out why it couldn’t get a grip by then.

“Suck on this, cephalopod.” I tossed the homemade explosive into its beak and jumped off to run for it. Steam shot from its beak again, but this time it took the bomb with it. It tripped me as I tried to flee, and that actually helped me as it blew. Contained in its body as it was, the blast didn’t effect quite as much of the area around it, but it did throw bits and pieces out. Most of the clunkers went down. One of the punch card computers shattered to pieces as something crashed through it. A piece of its debris actually propped up the computer that had been closer to the blast, which had merely started to tip as the shrapnel passed completely through, then turned and done much more damage to the second computer. As for the steamtopus, it was no more. It had ceased to be.

I stood up and threw my hands to the sky, ignoring the yipping canine I held by the back legs. “I am an oily god! Bwahahahaha!” Just think. I’m sure someone’s been told that oiling themselves up to dance in a thong would never save their life. I am proof that they are wrong. Spread it from the mountaintops!

Prickly pain shot through my body as I was struck by some sort of electrical attack. I fell to my knees, eyes acting up under the assault. What I got from them finally showed Countess Clockwork approaching with the gear staff in hand that she used to strike me with a stream of electricity. A little closer, a little closer…there! She got too close and a swipe of the dog in my hand knocked the staff away while simultaneously giving her a little shock as well. I lost my grip on the dog though. My hands were kinda numb.

I tried to stand, but the Countess grabbed some necklace around her neck. I realized it had the same rotating cogs in miniature before she zapped me with it. Relief came with a screeching of brakes, a loud thump, and something floofing against brick flooring.

I looked up at the welcome sight of big, fat, ugly, bug-faced, baby-eating Bertha as driven by Carl. He gave me a thumbs up from behind the wheel. I stumbled over to the door and opened it. Matatoa giggled at me from around the cap of the bomb he was chewing on. Behind him, through the back of the van, I finally noticed the metal tentacle that went straight through. I grabbed the bomb from Mat, patted him on the head, and borrowed a lighter off Carl.

Countess Clockwork crawled away from where she landed, trailing blood, moaning in pain each time she dragged herself just a little further. She was headed for the elevator, and actually closing in on it. I stepped on the hem of her gown and ripped off a strip. Then I loosened the cap and dipped it in as a fuse.

“Now, you have to know you’re not getting out of here,” I said and stepped around in front of her. I shook the bomb at her and then set it down in front. In my other hand, I pulled out the lighter and flicked the flame to life. I lit the end of the fuse, then ran for the van.

“Then neither are you!” she spat after me, though the words were joined by blood in spraying at me. ”Clunkers, elevator!”

The elevator did indeed begin to rise. I threw myself into it. “Drive, drive!”

“Where?” Carl asked, but took us around for the edge of the room, looking for safety.

“The computer!” I yelled and pointed.

Carl got my meaning. Good guy, that Carl. He swerved, crashing through an unlucky clunker, and brought us around toward the tipped computer. We ramped that bitch and skidded to a halt on the rising elevator platform, which ground to a halt again.

Damn.

Then the bomb went off. We didn’t get to see the damage it did, but the Countess was undoubtedly killed. It threw the platform up like a piston, sending our van back up to street level and the group of us off into the night.

I have no idea about Spider though. Wasn’t exactly a lot of time to ask, but at least those Clunker motherfuckers are down for the count. Hopefully, Santa will be by later to handle this baby. In the meantime, Merry Christmas if you happen to celebrate it.

Gecko out.

 

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Three Criminals and a Baby 4

This whole “under the radar” schtick has really been getting to me. I had a dream where I was in a cubicle. Not the good kind of dream, either, where I’m choking a man in suspenders and stapling his face to his desk. It was the bad type of dream. I was working there.

Gah!

First thing’s first. I got up and sold my stock as low as I could get it. Well, second thing’s second. First thing, I lit my bed on fire, then went to town on it with an axe. A fire axe. It seemed appropriate. It was a water bed, though, so that put out the fire and I had to resort to beating it with an ice cube tray and stabbing it with an apple.

Hey, don’t talk to me about how sharp fruits are. I know all about fruits. You think an apple is bad? I won’t even stab something with a peach. You agree with me on that, don’t you? Yeah, I thought so. It’s because deep down in their core, you know peaches are the pits.

The fuck am I doing, playing nice like this? Playing the stock market? I’m the guy who blew up half the city! Nope, if I’m getting money, I need to do it by my own efforts and for my own reasons. What am I doing, moving around money just to make money? How disgustingly lazy, how feebleminded, how utterly devoid of purpose is that?!

Ugh, I might as well be a hamster running on a never-ending wheel of money.

I was so disgusted, I finished off my bed by clamping a car battery to it. After picking myself up off the floor about a wookie’s height away and trying to flatten my hair, I called in Carl.

“You rang, boss?”

I patted him on the shoulder with one hand and drew his mini-pistol with the other, firing back into the battery, bed, and the jumper cables. When it was empty, which didn’t take long, I handed it back to him and gave the battery a kick away. All clear.

Third thing’s third. I should give an update about the baby. After all, Carl was there and he’s the one who wanted the tests done in the first place. I gave Carl the rundown, starting with “First off, your suspicions are correct. That baby’s growing more than usual.”

I explained that this kid, Matatoa, is quite unusual after all. No sign of disease or illness at all, but I couldn’t tell on the genetic level because something about this kid messed with any sort of DNA analysis to check for syndromes or genetic diseases. About the best I could do was extrapolate future physiological problems from the phenotype. I didn’t see anything off from that model, but that wasn’t going to tell me very much anyway unless he had some bone issues already.

As far as the immune system goes, he shows no sign of illness despite a lack of antibodies.

Little Matatoa here is not a baseline human, but I can’t determine just how off the baseline he is. Some of this suggests a certain resistance, possibly even some invulnerability, that means we probably were supposed to get him when we followed the Christmas card’s instructions. The resistance also means that the crap we’ve been feeding this kid hasn’t screwed him up. That’s a plus.

We’re not exactly the best cooks around here. Carl’s more of a beer and burgers guy, with it turning into more of a beer burger if he’s already had a few. I cook a mean basil teriyaki pork chop myself. Moai’s specialty is known as “Chicken Under a Brick”. Despite that diversity of skill, there’s not a damn thing we’ve fixed that this kid will eat. I caught Moai trying to waterboard him with chicken noodle soup the other day. Despite not hardly eating, the kid still runs around like he’s on cocaine.

Carl didn’t quite grasp everything about it, but he got the important parts. He was also relieved to hear that Mat hasn’t gotten hurt by anything we’ve done. “He stole some of that beer I had that time and I got to chasing him and then he slipped and hit that cabinet.”

“Well, it’s probably ok not to worry about it quite as much. We know the kid’s special. Now we just have to find out why we are the ones taking care of him. Speaking of which, where is he right now, and why do I hear a saw?”

“Oh shit!” Carl said, rushing out of the room.

There’s nothing like the sounds of saws, gunfire, and children’s laughter.

Fourth thing, and I’m probably going to forget about this list any moment now, I dumped the bed, battery, and jumper cables into a shower in the back and gave it all an acid bath. I didn’t feel like taking the time for cement shoes. You think I have all day to spend on that? As for the showers in this former goth club…hell if I know. Maybe it was for employees, maybe it wasn’t always a club, maybe the guy who owned it last liked to use it to smear his makeup so he looked like he’d been crying.

At last that gave me some time to look over my armor. That kid has been acting up a lot more the past week or so, and it has been slowing me down with working on the new design. I stepped past a pair of curtains I had strung up around the workplace area. Kids, much like evil geniuses, will want to play with whatever rays and doodads and gadgets you’ve got so long as they are in sight. I’ve been jonesing to check on it since I woke up in a mood to wreck some shit.

It is nearly ready. I have to settle for a few smaller patches of the nanite-quilting for now, but I can expand coverage when I get a better idea how that idea’s working out. See, that’s how you solve a problem. You throw brains at it, try stuff, and you drop the stuff that doesn’t work in favor of stuff that does. It’s all very scientific, right down to rewarding the most brilliant scientist with a VIP card to a Nevadan brothel. That’s “Very Important Pussy” as first discovered by physicist Richard Feynman.

Another idea I had needed to be dismissed out of hand. Self-repairing armor. Might as well cover myself with nanites. Little buggers are good at healing me, but they can’t take a punch very well, which is the point. It’s why you don’t liquefy the metal to forge a sword. You have something like that which is made to change shape, and it’ll be inherently weaker. Plus, I really don’t want to lose all of my armor just because someone shot me a few times in the chest. That’s really counterproductive.

I lifted the helmet up. It was completed at least. It was sleeker. Less bulky, in part from the fastenings no longer showing on the outside and in part because of the two elongations that arched out high on the back of the armor like I had to fit sylvan ears in them or something. A minor reference to my idea of wearing something more akin to a jester suit.

The front breather was also altered. It looks less like a SCUBA diver. The hoses are no longer round, but ovals. They fit better against the armor and aid to it looking smaller but faster. I was nearly tempted to paint flames on them they looked so fast.

I heard the curtain rustle as someone entered and I spoke aloud, “The Version 26 marks a departure in my design aesthetics, which ought to throw off those who may think I’m a copycat Psycho Gecko upon my public reappearance. Also, and I don’t say this lightly, it looks cool as shit.”

I turned toward my audience. It was a clunker. Yay, some shit to wreck! A copper and bronze steampunk robot in copper and leather armor. “Catch,” I told it and tossed the helmet. It did so with a hiss of steam that shot upward from the back of its neck. I grabbed a remote out of my pocket and armed the traps. The clunker dropped the helmet and lunged for me, but I slipped around him, Victorian-era robot technology being notoriously slow and stupid, and grabbed my helmet off the ground. It was in mid turn when I knocked its head off with my helmet. The head flopped against the curtain, then fell against the floor and rolled. The body just stood there, water gushing out of the unbroken, but now quite disconnected, pipe that had terminated in the thing’s head.

Another yanked the curtain away behind me, so I grabbed the first by the arm and threw it into the second. I took the opportunity at that point to slip out of my pants, a wise decision as I was forced to pull them down over the head of a third clunker. The second clunker came at me again, but I pushed the third one into it now.

It stood up again, but by this point I just kicked its shin out from under it, sending it to its knees. It threw a weak punch, but steam shot from its knuckles. I grabbed it by the bicep, put my boot on its back to force it down, and wrenched the arm. The hydraulic pipes were metal, so I couldn’t just rip those off unaided, but that arm wouldn’t be doing anything anytime soon.

I saw the third one, the one I’d blinded by taking my pants off, stand as well. It reached up and slowly tore them apart. I turned, jumped onto the table my armor was being assembled on, and jumped off into a backflip toward the steam meanie. When I landed, it was with my foot on his chest and then flattening a part of its chest as we both hit the ground. I was still standing. It was grinding on itself against the floor and slowly stopped moving.

I remember thinking there were probably more beyond this curtained area. Probably surrounding me. I needed more than just my bare hands for this one, and without my pants, there was only one option left to me. I charged out of there with my boxers in one hand, yelling, “For silicon!” only to find the situation well in hand. Carl stood over a few clunkers that he’d shot up, with Matatoa under one arm. Matatoa, for his part, was spilling juice from his cup onto one of them.

Moai was dressed in a karate gi. From the looks of the crushed and disassembled clunkers surrounding them, he must have been kung fu fighting. When he’s in the mood, those hits are fast as lightning.

“Hiya,” I said, with a wave of my underpants. “Where’s the rest?”

The sounds of falling objects and grinding clunkers helped us figure that out. Over near the entrance a group of clunkers tried to retreat, but a small cannon was firing banana peels onto the floor. The clunkers’ legs flew out from under them, which was ill-timed for them. A pair of circular saw blades half a man tall rose and paced along their track. They threw off sparks as they cut through the clunkers.

“Looks like they made like a banana and split,” I said while pulling my boxers back on.

A good look revealed more clunkers caught in the traps. A pair near the rear entry had crows embedded in the metal and shot into their inner workings. Moai hopped over, looked down at the pair, looked at the contraption that fired them, and then looked up to me.

I just shrugged. “I shouldn’t have to explain, but clearly this trap was meant to murder someone.”

“What the fuck?!” said Carl. I hopped on Moai’s back and urged my mount to the source of the problem.

“Hi ho, sculpture, away!” He crashed us through the wall to where Carl had been surprised by something. He was pistolwhipping a clunker that tried to steampunch him. It was two clunkers and a man in a Napoleonic uniform, with a big hat and massive backpack with its own smoke stack. I jumped off Moai’s back and let him charge into the clunker, slamming him through another wall. The remaining clunker was still going for Carl and Mat, so I turned my attention to the man, who had a Napoleonic-era looking pistol he had pulled on Carl.

He tried to adjust his aim from Carl to me, but I dove in front of the remaining clunker. With a whirring and a grinding, the clunker, now with a hole through its back, dropped to its knees and then the ground.

That left the poor fellow facing down Carl, a returning Moai, and me. He chose to run for it. He just didn’t get very far. He tried to escape out the back door, but a frozen turkey fell on his head and knocked him out cold.

“Boys, it seems we got ourselves a prisoner.”

“Hey, what about the one without all the metal and stuff?” asked Carl.

I grabbed a broken length of wood from the wall. “There was another one of these guys in here?”

He and lil Mat, who was in his arms, both nodded. “This guy was after Matty when it all started. That’s why he had that saw. Cut a finger off ‘em.” Carl reached into the pocket of his camo cargo pants and pulled out a brown, furry digit. Looked to me like something from around a spider’s mouth.

“That’s interesting, and maybe why we got Mat at all. I look forward to finding out more.” Then I nodded to the guy with the backpack and the steampunk uniform. “Bring him in before he catches his death of cold. When it comes to this heinous attack on us, I suspect fowl play.”

 

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Three Criminals and a Baby 1

What to do, what to do? This quiet game shit is booooring. Maybe while I’m fabricating new armor, I should put together a new suit and go out incognito as another villain. Or maybe I can go around pretending to be a hero?

On the one hand, that never works out well for the villains who do it. The henchmen might start to get ideas about being good because it feels good to do good things or however that bullshit goes. I’m sure it feels real fucking fantastic to do good things when you’re in a financial state where you can, but not everybody’s got the money to buy poor kids new houses and new cars and new rims. Hell, you ever follow up on the people that receive those gifts from those shows? Not a pretty picture, because the assholes giving them the gift are so focused on being nice that they forget the fancy house they just gave that family just tripled their property taxes and is going to be on the market in a few months when the banks send some large men to throw away everything inside the place.

There was a woman once who suggested I could reform myself. Two, actually. The first one was a non-combatant. A teacher. This scumbag paid me to beat down some reformed minions she was helping and haul her in. And I mean scumbag. This is the kind of guy who doesn’t give sugar pills to sick people…not when he could put his own urine in the capsules instead. Someone for whom eye gouging is a babysitting technique. A real asshole. The punks that woman had helped went down easily enough, but I just couldn’t make it to get her in time. I had to wash my hair and do laundry and then there was a flat tire. I had to start grabbing people and piling them up under the car to lift it up high enough to cut the wheel off, and then I learned you weren’t supposed to do that with a laser. You win some, you lose some, I guess. But then she had to send that note saying it wasn’t too late to change, which I lost when my bathroom mysteriously caught fire some time after I purchased a flamethrower.

I blame the fluoridated water. It should have been more watery.

On the other hand, a lot of things I do don’t work out how I planned them, so maybe planning to do something that never works out will confuse and discombobulate however that works and I’ll be the guy to rescue the inventor of the Blowjob Pop. Just pop it in your mouth, and it’ll feel like you’re getting a blowjob! Comes in wax lip varieties for women.

Ah, but that’s right. No need to worry about my own finances at this time. Seems I chose a sufficiently evil firm to invest with. I learned the other day that they’ve done some great things with my investments. I got part of a credit default swap. Near as I can tell, that’s when I make money if someone refuses to pay a loan. The kind of thing that causes a depression if a bunch of the companies did it en masse.

So the company took out this bet on some company casinos or tacos or something. Then they wrote the company a big ass loan with a condition that they pay back their other loan a few days late, which caused that bet my investors made to strike it rich. I’m sure that sounds a bit illegal to all of you. It’s insurance fraud writ large and legal. Yes, I said legal. I could have bragged about that shit to Shieldwall and they couldn’t have done a thing.

See, the biggest criminals don’t have to hide because they’ve bribed the right people to have their crimes made legal. Perhaps I should go into corporate evil fulltime. The costumes aren’t as awesome, but you can get away with anything.

I don’t know, something to consider. It’d certainly be a good step toward my goal of owning a gold-plated gun that shoots liquid gold. I could go to a grocery store and they’d all be like “Mr. Gecko! What an amazing gun you have, and such a smooth barrel. Can I touch it?”

And I’ll be like “Why certainly, my dears. Matter of fact, all the supermodels who happen to shop in this particular Cheep-Mart can take a break from the bottom barrel prices and pet the barrel of my gun. Try to contain your eagerness, ladies, and watch your fingers. We wouldn’t like for it to slide into the wrong hole and fire off a drippy liquid round. I’ve got liquid gold coming out this barrel.”

Then the manager will come over and be like, “Sir, do you mind if my daughter touches it? She’s a little young, but this might be her only opportunity to get her hands on something so magnificent.”

And I’ll go, “I really think this has gotten awkward now and I’d rather kids weren’t touching the heat I’m packing. Ladies, shall we retire to my private ‘firing range?’”

Then it’d probably go off accidentally while I was cleaning it or something. The important thing is having a useless status symbol I’ll barely if ever use that would only make me look good to a society I’m hardly a part of. That’s what having lots of money is all about here when you have no crimes to spend it on.

Someone meant for me to consider something else with my time and attention as well. I got a Christmas card.

The front featured a man, a robot, and a rock with eyes drawn in a simplistic, childish manner. They all stood outside a house, holding sticks with white things on the end over an open fire that led to the house by a trail. The house was on fire.

The inside had this to say: “Dear Gecko, I’d hoped you’d curtail your Christmas sins, but you still like knocking people down like pins. If this year you want to avoid drowning in coal bins, then go to 674 East 24th before the end begins.”

It was signed “De Goede Sint”. The good saint, another name for the spirit of the season.
A little Santa in the same style as the figures on the front had its hand up in a wave toward me.

“Hey boss, welcome back. You get some mail?” asked Carl as I came inside. He was sitting across from Moai, cleaning his new gun.

I closed the card and held it up, “I hope you’ve spent some time with that thing not in your hand while I’ve been gone. You see anyone stop by and drop this off?”

“Nope. And I have too set it down,” he answered and set the mini-pistol down to take a swig of his beer. He then set the can down on the table and slammed his head against it, not quite getting it flat. Moai then got up and hopped over to a nearby keg and headbutted it flat.

“That’s no fair, you got that big head made of rock,” Carl told Moai. Then he pulled out another beer and gulped it down all in one sitting. A large belch followed me to the computer. I had an idea what happened, but I still pressed my hands to the computer and ran through the surveillance cameras’ memory to see how the card got there.

Nothing helpful. It was just there at one point. Poof, right out of thin air.

Seeing as I wasn’t likely in the guy’s good graces this year, I figured I’d better look into it.

I checked the fabricator. The armor wasn’t done yet. A lot of the basic stuff, like muscle enhancement systems and hologram subsystems, was done, but the external armor and micro cameras weren’t present yet.

When I was working out the latest upgrades, I considered not even rebuilding the armor to this general design since I’m supposed to keep a low profile. My other thought was armor that looked like a jester’s outfit. It would seem loose in some places to conceal the thickest armor.

I still might go ahead and put that together too. Something useful to let me fight without constantly keeping an illusion up. This time, though, I’d be going in my civvies.

Luckily, we had a van by this time. My car’s still in the hands of the police right now. Damn thing’s almost more trouble than it’s worth. Almost. That’s the problem with having no secret identity but a car that’s meant to pass with the mundanes.

Anyway, Carl drove, Moai sat shotgun. Of course I leave shotgun to the limbless statue while I sat in back. Better acoustics as we sang Bohemian Rhapsody. When we were at the last intersection before our stop, our Bohemian hedonism was interrupted by another van skidding out through an intersection right in front of us. We weren’t able to stop in time, so we had ourselves a low-speed collision.

I was the first out of our van, popping open the door and affecting an exaggerated stagger. “Oooh, ah, my ass! My poor sphincter! Oh the pain, oh the suffering. Somebody get me a goat, a knife, some robes, and a book of Latin chanting. I need to summon a lawyer.”

By that time, I’d made my way to the driver’s side. Come to think of it, no one had exited the other van. When I looked up through the driver’s side window, I saw why. A bronze man in a copper helmet with gears and sprockets on both face and helmet.

He opened the door and smacked me in the nose, knocking me away. More such men began to file out of their van. Even with the sky cloudy and the sidewalk covered in snow, their copper and leather breastplates gleamed. Clunkers. Steampunk robot men. Whirring and grinding accompanied their movements, as did small sprays of steam.

They were a general type of minion. Some steampunk supervillain used them at some point and supposedly sold the blueprints whenever he got caught to pay his attorney’s fees. You see them turn up from time to time being used by somebody with too many goggles and bowler hats and not enough sense to give them lasers or shark teeth or something.

“Only eight of you, eh? You might take it easy on me because I’m mostly flesh and blood, but you only got steam, punks. Boys?” I turned toward the van. Carl stood beside the driver’s side, automatic pistol with rotating minigun-style barrels in one hand, glove with jagged razor sharp knuckle edges on the other. Moai was not only heavy and made of stone, but he had a shotgun. I wanted a literal seating arrangement.

Suffice it to say, the clunkers didn’t last long. The last two only went when I was finished trying to muddle through that Carol of the Bells with their heads and the side of their van.

“Boss, what are you doing?”

“Carol of the Bells!”

“…I don’t see no woman here.”

“It’s a song.”

“I don’t see no song here.”

I threw my hands up in the air, still holding the heads of the clunkers. Their headless bodies slumped to the street. “Fine, screw it. See if I get in the holiday spirit!”

Moai checked the back of their van, then leaned out to look at me. He looked back in, then leaned back out. He did this a few more times.

“Alright, what is it?” I walked back there to check. “Dammit, Santa, this better not turn into a holiday special.” I pointed at the wee blonde baby swaddled in the back of the van and looked up at the sky. “Curse you, Santa Claus!”

I like to think he was somewhere overhead as I yelled it, but that’s unlikely. Either way, not as satisfying as cursing the name Balthazar. It’s the best name to curse, hands down. Well, hands up. No, no, don’t hand over the money, I was talking about how you stand when you curse Balthazar.

The kid was fine, by the way. Amazingly quiet, which has me worried, but unhurt. We had no idea where they got it. No parent or cop giving chase. Nothing.

I did see one sight that stood out in regards to the baby’s safety. I caught a glimpse of a man in an old-fashioned suit watching us. Unkempt hair, dark circles around his eyes, and something dried and red around his lips and down one corner of his mouth. He was clinging to the side of a building but skittered out of sight when he noticed me looking. Skittering like his namesake. Spider. I recognized him from last year. The same incident that confirmed for me that yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Granted, he’s more like a personification of the holiday season instead of a confirmation of any one holiday, but Santa’s still real dammit!

So, we had old steampunk robots kidnapping a baby with a magical old villain nearby too. I’d have rather left the baby for the authorities to find when investigating the hubbub, but there was no way in hell I was leaving the kid to Spider.

And that’s why we have an unusual baby hanging around that doesn’t do a lot of crying. Luckily, Carl’s had lots of experience with kids. Moai keeps a close guard on the crib we threw together out of spare parts from the Heatflasher ray and some blankets. Enough blogging for now, though. I should get back to hunting down any kidnappings in the city that may have been involved with Spider or his clunkers.

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