They didn’t try to hold onto Vietnam as hard as I thought. After I took down Universe Man, they began to pull back even further. Forget cullings in the countryside; they stayed to the cities, and then further to just few cities, moving north to try and extract from the country. The Vietnamese chewed them up along the way. They’re good at that.
They were less effective at dealing with the Praetors. There were still two left. One of them tried to cover the escape of a column with a premature winter. Fog, snow, and sleet bombarded anywhere but in front of them. Hail set off landmines in advance and made it rough for ambushers to set up or stay in cover. They don’t have winters like what he was doing to the place outside of Russia. I didn’t have to kill all the enemy myself. I just had to kill the guy keeping the Vietnamese away. He was a tough one. They told stories about trying to kill this guy. They’ve sniped at him and it doesn’t go through. They tried blowing him up with grenades and rockets, but he froze them. One brave son of a gun even tried to drive over him with a tank. The Praetor picked it up and threw it on top of an ice spike. Motherfucker impaled a tank.
Sometimes I wonder if all inhabited planets out there deal with this same shit, or if Earth is different like that. No wonder polite neighbors in the universe don’t stop by so often.
Sadly, the only well-mannered path to take involved a recent idea some of the Institute figured out. Smart guys. One fellow wanted us to have an accurate kinetic bombardment system that didn’t require orbital deployment. Another lady had developed a program whereby the nanites and autofactories based on nanobuilding could be used to clean the environment by extracting lead. Near as I can tell, they both went out drinking, him to stoke his creative side and her to celebrate successfully pulling lead out of stuff. There was a mixup with their papers, a bunch of papers tossed in the air, and someone ended up in the hospital after trying to throw an ash tray at a Flyer.
I only skimmed that incident report because I was eager to get to the good stuff at the time. The guy set about making updated versions of concrete bombs and lazy dogs. The first is a bomb that’s just a solid hunk of some heavy material used either for practice or whenever you need a non-explosive bomb dropped on something. Lazy Dog is similar, but smaller, meant for anti-personnel purposes. Imagine planes filling the sky with a bunch of lead spears or that are going faster than 200 MPH when they hit.
Now imagine the wonders of digital technology and miniaturization sticking guidance systems and rocket engines on lead spears 27 feet long. He called it the Dongyemochang. For our version of a better concrete bomb, there’s the Yong Ttong.
We’re going to have to get dedicated bombers and fighters someday, but I had a Psycho Flyer flew high above the blizzard moving through Vietnam and deploy the Dongyemochang first. I was keeping an eye on them from a safe distance away, spying through drones and satellites. The spears fell in a pair of bundles, a central one locking onto the target I’d marked. Fins adjusted where it pointed and rockets fired, increasing the bundle’s velocity. It finished quickly and unlocked, magnets spreading the spears apart a bit.
Most of the spears missed the Praetor, but some of them folded the retreating soldiers in on themselves. Vlad of Romania would be impressed at the way it put a man’s face through is anus. One caught the Praetor as well, but not lethally. It took his foot off. He created a dome around himself to guard against any other spears. They’d all landed by then.
I made a note that this really isn’t the best setup for spraying a bunch of enemies from above. It can be improved. As a method of assassination, it almost worked. Emphasis on almost, and then on the launch of the Yong Ttong. The Flyer loosed the bomb, which adjusted and aimed for the dome before accelerating to 18,000 mph. If it had been pointed the other direction, it could have escaped Earth’s atmosphere. Instead, the Yong Ttong made quite an impression on our invaders and the Earth itself. But, hey, no need to bury him.
I sent off my recordings to the Institute while pulling the Dudebot out of the dust cloud. The blizzard faded, but it’d still be a cold day under that cloud.
With the death of the second Praetor, the occupiers kissed an organized retreat goodbye. They were running. They were also looting. One village the Dudebot walked through had been robbed of as much food and valuables as they could carry. Women, too. Fortunately for that bunch, the Vietnamese insurgency caught them before I could.
I knew I had another Praetor to deal with. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the hysterical retreat meant we’d get a gunship soon, so I ordered in an escape rocket. That’s the rocket with a second rocket inside it that can get me out of a rough situation. I let them fight while the Dudebot waited in the escape rocket, set to fire and home in on intense light sources with an exception made for the sun and moon, if need be. Thus, the first I knew of the gunship’s appearance was when the rocket took off. I figured I didn’t have long for the ship to fully transition to our world. Lucky it wasn’t my actual body in the thing. Humans and homo machina aren’t meant to exist at the speed it reached.
I activated the short timer on the D-Bomb the Dudebot carried. Wouldn’t do me any good if it got over there and I couldn’t set it off. Almost as soon as I did, the, rocket smashed into the hull of a fully-transitioned gunship left behind when the breach disappeared. I cussed to myself back in Ricca and deactivated the timed bomb.
I didn’t have a way to stop the gunship myself and minimize damages to Vietnam. The rocket wouldn’t move it enough. So I kicked the Dudebot out of the rocket and checked around. It landed in some sort of compartment. I started to tear my way further inward, but alarms went off. “Attack Incoming,” a feminine voice said in a neutral tone.
They were really on the ball there. I’d barely set foot in there like that. The Dudebot carved through the wall with its Nasty Surprises and stepped out into a corridor where some young-looking guy in green coveralls skidded to a stop and fell on his ass. I grabbed him through the Dudebot and lifted him level with the helmet’s triangular “eyes”.
“Where is the bridge?” I growled.
The ship’s lights dimmed momentarily. In one ear, I heard Vietnamese chatter about Ho Chi Minh City. I pulled back a bit to spy on the situation from space and found the gunship had fired on the city. And a part of Hanoi was floating through the air.
Well, crap. At least the Chinese missiles would be impacting any second. Time to 3D print another robot copy, I thought. The view of the gunship was disrupted when a new breach opened up and surrounded it with bright light. I plunged back into the Dudebot, reactivating the timer, then got the fuck out. I’m pretty sure I won’t be tossed into another dimension with my mind inhabiting a robot body, but I’m discussing this during an invasion from another dimension where a giant bee-woman suplexed a feathered triceratops. Maybe the medicine Max makes me isn’t working; maybe the rest of the world made me sane by comparison.
The gunship disappeared. The nearest missile detonated itself. I know, I know, “The Chinese just set off a nuke over Vietnam?” Fun fact: blowing them up is a decent way to disarm a nuke. They have to undergo a specific process to initiate the fission process.
People talked on this frequency, yelled on that one, cried on another. Hanoi was still floating. Ho Chi Minh was a smoking wreck. It was getting hard to make sense of everything as a disembodied digital watcher, so I tried pulling back. My confusion remained when I blinked and looked up into a smoke-filled sky next to a car. I pulled myself to my feet, looking this way and pulling my hair out of my eyes when I did so. Blonde hair, two arms, and a gadget on my forearm.
Oh, wrong body. I must have been pretty discombobulated to end up in Dame, of all people. She was something of a thief who was pretty good at finding me and not too fond of bodycounts. She also turned out to be part of the Three Hares conspiracy, and played a part in my capture and memory wipe. When I got my hands on her, I “cyberized” her brain so that I could slip in and take control any time I wanted. It did come with the side effect of her memories popping up, though.
Something else popped up though. Some bird-thing that opened a fan of colorful feathers around its neck as it opened its mouth and hissed. The thing was only about the size of a dog, but it somehow reminded me of that thing from Jurassic Park that kills the hacker who messed up the security system. Instinctively, at least as far as Dame’s instincts went, I used her device to phase into non-solid form. The dinopeacock spat at me, the spit going through me harmlessly. I walked over and unphased long enough to grab its neck with one hand and ring it. I remember one of my boyfriends taking me along hunting once, showing me how to finish off a bird. No, Dame did. I learned that trick a different way.
I tossed it aside and turned, phasing by reflex when I caught a glint of light. A raider’s sword passed right through where my neck had been, and there were two more in two more hands waiting. With a trio of raiders right in front of me, I figured I’d keep Dame’s body for a little bit. I ducked, pulling the raider’s metal skirt up. I headbutted, solidifying just long enough to make contact, then phased again and rolled through him and his friends. I spun once I got past him and went solid long enough to reach up the skirts of the two in rear who were also turning around in a circle. I held my hands, and their balls, in one place. They didn’t react so quickly and did most of the damage themselves just by turning to face me.
A sword passed through me, but it meant letting go of their balls. I backed off while one of the pair doubled over along with the one I’d headbutted. The other’s must have been fucking brass because he swung wildly while advancing on me, teeth bared. I kicked at him, turning solid just long enough to make impact. I did the same when I grabbed for his sword arm, becoming solid only once I’d taken hold of it. I slammed his forearm down on my knee. Dame’s not as strong as me, though, so I think I only sprained it. I grabbed for his sword with both hands and pulled it free, leaving my back to him. He threw his free arm around me.
I slammed my head back into his nose while bringing my heel up between his legs and calling, “Tenderizer!”
I spun the sword around and stabbed it back next to my neck. Blood splashed on the back of my neck and into my hair as the man gurgled. I quickly pulled free with the sword and went insubstantial again. The other two raiders were starting to recover and rushed me. One tackled through me. The other tried to stab me in the head. I ducked again, and thrust my sword into his belly. He gasped and looked down, then laughed at the ghostly blade that stuck in him harmlessly.
He stopped taking it lightly when deactivated my gadget. I tried tugging the sword out, pushing it along, sliding it from side to side. Finally, with a great heave, I pulled it loose with a spray of blood and the stink of opened intestines.
My hair was yanked back. I went off balance, the third raider raising his sword to my throat. I threw myself back onto him and knocked him down. The blade shifted in the fall and he slit my forehead. Fuck, Dame didn’t have my tolerance for pain. I grabbed the sword’s blade and pulled it away. I’d dropped my sword in all that, so I turned and slammed his hand into the ground. I straddled the raider, who reached up to squeeze my throat with his free hand. Meanwhile, in Dame’s weaker form, I had to use two hands to keep his sword hand where it was. I growled, leaving that to one hand. The other reached in and pulled one of his eyes out. He screamed and weakened from the pain. I shifted around, shifted around, and stomped on his sword arm. I finally pulled the sword free and used it to saw through the arm he choked me with at the elbow.
I coughed and crawled away with the sword. I kept an eye on him in case he tried anything else. He cared a lot more about the bleeding limb. The difference between us is that I recovered more quickly from choking than he did from losing half his arm. He isn’t recovering from the blade in his brain he got when I felt well enough.
While resting after that one, I looked around and found a weird little power control collar like the one I’d so recently used against Universe Man. That one didn’t look like a smaller choker, though. I laughed and slice through it with the sword. After that, I wandered around, trying to look for a safe spot to let Dame have control again. A couple streets over, I heard someone call my name. Her name. “Dame!”
A man in an elaborate black and white outfit came running up, his chest two rows of black spades. He panted, but said, “You look like shit. What happened?”
I pointed with the sword toward the direction where I’d taken out the raiders. “Bad run-in with a one-armed bandit.” And all the better I was in control when it happened, too.
It didn’t help me get sleep. Maybe it was the lack of endorphins related to killing those particular people, but the tension was still there. Took something a lot stronger than Max’s medicated beer to help ease me out of it. Like some diazepam, and the soothing sounds of a Korean woman saying words in Japanese while moving around. Upon reflection, to people who don’t know about it, that probably looks like some weird fetish stuff instead of a way to relax.
I was quite surprised when I dreamed I was in some room at Master Academy. I looked down to see a pair of boobs I recognized, but only two arms, holding a power suppression collar. I looked up when I heard Venus saying, “This is a lot to ask me to believe.” We were in an office. She was seated across from myself and… Ares. I thought they found parts of his, but maybe that doesn’t matter so much. The guy had an arm of metal, as natural as if he was just made of the stuff. Perhaps he can regenerate eternal, shiny and chrome. He still looked old, but instead of wearing some old leather vest and sandals, the old man wore bronze hoplite armor, with a bronze helmet sat in his lap. Behind him, at the door, stood several other supers I recognized from around the school, and a few who I have to assume are newer ones based on context.
“After the murder of our peace delegation, I would have no other reason to come before you about this,” Ares said, glowering at her.
“That was Psycho Gecko, not me. He… she’s unreliable and paranoid,” Venus said.
“She should be. Barkiel tried to use my death to justify a measure we cannot take. When I showed myself, he called for the visitors to back him and do it by force. When that failed, he tried coup by robot and tried to destroy us with a small nuclear weapon. Something is very wrong, and I am here to offer our surrender on all your points that are possible while we uncover what has happened over the past months.”
“The god of war asks for peace,” Venus said. She took a moment to look at him. “You said he was trying to call for some measure. What’s going on? Are we about to be hit by some sort of weapon?”
Ares closed his eyes and massaged his nose with a pair of fingers. “There was a god who transgressed against the rest of us and sought to take control over the pantheons. He began consuming healers to absorb their powers and to cow us by keeping our peoples from healing. A group of them allied with the Hindu pantheon to lure him into an ancient prison for gods. The prisoners inside rebelled. It almost failed, but the last of them sealed the way out.”
“You wanted to put us in the prison?” Venus asked.
Ares shook his head, “When we first created our agreement with our human descendants and the visitors to keep our existence a secret and protect Earth, we realized the prisoner, Mot, could be what was needed to cull people with powers.”
Ares went on, “The visitors have been more aggressive ever since supervillains started breaking out of prisons all over the world. I think Barkiel’s snapped. Worse, he knows where Naraka is.”
“Where?” I asked as Dame.
Ares looked to me, then to Venus, “I would rather not say.”
“We can help guard it from Barkiel,” Venus said. “Consider it one of the conditions of your surrender.”
“The Hindu prison Naraka is underneath one our shrines in Varanasi, marked by a symbol of three hares chasing each other around in a circle.”
Within Dame’s mind, I got a flash of memory. Barkiel relaying a message on behalf of this Council. “Play along. Give him locations, but warn us first. We want to control where he goes instead of allowing him to pick randomly. Use this map, but not any of the sites I’ve crossed out.”
I remember the map he showed Dame on a monitor. Munich was one of the crossed-out sites. Others included the storage depot I told Venus about. Varanasi, India didn’t have any information about it, even for Dame to see.
“Dame, are you alright?” asked Venus. “Maybe you should put that back on.” She pointed to Dame’s power collar.
I smiled with Dame’s mouth. “Sure thing.” I dropped the collar accidentally on purpose, and reached for Dame’s cell while picking it back up. A ringing in my head helped bring me back to my own body that fought through the drug-induced drowsiness to answer hang up on Dame’s call.
So now I knew where Barkiel was. And, more importantly, I knew this had something to do with Mot. I injected myself with nanites to clear up the sluggishness while I put on my armor, two legs at a time. Because even when I’m a woman, I am a god among men.
I did two things on my way out of the palace. First, I left a note for Qiang, telling her I’ll be back and not to let everyone make a mess. Then I shut off the water to the kitchen sink and pulled it out of the wall. I carried it like a club as I headed to the missile base, where my ordinance technicians were already clearing space out of a missile. The techs all bowed as I helped myself into the rocket, with one ready to shut and seal the hatch of the capsule. But before he did, he asked, “Any further instructions, Empress?” I buzzed him with a pair of drones that I flew in.
“Yes, hand me those two rockets there,” I told him. He dutifully handed me a couple of those rockets a person could stand on that I’d never ended up selling as a means of personal conveyance. “Good, now prepare for trouble, and make it double, once this rocket’s blasting off again.”
He looked puzzled but nodded, “As you wish, Empress.” I fired off a message to his superiors anyway ordering Psycho Flyers deployed to India to pick me up and mop-up whatever was going to go down.
Rockets are fast, that’s for sure. You can get moving much faster than jets in these bad boys, and make all sorts of distance if you’re willing to hit the outer atmosphere. The reason they aren’t that popular a method has more to do with the fact that the human body has trouble going that fast and that high. Bones break, you have trouble breathing, there are pressure concerns. That’s not even touching on the landing. By the time the rocket itself broke off and obliterated itself, the nanites were having to extract my tailbone from my throat and patch me up. And while I could have made a capsule designed for travel given a little bit of time, I was rushing here. Venus, Ares, and the whole lot of people who are supremely pissed at me probably knew I was on my way to Naraka.
I had to beat them there, so I rushed the rocket and had to break my way out of the capsule. Two hands on the kitchen sink, and with a hand each on my rockets, I hopped out and let them slow my fall.
The Naraka Shrine was in another walled-off courtyard with tents and shakes. Folks were milling about, with the tall robots Barkiel used standing guard at the gates and doorway to the shrine. Black but for glowing red accents and a big red oval on their faces, they held up arms ending in plasma cannons as big as some people’s heads. And they were keeping them trained on the people in the courtyard, who had definitely noticed me. Some little kid was there, hopping up and down. “Look, up in the sky! Who is it?”
The robots all turned as one to aim at me, so I let go of the rockets and dropped, letting the blue plasma pass harmlessly overhead. I tried to land standing, with bent knees. The weight of the armor and force of the landing took me down to a knee. Not the best position to be in when eight big-ass robots decide you’d make a good torch.
The closest two got a rocket through their heads and collapsed. From out of my cape flew the drones, a pair of laser drones this time. They carved through the next pair who advanced on me. I used my stance to jump, then flying over a blast to knock the crap out of one of them, then turn and send the next closet smashing into the outer wall. Before it could pull itself out of the indentation it left, I had run forward and impaled it through the midsection.
Behind me, another pair of robots lined up for shots. I turned with the impaled one and caught a pair of blasts with its body, watching him melt away with each shot. The rockets looped around in the sky and came down, tearing through their heads and torsos to pin the wreckage to the ground. I dumped the remains of the impaled robot next to them and quipped, “Vlad to see me?”
I spun when I saw the Hares coming closer, but they didn’t SEEM hostile. One older man raised his hands up. “Thank you! We thought he would kill us before the Council could send help?”
“Who?” I asked.
He pointed into the shrine. “He’s one of the Visitors; said he was the Captain now. He ordered his robots to keep us under guard for what comes next.”
Food for Mot. Yummy. I shared Barkiel’s desire to see them dead, but if any of them had powers, it’d just make Mot stronger, IF he got out. And he wasn’t supposed to get out. I was supposed to have had 30 years to prepare for him, according to the Future Venus from that timeline who spared my life in the hopes it would change the future. So the timeline’s changed… yay.
I headed in and found more robots. Less sarcastic yay! I turned a corner and found myself facing a couple of them guarding a door. I jumped up and hooked my legs around one’s neck, twisting around to wrap a pair of my arms around the second’s neck. I’d hoped to twist the heads off, but I couldn’t bring enough strength to bear for that. Instead, we all tumbled down. They both aimed their cannons at me, so I grabbed them and kindly adjusted their aim just in time to see them put holes in each other.
That room had more captives who were eager to get out of there and I let them. Mot and Barkiel were more important.
Down the hallway, down a staircase, because if they’d imprisoned someone in the air I’d have noticed. Trailing drones, I found myself in a long, dark corridor with a pair of heavy stone doors halfway open on the other end and a couple robots on the other side. They spotted me. Instead of trying to fight, they started pushing the doors closed on me. The drones began to move in a circle, chasing each other in front of me, lasers carving through the door. I charged up the energy sheaths on all four gauntlets as I ran.
When I hit the cut portion of the door, it flew inward, nailing those robots to the opposite wall, which looked to be rough cave wall. To my right was a gentle stone slope that humanity hadn’t built, though it had left skidmarks on. Tread marks, I mean.
I also heard the sound of fighting from up ahead. I started charging the energy sheaths on my upper arms just in case. Around the bend, I saw Apollo hopping around, all nimbly-bimbly, like a cat. He had on a leather outfit with a skirt like something they’d expect me to wear in a fantasy game, but he just jumped around shooting his light arrows from his bow a gleaming blue and nickel machine menace.
It was Barkiel, I saw, in walker armor. Like with power armor, it’s my hands and feet in the boots. His armor was a good twelve feet tall, with his head sticking out of the neck. He probably had his arms and legs down the arms and legs of the armor, but he wouldn’t lose a hand if it did. I thought his exposed head would make him easy pickings until a light arrow sparked and disappeared against a dome that appeared out of nowhere around his head when it got close. Apollo reached out with his spare hand and another field lit up, glowing red, tight around Barkiel’s face.
The alien laughed. “Like my latest apparatus?” A grenade shot up from over his shoulder, bounced against the roof of the cave, and exploded into a thick cloud of black smoke. He jumped to the side, jets igniting on the soles and belt of the armor. When the smoke cleared, Apollo had taken up a new position but was firing nowhere near Barkiel.
The real Barkiel had raised both arms toward Apollo, the ends glowing. Trailing sparks, I skidded between his legs, bouncing my head off the invisible field as I passed too close to him. When he fired, the energy sheaths around my gauntlets absorbed some of the power for the suit’s back-up batteries and deflected the rest at the ceiling. We all looked up for a second to see if this stalactite was going to fall, but nothing. Then Barkiel looked past me to Apollo, who had now turned to focus on the real one. “Is she with you?”
“I thought she was with you,” Apollo said, eyeing me.
“Apparatus. Helping me hunt down you Hares, helping me escape, attacking your own people. You’ve been playing all sides here, haven’t you!” I yelled.
“Ha!” he spat the laugh at me. A quartet of missile tubes rolled over onto his left shoulder from behind his back. “You made such a great enemy, but if you’d like to make up, why not kiss under the missile?” He fired the tubes, but lasers spilled out from one of my flanking drones to detonate them close to him. His shield caught most of it, but I think a little bit was inside it. It looked like we scraped the paint on his ride.
The other drone fired at him from behind, aiming for center mass. The thing wasn’t really agile enough to get us along with it. Apollo leapfrogged me and fired his own arrows at the guy. I stepped out of his path and charged for Barkiel.
A wave of force went out from the walker in all directions, pushing me back enough to halt my run, knocking one of Apollo’s arrows into him, and throwing my drones into the walls of the cavern to their destruction. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Gecko!” I continued my charge and split off a couple holograms, one to dodge to my left, another to stay in place, and then me branching off to the right. Something flew off the chest of Barkiel’s armor and right through the middle Gecko, but I stopped, armor shaking, and flew back until I was suspended over it. I couldn’t reach out without getting pulled back into a huddled bunch.
“You sent the bomb, didn’t you!” I yelled at the extraterrestrial asshole.
“Yeeessss!” He said, sweeping his arms after Apollo. The god tried to outrun it, but then Barkiel just moved his left arm to the side quicker and took him off at the knees. At least Apollo ducked the second beam before it could take off his head. He disappeared in a flash of light then, leaving me alone with Barkiel. “See? He ran and left you to me.”
Barkiel looked at me and winked, then hit the jets on his suit and flew it to a wall I hadn’t been paying particular attention to. “I’ve been on this planet for so long. You have no idea.”
“Why are you letting out Mot? He’ll kill everyone!” I said. Weird to hear me object to something like that.
“I want to go home,” Barkiel said, stepping up to wall with actual stones laid out in around a round center stone, like a sun. He touched the center one, which slowly lit up with a glowing overlay of white light and ancient runes. “I never wanted to be stuck on this backwards planet. We have that in common, don’t we?” He tried to look back at me but couldn’t turn his head all the way.
Whatever this thing was, I had no access. None to his suit or that wall, either. The only machine I could still connect to outside of my suit was a drone that wasn’t getting airborne anytime soon. I tried it anyway, watching it hop around. The laser still seemed usable, though. “I’m trying to remember… this threat that some of the Earthlings believe in if they’re exposed or… Sam said if Earth got too advanced or there were too many supers…”
He cut me off before I could slowly work it out to cover up the sounds of my drone hopping around. “Yes. If Earth is a threat, my people will get off their lazy, aristocrat asses and deal with the upstarts. That is my ride off this rock of ignorant savages. You can leave as well. In fact, do you want to come with?”
“No,” I said. “I left my world, but my world sucked. It sounds like yours does too if they give so few shits about you. This is my home. I have a family here, and friends. How long have you been here stewing instead of doing anything?”
“Fif. Teen. Hundred. Years,” he said. The blocks around the central one lit up. He started tapping on one and the light flew into the center. “Fifteen hundred years with dirty monkey men. I could have had a family. I used to have friends. We could have reported the place as a threat, or advanced you to the point of getting us home. We could have even come forward during other alien attacks and taken their ships. Israkeel didn’t want to risk the stupid barbarians though.
He laughed as he worked on more of those perimeter blocks. A couple more went fast, but he had to stop some to consult a holographic display I couldn’t translate. “You were perfect. One day, you started breaking supers out of prison, and I realized what I could do. The others, they just wanted to use the collars, and I did pass relay orders to make that happen. I eagerly overstepped my bounds. I guided you and made sure you survived. Do you think it’s any accident you’re a woman now? I knew that would rile you up, the big bad supervillain and his fragile male ego, so I put advice in the right ear.”
Well, nice to know he doesn’t know me as well as he thinks. Hippity hoppity, little drone. One of these days you’ll get that laser facing me… “If I didn’t kill Centeotl, he’d have attacked Los Angeles anyway.”
“He agreed with me about the need to assert ourselves over the humans, but he would have been glassed like the rest. I relayed secure orders, always from superiors, to hire assassins. You had me worried when you sent that message back…”
There. I fired the laser of the drone. The drone caught on fire from something not quite being in alignment, but the beam shot out and burned enough that the device crackled and I fell to the ground. I hopped up in a hurry, but Barkiel didn’t pay me any mind. I split off more holograms to try and hide my approach, glad I still had a couple gauntlets ensconced in energy waiting to disperse into him. My free hands took up rocket knives. I jumped as the holograms all ran to catch up. He never turned back to me.
And then he suddenly was turned to me. He caught my in midair, one hand on my waist, the other on my head. The, fuck, the projection he’d left at the wall disappeared. Even the glowing circle on the wall faded. At least he had to stop whatever that was. I punched at his arm, but the attacks did nothing to dislodge his grip. The field stayed, glowing red. I shot a rocket knife into his face, but it bounced off, blade bent. Barkiel gritted his teeth and pulled with the hand on my helmet, aiming to take my head off.
“Fuck, this is good armor,” he said after a minute of straining. He let go of my head and held his arm to the side. A long, round rod of metal flipped out from under his arm and into his hand. A white trail rose out of the far end and formed a curving shape that could have been a one-sided blade. “Make this painless on yourself and hold still.”
That’s not how I roll, so I wiggled and reached up to try and keep his hand away.
“I told you!” he yelled and brought the blade down. Sudden pain shot through my left upper arm, right through the elbow and up near the shoulder. I still felt it even though I looked down and saw two pieces of what used to be that arm rolling to the ground. The uneven flesh of my arm wasn’t bleeding, but I saw smoke and felt a sudden coldness around those nerves. Barkiel tried to bring the blade down on my helmet, but my lower right shot up to grab at it. The blade split that arm and carved it in two. Between that and my shiftng, the blade only took off part of the right side of my helmet, and left that arm hanging useless. When he pulled the blade free of it, I got to see it flop to the ground, severed in the bicep.
“This could have been painless,” He said, raising the blade up to wave it in my face. He thrust it, but I moved my head. After three thrusts, there really wasn’t even a helmet left. “Stop moving!” he said before trying a sweep. I ducked my head under it like a limbo dancer ducking under a green snake in a sugarcane field, but he clipped a bunch of my hair. I could smell it as it burned.
“I don’t normally let this out,” he said, sneering at me, setting the tip of the blade against my breast. “But you things are disgusting to me.”
I flipped my fangs down and opened my mouth to spray hot sauce at him. It didn’t penetrate, but it did cover it for a minute. I threw myself to the side he wasn’t holding my hip from and twisted. It wasn’t the best way to hold a person and I tumbled loose, if not in good position, scrambling away. He stepped toward me, raising the blade. “Yeah, cute. Die now- oh shit!”
A bright light had flared up in the middle of the cavern, headed toward Barkiel. He raised the sword. I didn’t get a good look at what happened, the sword wasn’t there anymore, just as sparking rod and a field that glowed red around edges that weren’t closed around Barkiel. I leaped, but Barkiel kicked me away, into a wall where I could see Apollo, whole again, step out of a beam of light.
I heard footsteps, too. I turned to see Dame running down. “The fuck are you doing here so fast?”
She slid to a stop right by me as I struggled to sit up, probably tearing her skintight black tights. “Once I clued you in, they knew they had to come here right away.”
“Than-” I started to say, but she cut me off with a click of metal around my neck. Everything went black, and my hearing didn’t work right. I couldn’t do much of anything except feel. I felt hands wrap around my throat, squeezing. For some reason the ground was vibrating, but that probably had more to do with the big armor stomping around.
I tried to hit her, but the armor wasn’t working too well. My limbs were sluggish as parts of me didn’t want to function right, and without the armor being a real part of me anymore. When I got an arm up, she pushed it back down with one hand and slammed my head into the ground a couple of times, choking with one hand all the while. Of all the people to kill me, I didn’t expect Dame. And I was wrong.
My head jerked to the side and I could see again. I could punch again! I knocked Dame flat on her ass with a punch and reached for my neck. The collar had been blasted by something. A glow attracted my attention to the light arrow stuck in the cave wall behind me. I tugged the remnants off and threw them aside, then told Dame, “Kill me later. For now, we have to make sure he doesn’t release Mot.”
I scrambled up, but suddenly that shaking from before got a lot more noticeable. I looked and saw Barkiel, with a face full of smile, locking up with Apollo. “It’s too late!” he yelled.
The stones I thought looked like a sun slid inward and the wall slid up into the ceiling. Everything past that was darkness. Apollo backed away from Barkiel and the darkness.
“Quickly!” called a voice from higher up in the cave. I saw Ares running down, helmet on, spear and shield at the ready. He skidded to a halt when he saw the opening. “We’re too late.”
Venus was there as well, and Titan. Venus looked to Dame in particular, my neck, and the wrecked collar on the floor.
“Mot!” Barkiel yelled into the darkness. “It’s supper time!”
“Close the door, Barkiel, while there’s still time!” Ares said.
I crawled until I could get to my feet, running over to Venus and Titan. I had to fight through dizziness to stand there with them. “We have to go.”
“No,” Venus said. “We stop this here and now.”
“Nobody’s getting to this door just yet,” Barkiel said. A tendril of flesh wrapped around Barkiel as he grinned confidently at us. He looked down then and realized too late that he was the closest thing to a very hungry being. He tried to pull it off him, but it whipped back into the darkness, dragging the screaming alien along with him.
“I know what we’re dealing with here, and there is no stopping it. How do I access the door’s controls?” I asked Ares.
He looked to me, then shook his head. “It’s too late. Go, all of you.”
“I’m here,” Titan said.
“That’s a good reason to go,” I said. “Imagine something just as hard to kill as you, but it can absorb anyone it touches and gets their powers.”
He squinted at me, then at the opening. Apollo ran back toward us, and past us. Ares held his shield on guard and told us, “She’s right. Go. I fight in the rearguard.”
“What’s Mot do to people?” Venus asked.
“He’s got a couple thousand years of hunger to make up for. We need to go,” I said.
A burst of lightning flashed out of the darkness and floored Ares. He coughed and stood back up, metal showing through holes in his skin.”Go, now!” A long-haired, bearded figure stepped out of the darkness, tendrils trailing from his back. He wore rags that vaguely resembled Barkiel’s uniform and dropped one of the arms of Barkiel’s walker armor as he stepped out.
“This feels wrong,” Titan said, backing up.
Ares jumped forward and impaled Mot with his spear. Mot raised his arms and blasted Ares with more lightning that threw the old man back. Then his hands became icicles that broke off and flew at Ares. The Olympian got his shield up, but they penetrated, stabbing into his arm.
“Venus, slap him,” I said.
She jumped up and hit Titan across the face, then yelled, “We have to get as many people out as we can.”
I turned to head up the slope as well. I wasn’t as quick getting out of there as I was coming in, especially the way the floor kept spinning. I tried to get some nanites into me, but they flew out of my hand with all the spinning. At least I had time to advise the Psycho Flyers to hurry and take on as many refugees as possible so long as I was one of them. Then there was the rumbling, and I passed the fuck out as things began to collapse around us.
Everyone wants to keep me away from the fighting for all sorts of reasons. Mental health. Thinking up a plan. Signing off on laws. Clearly, my heroic and neutral allies, and those around here on my island, are trying to prep me for being the diplomat of the bunch.
One thing I did to try and work on my skill at diplomacy involved a nice dinner for some of the top Directors, just to help the flow of information both ways. I even cooked for them myself. I could tell these top brass were quite uncomfortable being in my presence at such an event, even more so that I personally saw to the food. I figured I’d break the ice with a little joke as I sat down at the table with the rest of them. I took my seat, raised my hands, and announced, “Truly, I tell y’all, one of you will betray me.”
All conversations and faces fell. Suddenly, one guy on the end jumped up, knocking over his chair. He ran for the door of the building I’d borrowed for the occasion. I grabbed the gravy boat off the table and threw it. Tricky as it is to throw something that’s spilling viscous fluid out of it, it clanged off his head and he fell down. A pair of the security detail stepped in, looked at the groaning man on the floor, then up to me. “Have this one eliminat- no, ya know what? He’s a Director and he might be useful. Throw him in a cell somewhere and find out who he works for.”
I looked around the table to all the other Directors I’d invited. The guys supposedly making laws about all the important things but who had instead gotten into fights subsidizing personal businesses and a funny fight about naming certain roads that has some walking along the intersection of Ug Lee Street and Wong Way. It’d be funny if not for the fact that part of the reason I’m getting so much paperwork from the courts is because they’re doing that instead of reinforcing the courts and writing laws to fill in the gaps.
“Now then, gentlemen, I hope the rest of you stay and enjoy this meal as we have ourselves a productive conversation about the proper place of the judiciary and why I value not having to spend all my time running Ricca.” I smiled around the table, prompting many a fearection from the gathered Directors. “After all, you’ll find I miss the gravy more in this meal than I do any one Director’s company.”
I think it went well, but it was only the first step in what I was doing. See, I’d gotten this idea into my head that perhaps I don’t necessarily need to destroy the Hares. I just had to sit down and have a proper thought about it while drinking some cocktail Max gave me. I dunno, it’s like things became clearer, though it gave me some terrible dry mouth.
So one thing I know is that the portion of them that are aliens have convinced the whole group to hide their supers. Because the aliens are just sitting around waiting to be retrieved, but their government’s liable to just blow the crap out of the whole place if it looks really dangerous instead. No wonder they targeted me. Being dangerous enough to justify orbital nuking is what I do best.
Dame didn’t like being kept under lock and key with that group, and they already kept most members out of the loop about what was going on. As a result, she doesn’t know what prompted them to start doing things now. She hadn’t really been brought in on anything until Master Academy called her up to help me. They left out the virus and the power collars, but the phone call started with “We are calling upon you to serve as one piece of our apparatus.”
That’s the same sort of language they used for Funhouse, who no one’s seen since the multiplier was apparently gassed for not following orders and leading me to a site that let me identify and hunt down the Three Hares.
That hands-off approach is why she was able to hang out with people who can literally read minds without problems. And it’s why, ultimately, I decided to give her to her friends in Master Academy. I even made a little ceremony of it.
I escorted her to the Cape Diem camp. A small crowd gathered around us, curious. Everyone likes a show, especially people working. I held onto her with one hand. She didn’t put up a fight and knew she couldn’t. Merely having the power to control her like a puppet with my fist up her ass didn’t mean I had to exercise it. I could do a lot of philosophizing about the nature of power, but it’s just a simple thing. I’ve spent most my life with a hankering for human life and the ability to kill almost everyone I’ve ever met. And I only tried to kill everyone on Earth the one time.
I slipped a scroll out from between my breasts and flicked it open. “Our lovely nation of Ricca has only grown stronger by the contributions of the best of all cultures on Earth and a few from below it. As an outsider to this island, I know this more than most. Ricca has given me family and a higher purpose. But this goodwill does not extend indefinitely. And so I am formally removing the supervillain known as Dame from the island and evoking my right to Jus Primae Calceus, otherwise known as the Right of the First Boot. Begone, woman!”
I stepped back and kicked Dame’s lovely, if skinny, ass over the border into the camp. She stumbled but caught herself and turned. I shooed her away. “Go. I’m sending you back to the heroes. Let them deal with you. You’re not my problem anymore.”
She was more than happy to run into the arms of nearby Cape Diem personnel who were to escort her through the portal. She might even miss the island. Sure, I was horrible to her, but I’m her enemy. That’s to be expected. She’s going back to people she’s known as friends who now know she was working with the Hares. She thinks she’s heading back to friends.
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in her head or because of my bout with temporary sanity, but I almost hope it’s not too bad for her. I sent off an email to Venus letting her know that, just in case they have irreconcilable differences, I might be willing to be the island of last resort for Dame.
Note to self: don’t do this brain and memory thing ever again if I can help it. It makes them way too sympathetic, and I found myself looking out from the wrong body more than once.
With that taken care of, the next thing I had in mind required waiting. It would have been less of a wait, but the Director who ran turned out to be working with the Chinese. Despite that setback, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be waiting long.
Yeah, right. In my dreams.
I was enjoying another night of overpressure and screams. Just being caught in an endless fight, bare hands, no armor, endless enemies and no way out. Dimensional bomb right there, and I understood I activated it. I was running to get away while people swarmed me. Every time I killed them, they’d rise right back up. I could tear off faces and they’d stand back up. Snap necks, up again. Pull out a person’s heart, stand right back up, hole and all. Just me being clawed at by a never-ending mass of undead who would claw or bite chunks out of me. When I finally got to the edge, there she was. The one who betrayed me. She smiled and waved. The shield went up and trapped me in there with the never-ending army and the bomb in the middle.
I just kept fighting, never knowing when it was going to go off or I’d finally be too exhausted to keep fighting. Now, all that was fairly normal up until I looked up and a giant bug stabbed through all of it. Think Tyrannosaurus Mantis. A big, stabby mantis. It carved through all of that, then turned to me and scooped me up in its arms and lifted me up to where a teen boy stood on top of the giant mantis. I was set on the insect’s head and just took a moment to breath and look around, but the guy reached up for me. It felt like we were jumping and things got fuzzy.
I woke up gasping as I tried to breathe, my body being pushed down into the bed. I looked up to see the same boy on top of me, hands around my throat. I went to move my arms, but then something stabbed through the upper pair that were outside the sheets and pinned them to the bed. Looking up further, there was a giant mantis again, though not dino sized. More like basketball-player sized, with me being bounced like a basketball while the little guy choked me.
This one, I didn’t want to give a laser lobotomy to. I opened my mouth and dropped the fangs I’d installed. Handy things. Also handy? Forearms, but less so when bitten by fangs. To my surprise, he kept choking with one hand and used the other to punch me in the nose. Which means no more mister nice bitch. My laser eye lit up and I took both his arms off.
He fell back screaming, and the mantis parked next to me growled. I didn’t know they could do that. It raised its claws brought them down toward my head, but I got all four arms up and grabbed them.
Now, a standard mantis body can’t content with a standard human body even if made bigger. Just wouldn’t work as far as things like breathing and circulation, but there’s also the neat thing about muscle becoming less efficient as the size of the animal increases. Humans have bones and muscles enough to support all their bones and muscles. I had reinforced bones and unnaturally strengthened muscles. And, after a moment of pushing, I also had a pair of torn-off mantis claws for souvenirs. I shoved one through the giant bug’s head, then turned to the screaming, cowering, pantless little assassin trying to crawl away from the foot of my bed.
I jumped off the bed and landed with my knee planted in his back, probably fucking up his bladder. Boo-fucking-hoo. I kept him pinned there as I tore his shirt open and began to carve. “Stop squirming, ya baby. If I make a mistake, I’ll have to cross it out and rewrite it, and you’ve only got so much skin.”
When sending a message written on the back of a living victim, it’s important to be as clear as possible. That’s why I broke out the thesaurus and made sure to use the most precise words possible, no matter how long. I decided to hurry when I noticed more and more flies and roaches gathering in the room. The guy commanded a big bug, so it occurred to me he might have the loyalty of smaller ones. They all scattered their own way when I finished and put the final exclamation mark on the matter by driving the claw through the guy’s skull.
The next day, I had Hu and the Intel people pick him up and prepare to drop him off at the site of the next raid. For all the time I took writing it, it’s a simple message, really. Just seeking to have a chat with folks from the Three Hares and see what we might do to convince them to stop the proliferation of both diseases and power collars.
But, while simple, no message is quite so impactful as the one carved on the body of the assassin sent to kill me.
“Dear crazy conspiracy asshats: I, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca, Destroyer of Worlds, Mistress of Mayhem, cordially invite you to make the necessary arrangements for a diplomatic summit wherein we shall gather and discuss the terms of your surrender, nay your unconditional acquiescence. To that end, I also request that you stop sending assassins. If you do not, I will send one of my own and will not need to send another. Especially not another five. Get the message already. Hugs and blowjobs, Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca, Destroyer of Worlds, Mistress of Mayhem. P.S., Now I’m just fucking with this guy before I kill him.”
The Munich raid went well. The point of the thing was to blow a hole in that big ol’ privacy fence around their compound. The Germans are investigating it now, and finding all sorts of weird things scattered around. Drugs, a couple of stolen artifacts, uranium; all sorts of things that will draw a lot of attention to that compound and have people investigating. Expose them, force them to run again, exhaust them.
I’d had… feelings. Thinking of a plan, part of me remembered all the kids and innocents there. Attacking would risk killing civilians, even if a lot of them do have powers. I lived among them, danced with them. I drank beer with them and perhaps even Frenched one or two of them under the influence. I spent a night rocking back and forth in a chair, thinking about what to do. I was practically distraught.
But now, I had video showing they were all ok. The local news reporters provided that glimpse, but I quite enjoyed the view from various drones flying high above it. Can’t blow shit up in Europe without a few different militaries becoming interested. So seeing everyone come out of this fine and dandy, it was such a relief. Such a relief, I started laughing. And, my oh my, it seems my finger slipped on a button in the middle of all my laughter. Looks like someone shouldn’t send up drones for recon with their payloads.
It was so sad, I had to laugh about it. It’s a natural way to handle this sort of bad news, after all. Laugh so as not to cry.
If the cruel fate of the Munich compound wasn’t enough, the Hares themselves are playing on my emotions. I’ve letters expressing the feelings of the Three Hares. The night of the bombing, for instance. I got up to handle some business in the bathroom. I was going over plans for a new island shield and crapping when the jacuzzi began rattling. The nozzles burst out into the tub and streams of water stretched out and formed into a person, a woman with a metal visor with a single big, round glass eye on it and gems on either side.
“Psycho Gecko! Prepare to die!”
I put aside the hologram I was working with and reached for the rear of the toilet. “May I at least have a courtesy flush first?”
“I guess?” she said. Small gems began to light up leading to the glass eye, three on either side. I reached back behind the toilet. As I’ve mentioned before I often keep a gun there in order to clear up any problematic clogs. That’s why I whipped out the Smith & Wesson Schofield. I missed that first shot, causing the cyclopean assassin before me to duck and charge more of those gems up. Another miss, then a hit on her shoulder. When she turned, the final gems lit up, and that’s when I popped her in the central glass eye.
“Fuck shit!” she screamed, grabbing at the eye. I dove off, pulling my panties up. I wasn’t there when she took her hands away and instead shot lasers from the six gems leading up the glass eye. Three smaller beams shot out, putting holes in the marble toilet. But since these were three all along a band, beams were flying all over the place. They bounced off mirrors and mirrored surfaces, so it’s a good thing I was staying low and crawling behind her. When she stopped and looked around, I tackled her from behind and pushed her down.
She cracked her chin pretty good on the lip of the toilet where the seat didn’t cover. I grabbed a handful of her hair and pushed her face down into the bowl to let her gurgle on dinner. I had the Schofield still in hand and gave her a shot in the back. Then I lost my grip on her as she turned to liquid again and flowed down the toilet, flushing it in the process. I jumped up and pointed the Schofield down the bowl, then noticed the blood smeared on me and smiled with an idea. I wiped blood onto my hand and pushed it into the toilet bowl, making a minor programming change.
The pipes in the jacuzzi, toilet, sink, and shower began to rattle. A huge chunk of the room shook. Blood began to spurt from the sink. It started to fill the jacuzzi. The shower head shot off as bloody water rained down. Finally, the toilet reversed and sprayed water and blood all over the ceiling.
When those of the household who cared about my health came running, they found me laughing and soaking wet with blood and water. I shut the bathroom door as I saw Max and Silver Shark run up.
“What’s going on?” Max asked.
I pointed at the door in all my giggling, then waved my hand. “You don’t wanna go in there. Whew!” I couldn’t hardly finish speaking for all the laughter.
Speaking of funny incidents, another occurred as I was enjoying a quiet night in my study, just working on some new material for this joke I’m playing on the world. Mix N’Max walked in and passed right by me to address a chair. “Gecko, you’re doing it again.”
Dame fell to the floor as I awoke and she scampered out of there. I yawned and looked up at Max from my chair. “Whoopsy. Can you blame me for making sure an extra pair of eyes watched out as I slept?”
“I can blame you if they’re her eyes. Look, Gecko, we go back and I’m afraid I have to suggest something is more wrong than usual with you,” he knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. Even his smile looked apologetic.
“I must use any and all resources to protect myself, Max. It’s the way of the world. Besides, I’m rehabilitating Dame,” I indicated his grin. “So turn that lack of a frown upside and around.”
“How is holding a woman as a slave in her own body rehabilitation? You’re better than this,” he told me.
“I AM better than this. I’m so good, I made Dame perfectly trustworthy. Never again can she betray me for anyone. Always there, in her mind. THAT’s why they wanted me. The world’s changing, and I’m like a god of the new world order.”
“You’re not a god,” Max said, pointing his finger at me. “Remember the rule on godhood.”
I rolled my eyes. “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes. Everyone knows the Aykroyd Rule.”
“No, the other rule. The one about supervillains who start declaring themselves gods. Does that ever end well?”
He held up one finger. “Nebuchadnezzar.”
“Gesundheit,” I said.
He cocked his head to the side in a look that said “Really?” even though he didn’t.
“Fine, tried to consume a ball of energy bigger than his own head a little too fast. Blew up.”
Max raised a second finger. “Aria.”
“Used a device to boost her powers, but someone managed to block them long enough and record her super voice to use it against her,” I answered.
“Following the pattern?” he asked.
“Technically it isn’t a pattern until there’s three incidents,” I reminded him.
Max looked at me, lowered the first two fingers, and raised the third one, the ring finger. “You want to be this one?”
“That’s hardly-” and then I shot up into space without crashing through roofs or walls. And it wasn’t really space. I’ve been there. I was being thrown with force instead of drifting without gravity.
I crashed into an asteroid and was thrown at another nearby one while the first one broke in half. The second did as well when I hit it. I bounced off and then stopped in the middle as the asteroids. Those four then crashed into each other, breaking in half. They kept colliding and breaking until a bunch of baseball- and basketball-sized pieces banged into me. Finally, one the size of a large dog slammed into me and sent me hurtling through space again. I landed on a small planet, or possibly one of those things Pluto is, and bounced off in further defiance of physics. The next planet I headed for grew a face and a pair of arms. It slapped me between both hands.
The planet on this trip through Disney’s Fantasia planetarium skipped arm day. I’ve taken worse hits. Didn’t even squeeze any organs out of me. The two arms grabbed hold of me from either side. The planet opened its mouth wide, exposing the glowing liquid hot magma. It unleashed a volcanic roar.
“Get some Jupiter!” I yelled back as it lunged for me.
Then I was laying down on the floor of the study, yelling at the ceiling, which looked to be missing a ceiling fan. I noticed books laying around and crawled off a broken chair. I found Max wobbling from side to side with a pencil-thick needle in hand, standing over a woman in a green catsuit who was foaming at the mouth.
“How’d you see through all that?” I asked. “I think I got beat up by a solar system.”
“Oh Gecko. Precious, vanilla Gecko,” Max said. He winked at me, then looked back down at the catsuit woman. “She has the Three Hares on the back in a shade of green barely lighter than the primary coloring.”
I staggered over to confirm it. “Another damn assassin. I think I need to send a message back to the Hares.”
“You’re mad with power and determined to kill them all. What do they have to lose in sending killers after you?” he pointed out. “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Here, help me with the body.”
“She’s still dying,” I said.
“Give it time,” Max said, bending down to grab her by the feet. I took her shoulders and helped, with us stopping in mid-carry for Max to spray some air freshener when she shat herself in the throes of death. Outside, I saw a lot of the rest of the place jumbled up, with Citra and staggering around.
“Where’s Qiang?” I asked her.
She pointed upstairs. “In bed. Are we safe?”
I stopped beside her as we carried the dead woman around and kissed my wife on the cheek. “Safer than those who attacked us.” Then it was off to see to the respectful treatment of the dead.
We dropped the corpse onto a table in Max’s suite while Sam and Holly recovered with some drinks. “What you’ve told me about their isolation and heredity, the Hares’ DNA could provide amazing insight into superpowers as they relate to genetics,” Max observed.
“Plus, you want to do things with her beautiful corpse,” I added.
He patted her boots. “You know I only care about what’s on the inside. Pass me the scalpel?”
I tossed it to him and started cutting the woman free of her clothes for the autopsy. “I guess I’ve been a bit screwed up. They took my memories from me, and they’re mine. But for that brief time, I was clear of every fucked-up thing of my past. It was… clean. I had morals, and ethics, and I think even a conscience. The did it to use me somehow, and then that whole thing. It reminded me of Elizabeth, back in the other world. And a phrase Venus has been using lately.”
“Oh?” Max asked. He stepped closer to start carving into the sternum. “What’s that?”
“I’d rather not say, but it was the closest thing to washing away so much of what keeps me from changing and being better.” I looked down, which had me staring into the eyes of the corpse.
“It’s tempting,” Max commented.
I nodded. “Even for us. Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do to someone is show them another way. A ‘what if?’ scenario.”
“I like to take the wrong lesson from my enemies,” Max said, peering inside the woman’s chest cavity. “They had more of an endgame than killing you. What’s your endgame besides killing them? Right now, you’re like a dog chasing a car. You wouldn’t know what to do with it if you,” he paused and took his hands out of the woman’s chest to pantomime catching something in midair. “Caught it. What do you want the world to look like at the end of this that doesn’t involve you trying to claim you’re a god?”
“Good question,” I leaned on my elbow, looking down into the woman’s eyes, my eyes taking the same turquoise tint.
“So as you see, Dame, information on my enemies is ever so important,” I said over tea. I had Dame across my lap, like a dog or a cat or some other manner of pet. After ensuring her civility, I also had her physical form reverted back. When she didn’t look right without the blonde hair, I threw in a quick hair bleaching, too, and threw her across my lap. I rocked back and forth with her, alternating between idle chatter with her and speaking with my forces elsewhere as we rested in an armchair in what turned out to be a billiards room, complete with guest smoking jacket. So I sat there enjoying a spot of tea and my new pet’s warmth on my lap, while having a video conference in my head to catch up on local events.
During my captivity, Intel found some of my guys seizing items off incoming and outgoing shipments for personal gain. They’re dealing with the guys, some of whom were in Security and Military. What’s really interesting is that they found some power collars in the mix. Nobody reported bringing those through the island.
Ok, let’s recap a little. Things have been confusing, time’s passed, and we all need a reminder from time to time. I held a birthday party for my daughter and people started getting sick. That shouldn’t happen, because I put nanomachines in the water to keep them healthy. We discovered a disease someone created that affects the brains of people, resists efforts of the nanites to clear it out, and interacts with these collars. When someone with this disease gets one of these collars on them, they’re incapable of doing anything an unpowered human can’t do. Training’s still training, but it even stops me using my extra arms or my in-born ability as homo machina to connect to computers.
The people behind the disease and collars are the Three Hares. I raided them plenty of times, even got briefly captured. I’d say I almost forgot about the collars, but they wiped most of my memory for awhile, so I definitely forgot about the collars.
No matter what, these collars aren’t allowed anywhere on the island, something that didn’t need to be made a rule to be understood. And while I’m extremely lax about what’s brought in and what goes out, this is a different matter that someone should have reported. And my first instinct, that involves blowing ships sky high, but Pagan, the head of my Intelligence agency, has other ideas. The official liaison between myself and Intel is Hu, former head of the agency, and he had the task of talking me out of my desire to blow some boats sky high, like a fucking Sputnik. But no, it makes sense. Follow them back to where they came from.
That’s good. That gets us into infrastructure. Finds me more assets of these Three Hares guys. Because so far, the only thing I really have on these guys are where they’re keeping people. The Munich compound, for instance. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
And that brings me back to the present, which I relay to you know in the past tense because it was only the present at the time. I held Dame, her brain having been messed with quite a bit. I could tap into her memories and see the delicate treatment she faced at the hands of my people. I was glad to see they kept Qiang out of it. I cut out after she got a boot to the stomach from Max. Dame wasn’t much of a fighter. But she’s not entirely who I thought she was either.
She was one of the kids. Not one of the “gods” who are just the really powerful supers with some form of immortality. All that stuff about being gods, the kids all know it’s bullshit. It’s what they were thought to be, once upon a time. When they had temples and cults dedicated to them. Before the aliens crashed, and the groups fought before working things out and hiding to avoid extermination by aliens. But the terms are all ingrained. Gods for the really strong ones, folks who’d be up there with Spinetingler or Captain Lightning if anyone knew about them.
Then there were the demigods, like regular heroes, and capable of infiltrating the superhero and villain worlds. Finally, you have the unpowered family members of the gods and demigods. Dame had been one of those, part of a New England branch. It goes back to how craziness is for poor people; when you’re wealthy, it’s called eccentricity. Old-school aristocrats are allowed to keep to themselves.
She acted out by stealing. Got good at it eventually.
I remember when I saw the news of an explosion in a suburb. Sitting in some diner after relieving a drug dealer of his stash. Didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Took a noseful for myself, but I didn’t like partying that way after that time I woke up at a dipshit’s house without my bra. Lindsey brought me there and told me to chill. I left that punk’s sorry ass behind. He called me later, a lot of times, but I ignored him.
So I’m in this diner, drowning a coke hangover with the best coffee. The news flash came up. Some dumbass in Golden Oaks blew his house up. Or Shady Willows. Hmm. If some survivalist blew up his house planning to blow up a courthouse or a Planned Parenthood, there might be good guns around. I bet I could get in there and steal whatever rifle he’d been jacking off to from under the cops’ noses.
They evacuated most of the families by the time I got there. They had vans, people in hazmat suits, buses, but weren’t too pushy with the lawyers and soccer moms. These people want to speak to your manager!
My dirtbike had been in rougher scrapes than the backyard sandboxes could give me. The house that exploded wasn’t hard to find. It was the one that wasn’t there anymore. I cut my bike a couple yards over and climbed fences so the cops wouldn’t be onto me. Tied my hair up and hid it under a violet bandana and zipped my black jacket up to hide my Taylor Swift t-shirt. The sun would be up in an hour, so I needed to get in and out so I could get home.
The house was wrecked, but enough of the walls stood to keep the cops out front from seeing me. There was a basement door in the backyard, blown off the hinges from where it connected to the house. I saw flashlights moving around down there. FML, right? I turned to check out the shed he had there and saw the beast of a lock on the door. Fuck it, I’d been reading how to do that and watching videos. I didn’t give a crap about school, but stealing gave me money the parental units didn’t control. Turned out I liked studying locks. It was so easy to find a lockpick set for sale, too.
“I kissed a girl and I liked it,” I sang quietly to myself. I hated that song since it came out last month, but I knew my mom would freak if I talked about kissing other girls. My dad almost choked on his OJ when he first heard me sing along. Then I got the song stuck in my head for real.
I thought the lock would put up more of a fight than it did but it was so awesomesauce doing that! This wasn’t a cheap padlock like the drug dealers had. This one had girth. I dropped the lock on the ground and opened the door.
I couldn’t see real well in the darkness, but I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. I turned around fast, in case something was in there with me, and kept an eye on the darkness while I reached for my flashlight. The small light’s LEDs lit up a work table on the opposite wall, and a pair of wood shelves built into the shed on either side.
I saw wires and shit. No guns. Like, electronics and other crap, but nobody wants to buy someone’s homemade vibrator. I opened the door to go when, I noticed lights aimed at the wall of the shed next to the door.
“Hey!” someone called out.
Shit, shit, shit, shit!
I closed the door, quick, then cursed to myself. I could have tried to run, but now they’ll catch me. I won’t get in permanent trouble. The family and the gods make sure of that. But shit, I’ll never hear the end of it if they get me. I reached around, shining my light. Maybe I could slip something in the door latch… oh yeah, that’s outside. Cockgobbler!
I looked around with my light and saw something glint. It was like a net sleeve made of wires and it gave me an idea. I slid it on and raised it up as the door opened. “Don’t come any closer or I’ll zap you with my super high tech death beam gauntlet!” I yelled. I closed my fist and hit a button on the inside of it, and suddenly I was dropping through the ground.
Oh my god, I screamed so hard. I couldn’t grab onto anything and I saw all sorts of freaky shit, like bugs and skeletons. I was clawing at the anything to climb up and I somehow came up in the backyard behind that house I’d been in. As soon as I got to the surface, I pushed that button again and clamped my mouth shut. I put both hands over my mouth and ran for my bike.
That’s the day I… fuck, she graduated to demigod. I was doing that the entire time, wasn’t I?
“Ugh,” I said, putting my hand to my face and shaking blonde hair out of my face. That caused me to roll out off of the person I’d been sitting on… damn. I looked down and realized I’d done it again. A moment later, I blinked with my real eyes, or at least the cybernetic replacements I use instead and stood next to Dame. I released her from my mental grasp for a moment and caught her as she fell, weeping. And there was that feeling I get sometimes when part of me doesn’t like what I’m doing. It’s been stronger since my memories got flushed and then returned.
I left her to rest, her still not wanting to talk to me. But, I mean, she gets a much nicer cell now, with good food and everything. With her skills, it’s not like it’d be difficult for her to escape from the residence. The difference is my being able to control her from anywhere around. That’s really handy for trust.
It’s why I had no issue sleeping in the same building as her, with my family there. It’s why I didn’t even worry when I left her there the next day and headed to the military base to oversea the briefing and departure of a raid team aimed at blowing open a hole in the wall of the Three Hares Munich compound. And it’s probably why Max left me a “Thinking Of You” card where he wrote, “We need to talk about how nuts you’ve been since coming back.”
Which I’d grabbed and read using Dame’s body because I was busy on the toilet at the time.
They’re called priorities, people.
Venus was kind enough to offer me the hospitality of the Master Academy while I waited on my ride. After everything that happened, we all agreed I needed access to as many showers and fresh clothes as possible. Plus, and she didn’t actually state this, I think she was worried about all the laughing I’d been doing. Couldn’t help myself. It kinda had to do with the intersection of Gecko and Tripura. She was so nice, and she was me.
Too bad she had to kill. I just can’t catch a break, even when I don’t know hardly anything. But she killed to save an entire city, except for that part when she murdered someone for being a dick to her. The ratio of assholes to innocents makes it clear how much better a person she was. I could try and argue something about tabula rasa, but most people have really weird ideas about that. Like, they think being born with genetic preferences that can change over time somehow means the mind is born with knowledge. You know, because we should really call a baby’s inborn preference for cinnamon at birth “knowledge”.
Eh, this Earth will grow out of that at some point, maybe realize that a stream bed’s curves determine what path the water travels, but it’s not a stream without the fluid.
This sounds nice, but part of the reason I was tittering to myself so much is my ability to recall the name of that thingy on the table that salt falls out of. A mind is a terrible thing to lose, and now I’ve got mine back. And so many things are being reevaluated that it’s caused me the legitimate giggles, and some instances of laughing to spite the alternative.
It disturbed everyone around Master Academy West. They sat me in a common room with, like dark woods and a tv and books all around. If it was a social spot, it wasn’t after I got there. So I kept staring off into space, comparing memories, reconciling things, and catching up on the news. Like, seriously evolutionary psychologists? A paper about why the Jews are genetically predisposed to dominate the world? No wonder the brownshirts are marching.
In the middle of sitting down, arms around my legs, laughing my head off to myself in a dark room with the lights turned off, I noticed a guy arguing with Venus. “How long is she staying here?”
That snapped me out of my thousand-yard stare. “Hey, stop assuming my-”
“She’s a criminal, a murderer, a- a- I don’t even know what she’s committed so many crimes. And she’s transphobic,” said the teen boy to Venus.
“I’m not transphobic. There are very few people I hate more than I hate almost every one of you damn humans,” I said.
The guy actually responded. “I don’t hear you dropping the N-word or any other racial slurs.” He walked into the room, staring at me. A bit androgynous and chubby, with a wide nose that almost makes me think it’d been smooshed as a kid.
I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap, cradling him with four arms. “It’s ok there. Shh, shh, shh. Let me tell you a little story.”
“Gecko, let him go,” Venus said. I held up a finger.
“Just a quick story and he goes free unharmed, deal?” I asked.
From my lap came the teen, “I’d rather just go if I have any say in this.”
I patted him on the head. “Hush, Venus is speaking for you.”
“You promise not to harm anyone? This is just a story?” she asked.
I nodded a bunch. “I wouldn’t dare hurt the snuggly little Master Academy students here.” I gave the student a shake. The wind picked up in the room and blew some curtains a bit too much to be the AC. “It’s just a brief story of an assassin who learned how to use medical nanomachines to perform reconstructive surgery to alter the assassin’s looks. Colors were easy, adjusting flesh and cartilage as well. Muscles, harder, bones harder still. So many things were changed… face, hair color, eye color, even skin color. And in all that time, nobody who knew the assassin’s identity questioned anything about the assassin’s personality over the fact that the assassin changed appearances so often.”
“That’s not strictly true,” Venus spoke up.
I blew her a raspberry, then continued. “Then one day the assassin grows a bodacious pair of boobs and starts wearing skirts. Suddenly, everybody starts wondering if they should call the assassin something different over THIS change. THIS change was unusual. This change caused them to worry about the assassin’s mental state more than usual.” I chuckled at that part. “The assassin just changes and doesn’t think much of it. The assassin thinks it’s stupid to assume anything off about a person just because they want to be a woman.”
I pushed the teen off my lap. “Story time’s over kid. Now get out of here.”
The tean dusted himself off and looked at me. “Inside, what do you feel you are?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I’m always just me, no matter what.” I closed my eyes and sat back, hoping they’d get out of my long, beautiful hair.
Venus ushered the teen out, then turned to me. “Maybe it would help you with all your self-loathing. That can be a sign, you know.”
I waved dismissively. “Not all that important right now. But thanks for the tampons and the brief tutorial.” I opened an eye just to wink at her.
“I know about your self-loathing. Do us all a favor and find a version of yourself that’s happier. And just because changing sex isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s a small thing for someone to be made whole on this Earth, you douchecanoe.” Venus crossed her arms as she looked at me.
“If you hate me so much, if the world’s better off without me, why save me?” I asked her, leaning forward, and maybe squeezing the gals a bit for better viewing. She’s not immune to boobs. Hell, these days, the power of boobs reaches far beyond men to all sorts of genders. “Not like anyone there knew what was happening. You could have let me die.”
“We have this talk a lot, but I refuse to go through life believing the best way to solve my problems is to kill everyone,” she said.
I cocked my head to the side, “But isn’t saving me a way of condoning my actions, especially when I kill people like The Claw?”
She shook her head. “Your choices are your choices, but I’ll always hold out hope for you, and I’ll always be here if you want to change. It’s never too late.”
Ugh. It’s like she’s got a psychic around to figure out the best way to annoy me. Oh, right, she’s fucking the only surviving psychic to be in my head. I was more than happy when the Psycho Flyer arrived with an honor guard of soldiers in power armor. We made quite the sight, Psycho Gecko walking up a ramp flanked by Riccan soldiers while a force of Master Academy heroes stood guard.
One long, long, long ass trip later that involved a stopover in Mu for refueling, the Flyer passed right over the military base and landed between the Palace Residence and the Directory Legislature building. The Directors were quite curious to see what all the hub bub was about, and were surprised when the soldiers lined up and I stepped out in my armor. Not a copy, or a replica. Not a Dudebot. Me and my armor.
One of the Directors was pushed by his comrades to come meet me. “Empress, we weren’t aware you were away. We have been denied news and prevented from an audience.” He quickly bowed.
My bow wasn’t so deep, but then I’m the Empress. “It was necessary, unfortunately. If it’s any consolation, I’ve missed y’all too and I’ll be more than happy to provide more information after I meet with my family.”
I maintained a properly dignified dictator-walk until I reached the stairs to the Palace Residence. That was when Qiang got loose and came running down the steps to meet me. I pulled my daughter up in a four-armed hug and carried her up to the top of the stairs where I pulled in Citra, my (politically-motivated) wife. Then Mix N’Max, Silver Shark, everyone I could grab. Even that friend of Qiang’s, Kayla, and her parents who I’ve banged.
I got the 411 inside while snuggling Qiang. Max had a whole presentation lined up, starting with the slide, “Infiltrators, Detainment and Punishment, A Play In Three Parts”
“You may be wondering what we did with Dame, the woman you informed us was made to look like you,” Max said. “First step, identification.” The first slide after the start showed photos of the crowd all photoshopped to wear different clothes. Sam Hain, Max’s assistant, looked very pretty in Citra’s dress. Another slide showed a picture of me labeled “fake” either hugging or kissing.
“Second step, capture,” Max said. The next slide showed Sam’s head pasted to the body of a black lingerie model, perhaps to make it obvious this isn’t Sam’s body. Then a cage falls on the fake me. Then there’s a trapdoor, followed by a picture of an alligator, a school of piranhas, and a train.
“This movie sucks,” I said. “The pacing’s terrible, the acting’s subpar, and what’s with this sound design? Nobody knows how to hold a boom?” Max, ever-present grin on his face, flashed me the middle finger.
I held up one of my own toward him, then made a circle with some fingers and moved it up and down around the middle finger.
“Ahem,” said Holly, the preppier of Max’s assistants. “I worked really hard on this, and would appreciate if you paid attention.”
I didn’t pay much attention to the punishment stuff. More photoshopping, along with stills from movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Passion Of The Christ. “Bottom line,” I asked once we reached the end, “Where is she?”
Max sighed and clicked on to a last slide that said, “TL;DR, she’s in the military base.”
“Thank you,” I said, standing up. I hugged Qiang to myself, then set her down. “I’ll be back in a bit, sweetest of hearts. Mommy has to go see the bad lady.”
And I did. The men, human and Deep One alike, were happy to have me back. They showed me down to a special room, one that’d be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the holding cells. Recently, I’d been the one sitting in a darkened room, with a circle of light. She knelt in the circle, arms and legs held to the floor. She was covered by a thin white dress, barely more than a scrap. I could practically see through it.
I stepped up and pulled out a can of spray cheese. “Wakey, wakey, dearest Dame.”
She looked up wearing a copy of my face. She started to say something, but I filled her mouth with cheese so cheap. I had to find the can in a flop house by the dock where sailors passing helped themselves to a high while they were on the island. “I don’t know how much they’re feeding you. I assume some food’s involved. Wow, I know how to put together a body shape, don’t I?”
She fought to get through the cheese. Since she had nothing to say, I kept on going. “This whole game of spy versus spy and who is better at planning and counterplanning, it’s just needlessly complicated and annoying. Never knowing who to trust… it’s just no fun. So today, I make you a promise. If you cooperate, I won’t kill you. Won’t order you killed or anything like that.”
“Your guards beat the shit out of me every day,” she growled through cheese.
I patted her on the head. “And they’ll stop now because you’re going to be my own personal project.”
Her eyes fluttered and she shook her head. “Whaaaaa-why is everything… doing that?” She looked all around.
I knelt and stroked my lookalike’s hair. “It’s just the nanites, dear. I made sure you only go the best cheese.” I held up the can and shook it, smiling under my mask as if she could see it. Then I sighed. “Not quite so fun knowing what’s going to happen.”
“What are you doing?” she asked, kneeling forward, trying to rest her head on the floor.
I rubbed her head sat beside her, moving her head into my lap as the nanites set to work. “I don’t like where your mind’s at, so I’m changing it. Making a few alterations where I can. Looks like you’ve got that little disease that can inhibit superpowers too, even if you use a gadget for your fun. I had a lot of time on my flight to review everything we know about Unity, the same drug they used to make me thing I wasn’t me. Same drug I bet you were trying to steal from Ricca when they first captured you. Neural pathways to access long-term and short-term memory. Funny thing is, it’s entirely possible to start using these nanites to replace parts of a brain with a, what do you call it, cybernetic alternative. There may be a few hiccups, but that’s why I’m trying this trick on you instead of someone I care about.” Here I felt a little bit of Tripura tug at me. Dame started to scream until I forced her to stop via well-placed nanites.
I leaned in to whisper to Dame. “You know, I felt so normal and innocent there thanks to what your people did to me. Then I get my memory back. All of it. Poor Tripura… but that time gave me so many wonderful ideas about how to deal with you, them, and any other problems that come up. Losing my mind has been incredibly refreshing; I highly recommend it.”
I stood up. “Don’t worry about screaming. You got a mouth, but you won’t be able to. New process like this, I told it to take it’s time. A couple of days and I’m sure whatever you’re feeling will go away. Or you’ll suffer brain damage. Either way, I’ll be back later to pick your brain.” I stopped and waved my hands, jazz hands style. “I’m thinking something old school, maybe wrinkly, but cute and… ya know, pink’s a great color.”
I giggled at her shaking her head and waved it off. “Oh, don’t worry about your silly opinions. I’ll replace those later.”
I missed that feeling of news coverage. The BBC talked about Psycho Gecko’s Blasphemy. Al Jazeera wondered which holy site was next. Outlaw X loving detailed the attacks, starting with my ride of the valkyries in London. Fox News ran a story suggesting rich Jews were secretly financing my attacks in order to draw attention away from a pedophile ring Hillary Clinton runs out of the basement of the Alamo. Not all PR is good PR. Some of it’s just fucking stupid.
It helped that I was rampaging around the United Kingdom, one of those countries that news people actually report on. Anybody who’s ever tried to hold someone hostage in Croatia knows what I’m talking about there. As Dame promised, there were many old religious sites with the Three Hares icon. They didn’t all turn up anything useful. Some had no secrets to share. Some had been long abandoned, with careful demolition yielding no further results. Others had been emptied before we got there, leaving little for us to find other than signs of human occupation in places humans shouldn’t have been living.
They didn’t all have that magic door, though. Good thing the proud interrogators of Ricca were on the job to follow up and ask questions in the area afterward. Or, more likely, they bribed a shitload of cops to ask a few questions for them. Nosy neighbors are a great source of information. They get so pissed about big trucks in the middle of the night, people moving, all that.
We also moved about. Dame didn’t like traveling with me, so Qiang and I had ourselves a little father/daughter road trip. We left the British Isles as quickly as possible in order to find something to eat, though. I was forced to express my displeasure in British cuisine after it turned out a waiter hadn’t intended me to bang his head into the table, then mash his skull. Then there’s the blood pudding incident. We don’t want to talk about the blood pudding incident.
Just me and muh daughter, driving around Europe. She was absolutely delighted when people started driving on the right side of the road again, even though it meant much less swerving from me. She’ll get used to cars heading straight for her. I still remember my first headlights. When there was still adrenaline involved.
Being in France tempted me to hit up the big tourist spots like the Louvre and rob them blind, but I have a child to look after. I have to think of her. That’s why we robbed a candy store instead. I wish I could say it had the Three Hares and we went on an amazing summer adventure of life, love, and lollipops. Instead, I punched the teller and Qiang, too distracted by her armful of candy, missed her shot to grab the cash. Instead, I grabbed bunch of those giant suckers, licked it, and smacked a cop in the face who tried to stop us right outside. The guy was going to have such a big bruise once he pried that thing off his skin.
I had to leave her behind for the next attack, and I was glad for this one. Dame met me in her normal guise in the twilight of the French countryside. More specifically, she asked me to wait in south-central France, at the edge of a great forest near a mountain. She tried to get the jump on me, but my armor’s traditional 360 degree display stifled her attempt. “Hello, Dame. Lots of trees around here. Please tell me this isn’t about some musty church in the middle of nowhere.”
“This isn’t about some musty church in the middle of nowhere,” she said, floating down to land next to me before solidifying.
“Good. Now I need you to get down on your knees and pretend you’re licking ice cream.”
She slapped me, which might mean she likes me. We’re in France, so I think I was supposed to grab her and kiss her at that point. “Don’t talk to me like that again or you can find your own hares.”
“Why is it that bitches always get testy when you break out the sexual harassment?” I asked.
“Ask your mother if you can catch her at the dog park,” Dame said. “Shut it already. You make everything profoundly less fun.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d gotten down on your legs already,” I mumbled. “Ok, ok, what are we doing here?”
“Off in this forest is the Chateau du Maquis, a former church refurbished as a hunting lodge following World War II, in honor and recognition of the Maquis du Mont Mouchet. They fought the Nazis in guerrilla engagements ending with a final attack where the force was dispersed, but not destroyed. The Nazis brought everything to stop attacks from infantry hiding in the woods; the Luftwaffe, artillery, armored units, motorized units, and veterans from the Eastern front all fought. 3,000 Germans fought 2,700 French and only managed to kill about 500. The rest lived to fight another day.”
“While the Nazis ended up as history. So where’s the forest in question? Is it behind all these trees?” I raised a hand up above the eyes on my helmet to shade my view.
“It, it.. it… flames, the flames, flames on the side of my face. Breathing… breathing.” Dame threw up her hands. “Come on, get in my car.” She pointed to a dark blue Aston-Martin.
“Hardly a fitting vehicle for a supervillain,” I said. Her response was to eye my rented Yugo. “What? You’d be surprised how much plastic explosive you can fit in one of those things. It’s the perfect car to blow things up. Nobody cares about the loss of a Yugo. Nobody investigates too hard. Nobody mourns the Yugo.” I looked back at it and gave the car a thumbs-up. A stiff wind blew and the wheels fell off. “So, your car?”
The Chateau, as Dame only informed me upon nearing it, had a minimal occupation of caretaker. No big security force. No police anywhere around.
“Sounds like the perfect place to run a side hustle. What are we looking at? Drugs? Weapons? Not to be too stereotypical, but wine smuggling? I could smuggle the shit out of some wine. Takes a whole ‘nother class of mule to pull that off. Or push it in, as it were.”
“Vacations. The wealthy need a place to hunt and hold secret meetings.”
“Which brings us back to the drugs and weapons and wine shoved up someone’s ass,” I told her. “They going to be put off by us showing up in costume?”
“Rich people. Isolated chateau,” was all the answer Dame provided, or needed to provide.
Heavy on the stone, steeples, and climbing vines, the forest pressed close to the chateau grounds, obscuring it. It felt confined by the forest. Perhaps that explains kicking the doors completely down as I did. “Everyone, drop your pants and raise the roof!”
An old man looked up from pushing a broom in front of an empty fireplace. “What are you wanting here?”
“Must be a Parisian,” Dame said to me, stepping up and slapping me on the arm. “Pardon me, my eccentric friend and I interested in the grounds. Is there anyone present who could educate us?”
“If there’s anything to know about the chateau, I would know it,” said the old man. He continued his sweeping past the fireplace. Didn’t even bother to pick up an old machete laying next to it, though. “I must finish. Then we will talk.”
I decided to set the doors back up while we wait, and noticed the old, burnt wooden Three Hares above the door. Dame helped herself to a glass of wine while I checked the Hares over for a trick entrance or some sort of mechanism. Had to pile up a couple of really old chairs to do it. Older than this place if it was only built after WW2. The Hares symbol itself might be salvaged from another site, which means a whole ‘nother trip involved.
“Any weirdness around here, Dame?” I asked. “Maybe help us narrow down where what we’re really looking for.”
The old man appeared at the doorway on the opposite side of the building suddenly. Fast old fart. “The Beast was caught around here.”
I checked with Dame, who almost had to waste a drop of wine to surprise, then looked to the old man. “The Beast, eh? May I ask which beast?”
“The Beast of Gévaudan. It was a giant wolf, the fiercest such beast to ever stalk the forests of Earth. For three years, the Beast claimed the lives of the innocent. Hunters came and failed. They shot a greatwolf and stuffed it, but the attacks continued. The hunts of man and wolf continued until Jean Chastel shot the Beast with silver. Its body disappeared into the care of a surgeon who confirmed it had feasted on human. This is the story of the Beast of Gévaudan.”
“Interesting story. Werewolf?” I asked.
“Here wolf,” said the old man, dropping to all fours. His clothes disappeared into long, grey fur upon the rise of a wolf the size of a bull.
Dame jumped up, tossing the wine bottle against the mantle of the fireplace as she put distance between herself and the old wolf. I was more focused on the knowing eyes of the old beast until the fire started. I thought it was the fireplace itself until I saw the machete was burning. From the flames, like ashes, slid an arm, then the rest of a dark-skinned human body with iron plate piercings running along the arms, the chest, and everywhere else not covered in red pants and shirt. He set his red sash around his chest and picked up the machete. When he spoke, the words I heard didn’t match his lips. “You come to my house with weapons and violence in your heart?”
I threw my cape back, unleashing a pair of laser drones. “Violence is such a simple description for what I do. I prefer if you call it a nightmare.”
Dame lit out of there without so much as a “Sorry,” and a piss in her pants. And as I squared off with the two, I heard things. Things like a car revving up and speeding out of there. Things like creeks and snapping branches. The satellite imagery showed more things were out there. I began to suspect I was entering that point where I didn’t know how many it’d take to whoop my ass, but I’d soon learn just how many they were gonna use. If they’re all as tough as the one at the first site I hit in England, that won’t be many.
So I jumped out as well, pushing the broken door out and knocking over someone. I didn’t get a good look at them as I slid a ways, then jumped off and into the thick woods surrounding the place. A dropped rubber chicken grenade set a fire to spread and cover my tactical re-mobilization away from the main area of conflict.
Whatever these guys were, however good of trackers and hunters, it’s a bit tough to hunt someone more powerful than a locomotive who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. I called in my own dogs then. Or at least their voicemail. “Titan, I’m going to need the Riccan soldiers in France. It’s better if you don’t know pretty much anything else about it. Oh, and if you see Dame come around, tell her she owes me a lot of ice cream.”
I smiled, hearing the crashing of trees in the night and the flutter of fleeing birds.
Nice place for a hunt. I’m hunting Hares, they’re hunting Gecko. Time to see who’s the top predator around here.
“I want less emphasis on it, but don’t discourage the pursuit. Max is working on his stuff too, but any cure’s also useless if we can’t vaccinate against this thing. We could probably quarantine and cure the entire island if we had enough for everyone, but all it takes is one more boat coming in. Until there’s a vaccine, quarantines and cures aren’t going to do much,” I told Creeper via Dudebot. I left one behind in a storage closet at the Institute, right near the lobby command center. It helps keep in contact, especially since I’ve done some traveling.
Dr. Creeper was calm at least. I’d authorized him to spend some money on a massage day for the scientists, who were driving themselves to exhaustion over this and I wanted to keep morale up. Remind people what they’re fighting for. Or researching for, in this case. Brain work may not wear on the body the same way, but mental exhaustion is real. My Chief of Science had called to check in though, wondering if we should even worry about a cure. “I understand, herr Gecko. Vhile I have you on the phone, the cell you asked for has been completed.”
“That was quick. Nice going,” I told him.
“It seems ve had a similar testing room already built. The modifications were simple.”
“Thanks. Just keep it ready in case we need it. After all the trouble he caused us, I’m sure there’s another Funhouse I can get my hands on. Until then, keep up the good work.” It was a neat design to handle the issue with Funhouse. From the way the guy talked in unison, I suspect he had a hive mind. And since he was working as a spy, I suspect he was suspicious enough to not have all of his hims meet at the same place. Not unless he was insanely loyal, and I’m not sure that’s the case. He did screw up their plan.
If Funhouse hadn’t panicked, we wouldn’t know what the disease’s purpose was. We wouldn’t know powers could be restrained, even ones like mine. I suppose we’d know some shadowy cabal was behind it, but it’s pretty easy to tell when Faustus/Hephaestus is up to something, and VillainNet would give me a heads-up on others. People really like insignia, trophies, and decorative flourishes. What Funhouse led us to was an auxiliary base that saw barely any use in an abandoned temple to one of the world’s major religions.
I figured I could either start investigating all the Buddhists on Earth, or I could start investigating the design with the rabbits that was the secret door access.
I finished our little call just before heading up the steps of the museum Qiang was hopping up one at a time. We’d both dressed for London’s heat, which wasn’t so bad considering the island’s weather. The exception was that I had to wear these gloves along the length of my lower arms. I had them made because I was tired of wearing clothing loose enough to fit my arms down. Now I just have to worry about clothing that handles both pairs and hiding the extra ones around anyone I don’t want knowing they exist. These gloves are made of the same material as the camouflage of the Pyscho Flyer, but comfortable to wear thanks to an internal layer.
The Museum of Architecture was, sadly, not the best place for Qiang. Eventually, it’d be fun to take her through and teach her all about weak points and ways to sneak around, but she’s a bit young for it. I promised her we’d find something fun, like a zoo, afterward. Because, as I informed a guide, “I’m looking for information on a historical architectural symbol.”
I do so love many British accents, especially when they’re telling me things I want to hear. They were able to direct me to the area of the museum in question, though I had to dangle a donation in front of them to get some personal attention. I also let Qiang look around at scale models all over the place. She pretended to be Godzilla, but stopped short of destroying anything.
“Tell me if you’ve heard this one,” said a woman’s voice. I turned to see a blonde, tan beauty in her twenties approach, belly and sides peeking through openings in the fancy pants blue dress she wore. With a mask on, I knew her as Dame, a thief who had been known to work with heroes from time to time. “A kid, a supervillain, and the world’s best thief walk into a museum.”
“No mention of yourself in the joke?” I asked. “How do you always find me, Dame?”
She set her feet and crossed her arms. “A lady must have her secrets, but this time Venus gave you up.”
“Preposterous. Venus specifically said she was never going to give me up. Never gonna let me down. Never gonna run around or desert me.”
“Ugh, that is SUCH an old meme now. Shouldn’t you be saying ‘Gas the Jews’ over and over again these days?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, because it’s real funny when someone has to repeat the punchline thirty times hoping people start laughing. You’ve gotten better at insulting people.”
“I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of that comparison,” she said, grinning.
“Seriously, what do you want Dame?” I asked, motioning to where my daughter pretended to shoot radioactive breathe at a damaged gargoyle. “Some of us are here on important business.”
Even she enjoyed the sight of Qiang playing. “Obviously. What about you?”
“I’m trying to figure out why humans who speak English decided to associate sex with so many bad things by making the parts and actions into insults that people otherwise find quite enjoyable. ‘Fuck you, dick. Fuck you, pussy. Screw you, asshole. Cocksucker. Shit tits.”
She opened her mouth and flinched at the last one. I walked over and clapped her on the shoulder, adding, “Good to see you’re a fan, too.”
“Let’s just talk. Venus filled me in on the situation. I can tell you more about what you’re looking for than whoever they roped in to smiling pretty at the museum.” She turned and indicated the symbol in the exhibit of three rabbits chasing each other around the interior of a circle, with only three ears but each animal having a pair. “Let’s grab coffee.”
“Qiang, want to go get something as sweet as you?” I asked.
She stopped gnawing on the gargoyle and looked up, face alight. “Yeah Baba!”
Dame bent down. “You’re Qiang? You’re adorable.” She patted Qiang on the head with one hand. The other reached for where Qiang was hiding her knife. My girl pulled that knife on her, glaring.
“You think that’s bad, try to take her candy and see what she does to you,” I said. I patted Qiang on the head. “That’s my girl.” Qiang looked up at me and smiled.
We left and headed down the street, because Dame insisted, “The swill here is meant for tourists and academics. I know roasts worthy of a king.”
“As an Empress, I suppose I can lower myself to try a mere queen’s favorite coffee,” I said all snooty, raising my nose. I ignored the looks from an older lady who sniffed at the remark.
“As an Empress, you can afford to pay me. I don’t work for free,” she waved a hand. “I am a thief, not an informant. I have to make a stealing from someone.”
“I have money enough,” I told her.
“You have enough money to give it away. I want something more valuable to you.”
“Any deal involving my first born doesn’t count,” I told her. “But I don’t know what you’re hoping for that’s more valuable.”
She turned and winked. “Your crown. Officially, I’ll steal it and get away with it.”
“Only damn way you could get it,” I told her.
She raised an eyebrow briefly. “Maybe, maybe not. That’s how the story goes that I’ll get it, and you will verify it.”
“Fine, but you better give me something real or no deal. This is leaving a bad taste in my mouth already. That or it’s this coffee,” I said, sniffing at my cup. I palmed a nanite syringe from my purse with one of my hidden hands and injected myself to make sure I wouldn’t fall prey to sedatives or poisons.
“It will be. The symbol you’ve looked into is called the Three Hares. The earliest examples trace back to 6th century China in Buddhist religious spots near trade hubs. It spread along the Silk Road, moving faster when the Mongols established the Pax Mongolica. All the religions wanted it. There are churches all over Europe with the symbol in areas that imply significance and association with the Green Man, a pagan symbol of rebirth. Since Green Man is pagan, what little agreement there is on the subject suggests they are enemies. It also appears in synagogues and Islamic artwork. You can find a marvelous example of the latter on a casket in the Cathedral of Trier. You can’t go to church in Devonshire without tripping over more rabbits.”
“Ok, what’s it mean?” I asked, pretending to take another sip of my coffee. I wasn’t paranoid about it so much as I just didn’t like it.
She shrugged. “No one knows. It spread from China to England and was used by people in four rival religions. It’s connected to the Green Man, Buddha, the Virgin Mary, Lazarus, the Holy Trinity, and more gods than I can count, but nobody knows what it’s for. We don’t have any writings about it.” She stopped and turned to me.
“That’s not very useful,” I told her.
“There isn’t much useful.” She raised her cup to point across the street. A cathedral stood. “But that church has the Hares in it, and nobody seems to know what happened to the air raid shelter underneath it.”
“If that’s all…”
She pulled out a couple sheets of paper. “Every location and artifact I know of featuring the Three Hares symbol and every mythological figure associated with it in case that’s important. You’re working with a titan, after all.”
I reached out for the papers. “Groovy. Ya know, cool cat, I was down at the malt shop when I heard something about this hip new thing called electronic mail. All the lamplighters and newspaper boys are talking about it.”
“I know. I knew this would piss you off more,” she said. “Almost as much as finding out I’m working with you.”
I looked at her, then turned to the church across the way. “I’d better go get my spear and magic helmet then.”
“Your spear and magic helmet?” asked Dame.
I nodded. “Spear and magic helmet!”
“Magic helmet?” inquired Qiang.
Qiang hopped up and down excited. Dame rolled her eyes. And I began to hum “Ride of the Valkyries” as I began plotting.
I have been hard at work building bombs. And while building bombs, I’ve been keeping Qiang with me to learn. It started when she ate something that disagreed with her. The color also disagreed with the carpet, so I brought her with me to keep an eye on while I work. These things are easy enough to make for me now that I can focus on her and help her understand the changes that are going on in her body.
And if that sounds awkward, just wait until I go female to help her through puberty. I’m gearing up to be one hell of an embarrassing parent. She doesn’t realize it yet because it’s new to her, but most of the civilized world frowns on someone listening to Barbie Girl or Cotton Eye Joe. I think she also likes learning how to fight back against people. There aren’t so many assistants waiting around, but I have taught her some tricks for dealing with them. You don’t have to be large to punch someone in the balls. It is a little trickier for women, but toes and shins are still within easy reach of her.
I also have her messing around with a tablet that I added games to. Educational stuff. Like a game to help her with math, or science, or movement patterns of guards. There’s even one in there about firearms and how they can be taken apart. It’s so easy, even a child can do it.
I didn’t have her help me with the bombs. I just kept putting them together, looking all dutiful and all. I might need them. After all, the world was kinda screwed. Despite my intervention, perhaps erring on the side of “because of,” the Claw managed to take over entire other nations. He wiped their memories with that Unity crap and had his own men standing in the wings, ready to replace their muddled confusion with assurances of who they were and who they served.
He can do the same to any country where the leader is in a fixed position and power is more or less concentrated. That’s a lot of countries. It works just as well on Prime Ministers as it does on Presidents. If that doesn’t work for some reason, I can help him send a death squad instead. Or a conventional bomb. Or a bomb that tears things apart by sending a chunk of it to another dimension. The world is Ricca’s oyster, and I helped them crack it.
It’s the apocalypse, alright. I always knew I’d have a hand in it.
At night, I carried a sleepy Qiang back with me to my room, where I put a little work in on something that occurred to me on my armor. Smaller, secondary capacitors, that I can detach. It might seem like an easy way to keep extra batteries on hand, but I rigged them to be capable of exploding, if I say so. It can only be triggered if they’re detachd from my armor, too. I killed the Oligarch with his own power armor’s self-destruct system; that doesn’t mean I’m eager to be hoisted by my own petard. Petard hoisting is hard on the boxers.
And, more than that, I still had the Rangers.. On the day of their projected arrival, I made sure to get up early. Like, before the PM. I know, right? They were still a ways off. I wiggled free of Qiang and let her sleep while I pulled my armor out from under the bed and got equipped. The batteries were charged, except for the extras. I threw that on just in case. I like having my armor.
It was great. They had the stupid ship with eyes and everything. I caught a better glimpse of it through a satellite feed. It belonged to the Russians, but they’d given Ricca unprecedented access to their defense infrastructure recently. How about that?
I caught a glimpse of a young man and his friends, five in total, standing on the ship, looking toward the island. The frontmost one wore red. By his side, a blue one started pointing toward the island. That’s when the yellow one ran back toward the bridge and the ship stopped.
I panned out, curious and expecting to see some giant monster unleashed. Instead, I saw a shimmering half sphere cover the island. The ship, something of a big, modern-battleship looking-thing, turned sideways and unleashed a broadsides. Anachronistic offense aside, the attack did nothing. The shield gave a little, rippled even, but didn’t disappear. If anything struck the island, I didn’t notice. The ship just stopped there.
Curious, I headed out to the main palace, looking for answers. I found Lu watching a small army of assistants scurry about with their duties. “Hey there, Luey Luey. What seems to be the officer, problem?”
He set his jaw and looked at me. “The island is under attack. It will be sorted out shortly.”
I pointed up. “I noticed something’s up with the sky. What is that? What’s going on?”
He turned toward me and bowed his head. “My lord, the protective barrier is in place to prevent any hostile incursion or bombardment of the glorious homeland of the Empire. We are perfectly safe. Your devices are the only way in or out to my knowledge. Go back to whatever you are doing and the situation will resolve itself soon.”
I headed back, but I didn’t care to just let things resolve. Uh uh. I needed to find whatever generated this barrier and take it out. Positioning suggests it is centrally located. However, I know it’s possible to have the shield generated by one machine and distributed evenly by other nodes. That’s a potential issue. My first two initial ideas were the palace itself and the Institute of Science. Somewhere on this damn island has to be a military base, but I never bothered going there. I should be able to use the satellites to find it, but not everything’s so easy around here. The island stretches down quite a ways, even harnessing geothermal power to keep the island lit up.
And there it was. So simple. Just kill the power. No matter where the thing was, it would need power, and a lot of it. If anything, it’s surprising that it managed to power up at all without causing a brownout or blackout. Except I don’t know where that is, either. I’m beginning to suspect keeping me segregated from most of the island was a strategic choice, and one I went along with way to much.
Maybe I should destroy a lot of stuff and hope I hit something vital. Either way, I should see to Qiang. And at least warn off the servant girls in case they get shot just for being in the same room as me. I get the feeling I’m going to be on Claw’s enemy list soon if I do anything about this forcefield.
I didn’t have time to set on a strategy before I made it back to my place and found Dame waiting there for me on the couch. I raised an eyebrow looking at her. She stood up, walked over, put her arms around me, and whispered, “I couldn’t help seeing you again.” With barely any vocalization at all, she added, “The forcefield cut me off.”
I nodded. “I know. I’ve been thinking about it, too. I think it’d be quite a feat to separate us. But if we did get together and all that, then break up, I’d want you to take the kids.”
She raised an eyebrow. I nodded toward the bedroom with Qiang. “But take good care of them. They’d mean the world to me, or at least the lives of everybody you’ve ever been friendly toward.”
“That’s if I could leave you at all,” she replied.
I hugged her. “I’d never force you to stay with me if you didn’t want to. You’ll have to trust me that I’d leave you a way out. But enough about that. I just came here while I thought about what to do about this crisis. I’m going to have to get out there and do something.”
“Something to help?” she asked.
I nodded. “I need to go to work. I wouldn’t want to wait around here all day with some sort of attack going on.” It was possibly the best heads-up I could give her.
But first, I went to the kitchen area and grabbed some bottled water. I emptied a couple bottles and filled them both about three quarters with what nanites I had manage to stockpile again. Dame left, pausing to look back at me before fleeing, making nary a sound.
I made my way to the Institute of Science, keeping my eyes peeled. I never understood that phrase. I mean, sure, I found a nice pair of eyes on this guy who had stopped to take a selfie in front of the palace. They’re blue, and maybe 20/20, but I don’t know what peeling them is supposed to do. It defeats the purpose, really. I mean, there’s the eye jelly, but you don’t see more with all of it exposed.
At the Institute of Science, I kicked the door in, charged in, and yelled, “Ok, motherfuckers! This is a dick measuring contest, and today y’all came up shor-!”
The wall behind me blew open and in stepped a power-armor clad pursuer in smooth, rounded, pitck black armor with a sword in hand. The assassin who had come through from my old world had switched into that bulky armor soon after arriving. While our last meeting didn’t see them wearing it, they had it on this time. I looked at him, then back at the security guards. They pulled out glowing rifles and fired at him.
I suppose there’s one good thing about being on their side. “Go to it, boys,” I said, crawling past them. Checking back there, I saw they shot him with lasers. After a few shots, his armor shifted into a mirrored shine that took the edge off the shots. Oh great. I’m fighting the fucking Borg here. Guess I’ll have to make sure I take him down in one good shot.
I left them to it, letting the guards get nice and slaughtered, and ran for the elevator. It dinged open to reveal War Man with a black 35x32mm barrel sticking in my face and a large drum under that. I scooted to the side. War Man spread his legs and fired a burst of grenades at my assassin, who just finished playing hibachi chef with the guards. The Man O’ War stepped out to deal with the threat, for which I gave him a small salute and took the elevator he left behind down.
I felt plenty of shaking from up there, but nothing messed severed the cables. I wasn’t at risk of dying so much as being kept away from the bombs I needed. If anything, this assassin’s arrival might help cover things for me. I won’t bet on it. Instead, I calmly walked down the hallway to my replacement lab, setting up targets and timers.
Another unfortunate thing I’d forgotten was to figure up just how damn thick the Institute was. I set up the bombs with a way for me to access them, but didn’t think about how far underground and how there was no way to connect to them from outside the building. This was the wrong time to be making mistakes, especially with the barrier already putting me on edge. Times like these, I begin to suspect I’m not as clever as I otherwise think I am. Then I remember I’m the smartest, prettiest, handsomest, and most humble son of a bitch on this planet and any other.
Something crashed down into the elevator car behind me. It turned out to be my bestest best friend in the whole world, the anonymous killer guy.
I turned around. The armor really didn’t look that bad. Part of one arm formed a thick shield, though they still had the sword in their right. My unwelcome stalker stepped out of the elevator and turned, swiftly slicing the bottom half so that it fell. A moment later, War Man plunged down through the hole in the roof made by my uninvited guest and down the elevator shaft after the bottom.
I snorted. “Ok, that was pretty good. Say, how’d you get in here, anyway? Swim ahead or something?”
The reticulated and inarticulate taintmuncher didn’t even grace me with an answer from they’re hoity-toity mouth. They charged, and then ran into a D-bomb that appeared right in front of them, clanging. Then they both just up and disappeared. They weren’t the only ones. The entire island quaked.
Now, I suppose I could have targeted everything underneath this place. The whole volcano or what have you. Just completely disappeared it. Problem with that is the lack of buoyancy up here. It’d get really wet here, and this armor feels inadequate for navigating marine environments for a long period of time. Rather than end up as a cameo in the next Finding Nemo movie, I put a hole right through the mass of land, allowing water to flow freely through the middle. I doubt I got rid of the geothermal power station, but based on the way the lights went out, something’s telling me it finds it harder to operate.
I know, I know, most people wouldn’t blow a hole through an underwater mountain just to turn off the lights. I had to climb out of the building to get a signal up into space, which wasn’t that hard. Nobody knew I’d struck at Ricca yet. The power was down, as were most electronic communications. I stood there, in the ruins and corpses on the first floor, and pulled up the satellite view.
The Ricca Palace Central Complex, gone, but not the residence wing. The barrier around the island, gone. The Kremlin, gone. The White House, gone. The Great Hall of the People in China, also gone.
I was spent, or I’d have aimed for the United Kingdom, too. As it stands, I took out the two main tools of the Claw’s, and some innocent bystanders who happen to be part of the UN Security Council’s five permanent member states. Or the Empire of Ricca attacked them, as far as everyone knows and I’ll disseminate.
It’s the apocalypse, alright. I always knew I’d have a hand in it. Only, now it’s not half the world aimed at the other half. It’s the world aimed at one specific nation. Ooh, and here some anonymous source from Ricca’s Institute of Science has leaked to the world that Ricca used up all of its available bombs, with no way to replenish their stock. What well-hung devilish rogue did that, I wonder?
It was along the way to pick up Qiang that I confirmed things weren’t over yet. I saw a massive VTOL plane take off from the Palace grounds. Escort helicopters took off with it. The island rumbled around me and I turned to see the giant battle ship had become a giant robot. The choppers engaged, firing missile after ineffective missile. Then it was the Rangers’ turn. The robot’s arms folded in front of it so its outer sides pointed forward. They were the same sides with the broadside cannons, which they put into play with a coordinated barrage that destroyed the Riccan choppers but bounced ineffectually off the escaping plane.
I’m not counting the Claw dead until I see his body, and Qiang and I didn’t see any freaky alien genotypes in the wreckage of the palace. They didn’t kidnap her or anything, which was a count in favor of the Claw being smart. Kidnap the girl I’ve claimed as my daughter? Definitely going after him. Don’t kidnap her? Fifty-fifty, even accounting for my moral peculiarities.
Despite my disappointment, the visit to the ruins made a nice field trip. I had the servants pack us a picnic lunch. We ate it as the island descended into chaos and the Rangers began fighting off loyalists and others who took advantage of the power vacuum to have their way with the innocent.
If only I had a fiddle.
In the days after my brawl and the adventure in the Institute of Science, I was informed that my services at the lab wouldn’t really be needed for a short while and that they’d be more than happy to provide me anything I wanted in my room. That’s a fancy way of saying I was under house arrest, as if they expected me to agree. I did ask for a bit of company, perhaps the lovely Dame whose offer of companionship I’d rethought.
Then it was time to watch cartoons with Qiang while braiding her hair. It amused me to see they shoved her into some tight dress again for my satisfaction. They have a skilled spy and thief on their hands and they shove her into tight clothes to dangle her around for my attention. It takes more than just a beautiful, if slim, body, pretty face, a butt stuffed into jeans you can see the thong through, and boobs that look like they want to pounce out to distract me, though. Not much more, mind you. Oftentimes less, actually. I still noticed the way she gave my little nanite armor bath a wide berth.
It had been doing double duty for me lately; healing and upgrading, and the little medical dispenser couldn’t keep up real well. I’d been trying to think of more changes I could make to Qiang. It’d be tough to mess with her bones at this stage of development. That’s not a very subtle change to make. Reinforcing them causes this excessively annoying itch that can’t be scratched because it exists underneath the skin and muscles themselves. I think my daughter would notice that.
Daughter. Daughter. I was more comfortable using that word as a lie than taking it as truth. I shouldn’t have to clarify, but I’m not actually her dad. Just on the off chance someone’s confused out there and thinks I took a dip in the Yellow River while killing my way through Asia. I’m making it up. And even if she tried to steal my helmet and run around with it on, she’s still more honest company than anyone else around here.
Which brings us back to Dame, in her tight jeans and her tight top that looked like someone tied a bandana around her chest. I swear, I could almost count her boob freckles. Of course, I wouldn’t feel confident in my rough tally, so I really should confirm the true number… but that’s not why I invited her there. Nor is it why we hung out and I let her get close. She waited awhile this time. I even meant to fix dinner for her first. Next thing I know, my face was real close to hers and tongue was going everywhere, but mostly inside each others’ mouths.
Qiang didn’t like that demonstration and tried tugging me free. When I waved her off, she stomped off and went to the kitchen. I heard some metal banging around in there before the maids pulled her off. Sounded like a hell of a wrestling match in there, and I have no doubt the tenacity of my daughter would have won out if I hadn’t stopped macking on Dame to go cook.
As I stood up, I ran my tongue over the tips of the fangs I added to my physiology, and then back along the sacs in the roof of my mouth. I’d emptied them of the nanites I’d gathered in there before our little rendezvous this evening. While some didn’t get any further than my own mouth, many others were racing through Dame’s system to find any diseased connections or blockages or otherwise improper build-ups of chemicals in the brain outside what baseline humans are supposed to have. It worked on Sexahol, and the regenerative capabilities of America’s super soldier could defeat it, so why not? The part where I made out with a hot chick is completely incidental, just so we’re clear. Completely. Fun though. I suppose if I want to be sure, I can see about getting some in my dick and then…
Nah, that just sounds painful and rapey.
After a lovely and delicious meal, Qiang wanted to keep me all to herself rather than let the bad, bad woman take me away from her. Luckily, Dame needed to visit the little dictator’s room. I call it that because it has its own throne. She didn’t come out for awhile, and I eventually called over the older, thicker of my maids to ask her to check on my guest. As an added benefit, older one’s got a nice booty too. The younger one’s a little too skinny, which is something I like sometimes, but the older one’s done some physical labor. Possibly some childbearing labor, too. Either way, she’s got some muscle and some fat of her own. Fun for the whole family.
When she rushed back and told me Dame needed medical attention, I had a feeling my tongue had fully worked its magic on her. I found her in the bathroom, losing the dinner I worked very hard to make into the toilet. It wasn’t a pretty sight. It never is. Almost cost me my dinner, especially when I held her hair and leaned down next to her hear. “Hey, you ok? How’s your memory?”
“I can-blurgh!” Another round of heaving later. “What happened to me? How did I no-…” she waited to see if she had anything else to lose. “-not think about everything?”
I shook my head. “The way you’re throwing up, whoever’s been assigned to eavesdrop on me must think I’m a terrible cook now.” I leaned closer to whisper to you. “Don’t worry, though. I didn’t put anything in your food. Maybe it was some kind of reaction though. You never know what you can come down with in a foreign country. Could be Genghis Khan’s revenge. Don’t know for what, though, lucky bastard’s the ancestor of half the world. Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
As I helped her with that, I saw Qiang in the doorway. “Sweetheart, our guest will be staying the night. She’s ill. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please be nice to her.”
“I’m not going to have a threeway with your little-” All of a sudden, her face smacked the corner of the toilet. Must have been my hand slipping as I tried to stand up.
“Whoopsy. Sorry about that. Sounded like you were about to insult my daughter, though. Now stand up and let’s get you clean.”
I got her cleaned up and she stayed with me, but Qiang cuddled me close as we talked into the night. I covered the sound a little with TV, some crossover between the Prophecy and Drive Angry created mostly so people could see Christopher Walken and Nicholas Cage in the same movie. Gary Busy got nominated for Best Supporting Actor in that one, but nobody could figure out if any of the actors involved were actually good, except Samuel L. Jackson. Either way, Mike Tyson’s singing scene was perfect for covering up my talk with Dame.
“Venus asked me to spy here. The bastards caught me and took my gadget. My replacement gadget, thank you very much. Some smiling asswipe in a tailored suit took it for himself. They took all the prisoners, lined us up, then killed a couple for show. They gassed the rest of us. Since then… ugh. They told me I was loyal to them. I did things for these guys.”
“Well, you don’t have to do things for this guy. Just try to make your exit from the island subtle, so they don’t have a reason to come down on my head.”
She nodded at that. “Is that all you want?” She pleaded.
I rolled my eyes. “I ain’t banging you. Not tonight, at least. Just get out of here. And maybe keep the Rangers from fucking me in the ass when they storm in here and stop the Claw. I know you can’t trust me, because I’m me. But because I’m me, I know better than to take over a country or the world again. I sincerely believe the world is at stake. Sincerely. I know it’s hard to justify that preemptively. The good guy never draws first in Westerns, and people always assume that you’re just jumping to conclusions or hyperbolic if you say they’re doing this or doing that. Nobody believed William Dodd about the Nazis before it was too late. Nobody believed Markopolos until Bernie made off with people’s money. Yarnell and Mitchell called Pearl Harbor, but nobody listened. This is happening. It has to be stopped.”
I don’t think she took me seriously, either. She looked at me like I was strange. Maybe it was everything that’s happened. She’s had quite a shock. Or maybe, like everyone else, she thinks I’m seeing slippery slopes that aren’t there.
You know who took me seriously? The Claw. The next day, Lu the Majordomo stopped by. “My lord, the Emperor must impose on this vacation you have taken. Your presence at the Imperial Institute of Science is required. An escort will be by within the hour once you have freshened up.”
I left ahead of the escort, mostly fresh already. I just had to peel Qiang off me first. She’ll have to learn to share. I advised her to make sure nobody came and caught her while I was gone, and to keep an eye on my things. Giving her a job seemed to calm her a bit.
I took my armor with me, but didn’t go below ground. I have nothing against mag lev trains. I have something against mag lev trains with giant doors that close over portions of the track. I went to the Institute like they wanted, I just made sure to take the scenic route.
A man identifying himself as the assistant to the Directors topped me outside the lab space they’d given me. “I am sorry, but your original work space is no longer usable. There was an incident.”
“Oh yeah? What, someone try to make their own and mess up?” I folded my arms in front of me.
“I am not privvy to the details. It appears the device you created was also damaged by vandals.”
I nodded. “Sad to see such horrible actions here. Good men often live long enough to see themselves become the villain, often because they tried to do the right thing as far as they knew it.” In other words, the people acting under orders would be declared criminals and saboteurs to cover someone’s ass.
“Yes. Traitors are given no mercy in this country,” the assistant added. “I hope they are merciful toward the families of the traitors, who will face consequences for what they did. It is enough to deter most.” And that’s what I call a threat. It’s not that different from “Nice house you have here. I hope nothing happens to it because you rejected my generous offer.” or “I hope you stop investigating my friend. I need your loyalty, because I would hate to have to fire you.”
The assistant led me to an alternative work space, already full of everything I needed. “Great,” I said, grabbing a crescent wrench. “How big do you need it?”
He directed my attention to a container full of pink gas. “Big enough to transport this. We need two.”
They brought in guards, quite possibly the same team meant to escort me. I didn’t pay them any mind. I had enough dexterity in my armor to build what they wanted for the specific mission they had in mind. And something about Dame’s rejection of the seriousness of all this just didn’t sit right with me. She should take it serious. She has to know how bad it is for someone to be able to do all this to someone. What’s happened to her, she has to know?
Just like nobody else was doing anything different. Russia? The U.S.? All the rest of the world? Nobody was knocking down doors and beating dictators’ faces in. They had support. Popular support. Militias and useful idiots abound.
That container? They’d get it somewhere whether they had me or not. Look at it. One little container. Drop it from a low-flying plane or a helicopter. Smuggle it in a diplomat’s bag and have someone plant it in the right place. Sneak it onshore in a minisub and let someone drive it to where they need it.
No, that’s bullshit. I made myself and my knowledge available for a reason. I can get things places where it shouldn’t be. I advertised that and put it on sale to force a wedge between the alliance I saw growing up. That I did. I succeeded on that front. I also wanted to escalate the situation so people know what the fuck it actually is. Instead of letting the water gradually boil around the frog, this was about ramping up the heat so the frogs realize what’s happening.
So I built the damn bomb around the damn container of Unity and I set the damn coordinates where they said. Coordinates I traced to the Oval Office. Then I did the whole thing over again for the second one. They had me wait before sending that one to the Kremlin.
They never told me where it went. Compartmentalization of information. I wasn’t the only one that didn’t get the full story. The new President, the former VP to the guy they dragged kicking and screaming out of that building the previous morning, held a press conference. It took place less than a half hour after the gas would have arrived. He had a Riccan ambassador with him despite the recent expulsion, and he announced an attempt to lower tensions between them and the people of the Empire of Ricca.
The Russian asshole didn’t even bother to make an announcement. Makes it pretty easy to take over a whole nation when you have so few minds to change.
Yay me. Some heroes saved the United States. Progress, right? Yeah, right.
I had the States handled. I figured I’d come up with something for Russia. Looks like the Dimension Rangers are my last hope.
I went back to my little palace and decided to put on music matching my mood. Infected Mushroom’s “U R So Fucked”.
I’m bad at subtlety for an assassin.