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.
I think I mentioned to Breakdown, and I’m sure you readers have noticed, I state things in a manner other people are not used to. My metaphorical stories, for instance. Well folks, let’s just say it’s my way of talking about how I feel before I have to go all obvious. “You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!” to quote the Robot Devil. Problem is, I doubt y’all deal that well with the confusing mess of being in my head. And sometimes plainly getting your point across is more important than trying to be coy and intelligent. Look how many times people died in horror movies because some idiot wanted to play charades with all the pointing and shaking when he could have just said “There’s a man with a machete behind you. Run bitch, run!”
So let me start off saying that I’ve been somewhat contemplative about things.
It’s kinda like a maze.
When people talk about something being difficult to find a way through, it’s not uncommon to hear it being referred to as a maze. So many branches, so many possibilities, that someone is stunned by the possible reactions they can take. Of course, some paths have to be taken for a person to be who they are. A doctor needing to figure out what he wants to do with his career, for instance. There are so many paths to take, but his own past influences him and urges him toward one corridor or another. Sadly, this all too often leads to dead ends.
Is it any wonder that mazes are used as philosophical symbols in some pretentious way? It works about like how I’m doing now, where someone takes it and uses it as a simplistic metaphor of life.
If you want to look at things that way, then I do something special. I change the maze. Usually, it’s something dickish, like tossing a few extra dead ends into the mix, but I mess with lives. You could probably say the walls are relationships and society’s rules or the limits of nature, whatever it is that serves as a restriction on you in life.
I am, in fact, amazing. That is, if you take amazing as what the dictionary says, where it means something is stupefying or stunning. It comes from the word “maze” too, probably because of how people react to mazes that are hard. They freeze up and go “I don’t even…”.
What about mazes for people like myself? Good question. Bet you thought I was wishing someone didn’t ask that. Ha! See, Sun Tzu said all that crap about knowing thyself. Rather than a reference to masturbation, I think a lot of it meant knowing your own nature and living according to it. Even though I don’t know what I’m going to do, what tiny course I’m going to take toward my goal, I know who I am each step of the way. I know what I can do. I know that the walls between paths won’t stand in my way.
Cheaters are just going pull out bombs and blow open walls to get to the ends of the while the more noble people have to follow the maze around or use grappling hooks.
I just need to make sure that whatever makes up the walls for me doesn’t suddenly become solid. Part of the reason you all love me and would probably wear steel underwear if you ever got to meet me is that you know I will do all sorts of things other people wouldn’t. For one thing, I’d carry a welder if I met any of y’all. That’s not what I mean. A great deal of strength comes from people not having a clue what you’re going to say or do.
I like macaroni and cheese.
Now a maze is different form a labyrinth. Most people get them confused, but a labyrinth only has one path to and from its center. It’s made for meditation and art and crap. There’s supposed to be something meaningful about the journey in, where you let go of everything, and the time in the center, and then on the trip back out.
This section on the labyrinth was just a way to segue between the important topics of mac and cheese and having infiltrated the compound where the heroes were keeping Dr. Unity. They couldn’t just drop him in a normal lockup or prison population, after all. They were keeping him nice and separate at Empyreal City’s Special Detention Center. It was built with a modular design so they could quickly swap things out to meet different circumstances with people who couldn’t just be restrained, like Marscow Prison in Kingscrow. Where Marscow grew up out of a prison that had already been built, the SDF was built after the older Metropolitan Correctional Center was leveled during the attack on Empyreal City by a rogue Soviet telepath in 1981 where a modified aircraft carrier was used to fire giant squids into the city. Truly, that man had vision. It only holds superhumans for a short amount of time before they get sent somewhere permanent, like Supermax, but it’s got a good track record amongst law enforcement. The brilliant thing is that it’s an ode to ignorance. Most people would hate the idea of living so close to such a facility, but they’re ignorant of it so it’s fine to them.
Making security a little better in this case is that Forcelight and her crew were waiting around there at the time. Call it a hunch, but I think they were expecting me to visit. Now, I didn’t go in and visit Good Doctor or Mix N’Max at Marscow Prison because it’s pretty easy to detect me with a metal detector and because it was a hell of a lot more fun to bounce a truck up into the yard.
The truck idea wouldn’t work quite as well for what I’m planning this time. Besides, why should I only stick to something I’ve done before?
Nope, this time I came in the way a guard does. I figured they have some sort of scanner set up in there. Metal detector, full body scanner, something. That’s why I waited outside, invisibly, until a guard showed up. One did, a burly fellow with a mustache and curly hair. He had thick eyebrows from a lack of shaving, and the inside corner of one eyebrow turned up for some reason. He also had a scar running diagonally from the middle of his nose to his left cheek. That was important to note when I jumped him in the parking lot. It was necessary to steal his keys. It wasn’t necessary for when I shoved the peanut butter in his ears, but it did help for getting him in the purple bunny suit.
I could have skipped it all entirely if not for the keys. I could handle electronic locks, sneak past visuals, and I had an idea for how to fool the scanner to get in, but dammit if primitive key locks are tougher to fool. Break, sure, but hack? It isn’t happening.
When I rushed in the same door that guard left, I was confronted with a manned booth and a full body scanner. Made me smile under my armor.
“You forget something, Pete?” asked the man in the booth.
I nodded, then pointed to the scanner, “Do I have to?”
My voice must not have given the game away because he just told me, “Naw, man, go on through.”
That’s how I fooled equipment that would have shown I wasn’t who I said I was. Social engineering, the most useful sort of hacking. Every system has a weak point and it’s usually the people. You know, like a bunch of guards who have to go through a full body scanner every singly day. Either they get tired of it, or they resent their comrades getting a look at their junk. What a bunch of dicks. It’s even worse than if they didn’t have the scanner. At least then they’d realize there was a chance someone was getting through with something. This way, the people in charge probably don’t expect it.
First stop after that, the restroom. A quick check confirmed that my experiences in other situations were still applicable in this one. Staff bathrooms are like that. Cameras all over this place, little black half-spheres along the white ceiling. It’s like walking around a casino, but with fewer one-armed bandits.
I dropped the holographic disguise of being “Pete the Security Guard” and did my impression of The Invisible Man.
After that, finding Administration was as easy as sneaking into a guard station and peeking at a map hidden behind plastic. The guard was confused about the door, but not so confused after I snapped his neck and laid him down like he fell asleep.
Sacrifices, sacrifices. Butt slaughter was too conspicuous.
They compartmentalized their networks so a simple guard station computer couldn’t even find everyone. Those computers were better for little more than checking computers and catching up with people’s favorite shows. The dead guard’s favorite show? Survivor.
Administration, on the other hand, had information galore. And superheroes. Forcelight, Mechamoto Musashi, and Troubleshooter were hanging out there getting chewed out by some guy in a suit with a briefcase.
“I don’t care what you did before with the Master Academy kids. The truth will come out at trial and not a second before. You can present your testimony there. Did you think about what happens if you taint my trial? I’ll tell you what I told those “Catch a Predator” morons when that entrapment ruling came down and everyone they caught got off: you catch them the wrong way and it doesn’t matter if you have a pile of evidence.”
“Sir,” said Forcelight, speaking respectfully, but forcefully, “with all due respect, I’ve met individuals before who you do not want to pressure this way. I don’t know if Breakdown is that sort of person, but if he is, he will go out of his way to come after Dr. Unity and set the record straight. He might set the entire facility loose in the process. Besides, there may not be a trial.”
“You really think I’d let him go?”
“I don’t know, how many times have you struck deals? We know you have an election coming up. You need money, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that people will pay to have Dr. Unity released just in time to take a quiet job in a research facility in a country without an extradition treaty.”
They continued bickering on and on like kids. I padded by them silently and knelt down under a desk to slip a glove off and merge with the tower. That got me the information, shut down the cameras on that floor, and caused a loop in the elevator cameras. I also scheduled a special email from the facility to the local and national news companies. Harlon got it first, of course, for a brief time period of exclusivity. Harlon’s this guy I once crossed paths with in the news. I kept him to help me keep my ear to the ground, and occasionally let me shove something in his ear to put on the news for me.
“And what’s this I heard about some supervillain in the UN besides Dr. Unity? Are you protecting someone else who was involved in this?”
Forcelight fixed him with a stare and told him firmly, “No.”
This guy, a District Attorney I think, turned to Troubleshooter. She wilted under his glare until one of her waldos accidentally fired a net all over her and caused her to struggle with it instead of answering. He tried Mechamoto next, who was propped up against the wall next to a water cooler with his arms crossed. The heroe’s voice was distorted as he snored.
The trip up to the floor they held Unity on was mostly uneventful. I did practice my singing though. Schizofrantic, a supervillain more by default than intent, was being hauled up in the same car accompanied by a trio of guards in riot gear when I began to belt out “Grim Grinning Ghosts” from that Disney ride. ‘Frantic ignored it as if he was in on it, but the guards got nervous, especially when I didn’t stop. They checked and rechecked these grey cylinders attached to their helmets. Finally one of them elbowed the dirty-looking telepathic homeless vet. “Hey, are you doing that? Make it stop.”
“Doing what?” he asked.
“That noise. The singing.”
“You mean the muzak? They don’t sing in elevator music. I should know, I used to write songs.”
“Cut it out. We can hear something.”
“I’m not doing anything. Maybe it’s the other person.”
“You don’t see that man?”
“Oooooh. Just remember. It will only hurt for a second.”
The guard grabbed hold of Schizofrantic and shook him by the shoulders. “What are you talking about?! Stop doing this! Stop it!”
Since ‘Frantic was being such a good sport and playing along, I made it fun too.
I projected a molten landscape with islands of obsidian for land. I covered myself in the image of man in a bloodstained straightjacket with long black hair. My eyes were covered in a bandana that had spikes jammed through it at the eyes. My lower face was torn apart in an unnatural grin made up of torn skin, blood, and bones shaped into loose approximations of pointed teeth. A twisted version of a face.
“Don’t worry,” I gurgled, “this will only hurt…for an eternity.”
All three guards shit their pants all at once. I jammed my hand up one guy’s ass all the way so I could punch out of his mouth and grab his friend’s gun. I turned it on that second guard and shot him in the foot. I then dropped the gun, grabbed his head, and pulled it into the first guard’s mouth and down his throat. The third guard huddled up in the fetal position and cried, trying to hide from the horror. When he looked up he found me…in the form of a giant marshmallow peep.
He clutched at his chest then and fell to the side, struggling with his breathing. I think he had a heart attack. Oh well. Everything looked normal except for the dead bodies when it was time for my stop.
“Bye ‘Frantic. Have a nice time.” I told him, giving an invisible wave.
“Bye elevator demon. Say ‘hello’ to my mom for me next time you’re in hell.”
“Sure thing. It’ll make her head spin to hear from you.”
I found another pair of guards at the cell I wanted, right on the end of the hallway. Those were the easiest to isolate in this place.
They were standing at the door, holding a slot at eye level open, and one of them was taking potshots inside with his gun. His buddy tried to give him pointers, before smacking him on the ear and declaring, “That’s useless! It only works if you try to kill him with it. A flesh wound isn’t going to make him drop anybody. Here, let me show you how.”
They swapped positions and the guard giving the tips fired off a shot. I heard the familiar sound of Unity expelling someone immediately afterward. Got a running start, skidded on my knees, and stood up as I double uppercutting, punching through pants and puckers alike to raise them into the air, squirming like maniacs with barbed wire up their asses. Considering that they were maniacs with barbed wire up their asses, it was a highly appropriate response.
Dr. Unity ended their suffering before I could, however. They disappeared, leaving behind Unity’s hands reaching through the bars on that door opening.
I appeared, dressed as an unarmored Playboy bunny, chomping on a holographic carrot. “Eeeeeeh. What’s up doc?”
He grabbed my chin then and concentrated. Nothing happened. He needed skin contact, not armor contact. With a frustrated yell, he let me go.
“There, there. Not everyone wants to join your little Unity love fest in there.”
“You’re here to taunt me?”
“Ha! I am the world’s preeminent chemist. I am the true peacemaker, not people like you and your violence. Lock me up and I will be freed in no time by people with more vision than you. Kill me, and I become a martyr for future generations to follow the lead of.”
“Right. It would look bad no matter what if either a villain or hero killed you while you’re all locked up.”
He smiled at me. You know, I don’t think that guy was all there. “You can’t stop my escape. I’ll tell everyone about it and they can’t stop it. My knowledge and abilities are too valuable. People will be lining up to set me loose.”
“No, I think not. Not in another few minutes when the videos I sent go public.”
He lost his crazed grin in an awful hurry at that.
“My helmet, my dear moron. Same one that got Breakdown’s very sincere admission that you were calling the shots and you at the UN actually calling the shots and explaining your motivations.”
“They’ll never convict me. You know how the system works for someone like me. I’m one of the greatest heroes the world ever saw. Generations have grown up looking up to me. I can be the smartest man in the world. I’ll be free in no time.
“No, actually it is perfectly allowable. If a cop or a hero had done that, then you’d have your chance to get out of jail free, but I’m neither. I’m the guy who screwed your little ‘system’ in the ass. Isn’t it convenient when someone like you actually has to face some consequences for his actions and has his dirty secrets dragged out for all to see in court? The hero to millions becomes the monster, and your little hero buddies in the know will realize who you are. When it comes to me and you, I’m the hero all your old friends will be thankful to. Why kill you when I can bend your legend over and fuck it in the ear?”
“You can’t do that. I’ll die a martyr. I was trying to save the world. I’m the hero. I’m not like you. This isn’t what people like you do to people like me. This isn’t what people like you do! Get back here and kill me you son of a bitch! I’m the hero. I’m the hero!”
I walked away laughing over his berserker screams.
That little bit taken care of, it was time to repeat my journey back to the outside and figure out the next adventure. I did so, visible for all to see, and encountered no further resistance until the first floor. I caught a figure in black with a shiny mask and bangle slinking after me. When I turned to confront her, Dame crossed her arms and shifted her weight most of the way to her left leg.
“I’m proud of you, Gecko. I don’t understand it, but I think it’s encouraging to see you using society to your benefit for once.”
“Hello Dame, you saucy spy. I’m just neatly undoing everyone’s expectations about what’s meant to happen. Shit’s going down that’s not supposed to happen if you know a damn thing about how your precious society works.”
I paused as the DA’s voice reached me us down the halls. “WHO THE FUCK SENT THAT OUT?!”
I chuckled at that, then continued. “How do you always know where to find me?”
“Skill. Oh, and you aren’t the first invisible person they have had to deal with here. Lucky for you I’m the only one who bothered to check those sensors.”
“Huh. Good point. ” Oops. It made sense and there I went forgetting about it. Yes. Forgetting. Or part of my master plan? Have some chocolate pudding and think that over. “What, do they have you spying on Unity, or just me? Going to alert the guards now, give me a fun time getting out of here?”
“Not at this point, no. The guards have gotten sleepy all of a sudden, so they won’t be responding to you on your way out,” she said, smiling, and stepped around me in a circle.
I didn’t know what the point of her little visit was. I also didn’t care. “Dame, I just gotta know. Who was it, you think, who alerted Forcelight, and told them to bring along those nanites, and who suggested they deliver it similar to how I did at the club? Who called the heroes to ‘help’ me for once?”
She stopped in front of me with a sly little smile on her pink lips. We both already knew the answer. The local thief that Forcelight had keeping tabs on me, that’s who. The one who had a direct line to her and a few other heroes. In other words, Dame. Did she think I’d be happy?
I threw my hand up as I walked out, giving her the finger. “Right there, bitch. Suck it hard, suck it long.”
I should have kept Breakdown around and made him deal with this mess.
Everything did eventually get settled once the puking was done. Getting that worked out took well into the morning, and there was almost an epic brawl over it.
Here is the brief rundown: everyone at the club was unhappy. The prevailing emotion was anger-based in some way, with scattered showers from the less angry people. Gave me a damn headache. Then there was the puke. It was all over my floor. Sadly, murder was an inconvenient option this time.
I didn’t so much calm things down as much as stand there as and threaten them into not fighting, not while I was the guy who saved their sorry asses. For people who are used to exercising more power than most people, having them stand off was quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, I think they did it more because those who knew my name were passing it along. I was mainly concerned about being unable to pull off insurance fraud.
After laying down the law, a phrase which should never be used in relation to me, I let them work things out amongst themselves. The important points were that they didn’t fight amongst themselves, I was taking down Unity, and some people would be spending a lot of time at The Secret Lair. Some of the folks expressed concerns about being around a bunch of brainwashed friends and loved ones back home and around their jobs. I bet some of them were also afraid of what they’d do knowing that just about anyone in the city they were ever attracted to would be easily talked into bed.
Perhaps that’s why the heroes and villains that Breakdown tried to throw at me made it a point to stop by the throne and thank me. I just wanted them to leave and take the carpet with them at that point, but nope. The guys shuffled up embarrassed and quickly left. Even Paveman, despite our history. Seriously, the guy absorbs material from surfaces he stands on and it becomes part of his body. I didn’t think this Sexahol crap could affect him.
At least Nos and Hydroplane rushed through it. I don’t mind that bit of speedster rudeness. Elita gave me a bearhug. In her case, it’s a hug that could kill a bear. Dame was next and helped me pop my arm back into my shoulder. I asked her to find out where Dr. Unity was hiding and call me on the screen when she found out. The last one, teen girl, was a shy little thing. Same one who tried to sneak in with the fake ID and, after looking her up for info, I found out she was the same one from that school incident. The one with the color manipulation power. She said I smelled like shit.
All the cherry and strawberry smelling vomit around, I’m surprised anyone could tell.
I told them to get the hell out of there. Not in a particularly mean way. Just “Go on, get the hell out of here.” That kind of thing. I’m not a guy who spends a lot of time on a throne dealing with courtiers, as you may have noticed by now.
I had work to do. Starting with getting the suit cleaned out of what was clearly chocolate pudding. I mean, obviously that stuff was no good to eat with me sweating and all that, so it had to go.
The repairs took awhile too. The damage was a bit more extensive than just the cameras and projectors. I had a crack problem once I removed it. The armor, I mean, not me personally. I’d never do crack. Takes time away from my meth habit.
It took longer to get the armor fixed, though. My previous armor design didn’t have nearly the defensive or offensive capabilities of this one, and neither of them are the absolute best I could do. There’s a problem. As the armor gets higher in quality, everything about it becomes more complicated and harder to repair. A good example is the nanite quilt layer. Once I use a syringe, I can do whatever I want with it. Keep it, throw it away, stab it into someone’s eye, whatever. As long as I have more syringes and nanites, I can still use them to heal myself. The quilted portions are useless if they aren’t repaired and refilled before going into a fight. That problem would become worse in a hurry if I added flight boots, missile launchers, flak, drones with guns, and a fog machine. I would need my own logistics.
It took me a little bit of time, made worse by Carl moping around. He’d stop by occasionally to make sure I knew how sorry he was. I told him each time that I didn’t care about all the stuff he told Breakdown.
Finally, after he had taken yet another break from steam cleaning the carpet, I grabbed him by the shoulders. I then shook him repeatedly, yelling “Get a hold of yourself, man! If you keep coming around here like this, I’ll kill you out of annoyance!”
He grabbed hold of the catwalk rail to control himself, then bent over it and threw up.
“Damn, you know you’re cleaning that up too, right?”
He nodded and wiped his mouth.
“Good. Now stop being all sorry. If you want me to put it in certain words I’d rather not use, than fine, I forgive you. No need to crucify yourself looking for my approval.”
“Are you sure about that, boss?”
“Of course. When you forgive someone, you forgive them. No need to get sadistic about it or ask for a human sacrifice or something.”
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“I don’t know, let me go get my whoop-ass stick and we’ll discuss it over a funeral.”
“That’s alright, boss.”
“Good,” I said, patting him on the back. “Keep your head in the game. I want you ready to pilot the keg armor into battle. We’ve got a superhero to kill.”
“Sir, yes boss!” he said, giving a lighthearted salute.
“You call that a salute, maggot!” I stood up all stiff and held my face right in front of his. “That’s no proper salute. That’s the kind of salute I get from a company of prostitutes after I’ve put their brothel out of business armed with nothing but my dick and a six pack!”
Carl began to snicker and I joined him for a moment.
“Alright, alright, go get the rest of the puke up and we’ll see what we can yank out of Dr. Unity’s insides instead, you got it?”
“Oorah!” he exclaimed as he turned to jog back down to work.
I noticed a message on there from Dame wanting me to call her back, so I returned it and got a black screen as it rang. That kind of screen usually means a phone. It only occupied half the screen, though. The rest was reserved for my research on Dr. Unity. Quotations from a biography in the eighties. A wikiPowers page. His entry on a website called The Unofficial Superhuman Database. He didn’t have a TV Tropes page, though. He had one consistent power, too, but his other schemes and inventions always augmented his ability.
Dame picked up. “Hello?”
“Hey there 900 girl. My five free minutes started already? You’ve got a sexy voice. Mmmm, what are you wearing?”
“A gun. Why don’t you tell me your name so I can carve it on a bullet?”
“Oooh, sounds like somebody’s naughty. Just let me know when I start paying for the call you dirty, dirty girl.”
“This is Gecko, isn’t it?”
“That’s right, say my name. Jump on it, girl, let me take that thing through the car wash. I want to wax it down, rub down the leather interior, take out the floor mats, vacuum the sand off them, then leave a crappy pine tree air freshener behind.”
“I’m hanging up now, Gecko.”
There was a click. When I called her back, I got her almost immediately.
“Was it as good for you as it was for me, honeysuckle?” I asked with a groan.
“Figures. You’re out of gas leaving me unsatisfied and wishing you would put that mouth to better use.”
“Wow, my compliments on the comeback. Do I detect a hint of indifference blossoming?”
“I found Unity.”
“You make it sound like a cult.”
“You know what I mean. He’s actually using the UN complex as a base. He’s living there and keeps the diplomats coming back there even though their governments have all acknowledged that any agreements they make are not representative of their wishes.”
“I wonder if any oysters have cults?”
“Gecko, stop trying to lead into a Blue Oyster Cult joke. You’re supposed to be stopping the bad guy and saving the city.”
“Hey! That was uncalled for. I’m not saving anyone. I just got into a personal disagreement with Breakdown that turned into a personal disagreement with a superhero. A hero who believes in saving the world by spreading his own personal date rape drug, if you remember. I wouldn’t save anything. I am the pit stain under the world’s sleeve. I am the lint rabbit clogging society’s vacuum cleaner. I am the cold shower when you were expecting hot water.”
“Easy now. You megalomaniac types really love to monologue, don’t you?”
“Madam, I have not yet begun to monologue!”
“Don’t, not for too long. This city was just the beginning. He’s working out of the General Assembly Hall to arrange teams of people and superhumans to spread this stuff to other cities.”
“I’m cleaning my smiting codpiece as we speak.”
“By the way, I was wondering…” she just trailed off.
After she didn’t follow up on that, I said, “Ok. Good to know. Keep up the good wondering.”
“Oh, uh, alright. Yeah. You know, you surprise me, Gecko.”
“It’s kinda my thing.”
“I just wanted to say that you didn’t have to-“
I broke in while she was talking and yelled, “Surprise!” Then I hung up.
She was getting a little mushy for me. I meant too mushy. I doubt she was getting, you know, mushy anywhere that mush occurs. Not for me.
But enough of that shit. You’re probably wondering about the fight. Duh.
I snuck my way into the General Assembly Hall of the aptly named General Assembly building as soon as my armor was ready. It was easy to slip through a door into that famous room while hidden behind a holographic cloak of invisibility. He was training people to safely move and operate machines like the one I stole from him. The chemical distributors. Those who smelt it were being taught to dealt it. The joke only works phrased that way. He was growing frustrated though. All too often the trainees and diplomats tried some monkey business instead of what he wanted. You know, monkey business. They wanted to play with their bananas.
I saw the looks the Saudi and Israeli representatives were giving each other. The effects of the Sexahol made them want to feel each other up, not feel how to connect this hose or that hose.
Dr. Unity himself was a smaller man now that time had taken its toll. He had to be in his seventies, with all sorts of aches from his past fights, especially with giants and radiation and space aliens involved. Despite that, he moved easily around the room and didn’t show any sign of pain. He didn’t even use a cane.
I got in position behind the dais where Dr. Unity stood demonstrating the distributor. I charged up my fists, and then swung for his head. There was a flash of light and a blurring, then two people fell from where he had stood. The assembled trainees gawked at what happened before rushing over to check on the pair. Both were alive and unharmed. One was Dr. Unity, and the other was the Secretary General of the UN.
It must have been linked to that power of his. Dr. Unity didn’t just pick the name to go with his goals. As he demonstrated then, the ability that made him stand apart from regular humanity was to merge with people whose skin he touched. He sought out the faces and hands of people in the crowd which refused to listen as I yelled at them to “Get back!” They disappeared in twos, joining with Dr. Unity.
I called out over the comms, “Moai, Carl, get in here!” Then, I jumped up above the crowd and went to slam my boots into Dr. Unity where he laid, but he rolled out of the way and continued to take more people as I missed him.
He stood then, and did his best to dodge me. His movements were fluid and smart. As much as he knew and as good as he had been, merging with someone made him better. He gained each person’s strength, each person’s intelligence, and each person’s talents, even though his body looked as old as ever. The payoff, as was found out when I did manage to catch him across the face, was that people could also be expelled from him if he was hurt enough at one time. I caught his jaw with a glowing fist. He fell, as did three others. None of them were hurt, not even Unity, but he was at least weaker. Unity couldn’t reabsorb someone very quickly after having them expelled from his body.
In all my time mopping the floors with heroes, I have often noticed that they aren’t very absorbent.
Still, all but those four were quickly abducted and made a part of him for now. That left him with twenty people still inside. Dr. Unity stood there, looking around the room for me. I’d gone back into stealth mode by then. “You won’t ruin this. I’ve worked too hard. This is the right way, don’t you see?” he pleaded.
After a pregnant pause, I jumped up, wrapped my legs around his head, threw my weight toward the ground, and carried him over me in a flip that landed him right on the top of his head as I released him. Another person fell from Unity, dazed and possibly unconscious.
“You know where that’s falling? Deaf motherfucking ears, doc. With little motherfucking dicks of their own to fuck your motherfucking mother. I don’t exactly like your goal or your methods,” I said as I lunged for his throat. I figured he would lose even more of his human shields as I choked the life from his body. It didn’t happen. Instead, his kick sent me flying to where I crashed against the podium. He dusted himself off, but couldn’t advance to finish me off.
Why? Oh, just because Moai and Carl crashed through the door. Moai wore one of those hats with a pair of beer and hoses up top. Carl was seated safely behind the armor plating I’d added on to the cockpit of the keg armor. He looked over at them. Carl raised one arm of the keg armor, showing off the newly-installed spike.
“Hiya. Distracted enough yet?” asked Carl.
Unity took that as a cue and turned to look for my invisible ass, instinctively raising his arms to guard against an attack that wasn’t coming in a way he could stop. A rubber chicken’s head bounced off his arms. He caught it and looked it over, which is how he discovered the rest of the rubber chicken at his feet, laying on the floor but trying to push itself toward the nearest road.
It went off. He lost six people in the explosion.
“Bad hero, bad bad!” I taunted him. He took a moment to get up from that one. I connected with a blow that would have crushed his windpipe, but someone fell from his body instead. He traded me, sending me flying with the strength of what I think was around thirteen people at that point. Moai and Carl made him an asshole sandwich, though. They were the bread and he was the asshole. It cost him two people but the whole vibrating glowy thing he did kept him from being trapped between them.
Unity slipped loose and began to head for the door.
“Don’t go just yet, Dr. Daterape. The fun’s just begun.” I went to grab him but he flipped me overhead and into a desk.
He grabbed my armored head, trying to get a good hold. “How dare you ruin this? The world, man! My life’s dream! The world my baby girl should have grown up in! I was going to do it. I was going to save them all even if I had to do it by dishonest means. Don’t you try to turn that into something so dirty sounding as ‘Dr. Daterape.’”
“Think about the world you made instead. So disgusting that superheroes were willing to let me have you because of what you did to them, your old colleagues and friends.” I think he gasped even before I kneed him in the balls. Then a beam of light struck him. He fell right in front of me, losing two people.
Moai helped me up and I turned to Carl. “Good shot, Carl. Didn’t think I put a laser on there.”
“Wasn’t me boss. It was them.” He pointed with the arm of his walker.
There, at the entrance to the room, was a set of old friends. A floating young woman who glowed white light from whatever skin her simple white costume didn’t cover lowered her hand from where she had fired at Unity. A tech samurai whose armor glowed red and blue. Another young woman carrying a backpack that was a mess of various devices and gadgets larger than she was. Forcelight, Mechamoto Musashi, and Troubleshooter.
“Gecko,” said Forcelight without a hint of emotion.
“Forcelight! Didn’t expect to see you here. You know they said I could kill him, right?”
“That was a hasty decision made soon after you saved them,” she responded. Somebody had tattled to Forcelight. Maybe I pissed Dame off with that last little surprise.
“Yeah, they were upset after the Sexahol and you used that to rile them up,” added Troubleshooter.
I looked to Musashi for his two cents. He shrugged.
“Nothing from you? Huh. Ok. Well come on, guys. He deserves it, even more than a bad guy. Look at the asshole. You’d expect a villain doing this. We’re not nice people. Some of us aren’t even in control of our own actions. But this guy, a hero, one of you? This guy who always held himself up to higher morals than us just helped do some despicable stuff in this city, and he had more cities on his little list.”
“Our agreement is in jeopardy here, Gecko. I think it’s best if you leave the building,” said Forcelight. The deal she meant was where she and her buddies didn’t mess with me so long as I didn’t mess with them. As long as I didn’t do too much to show off I was still alive, they wouldn’t reveal that they knew for sure that I survived the destruction of the Empyre State Building. Considering recent events, that last point was already pretty iffy, unless people were going to just ignore the name that got passed around as their savior at the club.
I stared into her eyes even as I heard Dr. Unity stand behind me. A dish on Troubleshooter’s backpack whirled around and aimed right for him. I heard more bodies hit the ground. Forcelight wasn’t blinking. I had a visor on. She couldn’t see my eyes. I was considering getting into it, but I was also realizing, in a rare event, that some other people would lose out of all this even if I won. People I shouldn’t have been thinking about, especially because thinking of other people really sucks. It wasn’t a moment of weakness. It was just some chocolate pudding or something.
Finally, I turned toward my minions. Carl in his walker, Moai in his helmet, headbutting Dr. Unity to knock someone else free. “Let’s go. Leave this moron here for them, guys. He’s not worth having a turf war over.”
Outside, I saw the flyer that Forcelight’s team used to use rebuilt. Similar to the distributor back at the club, it was spraying down the city. Probably my stolen nanites that Forcelight’s company, Long Life, had figured out how reprogram and make more of.
“Damn. They are really using my shit against me today.”
“What was that, boss?” asked Carl as he exited the building with Moai.
“Nothing. Ah well. Let’s go rob a Victoria’s Secret on our way back to base, shall we?”
“Why Victoria’s Secret?”
“I’ll tell you why, boys. I’ve heard jokes about something called ‘edible underwear’ and they might be a good item to serve at the club.”
And so we walked off into a nanite rainbow.
They got the whole city. It’s one big howdy neighbor lovefest around here! I don’t mean orgies in the streets, that I could handle. Everyone’s just so fucking…nice. People are holding doors, saying please and thank you. Hugging me. Groping me. Now I know what it’s like to be nothing but a piece of meat to everyone I pass by. It gets old fast when grannies on walkers are asking you to make an old woman happy one last time before they die.
One of them that tried it, I pointed off to the side and said, “Look, Elvis is back!” She got all happy and then I threw her under a bus passing by.
The driver stopped, shocked that the old lady has fallen under there, but I reassured him. “It’s the way she wanted to go,” I said while patting him on the shoulder. Then I felt something touching my ankle. It was the old lady’s hand.
“I don’t know. Ever since Breakdown enlightened the city, it’s been hard to imagine anyone committing suicide.”
I kicked the hand away, then slammed my boot at something soft under the bus. The arm went limp.
“Maybe it was something she thought of doing but couldn’t bring herself to try,” I suggested.
“I better call 911.”
“Good idea, but please, don’t look. It’s such a gruesome sight,” I told him.
The driver turned away as he pulled out his cellphone. “You’re right. Hello, 911…”
While he was on the phone with them, I turned and dropped down to look under the bus. The old lady was regaining consciousness again. I punched her a few more times to put her back out again. “Die you old bat! Things as old as you ought to blow away in the wind.”
“You say something?” asked the driver.
I turned toward him and brushed myself off. “Oh, just seeing to her. She’s definitely a goner. Hey, why don’t you make it easy on the cops and paramedics and back up the bus a little.”
“You think I should? Isn’t this a crime scene?”
“Has anyone been committing any crimes in the city lately? Go ahead. Back it up.”
“Oh, alright.” He jogged over to the door, got in, put the bus in gear, and backed it on up.
The old lady let out a moan as the front tires rolled over here. Damn, this old bitty was tough. What, did Hulk Hogan get a sex change here?
“What was that?” called the driver out the window.
“I said you can’t park back there after all. Something about a fire hydrant. Wouldn’t want to break the law now, would we?”
“No, I’ll pull up.”
He drove forward, bouncing over the old lady twice. That shut her up.
“Great job, that was perfect!” I called to the driver.
I got out of there before the cops arrived though, out of habit. I made it back to the Secret Lair without a problem though.
I closed the club for the duration of this little crisis. I’ve wondered if I should barricade it. It’s like living in a reverse zombie movie. Instead of wanting to eat my brains, people want to hug me or sex me up. That’s a different sort of way for people to spread the virus, I suppose. I’d just rather not catch anything they’d spread that way. Besides, the stuff making them do this isn’t a virus.
Empyreal City belonged to Breakdown now. The announcement had gone out like a press conference. He had all sorts of celebrities, heroes, diplomats, and other VIPs. They all loved him now. He even showed off this old retired superhero, Dr. Unity. He had been a super scientist best known for his research into how to create world peace. It had caused him all sorts of personal drama back in the day to deal with world conqueror’s who wanted to stop people from killing each other, but only because they would all be unified under a dictator’s rule.
The old man expressed his admiration of Breakdown doing what he couldn’t. Big PR victory for Breakdown.
The government had been forced to recognize that the city was temporarily controlled by a supervillain, one who ruled through love instead of fear. Machiavelli, eat your heart out. They kept recon drones flying overhead as best as they could in the weather, but it’s hard to send people in when the guy they’re after would have the entire population of a city on his side as hostages and supporters.
Some other powered people probably survived because of they had a filter or a mask or didn’t need to breathe, but they probably didn’t stick around too long after all this happened. He had also taken recently to airing a local commercial with my face, warning people to try to get me to drink up, but otherwise stay well away from me.
Thing is, Sexahol makes me a cuddly, sexy beast to those same people. I could probably brag about killing that old lady and someone doped on the love juice would want to give me a big snuggle.
I survived, though. Of course. As I once said long ago, even after the heroes have been beaten by some supervillain, there’s always another villain who doesn’t want to live under the other guy’s rule.
Moai stood guard just inside the club wearing one of those bronze Spartan helmets with the Mohawk-looking thing on it. “They’re still all sickeningly sweet out there.”
There wasn’t a lot to guard, really. It was a place for people to dance and work. Fuck ‘em. Not even that gas thing that Moai and I brought back from the warehouse was of much use, at least to them. I had hauled it back in case I needed to do something similar to what Breakdown did.
I’ll admit, even though it paints me in a good light, I worked on altering enough of my nanites to half-fill that gizmo of Breakdown’s. Adapting their programming to general medical use, as well as basic testing, has kept the remnants of Shieldwall from selling nanites for medical use all over the place. I didn’t have either problem. Even got a batch of general purpose nanites in there now set to react to living human and near-human organisms and clear them of this crap.
If I don’t set them to something nonspecific like that, then they do very bad things when encountering organisms that aren’t me or that don’t belong in my body.
I got what I had loaded into that mist mechanism to test it, counting on the extraneous fluid around the nanites to be dissolved into a cloud capable of counteracting what the pink clouds had done. I didn’t get a chance to test it, however.
Just then, there was a call on the giant screen. I climbed up on Moai and he hopped, allowing me to grab the upper floor and pull myself up. Moai went for the stairs while I rushed over to take my seat on the throne and bring the giant screen down.
Breakdown’s visage greeted me, covered with a gray domino mask that hid his eyes and had a large, stylized blue teardrop at the corner of his right eye. “Hello, my dear Psycho Gecko, hello. You’re looking well. Quite trim. Quite fit.”
“Hey Breakdown. You look like you could use a throat lozenge and an anal rapin’.”
“That’s no way to talk to the city’s regent,” he said in reference to an announcement he’d made to the world. Holding onto the United Nations after they’ve been all kinds of lovegassed gives you a lot of bargaining power, it turns out. “You should willingly bow before me and join my cause. You’re all alone in the city now. No friends left outside your toy soldier. No family that you ever speak of. Nobody who cares about you. You don’t have to live such an isolated life.”
“Blah blah blah. You sound just as bad as the people on your little Sexahol, you know that? Love this and care that. Oh no, Mr. Psychology wants to mess with me psychologically. Geez, you’d think a guy like me is used to being alone and friendless by now. Like I haven’t taken on a city before. Or have you forgotten that little stunt where I bitchslapped Lady Liberty and caught the city around the Empyre State Building in my own personal flame war. Don’t even bother, Achy Breaky Heart. You lost from the moment I knew you were trying to screw with my head.”
“I had hoped we could remain civil with one another and share a pleasant meal. Care to dine with me and discuss your place in my society.”
Now, about this time, my inner monologue decided to give me some advice about this. “Trap trap trap trap trap trap trap trap trap trap trap trap, see if he’ll pay.”
“Where did you have in mind? Hopefully somewhere fancy since you’re paying.”
He nodded. “I’ve heard Da Silvano is good. Celebrities eat there often. They will appreciate having the most famous person in the city around.”
“Thanks for the compliment, Breakdown. Also, thanks for paying for the entire meal. You know, I always knew that if I refused to work hard, lacked determination, and never did an honest day’s work in my life, my amateur porn career would make me famous. I do all my own butt bleaching, you know. It’s how I stand out. People get snow blindness staring at my ass long enough.”
“No, Gecko, I meant me, obviously. From what a little bird has told me, you don’t even have an amateur porn career. You’re not that famous, either. You have your exploits, but most people don’t treat terrorists like celebrities.”
I think I was getting to him through that friendly facade.
“Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! That’s not true at all. Everybody knows that terrorism gets you the cover of Rolling Stone. You know, provided you’re an attractive terrorist with fangirls.”
“Do try to keep the fangirls at bay when we meet for dinner, Gecko. I’ll have them reserve us a table at seven o’clock.”
“Seven’s a good time. Can I bring my own wine?”
“As long as it’s real wine. Don’t bring anything that the hobos drink. I will see you at seven.”
He cut the transmission. The screen raised up to reveal Moai standing behind where it had been. “Good, Moai, did you hear that bit about us having a dinner reservation?”
“Alright, so here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to fill a wine bottle with something that goes ‘boom’. You should go with me as backup. Go lock the door and do a quick sweep to make sure the traps are ready. I’m going to go see if we have any absinthe and nitroglycerin. Oh, yeah, and let’s see if we can lift this gas thingy way up out of reach of anyone who manages to get past the traps. I don’t need someone else trying to use these nanites to save the world instead of saving me.”
I won’t go into specifics about what I put in there, at least as much for the sake of the bar selling the drink as a secret recipe in the future, but it was at least stable enough for me to gun it and smash my car through the back rolling garage. With one remote, I armed the traps. With another, the replacement garage door began to close. Then we got our rears in gear and headed for the restaurant.
Moai stayed outside with the car until I knew what the situation was like. I was in full armor, too, so the last thing I needed was an actual meal. I’d have to take the helmet off for that, and then I’d have to wash the outside really well if ketchup got on it. At least it didn’t do as much to metal as it would to something tight.
Irrelevant though. As soon as I walked in, I could tell something was off about Breakdown. Same costume and same mask, but differences in body shape and face structure. They’d tried to get a lookalike in there. I pulled on the cork of the wine bottle and armed it. The man in the Breakdown costume figured out something was up as well. The chair he had sat in fell to the floor behind him as he rose to his feet and pulled a detonator of his own.
As I threw the bottle, I could make out something about, “For the one I love!”
Then the whole place went up and I took a small break while my mind tried to figure out how I got across the street and between a tree that had been broken in half.
Moai found me and helped me up and to the car in my dazed state. It was blurry at the time, but my recordings show that the restaurant itself was just gone. It looked like it had always been some sort of firepit surrounded by two buildings that had been mostly blown apart. I was too stunned physiologically to make much sense of the kind of firepower that meant at the time. I didn’t even get pissed at the dings and scratches on my car caused by shrapnel.
Unfortunately, as the shock wore off, it was replaced with pain and an awareness of more fluid in my pants than I remembered having down there. What must have happened, see, is I must have kept some water and some chocolate pudding mix down there, and the explosion broke open the water bottle, tossed it into the mix, and then heated it up enough to form what could only be pudding in that armor down there.
Yep, that sounds like a perfectly reasonable explanation.
I didn’t think too much on it at the time, though, because of the pain. I hadn’t been flash-fried, but blunt force has this nasty habit of doing a number on me despite wearing armor.
I had Moai lay across the front to drive us out of there before the cops closed down the area. They were already in place on the road he took us down, so he had to ram the car through a barricade while I groaned from where I laid in the backseat. The pain was still there, even if the damage was quickly going bye-bye courtesy of nanite packet quilting under some portions of the armor. See? That innovation in this new armor proved to be quite useful after all.
Instead of taking us right in, Moai stopped in the street. Curious, I sat up to find that The Secret Lair was open for business. People were lined up, and my bouncer, Terrance, was at the door, looking over everyone with his glowing blue eyes.
“Huh…well, Moai, let’s not sit out here all night groaning in pain. Looks like I have a bloodbath to tend to.”
I tried to throw up a hologram that I wasn’t in armor, but that was a major systems failure. Too many of the cameras and projectors had suffered damage. I was exposed. I had nothing to protect me but armor, extensive murder training, systems enabling super strength, localized energy projection around my hands and forearms, a massive bodyguard, and chocolate pudding that could be used to blind people.
I had Moai help me in to foster a false sense of “my ass done got blown the fuck up”.
Terrance looked me over and didn’t step out of the way. I thought my own guy was going to start something, but then he moved to the side and let me pass, like I’d met somebody else’s standards.
That somebody else was Breakdown, sitting in MY throne in MY hideout and perusing MY videos of anthropological studies of human mating on MY giant screen, with MY henchman standing by his side.
He stood up and clipped a microphone to his lapel. It carried his voice through the sound system as he spoke. “Well! I see dinner was well done, but not as well done as we’d have liked. You aren’t in any shape to fight. Tsk, tsk. Have a seat, Gecko. Just enjoy yourself. Find yourself a good woman to share the night with. You will find I am more competent at dealing with dissent, but I am more forgiving as well.”
“Not just yet, you tailorless dick!” I projected via my helmet’s speakers. “Get down here and die like a man!” It’s never been confirmed that Breakdown has powers, but he’s always been more of a psychological threat to people than a physical threat. Plus, I only looked injured. Twas merely a flesh wound. I was actually fit as a fluffy carnivorous bunny.
“Why do you insist on this lonely path, Gecko? Is it that abhorrent to find someone who will accept you for who you are and make you a better man? You can not honestly believe in your anarchy as a way to live. Even you want to be accepted. You want fame. Friends. Loved-ones. You want people to think of you as a hero. You want to be a part of the world with everyone else. You can be adored. You can have the irresponsible fling. The high school sweetheart. The dance of your life while staring into a beautiful pair of eyes. You are not too damaged for my society to reject. You are not unworthy of this.” I saw Carl nodding along to all this. I was tempted to kill him too at that, but he wasn’t exactly in full possession of his own mind there.
“I am fixing the world here, Gecko. Every lonely soul will find its other half. There is a thief here. She knows you. She has shown herself capable of keeping up with you. She could help you deal with your personal demons. There is another, a young woman coming into her powers who has been pushed away from her family and friends. You could use your past experiences to guide her and keep her from following the dark path your life has taken. Protect and cherish.”
Under my armor, I was stewing. I’ll confirm nothing, but it’s possible that there was a sliver of a chance that some of what he was saying was annoying a part of me that was sensitive towards these kinds of arguments. I stood there contemplating how badly I was going to kill that son of a bitch as Dame stepped forward, as did the girl from the news the other day.
“Perhaps you need a strong woman who can keep you in line, one you have shown compassion toward.” That was Elite the Warrior Woman, apparently. Super strong, super durable, super definitely not one I want to let get a hold of me with those Kegels. What, this jerk went shopping through all the women around, trying to find me just the right woman to go with my shoes? Or like picking up a compatible dog at a dog shelter? These weren’t people to him. They were tools to convince me.
I focused on that. He was trying to get me on his side. Somehow, that had meaning to me.
“No, that’s right. Carl said you had a thing for men. I shouldn’t have been so judgemental. Surely you can take your pick. Hydroplane would love to show you there are no hard feelings for trying to kill him. Or Nos. Perhaps Paveman, if you like them older.”
What the fuck? Paveman was human enough to be affected by Sexahol? That was useful information.
Wow…he had all those guys there too. That was about when I noticed that there were a lot of superhumans present. I didn’t know how many…but I knew how many of them it would take to kick my ass. Like I said once long ago, that’s a handy piece of information to have.
That was his problem. It was just so pathetic. He made it sound so high and noble, but at the end of the day he was treating them all as pieces of meat. Just throw enough booty at the problem and it would go away. THAT was getting to me?
“Heh…hehehe…hahahahahahaha!” I bent over, caught up in the laughter.
“What’s going on here?” inquired Breakdown. The overhead camera gave me a view of Carl grabbing Breakdown’s arm and telling him something.
As quickly as merriment had set in, I stood straight up.
“Not as hurt as you-“ Breakdown started.
I cut him off. “Can it, you lintlicking hairchewer. You bulldog spittle in human form.”
I glared at him, daring him to speak up. He didn’t, so I continued. “What, you just want to throw someone at me? Some sacrificial lamb you think needs to fuck my brains back to proper working order? You think it’s as simple as saying ‘all you need is love’ or ‘that guy needs to get laid’ and someone like me becomes part of a regular family with a regular job and regular bowel movements? Seems like half the time I can’t express myself without having to use some story about transgender this or suicide that. That shit doesn’t get fixed with a kiss you know!”
I started pacing back and forth, not paying any attention to the crowd. Breakdown’s mist machine was still where I left it, hanging from the ceiling by a heavy duty cable wrapped around supports. I still had a case to make, though. “I’m a little old to have prom night with a sweetheart, too. A guy like me has to accept when they’ll never be the sort to know what that’s like. I’ve been rejected and dejected and even injected, but that’s alright. I can handle that I’m not the type who gets someone to love. Kids. A house with a big family movie sunset just before the credits roll. Society has its reasons to reject me, and they are the same reasons I reject it. So all you have is the hope that I’ll give in willingly to your mass enslavement. You failed to take me by force like all the others. You’re afraid, so you’re trying to throw sex and relationships at me to get what you couldn’t by brainwashing. I don’t want disgusting, weak-willed little humans that can’t solve their own problems but think they can solve mine. And I sure as shit don’t need anyone in my life to make me a full person.”
I stopped and hopped up on top of Moai’s head.
“And I know that you’d only be this desperate if you were afraid. Pay attention to that feeling now. It’s the one that said you should have run as soon as you tried to kill me.”
I pointed up at the gadget hanging from the ceiling, trying the remote access I had installed earlier. Nothing. That’s not good.
It was Breakdown’s turn to laugh. “I wasn’t stupid enough to let you use that old thing against me. Remember, I had that built. My new friend Carl kept me from getting your little robots over me and getting turned to slime, but I knew how to get rid of your trigger. Heroes, villains, assembled citizens. Tear Psycho Gecko apart.”
“Moai, do what you can,” I quickly blurted, then jumped. The enhancers in the legs of the armor were in better working condition than the holographic projectors. They carried me past superhumans that rose into the air and up to the device. Below me, Moai did his best to headbutt anyone trying to gain altitude or take aim, but it wasn’t enough. Most blasts, zaps, and whatever went wide. They didn’t want to risk the nanites out of a belief that they would try to disassemble them.
I had to grab on to this thing with my legs and hang upside down to unseal and discard my right hand glove, but then I pressed my palm to the device. A human can mess with my wireless connection, but there’s little to be done when I can actually molest machinery like it was a part of myself. Kinnari winged her way closer, energy disk ready to circumcise me at the neck when she got a clean shot.
She didn’t get a clean shot. The system spewed nanites out of it like a sprinkler rather than a fog machine. Everyone tried to shield themselves. Breakdown dropped from the catwalk and ran for the back. I swung over so I’d land on the catwalk, rolled with the impact, and then hurdled over side to follow him, completely ignoring Carl’s attempt to grab me in the process.
I found him back there crawling through the shower on all fours, puking. Hey, give the guy credit for sticking to his manners. I kicked him over onto his back, ignoring the pink crap he left on the tiles. I charged up my left glove.
“Wait, stop! I can’t die yet. Not until I kill the son of a bitch who did this to me!” he pleaded, the orange light of the energy sheathe splashing over his face.
“It wasn’t me. It was the Sexahol. I was just the face he used. It was always his plan all along.”
“Sounds like something you’d say.”
“Wait! I never had a gas mask. Back in the warehouse, then around the city, I was exposed to all of it. Do you think if I thought this all out beforehand, I would have kept acting on it like that? For god’s sake man, look what your nanites did to me!”
He…had a point.
Much as I hated to admit it. Switching off the olfactory filters, I could even smell the intense cherry and strawberry flavoring of the Sexahol in his puke. It cleaned a lot of it out of his system to.
I sat down next to him and punched the wall of the shower, blowing tiles off and knocking a hole through the wall.
“Only way I’m letting you live is if you get out of this city, you understand?”
He nodded, wiping at strands of spittle stuck to his mouth and the top of his tights.
“Good. You get out of dodge, and I’ll check out whoever’s supposedly doing this. If you’re wrong, I’ll hunt you down. You know I can. If you’re right, I’m cleaning up this mess. You feel me?”
“Yes I…feel you,” he hesitated. Probably the unusual word choice.
“So, who is the unlucky bastard if you aren’t?” I asked.
“Unity. Dr. Unity. Congratulations. You get to end a superhero trying to end conflict across the world.”
“I hope you’re wrong so I can kill you. Now get the hell out of my club.”
Breakdown skittered to his feet and rushed off.
Just for good measure, I shouted “And stay out!” after him.
Lucky bastard. He wasn’t the one who had to stay behind and clean up the mess Empyreal City had become. Even I have my stupid moments.
It feels nice to turn the tables. I’m not sure where that phrase comes from, but if I had to guess, it had to involve someone meeting someone else for a deal. Like a chef and an air conditioning installer. Now, this is a tense deal. Tense as shit. If something goes wrong, the AC man can turn up the heat or put the chef on ice. The other way around, the chef knows a few people who can make the AC guy’s life miserable. Like the muffin man and his buddy the cobbler.
So the AC guy decides he needs to bring along some protection. Let’s say a flamethrower. He’s real proud of that flamethrower, by the way. He keeps trying to think of good puns for when he whips it out. So he sneaks in ahead of time and straps the flamethrower to the underside of the table where he’s going to sit.
Problem is, the chef turns the tables on him. When the air conditioning man goes to whip out his flamethrower and yell “Freeze!” he reaches down to find nothing.
Instead, it’s the chef who has the flamethrower. Also, the chef’s puns are better. “Baked to perfection,” he’d say over the smoldering corpse of the AC guy.
I still have to figure out “Now the shoe is on the other foot,” though. I’ve already worked out that it’s a clown shoe, but the rest has been indecipherable.
It was certainly more worthwhile to think all this through than what was on Dame’s TV wall. She had a place on the upper lower east Westside, or whatever they call it. All this time and I still don’t have the best understanding of how Empyreal City is laid out, but that’s what satellites and bombs are for. Either way, it’s just a few miles from the spiffy neighborhood where the rehab clinic is situated.
This penthouse was nice, too. I don’t know what kind of tile that was, but it could take a refrigerator thrown onto it without cracking. And the bed! That thing was so soft and fluffy that I started moaning just from throwing myself down on it.
That was how Dame found me.
I was all stretched out in something like a curved, floppy F at that time and happened to look up in the direction of the doorway while in mid-groan. Dame just had her arms crossed, irritation smoldering in her eyes. There was no sign of Dipstick Von Micropenis.
I wasn’t in my armor, so there was less chance she knew who I was, but that still meant I was a stranger rolling around on her bed in nothing but boxers. I believe I know where boxers come from, actually. It has to do with this rebellion in China linked to opium or something. You know how those rebellions are about increased freedom. Freedom of jumbly bits, in this case.
“Damey wamey! There you are!” I slid off the bed and landed on my knees, walking over to her like that. I reached over where my stuff was piled up by the door and grabbed my helmet. I held it in front of my head to indicate who I am. I just change my face so damn often, you know? They might as well have a question mark in the database for my composite drawing. “It’s me, the lovable neighborhood sociopath! Well, one of them these days. You and I need to have a little date about that scumbag you’re dating, whatshisname, Dieter Fartsnsvallows.”
“What are you doing?”
“Calm down. I didn’t come here to fight,” I told her as I gave what I hoped was a disarming smile. I could tell that some shit eating had slipped into it, but I couldn’t help it. That bed was damn relaxing. I grabbed the gift basket I had brought from where it lay next to my armor and held it up. “Here, see? I come bearing gifts. Perhaps you would care to partake of this fine selection of cheeses or panties?”
You know, it had been a long time since I’d been kicked in the face by a designer shoe. For something called Prada, it sure does a hell of a lot more than just prod.
Dame and I have a complicated relationship. We met at a schmoozy function. I stole a guy’s wallet for some reason…maybe to tip a waiter? She was gorgeously attired and in catching my eye, she easily distracted me from how she was pickpocketing the guy’s wallet back from me. I don’t know what she was there for, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she had a legitimate invitation. I was just there to kill a guy with swan’s head.
She’s a nonviolent thief, punt to my head notwithstanding, and I like to blow shit up. She’s wealthy, likes to steal art, and doesn’t want the limelight. I have a little bit of money, burned down one or two of her favorite art galleries, and I’m an attention whore. It was my own actions at the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art that attracted her attention to my criminal enterprises. She has a knack for finding my lairs and breaking into them. She also gave the heroes the location of my base at one point.
Water under the bridge. I even agreed to not touch her or harm her. I still kidnapped her, stole her little phase shift bangle that allowed her to pass through solid objects as long as they weren’t high energy or electrified, and had her there on top of the Empyre State Building when many a bad thing happened. She also went back and forth between the heroes and myself while we worked on a ceasefire.
By the way, I don’t have the bangle any more. Lost it in the ashes of the Empyre.
Perhaps, given all that, a love tap to the nostrils was not unwarranted, but dammit I worked hard on that gift basket and it was really hurtful of her to not even look at it! And no, I wasn’t crying. My eyes were just watering from the kick.
Dame turned and walked over her plush cream carpet and down the stairs. I tossed aside the gift basket and began to pull on my armor as I followed. I only stopped long enough to slip a nanite syringe out and give my nose a jab. As I was pulling my torso armor on over my head, I seemed to take a wrong turn down her straight flight of stairs. A beautiful wood floor stopped my fall. I’m sure she can fix those scratches with a marker or something.
So I stood up and got the rest of my armor locked in and sealed, then turned to find her in the kitchen area. She was busy adjusting a TV I’d turned on. It was built into a counter top that ran behind and higher than the sink. She settled on the news.
“…so the asteroid strike on our planet was averted barely minutes after we first learned about it due to Dr. Dementoid’s hidden moon laser, which was then disabled by Lunar Khan, who claims sovereignty over that portion of the moon…”
Why can’t they ever have anything interesting on the news?
She slid a rag ice in it along the counter toward me. “For your nose.” Then she waved a little gadget at me that resembled a communicator. “This is for if you try anything. This panic button goes straight to the Shieldwall heroes if you want to try anything.” She waved a little communication gadget at me.
“Thanks, but my nose is fine.” I tossed the rag and ice behind me at the breakfast area. It clattered on the table and arrangements. I held my hands up, “And about that other thingy there, I’m just here to talk, Little Miss Threatypants. I think you know what about.”
“You tried to kill my date.”
“No, I tried to kill a complete asshole who has a price on his head. And he is bad. A real motherfucker. Okay, so he’s not that bad, but he’s a dick. Also, he’s underage.”
“Whoa, how old is he?” she asked, flustered. I’d put her in her early to mid twenties, so things might have been statutory without her realizing it.
“Sixteen or seventeen, I think.”
“I didn’t know that. He was dressed very well, and we met at the gallery.”
“Don’t care, though it’s a good reason not to hide him. By the way, where is the lil devil?” I looked around, then walked over to the cabinet. “Nope.” I checked some sort of container on a countertop. Nothing but sugar.
“He’s not here and if he listens to me, you won’t be able to find him as easily by his phone.”
“Damn, was hoping I could nab him here.”
“Are you in some sort of hurry?” she asked with crossed arms. “Is there a reason you need to kill him quickly?”
“If I don’t get him, someone else will. Client made it a casting call because your boyfriend came to town for his rehab.”
She raised an eyebrow at that. “What is the story on all this?”
“Well, it all started when he decided to replace the brake system on his truck with poor people…” and so I told her the tale of why so many people wanted him dead.
“…and that’s why you should always Google your underage boyfriend before saving him from a Rube Goldberg device.”
Hate burned in Dame’s eyes as they bore into me. She looked like she was about to grab a knife too.
“Yep,” I just said, filling the silence between us. She had turned down the volume on the TV, which was busy showing Smokey Bear spraying a campfire with some sort of freeze ray. “He’s got plenty of people who want his head, and some of them hired the rest of us. Though, may I ask, why you never seemed to look at me quite that way?”
She blinked and her head jerked backwards slightly. It was an unusual question, but it tickled me to think she was more comfortable with me killing people and tearing cities apart in a mask.
“The system… however you want to take that… doesn’t protect you,” she said haltingly, picking through her words to make sure they matched the thoughts she wanted to express. “Or me, for that matter. If you went to court for what you did, they’d lock you up in a heartbeat. He did some of the same things you did; I mean, he killed people and admitted to it. They just let him go. That’s not right.”
“Well, don’t worry about it. I’m on the case. And the new ‘let’s murder a murderer’ playset comes with all your favorite action figures including: Curtain Call and his disposable minions, Hanged Man with five different types of rope, and the Butterfly mafia. Wow, I just realized how ridiculous that sounds. Butterfly mafia.” I affected a slow Italian mafia accent, “Don Monarch, thank you for inviting me on this, the day of your daughter’s cocooning. Or would it be cement cocoons? I need to think about this. This could be a cartoon. Leave the gun, take the pollen. No, Fat Pollen, and I knew it was you Lepidoptera. I knew it was you.”
At least Dame cracked a smile at that. Didn’t let me go for the full tongue action like Michael had with Fredo in the second movie. Or even touch her. Or get near her.
She waved the communicator again. “I’m not going to interfere again, and I don’t think our mutual hero friends will find out in time to do anything either.” Then, she shooed me out the door with a broom.
Hey, at least I can still have a civil conversation with someone about ripping someone else’s head off. Plus, she kept the gift basket. Kinky, kinky. I wouldn’t be surprised if she puts that cheese to good use.
You know, I’m not normally one to judge a person’s taste in interior decorating so long as it doesn’t involve the phrase “blinding amounts of pink” but I’m personally not the type to just keep skulls lying around. Unlike chunks of metal, discarded casings, and flamethrowers, I’m just not much of a skull person. Well, maybe around November 1st and 2nd sometimes, but that’s just me having a fun time sleeping on a grave somewhere.
At first I was excited to hear about a special day called “The Day of the Dead” but I was faced with disappointment. No zombies in sight. I tried everything I could think of to get them to come after me, save for sex. I had a dress on and kept insisting my name was Barbara. I drank and played heavy metal. I even tried to call up a nearby military base, but they just hung up on me. On the plus side, that did finally cause some relentless pale white creatures in suits to shamble after me brainlessly. They’re called FBI agents.
Now, onto the show.
I had been busy in the days after that meeting. There were details to be worked out, like tracking him. A lojack was unnecessary; if I got close enough to put a tracker on him, I was close enough to rip his head off and go running back to the TV with it. As it happens, a young up-and-comer like him likes to make generous use of technology. It’s a step in the right directions for you humans, but for me, a proud homo machina, it’s also a step into my own personal domain.
You humans. You rely so much on the digital reality, and yet you put so few defenses in place. This isn’t the first time I’ve hacked into a phone, though it certainly helped that I got there through his email. All the creativity of the human race out there and you can’t come up with better passwords than God, Sex, Love, Porsche, Ferrari, 123456, or Password? A simple dictionary crack bulked up with a couple lists of most common passwords got me in. Come on, I know y’all can do better than that. Make a word up, like Squishnooglbbun, or just throw a bunch of words together in a random order that in no way provides psychological insight, like MotherBunnyCorkscrewOedipus.
Not much to see there, I suppose. The usual, messages from Facebook saying he had messages on Facebook. Sympathy emails. Bikini pictures sent from his girlfriend’s phone. Girls asking for dates. A girl thanking him for a lovely time the other night after they met at the art gallery. The security report mentioning they had blocked one hundred and seventy-three “hostile or malicious emails” since their last update six hours ago, now that was interesting. He’s got his cyber protection through the Pinkertons.
You can have all the protection you want and it doesn’t matter if someone knows the right words to penetrate your most intimate of connections with the world. In this case, I got his schedule, you dirty, dirty readers! And, from there, I had potential times to strike.
First, however, I needed to see the clinic in person. Get a sense of what I’d need to drop on it to take it all out.
The rehab complex was a bright, cheerful place, full of smiling happy people. I’m going to tell you right now, it’s not surviving all this intact. Smug sons of bitches. If I’d known where this place was, I’d have fried it back when I had the Heatflasher on top of the Empyre State Building. They called it the Limbaugh Betterment Clinic. If you took a microscope to the sign out front, you’d even see the part that mentioned drugs and alcohol.
Yep, when you’re rich and famous, this is one of the places they send you. Indoor pools, Jacuzzis, state of the art gyms with personal coaches, entertainment areas, massage therapist, sauna, indoor movie theater, full service kitchen with room service, personal dog walkers, valet parking, security, helipad, and all sorts of other things that most people don’t get when they’re busted drunk driving. I got a good view of the rear door and side doors to the place too, though I suspect the target was disappointed to find they couldn’t do the horse riding right here. Just from my stumbling around while pretending to be a drunk hobo, however, I overheard a man asking someone to bring his car around so he could visit the off-site yacht club.
The doorman saw me and called in security via lapel mic. Next came the part of a job that I like least. The casualties. Specifically, not leaving any so I don’t miss my shot at the real big money dead person. The nerve of those guys, running around and chasing a blind, deaf, and mute former Vietnam vet that had a rare anti-aging condition!
Still, I did get a chance to put my plan into action. Moai was a lifesaver on that one. Well, not a saver of life, so much as the exact opposite. He helped me with the rope and the pulley and lifting the piano, and he did it all while fashionably dressed in a powdered wig. He prefers to wear the pukao when we’re not in the middle of something, obviously, though I was wearing the rasta hat and dreads he got me.
It was a simple, delicate plan with many moving parts and pieces.
I picked a time to set everything up when he was out on another date with the art gallery chick.
The ass stain of humanity was driving himself back to rehab, letting a girl know that he’d meet up with her later but he was busy at the moment. I tracked him using the phone’s GPS and, when he got close, sent the signal to Moai. Like all great signals, it involved mimicking an animal noise. By the way, I found a great video to practice this involving howler monkeys mating.
Moai pretended to be a special delivery by sticking a note to himself and throwing himself out of a truck. Someone must have told him how I tried to get into the White House that one time. He got real close to the door, too. Too close to open it up. Meanwhile, the truck’s wheel was weighted to send it smacking into the side alley on the right side of the clinic, where I didn’t want the target to go.
Our idiot friend got out and his date switched places to drive as he tried to head up to his room. Unfortunately, not even the doorman could get my henchman out of the way enough to let him in.
He had to go around, and I put my plan into motion as soon as he did so. I hefted a launcher to my shoulder. I squeezed the trigger, setting off the mini-guillotine that took off the chicken grenade’s head, and it immediately launched the rubber chicken catapult-style. I considered having it yank the head off my chicken instead, but I didn’t want anything tugging that hard on my cock. Also, it would have thrown my aim off way too much. I call it the Clucker Chucker.
The headless chicken soared majestically through the air like a whale in parachute pants to land in a trashcan that had been turned on its side. It knocked a stick out of the way as it did so, causing a lid to fall down and cover that hole.
The top of the trash can had been welded to the base of a miniature cannon. Most of the explosion’s force was channeled by the metal up into the rear of the cannon, firing a hot wheel of cheese into the air to smack against the corner of a building, smacking a button wired to a cage just inside the window. This cage then unleashed a horde of hungry rats who…actually, never mind.
That’s where the plan started to go wrong, as the hungry rats were all replaced by a couple of very full rats and assorted rat bones. Luckily, a bird spotted the nice plump rats that waddled out of the window onto the ledge and came in for a meal. The wind from the wings of this lovely raptor caused the dominoes on a nearby plank to start falling in a line down a zigzagging scaffold to a perfectly balanced ball that had wound up falling off the side of the whole mess earlier. Luckily, the last domino fell down the slide I had set up in place of the ball.
We had lubed that slide up pretty well. Otherwise, the spiraling would have probably had too much friction for the domino. It didn’t have nearly the momentum expected of it when it hit the pair of scissors at the end and pushed them slightly against a piece of string holding up a bowling ball, but it turned out we chose string that was too delicate anyway and it cut enough of the length for the ball’s weight to break the rest. The ball plunged lower, knocking on a lever as it landed on a drain pipe that was just part of the building. I didn’t care about the bowling ball after that. Seriously, fuck that ball.
The lever turned on the most subtle part of my plan to date: a large flashing neon sign that called out to my target. “Look up here, fuck-headed dickface!” English is such a beautiful language, isn’t it? The target had been walking towards the side door, but he stopped to look up at the sign. He even stepped back, better into the position I wanted him in, to try and read it clearly.
The sign heated up enough to light a fuse. At the end, the fuse wound up a piton in the building and directly to a finely-wound rope of made of firecrackers that then was looped around the end of another length of rope. This section stretched up through a pulley and back down to a piano hanging over the entrance to the side alley that went to the door on that side.
Unfortunately, the fuse didn’t make it. Some birds must have pecked it or it was too damn cold and window, or something. Instead, the drain pipe was filled with a little too much weight thanks to the snow and my valiant bowling ball, who has always been a close friend and ally. A section broke off and fell against the firecrackers, snapping them and sending the piano down right on the spot it needed to go. Come to papa, come to papa, bring me the money shot you glorious piano bitch…!
Unfortunately, a bundled-up shape dove and carried him out of the way.
Fucking bullshit stabbed up my dick!
It was his date, the one who should have been driving off. I stood up and zoomed in to watch her help him up quickly. My ID program was not set to any sort of high priority, but it picked out who the fucker’s savior was due to prior interactions. I couldn’t see the hair either, but the dead giveaways were the eyes and lips. Dame, at least in her civilian guise, shoved him into her car as I shoved another chicken into the Clucker Chucker. First she steals the art I stole from me, then she helps the heroes, now she even steals the person I’m trying to kill?! Uh uh, no way, José.
I led the target and fired, but she hit some nitrous or something and got out of there, leaving the chicken to explode as its arc crossed the road.
The good news is, now I have her email address. I don’t know what Dame’s angle is in all this, but she and I are going to have a talk real soon about how rude it is to protect someone else’s payday. I just have to do it without hurting her. Maybe I can break out the thong and body oil again for this one.