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.