I wasn’t sure Pritchard Ajax would even be capable of squeezing out a spaceflight, but it’s not like I was gambling with my own life in the process. I mean, Forcelight might be able to survive a shuttle explosion.
Well, spaceplane. They were very insistent on the terminology. It’s basically where a a big plane carries a 1950s sci fi-looking rocket-plane hybrid real high, at which point the rocket plane rockets into space. It looked much older than it was, though it surprised me to find out it wasn’t the most recent of the company’s planes. “We had another one, a newer one,” the pilot told me. It was just he and me, so I was filling in some gaps in my knowledge about private spaceflight after he announced our altitude. I’d loosely heard things, but filed it away under “North Korea” for some reason.
“Yeah? What happened to that one?” I asked. It wasn’t exactly a roomy plane, even with just the two of us. The thing was designed to only seat three.
More quietly, the pilot answered, “It suffered a failure.”
“It blew up, didn’t it?”
He didn’t say anything. Yep, that’s why I had put it in that particular mental filing space.
“But this one’s sound, right? It’s in good shape?” I asked. It better be. We were attached to the bigger plane, just waiting to be hurled into space like Gaia had decided to binge drink the night before.
“Yes, she is. We kept her in a museum after her big flight.” The pilot gave a more enthusiastic nod at that.
“So, this is the first time this thing has been flown in awhile. There a reason for that?” I doublechecked the spacesuit I had on.
“After the flight where she actually made it to space, the company retired her to keep her from getting damaged.”
Ah, yes, of course. They got to space, but decided to keep the ship from flying any more in case it couldn’t do that again. I began to realize I’d gotten ripped off in my deal with Ajax. “The flight where she actually made it to space?”
“She won a prize for getting past a hundred kilometers twice in a week.”
“Any further? Like orbit?”
“Well, the prize was about getting to space, and that’s the boundary. But don’t worry, she had the equivalent of three people in her at the time.”
“…but not actually three people.”
“The equivalent of three people is good enough!”
“Except for the part about not even risking three people when you could sacrifice some crash test dummies. Or are we boldly going where only Vesta Aerospace’s trained astro-chimps have gone before?”
“You wish. We took a dog up. More more docile.”
Quite the mess I got in. I told Ajax I needed orbit, not the bare edge of space. Anyone could go to the edge of space. Just being that far doesn’t exactly exempt you from immediately plummeting back like a stone. “Congratulations,” I told the pilot. “You chased a prize that was already won back in the 1960s.”
The pilot scoffed. “Yeah, right. Those were government planes. They didn’t own those.”
“Who owns this one?”
“Vesta Aerospace, in conjunction with both Death Valley Ventures and Solar. I guess no one person owns it.”
I laughed at that. He didn’t get the joke. I just hoped that Forcelight at least got up there before becoming the punchline.
That doesn’t mean the action was entirely up in the air. I sat with Max in the middle of a campsite about thirty minutes from Empyreal City, whittling away at wood and tosing the scraps into a fire in front of us.
“It’s good you focus on a creative hobby,” Max said, chewing into a round, purple thing.
“Thanks. Figured, after putting together all the rockets and all the discs, I deserved a break that involved using a knife. And the secret, or so I’ve read somewhere, is to imagine what you want the wood to be, and then remove all the parts that aren’t it.” I turned my head to acknowledge him in a friendly enough way, though I kept my view focused on the carving itself thanks to my helmet’s display. Yep, still spending most of my time in my armor. The smell could be better. Probably why Max’s assistant, Holly, insisted on tossing a pack of incense into the fire in front of me.Then again, she had been eating smores, so she could just be baked.
Max nodded toward the piece of wood in my left hand as I scraped the knife along it, smoothing an edge. “What did you imagine that to be?”
I gave it a couple practice swings. “Well, it started out meaning to be an elephant, but then I took too much of the nose off, so then it was going to be a horse. Then I accidentally cut too much of the dick off, and figured we’d go with a goat. Then this leg went and I figured, hell, why not go for a starfish? Naturally, that led to throwing stars and next thing you know, I’m holding a shiv. You ever go to prison, this sumbitch will make sure the vampire gang doesn’t pick on you. Isn’t that right Ethan?!”
I called out to another fire over where Ethan Basford grumbled and held onto some small metal chest while the Claw minions chatted around him. He didn’t join in when they started tossing popcorn into each others’ mouths. Just kept muttering to himself and his precious little treasure.
It was then I noticed the Claw super with the metal tail, metal teeth, and scythe hand approaching with a bottle of whiskey. She stopped at the edge of the fire and grinned at me, teeth gleaming. “Hey, Psycho Gecko. Hello Mr. Max. May I speak with Psycho alone?”
Max shot me a look like “Hey, now I’m Mister Max. What are you getting in to?” then closed his eyes to nod toward her. He stood up and dusted off his pants. “You two have a nice talk. Don’t let it hold you up from moving on.”
I waved at him as he left, “Yeah, lots of ground to cover. Make sure the new arrivals are there.”
She sat down across from me with her, wrapping her modified arm around her legs. She unscrewed the top of the whiskey with her natural hand and held it out. “You want?”
I shook my head. “Nah, not my preferred taste.” I tossed my shiv into the fire to burn with the rest. “You wanted to talk?”
Gotta give the boobs some credit, I get a lot more attention with these things around, not that this person had much opportunity to see them. Before she could say anything else, I asked her, “You came with the Claw’s people, but I don’t recognize you from anywhere.”
“I am Girl Robot,” she said, though I got the “Girl Robot” part from my translator. The name in Vietnamese involved a weird U and O, so I’ll gladly stick with the English version, no matter how generic it is.
“A lot of cyborgs where you come from?” I asked. I crawled around the fire to get a better look at her parts. The metal ones, pervs.
She looked right at me as I moved her hair aside to look at where the metal arm integrated with the shoulder. “No,” she answered quietly. “I am a prototype. I was lucky. I like metal and robots.”
It looked like good work. Incredibly good work. It wasn’t as natural as me, but it was still something. “This is very good work. Do you have any trouble with your parts?”
She reached out and ran the edge of her scythe over one of the lines between my armor’s chest plating. “You could make them better. Your parts are like your real body. It is lucky I get to meet you, because I want to change myself as naturally as you do.” She brought the tip of her tail up. It went from a thick stump, the thickness of another leg, that worked its way gradually thinner until it ended in a trio of blades.
I ran a hand over her tail. “Well, you’ll never be quite the same with your human physiology, but you should congratulate your maker on a job well done when you meet him.”
She gave me a puzzled little smile. “Can you show me how your parts fit?”
Now, I could have been misinterpeting that, but I think she was into me. Just a bit. So, purely for scientific purposes, I removed a glove and ran my hand up the tail, resting it on the base of her tail.
There’s a special spark that passes between two of my species who are both connecting to the same thing, since it’s the nerovus system that’s involved. And this Robot Girl could actually feel it a little bit. Not the same way, but closer than any others so far.
But let’s not dwell on that too much either. I had lots to do in space, too. Lots to do. Lots.
Like detaching! Which prompted me to ask the pilot a question. “What are the odds we’ll survive your trip into hyperspeed?”
“Never ask me the odds,” he responded before the force of the rocket doing its thing forced me back into the seat and pleasantly vibrated Forcelight’s body, making me quite glad she didn’t have balls for fear of reverberation.
When things finally eased up, the pilot turned to laugh at me and announce, “Congratulations, lady. You made it to space.”
I reached over to pat him on the shoulder. “Yep, now to set a new record with this baby. Keep us over here and keep an eye out. We need to stay near Empyreal City for just a little longer…”
“Is something going to happen?” the pilot asked.
I doublechecked the seals on Forcelight’s suit, then smiled.
I know I’m skipping around a little in time here, not much, but I sat around the fire on my own back on the ground at this point. Armor firmly secured. I poked at my dying fire with a stick, looking around at all the others our whole group put together, with all the various faceless pieces of meat to throw into this grinder. Looking around at them, I put out a call. Not some grand horn signalling an attack. Just a phone call. To Venus.
Her voice sounded utterly emotionaless. “Who is this?” If not for the context, I’d have had trouble telling she even asked a question, her voice was that even. I responded with a bit of song.
“Hoofbeats go a-trotting, trotting, up to Heaven, bold. At the gates a-knocking, knocking, sheep in wolfish clothes. Holy jaws are dropping up in Heaven’s hold. Plant my hooves, my hooks, my books!…I’m here, Venus dear.”
Up in space, Forcelight looked out over the atmosphere through a porthole. “There! Fly us at that thing!”
“That? You were looking for that?” The pilot looked incredulous.
“It just released from higher up. Nevermind, forget that thing, pop the door.” I stepped over to the exit which was meant for more terrestrial usage. Under my breath, I gave the scared woman I dragged along into this some motivation of her own. “Get this done and you’re free, Forcelight.”
“You can’t!” The pilot called out. I looked over, more curious if he had left something open and would die. Hey, they didn’t give me all the details, I don’t have to give them all the details either. Instead of suiting up, he had reached for a bright red switch.
“That better be the manual unlock, because you don’t want me to tear this door off.” I told him. Forcelight rose, hovering a little.
“We just needed to know your plan. You will not win,” he told me, then forced a smile onto his face. I almost thought I saw it break into the beginnings of horror as he flipped the switch and the cockpit exploded. The pressure threw Forcelight out into the thermosphere. Gonna be honest, was really confusing for a second. Things exploded, things got really cold and sucky, there was some pressure stuff. Yeah, this wasn’t going like I meant it to.
But Forcelight could fly. And she could reorient herself. I just had to get her pointed in the right direction, take into account the velocity of the falling object, and try to track appropriately. And then just keep firing a whole bunch of blasts from Forcelight’s hands that tore through the night sky at the speed of light, causing distant explosions and breakings, or so I hoped. Kinda hard to keep track of things, so I was reduced to yelling, “Dakka dakka, suck it Kessler!” as I put her hands together and formed one giant beam that I tracked across a swath of space. Satellites possibly blew up or were allegedly knocked into pieces. TV shows were potentially missed. And, as soon as I finish dealing with the aliens, I’ll have to find out just how much of a wreck this may have caused for Earth’s ability to use satellites.
But I had a way to hopefully make sure.
With Forcelight falling, I spared a moment to turn her around and pick off the falling object, which almost looked like a seed to me. It was significantly easier to see with the heat building up around it, and a long blast from Forcelight sent it wildly offcourse and accellerated it. No way would it land anywhere near me, their target.
I tried my best to calm Forcelight’s body and take in the view, both because it’s space and because I needed to check, but I had trouble keeping everything together. The suit was fucked up, and being up that far was starting to do things to her. “I didn’t necessarily plan for things to go so far South for you, Forcelight. But I did what needed to be done, and I did it the best I could under the circumstances. If it helps, I’ll tell the nanites to do their best to keep you alive.”
I let her go, stood up, dusted off my armor, and walked away from the bright collection of fires, allowing the holodiscs to flicker out behind me and reveal that the Fluidics’ chance to rain on my parade was wasted anyway.
But I had one last message. One last announcement broadcast through what signal interceptors remained online after my initial warning that I was coming for Empyreal City. It interrupted regularly scheduled programming across the nation to show my perspective as I put out a fire, then walked to the edge of these woods where Empyreal City stood in the distance, lit up a bit less than before the barrier went up.
“We’re here.” I told the audience, before cutting the feed.
In the days after the mayhem at the motel, Max was unusually distant. He’d healed me up just fine, but this time he’d adjusted the unknown concoction to minimize the side effects. They stayed away from me, but not as much as last time, so I assume there was less risk of an explosion this time. Don’t know where the green stripes came from. That said, he approached me a few days afterward. “Now that we have created distance from the latest attempt by the extraterrestrials to wipe you off the face of this Earth, I would dearly like a word, my friend Gecko.”
He’d chosen a polite enough moment, after I broke up a minor spat between the Claw delegation and the runaways from Master Academy. Moai blocked me when I started to offer my first incentive to work together: a horrible mutilation from me if they didn’t. Moai took the metal pipe out of my hand and held up a bikini for me instead. Smart magically-animated hunk of rock, that Moai. I need all the rocket parts I can get, and it turns out I don’t look half bad in a bikini. Cold as balls, though. Or lack of balls, in this case.
Believe it or not, I don’t try to oggle myself. Saying I’m a sexy beast is one thing; being sexually attracted to myself, on the other hand, is gross.
After all that, Max walked up with a coat in one hand and a mug of hot chocolate in the other, asked to have a talk, and we sat down in his car.
“Okily dokily, Max. What’s that word?” I held the mug close enough to my face to get all steamed up, but didn’t drink. Not with it that hot. And it occurred to me that it may not be chocolate in the cup.
Max smiled that Cheshire grin of his, “The word? The word is ‘No.’”
I raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have to help me.”
Max poked me in the chest, between the boobs. “I will help you because you are right, friend. If they win, we all lose, and we must work together to defeat this otherworldly threat.”
I opened my mouth to ask what this was all about then, but he cut me off.
“However, let me remind you of a little detail from the other night: you don’t kiss Sam.”
As if reading my mind, he went on, “She is not my property, nor is she yours.”
I smiled too. As he’d spoken, an idea flickered through my head. A private joke. Something I’ve been toying with. I pushed it aside to address the fracturing of a friendship with a man who is keeping me alive while everyone and their mother has decided to make my life a little harder. “This is a rights thing? I thought that was my line. Having freedom means the freedom to take the consequences, and all that.”
“Gecko, I don’t care about the lofty language you use to justify and deceive. Sam and Holly are not my property. They are friends and companions. They shan’t be much longer if you are allowed to do whatever you want with them.”
“Allowed?” I grabbed his finger and pushed it away, possibly causing his ass to suck in air. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past him to have figured that one out. “If you were almost anyone but you, we would need to examine that choice of words. But you are you. And they are with you. Ipso facto Humma Kavula, I will acquiesce. I won’t touch them anymore unless they ask for it.”
I paused for a second as another thought ran through my head. Max saw that look in my eye, which is all the more impressive for them being cybernetic, and responded with, “You won’t even play at finding ways to make them ask for it. I need them, thus you find yourself in the position of needing Sam and Holly. Do not be contrary in the face of a countermanding command.”
Well, he had me there, but in a good way. Anyone who does whatever you tell them not to do is too easily controlled. Every once in awhile, the best way to do the unsuspected is to do what they hope and expect, whoever the “they” in question is.
I sighed and raised my mug up to blow on the chocolate. “Fine. Now, can you tell me if this is real hot chocolate, or is it going to make me look like even more of a Gumbie Cat? I’ve tiger stripes and leopard spots.” I shook my belly to emphasize the coloration changes I’d been through lately.
Max accepted my statement and settled back easily into his seat. “Gecko, you would need to sit upon the windowsill, or anywhere that’s smooth and flat. You’d sit, and sit, and sit, and sit. That’s what makes a Gumbie cat.”
“That’s what makes aaa Guuumbie caaat!”
Holly and Sam soon pulled up with Ethan Basford’s car and a new travel trailer for them to find us two murderous supervillains singing our way through a song from Cats. It also gave me the idea to put on a skintight leotard and sing “Macavity the Mystery Cat” next time a fight almost breaks out. The proper singing technique for that number involves constantly rolling your hips while seductive music plays.
Max probably conveyed my apologies to Sam, especially since I didn’t and it would make her feel better to hear such. I don’t know, it was about time I actually saw to the special thing we’d stop for: The Great Lakes Googly Moogly, aka the only joint Canadian-American strip club. By combining Canadian beer with desperate American women, the genius who thought it up created possibly the most potent force in stripping yet seen on the face of the earth, all on one convenient ship parked on Lake Superior.
They loved us, especially after I worked out a deal to claim to my growing group of malcontents that I might give the pole a try. Unlike all the people willing to let me fight an alien invasion on my own, they believed me. I think the difference is hope, and how good the lie looks. And I don’t mean to brag, but these fucking tits, man.
While our main body made its way from west to east, the more heroic group took things in another direction: down to up.
As a corporate bigwig, Forcelight had somewhat friendlier access to another of the large and in charge sort. Very large. Pritchard Ajax. I’d wonder why so many famous people have weird names, but for both the naming conventions of superheroes and the fact that I’m Psycho Gecko. I’ve said plenty of times that it’s not hypocrisy when I do something, but that’s a stretch that beggars belief.
But we were talking about Pritchard Ajax. I used Forcelight’s status and influence to convince him we needed to meet. He was so enthusiastic about it, his directions advised her to meet him at the airport and be prepared for a quick flight.
After the epic battle to keep her bust inside of her clothing, I took Forcelight and just Forcelight to a private airstrip to meet him. Hopefully, Lone Gunman or Good Doctor won’t get into a fight, but I’d rather prefer Doc come out of it alive, and that’s probably the only sentiment I and the trapped Forcelight share. She has a mouth, and she can’t scream. Hell of a lot more impressive of an accomplishment than taking away the mouth in the first place.
I stepped right up to the Vesta Aerospace jet as the door opened. Pritchard stepped out onto the top of the steps, dressed in dark blue pinstriped suit, bright red shirt, and no tie. “Ms. Young, we meet at last!” he exclaimed with all the flair of a supervillain about to launch into monologue. He had the look of one, too. Could have been Lion Man or something with the beard and long hair like that. It was almost ’80s hair, it was so wild. The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious cat is what I’m saying here, folks.
“No, no, no, Mr. Ajax, we meet at first!” I answered. Away from Doc, I could be more like myself.
We greeted each other with an air kiss, because nothing says class and refinement like being too good to kiss someone lest you pick up some of their lower class skin filth. Maybe I’m reading too much into that.
“Come in, come in,” Pritchard ushered me into the jet.
I took a seat and found myself served by a waitress I would have sworn I recognized from dirty pictures online. Here is where most people would deny looking at such, especially after having expressed a dislike of most of you humans on both a personal and physiological level, but a guy has needs. A guy without another of his species in the entire universe especially has needs.
“Where are we going?” Forcelight asked. “If you have a destination in mind, I could have met you in the air.”
Pritchard guffawed and sat across from me. “That’s right. This must be less exciting for you. You fly anyway! But I doubt your flights are this nice, eh?”
“You got me there, Mr. Ajax.”
“I know you mean that to be informal, but there is incredibly important business to discuss.”
“Please, Ms. Forcelight, try to relax. We aren’t going anywhere. I wanted to give you a relaxed meeting in the sky, away from the milieu of boardrooms and offices, not to mention the dreary cliche of the lunch meeting. We will fly around, though with amenities and luxuries you may enjoy. If you’re hungry, we can have a bite. If you feel like a drink, the flight attendant is an excellent bartender, though we have many softer beverages as well.” As if on cue, he held out a hand and beckoned over the flight attendant. She offered him a dark glass of…root beer? The teetotaling, lion-maned businessman gestured expectantly, but I waved the stewardess off.
Pritchard chuckled to himself, took a sip, then continued, “If you can’t take your mind entirely off of business, perhaps a financial report or political news? I hear Congress is still debating about your competitor, Double Cross. They harangue the villain who created it, the lizard man, but they are at a loss on what to do. Most of its assets and corporate officers are in Empyreal City, a place no one wants to go to. Or leave, come to think of it.”
I raised an eyebrow. “While that’s interesting, especially given my own intimate experience with Psycho Gecko, I am here today to talk to you about the next frontier for Earth, business, and really everything. The final frontier, in fact. Space.” I could almost hear the opening chords of the Star Trek theme song in my head. “I want to go into space as soon in the near future as your organization can provide. I know your Aerospace division has had its fair share of setbacks…” Which is about like saying North Korea’s had the occasional whackjob ruler. “…but I’m willing to lend certain expertise, funds, and equipment to make it a reality.”
Pritchard had some really big teeth. I realized it because he kept smiling. I really hate smiling sometimes. With Max, it’s like a quirk. He’s a little touched in the head, ya see. But this guy wore it like a business suit: unnatural and meant to keep you focused more on form than functionality.
“Many fine and talented individuals such as yourself have expressed the same interest, but I find myself particularly glad you decided to interest yourself in a journey to the stars. I’ve said to myself recently, I said, ‘Pritchard, if only you could find a good way to broach the subject with Ms. Long, the both of you could go down in history together.’ Now do you know why I said that? Don’t answer, the anticipation is killing me.”
Really? Talking like that, gravity could also do the trick.
He continued rambling on. “I started researching space because I felt, with the groundwork laid by NASA, enough of the technologies were developed to make spaceflight commercially viable. Despite that, there have been bumps on the road to putting a millionaire on the moon.” Amazingly, his grin grew even wider reminding me of Tim Curry but more molest-y. “There are several problems to take into account in space as well, such as repairs, maintenance, and the well-being of the crew. Indeed, I felt your company’s nanites were singularly well-placed to convey a huge boon to my company. Alas, I never found the time or opportunity to approach you. A thousand pardons, may the gods punish me beneath an ever-turning wheel.”
You’re a couple wheels short of a cuckoo clock, aren’t you?
“Now you come to me, like divine providence, like Pallas Athena herself to share your wisdom and to defend our people in their time of need. I have made do without you, Grey-Eyed one, and have built a ship that can attain space flight. It can, in fact, meet with several capsules already launched into space over the past year in the efforts of constructing a colony ship, which we are in dire need of.” Pritchard swept his hand out the window, taking in an Earth in the sights of alien conquest. “I believe we can come to terms on both of our ambitions.”
I picked him up and hugged him like a little girl snuggling a puppy, except if the little girl was perhaps hoping to break a couple of the puppy’s bones accidentally on purpose. Which, at this point, means I just have to work on the bed-wetting and fire-starting to make this situation even more familiar.
“Great,” I told Pritchard, setting him down to try and catch his breath and make sure all his ribs worked properly. “You get me into space in less than a week and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Seeing as I’d appeared to slow down and enjoy the sights in our trip, the excitement that marked our earlier movement abated. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing. People had time to think about the actual attack, which sounds like a bad thing for most people. I’d much rather they chicken out before we get there and the front line decides they’d rather be fifty feet behind me.
We also got more volunteers. They trickle in here and there, some useful as bullet shields, others actually capable in a fight. There’s a militia that thinks the government is working with the aliens and the devil. They don’t get along well with the Moonies for some reason. A handful of small town supers like Shadowcrawler.
They were all a bit surprised when, on a detour from the epic showdown with the aliens, I decided to visit a tourist attraction. I could have gone with the world’s biggest ball of aluminum foil, or perhaps the popcorn capital of the Midwest, or even the world’s only existing sculpture of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount carved entirely out of various cheeses. No, instead, I visited South Dakota’s most famous tourist attraction: the United States’ biggest ball of exhumed Native American bones. I’d make a comment here about them having bad taste to throw that exhibit together, but you have to remember the tongues are all rotted away. And, technically, it means they don’t have to worry about being on an old Indian burial ground.
While the rest of the bunch explored and purchased commemorative bones from the gift shop, I had a special lunch with Max, Moai, Holly, and Sam. Not special in terms of being all that grand, though and day when I make my fetuccini alfredo is a good one. Nah, this was special because I trusted these folks over all the rest.
“This is ridiculous,” Sam said, watching some of the Moonies swordfighting with what we all assumed were fake bones. “Why did you want all of us to sit together today?”
Max cocked his head to the side, looking at my helmet. I’d taken to wearing it more and more, both as a precaution and to hide some of my distractedness as the Kingscrow Trio worked on the problem of the alien storms. He looked like he had something to say, but he didn’t get around to it.
Instead, I slipped off my helmet, shook out my hair, and started chowing down on a bowl of pasta. After getting a little in me, I gave them an answer without looking up. “To let you know what’s going on. Why we’re not in Empyreal City already.”
“Because you’re waiting for more people?” suggested Sam.
Holly offered, “You’re scared?”
Max responded to them with a stage whisper, “It’s a trap.”
“Ding ding ding, we have a winner.” I really didn’t want to speak. I make a mean alfredo. “It’s gotta be.”
“Then where are we going to fight them instead?” asked Holly, carefully picking through her plate so as to avoid getting my creamy white sauce all over her clothes.
“There,” I answered, nodding. “In Empyreal City. We’re going to spring the trap, but I want to figure out what all it’s going to be first. My guess is that it has something to do with the rain, first.”
Max steepled his fingers. “Yes, if I had such power and wished to conquer earth, I would let it rain all at once.” He pointed at me. “So why haven’t they?”
“Well, I have an idea on that, but it assumes they’re smart bastards who bothered to learn about Earth. I mean, they may be alien, but I can at least figure out some of why they are doing what they are doing based on what they are doing. After all, when someone pulls a knife on you, it’s reasonable to assume they don’t like you and would like to express that in an unhealthy way. Unhealthy for you, preferably.”
I looked between the group, who waited for me to go on.
“Right, so they opened up the barrier. That’s a sign there. They want me to come to them, and they even goaded me with Venus. Why? What do they have to gain?” I dipped a garlic knot in the sauce and took a bite before continuing. “What they always have to gain: us. A large force of people, powered and unpowered, who want to resist the aliens so hard that we’d throw ourselves at them. And any military forces that show up to assist us.”
“They’re suckering us in,” Holly summed it up.
I nodded. “Beats the hell out of gassing everyone now that they’re here, only to find that the world’s leaders and militaries were hidden in Cold War bunkers meant to survive nuclear fallout or ready with MOPP gear to fight back. I mean, let’s be honest,” I pointed with my fork toward where the militia practiced sloppy marching, “These guys are worthless compared to the crew of one aircraft carrier, one nuclear bomber, or even a tank. A few rifles compared to a submarine packed full of intercontinental ballistic missiles? It’s no contest, and to believe otherwise is to be as crazy as those fuckers right there in their hunting camo.”
Moai leaned over and nudged me on the shoulder. I turned to look at him, then at a pad in front of him where he’d written the word, “So?”
“So, I have a team out there trying to figure out how they do their alien rain dance. It’s all last-minute, and they don’t even know they’re working for me. We’ve ruled out planes and their own ships.”
“What about those weather buoys in Paradise City?” Sam asked.
I shrugged. “They could make it rain, yes, but that manipulates things like temperature, density, ions. It doesn’t add completely new stuff to the air that isn’t naturally occuring.”
“Do you know that it isn’t done that way?” Max asked. “Or do you assume it isn’t?”
“Ass, you, me,” said Holly, referencing some saying about assuming, rather than extending an invitation.
Moai scribbled more on his pad, then held it up. “Still no mind control organ chemicals.”
“I wouldn’t put it beyond the scope of their abilities to manipulate the chemistry of the air and create that substance. In all likelihood, the elements used are on Earth already. They just have to be put together in the correct way.”
I shook my head. “I’m not buying it.”
“Why?” asked Max, leaning forward.
I stopped to think on it. “…I mean, if they could make that stuff localized with hidden machines all over the planet, why use the rain? Why not sneak one close to the White House, turn all the air into a cloud of that stuff, and so on?”
Sam added her two cents again. “Do you know they haven’t?”
“Captain Lightning is there. He’d know.”
Max looked me straight in the eyes, losing his smile for the moment. “What if he’s one of them?”
“I trust that he isn’t.” Sam made a face as I said it, while Max shook his head and smiled.
Pretty preppy Holly is the one who dared ask, “When did you start trusting heroes?”
I glared at them and didn’t say anymore, thinking about how much of a point they had. I was being a bit too trusting despite knowing about all the infiltration.
Max broke up my reverie. “Try satellites. If it looks like any other satellite, they could drop a package from space that opens at the right altitude to influence rain.”
I nodded and murmered my thanks.
Over at the Long Life corporate headquarters in Kingscrow, Forcelight looked up suddenly from her, Good Doctor’s, and Lone Gunman’s examination of maps and other wide-ranging charts to exclaim. “Space! The final frontier…”
Good Doctor ahemmed patiently, as he had to do a few times in our association together.
“Satellites. They could have satellites up there dropping something to cause the rain.”
“Like a chemical weapon,” Gunman added.
The Good Doctor put his hand on Forcelight’s shoulder. “The field of debris orbitting the Earth would hide it. From what you told me, perhaps they hijacked pre-existing satellites. Brilliant idea, sweetie.”
I really didn’t care for Doc acting all fatherly toward me. It’s been weirding me out, though I know it’s because I’m controlling his daughter’s body.
“Good. Now what do we do about it?” asked Gunman impatiently.
I hopped up and walked over to the company landline on Forcelight’s office desk. I never bothered to memorize her secretary’s name, so as soon as someone picked up, I ordered them, “Get me the number for that company trying to do the private spaceflight, Vesta Aerospace!”
With that problem solved, I thought I could rest easy. We moved on from the bone exhibit and got well out of town before we crowded around some other small town’s various highway hotels and motels. I could have slept in the car just fine, but Moai insisted on keeping watch on it, which would also allow him a good view of my room so as to keep an eye on me.
Everyone let me have a room to myself, no one daring to suggest they keep me warm after this one Moonie offered to give me the smoothest anal probe I’d ever felt. He held up one of the fake bones for emphasis. After I tested out just how good the souvenir was on his ass first, I decided to show him that it could also be used to check the tonsils and throat like one of those tongue sticks the doctors use. He just about ate a bar of soap getting clean again.
Imagine my surprise when I was rousted from my sleep by a familiar voice coming from a familiar mohawked head that I could barely make out in what little light penetrated the motel room’s gloom. Sam settled onto the bed and kissed me as she finished securing my right wrist to the bedpost. I would have stopped her, but my left one was already tied as well.
I didn’t remember Sam being that stealthy, and I that’s with me in one of my more paranoid moods.
She grabbed my chin and pushed my head back against the pillow so I couldn’t see her as she leaned down. I gripped whatever straps she used to hold my arms out when her wet tongue trailed over my throat.
“Gonna be honest here, Sam, I didn’t think you were into this sort of thing with me.”
She giggled, still keeping me from seeing her. “Mm, tying you up and killing you? I’ve wanted to do it for a long time.”
Her nails dug into my skin even as what I had assumed was a tongue now gently flicked over my throat, drawing blood.
Not to sound like the History channel here, but my first assumption was aliens.
Unfortunately for Sam, whether some altered real one or alien copy, my nails were much stronger than hers. Blackened zirconium. They cut through the straps like they were all the tissues now being discarded by any bondage fetishist readers. Well, unless they’re into this sort of thing too.
I brought both fists right at her. One knocked into a much harder body than Sam should have while the other hit her on one of her elbows and forced her to give up some leverage. It was enough for me to angle my face toward her and fire off a stream from my laser eye. “Eat light amplification through stimulated emissions of radiation, bitch!”
It glanced through the side of her head as she rolled, using her grip to drag me to the floor. She tried to wrap herself around me, but I continued to roll and got her upper body off me. From the feeling of the spikes that dug into my waist from her legs, it was a good call, and it allowed me to carve off her head. I heard something splatter in the dark of night. The smell betrayed a lack of blood coming from her, as did the amount of spray from what should have been a cauterized wound.
I sat up and pushed, wrenching her off of me with a hell of a lot of pain borne of dragging spikes. I saw her get onto her hands and knees and forced myself to jump on her upper body, pushing her down. I raised up just before her back got as horny as her grasping legs had become, and grabbed her where women tend not to have any spikes: right between the legs.
With one hand in her ass crack and the other in her neck hole, I threw her against the side of the bed and tried to pin her there. She sliced the air back at me with hands that had somehow become blades. Whatever this body was, and I couldn’t see it too well, it wasn’t covered in skin.
“Ok,” I told the assassin as I held it against the bed by its ass. “We can either skip the killing and go right to the sex with a headless body, or…” A spray of black slammed into my face, almost forcing me to lose my grip. I avoided it by firing the eye laser again and keeping it on until the thing in front of me stopped. When it did, I grinned and told her, “Fine, we’ll do everything in order then.” I cackled as, mindful of the spikes, I grabbed the body’s feet and forced them apart.
Now, between all that noise, it was rather surprising no one had ran into to join me already, but I discovered when I bounced out the door of my room that they had noticed and were gathered around in confusion. The sight of me using a humanoid body like a pogo stick, with my foot jammed up its ass to push a vaguely gem-like core against the ground as I bounded, only made that confusion worse. And it didn’t help at all that said body was headless, with clear skin that showed black fluid inside.
After a couple good cracks on the parking lot, the core split and the whole body spasmed and died in my grip. My new toy broken, I settled back down with an “Aww.”
“What the fuck?” asked a nearby Sam and Holly simultaneously. Max yawned and approached behind them.
I helped myself off my impromptu ride and walked over, stealing a kiss from Sam. She slapped me, getting black gunk and blood on her hand, but I just told her, “They really did their research on their doppelganger.”
I laughed to myself as I walked back, ignoring the crowd around me and the sound of Sam spitting up and yelling, “Seriously, what the fuck?!”
At least, until I slipped on my own blood and fell, rather painfully reminded that the stitch in my sides wasn’t due to exertion so much as attempted execution. “Medic!”
Come Thursday, my merry cross country trip met with a bit of resistance when our lovely caravan made its way through a ghost town. Not an expression, either. There are still a few old Wild West towns out there with some restless spirits. They’re nice enough folks, if a bit backwards. This one guy kept wanting to feel me up outside the ruins of his old shop. I had to threaten to burn it down to get him to give up the ghost. I guess it wouldn’t be much of a threat in most of those old places, but they’re a bit of a tourist attraction, so they used some of the money to renovate. So he went from skulking around the ruins of his old, deteriorated ice cream shop to trying to grope me outside his fancy Howard Johnson’s.
Could have just grabbed my armor and energy-punched him to undeath, what with the way the energy can affect ghosts, but whatever. It got solved and we got enough gas. Like most tourist traps, it’s really becoming commercialized. It’s only a matter of time before someone puts a call center there or something.
The gas and the groping weren’t the problem, though. It was when someone shot the bottom half of the beer bottle while I was downing it. I looked over and found some rickety black bag of bones. Which sounds like a special operations skeleton instead of the old, goo-covered bones that had shot me. Somehow. Half the gun was lumpy rust, so I didn’t know how he managed that, though I figured out the hat with the hole in it had more to do with hiding the core.
The aliens’ latest attack really pissed me off. It’s not because I’m an alcoholic, or because they’re getting to me. No, what really pissed me off was that, of all the times for me to fight an undead gunfighter in a Wild West ghost town, it had to be this idiotic stopover. Not even a whole stay, with a horde of skeletons coming after me! Just some random alien-controlled undead gunslinger. How dare they steal that really cool experience from me?
So I lowered that broken beer bottle and spat out some of the glass and beer in my mouth. “Well, cowpoke, I hope you’re feelin’ frisky. ‘Cause I’m the quick, and you are so very much the dead.”
It ground its teeth, a molar falling out, then raised that old revolver again. It cocked the hammer back, at which point I saw some of that black goo slide down into the mechanism. When it fired, the goo shot out as fast as a bullet and winged my cheek.
While it reloaded and tried to go off fully-cocked, I ran to the side and threw the remaining bottle piece at its gun. It really didn’t do much, since it wasn’t all that heavy. The alien skeleton cowboy decided to move its nonexistent ass, trying to dodge to the side, but I was a bit faster. It’s a matter of stability and durability.
Most people in my situation would run directly at a gun-wielding assailant, but of the many differences between myself and most people, two were relevant in this situation. First, I’m smart enough not to charge in. I mean, I know some people try to claim that trained gunmen couldn’t effectively draw and fire on someone charging within twenty feet, but I’ve never known a trained gunman who didn’t appreciate the target sticking their face against the barrel. It makes aiming easier.
I even saw Lone Gunman pull that off. Some nut, maybe a grieving family member, ran at him and pulled a knife when he got close. The same amount of time it took him to pull a knife, Gunman had his pistol out and was firing into him point blank. Probably didn’t help that Gunman had a LOT more experience and muscle memory drawing a gun than the other guy had with a knife.
Oh, I got so into all that ranting that I never mentioned the second different thing about me. That would be the laser eye. Which I made use, sweeping it across the thing’s body while the skeleton stopped any pretense of needing to reload and starting putting holes in my holes. And I don’t mean I was shot in the vagina. That I still have due to my critical nanite shortage. But I gotta give the skeleton a hand for its courage under firing at me. Someone needed to, after I carved off its gun hand.
I expected it to fight to its death some more, but then a glowing forcefield covered the cowboy hat’s holes. Every bit of black goop pulled up into the hat, leaving the skeleton to fall the rest of the way apart while the hat hovered there, then began to fly off. Trying to zap it revealed the forcefield could deflect anything my eye could dish out without burning most of my face off.
I’ll admit, it was really cool, in a stupid and cheesy way. As much as I wanted to nab that hat, I also had a lot of blood to try and keep in my body. Standing there with my enemy fleeing in a far too intact state, I knew I was going to feel those shots in the morning. And with a pinky, given the size of the hole in my arm, my hip, my gut, and my chest. Luckily, it completely missed my boobs, and almost missed one of my lungs. Funny how you lose track of all those in the middle of a fight when the adrenaline kicks in.
See? Stupid aliens totally ruined my chance to have an epic fight with undead gunslingers all on their on. And I had to grab something from Max that he assured me would likely heal me. Given how he’s normally pretty good at throwing concoctions together, I could only assume it became iffy because healing wasn’t the primary goal of the bubbling liquid I poured into my gullet. If anyone’s wondering, it tasted like carbonated grape soda foam mixed with codeine.
Shortly after drinking it, I awoke to find myself being driven by Moai, with everyone else’s cars far to the rear. Sam was tracking Moai and I with binoculars, they were so far back. I think I saw her hand something to Holly, too. Either way, whatever Max gave me fixed what ailed me. At first, I thought it filled the holes in with some weird purple scabs that felt remarkably smooth, until I spotted them on my hands as well.
Yep, I’d been polka-dotted.
To get the bad taste out of my mouth, I screwed around with the radio until an appropriate song came on. In this case, “California Love,” by Tupac.
Not that it mattered to those our little trek had picked up. We aren’t exactly alone anymore. There’s this biker gang for starters, Satan’s Poolboys. Maybe all the good biker names were taken, though I suspect it has more to do with the message I saw on a pair of their jackets. The first, worn by a man whose handlebar mustache was big enough to have its own handlebar mustache, said,“I love to ride my Harley.”
The second, worn on a burly biker with covered in enough tattoos to shame a Yakuza, had on a jacket that read, “I’m Harley.”
Some of those flyers who had been following us from Los Angeles were hanging back still, but within sight. Probably still on the fence about joining up with us.
Then there were the Moonies. The Moonbats. It’s not an official name, but their bus had their website’s URL on the side, and I figured they deserved the name once I read it. I guess it’s not completely crazy for there to be a militant abductee support group, but no extraterrestrials Earth has ever encountered were as focused on the human anus as the ones they claimed to have met. The fact that real aliens are out there means people can’t completely dismiss those types, however.
They sped up to wave hello to me, many not practicing proper gun etiquette vis a vis where they pointed the things in relation to other people. They had a couple of supers with them, though. One guy had blades all on his skin. You know how there’s a generic spiny super in a lot of shows, movies, and comics? Like he’s just got spikes or quills sticking out? Imagine that, except with half-saucer blades that orient themselves along the skin. He was bound to be more useful than the lady holding onto the outside with her suction cup hands and feet. Not all powers can be winners, folks.
Even with all that help, something was missing. Parts of my body, for one thing. As easy as the skeleton was to take down, and as much as any of these folks could have done to it, I realized I needed more on hand. I didn’t have any explosives to speak of, no trusty laser potato peeler even.
Seeing an off road to a town coming up, called back to Max to lead the group while I made a pit stop for something more befitting my trip. It wouldn’t take long. I just needed two stores, and a hardware store was one of them.
When we caught back up to them half an hour later, Moai still drove. I stood on the rear of the car, past the back seats, with bungee cords holding me to the car by my belt loops. Our car blasted out “Careless Whisper” with me pretending to play along on my new saxophone until I got a break and angled the mouth of the sax up and to the side. With the press of a button, a gout of flame spewed into the air. It nearly hit one of the flyers who had been following us, making him regret catching up for a moment.
Got me nice applause from the Moonies, at least. I made sure to wave at them as I passed by, and called out, “May you ride eternal, shiny and chrome!”
The flyers were not to be the last of our recruits on this leg of the journey, either. I’d picked up one in that little town. All black skin, weird legs that curled under him like a clawed frog. He had little glowing teal spines sticking off his back and some points on his arms. They complemented his slitted red eyes and the trace amounts of luminescent teal on his curved horns and straight tail. Shadowcrawler, he called himself. Apparently a big fan of mine, or at least he had become one when I decided to fight the aliens.
But he wasn’t the only one to join up. The next day, after I forced Ethan Basford to give him a ride, we got a still more welcome sight.
Coming from an angle, a cargo plane adjusted course to match us, then came lower and lower, showing off the pilot’s impressive gonads and the golden claw symbol on the side. The rear of the plane opened as it dropped still lower and moved in front of us along the road, turning that highway into one hell of a no passing lane. One by one, three buggies dropped out of the back of the plane, moving aside with uncanny precision to not only stay up there ahead of us, but also to move aside in time so the next could exit. Then a car dropped out and the plane climbed.
They dropped back to us as a group, each of the buggies carrying six masked men in yellow, loose-fitting shirts with a black claw insignia on the front. Their masks had built in goggles that reflected the sunlight and hid their eyes. They looked ungainly at first, until someone in the lead car made a circle gesture in the air and they pulled off a part that revealed nose, mouth, and ear holes. Credit where credit is due; the Claw may be a vaguely racist stereotype Asian Pacific island supervillain dictator, but at least he cared about his minions’ comfort.
As I pulled up beside the lead car, I saw he sent more than just minions. A woman with metal teeth and segmented metal tail waved the scythe-like metal claw that replaced her right hand at me. She must have been a newer underling, or the Claw’s internet agents are just that damn good at censoring outside information.
She slapped the driver, another of the regular Claw minions, on the arm. He waved at me politely, but concentrated on his driving. In the backseat, though, were more. I recognized Podling, that being the nickname of this round stone carved with symbols and runes. Don’t let that fool y’all, though. When it comes time to fight, that thing floats around and does all kind of magic shit. And it sat right beside a Japanese mercenary named Senpai who had a fondness for knives and bondage that mixed interestingly with a voice capably of compelling people to do what he said. He blew me a kiss through the gag strapped to his face.
“Oh what a day,” I told Moai as I tuned up my new rocket sax before me and my allies had a chance to make the sweet music of battle. “What a glorious day!”
Meanwhile, in a diner a few miles outside of Kingscrow, Forcelight sat humming to herself with The Good Doctor and Lone Gunman eating dinner beside her. Doc focused on the TV, then on a tablet in front of him.
“Plotting something?” asked Gunman, gripping his fork a little tighter. Forcelight reached over and broke off the head of the fork, though that still didn’t solve the problem. It just left him with one jagged piece of metal instead of four smoother ones.
Doc looked up, eyes flicking briefly over the broken utensil before looking at the others. “In one definition of the word, I am. I am attempting to ascertain why these cities were picked and why only these cities. Surely they could accomplish their perceived goal better by dousing the entire planet at once, correct?”
Forcelight nodded at my command. “Sounds right.”
“Maybe they only have so much,” Gunman suggested. “They have to spread it out.”
Doc ran his hand through his hair, gripping a short-trimmed mane that had many more grays in it since he went to prison. Then again, the Earth currently has more grays on it than when he went to prison, too. “That is one idea. Infect a wider range of countries and in so doing make it impossible to isolate anyone. Note that Madagascar has already closed their borders, however. I don’t feel that is the full picture, but neither is my original theory that they must have limited supplies. If that was the case, why these targets? Political capitals are understandable, right? Empyreal City is a populous city as well, noteworthy for its superhumans. But Johannesburg? That is not a large city.”
“That still could support the containment theory,” I said through Forcelight, still controlling her like a puppet. I didn’t even have to stick my hand up her ass to work her mouth. Unfortunately. “Although…hey, has anyone actually seen ships passing by any of the other cities?”
“Other than Empyreal City,dear?” It was weird seeing Doc looking at me like that, though at least I knew it was because I was controlling his daughter’s nanite-enslaved body from afar. “No, as a matter of fact, they have not.”
Gunman sat up straighter as he thought through this little riddle. “They could be using airplanes instead, but someone should have noticed if they were.”
I, by which I mean Forcelight, frowned. “I think we have a mystery to solve before we meet up with the villains.”
“We should have plenty of time.” Gunman nodded.
Doc raised one finger before politely correcting him, “I checked, and it is technically only forty hours of straight driving time to get from Los Angeles to Empyreal City. If Psycho Gecko has enough people to drive constantly, it won’t take long at all.”
Huh. He was right, too. Might have to slow up a bit, both to help gather people along the way, and to give this group time to figure out the cloud thing. It’s an intriguing question, and suggestive of either weakness….or strength. Yes, dramatic dots, it’s that intriguing.
“We’ll have to hope he gets distracted,” Forcelight said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll decide to touch up Mt. Rushmore before fighting the aliens?”
Goal one: reach the city full of an alien army where they conveniently removed their shield in order to meet my challenge. Goal two: figure out why they haven’t yet gassed the entire planet into being their puppets. Before we get the fat lady warmed up to sing, I better look into how my Admiral Ackbar sense is acting up, because my mind can’t repel tingling of that magnitude.
“What puzzles me is that if their dispersal technique is that effective, why is the barrier still up?” asked The Good Doctor. Lone Gunman eyed him suspiciously, but by this point that was pretty much his default assumption around my villainous friend. The fact that Doc turned himself in out of some bizarre desire for penance didn’t seem to matter to him. He still acts like Doc is just a criminal. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Doc is a confused criminal. A very confused criminal.
Then again, he had a point about the barrier thing. It crossed my mind from time to time as well. These…fuck it, I’m just calling them Fluidics from now on…these Fluidics pretty much won in there. Most, if not all, the city were converted. The heroes were going to get their asses stomped in that last battle I ran out on, too. I think the Buzzkills I ordered to hide would also be dead by now if they’d been found and besieged.
As Forcelight, I chowed down on some cereal, looking between the two. The old Good Doctor would be more than capable of stopping Lone Gunman if he tried something. This version…I have my doubts. For one thing, he didn’t like his costume anymore. What kind of a person doesn’t like a black leather coat semi-reminiscent of plague doctors? Though I heard their stuff was more like oilcloth. He even had this nifty helmet that matched. It was nice, a costume any murderer would be proud to stalk people in.
Compare that to the rampant use of tights on women as stacked as Forcelight and her glorious rack. There’s a different sort of pride being shown off there. I very much enjoyed having her assets, though. The contact information for the superheroes, too. Every member of that old super group Shieldwall who wasn’t dead or retired, for example. It saved me a lot of time, because I’d been considering stopping by Memphis to collect Honky Tonk Hero and Gorilla Awesome.
I wanted to gather as many heroes and villains as I could, but the problem was just as bad as when I tried it just in Empyreal City, except this time I didn’t have a pair of social networks making it easier on me. Forcelight’s got some pull, and even Max could walk into a place and get someone on his side, but I’m usually just tolerated until someone needs something from me.
That’s why no one is returning my calls. I don’t have a lot of contacts in the supervillain community these days anyway, and even that fox guy from Empyreal City hasn’t bothered getting back with me. If I could spare the nanites, I’d just grab the whole lot of them. I might have Max come up with something to influence people instead.
Or, better yet, I’m headed to Los Angeles. I figure The Trust still owes me. The Trust is this group, an extended family or bunch of families, who pretty much sold their souls for great magical power under the regime of whatever supernatural overlords they’ll eventually be able to unleash on Earth, except they’re more like the family from Arrested Development than the one from The Godfather. I worked with them some. This guy, Ethan Basford, is one of their patriarchs. As payment for saving his ass, he sent me a magic truth potion. He owes me for that one, too, since Venus turned it around and used it to learn some things from me that I’d rather not have told anyone. Whether he thinks he owes me for that happening doesn’t matter. I’m the one with the mean attitude and the knowledge of exactly how to choke a man with his own testicles.
The secret is tearing them at the base, so they don’t deform.
Much as I hate to say it, I should also stop by the Master Academy. If anyone over there had been let in on me taking refuge with the Eastern Campus, maybe I’ll find allies there. Or at least let them know that their friends are all caught in Empyreal City. I don’t have high hopes for them.
So while I’m heading to L.A., and while Forcelight is calling up her old friends, I’ve found I do have a few people looking to contact me. CIA, FBI, DIA, NGA, MSS, GRU, DIH, MOIS, the other DIA, BND, DGSE, DPSD, MI6, MI5, MI-Done yet?, and Mossad. See what happens? You give one or two spies your card, and soon everybody has your number.
It makes a certain amount of sense, actually. Who wants to spy on a regular person on the street? All you’ll find on their computer is some porn and maybe the occasional web serial. But if you manage to look at a spy’s computer, you’ll get all kinds of juicy information. And the good porn, too. The stuff the Slavic countries keep to themselves instead of exporting to the United States.
At least all those agencies gave me a place to start as far as recommending that the aliens be taken as major threats, but I ignored them in favor of checking on a message from one of the few groups that hasn’t treated me like a child or tried to screw me over. Both of which, I believe, are intrinsically linked. Of course, I mean the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF. They’re not even the Vatican’s intelligence agency, either. Yeah, the Vatican has their own intelligence agency. But as the office originally created as the Inquisition, they have occasionally made use of my talents. Father Poffo, my handler there, was itching to know about the extraterrestrial.
See, that’s really bad news for the Christianity in general. Not because of the idea that life on other worlds could prove their religion wrong. That’s not much of a concern except for some of the crazier sects. But it probably really pisses off any of them that holds to that Original Sin business, since aliens were never in the Garden of Eden and seduced by a serpent into eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Long story short, aliens get to go to heaven without Jesus, because they aren’t born sinners.
Like I said, pisses theologians right the fuck off, so I naturally assumed that Father Poffo wanted some dirt on the Fluidics. He’ll run to the Pope and the Pope can tattle to Yahweh.
So here’s how things broke down: Forcelight made her calls, inviting heroes like Black Raptor and Raggedy Man to either come up and help with Empyreal City, or maybe send some friends who could help out. Moai took a car of his own to go crash The Trust and bring Ethan Basford to me for a chat. Moai’s a really good choice for that considering Ethan’s preference for hanging out with vampires. I sat with Max while Holly and Sam went shopping along Rodeo drive. It was more Holly’s suggestion, but Sam sacrificed her time and energy like many a good friend would. And I waited on hold as I tried to get through the Vatican’s phone lines to contact Father Poffo. Their hold music is some excellent Gregorian chanting, by the way.
“Ya know,” I said to Max while trying to pass the time, him sitting across both backseats and me hanging out in the front. “I kinda miss my dong.” A pair of guys passing by immediately turned away and hurried faster.
“You don’t like being a woman? It seems like a stunt you would enjoy to mess with people.” He laid back, looking into the sky with eyes safely shielded by shades.
I shrugged. “Some parts of it are fun, but it’s not really a stunt. My body…well, that’s not really me, no matter what. I am the armor. This,” and here I gestured to my body, despite him not looking, “Is just what I look like when I don’t want people to realize I’m me. It only stands to reason that if I can be a bunch of different-looking men, I can also be women.”
Max looked over, “You like being a lesbian, don’t you?”
“Actually, that’s the part where I wish I had my boner back. And I like some of the curves, too. The hips, the boobs, the painted nails. That’s the problem, too. I had to make some adjustments to my armor to account for some body shape differences, and I can’t fix that as easily.” Meanwhile, over at the Vatican, I had left the Gregorian chanting behind when I got transferred from International Collections to the Complaints Department. I think I got some of my Latin wrong and they misunderstood, but I got to listen to an organ-only version of O Fortuna, so that was awesome.
“Have you tried keeping your boobs and growing a dick?” asked Max.
I brought my hands together, fingers steepling like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, “That’s certainly an interesting idea. Yes, maybe…hmm. Ok, maybe I’ll just grow a dick.” I turned to a pair of people who had walked beside us awfully slowly, “Ya hear that?! I’m gonna have my own penis!”
They hurried away, but a man across the street yelled out, “You preach it, sister!” before sauntering off with the guy he was with.
Complaints transferred me to the Heresy Hotline, so I was getting close. Once again, the hold music changed. The Heresy Hotline must not get a lot of callers. That’s the easiest way to explain why their music was AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”. Fitting, I’ll give them that. After a second, it wrung through. “Oooh, yeah, this is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Poffo speaking.”
“Hold all thoughts, I have to take this call,” I told Max. To Poffo, I said, “Greetings, padre. Been awhile. It’s God, but you can call me Psycho Gecko for the purposes of this call.”
“I must ask that you do not take the lord’s name in vain, my son.”
“Jesus Christ, will you lighten up? Besides, his name is Yahweh. And this is the Heresy Hotline. It’s your cover to hear this.”
“Uh huh. We don’t normally communicate this way and it’s justifiably putting me in a position I don’t want to be in.”
“Aww, but you wanted to hear from me about the aliens.”
“Oh yeah, my son. Let’s talk.”
I filled him in on the key points of our extraterrestrial visitors: hostile aliens who are using advanced technology to grow mind controlling organs so they can use all of Earth as their own army in some galactic civil war taking place far, far away. Do not accept their medical treatment, and stay away from rain and fog. Most damningly, I informed him, they had some major issues with the concept of transubstantiation, so he better send some missionaries.
“I will keep that in mind, my son. Have you uncovered any physical weaknesses to go along with the spiritual?”
“They’re fluid, but seem to have some sort of solid core that floats around in the fluid. I don’t know if they need some sort of suit to maintain a useful form. In fact, I had one try to choke me out after I tore a hole in its suit. But breaking that core seems to kill them. And I’d really appreciate it if you’re able to send any Catholic supers to help me deal with these guys if I put out the call.”
“Father Church will always remain vigilant against the forces of the Great Adversary, my son. Have faith.”
“Why Father, of course I have faith. She’s tied up in the trunk. I’m thinking about nabbing Grace and Charity while I’m at it. Not sure about Chastity, though. I hear she doesn’t put out.”
“Is there anything else you need, my son?”
“I’m a little hungry. Got a van of candy around?”
And suddenly I’d been hung up on. How rude. The arrival of Holly and Sam was most convenient, though, especially as I got a text from Moai inviting me down to a spot called The Vampire Club. While I’d likely fit in with my fangs, I decided to go in my armor, and without my escort. I didn’t want to stick around just because Max and Sam liked the atmosphere.
Well the sun was high and the color of piss when I chose to visit a spot with a name like this. A lot of them were clearing out under wide brim hats, umbrellas, and so on. I guess fangs had been flying, capes were torn, and a lot of vampires were left scorned. I could see wigs were pulled and top hats were crushed; those pointy boots were in a rush. As I stepped in, a scruffy put-upon bartender slid a beer over to a bald-headed nosferatu who smiled and said, “Thanks for the Bud.”
It wasn’t beer, either. Not that color and thickness. I guess somewhere out there is a bottling plant that hires a lot of people named Bud as blood donors.
In the middle of the room, Moai stood guard over Ethan Basford. An older, thicker, balding man, Ethan managed to look out of place even in the rather diverse crowd I’d spotted around this club so far. Maybe it was the lack of pallor, but you could just tell he wasn’t one of the other undead around. Plus, he had a broken leg. That set him apart.
“Well hello there, Ethan. Nice to meet you. No, no, don’t stand up. I’ll sit.” I helped myself to a chair across from him. He kept wincing and held onto his leg where part of the bone strained against his skin. I pointed to it, “You’ll want to put a bandaid on that, ya know. So, since you don’t even have an option of running away, I suppose I’ll get around to what I want to talk to you about.”
“You know you could have set up a meeting. We parted on good terms, right?” he asked, hissing through the pain.
I shrugged. “Eh, think of it as a little bit of payback for how your little ‘gift’ got used against me.”
He leaned away from me. Maybe he didn’t know for sure, but I figured he had a pretty good guess that sending “three drops of truth” to a supervillain like me would inevitably be used against me.
“Now, Ethan, I don’t want to kill you if I can help it, but I’m in a little bit of trouble right now. I’ve got these guys who don’t like me. Maybe you’ve heard of them; they’re an entire fucking alien fleet parked in Earth orbit. They are obviously quite advanced scientifically in comparison. Now, any sufficiently advanced technology is pretty much just magic to the ignorant, but not everyone realizes how sufficiently advanced magic is a pain in the ass to the scientifically literate. You follow me?”
“You want magic help against the aliens or you’ll kill me,” he reached out and grabbed a glass of some amber liquid, downing it quickly. I’m surprised he held off that long, actually. Alcohol’s use as anesthetic is well known, just like alcohol’s use as a social lubricant, incendiary device, and as the lead writer of numerous reality shows, including Cops.
“Yeah. And you know there are others in your Trust that’d give me what I want for that. The aliens aren’t going to let any of you bring about Hell on their Earth, but I’m sure they’d love to get their hands on your friends from the other side. If you need to know one thing, know this: I am going to annihilate them. This planet ain’t big enough for me and the aliens. So you can help me try and wipe them out…or you can help me go commit suicide. Or I kill you and someone else in your Trust helps me out.”
He held out his hand.
I looked at it, “You’re willing to shake on it?”
“No. I mean, I’ll do it, but could you get me another beer?” he squeezed the air with his hand as if hoping for a glass to fill it.
I smiled under my helmet and raised a hand up. “You heard the man, barkeep! Let’s get some human alcohol over here, and make it strong. The guy’s got a bum leg, so he needs something that could send a bum to bed.”
In Kingscrow, Forcelight had been busy. After enlisting the help of The Good Doctor, her father and my old ally, I used her influence and money to arrange a furlough for him to engage in super duties. I had the help of her Board of Directors, too, since I still maintained remote access to their corporate accounts and made sure I was blind carbon copied on the various emails about the nanite projects.
Interesting stuff, there. Their little human trials were a bit more extensive than the news reported on, on prisoners in addition to legal test subjects, then with military trials. A hell of a lot of military trials, too. Oh, and they stockpiled a huge amount this entire time because of expected high demand. That’s actually some awesome news. They wanted to make damn sure they had enough of this crap, even for sale in other countries. They had some in clinics all over the world, from China and India to Germany and the UK. Isla Tropica didn’t have any coming their way, but Argentina and Brazil are looking at getting some better healthcare.
I know some of those countries have universal healthcare, but the wealthy can afford better care wherever they go. That universal stuff is just about the average folk. Let them make their own nanites. With blackjack. And hookers!
That information is all quite awesome for me, since I needed huge numbers of these things, and since they’ve all been working off a copy of programming I corrupted long ago.
It was nice getting all caught up on that, all while directing Forcelight like a slightly clumsier second body. They flying was cool, too. Flying is one of those powers that makes someone feel really superhuman. It’s pretty damn cool to lift a car with your hands as easily as you would a beer can, or take a gunshot like someone threw a pebble at you, but those things are still comparable to natural human abilities. After all, that’s why the analogies work as far as lifting beer cans and making people throw pebbles at you. But flying doesn’t really have an analogy like that. It’s like jumping, except nobody tells you you need to come down at the end and gravity can take a long walk off a short pier. And that’s not really analagous, because everyone else who goes up must come down. Except for the crew of the Challenger space mission.
Also, the wind feels kinda funny on my boobs. Er, her boobs. The problem with looking through two sets of eyes is that sometimes you forget which one is yours. The only other time I did anything like this, I didn’t maintain control for very long. That’s why I gave Moai permission to jostle me from time to time if I seemed a bit lost. But sometimes I had to know when to ignore him, like when I flew around Kingscrow looking for one cape in particular who Forcelight heard was in the city. He seemed exactly the type whose tenacity and armor-piercing weaponry would be ideal for helping to penetrate enemy forcefields.
The fact that I could manipulate him using his hate of me was also pretty cool.
So I flew over Kingscrow, going all “Whee!” in a fashion that I’m sure the stoic Forcelight never let herself do. After all, serious heroes don’t have fun. Serious heroes must feel hardass responsibility for their powers, and all that nonsense. Having fun is not properly heroic, and so every good cape’s tights must be bunched to the letter of the regulations.
Alright, already; like a modest mouse, I floated on through the night and went to stop by the Low Earthy Bar. The hero in question wouldn’t have been permitted in, and neither would I while wearing Forcelight’s face. But I figured I could fly overhead and look for anybody doing surveillance. Like all my ideas, it was awesome to the max and I soon found my target on the roof of a pawn shop, watching comings and goings from the villain bar through binoculars.
I landed next to him, apparently expected from the lack of response. “Hello there, Lone Gunman.”
The murderous vigilante wore all black in the hopes of blending into the urban night of Kingscrow. His outfit this evening consisted of jeans, a loose button-up shirt, a dark bandana-style mask tied around his face, and a sheriff’s start with a bullet hole through it that I glimpsed when he turned away from his vigil to briefly look me over. Unimpressed, or just busy, he then turned back. “Formal as always, Forcelight. Go. You are scaring off the prey.”
I first met him when he was Holdout, the nubile teen sidekick of a Western-themed superhero named Sixgun. The precocious piece of jailbait found my hideout one day and attempted to explore it all on his own. I caught him and, figuring he’d tipped off his hero or otherwise had a tracker on him, proceeded to torture and try to kill him using what was left while the movers transported my stuff to a new location. Said torture session involved me taking my sausage to his face and choking him with lots of white stuff. White stuff called marshmallows, you filthy-minded folks. Thought I killed him, especially after we were caught in what looked like a compromising position. Had to kill the movers, too, when they thought it was something that it looked like. Since I spotted Holdout alive while engineering their deaths, I then tried to kill two birds with one stone. One of the birds survived. In the end, all my efforts to murder the sidekick were stymied by one circumstance or another and I had to settle on killing his hero instead. Holdout vowed revenge, changed his name to Lone Gunman, and has tried to kill me once or twice since.
He has yet to succeed, for the obvious-impaired among my readers.
“They aren’t prey, they’re people,” I told him. And I believe it. They are people. To think otherwise is to dehumanize them in order to avoid the harsh feelings associated with killing a person. Pansy. He kills prey, I kill people.
“Anyone who seeks to prey on his fellow man is my prey,” he answered, raising a small pad and pen to note something. He glanced at his watch, then he set the pad down and moved a black hat over it from where it had sat on a rifle. Wouldn’t be a fake cowboy without his hat, I guess, and I doubt the gunslingers of the old west favored Russian Mosin Nagants rifles. He pulled it up as if a blur, checked to make sure it was still loaded, raised it, and popped a shot off at somebody who had left the Low Earthy Bar and crossed the street.
At times like that, I wish I had eyes that zoomed. Perhaps I can pimp my superhero when I get the time later on? Nah, something tells me she wouldn’t appreciate it. I did walk Forcelight over enough to grab his binoculas and look. Off in the distance, a man in a suit and fox mask was on his knees, pulling his mask off to try and breath and get a better view of the whole in his sternum. Just some old guy with grey hair and wrinkles on his face. A villain who got old.
He waved off another person, a woman in a dress and a bunny mask. Unfortunately for her, Lone Gunman took another shot. She went down with a puff of fluid. The fox raised himself to his feet. Gunman, for whatever stupid reason, took his time getting another shot off. Probably some stupid thing like savoring the moment instead of finishing off a wounded person. I mean, I’m not saying I’m the most moral person around, but it was a good example of why I think Gunman is shit.
It worked against him, too, because Fox ran to the side, for the doorway of a cornerstore. When Gunman took another shot at the wounded man, things happened almost too quick to see. Fox leaned back super quick, in a way that looks like a videogame bug or bad film editing. He was in the same spot the bulled passed through, and then suddenly he wasn’t. But it wasn’t like he’d rewound time, either, because his legs were planted forward and his body was back. He made it into the store while Gunman cussed and reloaded.
Hmm. I’d have to look up the fox later. It didn’t look like super speed, so maybe some sort of time manipulation or reflexes are involved. At the very least, I can get him to Empyreal City by giving him a tip on Gunman’s locatin. Speaking of…
I dropped the binoculars next to him. “You missed one.”
Gunman gathered up his pen and pad and stuck them into his vest. “It’s wounded. I can track it and kill it.”
I crossed my arms. “Not what I meant. Do you know where Psycho Gecko is right now?”
He stiffened up for a moment, and not in the fun way. Turning to look at me, he answered, “He had something to do with what’s going on in Empyreal City, right? Knowing him, he got out before they put the shield up.”
I shook my head. “He didn’t. I was talking to Venus when the barrier went up. They had him in custody at the new Master Academy campus at the time.”
“Custody?” he asked. “Bullshit.”
I smiled. “Nope. He was desperate for help against the aliens and they gave him a place to stay. I hear his girlfriend tricked him into it. I swear to God that Psycho Gecko was with them when the shield went up.”
And if I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’, eh?
Gunman gave the Low Earthy Bar one last glance and turned toward me, then began unloading and breaking down his gun. “What do you want from me?”
“It’s an impenetrable barrier holding the man you want to kill more than anyone else in the world. You, who knows an awful lot about weapons that penetrate much more than they should. I hope you don’t kill him, but I want to get in there. Want to give it a go for me?”
He grunted, maintaining regulation bunched undies, and stepped up to the edge of the roof. He settled his hat on his head, and nodded toward me, then jumped off the side of the roof.
If only it wasn’t a one-story shop.
Ah well, I’m sure that’ll work out fine.
Back at Forcelight’s home, I gave her a little bit of free time after our shower. Confirming my prior statements on how bad her priorities are, she chose to stand in front of her bathroom mirror, crying, and say, “I hate you.”
I took over her mouth to respond. “Save it for after I’ve saved the world from slow alien invasion. You saw that they’re trying to get more of their clinics going?”
“You don’t have to do it this way. Trust in heroes, trust in us.”
“I want to, sweetie, but moment I started to, y’all screwed up stopping the invasion. It’s not a matter of trust; it’s a matter of competence. Y’all didn’t want to do what I could clearly see had to be done.”
“Because you’re a fucking nutjob!”
I raised her eyebrow and smiled back at her with her own face. “You say that, but you’re the one talking to yourself right now.”
I balled her hand up in a fist and gentle prodded her cheek with it. “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself.”
She shook her head, more tears flowing. “It’s so important to you, huh? You’re playing around, that’s all you’re doing.”
I smiled, despite her tears flowing down our cheeks. “My dear, you can’t live as dark a life as I have without learning to be real damn good at seeing the little silver linings. And I’ll have you know I’m treating this situation with exactly the gravity it warrants.”
Meanwhile, over in Las Vegas, I stepped out of a high-end clothing store clad in the finest tight white leather pants and jacket I could buy, with gold patterns sparkling around the occasional blue and red rhinestone. Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” announced my exit from the clothing store as Freddy Mercury announced that he too felt that girls with big asses, not money, make the world go round. I clapped my hands and started shaking my ass, mindful of the wide-brimmed white hat on my head, wondering if the peacock feather was glued into the brim somehow. I took off my sunglasses momentarily when I got my head rolling around.
“Left alone with big, fat Fanny. She was such a naughty nanny, you big woman, you made a bad boy outta me!” sang what I’d claim to any passerby was an iPod as I stood up and smacked too passing women in their asses.
“What. The hell. Are you doing?” asked Sam Hain, one of Mix N’Max’s loyal helpers, flicking a large wave of purple hair from where it fell on the shaved half of her head back over to the half with hair. It’s a good look on her. Went well with her grey jacket and pants. Her friend Holly Wayne looked away, trying not to be seen with me, what with her nice padded coat and ass-hugging jeans.
“You don’t like?” I asked, maintaining eye contact through my mirrored sunglasses while still rolling my butt in the air. I turned off to the side, where I saw a mustached man in short-shorts dancing along with me. “They just don’t get it, do they?”
He stood up, “No they don’t, do they Jonesy?” He turned to a friend of his, a large black man, who stood with his face in his hands. Without saying a word, Jonesy turned and started walking away. The man in the shorts told me, “Sorry, he’s usually more polite than this, but it’s been a long trip from Reno.” He began to chase after his friend, calling out for him.
“Are you done?” asked Holly, a hint of desperation in her voice.
“I don’t know. Moai, we done here?” I turned to check for Moai, who walked out behind me wearing a jumpsuit originally meant for really fat Elvis impersonators, along with a pair of his own mirrored shades and the obligatory wig. He nodded at me. I looked back to Holly. “The King says yeah. Come on, let’s go meet Max. Lake Tahoe, you said?”
Sam nodded. “Yeah. You’re lucky he sent us to pick you up. The Lords of Vegas don’t like people like you.”
I turned my nose up at her as I helped myself into the yellow convertible she and Holly had shown up in to pick me up from the Las Vegas airport before I insisted on clothes shopping. I lost a lot of outfits in the flight from Empyreal City. Hell, I pretty much just brought my armor, the Dimension Bomb sitting in private storage, and any nanites or explosives I could carry with me. And when I called to let Max know I’d landed in his new favorite town, he insisted I let the girls drive me. Something about them having errands in Vegas anyway and being less likely to draw a lot of heat down on him. Don’t know what he’s talking about.
For their part, Holly and Sam were not happy to see me again. I don’t know why I’d disappoint them. I’m like everyone’s favorite uncle; the one who likes to teach children all sorts of fun things out behind the shed. They didn’t want to even let me shop at first, until I mentioned that I’d have to start picking stuff out of their wardrobes to wear. Suddenly, my clothes became top priority.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I can go see what they’re putting in the water here in Vegas. Knowing Max, something fishy could be afoot. Like turning people into giant fish. Or feet. Could go either way with him.
It’s always nice to have a kindred spirit.
Ah, Kingscrow. A place so lovely, makes me want to lick my lips. Or maybe that’s because I finally figured out a nice payload to load into my hidden fangs. And maybe next I’ll put some filters in my lungs. It’d help against the grime of Kingscrow. Wet, dreary, depressing. Gothic architecture. A perfect place for people to brood. Not me so much. I don’t brood, I just murder people. Apparently I’m not the only one who responds that way in Kingscrow, given its known history with crime. For a long time, it had been a special blight on the map, a city of lost dreams and hopes, where the fight to do good faced resistance from apathy, ignorance, and outright malice.
This nice state of affairs has mostly persisted, though the darkness has been pushed back somewhat by a bright light that arose just a few years ago. Bennett Long, scion of the Long Life private healthcare company, somehow found a way to empower his adoptive daughter. Forcelight, the Lady of Light, flew onto the scene. Tragically, some of the same villains she arose to fight managed to murder her father. While she’s faced a number of trials, including the removal of most of her inherited decision-making power, she continues to bring light to darkest Kingscrow.
Or so goes the fairy tale version. Bennett Long hired Good Doctor, Forcelight’s biological father, to kill superhumans and steal their organs. Those were either transplanted or studied to turn Forcelight into the woman she is today, but Long turned on Good Doctor. Doc didn’t have many friends due to his reputation as a super killer, but he had two other such killers on his side: Mix N’Max, the Czar of Chemistry, and Psycho Gecko, the Father of Face-fuckers. These titles don’t make themselves up, folks. I killed Long and Doc turned himself in to try and repent while establishing some sort of relationship with his daughter.
Who later got hold of a copy of my armor and my nanites and figured out how to use them for fun, profit, and the prolonging of superhero life. Yay. But, on the plus side, that involved the mass production of copies of my nanites that pretty much use the same programming and structure. You can copy something without fully understanding it. But that little recap is why Kingscrow, Long Life, and Forcelight matter to me. Actually, scratch that, Forcelight didn’t mean much to me. She doesn’t wear the pants in her own company anymore.
So really all I needed after arriving in the city was to sneak into the Long Life building, all invisible like a spider monkey ninja. Of doom. Incredible, edible doom. I didn’t even stop off at the Low Earthy Bar. I just had to get my hands on some computers while the top dudes in the company were off at lunch. Terrible thing, to just leave one’s computer turned on. I mean, I could have cracked their passwords without too much difficulty, but this made it easier. Even for the one guy who wrote his password on a Post-It note.
Seriously, people, this is part of what makes it so easy to do what I do. This is one of the few organizations that actually know of my natural ability to physically bond with certain forms of technology. I’d say computers, but that really simplifies things. It’s about signals and data, ya see. Despite knowing this, they either fail to have proper precautions against me, or ignore the ones they do have.
I used their accounts to make sure they were manufacturing my nanites as fast as humanly possible, and maybe even as fast as Chinesely possible on top of that. And stockpiling them, mostly in the United States. And with an additional special note to never tell Forcelight.
I stopped by her office, too. I recognized it from the last time I was in their building, wrecking shit. She took her late adoptive father’s office. Considering I wanted to keep my scheme secret from her, it probably sounds like an odd move. I had a reason; people keep all kinds of interesting stuff on their computers. I hoped she kept contact information on other superheroes in there. With my former contacts in Cape.Net and The Order sucking alien cock, I could use another army or two.
I didn’t expect her to float down from an upper story outside and blast the window, her computer, and me against the floor. With a flick of her hand, the hologram that hid me from view distorted and kept me from hiding. Ya know, now that she did that to me again, I recalled the first time she managed to get through my holograms. Something to do with her vague light-based powers that also include flight, super strength, enhanced durability, and bountiful boobage. She’s got more stolen organs than a Catholic black market. The one that doesn’t trade in kids, at least.
“You!” she boomed, narrowing her eyes at me.
“Captain Obvious, my most persistent nemesis! Wait, you’re not Captain Obvious. Stop using his gimmick!” I pointed at her, not bothering to stand up. “You want me to get up, or should I even bother now that you’re here?”
“Stay down. If you don’t fight, I promise to treat you fair. I have a lot of questions for you.” She floated through the broken window, and stayed hovering in the air. After a couple of seconds, when I didn’t try to stand, she cocked her head to the side and turned her gleaming gaze to the rest of the office. The sound of me unsealing my helmet and pulling it off brought her attention back to me. “What are you doing?”
“Taking this off. Saving a bit of time in the process. I assume you’d want me to unmask now?” I shook my hair out and smiled at her. “I don’t remember, did you know I was me?”
She glared at me. “Why are you being cooperative?”
I shrugged and set down my helmet. “If you’d rather I fight, I can do that.”
“Don’t fight. I want to know about Empyreal City and you’re the only one to get out.” She moved closer and knocked my helmet away with a solid beam of white light. In my mouth, I let my fangs poke out and stimulated the sacs in my mouth. I rolled over onto my back and grinned up at Forcelight. “Something funny?” the heroine asked.
I spat a mist of nanites into her face. Then, I rolled back over onto my belly. She blasted me again, knocking me in a huddled ball against the wall. She dropped down to her feet and ran over, mixing up her offense with some punches.
She gave me a last kick while pulling a little flask off her belt, then taking a sip. I coughed a few times, having felt it through the armor.“More nanites?”
Like I even had to ask. I’d given the nanites she inhaled and ingested special orders, and their ability to reinforce my orders. Just like the secret backdoor I’d given the Long Life nanites so long ago that allowed me to commandeer them, and making damn sure the first batch I spat at her would do their job, despite her swallowing them.
A significant portion of these nanomachines first migrated to her spinal column and interrupted the signals leaving the brain, replacing them with some a bit friendlier to me, like a desire to stand there unmoving.
I looked at her, then reached up. “Give me a hand here.”
She picked me up, under my control. I smiled as I looked at her. Her voice trembled when she asked me, “What did you do to me?”
I shrugged, then coughed again. She really got me good a few times there. “Whew, sorry about that. Somebody just tried to cave in one of my lungs. The answer is: I did what I had to. You somehow knew I was here, so good for you, but I’ve got some new tricks that can stop you. Good thing, too. We have to worry about the aliens, and I’m tired of other people fucking up and standing in the way. This whole mess could have been avoided if only people were willing to bow to my inherent superiority. In fact, that gives me an idea.”
“You’re fucking crazy, that’s why nobody trusts you!” Forcelight yelled.
I reached up and patted her on the head, then held her lips closed. “Shh, shh. Let’s just change that mind, shall we? The world will be better once you, and others, learn. Your. Damn.”
“Place!” I said with Forcelight’s mouth. The fear in her eyes disappeared as I finished taking control. As an added joke, I made her say, “Assuming direct control.”
“You’re probably panicking right now, Forcelight,” I said with my own body. “But don’t worry. Your body is in good hands. But I am here to solve the problem. I want the aliens gone, because they want to take over everyone’s bodies and use them as soldiers in some civil war of theirs. And I’ll stop them if that means I have to take over everyone’s body and use them as soldiers in a war against them. Except the heroes and other villains didn’t trust my schemes. Next thing you know, Empyreal City is behind a fucking shield. So you don’t get a choice. Maybe others will, but you don’t. And you better hope you don’t get free somehow to come after me, because these nanites can do all sorts of things to your insides.”
Two things happened then. I stayed behind to worm my way into the Long Life servers and find any possible backups to the information I’d been looking for on Forcelight’s now-trashed computer. It took awhile, but I spiced it up a bit by flying Forcelight over to Marscow Prison, Kingscrow’s number one resort for criminal spandex fanatics. There she made a tearful visit to her father. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I need your help out here. The crisis going on in Empyreal City is too much. I need you. I need the other inmates. I even need Psycho Gecko.”
You know how hard it is to smile with one face but not another? Tricky little bit of business. Perhaps after I’ve saved the world, I’ll take up acting.
My performance made the Good Doctor sigh and run his hands through his hair. He looked older from prison. More grey in his hair, more wrinkles in his face. He pressed his hand to the glass, and I pressed Forcelight’s back. He’ll be absolutely livid if he ever finds out I did this. But he’ll also be out of prison and have the taste of killing back in is mouth, so he might thank me. I don’t care what he said there, he liked it.
As it is, he said, “Yes,” and I was free to use Forcelight’s enormous monetary and local political pull to get him out especially to help deal with superhero business. By the time she flew back to her office with him in her arms, they found a trashed room and no Gecko.
“He stopped by here. I don’t like him, but he’s right.” Forcelight closed her eyes and sighed somberly.
“God in heaven help us all that Psycho Gecko is right about something,” The Good Doctor added.
I left them alone, as much as anyone can leave a body they’re in control of alone, and instead focused on the private jet Moai had procured for my travel uses. I had some business still in Kingscrow I could use Forcelight for, but the miracle of satellite and cellular communications would have to keep her in line while I headed out for the last known location of the third member of Good Doctor and mine’s merry little Dark Triad: Mix N’Max.
So there I was, Valentine’s Day, walking beside Wildflower down the street after seeing a movie together, my head resting on her shoulder. And I told her, in that romantic way only I can pull off, “Admit it, you just talked all that shit because you didn’t want to be alone on Valentine’s.”
The fact that she laughed? Good sign. She’s got a good laugh and smile, for an alien.
In the days since Wildflower and I came to our understanding, I decided to introduce her to Moai, Carl, and the horde of bee people hidden underneath my tower. Beetrice, the queen bee who wanted my man-gravy so she could have a few thousand kids by me, seemed a bit jealous at first until I revealed my continued lack of dong. She turned her nose up at that, saying that if I wanted to play hard to get, she’d find someone else to see to her needs.
I might send down Festus, my young head of HR. The guy could stand to blow off some steam.
Then, I took her back up to the penthouse for a serious discussion. Admitting that aliens are going to invade and try to kill you isn’t something most people say that early on into a relationship. In fact, it’s usually said just before the end of the relationship, right around the time the men with the snuggly, self-hugging jacket come to take you away, ha ha. I had to trust her. Time was essential. A long time prior to her unfortunate demise, I asked Fortune Cookie about when the aliens would show up, and she said March of this year. It’s currently February of this year. They’re coming to take me away, ha ha!
Wildflower went out on a limb and showed off her little Master Academy dorm. To hear her tell it, Venus is too active to bother teaching any sort of Master Academy branch over here, so it hasn’t been properly set up yet except for a couple of dorm buildings.
Quick recap time: Master Academy is this California-based school for powered youngsters that trains them up to be crimefighters and fully functioning members of society. Venus just happened to get in because he was orphaned or something, I think. She lacks powers, but she’s kinda been their spokeswoman because of her ability to kick serious villain ass. Including my own, a couple of times. She’s still alive, after all. Anyway, after awhile, she decided to stay with a batch of Master Academy trainees and set up a branch over here. Apparently it hasn’t gone too well, but at least there’s a bit of property north of the city that could one day be a school if she stopped, and it gives people a place to stay.
When I stepped into the Girls’ Dorm and saw that most of the students were decidedly on the nubile and statutory side of things, I gave Wildflower a look. She looked at me, then looked at them, then leaned in and whispered, “I’m over eighteen.”
“Are you sure? You might be an early bloomer.”
She took my hand, right in front of a few “Oohing” teens and led me to her room. She shared it with a roommate who appeared to be mentally deficient based on the number of posters featuring untalented singers. I think one of them was a boy band. Do boy bands still exist? I thought they went extinct.
Anyway, Wildflower’s side of the room featured a little different decor. I expected something like the poster from Cats, though. I pointed to it. “Fan of people dressed in really tight cat costumes?”
“I haven’t seen it. The others got that for me. I don’t know if they were trying to be mean. That inspired me to read The Island of Dr. Moreau, then Frankenstein. I’m up to Stoker and Lovecraft now.” She rifled through her nightstand for something.
“Hmm. Never messed with them. I keep meaning to pick up some stuff by Albert Camus. Seems like my kinda guy. You picking up those books? Don’t know how things work for you here.”
She abruptly stood up and handed me a broken piece of plastic. It looked like about half a driver’s license, with a good chunk of the picture and number gone, along with the real name. “Wow, you’re twenty-four. And they have you rooming with teens.”
She shrugged and took the broken license back. “I have a lot to relearn, and a lot to learn about my powers. I want to do this if they open a proper campus.” She almost said something else, which I got the sense was questioning if I was ok with that. In my own way, I was just wondering if an amnesiac, even one who’d been around for a few months, was a little on the dirty side.
Maybe it was all the teenagers.
She led me around, even introduced me to a couple of costumed capes I didn’t recognize. Then again, I can barely keep their names straight enough as it is. I remember once fighting a Master Academy super with some sort of ball powers. Energy balls, maybe? Then I remember someone using various ball-like devices to fight The Oligarch and The Order just before I killed Oligarch. I don’t know how many ballers we got around here. Perhaps I should ask someone in the hood.
Now, if only I could figure out where da hood, where da hood, where da hood at?
Still weird, though. It wasn’t a date. It was just Wildflower showing me a part of her life. Right after I showed her part of mine. Like, I know what I did, but the reciprocity threw me for a small loop. I’m usually more self-centered than all that. Luckily, a call from Captain Lightning precluded further introspection.
“Hey, Lightning just told me he’s going to stop by in a couple hours with the communication pod-thing. Want to stop somewhere beforehand? Maybe grab some hibachi?”
On the way out, we caught a passing glare from Venus on our way out. It was the sort of evil eye that normally includes ominous Latin chanting and ends when a car passes by and the person glaring abruptly disappears. A nudging on my arm interrupted my mental choir.
“You should talk to her,” Wildflower suggested in a whisper.
“She doesn’t like me.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t want to see you killed by aliens. Hey, Venus!” Obviously, she didn’t direct that last part at me, but instead to the civilian-clothed heroine. “Gecko has something to tell you!”
A pair of girls passing nearby whipped their heads around to stare at me. Well, at least she’s not ashamed to be seen with me, nor is she ashamed to be seen dragging me by the arm over to Venus.
Venus took a long swig of a water bottle, enough that I wondered if she had vodka instead of water in there. She raised a finger to ward off any talk until she finished, then began the conversation her own way. “What are you doing bringing her here? Shut up, Gecko, I’m not talking to you.”
With that in mind, I’m happy to say Wildflower improvised. “We wanted to invite you to dinner to clear the air. We’re going to meet at the Double Cross tower.”
“I’m not sure I want to go. It’s hard to forget what I saw last time.” Venus looked between Wildflower and me, no doubt meaning her inadvertent discovery that we weren’t a chaste couple, and the subsequent incident where we threw the bed at her. When I raised an interested eyebrow, she looked me dead in the eye and told me. “Not in a thousand years to whatever you were about to say.”
“How about if Captain Lightning is there? He’s bringing something by, so you can just meet us in a, where would it be, babe, a meeting room?” Wildflower looked to me. I nodded. She turned back to Venus. “A meeting room. We can compare notes about it and have a meal.”
Venus capped her water bottle before crossing her arms and looking me over. Normally, this is where I’d work the puppy dog eyes, but I had to do without since I haven’t killed any puppies lately. Instead, I laid my head back down on Wildflower’s shoulder and put my arm around her, trying to look all cute and sweet for Venus while subtly hunching over enough to emphasize my awesome boobage. That’s right. It’s my turn to shake some tits at you, Venus. But just to really give her something hot to think about, I mean to really lube up this deal so she’d take it and take it hard, I added. “You can bring along anyone you want as a plus one.”
She looked at me, her eyes flicking down to my milk makers, then quickly back to my face. “I’ll think about it.”
Imagine our surprise when Forcelight landed in front of Double Cross Tower two hours later, meeting Captain Lightning on his way up. I think they got in contact and coordinated their arrival. Well, I did a little of my own coordinating and had a giant screen set up to give Technolutionary a view of the meeting.
Lightning held the door for the ladies, staring at them. Old perv. He must have noticed me noticing, because he quickly explained himself. “They’re clear.”
“What is this about, now?” Forcelight asked. She stood tall in her white and black tights, the adoptive daughter of the former owner of Long Life. The medical corporation’s last owner died at my hands, but not before using a variety of illegal experiments involving organ theft to transform her into a superhero while forcing her biological dad to play the role of said villainous organ thief. I still miss the Good Doctor sometimes. When he got going, he really knew where to stab those scalpels. Unfortunately, he turned himself in to atone and try to heal things with his daughter. Just goes to show that being a surgeon doesn’t make someone smart.
I sat back in my chair, setting my half-eaten pork egg roll aside. “I have invited this delightful bunch here to discuss a matter of grave importance to all of us. If you don’t already know, Forcelight, I’m Psycho Gecko. Yes, I’m aware I have boobs now, thank you for noticing. Y’all are here for one of three reasons: you are already aware of what’s going on, you are a leader in your community who can help prepare them for the upcoming battle, or I’ve had sex with you.”
Forcelight immediately turned to Venus. “What did you do?!”
“He means her!” Venus jabbed her finger toward Wildflower, who smiled around a mouthful of chow mein.
“Enough playing around, Gecko.” Captain Lightning produced a small box, too large to pretend he was proposing to me. Opening it revealed the little fleshy communications device. It looked like a small walnut made out of warped skin and muscle, perhaps because it was so much easier for the body to grow those tissues compared to some others. He set it on the table past three stacks of papers roughly outlining what little I knew of the upcoming catastrophe.
They all took a seat while Technolutionary and I looked it over. Tech spoke first through his monitor. “Did the medical examiner think to perform a DNA test?”
Lightning nodded toward the screen. “Yes. It matches the person we found it in. They are still testing the one found in Mary Malady, but we should extract the one from the other man, Mack.”
“Max,” I corrected. “Max Muscles. I advised him to come to this city when he left, in case I needed to look after him for one thing or another. He’s the one who first clued me in that something spoke to him and made him attack Washington D.C.“
“It stands to reason someone they would make this device compatible with the physiology of individual humans. Remember our recent bout with organ rejection?” Technolutionary asked, inclining his head more toward me out of the rest of the group at the table.
When everyone looked at me, I mentioned, “Last Christmas, he gave me his heart. The very next day, I gave it away. This organ was part of Senator Powers, who worded a situation very similarly to other suspicious individuals. We haven’t had them tested yet. There’s not even enough left of one to test. It appears to be a method of communication we can’t listen in on. I have extremely trustworthy intelligence that points to an alien invasion force getting involved. Now we know they have infiltrated some of us, us meaning Earth in this context, so it stands to reason there are more to check.”
Wildflower didn’t help my suspicions any by asking, “What if they try to come in peace? Maybe you do something.” Her prickly tail stroked my back gently, hoping to let me know she didn’t mean any hard feelings by the question. It’s technically a good point. I am exactly the sort of person who would screw up human-alien first contacts.
“I don’t know their goal, but so far there haven’t been very many good-natured alien contacts with Earth that involve them showing up en masse. What reason would they have for peaceful contact? Needing medical help? They’re advanced enough to fly to Earth from the ass-end of wherever. Same for maintenance.”
“Whatever they use for fuel, Earth cannot or will not hand over,” Technolutionary provided.
I nodded toward the screen. “And then there’s the possibility we get the intergalactic equivalent of the Jehovah’s fucking Wit-”
Captain Lightning cut me off there. “Psycho Gecko has a point. Most first contacts between foreign cultures with such a disproportionate difference in technology are hostile in some form or another. Earth’s experience with aliens provides ample evidence in favor of this viewpoint. We should be be prepared to talk softly, but carry a big stick.”
Technolutionary spoke up, “If you want peace, prepare for war. It makes sense why you would reverse your stance now, Gecko.”
I tried to make sure no one delved into that conversation too far. I doubted any of the heroes, even my Wildflower, had the moral flexibility to see the bigger picture in what we’ve done, especially given mine and Technolutionary’s lack of restraint in terms of collateral damage. “A big, throbbing stick capable of wiping them all out, preferably preemptively.”
“A show of force would work,” said Forcelight, looking over the information I’d provided on the table. “Not everyone treats every conflict as a fight to the death.”
I shrugged. “If worst comes to worst, we need to prepare a very final method of dealing with them.”
Venus scoffed. “A Final Solution?”
“Don’t go knocking genocide just because some racist Germans used it once. That’s slander on the good name of that perfectly viable tactic by associating it solely with the Nazis. Which is falacious, I might add. Call it something nicer or loftier, like Manifest Destiny. Besides, I’d use it against everyone, not just members of one race or another.”
Venus shook her head and looked to Wildflower. “And you’re fine with this? This is who you want?”
I don’t know if I sense legitimate jealousy there, but I’ll even take hot fantasy lesbian threesome jealousy, only this time I wear a skimpy nurse’s outfit with red high heels, and Wildflower’s the one I call Dr. Feelgood.
“Do you want me to tell him not to kill people? Alright.” Wildflower leaned close guided my face around so I was looking right at her. “Baby, please don’t kill people.”
“Aww, how could I ever say ‘no’ to you…” I leaned my head close, our foreheads touching. “Oh yeah, now I remember! No.”
She stepped back, an amused smile on her face. I don’t believe it surprised her. Then she looked to Venus. “I tried.”
“You’re going to let him or her talk to you like that?”
Wildflower crossed her arms. “You should ask him. Everyone knows you two have some special bond.”
Perturbed, Venus leaned in close, squishing her twin milk cannons for best effect. “Hey, Gecko. Please, for me, try not to kill so many people, alright?”
I pretended to think. “Gee, when you put it that way, there’s probably only one thing I can say. That’s that you should back up, stick your tongue out, flap your arms, jump off the roof, and give a flying fuck. Because I don’t. Pussy.”
And she was concerned about how I talked to Wildflower.
“Since you want to pretend you are a woman now, you might watch out for that sort of sexist talk.” Venus flipped me the bird.
I held a hand to my chest. “I like to think of myself as a skeleton trapped in a woman’s body.”
“Gecko, please shut up for five minutes.” Lightning butted in, trying to stop the talk from breaking down.
“A moment, oh Captain my captain. I have just one thing to say.” I let silence fall for a moment as everyone prepared themselves for my incoming remark. To Venus, I finally said, “Suck my coccyx.”
Captain Lightning reached over with one finger and zapped with a small arc of electricity. “I’m afraid we have gone off-task in our discussion. Reign this in, stay on point. Aliens.”
I nodded. “If you’ll all avoid getting too much soy sauce on the papers there, I’ve vaguely described some of the measures I’ve taken to secure the city a little better. I don’t care about the nanites, either, Forcelight. They’ll help. But if I come out of the blue to discuss this with the heroes when E.T. Decides to pwn home, most won’t believe me. We need to get people ready for this, and we don’t have long.”
“Why do you care this much?” Venus glared at me some more. You’d think she’d have a little less anger after flashing me with her headlights the other day and punching me into a ceiling.
“It doesn’t matter why he cares. It just matters that he’s helping.” Lightning answered for me, exasperated with the arguing. “We need to find those we can trust and prepare quietly. Organize.” I noticed Venus’s eye twitch as she watched Lightning. “Anyone with an x-ray vision power can find it where the neck meets the skull.”
“A knife and visual inspection works, too.” I added. Wildflower rubbed at the back of her neck.
Lightning glanced at her neck briefly, then pulled over a carton of fried rice. In the midst of all our arguing, we’d mostly forgotten the food. I returned to chowing down on my egg roll. “Seems it does,” he confirmed.
“Gentlemen, ladies…don’t just stand there looking surprised. Let’s eat some food and plan how to take over…sorry, wrong crowd…save the world!”
Lightning and Wildflower nodded. On the screen, a doorbell got Technolutionary’s attention. Forcelight joined us in our meal, but Venus didn’t lower her guard until Technolutionary returned and lifted up his helmet enough to start chowing down on a box of Chinese delivery.
Of course, convincing some heroes to get to work on this was the easy part, if it works at all. Now I’ve got to find some way to present myself as trustworthy to a bunch of supervillains. Clearly, this will require copious amounts of lying. And more chicken teriyaki.
Oh, I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, dee dee dee dee, there they are all hiding in their holes. With Oligarch gone, you’d think they forgot all about the idea of running things. I get it. Not everyone’s leadership material. There are lots of other materials they can be, instead. And, if they run into the wrong interior decorator, they might even become wallpaper material. Or even dress material, if they put the lotion on their skin.
I held a videoconference for The Order. The camera showed me standing in an empty meeting room in front of a small wall made of donut boxes. “Greetings, fellow alleged criminals and crime enthusiasts. I’m glad to see so many of you stuck around and joined me for this little get-together. We needed a talk, and I figured people were a bit hesitant to come together in person after what the heroes did.”
“They have to pay!” Man-Opener interrupted. His screen showed him still in his eyeless, mouthless helmet. After he said it, other villains formed a little chorus of agreement.
I held up my hands to call for silence and to hint at my objection. “I’m not sure it should be us who does that. After all, we technically tried to do the same to all the heroes. Are we forgetting Oligarch blowing up the asylum where we kept them?”
“How did they get out? Oh yeah, why don’tcha give up the goods on that?” asked Powder. She looked like she’d already gotten into some donuts of her own from the white around her nose. I’m sure she just got really enthusiastic while baking with flour earlier.
I threw up my hands due to feigned ignorance rather than autocannibalism and told them, “I don’t know how they escaped, but we all knew it was a personality. I mean, somehow killing them all in one fell swoop seemed too good to be true, didn’t it? Besides, what happened at the docks may have been for the best. You heard the Seals went after him. It was only a matter of time before they thinned the herd, and they could have done worse. Would you really put it past the government to bomb the city and blame on dead supervillains?” I leaned forward on the table to look intimidating for a second before remembering I was showing off the girls. I stood up and crossed my arms rather than making it apparent through sudden movement that I had forgotten about my chest-mounted dual airbags.
Not that they’re air. Nope. All natural. If you were to take a sample, they’d still show me as having a Y chromosome, but altering my phenotype means I can do a bit better than saline or silicone. I could have made a fortune with my nanites being used for all sorts of medical purposes, and even gotten away with a lot of stuff with all that money on my side. But I wouldn’t have been able to be me. There are only so many people even the wealthy can get away with killing.
In the United States, at least. I could go to Argentina, kidnap a few hundred people, chain them up, drug them, then dump their sedated asses into a river to drown and the States wouldn’t give a damn. Hell, Saudi Arabia’s going to execute a guy for the crime of being an atheist. Personally, I find it pretty bullshit that a bunch of Middle Eartern islamists go around executing infidels.
And before y’all start, since this is the internet, I feel I should point out there’s a difference between Islam and Islamism. It’s like the difference between Christianity and Christian Dominionism. It’s like I’ve always said: don’t hate blindly. Learn to hate people for who they are. Because everyone’s uniquely terrible in their own way. And that, folks, is why prejudice is wrong.
I decided to add that, “If we keep this cycle going, it will give them an excuse to come after us, right? I know I’m new around here, but that’s how it works, right? Otherwise, you’d think it would be a bloodbath out there.”
That got a round of nods from most of the villains. Then Man-Opener spoke up again. “Informal agreement since World War II. The scales are balanced. Technically. We should hire Psycho Gecko if we want Forcelight dead.”
“I’ve never met him, but Oligarch didn’t seem to want him around. He’s strong enough to get away with it, right?”
“That guy’s nuts,” Giuseppe said without looking up from whatever he was tinkering on. He had a loupe over one eye to help him see as he assembled something.
A wolfman with scorched fur added, “We only tolerate him because he’s crazy and he usually goes after superheroes. I got away with gold bars because of him. He distracts superheroes, too.”
Man-Opener joined in so the wolfman couldn’t get another word in. “He is not that strong. I could take him. He draws so much attention because lethal force is his first, last, and only option. When he shows up, someone is going to die. Murder matters more than stolen gold to the police and heroes. He also does crazy shit.”
A goat nodded its head rapidly, then grabbed it when the goat head mask started to slip. “One time, I heard he destroyed a helicopter with a banana.”
Roadkill scoffed. “What’d ‘e do, stick it ina tailpipe?”
The goat person started to answer back that of course helicopters don’t have tailpipes when someone spoke up louder. “I heard he used a walnut. He threw it at the correct angle to ricochet into the pilot’s mouth, thus choking him and making him crash,” Giuseppe said.
As flattering as it was to hear supervillain ghost stories about me, I had to shut them up. “So, does that mean we can’t hire him? I thought we could just pay him to hang around and tell the heroes we don’t want another big war or we’ll send him after them specfically.”
“It’s risky.” Terrorjaw said reaching around for something. He found what he was looking for, a toothpick, and brought it to his mouth to pick at something. Instead of pulling out a chunk of chicken or something, one of his teeth wiggled loose and he pulled it out, freeing the license plate stuck in there between it and the next one over. I hope that wasn’t from Thanksgiving. It’s not good to leave food in your teeth that long. Then again, the guy swims in the waters of the state of New York. There’s probably no disease on earth that can overcome his immune system. He’s probably got a cure for AIDS in there somewhere.
I spoke up again. “Well, this isn’t about being the boss. It’s a suggestion. I’m not the boss of the Order. Y’all are about to abandon the Order, but I don’t think it’s time to fall apart. This can be a social network for villains. Think about it! The heroes are organized enough to pull what they did at the docks. Why not have a way to see if anyone can watch your back on a job? Like, if you need someone who can do one thing, you can ask around. Come on, guys.”
While not the most elegant of arguments, you’d be surprised what you can convince people to do by saying, “Come on, guys.”
The various villains didn’t exactly give me a standing ovation. It’s not like they had a spokesman. They sorta mumbled, but at least no one said no.
“Well, just think about it, everyone. Don’t forget we have forums and an instant messenger service. Everyone who signs up will receive a box of donuts by private courier. Please don’t eat the couriers, Terrorjaw. Also, anyone caught signing up more than once, I will distribute your name to the others so they all know you have lots of extra donuts you can’t eat by yourself. Just think about that.”
I had to rush out of there because I had another meeting to attend by video. I triplechecked that I was disconnected and then connecting to the right one. This was not a time for humor. Besides, as I saw the monitor fill up with the faces of heroes where villains had stared out before, it wouldn’t be all that funny for me. That’s not a punchline I want to be on the receiving end of. Like a conga line of angry knuckles.
Shit, I really am outside my own brain lately if I’m worried about heroes punching me. Still, I forced on a smile as I looked at them, and gave Wildflower a little wink. “So, how is everyone? Glad to be out in time for Thanksgiving?”
“Absolutely!” said one enthusiastic voice while others had more muted affirmation. Clearly, some sick bastard was a morning person. That ain’t right. Morning people should be taken out back and shot, preferably about two o’clock, after the rest of us have had time to wake up, shower, and fix a quick lunch. Hell, you’ve seen how much of this story involves doing stuff at night. Do you really expect me to hold regular hours?
“I’m glad so many of you answered, becuase I want to keep this little social network service going. Y’all like it?”
“Why?” asked someone I couldn’t care less about in a lime green mask.
“It works, right? It’s not like Shieldwall, but you get to team up, share tips, coordinate patrols. I mean, it’s helpful. Plus, it sounds like you’ll need it. You know, the Order is doing the same thing.”
“How do you know? Can you get us in?” asked Forcelight before taking a long chug from her coffee cup. Bah, coffee. Relying on some drug to stimulate herself. Just abusing caffeine like that. Compare that to the villains. Do y’all think any from that group was doing something as unhealthy as drinking gallons of coffee? That shit stunts your growth, I hear. I mean, just look at Powder. She’s so think, she probably works out all the time, and she still has energy to bake up a storm. She’s always got some flour or granulated sugar or baking soda around. That’s a good role model right there.
Anyway, I had to put a stop to any notion of me helping the heroes spy on the villains. “Nope. Can’t do it. They’d know it’s me the moment y’all stop a crime. You’ll get what, only a few villains? And I’ll be outed to people like Terrorjaw and Man-Opener. I know you don’t like me, but that’s vicious. Geez. The crap, Forcelight?”
I threw up my hands, exasperated.
“Calm down. We appreciate your help and nobody wants to get you hurt,” Venus said, trying to calm the situation down. “If you can give us a heads up without getting caught, we would appreciate it. You don’t know where the servers are or who is running it?”
I shook my head, lying my ass off. “Sorry. It’s one of the others.”
“Hey, that’s alright,” Wildflower said softly, “I’ll stay signed up. You’ve done right by me and everyone else from the asylum.”
Ooh, there’s some classic guilt. I wonder if she’s Catholic.
The heroes expressed more enthusiasm than the villains at least, so I grabbed my phone and sent out a text. “Sorry, everyone. It’s great you’re all so enthusiastic, but I have business to deal with, too. Just keep the system going. Share tips. Make friends. Have awesome team-ups.”
To the villains, I sent out a notice on the Order’s network. “I just found out the heroes are coordinating thanks to shared captivity. Everyone, you NEED this service.”
I logged off to let the heroes do their helping people thing, then had to call up Crash, my personal assistant. “Crash, I need a shitload of couriers. We have to move some donuts. Try not to wreck your car doing this somehow.”
“Miss Gecko, you’re the one who wrecks my car,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “Crash, you’ll never get ahead making excuses like that. Just handle it. I’m going to be in an important meeting seeing to my Buzzkill minions.”
“Enjoy your TV, ma’am.”
She said that because Beetrice, the Queen Bee, had been staying in my penthouse. Her hive had taken up residence in the bunker underneath the building, but she insisted on staying with me. Not for sex or anything. She’s really disappointed that I can’t give her baby Buzzkills, but enjoys cuddling me in front of my huge ass TV.
When I walked in, I found her bouncing on the couch while the credits of some new Marvel super women’s noir show rolled. When she heard me enter, Beetrice spun around and vaulted over the back of the couch. “Psycho Gecko, I am so happy you are here! I’m going to be a superhero!”
Well, there was nothing more to do at that point but toss my TV over the terrace and watch it crash onto the street below. Or maybe onto a car below. I called Crash back. “Addendum: have someone clean up that TV I just threw out. I think it hit-”
“My car!” she screamed into the phone.
“Crash, that is not an appropriate volume level for a business environment.” I got a cluster of cusswords as a response. “You take the rest of the day off and think about how you’re supposed to be acting, you hear?”
“-up your pert, curvy ass!”
“Don’t make me have to file a claim with HR over inappropriate sexual comments either, young lady.”
I hung up and sighed. Beetrice walked over and put her lower set of arms on my shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s just so hard to find people who appreciate what I do for them. Beetrice, take me to the bunker. We’ll go put on Christmas Vacation and teach the hive about the meaning of Christmas.”
Beetrice lifted me princess-style and carried me over to the elevator. “Peace on earth and goodwill toward man.”
I shook my head. “Amateur mistake. It’s all about presents and pretending you aren’t a dick.”
“But you have a-”
“Christmas Vacation, Beetrice, not The Vagina Monologues. Chop chop.”
I finally talked Oligarch into the field. I suspect the Seals managed to wound him, or at least cause serious maintenance on at least one portion of his armor.
No more stalling. No more getting things into position. No more “let’s see what’s behind curtains one and two,” just curtains.
It all began with a curtain call that finally linked all of The Order up to one another. There, I explained just enough for them to be useful in wrecking me shit: the docks are overcrowded with hostile bee people led by a group of queens. Expect super strength, organic armor, and stinger swords. I ended the brief briefing with an appeal directly to Oligarch, “Your people need you.”
They didn’t spend a whole lot of time getting organized. While supervillains don’t make that good of an army when it comes to working together, it also means they don’t need a lot of time getting organized before a sortie. The two are kinda connected.
It also meant that we didn’t hit the docks as one body. It was more like waves. Roadkill skidded along in a steamroller as one of the first guys in, probably having one hell of a time. I didn’t pay attention to how far he went. I was curious what would happen when he hit the water, but I was too busy landing from on a crane and watching the attack go down.
Once again, my armor protected me physically and provided me with a convenient disguise. For some reason, I just don’t feel like settling for the marginal offensive and defensive capabilities of the Banshee costume. Besides, it helped me feel more like myself again.
So I looked down, laughing, as Buzzkills took to the sky in small clouds to pursue individual flyers. I had to catch my breath before I could call back to the bunker that it was go time. I’d also briefed the heroes on what was going on before I visited the villains. I’d admitted that I had some connection to The Order necessitated by being outed as a superhuman and as a need to maintain contact with the heroes themselves. I was surprised Wildflower didn’t vouch for me there, but she’d been distant lately. Enough of the heroes remembered my help releasing them that I made a good case without a character witness.
I gave them the same information about the Buzzkills. They are a menace, I tell ya! A horrible menace that threatens to destroy everything good in the world. But they were still my best bet against the swarm of bee people. Eh? I bet y’all see what I did there.
I revealed that I’d set up The Order to go after the Buzzkills. I’d had the plan in waiting ever since my people were the first to lock down the docks following the discovery of the insectoids. I know people say that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but sometimes lying about there being sugar in the spoon works just as well, because they swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
And I implored them, with every acting bone in my body, that though they may not all trust me, “Your people need you.”
So while I watched shit hit the fan at the docks, heroes departed from the base of Double Cross Tower and started hitching rides with each other to make it to the battle. This was their time for revenge. Being cooped up made them antsy and ready for a bit of action. I can’t even take credit for that level of enthusiasm. I’d gotten so paranoid about them all over the past couple days, I seriously almost pushed the button to fill the whole bunker with gas. Once, I stopped when I remembered I really shouldn’t do that. Another time, I didn’t go through with it because I couldn’t remember if I’d loaded Arsine, which is toxic, or Sexahol, which creates feelings of love, goodwill, and physical lust.
That one might be a missed opportunity there.
Knowing they were on the way and feeling about a half-ton lighter, I celebrated by jumping into the fray. I leaped off the crane and wrapped my legs around the torso of a Buzzkill humming by in hot pursuit of a man in a duster and bowler with a pair of bunny ears trailing back as he flew. He didn’t take kindly to my presence and attempted to throw me off by swinging around in a circle. I dug my fingers into his shoulderblades and clawed my way up to a standing position. With a back flip, I clubbed his head. This time, he calmed down a lot more when I held onto him with my legs. I liked his change in behavior so much, that I kept right at it. Hammerin’ away. I could barely pull myself away, it was so much fun.
Unfortunately, it also left me and the Buzzkill plummeting. I grabbed him by the shoulders long enough to get my feet on his chest, then pushed off into an incomplete back flip. It separated me from the Buzzkill, but didn’t really get me close enough to the crane or anything else.
And yet, I felt oddly at peace. No, seriously. It was being ok with falling that freaked me out. That got me flailing, which is probably why Forcelight chose that moment to grab my arm and save me from cracking open like a mussel dropped by a bird. The jolt felt like it pulled something out of the socket, though. Probably my arm. I couldn’t check until after she slowed down a little and dumped me on top of a rusty old warehouse roof. After rolling, I was able to take inventory of my physical state. Yep. It was the arm.
Forcelight’s presence created quite the buzz, and not just among the bees. Villains were all over the comms.
“Is that Forcelight?”
“What’s she doing here?”
“Alive? Not possible!”
And so they spoke, and so they spoke, those lords of Empyreal. But then heroes joined in the fray, with everyone clear they’re here.
No, I didn’t actually go with The Rains of Castamere as a way to announce their arrival. I didn’t think about that until later. What came to mind instead was a song from an album where a bunch of inmates break out and start killing their captors in order to obtain freedom.
That’s why some unspecified person, wink wink, played a short piece announcing, “Hell is empty… and all the devils are here!” Plus, I knew it’d piss a few of them off. I’m pretty sure Venus is some sort of Christian. And even if she isn’t, chances are good most of the other heroes are.
I guess it’s worth pointing out since it’s about time for the War on Christmas to start up again, but America is about 70% to 83% Christian depending on what poll you’re looking at. Then again, they screw up their definitions all the time. I saw one that asked people to identify themselves and discuss their beliefs, which is how they have a percent of atheists who believe in a god, a bunch of people who say they don’t believe in any gods but who aren’t atheists, and agnostics as separate group. It’s like saying that people with red hair are considered a separate skin color.
But that’s a tender subject that many people would prefer to treat gingerly.
Of course, these heroes were too busy fighting real enemies to worry about imagined ones. They swept up behind villain battle lines that were facing the wrong direction, and they were generally more inclined to teamwork than their enemies.
Of course, I say that like someone looking back on things. At the time, I just tried to get my arm back in and subtly apply my miracle-working super machines. That, and having fun. A line of about four Buzzkills came at me, bro. I ducked to the left and grabbed the shoulder of the one on that end. I whipped around and got that one in a facelock as I kicked off one of its buddies, then swung it down and planted its face into the roof. I immediately sat up and rammed my head into the belly of a Buzzkill that tried to impale my downed chest with a stinger sword. Another sword glanced off my back, showing that I wasn’t as unarmored as I appeared. The last one took a swipe at my throat from the side, though. Not cool.
I caught that one and twisted it, then used it to fend off another blow from the one behind me. I pulled her close and got her in a triangle choke. The parried Buzzkill took a step back and aimed its stinger sword at me, shooting out a flash of yellow energy that exploded against me and its comrade, scorcing some of the hologram system’s microcameras and creating a minor power surge. Needing a projectile of my own, I smashed my hand in the top of the captured Buzzkill’s exoskeleton and pulled out what could have been a brain, which I then tossed at its compadre. The Buzzkill knocked it aside, but took a moment to ponder in disgust what she just did.
The one I headbutted had recovered then, and I was tired of handling all of them on my back, so I jumped up and took a punch from it just so I could grab her arm. “Hey, doll. Ever been roofied?” Then I threw her off the roof.
When I turned, I saw the one standing up who I’d introduced to the roof. I also saw the one who shot me taking aim for a second shot. I walked forward and clapped the wobbly one on her shoulders. “Good to see you’re alive!” I told her, then ducked behind her for a moment. A good punch stumbled her back in the way of the shooter, but I didn’t stick around to see them get into a fight. Nor did I stick around to see the shooter discover the headless rubber chicken tied around the lower arm of the off-balance Buzzkill or the subsequent explosion as the chicken grenade went off.
It’s like Sweeney Todd’s joy over finding his old straight razors to be able to use those again.
I jumped from that roof to the next and then stopped a moment to survey the battlefield. It was beautiful. Lights of all different colors lit up the sky as supers fought with themselves and the bees. The bees themselves were dropping like flies, which made me wonder for a moment about how vague the line is on who supers do and don’t kill. At this point in the fight, everyone was so worried about life and limb that I don’t think it mattered. The royal Buzzkills could have easily counted as too “super” to kill, but I saw one of them kneeling beside another downed one, doing something. She shook, so maybe the trauma of our little fight had gotten to her.
Before I could see how that one went, an angry roar got my attention. As opposed to a sleepy roar or a casual bored roar, I suppose. Another of the royals threw a dumpster at Oligarch. A burst of his boot jets sent him to the side while micromunitions from his raised left arm caught the dumpster and knocked it to the side with a detonation. A pair of tubes then pushed out of the side of his gauntlet and spewed a cone of flame in her direction. Then she let out more of a crispy roar.
I let myself fade into invisibility so I could make a call. “Hello, this is Beetrice,” said a happy, buzzing voice on the other end.
“That’s what you went with?” I asked my pet royal Buzzkill. When she didn’t say anything for a second, I reminded her, “I can’t see you when you talk over the phone. Say yes or no.”
“Yes. Who is speaking?”
“It’s me. Gecko. The one who rescued you.”
“Oh! Hi boyfriend. How is your day going?”
“This is a bad time to do whatever it is you think you’re doing right now. You know how I told you you would soon take your place at the head of your people after their numbers had been whittled down and your evil sisters were defeated?”
“We talked about it before you left. Yes. Is it time?”
“That’s a big ten-four, sweet bee. Get that shiny hiney on down here and try to keep yourself and some Buzzkills alive. Come on, your people need you.”
Lot of damn people needing a lot of other people today.
While she was busy on her way, I let myself live in the moment. Nearby, I saw someone wearing a goat’s head as a mask sweep an FN MAG machinegun across the sky. I don’t even know what side they were on, but I knocked them the fuck out with a punch. Then I saw Roadkill climbing up a ladder out of the water. I grabbed the machinegun and slung it at him. He ducked behind the ladder, which blocked the gun, but the noise attracted Buzzkills. Then, some giant rolling ball sped in next to me and separated into panels that folded up into a much smaller ball held in the hand of one of the heroes. I think that asshole punched me back at the asylum, in fact. He stuck that ball to his belt, then pulled off a blue one and a yellow one. The blue one he threw at crowd of Buzzkills. It hit one, then bounced off another’s head, ricocheting around the group until they all fell to the ground. While that ball did its trick, this big baller dropped the yellow one and kicked it over to where a bloody-mawed wolfman fought with what looked like a prepubescent girl in a red cloak and hood. She contorted out of the way of a slash from the wolfman, who then seized up as electricity arced out of the ball and formed a sort of cage around him. I put the ball guy out of business by hitting him in his weak spot from behind. You know the one. His balls.
It saddened me that I couldn’t go completely wild there, but I had a job to do. I looked around, scanning for Oligarch. I found him overhead, pushing his suit to stay out of Forcelight’s grasp while they dodged around buildings and the crane. He used his munitions to try and divert the heroine into the crane as a means of weakening her. I needed a chance to get close and jumped onto the crane itself. That’s when he chose to dive down and lead her over the water.
She was in chase mode, following him out there, but staying a little higher. It didn’t help her much when Terrorjaw flew out of the waves and chomped on her. Oligarch changed course, heading back to shore while she fell below the waters with the sharkman.
It gave me an idea. I unsealed one gauntlet and began charging up the other. Oligarch soared closer, leaving a wake as he passed over the water. I jumped out, hoping he didn’t decide to juke to the side for some reason at the last minute. He would have seen a small glow in the air until the hologram changed from showing the environment around me to showing Forcelight.
I’d timed it right. My glowing fit hit him in the back, the charged energy driving him into the ground. He bounced, even. Yeah, a bad part of having armor that’s so small and fits so tight against the body is it may not leave a lot of room for padding. That’s an issue miniaturization just can’t fix. I rolled and skidded as I came to a stop, throwing up a few sparks that I hoped no one noticed.
My facade as Forcelight continued as I stepped up to him and reached down to grab hold of the stunned villain’s neck with my bare hand.
One of the reasons the neck is so vulnerable is that it’s the only way things get between the head and the rest of the body. Brain signals, food, air, alcohol; you gotta go through the neck. It’s a literal chokepoint. Me, I implanted the equivalent of bodily wifi at the base of my head that lets me bypass that weakness in case my neck is broken or even severed. Oligarch didn’t have that on his side.
I had to work quickly as I felt my system merge with the cables and wiring in Oligarch’s armor’s neck. Armor stability could have been better. Running a bit low on ammo. That’s a problem with kinetic and missile weapons. A few heat vents were cracked, though. I could work with that. I ordered more to shut down. He had a self-destruct in the suit, too. Probably remotely activated, I would hope. A way to keep people from jacking his stuff like they did with mine. I stole the frequency, then backed off when I saw him making more purposeful movements.
I became invisible again and slipped on my glove just before water exploded out of the ocean nearby and Forcelight shot into the air with Terrorjaw riding her back. You don’t see that everyday.
She spun around, and I saw Terrorjaw fall off, then go flying as she kicked him out to see. Off in the distance, I think I saw him skip a few times. Well, he’s England’s problem now.
Back on land, Oligarch wrestled with his suit. Over the villainside comms, I heard him call out for anyone with ice powers. “My suit has a malfunction. The heat is building up. This is critical. Anyone?” He pulled his helmet off, looking like a sweaty old man with a bad case of helmet hair. He took a deep breath, then Venus swung down and clobbered him in the face so hard, I swear I heard a bong sound from her armored fist.
Isn’t that some shit? Forcelight had been on his case, then I put in the real work of beating him down, but Venus shows up at the last second to get all the credit?
I let her bask in the glory while I jumped for it. That’s about the time I noticed that the living Buzzkills had already made a run for it. Nothing left but the bodies. I saw some of them bees fleeing into the city from the vantage point I took further away from Oligarch. I didn’t know how big of a self-destruct Oligarch put in his armor, but I hoped it was smaller than city-wide.
Oh well, not worth asking him at this point.
“Look out, he’s going critical!” I yelled into everyone’s comms, then counted to three and sent the signal. The explosion disappointed. I expected a nice fireball, maybe some rocking. You know, maybe bend the crane a bit. I saw fire leap into the sky and heard people scream, but a closer inspection showed very few people actually hurt. The main one I focused on after confirming Oligarch was nothing but a crispy critter was Venus. She laid off to the side, clutching her arm and smoking a little.
Well, if she didn’t know smoking was bad for her health before, she probably learned her lesson getting blown up like that. A part of me felt bad, seeing her like that. I wanted to go down there, walk over to her, hold her in my hands…and squeeze her throat until she crapped her tights.
Sadly, this was not a day for star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet. You know, a couple that winds up killing each other.
I had a window there, where everyone had stopped and wasn’t entirely sure what to do. To the villains, I said, “Retreat. We’ll have a meeting about this later. The Order is not done, but I think it’s clear we don’t own the city anymore.”
To the heroes, I said, “Let them go. We don’t need any more fighting than is necessary. We’ve won.”
Then I called up Harlon, my guy in the news. He’s an executive who climbed to that position in part because I killed the right people and feed him the occasional red hot story. He wasn’t in Empyreal City, but he was very happy he could have his people report that a fight left the Oligarch dead and the city no longer under villain control.
And, finally, I called up Beetrice the Queen Bee and told her she did good getting her hive out. That, and “You better not watch Deep Space 9 without me!”
I’m not too keen on knocking her up with a colony full of my illegitimate insectoid monstrosi-babies, but a job this well done makes me feel like regrowing my balls for a celebratory nut scratch.
I settled for a victorious glare on top of Double Cross HQ while bells rang happily through the streets.
You see, I learned something from all this. Having any one ego in charge can work for certain group, like Double Cross. The company wouldn’t exist without me. It is a manifestation of my will, acting in my name to accomplish my goals. They are my drones, my workers. But they have to work toward a goal. Without one, they turn out about as cooperative and focused as the Buzzkills. And even if I wanted a group of equals based on cooperation, someone’s going to wind up the figurehead in charge, like Oligarch and The Order. And getting that many powerful individuals together and trying to force my goals on them would probably turn out just as bad for him as it would for me. And I don’t need a gang of enemies. I have enough of that as is. You need some sort of crisis or change in the paradigm to control them. The most basic way is a threat.
Yeah, I learned something. As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power, power corrupts; study hard and be evil.”
And since we’re coming up on Thanksgiving for those in the U.S., let me add a cheerful: “Party on, dudes!”