There’s something very odd being treated like some sort of broken, delicate thing. Moreso when the ones doing the treating are people I’ve spent years fighting, sometimes killing. In a timeline where I’d never come to this world, the hero population hadn’t been properly culled. Kids ran and flew around outside, holding a snowball fight. I watched as a couple boys tossed snowballs at a girl, chasing her into an igloo. The igloo’s entrance closed. A block opened to reveal a barrel. Tank treads popped out of the sides of the igloo and it began to roll. With a fwoom, it fired a snowball that knocked one of the boys on his ass.
“Awful lot of snow for Cali,” I said to Forcelight. She pointed to a pole that poked out of the ground and reached up over all the buildings. A large disk on top generated snow. “Weather control seems like it’d be useful for more than just playing around at school.”
“I asked them about that. My friend, Venus, told me it only makes snow. Nowhere else wants it other than Hollywood. Everyone thinks snow is too much trouble.”
It was a festive place. Lights adorned the outside of the buildings. Even the statue of Oscar Romero in the courtyard had a red and white hat on it. We moved past a foyer and front hall with rugs and its own smaller Christmas trees decorated about, and to the noisy part of the main buildings. Formerly dead and hostile faces welcomed me when Forcelight ushered me through the door of the Master Academy’s California campus cafeteria, where children, teens, and a lot of adults milled about around a two-story Christmas tree.
Venus came bounding up, out of costume, to hug Forcelight. “You made it! Everything wrapped up in Washington?”
Forcelight nodded. “Yeah. Once the big domino was destroyed, the others fell like a house of cards. Checkmate.” Venus smiled at the joke and turned to me. Forcelight turned to introduce me. “This is Gecko. She was a huge help. She’s some sort of technopath, so she turned the big one off. Gecko, this is Venus.”
“That’s amazing. Nice to meet you,” my nemesis said as she shook my hand. I wonder if I could hit that in this continuity… I mean, is still cheating if it’s in a different timeline? The only example I can think of involved another universe, and I still don’t think I’m in one. I’m in the same one that’s been altered significantly.
“Charmed, dear Venus,” I said. “It’s quite the place you have here. The food smells delicious. I can’t wait to have something other than highway snacks and hospital food.”
“She was injured while saving Washington,” Forcelight volunteered. “She had someone who helped her with that. He fought alongside us. Put a pin it that for later. For now, go eat Gecko. Go on!”
Thus commenced an evening of feasting with my foes. I ate too much, I was flirted with, and I even got asked to dance by Sixgun. I killed him, too. Not tonight. I’m talking about in the old continuity. Tonight, he just tried to get in my new dress. There was no killing to worry about… until it got later.
My history with Christmas being what it is, I kept my guard up even as others drank and cavorted. That’s why I was paying attention when wine in a glass started rippling. Someone else, a man with pointy ears, looked up. “Something’s coming,” he said in a soft voice
He ran to go warn someone. I ran out to the yard to see what was the matter. It had become deserted as the night went on and the children were forced into beds to have nightmares about sugarplum fairies.
A giant robot with pincers for hands came to a halt outside. We’re talking a good thirty, maybe thirty-five feet tall. Very similar old-style Nazi design aesthetic, but with a visor for a windshield on the head and a pair of gun barrels poking out from underneath it like a nose. It didn’t come alone. I spotted others near its feet.
On the one hand, the upcoming fight would be none of my business and nothing’s going to be permanent over here once I give it a good editing. On the other, I wanted to punch something.
“Master Academy, come out and face your doom at the hands of Dr. Creeper and his Ho-Ho-Horrors!”
Huh. So that’s what he got up to over here. I zoomed in for a closer look at the Ho-Ho-Horrors themselves. The one that stood out the most was the gargantuan of a man covered in scars and medical staples. He had a pair of metal bolts from each neck, shot fire from a flamethrower with 8 openings. Another looked like a regular guy until he concentrated and grew into a white-furred ape-thing. Next to him stood a man in a pilgrim outfit with a face covered in a black mask with white eye holes. On the opposite side of the flamethrower-wielding Frankenstein’s monster rolled up a cylindrical robot with a facsimile for a metal head planted on top of the cylinder, which held several arms. One of the arms lit up with an electrical arc between two ends of it, while the others were an assortment of claws, drills, and at least one plunger.
Then the ninjas dropped down between us the Ho-Ho-Horrors and the school. They had the cloth head coverings like you’d expect, but with goggles and metal lower face guards. The rest of their costume was less “black pajamas” as the stereotype goes and more like winter camo with body armor and sheaths for swords and other weapons. “Also, I’ve hired the services of the Ronin-Go. They aren’t my usual minions, but these are the only ones I could find willing to work Christmas Eve.”
Yet another reason why most people don’t bother attacking on Christmas Eve: better shit to do than get into a fight with supervillains. Like getting into a fight with family.
By now, I wasn’t the only one looking at the group. I rushed to the front hall and grabbed some ornaments off the trees. Most of them were those stupid plastic non-breakable ones, but a few were the classic glass. I broke several of those up and laid them out on the floor, then waited by the welcome rug.
The door burst in and ninjas came through it, yelling and waving swords. I waited until I got a good sized group and pulled the rug out from under them. A half dozen of them found their legs no longer underneath them and a short drop to a granite floor welcoming instead. I tossed the rug back over them before they could get up and ran over the top of them to the next wave. A good four of them tried to swing at me at once from the same direction and ended up getting in each other’s way. “Should have come at me one at a time,” I said with a laugh and grabbed away their swords in each hand.
They looked to me, then two bent and fired grappling lines on either side, forming a little corridor of rope at about knee level. One of the others jumped over me, knocking down one of his lumpy friends under the rug, and whipped out a pair of sai. The other who hand’t so far done anything squeezed his hands. Long metal claws popped out of winter digital-camo colored gauntlets. “Hi-ya!” the ones on either side of me yelled. Because when you hire ninjas, you want the classic ninja experience.
“Hiya,” I said, then hocked a loogie onto the clawed-ones visor. I turned around to the one behind me. I planted all four swords I held in the floor rug, and in someone I was standing on, and used them to lever myself into a flip over that one. He turned quickly and barely managed to catch two of the blades with his sais. I grinned and winked at him as the other two swords cut his pants so they fell down his legs. “Ever been circumcised before?”
The ninjas on either side of this little rope corridor they hoped to restrict my movements with came at me but soon found themselves crunching over broken orbs and stars and such. The one in front of me turned to run and tripped through a combination of his pants being around his ankles and the fact that we were still on top of a welcome mat covering six of his now-irritated and potentially wounded friends. The one I’d spat in the face of flipped over him and landed on the pommel of one sword I held up when I figured out where he was coming down at. He fell to the floor moaning and cradling a nut that’d need to be popped out later.
A shot caught me in the chest and knocked me back until I fell off the rug. There in the doorway was the smoking old-time flintlock. And behind it stood the guy in the pilgrim costume and mask.
I coughed and felt for my wound. My hand came back bloody and holding a round metal ball that had flattened where it ran into the bulletproof subdermis of my body. Still hurt like I’d been hung by my figgin. Before I could stand, one of the ropes was cut by Sixgun and his Bowie knife. He twirled it into a sheath and looked to me. “You alright, ma’am?”
I coughed and nodded. He nodded back, then turned and squared up with the Pilgrim, throwing his coat back. “Howdy Pilgrim. That’s no way to treat a lady. Mayhap you have a shot with me instead?” The Pilgrim tossed aside his spent pistol and shifted another couple around to the front of his belt.
One of the ninjas that had hurt his feet on broken decorations fell over on one of the little Christmas trees out there, knocking off a big red bow that rolled lazily between the two gunfighters. After a moment, the Pilgrim drew. Sixgun was faster. He shot the pistol out of the Pilgrim’s hand, then popped him in the shoulder, spinning him around into the cold, dark night.
By now, fighting had erupted all over. Once I managed to get to my fight, I spotted the Were-Yeti tangling with a huge, half-man, half-sloth that I knew as the Human Sloth from my own experience. Forcelight, meanwhile, had destroyed the flamethrower of the Frankenstein and was trying to put him down before he could overpower her. I spotted cylindrical robot with the treads circle around behind her.
I jumped it and stuck my fingers to its head. “What are you doing?” it asked. “I am Qwanzaar! Release me at once. No, do not stick that in there. That is not where fingers goOO!” It voiced surprise as my nervous system joined with its computerized brain and stopped it.
“Okily Qwanzaar, you’re mine now,” I said. I looked up at the giant robot, which traded blows with a woman in a pink and black costume with butterfly wings on it. It managed to catch the Pink Pixie by a wing and tore it off, sending the heroine spinning. And I couldn’t do anything about it from the ground. Dr. Creeper’s robots were based on old analog Nazi designs meant to be worked with levers and buttons and no computer elements at all. Nothing about this big one suggested he’d upgraded that part of it.
Instead, I looked to its knees, then at a cluster of downed ninjas. It was easy to appropriate their grappling hooks and ropes, then hop back on top of Qwanzaar. Firing and latching on with a grappling hook didn’t take a lot of work either.
No, by far the worst part was waiting for Qwanzaar to slowly circle through the snow for longer than it would have taken to watch the entire opening of Empire Strikes Back’s Hoth scenes. Pink Pixie, then Forcelight, managed to keep the big guy distracted long enough, especially once they saw what I was doing. Creeper didn’t noticed I’d tied up his robot’s knees until he went to step back and it caught. “What is this?!” his voice boomed from the speaker just before the robot began to fall.
The robot knocked off the disk that made the snow as it fell onto it, then the chest began to poke upward where the pole underneath had stabbed into it and the fall damaged the chest plate from the inside. A piece of metal fell off the top of the robot’s head and a rotor popped out. The head pulled off and began to fly away.
Instead of going after it, Pink Pixie, Forcelight, and the other heroes worked on rounding up the remaining Ho-Ho-Horrors and Ronin-Go. They might have thought they had longer, but the escape pod head’s sides opened up to reveal wings and jet engines. The rotors fell off as it shot away with a sonic boom.
All in all, not a bad party.
Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hannukah, Io Saturnalia, and an early Joyous Kwanzaa, dear readers. Remember, so long as you’re still alive, doesn’t matter if they trap you in another world, you’ve still got a chance.
Between burns, a missing hand, and skinless zombie dog wounds that got infected, I have had a hell of a time missing my nanites. You can’t go out and play vigilante without incurring some injuries and they’re pretty much the only thing that’s kept me going at my nonstop pace. Without them, I’m stuck healing in a hospital. They better not expect me to pay. Worst bedpan service I’ve ever had, and I’ve hung out with some classy scatophiles.
After some convalescing, it seems popular opinion won over Blackstone enough to visit and do what he could to help. Well, some pushing in the hero community, and by hero community, I mean Forcelight carried him into my room. “I don’t care if you hate her, she got hurt helping us out and I know you know how to do something about it!”
I had been downloading music, movies, news articles, and podcasts that differed between this timeline and the next. I’m not sure how well they’d stick once everything’s fixed, but you never know what handy information might be dug up in one and secret in the other. I have some good dirt on a bunch of people. I stopped looking through things and blinked, bringing myself back to meatspace. “Your company doesn’t have anything better? Regenerative nanomachines, perhaps?”
“Long Life looked into it, but we don’t have the capability,” she said. She glared at Blackstone, then, who at least shaved again in the days I’d been laid up. “Reverse time and get rid of her injuries or something.”
“You will regret this! She’s not to be trusted!” He held a finger up toward Forcelight.
“You didn’t notice any of that out there?” Forcelight asked.
Blackstone glared at her, at me, back at her, then glared at the “Get Well Soon!” flowers I received that sat near the get well nudes I didn’t ask for. Finally, he pulled out Los Cincos Soles Dorados. “You do not simply play with temporal magic,” he growled.
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, aren’t we well aware. I’m pretty sure that thing we need to do, the whole reason we were even in this city to begin with, would work better if I wasn’t the queen of the blisters.” I paused, then looked to Forcelight, “I’m an Empress, by the way.”
“Cool. What planet are you from?” she asked.
“Strana Mechty,” I answered. Blackstone gave me a confused look, but I didn’t want to explain the whole situation. I didn’t fucking know the situation. My adventures with Mobian uncovered that me coming to Earth is necessary, at least on my world. It caused a big chain of events where aliens Justice Rangers arrive on Earth and I leave their crashed ship and equipment on my planet to be discovered and form the basis of the Justice Rangers I knew from there.
Big load of bullshit if you ask me, but there’s some sort of paradox going on and I’m confused. Time travel has some sort of rules, but I can’t fucking follow them.
My pain was noticed. Even though I had my eyes closed, I heard Forcelight drag Blackstone over. He said, “Fine.” I opened my eyes to see him standing there with the book open. He fished around and pulled out a pocketwatch on a chain with his other hand and held it up.
“Purple haze, all in my eyes,” I said, careful not to sing. Bleeding ears would likely affect the healing process.
“Jimmi Hendrix you are not,” he said. The light bloom moving over me combined the tell-tale purple of Blackstone’s power with the gold that appeared related to his interactions with the book. “The easiest way to deal with this is to be kind, rewind.”
I shouldn’t have to explain what being hurt is like, but I can’t explain what having it reverse is actually like. My skin did things I’m still trying to forget about, but I remember the itchiness, the cold, and the burning which then rapidly reversed to room temperature. I got to see my hand rematerialize from ashes. I winced and gritted my teeth as the nerves appeared and everything went through the same process of shifting temperatures and pain.
He stopped and put up his pocketwatch, now tarnished and cracked. “How do you feel?”
“Worst bedside service ever,” I said, tossing the covers aside and standing up. “I couldn’t even get anyone to check my temperature the fun way. Where are my clothes?”
“They’re not healed, but they should be easy to replace,” Forcelight says. Yeah, they were a bit stinky by this point. I had spares from the road trip… in Blackstone’s car. I don’t know if they came through the sewer tunnel with us, but I don’t think I want to get them from there at this point. So I headed into the bathroom to get dressed. When I came out, Blackstone was on the phone with someone.
When he saw me, he finished it quickly by telling the person on the other end, “Yes, dear. I’ll be there. Trust me I will be. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
I squinted and opened a connection, curious. The contact read “Marivel” in the phone. There were texts, but he hung up before I could get into them. “Who’s that?” I asked.
“Could you give us some privacy, Forcelight?” Blackstone asked of her. I dove into those texts when he said that. Fhe looked to me and I nodded, even as I worked through texts about missing Blackstone and wondering if he’d pick up milk on his way back. Forcelight shrugged and walked out the door. As she passed through the door frame, she disappeared from the frame and the hallway with a hint of the sound of an objection forming in the air and disappearing as she was transported somewhere far away.
“What’s up?” I asked him warily. Forcelight’s annoying like this, sure, but not worth teleporting to Timbuktu or wherever.
“This world, how do I say this, it’s not all bad for both of us,” he began.
“I don’t like where this is going already. Who was on the phone, Douglas?” Ooh, a nude selfie.
“You have no enemies here. They think you’re a hero. The ghosts saw it in you-” he stopped when my fist did right in front of his nose. The magical vow stayed my hand no matter how much he deserved it. “You used to want that. You liked it.”
I put my hand down. “Stop pretending you care about me. I thought you said you didn’t have a family?”
“You killed my family, yeah. My sister, my mom, and my dad. I spent my life trying to avenge you. I missed opportunities for happiness, like with a childhood friend. I didn’t miss her in this reality. I didn’t realize it until we were on the road.”
He started to pace, looking out the window. I rolled my eyes. “You don’t even know the woman. You’re just the stranger who took what she thought was her husband’s place. You might as well wear a mask and fuck someone else’s wife. She doesn’t know you.”
“You’re too close-minded!” he said, turning back to me. He held tightly to his little magic book, too, squeezing it in his hand. “That’s why you didn’t notice. You do things to electronics but couldn’t see my cell? Right? You didn’t even look. Watching TV in the motel when you can access the internet from your head? I was scared, but I texted back and we talked. It’s like I’ve known her my whole life. This is the life I was meant to have.”
I reached for the book. Light flared up in my vision when my fingers made contact with it. My eyes could have compensated for it if it was real but my HUD classified the light as a magical anomaly. I flailed around with my arms, but Blackstone and his magical book of getting me the hell out of here were gone. I recovered my sight after a few seconds and checked around. Blackstone stood in the hallway, looking at me.
“Careful. You’ll shoot your eye out.” Jaw tight, he glared at me. “You can’t hurt me. We made a vow. The ritual isn’t complete. You want to send someone after me, you’ll have to figure out how to get back on your own. I think I’m beginning to understand. The best revenge is living well. I have a new family and yours is gone like mine was. Your army and your riches are gone. I’ve beaten you at the peak of your power, while I’m only beginning to tap into mine.” He held up his book. That damn book I helped him get.
I dove for it, determined to grab onto it no matter how blinded I got. I knew it was a long shot. I wasn’t so surprised when I fell out of a doorway into Reykjavik and saw Forcelight standing around looking at her phone. I took a moment on the ground to process things. It must have turned into more than a moment from how the hero came over and helped me up.
“Are you alright?” She bent down to get a look at my face when I didn’t answer. “What happened? Did he hurt you?” She glanced back behind me at the doorway.
“I’m trapped here. I don’t have anything. I don’t have my armor or my nanites or my daughter.” What a terrible day for rain. Forcelight, a hero I actually murdered, hugged me. She’s really that damn clueless. I should kill her again. I should kill all of them again. Destroy as much of this worthless world as possible until Blackstone caves.
No, it wouldn’t work. “They’re all gone because of him. I’m not from another planet, exactly. I’m from another Earth. He was supposed to get me back to my family. I have a little girl, and a wife, and friends. People depend on me.”
“Bastard,” she said, holding me. “We’ll get him.”
“Yeah. We will. But we’ll need help.” I looked up at her, the rain having wet my face horribly. She wiped the drops away.
“I have friends. If you want, I can introduce you to them. I was going to meet them at a party, at a place called Master Academy. They can help you get back on your feet if you’d like,” she said.
I threw back my head and laughed. “That would be perfect.” Embraced by a hero I killed, being led to the Master Academy and all their superheroes to be taken in while I figure out a plan to reverse my predicament. The laughter turned bitter when I remembered Qiang. I’d made deals with devils and built a new criminal underworld all to protect her from those I wronged and their revenge against me.
“Hey, you know I’m Forcelight, right?” she asked. I nodded. “So what’s your name? Or even your hero name?”
Hero name? Fucktaneous spazballs, she thinks I’m a superhero. It actually caused me to pause while I thought of something. The one moment the ability to pull a name out of my ass comes in handy, “Uhhh, how about you just call me Gecko for now?”
“I specialized in magic that bends time and space in order to finally defeat you. There are other benefits,” Blackstone told me. “It appears the car is not one of them.”
Blackstone tried to adapt the spell where people travel through door frames, only using a tunnel. The result spit us out of a drainage pipe on the outskirts of D.C. in a shower of car parts. It wasn’t wrecked so much as taken apart.
“You didn’t, per chance, invoke some sort of gremlin, did you?” I asked. “I ask because I have a lot of metal parts inside me, and I’d rather not lose my brain or my splanch because you were fucking around. I’m pretty sure you need me for some reason, too.”
“I do, yeah,” he stood up from the seat he was in and tossed aside the steering wheel in his hands.”Where’s my phone?”
I raised up and fished the cup holder out from under my ass to get his phone out and tossed it to him. “At least the smaller stuff seems to be in one piece. Even my glubok.” I stood up and dusted myself off as well.
Blackstone eyed me. “What’s a glubok?”
I chuckled. “If you have to ask, kiddo, then you can’t afford it. Where is this wizard lair we’re looking for?” I climbed up the side of the grassy embankment to get a look around. Blackstone followed, slipping down once while distracted with his phone. “And worry about your Facebook later. That addiction’ll kill you.”
“It’s important. Wait, how is Facebook a drug?” he asked. He reached the top and looked at me briefly before checking around. We were next to a highway. The city looked to be in worse shape than I expected. I heard sonic booms and saw smoke rising up in a couple of columns. It drew Blackstone’s attention away from his phone. “Never mind.”
“I don’t know how heroic you’re feeling, but sometimes it’s good to remember what is your problem and what’s someone else’s problem,” I advised. “We accomplish what we’re looking to accomplish and all this reverts, I hope.”
He held up a hand and did the wibbly-wobbly gesture, tilting it side to side.
“Either way, no need to go ruin our ticket back to save a pretty face,” I told him.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been around trouble,” he said. “After everything so far, I shouldn’t have to continue to justify my skills to you.”
“No need to get shrill just because your delicate boy parts make you super-emotional,” I told him.
“I hate you,” he reiterated.
I gave him the middle finger. “You took my daughter away from me. Back at ya, fuckwit.”
“We still need a car, dickweed. How are we getting a car?”
I walked over to the road and took a stance, moving my coat back to better project confidence and my boobage. A minivan screeched to a stop. A lady in her 40s rolled down the window. “Hey baby, looking for a ride?”
I blew her a kiss. “Honey, I want to get there and I want it fast.”
She nodded toward Blackstone. “What about your friend?”
“He can fit in the trunk,” I answered as I approached, putting more of a sway in my hips. I leaned down to the driver’s open window as Blackstone jogged around to the passenger side. I winked at the woman, then I turned my head toward the road ahead of us. “Holy crap, Elvis?” She turned to look and I grabbed her with my lower arms. I pulled her out and dropped her to the ground. Blackstone slid into the passenger seat as she came out and hopped the center console.
“Get in,” he called. The woman stood and ran for the driver’s side window, punching at Blackstone. I yanked open the driver’s side rear door as Blackstone started to drive. I hopped in and held the door open to knock the minivan’s former owner to the ground.
When I closed it, I glared at Blackstone from the rear seat. “I had that.”
“She lived, didn’t she?”
Most people think of all the monuments and memorials when the District of Columbia comes to mind. It’s a city. A lawless, ungoverned city. Probably because it’s not a state, so it’s directly governed by Congress. In my timeline, that’s basically worse than being governed by your average PTA Council because the PTA Council generally has less gridlock and the ones in power at least pretend to care about school children.
But enough about PTAs and minivans. The reason I brought up the popular view of Washington is because we were headed into the less popular view. We had to head east, over the Anacostia River. We ran into a little bit of a problem when a couple of androids landed in front of us. They were fairly bare-bones, with a little armor on their torso but plenty of gaps between the moving parts on the limbs. The heads were little more than a single giant camera lens on a rotating mount. Blackstone wanted to take a detour, but I reached up and jammed his leg down. They cracked the windshield and dented the hood to hell, but they didn’t get back up and pursue us either.
The place we were looking for appeared to be nothing but a former Chinese takeout restaurant. “Pretty good front, actually,” I said.
“The food wasn’t bad either,” Blackstone added. I let him lead the way on this one. All the better to avoid lingering traps. Around the counter, into the miniscule kitchen, and into a storage room that smelled like a skunk had choked on the nasty air and died. Times like this really make me miss my armor’s environmental seals. Down the trapdoor was a dank but untouched basement area with walls of stone and mortar.
“Nice setup.” I took it all in. The altar with crystals and an athame sat feet away from a heavy iron slab with a few bones laying on it. A crystal ball sat on a small table in front of a beanbag chair. There were a pair of bookshelves packed with all sorts of tomes of ancient evil, including a third edition De Vermis Mysteriis and a first edition Ann Coulter. Blackstone headed over there. “That’s it, right? Once you have that, we’re good to go?”
“Not scared, are you?” He took a break from looking through the bookshelf to smile at me. “It’s all just hocus pocus, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ve dealt with magic stuff before. One of the more complicated aspects of the superhuman world. I’m just ready to leave. This planet’s like a collection of a bunch of really powerful people who all had grudges against me, except I’m broke and I don’t have power armor.” I winced as a muscle in my calf spasmed just the wrong way. “Nanites would be nice, too. Filthy dogs. Who knows what they’ve had in their mouth?”
“Relax, the nastiest thing they’ve sunk their teeth into was you.” He found what he was looking for, a surprisingly small grimoire with an Aztec-style pattern on the front cover. “I had to use the ghosts to establish sympathetic bonds with your past, present, and future to enact the ritual in hiding. It’s easier with your cooperation.”
The ceiling shook once, twice. “I think the smooth sailing’s over, Dougie boy.” I sighed and opened my connectivity. I’d been avoiding it. I didn’t like this version of Earth. Not really a different dimension anyway. I know what crossing the Universe Divide is like. “We got robots. And worse.”
“What’s worse?” he asked. He tucked the book away. A pair of robots of the same minimalist construction fell through the ceiling, almost hitting me. Blackstone’s purple tendrils tore the head off the one closest to him. The one near me pointed an arm with a barrel on the end at Blackstone. I tore the arm off and shoved it through it’s chest under the armor plates. We both turned as something else fell through the ceiling. She was a pale woman with hair that glowed white. It didn’t contrast much with her white uniform, which featured a yellow aurora around a red cross on her midsection. At least her gloves and boots were black, but it was a terrible costume. As terrible as her name, because I recognized her as Forcelight. In the correct timeline, she’s dead.
“Heroes,” I said as I watched Forcelight stand herself up. It grew lighter as the entire ceiling just disappeared. Looking up, I faced a firing squad of the cheap robots all pointing arm cannons at us. “You got a shield or something, Blackstone?”
“I have something better,” he said. He glowed purple, with just a hint of gold that seemed to come from the open Los Cincos Soles Dorados in his hand.
The bots opened fire, but all of their red energy balls stopped a few feet above our heads and stayed there. “Now’s your chance to hack them,” Blackstone said.
I shook my head. “I’m trying, but they don’t seem to have remote connections, and these things can’t have much of a brain.”
Forcelight looked between us. “We don’t know how they communicate, but we’d better destroy them before they merge.” She lit up as she launched rays of light from her hands that sent the little robots flying. I swept my laser eye across a couple, but she got most of them. Once most of them were gone, she turned to Blackstone. “Are you two going to stand here with your thumbs up your asses, or are you going to help?”
“I will,” Blackstone said despite a glare from me. He waved his hands and the energy balls left in the air fizzled away. Forcelight took to the air, only for Blackstone to call out, “Hey! I can’t fly.” Smirking playfully, she hovered down and helped him out. I jumped out after them and caught a glimpse of a larger mess of metal parts that stood on two legs. Its entire chest was a barrel and the blast it fired at Forcelight sent her flying and Blackstone dropping.
I hit some fight music, Ultimate Battle by Akira Kushida, and ran right for the twelve-foot metal monstrosity. It set its feet and tracked me, but I was fast and slid into the home stretch. There’s only so far down something with a torso like that can track. I crawled underneath it and got to my feet, looking for something to do a bit of wrecking with. I found a motorcycle, which was better than nothing. I grabbed it and slammed it into the back of the robot’s knee. The cycle broke, but the robot knelt to regain its balance.
I hopped onto its back. It struggled to stand. I started tearing pieces off its back, working my hand inside. “Brains. Brains!” I called out, laughing as my special homo machina nerves reached out. I ran into a conglomeration of computer cores, all working together.
It was tracking back up toward Blackstone, and I was still working on figuring out this new programming language, so instead I just intercepted the signals. No more sight, sound, and shooting, but especially no balance and lower motor functions. And since it was in the middle of standing back up, that meant falling forward. I couldn’t figure out everything about it, but with a bunch of the smaller ones approaching, I used what I knew to cut into some of its power cores. It had redundancies there, as well. I couldn’t get them all, but I got enough to slow it down while I hopped off to avoid getting red on me.
Blackstone waved his hand toward a crowd on his end, ageing them to rust. Being a lady, I serviced them one, two, or three at a time. I ducked between them, tearing heads off, grabbing one to use as a club on others. One of them, I grabbed and threw into the windshield of a car parked on the street. I jumped high and landed with all my weight to knock it the rest of the way through, then slid inside. They started to pepper the car with superheated blasts of something crimson when I dove out the passenger window, rolled, and came up with my nails digging into delicate wiring of one unfortunate robot. I threw its body into another of the crowd of robots while keeping hold of what had probably been important wires.
It was tiring, keeping moving like that. I was dodging to stay alive and sometimes taking them out. Ok, ok, I shouldn’t be too humble. I was working my way through plenty with my eye, hands, and enhanced strength. And I had some weapons. I pulled a car door open and kicked a robot inside so I could smash it up by slamming the door. I tore the car door off and threw it into a robot, knocking it down with a door embedded in it.
But there were a lot, and in the middle of the fighting, and things fit back into place. I don’t know when I started laughing or when I lost that hand. I’d gotten tired and it all became a blur, but I knew I couldn’t stop even if my lungs exploded and my muscles turned to jelly because moving was the only thing keeping me ahead of death’s snapping jaws.
I was so disappointed when I realized I lost the hand. I liked that hand, dammit, and because if it were bleeding I could use that to blind some of them. Instead, I had to pick up just three of them and swing them through the crowd.
I turned at one point and brought one down on a familiar hero I’d faced before. Forcelight sent it flying with one of her light beams and slapped me across the face. I growled, dropping my fangs and preparing to strike. Then I recognized her and what was going on. I blinked and turned to see what was going on, but the street was a mess of twisted metal and destruction, with a few rusty and others cut into pieces. I turned and raised the stump to the sky. “And stay out!”
Up there is where I noticed a tower of the robots, all climbing each other and melding into one big orb with a huge opening pointed down. “That’s no moon,” I said.
Forcelight looked up at it. “It’s huge,” she said. “It’s going to wipe out the entire state.” The tower retracted up to it as the body filled out and began to float higher.
“Actually,” I started, because we weren’t in a state, but Blackstone joined us.
“I don’t think I can stop that,” he said. He looked me over. “They got you.”
I waved off my injuries with my stump hand. “It’s ok. Only hurts when I exist.”
Forcelight swallowed. “That might be too big for me,” she said.
I shrugged. “Throw me at it and I can at least stop the thing. Just like…” I turned back to the giant thing I’d toppled earlier. Its legs had been severed, leaving it stuck facedown on the ground. When I turned back to them, I looked to Forcelight specifically. “Throw me at ’em.”
“Really?” asked Blackstone.
“Unless you somehow have enough juice left to get us outta here before that thing puts us at the bottom of a smoking crater, it’s me or nothing.” Forcelight was on it. She grabbed me under my lower arms and lifted me. It was a very different experience to be held in the arms of a buxom hero who hated me.
“You have a way to stop this thing or were you bluffing?”
“There’s very little I can’t stop, except maybe the pain affecting everything below my haireline. But that thing? If I can’t control it, I can crash it.” Geez she could fly fast.
“I believe in you,” she said as we got close. “Where do you need me to set you- oh hell!” She banked hard to the side to dodge smaller shots coming from the orb. The inside of the enormous opening lit up with a red glare.
“My first choice would be any small thermal exhaust ports you see, but otherwise I just need to be as embedded into it as you can get me. And the biggest gap into that thing doesn’t look too inviting to me.
“You got it. Hold on tight.” I wrapped my arms and legs around her. She held onto me with one and raised her hand. She banked hard to throw off the point defense aim while always making progress toward the giant hole of death. We’d barely gotten inside when she yelled, “Shit!” and threw me away from her toward the bottom wall.
I looked back to see her fire a beam with one, then both hands to try and push back the much larger and blood red one from the big floating death orb. I crawled up toward the source of the beam while she raged against the machine that pushed her back like she was barely even there. The heat seemed to suck all the oxygen out and everything smelled burnt. Maybe that was just my nose hairs igniting. Either way, the hot metal scorched my hands before I got close. I got right next to the thing, feeling my skin heat and pop. I pushed my hand into gaps and concentrated on connecting to anything, with one repeated, insistent order. Your data comes through me.
The seconds seemed like minutes but I felt my nervous system physically merge with a portion of the giant death machine. The signals to fire the weapon rerouted through me and went no further. With it no longer a threat, I had time to analyze the programming and data packets further. I even played around by clogging it up with junk data it didn’t know what to do with. But, looking for the simplest solution, I deleted its operating system. The orb started to fall.
I broke my arm getting my arm loose as it turned. I kicked off and jumped out opening while it descended to fuck Capitol Heights up. “Somebody expendable get beneath me!” I called out when I reached the top of my height and gravity reasserted control over the situation. I enjoy a nice skydive the way most people enjoy a massage: with a happy ending. I’m not happy when I’ve splatted.
Which is why I actually was happy to be snatched out of the air by a gleaming woman. “God bless us, everyone!” she shouted, perhaps a bit prematurely in my opinion. After all, she’s the one who had to try and aim a giant ball of metal somewhere less residential with one hand holding me.
Leave it to Blackstone to find a way to halt it in midair and rust it all away, to the cheers of the people who almost ended up homeless. I was just glad I’d survived getting what we came for. I can stomach a little phantom limb syndrome knowing I’m about to get back home and fix it.
I wish we could have reverted everything before the next day’s paper came out showing the three of us as the heroes who saved Washington D.C., but I don’t think anyone in the hospital burn unit can ever be that happy.
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.