Tag Archives: Fortune Cookie

Together For The Holidays 10

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Ah, Giuseppe, Giuseppe, Giuseppe. Y’all didn’t think I just forgot about him, did ya?

I paid him a little visit on the 28th. It was better than waiting around at Double Cross Towers, waiting for Wildflower to swing her pretty green ass by and talk to me. Or calling me again. Crash is getting tired of me finding inventive new ways to disappear, especially when she’s trying to meet with me about the company’s decisions. She really didn’t like the time I buried my head under her skirt and she had to pretend I was an intern trying to get ahead by giving some head.

Finally, I hid where I knew she couldn’t find me: inside my power armor. For good measure, I took it for a spin over to Giuseppe’s workshop. I owed him a pleasant little visit to discuss the shoddy repair job he did on the time-stopping shrunken clock tower.

His toy shop looked like any other abandoned building would, because that’s a good way not to expose yourself to constant attention. However, such buildings also attract youngsters looking to break stuff for a good time, or perhaps gangs looking to hide out. At times like that, traps and guards are a reliable deterrent. Normally, a villain would simply contact him when they wanted to come over. He likely knew I wanted to hurt him, though, so I discounted that option.

I examined the shop from the next roof over. No skylight, but an old roof access trapdoor. I hopped onto the elevated edge and checked for anything to trigger an alert. Some of the roof looked raised up a little more than the others, including the area surrounding the roof door.

I checked the expected landing area and hopped directly on top of the trapdoor. Rusty metal. It made a little noise with my weight added to its edges. I picked up a scuttling noise starting and looked around. The raised sections of flat rolled roofing nearby moved, shifting around and crawling over each other. I balanced on one foot to avoid one of the scuttling thingies. My mad ballet skills have only improved as a woman. They roof shifted around so that they spread out and better covered the roof, but it also gave me a chance to open the door.

I planted my feet on either side of the door and bent forward so my helmet rested on a normal section of the roof. The 360 heads-up showed me some beetle-like critter moving a roof panel behind me, but that’s not why I did it. I eased up the trapdoor, scanning in low light and heat vision to detect any. It’s not unknown for people to rig grenades to that sort of setup. No go on the tripwires, so I stood up and opened it just enough to drop down and grab the top rung of the ladder.

My hands passed through empty space. I threw them to the sides, grabbing for the side bars. Those were still around, but the rough sections of cut rungs tore at my gloves.

Conniving old bastard. Problem is, he’s messing from someone better.

I’m not the leaves. I’m the whirlwind.

After arresting my fall, I checked down for anything else like laser tripwires. Yep, a grid of four farther down the shaft that formed a diamond shape in the center. Higher up, and they’d have screwed me. Luckily, I have good shaft control. What? I’m just talkin’ ’bout shafts.

The problem with using such sophisticated methods of intruder detection is that I am a sophisticated person. I’m a high-tech lowlife. Other people have to think up elaborate countermeasures; I just have to slip off a glove, give them a lovely caress, and ask them to please turn off while sending a false active signal.

Once past those defenses, I found myself in a room the size of a storage closet. After confirming the door was rigged with nothing more than a remote lock likely meant to activate when the lasers went off, I came out of the closet. And I looked FABULOUS!

Or I would have, if I hadn’t gone invisible. I doubted he had anything else at this point. Most security in these sorts focus on preventing entrance, not monitoring movement once inside. Though, just to be sure, I twisted the head off this evil little stuffed bunny sitting on a box outside the closet.

From there, I tried to reorient myself. To my right, storage and parts through an open doorway. To my left, the main work and display area, but with a closed door.

I turned the knob slowly and eased it open with great care. There he sat, hunched over his work table in the darkness. A pair of man-sized toy soldiers stood at attention by the wall. Seemed odd, him working in darkness like that.

I had two options: talk a whole bunch to make it clear what kind of shit Giuseppe got himself in, or kill him quickly and talk to myself afterward.

I crept up behind him and shoved my arm through his back. I missed his spine, my hand squeezing between two harder pieces of metal and smashing through something whirling in further inside him. This was a metal man, not Giuseppe. Should have checked the thermal imaging for traps.

The head of the fake Giuseppe rotated around, jerking three times until it faced me, a pair of red digital vertical slits. Then the right vertical slit opened into a circle. Then the left one became a circle and the one on the right became a nine.

I turned and slammed right through the door, bitchslapping a now-laughing stuffed bunny. The jump enhancers powered me up the shaft to the roof. I popped through the trapdoor and landed with a leg on either side of the entrance, then jumped for safety five buildings down and two stories up.

The building blew like desperate hooker on the Fourth of July.

Sitting there, watching the fire, I got a notification from The Order forums. Giuseppe informed everyone that he was pinged when his hideout went up and wished to let everyone know he was taking a sabbatical due to the existence of a prominent enemy in the community. Some of the folks were sympathetic to him, but others wanted to know if they could have anything he left over. Hey, if that bunny survived, they’re welcome to it.

I had more important things to do, like avoid the attention of my super ex-girlfriend, which went from a shitty Uma Thurman movie to a reason for me to avoid Wildflower.

I tipped her off. She’s going to want to know. It’ll be a big deal. And that means digging, whether I’m there to talk to her or not. She may like me, but she doesn’t “ignore that she’s a super-assassin” like me. In fact, most people get quite pissed when they find out you’ve lied to them about that sort of thing.

I probably shouldn’t have lost my cool at the party. I should have made something up real quick. It was just so incredibly stupid, after having given her a fake backstory, to tell her she didn’t know a thing about me.

It really shouldn’t have mattered to me outside of threatening the anti-alien plan. Might need to test my system for residual Sexahol or something. It’s a drug I encountered awhile back, part of a hero’s plot to turn the world into a hippie lovefest. I killed a few people under the influence of Sexahol.

Hey, I make one hardcore hippie.

Back to the Wildflower thing, I started to write a note when I returned to the office.

“Dear Wildflower,” Generic greeting #52

“I’m sorry for leaving you at the party the other night, but I don’t handle those sorts of large gatherings well.” I’m more comfortable when everyone around is either screaming, trying to kill me, or some combination of the two.

“But I realized I said something potentially earth-shattering.” And, for her, that would also be pants-shattening. My arrival in this dimension was thanks to a bomb meant to destroy a planet.

“There is more to me than I told you, and I’m worried you’ll hate me if I tell you. It matters to me that you don’t hate me.” Nope, nope, nope, nope. I Xed over the note and tried to put the entire thing out of my mind with TV. Seems the news was on, talking about one of those random things that happens to people who aren’t me.

“-moving away from a review of the attack on the Capital Building, we have Senator Powers, head of the Senate Comittee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Senator, what do you make of this attack and the suspect’s repeated claims to be working toward creating a better world?”

The reporter’s image was squished to half the screen. The other half cut to a balding man in a suit without a hint of a smile on his face. “That’s right. These super types genuinely believe that the destruction they cause makes the world better. I tell you what will make things better: mandatory super registration.”

“Pardon me, Senator, but why would supervillains register if they already break the law?”

“I’m glad you asked that. Remember, this man Max Muscles was a superhero until he decided to attack the Capital. This isn’t like guns. Superhumans don’t have an option to put down their powers. It’s something they live with their whole lives. Registration provides law enforcement officers with the tools to determine the extent of the threat they’re facing and it gives them an option to negotiate with individuals who otherwise remain anonymous threats. A superhuman registry means safety and security for parents of normal people and supers. It means people no longer fear the anonymous beings who live among us. It means superhumans can be trained to act responsible and held accountable in a court of law.”

“It doesn’t sound like your idea of registration maintains the secret identities of superhumans, Senator. Do you anticipate a problem with that from the superhero community?” The reporter asked.

“The most secure data encryption in the world, by the grace of God. Already, some of our patriots in tights are lining up to join a secure voluntary database for the good of the nation.” The Senator smiled a smug grin that looked better on a punching bag than an untouched human face.

I sent Crash an email to pull up some background info. Almost as soon as I sent it, she replied with a link to a background check on the company database. “A woman named Fortune Cookie convinced me you would need this,” she wrote.

Senator Powers. Home back in his state, where his wife and son are currently visiting with constituents. Daughter still at the Washington DC home. Daughter a double amputee after a super incident. Probably cheating on his wife. Based on party affiliation, possibly with another man. High internover rate. Recreational pot and cocaine user. Energy drink addict. Jointly owned by Israel and British Petroleum. Not a cat person.

Yeah, I can use this.

Crash texted me then, “I’ve finished booking hotel suites in Washington DC per Fortune Cookie. Do you need help packing?”

I had an evil little idea, ya see, and Fortune Cookie knew I’d have it whether she helped it along or not. So before I answered Crash, I gave Technolutionary, the mad scientist trying to recreate my abilities, a call. “How’s it going, amigo? Still alive, I see. Hey, where are we at on human testing? Just about ready, huh. Well, that should be close enough. Pack your bags, because I got the perfect candidate in the District of Columbia.”

Oh, don’t worry. I have no intention of giving the Senator superpowers. It’s very easy for a person to be a hypocrite when it’s just themselves involved. It’s another thing entirely when it’s their daughter gaining powers and the ability to walk again.

Trust me, it’s a lot more evil than it sounds.

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Together For The Holidays 7

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Perhaps the best way to stay under the radar and build up defenses capable of defeating an alien invasion isn’t to act out and try to ruin a public holiday.

All the other parts work very well. Technolutionary, if he hasn’t killed himself yet, is going to copy my powers into more people so they have a fighting chance. My company’s prosthetics include hidden weapons and superior abilities to human limbs. The Order is a new social network to allow villains to coordinate. The heroes have a similar setup running on our company’s servers. Also, I’m inconspicuously installing remotely controlled cannons around the city. It’s all going so well.

Except for me. Somehow, miraculously, I made all this stuff happen. That’s baffling enough. Except I am straining at the bonds of my charade. I want to go out and hurt some people. I keep hearing about all sorts of delicious assholes in need of being torn up. That sentence sounded better in my head. And, for no good reason, I’ve let the mere mention of potential failure in this sideshow convince me to try what no one has done before: steal all the Christmas presents in a single city.

It’s nothing important, but it’s me. It’s what I would naturally do. It’s as natural to me as going off on random tangents. It’s like the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog. You see, this scorpion asks a frog for a ride across a stream…

See?!

So I know this is stupid, but it’s me. And we have a problem.

Allow me to explain. Awhile back, I had to stop a man from using some weird clock tower in the mountains of Romania. As much as I loathe and despise people, I’m not keen on becoming trapped as a statue until time ceases to exist. Not only did I use my literal photographic cybernetic eyes and brain RAM to create a perfect schematic of how the device looked before and after I disabled it, but I got clock tower itself. See, right after that, I tried to steal one of the world’s largest telescopes with the help of an old Cold War super scientists who invented a way to shrink buildings and monuments. The process left them inside of a snow globe for appearance’s sake. He took pity on me losing my giant telescop and offered a consolation prize. I came back to America consoling myself with a time-stopping clock tower.

While here, I made the acquantaince of a man named Giuseppe. While helping him move to a new lair, my feud with a local small-time crime boss named Stang prompted Stang to rob one of the trucks, taking Giuseppe’s favorite set of tools. I set him back and pretty much put him out of business with my usual subtlety, but Giuseppe’s tools were lost when his model Enola Gay created a mushroom cloud in the ensuing attack. It also gave me an idea on his attention to detail.

Naturally, while considering what I could do to mess with the holiday season, I came across the idea of stealing presents. I know Santa Claus wouldn’t approve, but I’m not sure how much power he actually has once he’s made his trip. Yes, I’ve met Santa. Helped him and saved Christmas awhile back. I wouldn’t recommend it, because then I had Baby New Year looking for help the next year. Totally the wrong person for that.

So how could someone possible steal all the Christmas presents? How does Santa deliver all the Christmas presents? Magic, I think, but magic that involves freezing time or moving at superspeed. I don’t move at superspeed, ladies, but I remembered I had a way to freeze time. A broken Romanian clock tower. If only I knew someone with an amazing ability to make and repair small, toy-like objects.

I gave him some time to make all the proper arrangements, but Giuseppe surprised me by shooting me a message over The Order’s network, informing me he’d finished my little project. I didn’t expect it done so quickly, but the toymaker is a fine and shining example of pursuing one’s craft to such perfection it could kill someone.

“Remember, flip the switch on the base to activate it. Here, you will need these,” he told me as I left, holding out his hands. In one, he held a headband with a pair of fabric reindeer antlers on them; in the other a red rubber nose.

I stuffed the clock tower snowglobe in my purse and took the offered items. “I’ll need them?”

He nodded. “To protect you from the effects of the time freeze, as you asked for.”

Like I said, I don’t want to be frozen in time.

Having obtained my latest device to grant godlike power, I decided to test it. Say what you will about the Empire from Star Wars, but at least they checked to make sure the Death Star worked before trying to use it against the Rebel Alliance. While this didn’t set that good of a precedent for my own evil ambitions, it seemed solid advice for pretty much any evil ploy. It might even be in the Evil Overlord’s List.

To that end, I needed a target. I already wrecked a couple of big holiday displays, but perhaps it was time to get back into the original tricky spirit of things? When I began my spree as the Lord of Misrule, I gave to the poor, stole from the rich, and framed the guilty. Even though the natural response of society would be to take back the loot, they found that difficult since everything appeared to have been done out of order.

You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, and you can’t test a time-stopper without breaking a few nuts. Well, you could, but it wouldn’t be as fun as when I decided to go to the ballet performance of The Nutcracker. The seats for the closest section were more than $250 a pop, so I figured anyone there wouldn’t miss whatever money or valuables they had on them. It’s not about the money, though. At least, not for me.

It might be a bit of an issue for this bunch of orphans. I contacted a minimum-security orphanage as a donor who wanted to take them all out for the ballet, and got a short busload of children. Maybe sixteen, with a chaperone named Terry who seemed way too cheerful for someone putting up with that many kids on a daily basis.

To them, I looked rather like a gentleman in a suit with a large bodyguard. That’s because I made use of my armor and even found time to equip Moai with hologram technology. It’s been awhile since I made use of my portable holodiscs, so I threw together a belt and hat with a few preset designs he and I could choose from. Moai can’t wear his pukao with it, but he doesn’t bother taking that out on jobs anyway. It was nice to work on the older equipment like that.

“The theater is packed, but I have arranged for you to watch from backstage. Hopefully, it won’t take away from the magic of what you’re about to see.” I made holographic-me smile reassuringly and moved my satchel out of the way so I could sit down. While they looked at me, they didn’t see the trucks full of Buzzkills following the bus.

We did watch a bit of the ballet. I’d gotten them back with no trouble through my duel habits of handing out cash and handing out ass beatings. Don’t worry, I spared the children the sight. That way, they spent their time backstage admiring the dancers instead of crying. They found it wonderful. I enjoyed how tight some of the costumes were on the dancers. I got so caught up in it, I almost missed my entrance. During this big battle, the rat king stood off to the side while his rats fought with toy soldiers.

I disappeared from the kids and yanked the Rat King off stage, reappearing in his place, though the stage lights played havoc with the hologram. When I went out to fight the titular nutcracker, I stole some of his thunder with a beautiful high kick to the balls. The audience laughed at the show. The other dancers hesitated momentarily before the dancer portraying the daughter went ahead and threw her slipper at me.

I walked up and kicked her betwen the legs as well. That one wasn’t so much a nutcracker as a taco cruncher.

Another soldier dancer ran over, “What are you doing?”

Bam, nutcracked!

With everyone’s attention on me, they didn’t notice the Buzzkills filing in from the rear. A few guarded the exits; the rest moved forward to the most expensive seats. Moai led the children out behind me, but he knew not to let anyone drive off.

When everything seemed ready, I replaced my disguise yet again. The Lord of Misrule stood before the audience, some of whom gasped at the shocking turn of events. The Buzzkills got a nice reaction, too.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am the Lord of Misrule, and I’m here to spread a little holiday cheer. This is the season for giving, and I am the Lord of Misrule, overseer of these fun little winter solstice days. I and my associates are here to do some overseeing. Cash, jewelry, expensive purses; I want everyone in the expensive seats to hand them over. Remember, it’s far better to give, than to receive.” I finished up my speech by turning and kicking the standing nutcracker in his balls again, emphasizing what reluctant victims may receive.

The audience obeyed with little fuss. A couple tried to start something and found out how little tolerance the Buzzkills have for people after their near-extermination. Then they lost their goods anyway. Most of the rest acted like folks who could afford to replace the stolen possessions. It’s not like anything there was worth a lot to them, or to me. As I said, this was a test. The ballet’s the ploy wherein I’ll catch the quality of the toy, as Shakespeare may have said if he was a supervillain.

“Stop right there, fiend!” shouted someone, standing up. He dropped his jacket…though I don’t know how I missed him before. It was a man in a suit of power armor that completely covered his skin. Collapsible, perhaps? “Or face the wrath of the Invincible Ionman!”

His appearance wasn’t wholy unexpected. See, fighting crime as a superhero isn’t easy with a dayjob. For regular folks, they risk losing their dayjob because they ditched it, or they get to spend their sleeping hours to patrol. Many of the poor saps feel responsible for fighting crime just because they’ve got power, but it’s easier for people who don’t need jobs. Some supers even use their powers to get rich first, then to engage in vigilanteism. This all leads to a portion of the population with more representation from such folks than the average crowd of folks on the street. Such folks who might drop more than $200 to go see a ballet lasting under two hours.

I pulled a satchel out from behind me, “Oh, you’re right! How could I possibly stand agains tthe might of Irritable Bowel Man?!” I hammed it up to keep the attention on my while the Buzzkills escaped.

“Ionman!” he yelled back at me, pushing his way through the crowd.

“Right, the Dogtastic Iam’s Brand.”

“No, stop being childish.”

“I know you are, but what am I, Hunchbacked Igorman?”

Ionman finally got onto the stage. “I take no pleasure in violence, it is for lesser man, but I will enjoy defeating you.”

I threw up my hands. “You got me! Please, allow me to check my makeup bag so I can prepare for my unmasking.”

I turned away from him and the audience, opening the satchel. I unsealed my helmet long enough to slip the red rubber nose over my real one, then replace the helmet on my head. I slipped the reindeer headband onto my head. I whirled around, triumphant in my antlers and holding the miniaturized clock tower in my hand.

“What is that?” asked Ionman in a blue and yellow suit of plate metal with circuitry patterns. He held up a fist toward me. Something spun around his gauntlet, tiny airborne particles. Like pollen.

“I’ll answer that question in one second,” I said, then I flipped the switch on the front of the base. Time didn’t slow. Instead, an electrical current ran through my armor, giving me an unpleasant little zap. I shook, my muscles clenching up all over the place. Even in my sphincter. Especially in my sphincter. It stopped when the antlers blew out, but I got no respite from electricity. Ionman’s pollen dispersed and lightning struck me, originating from his gauntlet. I flew back.

When I stood up, the holographic system warned me of complete image disruption. My true face showed. I tried to cover it up. As soon as my holographic systems were capable, I projected other villains in my place, like Spinetingler, Spider, and The Oligarch.

“Oh shit!” yelled Ionman. Flame spurted out of the back of his armor and the bottom of his boots, carrying him into the rafters and out through a hole in the roof. My victims, those who hadn’t yet tried to run, soon decided the hero’s spontaneous fleeing made such action prudent.

Rather angry at the entire mess, I planned to tear a few entrails out of the audience for souvenirs. Problem was, Ionman found his balls. I stepped close to the edge of the stage and almost got caught when a fence made of bolts of electricity flashed down in front of me. Even just being around that kind of electricity screwed with my suit, and there were no gaps wide enough to slip out that way. A glance showed Ionman hovered on the other side, so I couldn’t reach him. I didn’t have any chickens or anything else on my to get through the gap either.

I was reduced to stomping out the back way, at least having completed my robbery. On the way, I noticed something different about the tower I still, somehow, held onto. A tiny flag flew from its top. It was a note: “This is why you do not ask the impossible from a man whose favorite tools you lost.”

Put down Giuseppe on the list of shit I don’t like, somewhere between your momma and your face. At least the last part of my plan worked out. Moai welcomed me back to the bus, where a seat was taken up with identical holiday present bags, one for each orphan. I feigned happiness again. “Well, that didn’t go as planned, but it’s all over now. There was a hero in the audience. I think he was called Florida Man. Now, as you see, I have some presents for all of you, but I want to keep the surprise until we get back, when you can all get a bag while exiting. Now, did we still have fun today?”

“Yeah!” some of the enthusiastic kids answered. They didn’t mind being involved in a robbery. They had an exciting day. They likely had a pretty exciting night with all the jewelry and cash from the audience victims, too. It almost distracted me from the news spreading via social media, which lit up with claims that various villains were the Lord of Misrule. So it looks like I covered my ass fairly well. Even in that mess, the truth could be mistaken for a lie, as Psycho Gecko was just one of about a dozen names being thrown around the internet.

Too bad, Giuseppe. Not a good stunt to pull. He almost exposed me to a lot of people. Trust me, no one wants to be exposed on a stage in front of a bunch of people.

And one last incident worthy of mention: on the drive to drop the kids off, Fortune Cookie texted me. For those who don’t recall, she’s the seer who called on me to stop the Romanian clock tower in the first place. In hindsight, I should have expected to hear from her. She knew last time it was going to be activated. She knew this time too, it seems. The message simply read, “Its 4 th best it didn’t work. 2 dangerous 2 us all. U look cute in the horns.”

She should be a masseuse, because she really knows how to rub it in.

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Local Politics 11

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When your superhero nemesis thinks you’re a businesswoman and minor villain of the opposite sex than she knows you to be, and then claims to need your help, you might expect she’d be Johnny on the Spot. Apparently, that’s how things work in your world. In this one, Venus took her sweet time getting around to me. Then again, that probably means my disguise is holding. She tends to give me top priority in our normal encounters, so it’s actually a good thing for her to ignore my womanly charms. My bosomy manners. My hiptastic entreaties, some might say.

I may not be IN lesbians with her, but I wouldn’t mind being lesbians with her. Wink, wink, nudge, nude, say no more, say no more. Actually, not sure there’s much else to say there unless I turn this into an erotic story. Then again, maybe it’d get me more of an audience.

So there I was, bosoms heaving, hair wild and untamed. I glanced at Venus from behind my apron, holding a full bottle of oil in one hand. “How do you like your…eggs?” I asked her.

She squinted. “I’m not hungry. Why did you ask me that way? Nevermind. I’m not staying for breakfast. I wanted to speak with you about what I mentioned the other night. Do you remember?”

I nodded and went back to fixing myself breakfast. A nice, balanced meal of eggs, grits, and country fried steak. My appetite’s been winding down a little bit without quite so much action going on, but I still like to pack it on. I burn a few more calories than most humans due to the cyborg parts, and it’s nice to build up a reserve anyway for the inevitable nanite regeneration. You wanna keep that mass, you better build up an ass.

“First, let me apologize for the delay. The Oligarch has a large group of villains at his beck and call, capturing my colleagues. They haven’t gotten me, not yet. So there’s a crime wave I have to handle without much help. Someone murdered a circus last night. We found six corpses this morning.” She hook her head as if to banish the thought.

I hoped she didn’t notice my snort. Six. They must not have looked in the clown car. I wanted to see how many clowns would fit.

Hey, I said I didn’t have as much action going on. Besides, they barely put up a fight. Ya know, if you call the snake lady trying to bite you a fight. Or something other than “kinda hot.” Too bad the dissection revealed her to be fake. Wish I could have seen the look on the face of whatever cop tried to use the restroom there at the crime scene. Once he looked up, I’m sure he didn’t have any trouble peeing, except stopping.

But enough reminiscing about fond times. “Sounds terrible,” I told Venus, checking on my gravy.

Venus paused a bit and I wondered if it was something I’d said. Then again, I hadn’t said anything that bad. After another couple seconds, I prompted her with, “You were saying you needed my help?”

“I should apologize for that. I shouldn’t frame it like I did. Oligarch, he threw me for a loop. Let’s drop the coercion. This isn’t about what I think I have on you. This is me sincerely asking for help from someone I hope and pray is unaffiliated. Plus turn around and look at me.”

I rolled my eyes, stopped stirring the gravy, and turned the heat down on it. When I did look, I found Venus down on her knees. Hey, maybe it’s not too late to turn this into an x-rated serial after all!

She actually got down and begged me. I mean, she didn’t know she was begging who she thought she was begging, but she was begging me. I took a picture and saved it. That one’s going on a Christmas card. Or into Photoshop.

“Please,” she said. “I’ll need help to stop whatever he’s doing.”

Huh. So it turns out I’m the undoing of The Order after all. Ok, yeah, I agreed. I think I have a weakness for Venus on her knees. Funny, I don’t usually give in when men or women are on their knees asking for stuff. Mercy. A little more time. A chance to make it right. Maybe Venus is just a special case like that. Or maybe it’s because I envisioned killing her and Oligarch off in one fell swoop.

I guess I’d somehow slipped into one of my little “Kill Venus” phases. I never can tell, day to day, what I feel about her. I’ve built her up in my mind, and a part of me knows that. She’s a hero; she’s my hero. But my hero can’t save me. Hell, now that I think about it, I know for a fact my hero fails to save me. Well, maybe the future invasion will go just fine with one fewer hero. Then again, that might also be why she doesn’t save me.

That’s it, I decided I’d go over to Fortune Cookie’s in person to ask her about that one. But first, I had to continue my mummer’s farce.

I turned back to my food, flipping eggs and breaded cube steak over. “Ok, ok…get up. You’re giving me too many ideas. First, no costuming. No being a hero.”

“But-!”

“But I might have safe houses, and few business ventures that could be useful for rearming. Maybe a communication network, unless Oligarch has randomly decided to intercept Double Cross emails.” I smiled to myself. I actually did have people at work building a bunker underneath Double Cross Headquarters, as well as a couple other sites. I’d say that you never know when you’re going to need a bunker that can withstand an alien invasion, but I actually do know. “You’re asking me to risk my life and livelihood. I have a lot of people to think of here. You go out and fight, you risk your life. If I go out and fight, I risk the life of every Double Cross employee, including their families.”

I glanced back at Venus, who now stood, arms crossed. She nodded. “That’s fair. I respect your dedication to your people’s safety. That’s not something I normally have to take into account with allies.”

I shrugged. “The mask isn’t my identity like it is with y’all. I wore it to get what I wanted.” I stopped, catching my tone. For a moment, I realized I sounded a bit like my usual self when talking to her. Not the voice, of course, but a certain condescension. I tried to cover it up. “That’s…sorry, I think I let these cook a little long..” I busied myself with the food some more. “I’ll talk to my assistant and arrange for what we talked about. Care for breakfast?”

I heard the terrace door open. “No thanks. I had a biscuit on the way here. There’s lots to be done.”

With her on her way gone, I couldn’t help but sing softly to myself, “You’re a tough little tadpole to love. Naughty lilies and lures; oh I was knocked to the floor. Never tasted as sweet a poison as you have. You’re an urge that can never be cured. You’re a bad little love and I’m yours. So trust me, trust me, darling dear. I’m so sincere; there’s no need to tear. Trust me, trust me, honeydew. Just like I trust you.”

I hummed the same tune when I attended the latest meeting of The Order. We’d graduated from a rundown community center to a hotel conference room. Lucky us! They even provided coffee for our band of nocturnal costumed criminals.

As for me, I scored major points with a few boxes of donuts. Well, except with a couple of villains. A tall, thin woman without a mask, in a barely-there tube top and short shorts said she couldn’t have any because of her diabetes. The razor blades dangling from earrings helped me identify her as Powder. Well, at least she’s not paranoid about “toxins” or “chemicals” being her food. I liked this little vein tattoo she had on the bend of her elbow.

The other guy, Roadkill, had plenty of tattoos of his own. I could only make out the ends of his sleeves under his jacket and the tattoos that climbed his neck. I pictured him as the sort to have them all over his head, too, but that was covered up by a metal mask that didn’t leave a clue about if he even had hair. He was a little husky, though, and his objection wasn’t diabetes so much as dieting. Good for him. Not easy to handle all that temptation in this day and age.

I distributed all but one box, which I kept to myself. Oh, come on, like that’s anywhere near the most evil thing I or anyone in the group had done.

Now, since I don’t like listening to Oligarch, I’ll skip past the boring stuff and just say that he wants to go public soon. According to him, Captain Lightning hasn’t been checking in as much lately. He’s had stuff to juggle in Syria. Oligarch wants The Saurus next, which is difficult because of how big the T-rex is. After that, he insisted Venus needs to go and we’ll be all set. The broad strokes are ready.

Two major heroes left to beat and imprison, and he wants to make a big announcement and declare the city his. I’m sorry, declare the city ours. I’m sure that little bit was just a Freudian slip.

Yeah, like I said, I had a whole lot of good reasons to barge in on Fortune Cookie, who had a nice little apartment above some New Age crystal shop. Fitting, I suppose. I knocked on the door for a solid twenty seconds with no answer. Maybe she wanted her privacy. Too bad for her, I climbed up the fire escape and crashed in through the kitchen window. She moved her bowl and kept on munching on cereal as I stood on the table and shouted. “Ta daaaaa!”

Fortune put down her spoon long enough to give me a polite golf clap. “Very good, Gecko.”

“Were you watching? Not easy to go through a window without getting hurt.”

“Very nice flip, Gecko.”

“Awww, you didn’t watch at all.” I hopped down and pulled out a chair, brushing off the glass. Sharp glass on a chair is a real pain in my ass. “Now, I haven’t been all up in your face this whole time. I know you don’t like me, what I do, how I do things, my body count, my company, and the people I’m working with. That’s obviously a bit of a barrier between us. But things are happening again. I need a bit of guidance, specifically about Venus. There are events happening, and I have to know the answer…does Venus die before the invasion? Or during it? Or, when I die, if I still die, is she alive?

Holy shit, now that I actually phrased it, I think I understand why Fortune Cookie’s clairvoyance powers are so complicated. Because, if I did things right, I no longer die. Or if I’m doing things right. And the answer to the question I’m asking Fortune depends entirely on the answer she gives.

Fortune put down her spoon and sighed. “There are so many reasons I can’t answer that.” She rubbed her forehead. “You are altering the future because you already know part of it. When everyone else acts, they act according to how they would have always acted. I can see them easily. Even you. Knowing the future upsets that. If I give you one answer, the future turns one way. If I give you another, it turns another. I can’t answer that question for you. I want to help you, but it’s hard to do that with you interfering.”

I picked up a piece of glass and tapped it around on the table. “Well that’s great. Everything I’m doing to keep that future from happening means I can’t keep tabs on it to find out how it’s going. I appreciate what you’ve tried to do, but is there actually anything else you can help me with?” After a second, I dropped the glass, trying to avoid any implied threats.

“Act like yourself, like you normally do. I will see clearly. But aside from that, there are still things I can tell you from time to time.” Fortune actually put her hand over mine.

“Broad strokes, then? Things I can know that won’t necessarily change?” I shook her hand off. “And you don’t have to worry about this false sympathy. What do you have for me?”

“I keep seeing an old insane asylum being blown up on Friday the 13th. Does this sound important?” She narrowed her eyes. Why do they call them almond eyes, anyway? It’s just nuts. Then again, terms like chocolate, mocha, coffee, and cocoa often get thrown around when describing non-Caucasians, so maybe it just goes back to the odd intersection of food and sex that some people have. Like sticking a cucumber inside an orifice somewhere. Yet another thing I don’t get about humans. I invented the dimensional bomb, but you sick sons of bitches invented analingus.

“When you say explode, do you mean a little bit, like survivable, or is this-?” I started, but she interrupted me.

“It’s big. Very big. Hard to survive.”

Great, so it looks like I have to save some damn heroes. Fortune Cookie is really right about me not acting like me. But it’d still help me to get those prisoners out of there. Speaking of analingus, what do you want to bet this asshole’s going to get a tongue-lashing?

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Down to Business 4

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I’m going to be honest, I miss running around in my armor and killing people. This secret identity shit gets old. I don’t see how so many supers do it. How does someone go from soaring through the sky or punching heads off to sitting at a desk, taking shit from someone who only cares about the bottom line?

Think about the most famous superheroes in comics, for example. Bruce Wayne’s a billionaire, and so is Tony Stark. Captain America doesn’t have a secret identity. Clark Kent’s gives him a certain amount of freedom, though Peter Parker takes a lot of shit. Then again, Spider-man always takes a lot of shit. Seriously, they treat him like an ant under a magnifying glass.

In real world terms, Captain Lightning keeps his secret identity to himself, but I don’t think Venus really has one. She has a real name and all, but she’s an orphan who has been raised at the Master Academy for some reason. I don’t know, maybe they got her when they failed to save her parents or something.

I bring all this up, because I strained against my own secret identity. I’d decided to go out to lunch and dragged Crash along too. That’s what I’ve shortened Crash Test Dummy to. She doesn’t seem to mind, but that’s not surprising after everything else she’s put up with from me. On our way back, some guy in a flight-suit looking costume flew this glider through the intersection ahead of us, followed soon after by The Saurus. The T-rex wouldn’t catch him, I’m pretty certain. Not with that many cars in the way and his monocle threatening to fall off.

I wish I had a T-rex.

Sadly, I couldn’t just pop on the armor and chase it down.

I did slip into it to deal with Technolutionary and Fortune Cookie, however. I had to modify it a little bit to account for the new curves on the inside being hidden on the outside. I didn’t really feel like letting Technolutionary know about my makeover either.

I called him up with the place he absolutely needed to meet me at. Lab Sigma, aka the one of the places I bought after everyone, or almost everyone, had jumped ship. Miss Jackson had shut it down rather than use the place. It had originally been part of agricultural research. Genetic modification of plants. Trying to make bigger ears of corn or bananas that are more resistant to viruses and fungal infections. It used to have protesters, but they stopped. Not because they realized they were wrong; because they thought they won when the place closed up.

They then presumably went home and enjoyed a heaping helping of aurochs, Mexican grasses, and small Peruvian tubers, just as they used to exist during the stone age back before cattle, corn, and potatoes were a thing.

It’s not like there weren’t good reasons to protest Sigma Labs. I read the files on this place. It started with good intentions. Who doesn’t want to create plants with all the amino acids necessary to make vegetarianism or veganism viable for most people? That’s a fine and dandy goal for anyone who doesn’t care about taste, but then you start mixing animal DNA with plants and before long people start trying to think up cattle that get all their energy through photosynthesis or nutrient-fixing wiener dogs. Even making it where endangered species can reproduce using spores or flowers. Which are also perfectly noble goals if someone wants to help the world.

I’m sure y’all can imagine where they went next. Of course there’s going to end up being a human affected by it all. The initially theorized ways to improve humanity. Make people hardier, stronger. Able to produce their own food, able to regrow their own limbs. Funny how everyone’s ideas on how to make humans better pretty much means making humans less human and more something else. More robotic, more plant, more animal.

Even when they aren’t as blatant about it as Hephaestus/Faustus organization, everyone’s trying to become superhuman.

Sigma Labs started on the simulations, which showed hypothetical success with embryos. Real life didn’t quite match these best-case models. They turned to improving already-existing people instead, with homeless subjects. Warm housing, three square meals a day, medical treatment, and a litttle spending money at the end of everything? They didn’t need a single involuntary subject. Then Spinetingler did what he did to the city. Staff went into comas, died, or just didn’t feel like coming into work with monsters roaming around the city.

Without anyone around to manage the food or the delicate ecosystem involved with having lots of people on immunosuppressants, things got a bit…nasty. One of the reasons they were so willing to sell out to us was our willingness to clean the place up as quietly as possible.

The one thing we couldn’t clean up was Wildflower. Or is it Wild Flower? I’ll go with the first one. Super names are one of those areas where punctuation is a big deal. From what I hear, the young woman appeared in the city after I helped run off Spinetingler. The catgirl with the tail of vine and thorns. I wonder what kind of secret identity she might have?

“You love the sound of your own voice,” Technolutionary said, leaning against the lobby desk. He patted the coat he’d arrived in, which served the purpose of hiding the armor he now proudly showed off. Fortune Cookie paced as if she heard the story before. With her powers, it’s possible.

“You do too,” I told him. Fortune Cookie cocked her head to the side and nodded. “And I like stories. That one could be important since this is your lab now.”

I led him through the place. “Some things got wrecked or stolen, but most of it should be here and in good order. You can choose whether you want to operate this place in the open or not, but you have no official connection to me at all.”

“This is great! I’ll move my stuff in immediately. Do you care if I work in the area until I have anything else I need?”

I shrugged. “Go ahead. I’m still on the down low here. Don’t drag me into it.”

He nodded, then brought his wrist up. A holographic display appeared and he punched a few buttons. “There’s one more thing I need from you.” He opened his hand on the wrist with the display and a metal needle extended from the tip of his ring finger. “A sample.”

Muttering, I unsealed one gauntlet and showed just enough skin. “Yeah, yeah, you get yours. But I want mine. An army of cyborg warriors to back up any other forces I’ve acquired.” I wondered briefly if the Buzzkills, the bee-humanoid warriors I’d taken from Japan, could be cyberized and improved as well. Then I decided against it. I need Technolutionary, but I don’t trust him. But I did have an idea. “And if I got you some other DNA, do you think you could quickly clone me something a bit nonhuman…like a dinosaur?”

“The Saurus,” he realized, eyes lighting up. Not a good expression in someone who is about to stick a needle into you. He found a vein easily and drove it in. Better a blood sample than a semen sample at this point.

I nodded. “Preferably with the ability to shoot lasers, and a willingness to have me ride around on his back. Think you can do it?”

“Ahahah! Yes, and it will be glorious. It’s not on mission, however. I’m not getting that DNA sample.” He pulled the needle out.

I covered the arm up and told him, “It’s on my mission. I’ll get it.” Then I looked around for Fortune Cookie.

“In here!” she called from back toward the lobby.

“If you have everything you need, I need to go have a chat with our mutual friend out there,” I told Technolutionary, who pulled a small capsule of blood out from a slot on his forearm. He didn’t pay me any attention and went to pull out one of the machines up against the wall.

Fortune Cookie waited against the door, head cocked toward it. I covered myself in a holographic civilian disguise and stepped out with her. She had a taxi waiting by the curb. Both of us stayed silent until we got in there, and I told the driver to drop me off at Double Cross Tower.

She spoke first, “You need something?”

“You hardly need to ask, do you?” I responded. “A telepath.”

She looked down, shaking her head. Below the view from the front, I pulled off my gauntlet enough to show the hole where Technolutionary took his sample. She sighed, then looked up. Her eyes went blank white for a moment, like a cloud flowed over them. When the clouds cleared, she leaned over and whispered a name, a place, and a time to me.

“What can I do for you, o Fortuna?” I asked her.

“Don’t go yourself,” she said. When I just looked at her, she followed up with, “It minimizes the body count.”

“If that’s your price…I am glad you’re helping me. Is there anything else I can do? I can arrange for a better hotel, shopping, fine dining.” The multi-directional view of my helmet showed me the taxi driver raising an eyebrow at that.

Fortune Cookie shook her head. “I don’t need more gifts from you, devil. I know what this is about and I’ll help you. I helped him.” She nodded back toward Sigma Labs with a screwed up look of disgust on her face. “Just do what you always do. Don’t give up. Fight them.”

When we stopped, she stayed behind, wanting no part of what she saw before her.

That was the evening before the first of the mysterious bombings began in Empyreal City. The Saurus once again chased after his latest foe, Free Radical, as the villain graffitied an art show and flew out of there on his glider. He earned his money. Free Radical escaped when a sidewalk tree exploded and knocked The Saurus down. Aside from the hero, several civilians were wounded.

In the middle of all this confusion, an individual stepped up. “Croikey!” she said, planting a khaki short-clad leg on The Saurus’s tail. “Now this is a big’un. I’m gonna have to be real careful stickin’ me hand up its bum, ’cause it’s huuuuuge!”

The Saurus’s tail lifted lazily before settling back down. “I feel you back there! Stay back, mammal. The pain…” He kicked his rear leg out, taking splashing me, the T-rex hunter, with water from a spray of water from a hydrant that had been knocked off. I wiped it over my eyes to relieve the feeling of smokiness over my face caused by a post-bombing haze that stunk of burnt meat and rubber.

I turned a doggy doo bag inside out around my hand and approached the downed dino. “Now, don’t be afraid. Tensing up will just make this mo’ difficult. Relax, and this’ll all be sphincterific!”

He did not find it very sphincterific, nor did Technolutionary enjoy finding a bag full of T-rex crap in front of his door at Sigma Labs. I would have lit it on fire, but that would have burnt up the note I left there explaining that I’d left his DNA sample in the bag. A container of blood. He just has to reach through the pile to get it.

Just because I’m working with Technolutionary doesn’t mean I’m above giving him crap.

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Stealing Europe 8: Heisting Epilogue

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The boat ride from Europe back to the States is giving me plenty of time to think. Here I am, still in the travel crate, tossing this little trinket up and down. It’s a snow globe, but a pretty resilient one, which is good. I keep dropping it.

As I realized last time, my normal course of interaction has to change…unfortunately. It’s a simple matter of logic. Prior to this whole invasion thing, human lives were cheap and expendable. I tossed them away for pleasure or money. Now, they’re still cheap and expendable. It comes with being stupid. Or, if not stupid, short-sighted, ignorant, and irrational. Trust me, I know all about rationality.

The problem is that I have to expend them to save myself from a fate equal to death. People always talk about fates worse than death being bad, but at least those involve the person being alive. Death is quite a bit more permanent than torture and humiliation.

Point is, lots of people I’d normally kill for R&R and S&G (respectively: rest and recreation, and shits and giggles) would be more useful to me as pawns to throw at my future enemies. Finally, a good excuse for why I never get around to trying to kill Venus! I mean, if I were to psychoanalyze myself, of course. She’s far too useful fighting evil by moonlight and finding love by daylight, all that jazz.

One example is that I called up that turkey shop in Paris to let them know Anatole had been wounded, but I could issue some orders on his behalf. They then put me through to Anatole who thanked me for his concern, but revealed he was in perfect health. The voiceprint matched exactly. I guess we know who had the terminator wannabe hanging out at Effelsberg.

Anatole informed me that he wasn’t the only survivor and directed me to a news story out of Germany. A private collection of World War I memorabilia had been stolen right from under the care of Manfred Mächte, of the famed Mächte family of supers. They traced their lineage back to Hauptmann Mächte, who fought the French and the British on the Western Front during World War I. The Hauptmann didn’t get a go at World War II. The Night of Long Knives got him first, as one of the few Reichswehr casualties from Hitler’s purging of the Stormtroopers. His death shook his son; those lingering doubts assisted him in his decision to keep his eyes open during the war when a lot of other people preferred to keep their heads down.

As I myself know, killing a lot of people tends to create a certain amount of fearful subservience in others. Supposedly, the Mächte family still kept the papers the Nazis meant to “discover” showing they had strong Jewish heritage if Hauptmann Mächte II didn’t cooperate.

I tell y’all all that to give you a sense of the value involved in all this and because I sometimes enjoy a bit of history. It is, after all, the closest thing we have to unbiased experimental results for human behavior.

Further, Anatole directed me to this because a Wild West wanted poster and a drawing of a cat were left behind. Buttero and Chat des Combes. They somehow survived and found a payday, too. Not only that, but I bet Chat loved sticking it to a German hero. There’s a longstanding rivalry between Germany and France. I think it goes back to Bismarck making the snail-eaters his bitch in the name of unifying Germany. No doubt that’ll turn into a fun little conflict for the thrill-seeking Chat and his new Buttero buddy.

That reminds me, I’ll have to get that tattoo of his name removed.

That settled the fate of most of the participants of the Effelsberg Incident. A quick search turned my attention toward a boat exposition in Denmark aimed at the wealthy and featuring a charity auction. An assassin attempted to murder an unknown target, only to be stopped and chased out by John Hall, a businessman representing United Exports.

Until I see photos, I can’t prove that’s the same one. While looking him up after all this, I’ve found rumors that the name is just a code name assigned to certain British secret agents after the previous one retires or dies. That explains why he’s been active since 1953 and why his accent changes over time. He’s sounded Scottish, Welsh, and even Australian in the past.

After that, I called up Carl to see how he was doing. He found some assistants to help out. The New Empyreal City has been shaken up enough that he could get a Mafia accountant and several personal assistants on the cheap. He told me got a lot easier when he started asking old prison buddies about what they used to do before getting thrown in jail. When word got around that my weird little corporation would actually hire convicted felons, that brought even more of them to my doorstep.

It was damn good initiative on his part. I told him I’d wished I thought of it. I suppose I should amend my prior statement on the idiocy of humans to note that they get some flashes of brilliance from time to time. The universe is a big place, with lots of space and time, and there are something like 7 billion humans; one of them is bound to get something right every now and then.

I had a pretty good little idea of my own, though. While he’s gathering up ex-cons, he could see if any of them can get things going in some of the places we bought up. Maybe start up a car mechanic that doubles as a chop shop, or see about repurposing some of businesses as convenient hiding spots. Preferably, he’d pick the ones who don’t want to reform, or at least the ones who are looking for a little safer sort of crime.

Then he told me about what the heroes have been up to. Long Life had moved into the city, setting up clinics in formerly impoverished areas and gentrifying those neighborhoods. So now the poor sections are getting all changed up. Not eliminated; just moved. See, renovating properties in bad areas of town doesn’t give poor people a nicer place to live. It just forces poor people out when property taxes and rents go up.

Forcelight has visited, but she’s still mostly sticking to Kingscrow, where Mix ‘N Max has her running around like a loon thanks to some fear formula he’s whipped up. Good job, Max.

Venus is still hanging around the big city, helping to keep it under control, only now there’s a branch of the Master Academy established in town that she’s been training. One of them even got into trouble at Rothstein’s Sports Bar when he got drunk and played a bunch of songs on the jukebox to get on people’s nerves. The villains put up with Tom Jones, Hanson, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Vengaboys was a step too far. He survived, which is the good news for him. Bad news is, Venus was really not happy to have to pick his drunk ass up from the local villain bar.

Another thing I did was check in on Fortune Cookie finally. She meant to get back with me about when the aliens would get in town. I wanted to give her space so she would answer that for me, and then I forgot. Everyone does it.

To my complete lack of surprise, she picked up as soon as it started to ring. “Hello, Gecko.”

“You know, if you can’t see the future related to your actions, how could you tell when I was going to call the number you gave me?” I asked. Either I was being a smartass, or I just didn’t understand some nuance of her power.

“It’s good to hear from you, even if you don’t understand the nuances of my power. Smartass.”

“Since you know so much about me, princess, how about you give me the million-dollar answer. Tell me when the aliens are going to show up and doom my ass. Or are you going to hide that information from me to torture me?” I tossed my little souvenir up, caught it, and tossed it up again, bouncing my toe. Moai glanced at me, then returned his attention to our in-trip movie. Keanu Reeves grabbed a big Mafiya thug by the beard and smashed his head into a table, then fired a couple shots into his brain at point blank range.

“I hate to disappoint you, but I can’t give you the exact date. They arrive in March. I can’t yet see when they decide to attack. They may have been going to send an advance force before then. Nobody gives me headaches like you do.”

An alien fleet appearing at some time within a month, and a possible advance force. Sure wish I had a giant radio telescope to help me keep an eye on outer space.

“Makes sense your body would dislike me so much it would give you a headache rather than risk the least sexual thought about me.”

“If you keep that up, I won’t want to help you.”

That’s new. Fortune Cookie didn’t like working with me last time, and that was saving the whole world. This time, we’re saving my life; a far more important task. I have to be sure she’s willing to go the distance. “You know that won’t be easy.”

“I am most certainly not going to see you day to day, and this is more important than your life.”

Now she’s just trying to insult me. She went on. With talking, that is, not insulting, “You need more help than I can provide. I have someone here you want to speak to.”

A surprise mystery guest. There’s very few people I wanted to talk to about this alien thing, and the out-of-breath voice of a man made it clear she hadn’t gotten a hold of Venus for me. “Hello again, Psycho Gecko. So good to meet you again. So very good. I knew you’d come around. Your friend said you would need my help. She’s right! You don’t have a lot of time.”

The voice sounded familiar, and he certainly sounded like the kind of coked-up manic-depressive I might have hung out with from time to time. “Hold up, howdy doody. Just to make sure I’m on the same page as everyone here, who the fuck are you?”

He giggled. “Oh you. You and I will work wonderfully together. It’s me! The Technolutionary! My armor is mostly repaired and I’m ready to take humanity into the future, kicking and screaming.”

Well, I did say I’d have to reevaluate how I deal with some of these nincompoops.

“Technolutionary. Interesting. It looks like you get what you wanted after all. Tell Fortune Cookie she did a good job. I’ll be back to the States soon, so try to meet me in Empyreal City before long.” I stopped tossing my little souvenir snow globe and looked at it.

“It’s about time you realized we needed each other. Trust me with your future, Psycho Gecko.”

I glanced down at the snow globe, which contained the shrunken clock tower from the mountains of Romania. It’s amazing how quickly you can make the trip when nothing wrecks your vehicles and leaves your armor mysteriously functional. Suffice it to say there are some things related to time I’m never going to understand. I think I’ll share that with the aliens. “Yes, it is about time, Technolutionary.”

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Time in a Bottle 8

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It goes without saying that I had to tie up a few loose ends. Our journey back didn’t take as long, if anyone’s wondering. Fortune Cookie and I took the snowmobiles back up until we found Moai, who caught a ride on the rental truck. Without the inexplicable aging effects of the temporal phenomena related to the now-averted disaster, we could ignore all those long words and just drive back.

Cookie relaxed quite a bit as we sighted Targu. She dropped her shoulders and rolled them over in the driver’s seat. She wanted to drive the way back, and insisted I sit in the passenger seat instead of anywhere behind her. I suspect she’d grown uncomfortable around me over the course of our trip, especially the part where I killed someone outside of self defense. Like with Mobian, she didn’t seem comfortable with the necessity of the action.

Clearly, she’s never worked a service job. Now, before y’all go calling me a hypocrite, remember two things: it’s not hypocrisy when I do it, and, technically speaking, being a hitman is a service job. And yes, it takes a special kind of idiot to complain about that service. Before y’all ask, yes, I’ve encountered some people like that. Fewer of them around than there used to be.

Speaking of that particular service, Cookie asked me about it. “Are you going to kill that man as you promised?”

I made a show of glancing over from my reclined seat. I’d kept my armor on, as usual, so I affected the gesture in deference to her. “He gonna die!” I said, putting aside the program compiling on my HUD. “Why? You want to watch? No, wait, you don’t want to watch. Otherwise, you’d have peeped into the future and watched it happen, wouldn’t you? How’s your hindsight? Fifty-fifty, or twenty-twenty? Five by five?”

“My vision is fine. Time doesn’t stop anymore, but you’re right. I don’t want to watch you kill more people. Do not try to tell me that’s a bad thing.”

I scooted over into her lap, putting my arms around her shoulders. “There there, puddin’. It’ll be ok. I won’t kill anyone else in front of you.” I turned to look out the windshield as she made a valiant effort to control the truck. “Hey, is that a hitchhiker?” I grabbed the wheel and gave it a small turn toward the side of the road.

There weren’t any hitchhikers, but Cookie grabbed the wheel anyway to keep us from kissing a tree. “Stop that! Get off me.”

Sad that she added the “me” to the end of that sentence, I moved back over to my side of the cab. “Fine, party pooper. So, anyway, about that ability to see the future…”

She stiffened up. She shook her head. “It’s a responsibility and a valuable gift. I don’t know what you want it for, but it can’t be good.”

“I believe it will be. It involves something I saw in one of those timeshifts that could be pretty important. You might want to know about it just because it’s interesting.”

Cookie kept one hand on the wheel, the other going to adjust her hair, then her coat, subtly edging toward her recovered pistol. It wouldn’t do her a whole lot of good with my in my armor, but I began to suspect by her body language that our intercourse was making her uncomfortable. If she didn’t have anything of value to me, I’d point out the uselessness of the weapon.

“It’s when I got sick. Thanks for your help there, by the way. I got a virus. Nothing communicable to you in case you had that on your mind. If you do, it’ll take a hell of a lot more talking to get something from the hot dog cart.” I pretended to peer out the window at the boring wilderness outside. Trees. Shrubs. Dirt. Natural light. Horrible place. “In trying to figure out what happened, I traced the virus back to an alien invasion fleet that had recently attacked Empyreal City. Why an advanced space-faring civilization would feel the need to conquer not just Earth but a part of Earth remains a mystery. But I won’t get the chance to find out because I am going to have died in the future. People who don’t like me would probably enjoy that bit.”

“I’m…sorry.” Cookie didn’t sound sympathetic.

I held up my hands. “Please, please, save your tears. Wouldn’t want you to die of dehydration over me.Besides, knowing it’s going to happen is a bit of a confidence booster. I know nothing gets me before then.”

“Actually…” she started. “The aliens could show up no matter what you do, but you might not be there. I’ve seen something like that happen before. Don’t take it for granted.”

That made sense. I should have remembered that bit from my own experience. I really should have remembered that. Then again, I’d been shot in the brain and emerged in a murderous rampage, so I guess I should allow myself a bit of slack.

It’s rather difficult to think about anything other than how to kill people in the middle of such a rampage. After all, if you could think of anything else, it’d be a murderous but somewhat contemplative rampage. “I’m going to rip your teeth out through your navel, but have you ever considered what the Dao De Jing says about the pursuit of knowledge? Long story short, you’re not going to need that brain I’m going to kick out of your face.”

“Well, thank you for destroying my peace of mind. Why can’t people ever let other people live with a comforting fantasy? Oh, wait, that’s right. Believing in said fantasy could cause me to take actions that directly result in my death.” Fake hysterics finished, I lowered my voice. “If you want to drop me off back where Moai and I stayed, that’d be fine. I’m sure you’re eager to get as far away as possible. You know, in case you wanted to let me know when that invasion happens by phone instead.”

As tense as our parting was, Mobian didn’t even show up to say bye. Some people really aren’t team players.

Thus began my stalking of a Romanian politician. Accuse me of being sentimental, why don’t you? I figured I owed it to my prior victim to kill the person that ruined his life. Pissed as I was when I took out the guy in the tower, I never caught his name. At least I got his kid’s name, as well as his grandkid. Plus, turns out Romanian parliament members, or PMs, don’t get into car accidents every day. I mean, they’re not like the Russians, after all. Though, of course, they issued a statement condemning the recent Neo-Mongolian invasion.

He was one of the younger ones. Not from money or anything, though I may be judging him according to the American ones I’ve been exposed to. Unfortunate incident in an airport men’s room once with a Congressman from Alaska. Fellow had an accident, things got covered up, and then his constituents began complaining about him changing votes and hanging them out to dry.

If it hadn’t been for the conspiracy, I think I’d have found a way to kill him that didn’t involve talking to him. I was busy, after all. I needed to figure out where I was going next. Options are somewhat limited with my translation program FUBAR. For those who don’t know, that stands for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. So off Moai and I went to Bucharest.

I picked him up in a taxi just outside the Parliamentary place. Well, Moai picked him up. I was the obnoxious guy who tried to cut in ahead of the PM and steal his cab. “That’s mine!” he said indignantly at who he thought was just another guy in a suit with a laptop case. That’s because this time I didn’t have my armor. It had needed cleaning and airing out.

He head of brown hair with bangs that swept to the side. Handsome enough face, except for a slightly thick nose and a mole by his lip the same color as the rest of his skin. He wore a suit and an annoyed expression that marred his face.

“Can we share? I’m late for my meeting with the American ambassador.” I smiled at him. Namedropping couldn’t hurt.

He adjusted his coat and said, “Yes, fine, but don’t leave without paying.”

I held the door open for him as he got in. Poor fellow. I fully intended to stiff him. When I slid in after him, I noticed him gaping at our driver, a large statue wearing a turban and sunglasses. I shook my head and buckled up. “Way to look racist, Moai. Now, let’s get our friend here to a nice secluded location for a little talk.” I glanced at the PM and gave him a winning smile.

“Fuck that!” He reached for the door and tried to open it. I pointed to Moai, who saw us in the mirror and hit the hydraulics. I expected it and wore my belt. He didn’t and…uh…didn’t. After bouncing his head off the ceiling a few times, he settled down enough for me to strap him down. For his own safety, of course. If he ran off too soon, I might just have to kill him and get it over with. I didn’t want to resort to that. It wouldn’t be fun. I had ideas in mind, starting with handing him a bottle of teriyaki glaze and telling him to put the lotion on his skin or else he gets concussed again.

I took him alive to ascertain if a conspiracy existed. I wouldn’t have considered it except for the change in his voting patterns. If there’s even a chance I get to kill more people in this country, I’d like to take it.

Extracting the information proved boring, however. I sat down across a table from him in a darkened room and gave him my least homicidal smile. I slid a sandwich across to him. “Now, you’re in a bit of trouble, but it’s not the end of the world. It almost was, though that’s been averted. All we’re doing now is filling in some blanks in what we know. Come on, help me out, and we’ll get you out of here in a hurry.”

I felt reasonably assured of his truthfulness when he gave me the story of a sad accident on a wet road with a couple drinks in him that allowed his political enemies to help him out for a price. I know, right? It’s so very disappointing.

He made a much better headline. “PM assaulted by horse dildo attached to passenger train while lubed, tied to tracks on all fours.”

Sometimes, being a bad guy is not about money… it’s about sending a message: everybody’s fucked. Hard. So buy new Double Cross brand lubricant.

Double Cross Lubricant: anything, anywhere.

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Time in a Bottle 7

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***Connection established***

Because of course it was, readers. What’s a little bullet to the head compared to the pure, unadulterated badassness of knowing I survive long enough to die in an alien invasion? To be fair, even I had my doubts there in the coma. Or I probably did. Hard to keep track of that. Good thing I loaded up on nanites while dealing with my little viral invader.

Seriously, good thing. Dying isn’t really on my itinerary if I have any say in the matter, now or in the future. Y’all know why. So after reviving from the dark nothingness of being kinda sorta maybe almost possibly dead, I took a bit of a break to make good and sure I was over it. It was a lot like that time Miss Tycism hexed me, except hers made me experience conscience thought, which allowed me to figure out I was dead. This was just being nothing. Not having thoughts. Not existing, at least as far as my consciousness was concerned.

Then I got angry. I’d certainly say I have a reason or two, though I can find plenty of other excuses. To start with, the bastards didn’t even bury me. Oh, and they looted my armor. Those role-playing bastards! Well, it’s time for the obligatory recurring boss battle, bitches.

Of course, keep in mind that I’ve had some time to reflect on these events, and my mindset at the time wasn’t quite so lighthearted.

Naked, freezing my ass off, hungry, and wielding a whip, I set foot outside the door of the hut they left me in and found a large wolf. It licked its chops. “Come at me, Lon Chaney, and I’ll make you look like the Phantom of the Opera.”

When I approached the door to the infamous clock tower a few minutes later, it was with a few new scratches but a warm pelt to cover up partially. A little torn, and split in some places, but better than going naked. They certainly hadn’t left anything better on the snowmobiles and their sled trailers. Whatever problem they’d had getting in, the doors stood wide open now. Why would they lock up? They captured or killed the perceived threats. Unless the various monsters broke in. That’d be a shame. We wouldn’t want any monsters in the clock tower, now would we?

Actually, yes we would.

I entered with great care and caution: I charged up the steps, waving my fetish store weapon in the air, accompanied by the song “Bad Clown is Back”. I took stairs two at a time, wondering if they had anybody guarding that low down. Up one set of stairs, up another to the left, and then a third one to that left noting the occasional drop of bird crap every once in awhile. After traveling clockwise up a clock tower like that, I found a landing with a dull brown skeleton laying on it.

I went to kick it and hurt my toe on old metal. Seems the old clock used to be guarded by clockwork of a sort. Or someone got intimately acquainted with the bronze age in a whole new way thanks to time shenanigans. Time…shenanigans! Shenanigans in time! Sorry, for a moment there, I imagined an 80s tune in my head.

Besides, the next person to say shenanigans deserved to get…well, I didn’t have a pistol to whip them with, but at least I had a whip. I suppose that could be useful for whipping of some sort.

Back at the time, I figured I’d do more than just whip whoever I ran into, and made a valiant effort to keep that anger going as I continued up the clock counterclockwise. I steadily rose into the belly of a mass of old machinery. None of it moved, so I didn’t miss anything. I guess you could say I was worried I’d be late.

Ba dum tish.

Turns out I’d been closer than I expected. Squeaking and creaking began from higher up, descending to meet me. Human voices called out as well, but I don’t think they knew about me at that time. That changed after three more sets of stairs, where a guard stood on the fourth landing, calling up in a language I couldn’t understand.

I figured my translation program got fried in all the excitement, or I lost it with the reformat.

The guard spotted me out of the corner of his eye and turned. He shouted some more to whoever listened up above and went to raise his hunting rifle. I had already swung the whip, knocking it to the side. A loud crack and muzzle flash accompanied a shot that hit nowhere near me. He didn’t get off any more shots. The next time he tried, the whip wrapped around the gun and I snatched it away, reaching the top of the stairs.

He tried to dodge away from me, but I pushed him over to the edge of the landing. He twirled his arms, trying to reverse his balance. I grabbed one of his arms. Perhaps not knowing me or just not caring, he let me and then tried to throw his weight forward. I pulled when he did so and launched him face first into the wall. He staggered back, probably a bit fuzzy. Figuring he couldn’t understand me anyway, I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “There there. This way to the medical tent, comrade.” Then I showed him a shortcut to the doctor’s that involved him walking off the edge of the landing anyway.

I guess they shouldn’t have called it a landing then. A departing, maybe, but not a landing. That’s what he did on the floor instead.

About that time, the squeaking had reached me and I noticed the cogs beginning to turn in the middle of the shaft. I also heard shouting from higher up, and looked up to see the faces of other guards, including the bastard who shot me, all looking down. I raised my whip to the sky. “You’re all going to die in here!” I promised them loudly. That drew more shouts

I looked for a shortcut, too, figuring I needed to get my ass in gear. Or, more specifically, on gears. I wrapped my whip around my waist like a belt and jumped for a cog hanging close to me in the middle of the shaft. Unlikely that pansy Batman, I have no trouble jumping small gaps out of costume.

I scrambled up the gears, careful not to lose fingers or toes. Ever been mountain climbing? Try mountain climbing where the mountain is constantly moving and can crush you if you stay in one place too long. I pretty much immediately regretted my decision to take that route, instead hoping the next contestants on Romania’s Next Top Corpses would meet me halfway.

Three of them waited on the fifth landing up from where I jumped. There they were, sitting around, training guns on the only way I could get up there while I tortured my arms and legs sneaking up to their level. Hunting rifles instead of anything military grade.

I meant to land behind them as silently as possibly, but I skidded on the stairs and bounced off the wall. The thud alerted them, but they didn’t react well to the whip flying toward their faces. I didn’t whip them, I just tossed it. Anything vaguely snakelike being thrown at a person’s face tends to make them flinch, unless you’re a porn star.

I kicked the middle guy in the balls hard enough to knock him on his ass. I poked the one on the right in his eyes and grabbed the other one by the balls. Treat your enemies like you would treat life. When I pulled back my hands, I had a pair of eyeballs shishkebabbed in one hand and a pair of nuts in the other. But at least I put them back. The guy on the right dropped to the ground with a gonads in his sockets, while the one on the left held his crotch as he tried to get used to the new additions in his scrotum area.

The third guy took one look at his buddies and decided that getting the hell out of there was the better part of valor. I grabbed my whip and tried to crack it overhead to speed him on his way. Still not that good at cracking a whip.

Nobody obstructed the remainder of my ascension to the top room until one of the corner landings ended at a door. You know, I really expeced a lot more guards there, but that turned out to be the height of their resistance. Like the body back at their trucks, maybe they’d been killed off by others. I couldn’t recall the face of the guy who shot me enough to tell then if I’d encountered him already.

I banged a fist on the door to “Shave and a Haircut”. “Alright, you assholes! Turn off your clock before I have to clean it for you!”

The door opened and I then I found the guy who shot me, pistol leveled at me. I dove over the edge and this time he missed. I know I probably seem like a badass with a whip, but I’d been getting by on hope, luck, and the weapon’s simplistic design. Then again, a whip isn’t much of a weapon.

So even though I didn’t have time to aim for any particular piece of machinery, I did a hell of a lot of flailing. I suppose I also thought I had inevitability on my side. Either way, when my arms failed to catch hold of anything, the whip wrapped around a gear rotating parallel to the ground.

Ideally, he’d have thought I fell. From the bullets whizzing by and ricocheting everywhere, I got the distinct impression he knew where I was. I’m just glad the gear wasn’t too slow. Though, from the way he shot me in the ass and leg, it clearly didn’t rotate fast enough. Gritting my teeth and growling to myself, I realized I needed a way to surprise the guy. Or at least something else I could throw at him. If everything went well, I’d probably get one shot while he had one shot.

When I came around again, he saw the whip dangling from the gear, then quickly adjusted his gear as I limp-ran along the top. Even hunched over like I was, I had enough momentum to give the balled-up wolf pelt a good throw. It soared through the air only a short ways before opening and obstructing his view of me. That covered up my further run and another dive. I skidded off the floor of the landing, skidding and partially converting to Judaism. On the plus side, the results of that skid also gave me a higher range on my singing voice. Or is that higher pitch?

Either way, at least I got on there and got close while he blew a hole in the pelt. When I came up, I grabbed his hand and twisted the wrist sharply, forcing him to drop the weapon. My open palm came up and caught him under the chin. He would have stumbled back, but I kept a firm hold on his wrist and pulled him toward the edge. One good throw sent him a little too far into the inner workings of whatever device had been set in motion.

It ground his bones, and itself to a halt.

Limping, bleeding, scraped, naked, and pissed off, I stepped into the room.

The Mobian was just removing the handcuffs around his wrist and helping Fortune Cookie with hers. “You were right it seems.” Looking to me, he said, “Jolly good distraction. They put your stuff over there.” He pointed over to a dais holding a panel with a wheel holding a series of circles. Astronomy, perhaps? Behind it, a gyroscope with dozens of rings vibrated, but otherwise stayed still. The rotor in the middle looked spherical and glowed a faint green. It made quite the grinding noise to the chagrin of an older man who stood nearby, trying various switches on the panel.

Beside all of that sat my armor in a pile and a set of tools.

“Cool, just what I need.” I walked over, ignoring the panicking man, and checked for my syringes. None in the pouches. But I did spot them behind the pile, not too far away from a cot. On it sat an empty syringe and the dried remnants of pink goo. The nanites are programmed to break down and expel organic matter that isn’t me or any part of my implants.

I injected myself and pulled on my armor, ignoring Cookie and Mobian’s attempts to talk the old man out of his course of action. I couldn’t understand Cookie or the man, but Mobian had some sort of universal translator thing going on because I could hear him. You know the drill. “Blah blah blah, think of what you’ll do to the world, blah blah blah, Nothing justifies this, blah blah blah.”

I tested out my gauntlets, and smiled to myself as the energy sheath appeared with no problems. Then I walked over and smashed my fist into gyroscope’s rotor. The grinding noise stopped as the sphere itself blew apart in the direction I’d punched. I turned to the now-silent trio. “I’m sorry, did I interrupt your talk?”

The old man looked at me with sunken, reddened eyes. Whatever he said, he spoke softly and in a language I couldn’t understand. I looked to Cookie. “Can I get a translation? Had a bit of a data loss recently. Also, good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you too, Gecko. Sorry for not saying so earlier, but it was more important to stop what was happening. Besides, I knew you would show up.” She smiled at me. I waved my hand forward, urging her to get on with it. “He said that this is his life’s work, and it doesn’t matter if you destroyed it. He will rebuild.”

The Mobian put his hand on the old man’s shoulder. “This isn’t you. You were never like this and you don’t have to be.” The old guy shook Mobian’s hand off his shoulder and muttered to himself.

Cookie stepped over and translated more quietly for me. “He said that Mobian doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a son and grandson in a simple, stupid car accident.”

Mobian shook his head. “No, I don’t, but I have lost many friends and companions over thousands of years. Everyone mortal faces death, and I can’t be there to save everyone. I shouldn’t be there to save everyone.”

The man whirled on him, holding a finger up right in Mobian’s face. The gangly time traveler swallowed heard as he heard out the verbal assault. “I trusted you. You saved me from the camp, and I saw you other times saving the world. You were a god to me. A false god.” She declined to translate what the old man spitting on Mobian meant, but I picked that one up by context. “You can’t save everyone, but I can. I can prevent anyone from ever dying again.”

“You would prevent anyone from ever living again, too.” Mobian said. I could tell that even though the old man’s scheme had flaws, his accusations stung.

“Translate for me?” I asked Cookie. She nodded. “Who was responsible for your son’s and grandson’s deaths?”

The old man glanced my way. Cookie dutifully translating between us. “A Parliament Member. He didn’t go to jail. The police determined my son was in the wrong. But I know Marius would never be so reckless. Mihai was in the car.”

I nodded. “I can see to it that he does get punished for what he did to you. I understand how you feel. Something bad like that happens and your world ends. Your world stops, but everyone else’s keeps moving on. Everything moves too fast and before long you feel like you’re in another world entirely. You want to keep a hand on it. Am I in the ballpark?”

The old man heard me out, then nodded.

I shook my head. “I can’t let you stop the world. That’s why I did what I did.”

“You can’t take my knowledge away from me. Send me to prison. I will find a way to do this thing if I have to tell everyone how. Somebody will follow through for me.”

Mobian spoke up again. “Don’t. You can move on from this.”

“The world can move on, but I am too old,” said the man.

I stepped closer to the old guy. “Moving on is not required, but I can end your suffering.”

Mobian shouted “No!” but was too late as I grabbed the man’s neck and snapped it like a brittle twig. I let the man drop as Mobian continued his hysterics. After a few seconds of that, he began pounding on my chest. It became difficult to believe this guy ever worried anybody. “You didn’t have to do that! I could have saved him.”

“You can’t save everyone,” I reminded him. I glanced back at Cookie and the device. I made sure to get a real good look at the device in case I missed anything earlier. The design on that part could come in handy if anyone could scale it way, way down. I held out my arm for Cookie, who slipped hers into it, her head downcast. We left Mobian there to sob beside the dead man.

“Could you have killed him?” I asked her as we made a much slower and safer descent.

She shook her head and whipped a tear away. What’s with all the waterworks around here?

“Then that is why you needed someone like me.”

Halfway down the tower, we came across the blinded man crawling slowly to what he hoped was safety, whimpering to himself with each step. His friends had left him behind. I kicked the side of his head and sent him off the edge to a screaming death.

Cookie stopped to gawk at me. “Was that necessary too?”

“No, that one was fun.” I held up a hologram of a ticket with holes punches out under all but one skull. “And now that I’ve got that one, I’ve won a free food gift card from the Targu Secuiesc funeral parlor. He died so that I may enjoy a sub sandwich. Truly, that soldier was quite the giver.”

Cookie took my arm again on our descent, but muttered to herself. “He gave ’til it hurt.”

Now she’s getting into the spirit of things.

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Time in a Bottle 6

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Behold, the majestic giant clock tower in the ass end of nowhere! Look upon its strong stone base carved right from the mountain. Marvel at its giant door barricaded by some guys. As if that could stop me.

Actually, it might. I think that time spent in the future gave me a virus. Yep, totally the future thing. Nothing at all to do with being strapped to a bed by a vampire. Though, seriously folks, if you’re going to have sex with dead things, always wrap it up. Remember, a penis bag could prevent you from needing a body bag.

I thought I was mostly fine after getting out of that timeshift zone and didn’t notice any problems even running from some prehistoric knee-high raptor thingies. Then I reached the little village here at the base of the tower and got sick. I didn’t like the idea of laying around another so-called abandoned village, but I also didn’t like the idea of shitting my pants. It might ruin the delicious chocolate pudding I hide back there.

At least the clock workers didn’t have time to pack up all their cots before we got there. We didn’t actually see them, which worked for me. I needed to lay down and pump myself full of juicy nanites, ready to flood my system and repair damage at the cellular level.

Would have been real nice if they’d worked. The damage didn’t physically exist, not even to my cybernetic components. Heck, I could have even altered the nanites to handle damage to my armor, but that wasn’t it, either. The hardware was fine; the aliens fucked up my software. Most people won’t understand, but it’s rather difficult to work through the programming of your own eyes, brain, and other body parts. You ever try to code a spleen? I didn’t think so. Most of y’all don’t even know what a spleen does. Well, I got that baby back in order and pumping out hot espresso in no time.

Here your programmers are excited about video games and there I was debugging my pelvic splanchnic nerves. One wrong ganglion and I could have had a bowel movement so large, I’d have been lucky to have any bones left.

Things got a bit trippy there; at some point I had to chase a rogue line into the language center and wound up speaking in faux-Shakespearean English. That’s the language center of the brain, not the language center of the pelvic splanchnic nerves. Those things speak a language all their own. If the saxophone plays the language of the heart, then the best instrument for contacting your pelvic splanchnic nerves is the percussion burrito.

I worked on that and pulled my armor off, prompting Cookie to throw snow at me to try and clean me up. It wasn’t an ice thing to do to me. “Forsook, thou dost not throw snow at mine crotch, you fusty nut with no kernel.” I glared at her as I injected a nice helping of nanites into my neck. I’d rather have them around in case of organ failure so they can keep things running.

“Did somebody just quote the Bard?” asked Mobian, stepping into the room.

I “Eek!”ed and held the loose snow over my crotch as if to shield my delicate privacy. “Thou sayest what?”

“You have a problem, sir.” Mobian pointed at me, then turned to Fortune Cookie. “Hello again. I’m glad you two finally made it. What’s with him?” He directed the question at Cookie who rifled through her pack for a bottle of water she sipped.

Since she was preoccupied, I answered the question about me directed at her on her behalf. “Sick. Went through a timeshift and caught a virus from the future. Hey, I fixed the Hamlet-wannabe sound. Drink up, me hearties! Aw jelly-boned crud buckets. I sound like a pirate!”

The Mobian looked at me, then began to smile. He tried to fight it even as he told me, “Oh. I hope you turn out fine. It would be a shame if you died.”

Cookie glared at him. “He got me here, which is more than I can say for you. You left us back in the town.”

“I was coming back, but by then you already left. In the future, be more patient. We have all the time in the world.” The smile he flashed her looked far more convincing than what he forced out for me, but it only pissed Cookie off.

She walked right up to him and poked him hard in the chest. “No, we don’t. We don’t have a lot of time. I don’t know how much anymore because we’ve gone forward and backwards in time so much on the way up here. I don’t even know what year it is anymore. We need to get to the top of this clock tower.” She pointed at the wall in the direction of the clock tower.

Mobian nodded. “We should start now and leave your friend to catch up.”

“He’s sick,” she indicated me with her hand. “Let him rest, then take us right to the top. Be more patient.” She threw his words back at him.

“About that, you see we have a tiny problem. You see, this tower is the epicenter, right? Right. It’s all very complicated and I don’t have time to explain everything. Only, you see, my ship, the Stridar, can’t seem to go up there.”

“Too much rum gave ye the whiskey dick,” I added.

Mobian didn’t even glance at me. “Shut up, you.”

“You stayed here doing nothing all this time when you could have picked us up, so now we have to hurry up there without the guy we need.”

While they went back and forth on that, I had to crunch some numbers. As advanced as those aliens had to have been to reach earth, they still had to work within the limitations of human programming to make anything compatible with human operating systems. It’s like giving yourself a partial lobotomy because your brain is incompatible with the locals. But what could I possible know about that?

I ran into a bit of trouble when it looked like it would jump to the organics. I’m pretty much the only person on earth that could happen to. Instead, I managed to trap it. It involved priorities. It had its straight. I had its figured out. Ah, the limitations of artificial intelligence in the face of chaos and irrationality. It reminds me of that time I was hired to slay the Roko Basilisk. Pissed off a whole bunch of transhumanist uber geeks. I have no problem with nerds and geeks on their own, but there comes a time when an obsession becomes so intense that you’re rejecting reality in favor of it.

Not that I’d know anything about that, either.

So even though the transhumanist people got all outraged, they couldn’t even have me prosecuted. It wasn’t murder because that involves a human victim. It wasn’t animal cruelty because that involves an animal. It wasn’t even destruction of property since none of them wanted to come forward and claim it wasn’t sentient. If you ask me, it wasn’t much of an artificial intelligence anyway. It just played the Sims all day, making people resemble anyone who didn’t like it, then torturing them.

I swear, you’d think I was giving those transhumanists a heart attack.

Holy crap, I was having a heart attack. Nanites, away! Meanwhile, I continued ignoring the argument between Mobian and Fortune Cookie to concentrate on my parts, particularly the cybernetic portion of my brain and my spinal cord. That’s right, I have a spinal cord, meaning I technically do have at least one sympathetic fiber in my body. Some might say I have at least two; a parasympathetic fibers.
That’s just a little anatomy humor for y’all. You know there’s going to be more coming.

There was the little bastard. Rewritten code. Gibberish that screwed up the functioning of my heart valves. I took over manually while reverting the code. Nanites repaired the dead muscle tissue.

I performed a quick check of my autonomic functions. Balls fine, bladder, kidney, ass, intestines. Crap, my heart was screwing up again, but this time from an excess of adrenaline in the system. Way too much. I breathed in and out way too fast, but hardly took in any air. Motherfucker! I will murder this virus and feast upon its code!

I moved even more quickly through the system, shutting off the flow of adrenaline completely while I tried to clean up the adrenergic storm, which sounds like an awesome band name. “Tonight, for one night only, hold onto your panties as we introduce Adrenergic Storm!” They’d totally play “Through The Fire And The Flames”.

I had a moment to think on the solution while my body attempted to stabilize most of the physical symptoms. Because I’m awesome, and because this all took place much faster than activity outside my own body, and because adrenaline surges slow down the perception of time. But mostly because I’m just that awesome.

More problems cropped up in the spinal cord. The modification I’d made to give myself remote control over my limbs in case of paraplegia or quadriplegia acted up, too. I was hitting myself. At least I knew why I was hitting myself. The heart operating system had been corrupted again. Jinkies, a clue!

I found the bastard code having settled in to my central nervous system registry files, having written itself in to come back after any modifications, including reversions, to the other stuff. That’s when I noticed I had wifi up again. The thing tried to spread outside of me. Uh uh, buck-o. Not when Captain Mega Asskicker The Ultimate Psychopomp Cornelius Gecko the Great is handling things. It’s time to chew bubblegum, kick ass, and take names. It’s time to layeth the smacketh down upon thine candy ass!

At least the bitch of a virus couldn’t crack the interdimensional transceiver. That thing’s set up in a format and encryption from my old world. The only way data gets out that way without my say-so is a timer connected to its own local log only accessible through my organic components. A deadman’s switch, you could say. If I go too long, at least it’ll tell as much of the tale of my death as possible before I get there. Luckily, I haven’t had to make much use of that one outside that time Shieldwall almost killed me in Empyreal City. I don’t even know when it’ll send stuff with how this trip has been going.

At the very least, I won’t just disappear and leave people wondering what happened.

That shouldn’t be the case with this virus, but it worried me. Fucker spread way too fast. And, as I realized when I tried to clean it out of the registry, it could come back about as fast as I scooped it out.

Damn thing had a message, too. An attempt at subliminal messaging, as if that’d work. Obey. Serve. Give in. Surrender. Pave the way.

Bitch, like I’m that easy.

I still had an ace up my sleeve, but a potentially dangerous one. Reformatting back to my old system. As in, before I got to this version of Earth. Whole different way of storing and connecting files. Some stuff might not be there afterward, but most of it should be. I figured I could check through and recover the data that didn’t have any nasty surprises waiting for me, then do a quick repair of affected programs. It would all be isolated, unable to spread, until I gave the order. Even if I did clear infected files, I think our little virus would soon find itself incompatible with the new way of doing things around here.

That also meant I’d have some problems with a few functions. You know…seeing, hearing, breathing, pumping blood, shitting, and cleaning my own blood. Minor inconveniences, obviously. At least I still had the adrenaline surge on my side. I swept through my own nervous operating system, rendering it all unavailable and unreadable.

I briefly wondered if Cookie might try to give me mouth to mouth when she noticed I wasn’t breathing, but pushed that to the side while dealing with my imminent demise. Kissing could come later, when I live to tell about it.

I focused on my core, heart, and lungs first. Had to keep the power core contained, the blood flowing, and the air moving.

After that, I had a lot of systems to check, like the stomach, liver, and pancreas. Oh, and the bowels. My small intestine was fine, but the malicious bugger had buried itself in my large intestine and my rectum. Rectum? Darn near killed ’em!

Told you I had more coming. Speaking of coming, I checked the gonads. Luckily, the virus didn’t have the balls.

I didn’t worry about my eyes and ears until last. For those keeping track at home, the ears aren’t part of the autonomic system, but I still have parts of them cyberized so I can handle loud noises like rock n’roll and explosions. Insert gratuitous Iron Maiden here.

All in all, I purged myself of the foreign invasion, and even avoided brain damage in the process. That’s really important. Some things are even more thorough at screwing up data than a virus.

Feeling like my usual awesome self, I sat up, pumping my fist in the air. “Aha! I am invincible!”

Except it’d been awhile since I checked in with reality. Over by the door of this shack we’d huddled in stood Mobian and Fortune Cookie with their hands up in the air, men with guns standing around them. One of them stood right in front, training his pistol on Cookie and taking her smaller pistol away with the other.

he whirled flashloud-

***Connection lost. Archiving transmission. Preparing transfer. Transfer complete.***

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Time in a Bottle 5

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So there I was, strapped down to a bed. The pale beauty straddled my waist, her midnight black hair hanging down between us like a curtain surrounding her ageless face and hungry eyes.

This part wasn’t a dream, by the way.

The deep ebony eyes of the woman who looked down on me stared into mine, drawing me in. It felt like staring into a deep well and seeing, far below, the dark water. Feeling, like you do at times, that you want to jump down. She smiled, a cute little grin that showed her elongated canines. I love a cute smile. It’s all about the corners of the lips.

Glowing red dots emerged from deep in the twin darkened wells, boring into me. “Don’t scream,” they seemed to tell me, as if I intended to, “it will all be over soon. Just not soon enough.”

The Gothic siren above me plunged her head against my bare neck, biting into…knife-proof nanofibers. Released from her spell, I suddenly realized I heard Cookie screaming down the hallway as something thudded against wood over and over again. I chuckled and dropped the hologram covering me. I told the mistress of the night, “Oh honey, you just walked into the wrong genre,” just before I snapped the leather restraints holding my hands down and grabbed her head.

The thudding stopped as a different scream penetrated through the entire house. It’s a wonder glass didn’t break. After it cut off quite abruptly, I heard murmuring through the thin walls. Then Cookie revealed she was still ok when she told the people in the hallway, “If you start running now, you might survive! No, too late.”

She’s right. I punched through the wall with my big gauntlets and pulled myself through, knocking drywall and studs loose. I stood there, grinning madly under my helmet, the decapitated head of the vampire seductress on worn on top of my helmet. I held a whip in one hand and a jagged bed post piece in the other. “Don’t panic. I have the shiniest meat bicycle!”

The two bloodsuckers stood there. One had dirty blonde hair in a fauxhawk and looked young. Even a bit of stubble still on his face, perpetually. The other looked to be in his mid to late twenties, shirtless, with curly brown locks and just a bit of six pack showing. They looked like a Twilight fan’s dream, except for the part where their wild gazes tried to penetrate my visor and they bared long fangs in the hopes of helping themselves to my jugular.

Except the sight of me wearing their companion’s head as a hat stopped their instinctive charge. The corner of the shirtless one’s mouth quivered. I left a hologram standing in my place and approached. I dropped to my knee in mid-step so I could get under him and reappeared only as my armored fist made contact with his stinkhole. He screamed like his lady friend as I rotated him sixty-three degrees and knocked blondie down with him. Then I braced him against the wall and reached further. He stopped his twitching and moaning when I yanked his heart out through his ass.

His buddy pushed himself backwards down the hall, trying to get away. I whipped him, wrapping it around his neck to keep him from escaping. I sprinted and shoved the heart right between his fangs, then dialed up the jump enhancer and kicked. The heart, his brain, and quite a bit of skull exploded out through the top of that vampire’s head.

Wolves howled off in the distance. Our constant companions, though they kept a ware distance these days. I backed up to Cookie’s door. “Thought you said this abandoned village would be safe.”

I heard scraping as she moved furniture out of the way. “I said it was safe for twelve hours. Time skipped ahead a day. Please take the head off before I can see it.”

My asshole sense tingled. She wanted me to take the head off…but what if I shoved it in the door as soon as she opened it? No, not right now. I threw the head over at the dead bodies down the hallway. “There’s more than just severed heads out here right now. Thought you’d have seen worse in your line of work.”

She opened the door for me, careful to stay too far to catch a glimpse of the other bodies through her peripheral vision. Her eyes briefly shot up to the blood left behind from my hat. “I have. It doesn’t mean I like it.” She bit at her lower lip, then punched the door. “What kind of morons fantasize about fucking human predators? You might as well write a book about some vapid girl dating a leech.”

“Now, now, this is no time for anger. That comes when you get your hands on them.” I tried to speak soothingly.

“On who?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Whoever. I’m not your mother. But if we’re both rested, maybe we should try to climb this mountain. Because it’s here. And because there are new and exciting things to kill along the way.”

Cookie pulled on her coat and pack. “You don’t have to sound quite so enthusiastic. And please wipe the blood off you. This trip is hard enough on my stomach without that. Do you want me to puke on you?”

For someone whose ability to see the future was murky and worked according to what I saw as inconsistent rules, she knew what button to push. Just for that, I almost didn’t wipe it off so she’d puke anyway. I’m a man, dammit! I’m not afraid of woman bodily fluids, no matter how icky they are. Aside from that time I accidentally walked in on a baby being born. Couldn’t get an erection for an entire week afterward.

As soon as Cookie and I stepped out of the house, a ghoul jumped on at us from the roof. I whipped it. I whipped it good. I whipped it like cream. I whipped it like it owed me money. I whipped it like an obsessive-compulsive dominatrix.

Must have been starving. These ghoul things are roughly humanoid, but the limbs are a bit too long and end in claws. Plus, they have really big mouths and eyes like black marbles. They feed on the dead if they can find enough of it. If not, they’ve been known to try and create more dead.

Then again, I suppose you could say humans feed on the dead, too. They just generally prefer fresh dead things, like vultures, instead of buried dead things.

Mindful of other approaching critters and creepy crawlers, I let Fortune Cookie take her place on the back harness. She’d grown significantly lighter over our journey as we consumed supplies. On my end of things, we’d been at this little trip for more than a week, so if I’ve missed any updates over on that side of things, that’s why.

I took off, loping on all fours to give Cookie a chance to settle her stomach. Plus, it kept me out of spiderwebs. Giant spiders all over this forest. It’s always spiders for some reason. At least the wolves haven’t tried us again. Maybe they even appreciated the snack left at that seemingly-abandoned village.

I ran long, the suit assisting my movements so I didn’t get completely winded running four-legged. I just wished the tower moved closer. It loomed above us. For the longest time, I’d taken it to be a the mountain until the day I ran into the spiders and took us above the tree level for awhile. Cookie had to clean her harness and the back of my armor after landing, but the sunlight glimmered off the face of the clock and showed us we were closer than we thought.

I hadn’t been that relieved to find something since that time Mix N’Max had me hunt down an actual wild goose. He’d injected it with a then-new drug that got rid of people’s inhibitions completely. In the end, he decided not to use it after the entire alcohol industry banded together to threaten him with a lawsuit.

In vino veritas, as they say. In wine, truth. Deep down, some people hate everyone. Others, like, really love you man. Not in a gay way, but they really, really love you. And it turns out that, deep down, some people are homeless.

Days and nights passed as we watched the tower grow larger and taller in our view. Then a funny thing happened. We heard explosions. Distant explosions, with gunfire accompaniment. Risking the wrath of the giant spiders, we went topside to see if any hostile armies were wandering around.

And I was all like “Oh look. The Soviets are here.”

They were Soviets, too. They had the old uniforms and equipment from World War II. I couldn’t pull up if the guys they fought were Romanian or Nazi soldiers, unfortunately. No internet connection.

“We better leave. These timeshifts aren’t all forward,” Fortune Cookie commented.

I nodded and dropped to the snowy ground below, bitchslapping a spider that wandered too close to ambush us. “Yeah. I don’t want to get trapped in yet another backward world.”

“Hey!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know your time was so advanced. Still using paper to wipe your ass?”

Say what you will about Demolition Man’s vision of the future, at least they dared to dream of advanced butt-wiping techniques like the three seashells.

We hurried on from that, passing through other eras where we couldn’t necessarily tell we’d changed times. The Soviets were gone, but several of the stops didn’t have internet access, so we only had to worry about most of history.

This turned out to be an oddly prescient way to phrase things, as we passed into one in particular that hurt like a bitch. It was just fucking loud. Like a roaring from above that bored into every technological part of my body, like a male porn star overdosing on Viagra.

I actually collapsed under the pain. Normally those parts don’t feel pain.

“What’s wrong? Why are you screaming?!” yelled Cookie against the side of my helmet.

I didn’t even know I was screaming, but now that she pointed it out, I figured I should stop that. It left me gasping instead. “Fuuuck. Something’s wrong. Very wrong.”

I found the signal all over the place. Internet, radio, microwaves. Beamed down from satellites. I traced it back to…a fucking spaceship. A giant fucking spaceship. And it’s the future.

Before I could look into that, Cookie pushed on my shoulder. She’d gotten off my back at some point. “We need to go. I don’t see or hear any wolves or spiders, but we need to get moving.”

I tried cutting off my own internet, radio, and phone access. It actually helped, though I felt like I’d had my dick ripped off all over my body.

A spaceship and some sort of cybernetic pain signal. Wonderful. At least Cookie seemed understanding as we moved a bit slower this time, but I had to stop just before we came to another time curtain. I had to hold up there. “Ok, get off. There’s something I need to see.”

“About what?” she asked as she slipped off my back again.

“The signal that pimpslapped me is traveling through the internet, originating in an alien spaceship around Earth, and we’re in the future. I know you’re worried about time stopping, but I think I want to see how this goes.”

Cookie opened her mouth to object, then stopped. What was she going to say, that someone shouldn’t know the future? Instead, all she said was, “Stand near the curtain so I can push you to safety.”

“Good idea,” I agreed and stood at the edge of this time shifty place, then opened up to the internet again.

Let’s see…blah blah blah, crazy Republican runs for President, another huge Bitcoin scam, and some guy went on a mass shooting spree that killed a bunch of people. Damn. Nothing surprising, but nothing useful to me. You’d think it’d be easier to find information on an alien invasion, but apparently aliens are on a lot of people’s minds.

Ah, there we go. Alien invasion fended off in Empyreal City. Well that’s dumb. What kind of invasion only targets one city? Combined force of heroes, villains, and Russian Federal Space Agency heading into space to chase off the mothership. Sorry NASA. Should have had a spaceship. It’s been confirmed that the invasion leader attempted to blow up the entire city after losing the ground battle until he was killed in suicide attack by…

Well that’s not right. Yeah, figured it was a good time to get the fuck out of there. I dropped into the next time period, which cut off access to the information and the signal.

Cookie rushed up to me. “Are you alright?”

I gave her a thumbs-up and sat up. “Yeah. Good news is, I’m pretty sure we beat this whole tower thing. I’ve just got a few things to deal with in the future.”

Fortune Cookie nodded.

Just great. For some reason, I get it into my head to help stop an alien invasion, or die trying.

Yeah, this shit ain’t happening. I’m NOT dying in a suicide attack against an alien trying to destroy the planet. Not over my dead body, at least.

In the meantime, I really need a break. It feels like somebody sandpapered my brain with dicks after that second encounter with the alien cyber assault.

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Time in a Bottle 4

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So there I was, strapped down to a bed. The pale beauty straddled my waist, her rich ginger hair hanging down between us like a curtain surrounding her ever-so-cute freckled face.

Ah, Felicia. Cute, funny, and way too smart for my own good. To be straddled by her would be too good to be true.

And, sadly, it was. Sorry. But if someone with money actually every reads this stuff and decides it needs a movie, I just really wanted to have Felicia Day in there. Hell, I didn’t even dream that. I didn’t dream anything. Just fade to black. Then I woke up to the pissed visage of Fortune Cookie standing by my bedside, holding a glass of water that she just almost poured on me.

“Ha! Too late, I already woke up,” I said. She tipped the glass over anyway.

That’s what I had to wake up to before we went on our little trip. Not Felicia Day getting my lips all wet; a glass of water. All that because I made Cookie upset over insisting I adjust my armor for the trip. She thought I meant hiking originally, before I pointed out that the story given to us involved trucks taking parts up there. Or maybe she just didn’t like the idea of me sleeping until noon.

I pulled it on and showed her I’d fixed up a harness that could hold her and her pack, as well as some items for me on the front. All she needed to do was double stuff her own pack, put on a lot of clothes, and strap herself against my body. She didn’t seem to hate it, though I couldn’t read that expression. She speaks English with some sort of Asian accent when she’s around me, but sometimes people’s body language differs from region to region as well.

While I’d never bothered inquiring, I’m fairly certain by now that testing her body for chemistry wouldn’t pan out.

We all loaded up into a rented truck to take us up the rough side road to that village they mentioned. I can’t remember the name offhand. Bumfuck, I think? We had to stick Moai in the truck bed. I figured it’d be tougher to get a pickup truck out here, but I should have remembered. The landscape turned to forest as we puttered up the hill, Moai and his mullet wig riding free in the wind. The journey was uneventful, though Cookie made me turn off the radio after they started playing “Boom, boom, boom, boom!” by the Vengaboys.

Damn Hephaestus. Those song rights could have been mine.

But no wolves. No trouble at the village. Hell, the people pretty much vanished as soon as we got close. Perhaps they expected us to be a group of psycho killers. I guess they dodged a bullet on that one.

The road narrowed after that. I wanted to gun it, but Cookie overruled me and took over driving. Probably a good idea with the snow we ran into, but at least we could follow the road still. That ended when the road did, abruptly, at various trucks. Moving trucks, that is. They weren’t semis, but they had nondescript white trailers. Only as we slowed did on pulling up did I notice our truck seemed a bit louder. A glance revealed it to be overheating and racking up the RPMs. Cookie noticed it as well and stopped us a good ways from the blockage ahead.

“Moai, take a look under the hood. See if they rented us a piece of shit. Cookie, be careful.” Despite what I said, she followed me up to the others vehicles.

“Hoods up. They had mechanical problems too,” Cookie said. “There are sled marks ahead. I see they haven’t made it to the tower yet. There’s still time.”

“One problem, o Fortuna. I think they would have left a guard.” I looked around, flipping through vision modes smooth as a goddamn Predator. Nothing came up until I got to my recently installed Vibrant Mode. Better light absorption that makes colors stand out more. I spotted the skin. At first, it surprised me that I couldn’t see blood. When I got closer to the body, I realized why. “Werewolves. The local variety drinks blood.” The throat and belly were torn open, but the only blood clung to the leaves of bushes or the bark of nearby trees as sprayed droplets.

Cookie glanced over, then turned her head away before she could see too much. Then her head shot up. She searched the sky.

“Something up?” I looked up as well. Not an easy thing with the sun glaring straight up in the sky.

“What time do you have?” she asked, then checked her own watch.

I pulled up the time on the HUD. “12:24. Which isn’t right, because there’s no way that drive took less than a half hour.” We’d been going for hours at least.

“Time isn’t right here,” she said.

“I thought you said they hadn’t reached wherever they were going? If this tower isn’t complete, you wouldn’t think they’d be messing up time.” I pondered that. “Or maybe it’s like a crater. Space and time are all connected, and if you smack something into the ground hard enough, it makes a disturbance in all directions. That sound like plausible enough bullshit to you?”

Cookie shrugged. “It could be. I hoped you knew more than guesses.”

“I’m trying to figure this out as I go along. I already knew that time could be affected by gravity. Figuring out time is stranger to me. It’s not how I’m used to thinking. Then there’s the really confusing stuff, like you not being able to see what you do but somehow knowing you’d get me here if you told me to go to Vladivostok.” I checked around for any more bodies, then stooped closer to the dead guy to check him. His watch hadn’t been broken, so no luck seeing when he died. The time affected him as well, I believe. Otherwise, Cookie wouldn’t have needed me to find a dead person. Dead things give off a very distinct smell if they’ve spent any time rotting.

“I’ll tell you on the way. We need to catch them.”

I stood up then and adjusted the harness I’d fixed onto my armor for our trip. “That’s impressive.” I walked over to her and knelt away. “I figured you to be a bit less risk averse with your abilities. Hop on.”

Thus we soared over the majestic Romanian landscape, happy as a pair of lovebugs. Or I was. I didn’t care what Cookie thought as I jumped along, though at least she told me how she used her powers to get me here. It’s kind of simple, actually. She never sent me the message. She sent a text addressing me to that Elementalist guy who because she knew I’d attack him and she hoped I would see the message.

As for Moai, I advised him that he could wait around or maybe check out the village, but it’d be slow going for him up a snowy mountainside.

I’d been dialing down the power on the jump enhancers enough to keep from dying, and I figured I was safe enough since I aimed up a slope, but I didn’t adjust for all the extra weight on me. First big jump out of the gate and I had some shattering down there despite the snow to land on. Possibly some skin penetration from the inside. I didn’t look. Just had to wait as everything healed.

At least Cookie didn’t bitch at me then and there. She’s gotten more and more hostile to me over the past few days, a phenomena typical of most people I spend a lot of time with. However, she wasn’t that unreasonable. She even patted me on the shoulder and said she appreciated me doing something bound to shed days from the trip. I blame pheromones, since sapiens and machina are different species. It means there is something wrong with human noses that forces them to find me unattractive. Otherwise, I’d have to beat potential mates off.

I’m being informed by Optimal Outer Control that I forgot to end that sentence with “me with a stick.”

On my side of things, I think my problem with being attracted to humans is that they’re so stupid. That, and probably because of something I heard where a person thought I might straighten out better if I just met the right person whose love could set me straight. As if sticking your dick in someone automatically makes you a better person. I get some of the thought behind the idea. If I was getting laid all the time, I’d probably be happy that I got laid. Still wouldn’t be doing much to help me up into the Carpathian mountains, would it?

After a bit of healing time, I dialed back the jumping some more. It’d be a hassle, but I’d hippity and hoppity my way up quicker than zoosexual bunny in a brothel. And I aimed too, until we passed through some weird curtain of twilight in midair. One moment, it was afternoon. Then we fell through a shadow and looked up to find the sun setting.

“That was sudden,” Cookie commented. “Are you fine to keep going? If we push through, we may reach day again soon.”

“I’m good if you are. Hope you’re bundled up back there. I get the feeling we’re about to run into the local wildlife. What a horrible night to have a curse.” Before she could ask what I meant about a curse, howls filled the forest around us. I spotted glowing red eyes moving through the trees.

Cookie noticed them too. “Can we outrun them?”

“Maybe. I’d rather fight them. That way, they’ll know not to chase us.” I checked the trees nearby for a good spot.

“I’m armed, but I don’t think I can fight them.” She pulled out a small handgun that my HUD identified as a CZ 83 as she aimed it past my head into the darkness.

“Is that really all?” I reached to a side pouch on my harness, trying to take out something I’d brought along special for this situation.

She held out a wooden stake in her other hand. Not a bad idea.

I cocked my head to the side. “That’s more like it. Ok, I need you to loosen the harness up a bit while I dump you someplace safe.”

“Wha- ah!” I caught her by surprise when I jumped this time, landing in the branches of a tree. They cracked under my weight, but held at least long enough for me to tell her to get free and stay in the tree. I tried to stay close to their bases. Acting fast thanks to adrenaline, Cookie pulled herself free into branched just over my head that supported her weight more easily.

I looked down and had an idea. I hopped back and tried to catch as much of the branches as possible while gravity decided to reintroduce me to its friend the ground. Hello ground, I’m falling. Hi falling, I’m the ground. I landed on my feet with all the skill of a cat. And, also like a cat, a giant canine jumped on me and attempted to eat me. I shoved it off using the limbs in my hand and then tossed them down.

I had a different weapon in mind for playing with these doggies than a simple stick. In my helmet, Konami Kukaiha Club’s remix of Bloody Tears began.

The next one tried to jump me from behind. Cookie yelled for me to look out, but I already whirled on it, whip unfurling in my hand. It didn’t crack. It was too busy splitting open the face of a giant black wolf and confounding it enough to land in front of me rather than on me. It lunged at that range, but I brought my other arm up. It bit into metal. The metal didn’t give, but it didn’t want to let go. “Oh no, here I am, a helpless bipedal being versus a four-legged thing clamping down on me with its mouth. Whatever shall I do?” I asked no one. Then I lifted it into the air and kicked it in the balls. It let go. I wrapped the whip around its throat and pushed hard on its body with my leg. Something snapped and it went limp.

Before I could free the whip, a pair of tried padded silently toward me from behind. More giant wolves, consistent with the lore. I rolled to the side like a cop firing on a crowd of protesting black college students and grabbed the pair of downed branches I’d dropped earlier. The first wolf got a hard shaft of wood deep down its throat and went limp. The wolf, not my wood.

My wood never goes limp unless I want it to. Good thing, too. If I walked around with it hard all the time, there’d be a major population problem on the planet. Genghis Khan ain’t got nothin’ on me. More like Genghis Gone.

The second one tried to bite my face off and it might have succeeded but for the fact that I wore a helmet. So if there ever is a movie version of all this, that’s the part where the big name star dies because those assholes never wear their fucking helmets. They also probably wouldn’t shove that stick up the wolf’s ass and turn it into a Popsicle like I did. I turned with my new weapon to try and find more wolves to beat with their limp friend.

I found them building a pyramid under the tree where I left Cookie. It didn’t surprise me so much to find them standing on each others’ backs as much as it did that I missed them until now.

I checked to see if Cookie was doing anything stupid, like panicking and falling out of the tree. She held a liquor bottle in her hand. Well, shit. I’ve been doing all the heavy lifting and she’s been partying? Oh, never mind. She lit a rag on fire at the top and hurled it down on the gathered wolves as a Molotov.

That sent them scattering, except for the one coming to tangled in my whip. I dipped my wolf on a stick into the flames until it caught, then proceeded to light the recovering werewolf on fire with my patented “smash them upside the head” technique. What it lacked in brevity it made up for in fun.

From there, we packed up and headed further up with the knowledge that at least compasses weren’t screwing up as much as the clocks were. The howls of wolves accompanied us, but they didn’t try us again. They disappeared when we passed through a curtain of light and we found ourselves at morning time.

“The morning sun has vanquished the horrible night,” I told Cookie.

She nodded and took a sip from a backup Molotov cocktail. “We should get some rest. Time is flying. Having fun?”

I waved my dead giant wolf stick and my whip. “Bring me the heads of Bella Lugosi and Lon Chaney, for I am the vampire slayer!”

Cue the Buffy theme song.

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