Shit’s gone slightly apocalyptic. But just slightly. The heart of the whole thing is Empyreal City, of course.
People are getting sick all over that place. The boils and vomiting is cruel, but Epidemic’s just being mean with the anal leakage. I suppose I might find it funny if I was behind it, but they think my kid’s there. As far as he’s concerned, he’s inflicting that shit on my family.
While he’s doing that, animals all over the fucking continent are freaking the fuck out. They’re all acting more aggressive, even the prey. Herbivorous or not, most people don’t do well going head to head with a mad bull. Sheep and goats are devouring the crap out of stuff, too, feeding themselves to bursting in places.
Next to all that, Machine Man’s little army of followers is almost quaint. I guess Venus still has plenty of cred worth trading in on. The robot disguised as her has gathered her own gang, even including some supers. They don’t have the Master Academy supers, though. That place is sealed up tight, with heroes heading in and out with some sort of secret entrance.
A lot of other heroes are staying away, or trying to face threats around the country, like the animals gone wild. Or the plague. Or the roaming groups of people with guns. From what I understand, the government’s Freedom Legion doesn’t have as much manpower as it used to, what with Omega and I killing a bunch of them.
You know, with a better idea of the bigger picture, I can understand why Captain Lightning decided not to continue the fight against me. He and his apprentice have their hands full enough without dying.
Thing was, they could tear Empyreal City apart and they weren’t going to find my people. I don’t know if I gave myself some sort of subconscious programming or if Omega’s ignorance of technology was really that big a hindrance while we were mentally merged. Either way, when I was working with him, I didn’t think to hunt down any concentrations of my nanites outside of Ricca. There’s Belgium, North Korea, and some Cape Diem bases. And then there was a small concentration in Las Vegas.
Vegas doesn’t like me, but it seems to like Mix N’Max well enough. He spent a lot of time there. I think he invited all of them there.
It’s a smart idea. Las Vegas has its own protectors, who don’t like me. I’m pretty sure they don’t like any cyborgs hanging around there without getting into all the trouble I cause. And I haven’t had much reason to go to Vegas. I can eat buffets anywhere. Or I could. I can’t even pick my own nose at the moment, let alone my friends’ noses.
As felt appropriate for a city that far west, the Dudebot I sent to Vegas rode in on an automaton horse. It’s like a real horse, but it can run indefinitely, doesn’t need to eat or shit, and is less of an asshole. I stopped short of the sign welcoming visitors to Las Vegas and waited. This is not the time for me to be stepping on these folks’ toes. It also gave me more time to get things in position in Empyreal City.
I had a few Dudebots in that area already. Knowing they were heading there, I set some to make their way. That gives me some backups, or a chance to double team one of these Omega Minions. I’m tracking them, too. Epidemic and Stampede still have to sleep sometime. It’s easier to track with Stampede, because animals calm down whenever she’s out. Best of all, none of the three are working together. I don’t have to beat three supers remotely. I just have to beat one three times over.
The Dudebots are heavier than me, not so good at being stealthy. They were based on a bulkier design of my armor that emphasized durability over stealth. I managed to keep up with her, staying at a distance and maintaining invisibility. She liked to run with the animals. In the city, that mostly meant rats, raccoons, and pigeons. She’d taken up a grudge against the Greens, circling their territory, nibbling away at it with pests.
Whatever the Greens are on that’s giving some of them animal features and powers, it hasn’t made them susceptible to Stampede’s power. Which is a weird one. Animal control should work on humans, too, but it doesn’t. I’m interested to see how much it works on other primates, or other intelligent animals like dolphins and octopi. Could be she’d get pissed when trying to boss around an octopus and the cephalopod does nothing but gives her the tentacle. For that matter, raccoons are pretty smart, too.
After a night of pestering the Greens, Stampede and her flock of furry and feathered friends flooded into an old apartment building. A lot of people came screaming out, some with rats biting at them to encourage their flight. After a half hour, when she didn’t come back out, I headed in after Stampede.
Critters were everywhere. Roaches and raccoons and rats, oh my! If any of the people who lived there saw it like that, they probably wouldn’t want to move back in. Without the ability to levitate, making it through there without some crunching sounds was impossible. There were plenty of heat signatures all over the place, but the source big enough to be her was just a couple floors up. I could jump to the landing, minimizing the amount of bones and exoskeletons I broke.
I detached a power collar from the Dudebot’s belt and readied it. I was sure she’d already come down with that little illness being here. Then I proceeded into the one-bedroom apartment.
I crunched up to the bed as quietly as I could. With an elephant’s trumpet, Stampede opened her eyes, shot to a sitting position, and punched me through the wall and living room/kitchen. All these little pests swarmed the Dudebot, crawling all over it, trying to bite.
Stampede walked over, beating at her chest, her body bulging with muscles. “You smell wrong.”
I generated the sound of a raspberry through the Dudebot’s speakers. Outside, a second Dudebot got into position, invisible as well, and jumped. It crashed through the bedroom window, jumped through the hole in the wall, and snapped the collar around Stampede’s neck.
Snapping her neck would have been easier, but she’s a kid.
Immediately, the noise level increased as animals went nuts and tried to flee or eat the roaches. The two Dudebots stood up, secured a deflated little Stampede, and tossed her over one’s shoulder to secure elsewhere.
Epidemic, meanwhile, had been targeted by the Reds and was retaliating in turn. The Reds are trying to fight disease with fire and gas masks, to mixed results. They’re also using the situation to distribute medicine and supplies, making themselves look better.
Epidemic preferred to keep to the shadows, even the sewers at times. The guy still came up to eat, and people still called him into the cops. He offered to spare people who made him a good meal, so he didn’t keep it that secret he was behind all the outbreaks.
I showed up while he was eating at a barbecue joint. This being Empyreal City, it looked like they only got as far as some sort of light sampler, but that could just be the entree around here.
The Dudebot was invisible again, but he called out to me as soon as I entered. “This is a private function!” When I kept approaching, he turned, didn’t see anyone, then snapped his fingers. “Another boring super cop.”
He frowned then, and snapped his fingers again. I lifted him up out of his chair, turning visible, and snapped a power collar around his neck. “You’re not even human, are you?” he asked.
“More than I thought. Less than you’d think,” I said to be all cryptic.
Behind me, the waitress came back into the room, then ducked down. Epidemic snapped his fingers again and her body jerked. She began to scream. “Let me go, or I kill her,” he said.
“I don’t care about that,” I said. I checked over the collar. All functional. “You can’t convince me to leave you alone, and you can’t infect me.”
He laughed. “I am the Master of Disease. The Emperor of Illness. The Lord of Fungus. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Ah, right. He probably stopped his own self from becoming infected by the same disease that allows the power collars to work. Behind me, the waitress stood back up, her head swollen with something green and black. Her eyes looked weird, glass and black-veined, as she walked toward me. Some sort of zombie plague, then.
I casually grabbed Epidemic’s chair. Still holding him up, I smashed the crap out of the waitress, beating her head in. Black ichor dripped out as a toadstool poked out. I stomped it and ground it out. Then I slammed Epidemic on the table, took a broken piece of wood, and slowly pushed it through his chest. Guy looked like a vampire, so I figured I’d stake his ass.
He screamed and cursed as I forced the chunk of wood into his chest. He kept at it briefly because I didn’t get the heart, though it quickly turned to squeaking. I grabbed another chair, broke off the leg, and used that one to pin his head to the table, right through his brain. I pulled off the power collar and gave him an answer as I walked away. “I am death, and hell to pay.”
Compared to them, it wasn’t nearly so difficult to find Machine Man, and I was confident such an outdated piece of machinery would be easy pickings.
But, finally, a delegation from Las Vegas came out to meet me. They pulled up in humvees and technicals, with a wide variety of firearms and energy weapons aimed at me.
“I come in peace!” the Vegas Dudebot said, raising its arms in a gesture of surrender.
“You mean you come in piece,” Medusa said, hopping out of the back of a humvee. “That’s a robot double. Why shouldn’t we destroy it now?”
“Because Omega and I aren’t really working together anymore. Listen, I got upset and I made a mistake. A big one. I’m trying to make it better, but he decided to lock me away. As far as Omega knows, I can only watch. It’s… not fun. Seriously.”
Back in Ricca, Omega laughed as he binge watched Friends as a way to become acclimated to this new world.
“In fact, it’s downright torturous,” I told Medusa. “But I’m serious. The people he sent after you in Empyreal City? They’re being handled. All I have left is the one pretending to be you.” The Dudebot projected clips of my confrontations with Stampede and Epidemic.
“Face-stealing son of a…” she drifted off. She pulled out her phone and started checking in on things, texting some friends, trying to get the low down. I didn’t spy this time. I let her do it. The fact that animals were calming down and staying that way were easy to come across, but we ended up waiting several minutes while she got outside confirmation. “Where’s the kid?”
“Locked up somewhere she can’t hurt anyone or herself. I didn’t want to kill a kid. Tried to give Epidemic a chance, but turns out he kept that thing from infecting him.”
Medusa nodded to me. “Let’s say we trust you to help again… what’s your plan?”
In Empyreal City, a crowd of Machine Man’s gang, hunting down some of the Q group, came across one of my Dudebots standing there. It raised its hands as well. “I come in peace! Take me to your leader.”
It didn’t take long before the False Medusa stepped up, her movements more smooth now, but almost seductive. Still nothing like how Medusa herself walks. “Who are you and what do you want?” she asked.
“Let’s just say I plan to give Omega what he’s asked for,” I told both of them at once. “But I can’t do it alone.”
“We already have our own plan,” Medusa told me.
Machine Man cocked its head to the side. “That is an unusual way to phrase it. What is your plan?”