Tag Archives: Man-Opener

AvPG: FUBAR FTW 4

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Another exciting day in the city. At first, the aliens made some big announcement about surrendering all the superhumans to them for processing, then they started sweeping through neighborhood after neighborhood. It went well for them, briefly. What they lack in raw numbers, they make up for with mechanization, what appear to be drones, and some squads of Technolutionary’s robozombies. Upgraded ones.

Where before Technolutionary fitted human bodies with cybernetic enhancements and shoved a computer into the brain to control them, the process looks much more refined. It undoubtedly has to do with better integration of the biological and artificial components. He’s giving my species’ abilities to his robozombies now, and they’ve become a sturdier and more graceful as a result. I got a good look at them, too, thanks to hopping onto a patrol of them and tearing off an arm.

Like I said, it worked the for the aliens until we started putting up organized resistance. Or as organized as any resistance becomes when I’m part of it. Wanting to keep hurting the fuckers, I headed out on my own after some squads of the robozombies seen terrorizing the eastern side of the city.

The first sign they had that things weren’t going as planned was when one of their transports blew up in midair. The things still have something to throw off sensors and any eyeballing of their exact features from afar, but the good thing about cannons is that sight is a perfectly viable option. And I do have cannons. The confrontation with Venus was just over before I ever needed to use any of them, but I didn’t just build some of those things on buildings around the city for no reason. Case in point, one transport went down before it could land and offload anybody or pick anyone back up. Shortly thereafter, I landed and on the bunch sent to investigate it and took them apart to examine their quality.

Ah, Technolutionary used to think I was so great, a true evolutionary leap forward for mankind. Now he’s making people like me just to use them as mindless foot soldiers. Good response times, though. Less than five minutes after I tore them to pieces, I looked up to find three more shuttles coming in. I pointed my fingers at them like guns and gave a little “Pew pew!” One took a hit and slammed into a building. A second tried to dodge before I caught it from another direction with another cannon. The third tried to stomp on me like an Italian plumber who hates mushrooms.

It missed, thanks to my cunning strategy of getting the hell out of the way, but then it just sat there. I expected doors to slide open, shots fired, all that. It took a couple seconds, but when they did finally open, it was at the hands of a pair of wounded robozombies surrounded by dead ones.

“This is why they invented seatbelts, ya know,” I told them. Before they could raise their gun arms, two shots rang out and did some decidedly permanent damage to their computers.

I turned to focus on where the shots came from and saw Lone Gunman on the side of a building. He hung there from a hook embedded in the side and aimed a gun at me. He stopped and gave a little salute, allowing me to see a huge revolver with extended barrel and a stock. “Just a weapons test, for now.” Then he rappelled down the side of the building and went his own way.

Wish I could have seen his face when a fiery stream lanced out of the ship overhead and burned through the top of Double Cross Tower, taking my favorite cannon along with it. Shit, and probably my penthouse, the bastards! And my closet, too. Damn. I got the dong back, but I really like some of those dresses on me.

But at least that was the only one of the cannons they disabled. They probably needed a couple shots to track them back. And it’d no doubt do a lot to convince people they need to sit down and be ruled if they could do that. Which made me realize that if they weren’t using whatever thing they did to turn buildings into tiny pieces like before I was on the run from them, then that meant they probably couldn’t do so here. That’s a handy bit of information to have.

Another thing that’s handy to have? One slightly used alien shuttlecraft. Needs a small patch where someone shot through its armor, and needs a few bodies cleaned out of it, but ultimately good to go. It’ll be no different than buying someone’s used car.

Of course, first I had to send someone to go fetch it. That’s what minions are for. In this case, a bunch of Buzzkills and Moonbats. The Moonbats like to help like that. Apparently, it’s really cathartic for them to actually shoot at some aliens, and I find their revenge fantasies about anal probing the aliens to be particularly interesting. Plus, it gave them something to do besides whine about the food situation.

Good thing for those MREs, I guess. I grabbed one left behind by a Moonie too disgusted with the food to take it with him or finish it before leaving. Ooh, Charms.

I also needed to be there at the bunker for a pow wow. With power being what it is and the possibility of attack, the bunker has become a prominent spot in resisting alien invasion. There wasn’t a lot of organization, but we had some folks who could get people to follow them by force of personality. Man-Opener, for instance.

“Though what Man-Opener lacks in an actual preassembled retinue to take with him, I feel he makes up for with being royally pissed off. So I think he needs to be part of the strikeforce.” I argued to a few folding tables worth of assembled supers.

“I second the motion!” Man-Opener said, raising one of his suit’s limbs.

“You don’t want him on the ground with you?” Venus asked, not quite so mindful of proper phrasing.

I shook my head. “They hate me enough that I need to stay, but I think it’d need to be more of a mixed effort on both fronts. Besides, you might need someone who can make a hard choice.” Like that time in Transylvania, for instance. A guy wanted to freeze the world in time because of the death of his son. The Mobian wanted to talk him down. Didn’t work. I killed him. Problem solved.

The plan is simple, though. Venus will take a force into the enemy ship, consisting of a few people of her choosing, but definitely Man-Opener and Lone Gunman. Instead of shooting blindly into the ship, hoping to hit something important, he could go in there content in the knowledge that he can shoot through their stuff anyway.

Meanwhile, I’d stay down and be a prominent target for the aliens, drawing forces down from the ship to make things easier for them. The shuttle could make a good way in. If it doesn’t work as well, there’s also the remaining cannons. I think I could open a hole. Especially now that I have a penis again. The assignment to help me out was completely voluntary, though. People still hate me. I should have Moai and Mix N’Max on my side, at least.

So when we were ready, I took a more prominent stand. Instead of hitting and running, I’d have to be there to take the heat. It’d be downright suicidal. Odd how few people tried to talk me out of this course of action.

We got our opportunity before too much longer. A sizable force, more than I could take on myself, were taking over a neighborhood. The strike team went up in the shuttle and joined the ones returning from offloading that bunch.

Down on the ground, I scouted out the victims. Where the road was bigger, an armored vehicle sat in the road, turned sideways. Another one blocked it off at the opposite end, where the street had narrowed. Scouting it out, I saw they had other resources patrolling alleys. Small, cube-shaped drones, or these machines with an upside-down pyramid base with a single wheel on the bottom and a single rotating limb. Significantly less elegant than their other designs. The aliens seemed to prefer round shapes. Even their armored vehicles.

Whatever the case, I needed to see how sturdy they were. So I dropped down on one of the cube drones from above, bringing my rocket sax down onto it. The instrument dented a little as the blow sent the hovering cube bouncing off the ground. When it came back up, I swiped it with one hand and sent it into the brick wall next to us. It bounced off that, rebounding into the air and spinning around to gain its bearings.

“Eat hot, sexy passion, alien scumdroid!” I yelled out, then brought the sax to my lips and pressed a key. A line of flame shot out, engulfing the alien artifice. I kept bringing the heat until it finally dropped, glowing red hot, sides starting to crack and warp.

One down, a small army to go. Man-made thunder erupted over the city, all aimed at the same point. A ragged hole opened up in the ship overhead, whether the strike team needed it or not. Thanks to them running silent, they couldn’t complain about it to me. The ship responded with that fiery beam of its own, cutting through another of the cannons just before the remaining ones began shelling it. It took hit after hit, and returned them until I could no longer feel any remaining cannons. But maybe it did something after all. At least it heavily smoked where the flaming lance had issued from.

I couldn’t spend all day contemplating that, though. One of the unicycle bots rolled around the corner and swiveled that single limb around. It was a bit far for the sax, so I slung that onto my back. I nodded toward the unidrone and started charging the energy sheath around my right hand while going for a rubber chicken on my belt with my left. “Sup?” I asked it. It shot first, trying to put a hole in my chest. I was a bit worried it might overpower the sheath, especially since it tracked me when I tried to dodge.

I dropped the chicken, stepped on its neck, and kicked the body closer to the unidrone. After it stopped skidding, it stood up and began walking in the direction of the nearest street, which was behind the drone. Why did the chicken try to cross the road? I don’t know, but the rubber chicken grenade didn’t make it that far before exploding and wrecking the robot.

When I stepped out of the alley, I swung another rubber chicken around by its neck gently enough to keep it from pulling off. I haven’t been a guy in awhile, so it’s important I be careful how hard I swing my cock around, after all.

“Do you ever wanna catch me? Right now I’m feeling ignored! So can you try a little harder? I’m really getting bored!” I called out. Rounded saucers swiveled towards me on black fluid-filled tentacles. The sideways hover armor rotated a trio of barrels in my direction. The whole group stopped and paid attention. That’s probably how the hover armor got taken by surprise. Rockets crashed into it, bullets bounced off it, and an energy beam sheared through the turret portion.

I jumped on top of it long enough to pantomime blowing the rest of them a kiss. “Come on, shoot faster, just a little bit of energy! I wanna try something fun right now, I guess some people call it anarchy!” I hopped off the back of the armor and waited for any takers.

A pair of them followed. One was in a big, black, humanoid suit with a device attached to its hand that emitted a barely-visible length of…something. The other was one of those saucers turned on its side with nine tentacles carrying it over. That one tried to jump on me immediately. I backflipped out of the way before it landed for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t feel like a hug. Second, I wanted to get out of the way of my car. Black Sunshine, my lovely, pimped-out car. It charged forward, firing rockets and a minigun like it had against the hover armor. What did the most damage was actually hitting the thing and smacking it into the disabled armor it had just passed over.

The humanoid raised that thing on its hand toward me. Instinctively, I threw myself to the side. A shimmery wave, like heat rising off the blacktop, flew from the alien suit to cut into the road. Suddenly, some little glass flask crashed against the armor it stood upon. It looked down at it, where a green gas cloud spread briefly, before lighting up and then collapsing in on itself, where it exploded. It gutted the Fluidic encounter suit and tore its legs open, spilling the alien’s liquid body out. The rounded crystal core that seemed to make up the alien’s brain rolled out onto the street. A motorcycle pulled up next to it, and Herne the Hunter’s spear impaled the thing. Mix N’ Max got off the back of the bike and patted Herne’s leather-clad shoulder. The helmeted and horned biker super nodded and drove off down an alley, barely escaping the swarm of cube drones that descended on the area to surround us. The buildings became host to more of the Fluidics, who took higher positions.

Max looked up at them as he stepped over to me, then pulled out another flask. This one looked like he bottled it in an airport smoker’s lounge. “Need some cover?” I nodded, then noticed a twitch of movement out the back of my view. The laser limb of one of the unicycles snapped back, a large scalpel embedded in the firing optics.

“Much as I hate to be here, gentlemen, I don’t want to leave early because we let you die. Not yet, anyway,” said The Good Doctor like a true gentleman, stepping out of another alley and kicking a carved-up cube drone with him. “Please, Max.”

Max nodded and unbottled the flask, instantly throwing us into the middle of a fog so dense, it has to figure out if it’s going to work at an AT&T store or just buy something from one and call in to complain about it later. With the sky covered in either alien starship or glowing blue forcefield, it gave the field a really cool rave vibe. We all walked a few feet back before taking a different angle, dividing up the area around us into three zones. Back to back, Doc raised a set of thick scalpels, Max pulled out his syringe gun, and I punched one of my palms.

“Come on if you think you’re hard enough!” I shouted into the fog. Then, to the others, I asked, “They aren’t going to be hard enough, right?”

“We brought help,” Max answered.

“Huh, maybe I should have been singing ‘Lean On Me’ instead.” A black tentacle swiped out of the fog. I caught it and activated the Nasty Surprise, the blade cutting into it and beginning to spew black fluid. I pulled at it and brought in another encounter suit that had the tentacle and three others coming out of its back. I jumped on its face and shoved my blade right where its mouth would be. Opening up its head, I crawled my way down inside and burst from its chest, core in hand.

Back to back, the reunited Dark Triad fought swarming, blinded aliens. Around us, the sounds of battled rose up, indicating others had joined the fight. We moved as we fought, keeping each other at our backs as the fighting moved us. An encounter suit, a cube, a unidrone, some weird saucer. We maintained this formation pretty well until one of the saucer mages appeared, with the its multitude of wire-thin tentacles drawing numerous runes into the air and hurling subzero cold and volcanic heat at us at once, carried by winds that pressed down. Doc grabbed Max and got him out of the way, but a force like a tornado overpowered the pseudomuscles in my armor’s legs. They broke as I attempted to stay on my feet. Ice covered my armor before hissing away thanks to heat that felt like my organs were frying. Then freezing. I didn’t know if the cracking was my armor or me.

Just before my helmet completely iced over and left me blinded, I saw Terrorjaw the shark man leap up and chomp through several of the tentacles with his toothy maw.

I kept trying to punch at my helmet to see if I could knock something loose. Aside from feeling the vibrations, it was hard to feel I’d even been hitting it. That really didn’t say anything good about how cold I was, and my nanites weren’t likely to help. Nanotechnology is infamously sensitive to temperature, especially temperatures that can harm the human body.

I tried the view from my car. Can’t remotely drive it without some way of seeing where I’m going after all. It showed a battlefield shifting as more and more on both sides joined in. I saw Girl Robot clawing at a cube, then getting caught by a garrote from e cube behind her. She opened her mouth and spewed some glowing breath attack that shot her back at the cube and smashing it against the building behind her before her tail angled up and speared through it.

I saw Leah there, too. The teen girl I had to take in after getting powers and running away has come far. Three unidrones aimed at her as she waved her hand. When they fired, nothing happened except the lenses of their lasers caught fire, followed by the entire laser array. Who said color changing isn’t handy?

I even saw this one guy I recognized from the insane asylum when we captured all the heroes. He had some goblin mask on and sliced through a normal-sized encounter suit that had a pair of those almost-invisible blades for hands. When it tried to retaliate, the goblin guy disappeared and reappeared behind it, finishing cutting it in half. Flying about rooftop level, Honky Tonk Hero smashed through a descending shuttle, magical guitar first. When a saucer tried to reach out for him, the saucer found its arms seared off courtesy Gorilla Awesome, the talking gorilla, who hovered nearby with his own jetpack. Nearby, I noticed Elita the Warrior Woman raise a damaged alien tank above her head and bring it down on her Amazonian knee, breaking it in half.

Ethan Basford even got in on things. He knelt there, holding open that metal chest he’d brought with him from Los Angeles, hand bleeding as he held it over the open coffin. From within flew a massive colony of bats that. Nice magic trick. An even better one came when they began to take human shape. Well, vampire shape from the way their eyes glowed and their fangs glistened, protected from the sun by Max’s chemical fog. I saw one of them in particular fly into a saucer and carve through it with claws.

Unable to do much myself, it made for a fun watch. Still wish I could have felt my balls. Oooh, they’re going to hurt so much when they thaw out, if they don’t break off first.

I backed my car up and brought it over so I could get a better view of myself and get a hand up. Maybe I could hit the flamethrower? No, that’s crazy talk. Wait, where’d my saxophone go?

I pulled it up beside myself and popped the door open enough to drag myself in across the front seats. It almost made me wish the car could transform into even bigger armor, but it wasn’t happening. I did have a very good A/C and heating system, though.

Blocking the way out, I saw another floating mass of armor and laser barrels coming my way. I may not know why the chicken crossed the road, but I know a thing or two about playing chicken. Let’s get squawking, bitch. I revved the engine and gunned it right for the alien armor, unleashing the miniguns, the rockets, even the flamethrower, energy beam, and a trebuchet out of the trunk. What? When I say I’m going medieval on someone’s ass, I mean it.

It shot back, turning my car into a convertible without an engine. On the plus side, the Fluidic armored vehicle’s front side dipped down and scraped against the road as at least that portion lost the ability to stay in the air. In the end, my half-melted, slowing car ramped up the damaged alien tank. I swear, I got like three feet of air that time. If the horn still worked, and if I’d hat it set to play Dixie, it could have been even better.

I landed past it, just in time for The Saurus, the intelligent T-Rex, to bob his head down and give the tank a chomping. His clone, looking like a younger version of himself, roared and helped himself to an encounter suit. I wondered, briefly, if the clone was now The Saurus Jr., Kid The Saurus, or maybe even Children’s The Saurus. Alas, they moved on before I could even ask, probably for the best. Like most of the combatants, they didn’t like me.

Laying there in my destroyed car, I popped my helmet as best as I could with my numb arms and find one of the nanite syringes I’d stashed in there. Ah, the sweet sting of health flowing through my veins. Or wherever I stabbed them in. Doesn’t much matter. At that point, I just needed to be able to feel my skin again.

When I finally felt less like a popsicle, I slid out of the wreck to put some more extraterrestrials on ice.

I found Max and Doc cornered a street over, backs to a station wagon while what looked like a roiling mass of cables tore through the air. Tentacles here, tentacles there, tentacles everywhere; what horrors hath Japanese porn wrought?! Well, if someone wanted to shove those tentacles in a box, I’d be happy to oblige. I jumped on top of the station wagon and tossed a four yard dumpster at the whizzing and whirling mass of barely-visible tentacles. The open end caught the center mass of the being and pinned it to the van.

“Hey guys!” I called out, leaping over to the other side, popping the head off a chicken grenade. “Listen, alien fellow, we’re going to go on a magical adventure. And here’s the magic candy, like I promised you at school.” I tossed the grenade in the window and got a step or two backs before it went off.

Easy as blowing up fish in a barrel.

“Did ya miss me, ya wankers?” I asked the rest of the Dark Triad as I rounded the van.

“You came through it alright?” asked Doc, perhaps hoping I wouldn’t have.

I shrugged. “Don’t sound too disappointed, Doc. Friends don’t hold those kinds of grudges.”

His hand tightened around his scalpel again. “When I became a monster, no company could abide me but the company of monsters.”

I held my hands up. “Hey, easy there. The past is set, and we can’t change who we are. You have to accept what you are or you’ll never be able to live with yourself. Now remember: I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me. That’s why I shouldn’t have even let it get to me that they pinned saving everyone on someone else. Too many people through my life have made it clear what I am. Change? Not while some asshole king’s hired a knight to come after me because I hoped for a princess. Metaphorically speaking, of course.”

Doc twirled the scalpel in his hands, looking at me. “It’ll never happen if you don’t even try.”

Inside my helmet, I rolled my eyes. “Bad guy ’til death, I guess. Which shouldn’t be long, since I’m fated to die in this damn invasion, and I came back and fought in it any-fucking-way!”

Suddenly, the sky lightened up. It lost its blue. “Get your suntan lotion ready, people. The barrier is down. Repeat, the barrier is down,” Venus said over the comms. Cue a LOT of cheering on the comms and in real life. It’d be a pants dampening sound if I was an alien right about then.

Doc stepped over and gave me a little punch to the chest, no blade included. “If the future can change, who says we can’t?” He turned back to the rest of the fight and began walking in there to help finish up.

“Ugh, you keep this up, I’m going to wish for someone to kill me,” I said as I joined him.

Max, done giving us our little conversation, joined in and put his hands around both our shoulders. “They’re certainly lining up. By the way, why don’t you ask Lone Gunman how much he enjoys my little fog?”

“Ha! See? I laugh at paltry change, whether it be this ridiculous ‘redemption’ nonsense, or an attempt to cease my biological functions. Now drink hearty, my fellows of the Dark Triad, and let loose the dongs of war!” I raised my hand, holographically making a hand and a half sword appear in my grip. When I brought it down, I charged, leading the other two villains back into the fray.

The invasion’s not over yet, so I don’t have my hopes up. But I think a lot of these Fluidics are going to pay for what they haven’t done yet.

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Enlightening Strikes 8

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As badly as things were left last time, I wondered if anything else would go wrong. It just doesn’t work out to tempt Murphy’s Law too much. While the suggestion that anything that can go wrong will go wrong being some sort of physical law suggests a certain order to the universe, don’t get me wrong. It’s all terribly disordered in a way only possible by sapient life, which is hilarious if you remember that sapience denotes the ability of an organism to use reason.

And yet, for all the chaos in any one part, it’s all part of a system that makes sense with the proper perspective. A perspective that can take into account the entirety of all human decisions made by prior decisions, genetics, environment, and neurophysiology vis a vis the effect of experiences and memories on the people in question. Naturally, all human decisions includes all of them ever, just like the environment includes everything from the tiniest shift in air pressure to the effects of stellar bodies on the planet. I mean other planets and stars, not the bodies you see online of Slavic porn models.

But once you get all that down, you’ve basically got omniscience covered. To get down to anything with any real randomness, you need to go subatomic. And I’m still suspicious of that. I’m also not omniscient. But I do know it’s hard for things to get really chaotic unless something physics-defying happens, like a crazy guy bursts into your universe from another dimension, and that only works if there are no physical laws that cross into other bubbles of the multiverse.

It’s a good argument for explaining to Wildflower why I hog the covers. That, and pointing out that her body stays warm enough without them, though she insists that isn’t the point. It is, unfortunately, poor comfort for the times when things go wrong.

It started well enough. Man-Opener had been informed of the alien infiltration threat, related to my knowledge of the future. Knowledge which, as he pointed out, could no longer be corroborated by a the clairvoyant Fortune Cookie after her untimely murder. Apparently I catch flak for not going to the funeral. Or even arranging for the funeral. Or paying for any of it. Others had politely attended, it seemed. But I’m getting all negative again.

We convinced Man-Opener with the communication pod from the late Senator Powers, especially after I dunked it in some coffee. Much cussing was had, but Man-Opener agreed to work on quietly spreading the word and back up my claim as a separate authority. It always helps, since I piss people off.

Now, surprisingly, that’s not what happened this time around. I awoke to a video chat alert on my laptop. Since I contact most people through my head computer, I wasn’t surprised to find Captain Lightning on the other end of the line. “Hey there, Thundar the Captarian. Another beautiful day in paradise? How’s Isla Tropica treating you?”

He ignored the questions. “How are you going to handle this?”

“Eh, just stay under the radar for a bit. We can bribe the right Feds to call things off. Maybe go blow up a North Korean missile silo and claim you stopped a plot to destroy America. People eat that shit up.”

“I mean what are you going to do about Man-Opener?” To the rear of his furious facade, I could spot a giant beach ball being tossed through the air. Wow, El Presidente must have set him up with one of the nicer new beachfront condos. That’d be near some good restaurants, possibly even one not run by the secret police.

I shrugged. “Venus brought him in. Beat his ass all over the east side. Shame I missed it. Didn’t I shoot you a text about this? He’s on our side.”

“Then why is the news out of Empyreal saying he’s talking to reporters about a secret alien invasion that’s taking over politicians’ bodies?”

“I’ll have to get back to you on that right after I murder him. Stay in touch, Lightning.” I shut down the laptop and threw off the covers. Standing up, I took the first step in rushing off to deal with Man-Opener blowing our cover. The first step, though, caught on something laying on the floor, which brought me down as well. Turns out Wildflower had decided to use the floor next to the new bed as a good spot to sun herself like a plant or reptile or something. It’s the animal hybridization. At least she doesn’t lay down on my computer keyboard, like a cat.

She didn’t even stir. Just laid there like a log. First time for everything, am I right, fellas? Still, the distraction did give me a moment to collect myself. Ya know, like figure out where I was rushing off to when I hadn’t even begun to look things up. With my own personal internet connection in mind, I sat down on Wildflower’s cushiony butt and pulled up whatever news I could get, including a special insider feed from the news company I have an in with. If I hadn’t been asleep during the first half of the day, I suppose I could have jumped out in front of the story. My contacts had sent me early copy, but early copy doesn’t matter if you’re unconscious.

Ignoring the way Wildflower’s thorny tail lazily wrapped around my arm, I took a look to see what Man-Opener was ruining this time…and soon found that he’d been blabbing his mouth to everyone. Henchmen and other villains were exactly who we wanted him to be careful around. Breaking into a TV station to make an announcement during the weather was overkill, just like what I’m going to do to him. Even worse, he namedropped Mary Malady, Senator Powers, and the Oligarch. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he didn’t mention that I killed Oligarch. Well, that part could have been a plus. I’m proud of it, but it would look bad to a lot of the other villains who were part of his Order.

Come to think of it, there did seem to be an unusual number of black helicopters in the skies of the city. Many were disguised as other choppers, like the sort that carry medical patients, news crews, weather men, and rich people. A black helicopter is a black helicopter, regardless of its actual color. After all, what good would they be for covert operations if people knew to keep watching the black ones?

The reason I didn’t go blabbing about aliens to everyone around is that we don’t know who to trust. Sure, it’s not like it’s hard to make a U.S. Senator your own personal bitch. It usually involves a bit of cash, but it’s still relatively easy. The problem is, the infiltration could go right up to the presidency. The President of the United States is no small enemy to have.

Oh, and no way would most people ever believe me, so that factored into my decision as well. It should have factored into Man-Opener’s thinking. Most regular people don’t want to believe someone like him, and they definitely aren’t ready to follow me. While we know Earth isn’t the sole home of intelligent life in the stellar neighborhood, I also know that I’m not the planet’s most trustworthy-seeming person.

But maybe I could use that? After all, wouldn’t it lend credence to Man-Opener if he were suddenly martyred by an assassin nobody likes or trusts? But where could I, an assassin nobody likes or trusts, possibly find an assassin nobody likes or trusts?

And since I’m coming out into the open again, maybe I can finally pick up my old car.

I headed out to find Man-Opener, whose little rampage cost me the element of surprise. The last news reports put him attacking the single most important political landmark of the entire nation. A place where the political future of America is decided. The spot where the true rulers of the country do business. Wall Street.

It was more a matter of marching through the streets and shouting his message while police tried to stop him. No protesting permit, holding up traffic, jaywalking, etc, etc. After they saw what he did to the first few, they didn’t care so much about the law. Not many people would when facing a walker like that. Ten feet tall, sleek, and white; it marched on humanoid legs and swung a pair of arms that would have dragged on the street if fully extended. There were no hands, only triads of axe heads that spun rapidly. Its rectangular torso was protected by armored plates in a V pattern, with some sort of black underlayer that seemed to coalesce against the man held partially inside the torso at its bottom-most. That was Man-Opener, with only his helmet and arms exposed outside of the armor.

As odd as it would be for a supervillain to march down the street, rampaging to raise awareness of an alien invasion, my arrival just made things stranger. I landed hard near the police cordon and stumbled a few steps until nanites could finish repairing some ligaments around my knee. I caught my balance on one of the cops and acted like I was patting him on the shoulder. “That’s enough, officer. I’ll take it from here.”

“The fuck?!” he jumped back upon seeing me.

“Here I come to save the day!” I shouted loud enough for Man-Opener to hear me.

Man-Opener didn’t bother to rotate his body. Instead, the arms rotated around toward me. His voice boomed from a speaker near the top of the walker’s headless body. “We have to expose the truth. That is how you beat a secret invasion. Face it head on, like a man.”

I reached up to adjust the rockets on the rear of my gauntlets. “Silence is golden, so let me come over there and gild your ass!” I jumped, flipped, and pushed off the top of a nearby cop car with a jump that carried me in an arc past Man-Opener. His arms rose to intercept me, but I passed between them. I landed in the street and skidded to a stop, using the last of my momentum to wrench a manhole out of the street. “Hey, watch this!” I shouted, then flipped it into the air. He did track it for just a moment, long enough for my suit to hide me in a hologram of the area around me. I tossed one of my rubber chickens at him Man-Opener, who swatted it to the side while chopping its head off. He then quickly intercepted the manhole cover, which I’d flung his way when it came back down.

My armor went from showing none of me to showing three. One stood in the street with arms crossed. Another grabbed a trash can from the curb, and yet another ran to the opposite side of the street where someone had abandoned a stroller. Unfortunately, it really was abandoned, which I knew since that me was the real one. But then, what is reality anyway, except for a tangible thing that exists whether you’re there to experience it or not? I grabbed it with my left and signaled my armor to concentrate power into a sheath of energy held just around my right fist.

Man-Opener stood still, paralyzed with indecision at the three of me. At least until the headless rubber chicken grenade got tired of trying to cross the road behind him and blew up. The road is such a cocktease like that, as any truck driver will gladly tell you.

The explosion stunned Man-Opener. What it lacked in damage, it made up for in opportunity, though. I rushed him while tossing the stroller ahead of me, regretting only that it did not have a baby in it during this encounter. Man-Opener either didn’t care or didn’t think, because he brought both arms down in time to shred the stroller. It gave me cover enough to run up and deck him in the snoz with enough force to make a brick wall ask for the lube.

What actually happened is that he brought one of his arms fully against his helmet to protect his body from debris, and my punch hit it instead. My fist warped and embedded in the metal as the energy sheath added to the force of the blow and did fun things to the metal. The blades, only a couple short feet away from me, sputtered to a stop. On that arm, at least. Man-Opener brought the other one down. I pulled as hard as I could to free my arm from the damaged limb, and I did throw myself back away from him, but I ended that fall with five fewer fingers.

“Fucking son of a pirate cunt with a chest full of picked dicks!” I screamed, obviously taking the situation well. I was losing a lot of blood, too. At least the little nanite quilt layer under my armor had been damaged enough to open some of the packets in the area. It works better with blunt trauma, but it’s still a way for me to mitigate significant non-thermal damage in the middle of a fight without taking a moment to inject myself properly. I realized as Man-Opener advanced that they’d be out of a job soon if I didn’t move my ass. And move it I did. I rolled back and ordered my armor to charge energy around my left arm.

“It looks like my arms beat yours so far, little Gecko. Will you regrow that like a tail? I’ve always wondered,” Man-Opener taunted me. The last laugh would soon be mine, however.

I bolted at him as if to do the exact same thing all over again. He held the useless arm in front of his body as a shield, no doubt ready to swipe off another arm or even a leg with the working one. Probably caught him off guard when I jumped onto his arm instead and used it as a platform to leap into the air. He swiped at nothing, then tried to get a better view at my ascent, an ascent I arrested with the rocket under my gauntlet. It flared to life and drove me down. This time when I connected, metal shredded like a Slayer song and his one good arm locked up at his side. The blades on the end began to stop and start jerkily. He brought up the first bad arm then to try and knock me off. This time, I remembered to use the same muscle enhancers that allow me to leap small buildings in a single bound and back flip off before he could hit me again. And this time, the rocket fired to bring my good fist crashing against his helmet. It didn’t break his head, just a bone or two in my hand. It also stumbled him as a result of the punch, forcing his walker to take a step back.

I backed up as well so I could fetch a syringe of nanites out of my belt. In spite of my success in battle, the dizziness caused by blood loss threatened to snatch defeat from the jaws of my victory. Also, I’m really fond of my right hand. My helmet showed me Man-Opener reaching for something on the side of his walker with his real arms, but I didn’t think anything of it until he shot something green at me that burned my armor and melted it partially to my body. The inside of my suit suddenly smelled like a steakhouse, or at least a barbecue shack. Holding up my left arm to protect me only succeeded disarming that one as well when the energy sheath wiring sparked. Had it been charged, the sheath could have potentially blocked the plasma being fired at me, or at least taken most of the oomph out of it.

He stopped after a moment. “I hope you can feel the burn, Gecko. You were looking jiggly around the hips the other day.”

I threw my arm and a half up and hollered to the sky. I’d quote me, but it’d be redundant at this point. Just imagine lots of As and lots of exclamation points. At least five of each ought to do it. Man-Opener was more than willing to advance on me as I inexplicably lost my footing in the middle of a nearby intersection. He stalked forward, turning down this new street…and then I stopped to look up at him. “The last burn I felt was a leftover from your mother’s cooter, jackass.”

It’s a shame his back was turned. He missed the epic moment when a sleek black 1951 Hudson Hornet crashed through a blockade of a pair of police sawhorses to ram into Man-Opener’s back. I happily jumped on top as it came right for me as well, up until I noticed how badly it hurt the black paint and orange trim of my remote-piloted car.

We wrestled on my car, and I managed to knock his plasma pistol away with my growing right arm. That was a point in my favor, but then he gained one of his own when he pinned me against the front of his armor with the arm that couldn’t spin its own blade anymore. He actually reached out to try and choke me with his regular arm, before the car suddenly stopped and threw us both into the first corner building it had sped across since Man-Opener got his hand on me. The car’s cameras showed us flying through the front door of Moe and Lester’s Meat Mart together.

Ah, the butcher’s shop! Such a fun place for conflict. Just imagine what the meat slicer could do to someone you don’t like if applied to all sorts of places on the body. The landing took a bit out of me and I had to brace myself against a stand of alligator jerky to stand up, but Man-Opener’s bulky machine took longer. That gave me time to see inventory my assets. The right arm was coming back, but still pretty weak. The left arm couldn’t use its energy sheath, but I think the rocket could still work. If not, I’d be out a left arm.

I ran over to a counter display we shattered in our dramatic entrance and grabbed a big, bloody steak. Like a thick ribeye, I think. I know human anatomy better than I do cows. Man-Opener stood up and started throwing displays out of the way, though his attempt to clear some room made me curious about just what pickled chicken feet tasted like. I turned, swung, and released the steak right at his helmet. It slapped there and clung, possibly disrupting his vision but maybe not. I haven’t yet determined what he can see in his armor. But I did rush in, tried the rocket, and smashed my fist into his steak-covered head hard enough to dislocate some of my fingers. The rocket sputtered and ejected though, a fuel leak having rendered it useless save for that blow.

No matter. I kept wailing on him. “And now you meat your match!” I dodged a blow from the arm without functional blades and grabbed a hanging line of sausages. When worse comes to worst, trust the wurst. I whipped them out and wrapped them around that arm. When he raised it up, I swung in and kicked him in the face. “I’m going to be frank with you here, you’re a bit of a wiener.”

He tried to maneuver me over to the other arm, still locked in one position, but still with some blades that stopped and started. I dropped, and noticed the steak flop to the ground as well. So I jumped close and started headbutting him. I rammed my helmet against his again and again and again until I was rewarded with a crack on its front. It cracked like a bloody egg and showed me an eye inside.

“That eye looks pretty bad. Let’s put something on it!” I grabbed the steak again and swung it at the hole. It smacked him, doing little actual damage but still getting wet meat juices right in his eye.

I didn’t expect that hit to finish him off, but he slumped, then spun to drop to his back. The realization hit me that I was wrong about him being defeated right about the time the barely-functional blades of the locked arm swung up and started to chop a cut of meat off my thigh.

Ever been held in one spot while something like a giant chainsaw chews through your leg? Not fun. When it stopped for a moment, I threw myself to the side and felt something catch. Could have been bone, could have been tendon. Either way, I didn’t get away until the blades started up again and pulled me over him. Whatever it was that caught, it didn’t stay caught, and I landed on the opposite side of Man-Opener, gritting my teeth and sucking in breaths.

At least our car ride and the chopping had released more of the nanites hidden in the quilted layer. That’s about all I could say, because there weren’t a lot of other good things. I had to take a moment there, because that shit hurt like a night of tap water and ex-lax burritos delivered straight from Mexico.

“How do you like those cold cuts?” Man-Opener asked as he, too, took a minute to recover. Then we heard the approach of heavy footsteps. Looking up, I spotted Venus in full, gleaming armor. It was heavier than mine, and bulkier, but still armor instead of a walker. Just thick, with big boots, big legs, big fists, big everything. And a golden visor that covered her face. She came equipped with the whole shebang this time. “Man-Opener, Gecko what are you two doing here?”

I pointed over. “Nothing much. Just beating my meat. Care to watch?”

The speakers on her armor distorted her voice, but not enough to lose the contempt. “You have the right to remain silent, Gecko.”

“Nah, that implies I’m being arrested.”

“Take him in! I got him nice and wrapped up for you!” Man-Opener said.

Venus pointed an a finger at him. “You too, Man-Opener.”

“Come on!” we both yelled.

She shook her head. “You’ve both caused too many problems, too publicly. I can’t just ignore this, not when you two are ignoring everything to carry out some personal grudge. This will be sorted out and dealt with, don’t worry.”

I sat up, pretty pissed. This isn’t just some big formal alien invasion. Oh, hey, how ya doin’, mind if we invade? They were going to kill me. That makes this top priority! I just hadn’t told her that yet. “Don’t deny me this, Venus ex machina. I owe this asshole a death for what he’s doing. He’s only in this to make me look bad, but this is my life we’re talking abo-ack!” She shot me! In the back! It was with a metal stake, too, which pierced my armor and electrocuted me too much to think of any more jokes. That was probably the intention.

Man-Opener started the slow process of climbing his walker up, but Venus shot it, too. Its legs locked for a second, then continued. Meanwhile, I tried to reach around with numb, tense hands, but the straining muscles didn’t have the dexterity to pull that thing out of my back. So I tried to get my feet underneath me instead. It was hard going, and it felt like I was grinding my teeth down to the roots, but I finally stood up. Venus turned to see how I was doing after knocking MO back on his ass.

I didn’t say anything, but instead signaled my car. It roared as it backed up, angled itself, and then fired a harpoon from the hubcap. Even though it knocked the stake out on impact, it was too late to avoid the course I’d taken. I gave Venus the finger as my car accelerated and dragged me after it, leaving her to clean up Opener.

I had to roll to dodge another two while Venus busied herself with putting down Man-Opener. It wouldn’t take long, no doubt, so I ran for the open front and dived into the open door of my car.

…So that’s it. I headed back to my penthouse, full of anger, denied vengeance, and urine. And the trip to the bathroom only solved one of those. The other two I carried with me past Wild Flower, who watched me with the impotent empathy of someone who wants to comfort an angry murderer. The elevator dropped me down to the art gallery, past the few dumb little exhibits that made it look vaguely like its cover. I deposited my armor in its little repair silo for the automated systems to assess the damage and begin rebuilding based on the blueprints. I grabbed an extra syringe of nanites to get me back up to fighting fitness in case Venus chose to pursue her goody-goodiness further.

And then I walked over to a table holding a sheet and a number of bulky things that fit under a sheet. I pulled them off to reveal parts and pieces that, with a little bit of elbow grease, can fit together to form a rather unique sort of device. A device that ruptures the fabric of spacetime in a limited area, doing catastrophic damage. The first one I ever used was built to shunt half a planet into another dimension and utterly destroy any life on it in the process. That didn’t work out, though it turned out such a bomb could be contained and used to transport a whole organism into another dimension.

I was there working on the Dimension Bomb late into the night and early into the next morning, stopping for bathroom breaks and the sandwich Wildflower left for me by the door, when word spread around the world of a flotilla of unidentified objects in space approaching the Earth in a decelerating velocity.

Ready or not, here they come.

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Enlightening Strikes 7

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Manners are a tricky thing in formal events. I’ve been to a few of them, though I don’t always make it to the actual meal. Generally, it’s all about being extremely polite. Like, fixing a fake smile on your face while talking to people you hate, kind of polite. That’s part of how I get through it. The dancing is also strictly uniform, because wild moving is difficult in some of those suits. This also makes them easier targets. At the dinner table, there’s stuff about folding napkins and using the correct fork on the correct food, perhaps so that snooty people could show off all the forks they had compared to those forkless plebians. So using the wrong silverware, or not kissing the right hand, or impugning someone’s pedigree is all rude. It’s like telling someone to go fork themselves.

Back in the land of the forkless plebians, on the other hand, it’s generally considered rude to, I don’t know, drug everyone in the place. It all had to do with me stopping by Rothstein’s again with a pair of large fruit baskets. Since I had my armor on, they didn’t quite get the joke when I slid in the door and yelled, “Who wants to grab my melons?”

“You’ve got some balls coming back in here,” said the stick figure guy I bullied last time.

“And here they are!” I tossed him a thing of grapes. I don’t know what it’s called for real, but most people could guess what a thing of grapes means.

I set one of the baskets down and noticed the barkeep reaching for something under the bar. Figuring it to be the alarm button again, I walked over and tickled his cheek with a banana. “Hey there. Open wide, I have some yummy for your tummy. Just don’t choke on the seed.”

“Nobody touch the fruit!” yelled the bartender, mostly preaching to the choir. A few, unlikely to look a gift horse in the mouth, had helped themselves to my goodies. Good for them. I even noticed Elita the Warrior Woman there, enjoying my fuzzy peach, the juices dripping down her chin. At least they were enjoying themselves while they could, unlike Chicken Little the bartender.

“Nobody touch the fruit? Gettin’ a bit homophobic around here, isn’t it?” I pointed to a man dressed in bright purple and white. “You gonna take that?”

“Actually, I’m straight, and I hate faggots.”

I swiveled to point at the stick man. “You gonna take that?”

“Why would I be offended?” He cocked his head, puzzled.

I pointed at the purple guy with my left arm, which crossed over my right. “He hates bundles of sticks. Probably thinks they’re gay or something.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being gay,” Stick man responded.

“Oh yes there is!” yelled the purple guy. “It’s not natural!”

“So’s arsenic and cyanide. Why don’t you try those!” countered ol’ Sticky.

Behind me, the bartender pulled a large, sleek handgun of unusual make. He pushed a button on the side and sights flipped up in the shape of a crosshair. I held my hands up. “What? I’m not doing anything. I brought fruit, and then these two got into an argument over homosexuality. Throw them out. I’m just here to enjoy alcohol. And maybe music. Can you play Misty for me?”

“Play Misty?” The puzzled bartender squinted, aiming the gun at my head. I didn’t flinch from it, just double checking the seals of my suit. Right on time, a yellowish, oily mist seeped from the ventilation system. Droplets settled on skin and tights, or were inhaled. After all, who goes into a bar with environmentally sealed power armor on? Me, but not many others. That’s why I was in perfect shape to stop the bartender from pulling the fire alarm and setting off some sort of alert. Maybe they have sprinklers for that, but I wonder if they are serviced by the fire department? Is there a secret super villain fire service instead? Usually, we’re more likely to be firestarters than firefighters.

Note to self: look into making villainous firefighters. And not the type of firefighters who goa round tossing cats into trees, either. Lots of damage happens when someone is doing something illegal, like cooking drugs or dissecting classmates. Double Cross: where discreet meets dangerous.

“You played it for her and you can play it for me!” I told the bartender, who held the gun on me. He tried to hold that gun in one hand while slipping what looked like a biohazard hood over his face. Like that’d do him a lot of good. In the hustle to do that, his ability to multitask took a hit and he accidentally squeezed the trigger. I wasn’t worried, since I’d stepped to the side and he hadn’t done a good job following me, but he still got it close enough to ding off the side of my helmet and deflect off to the side, hitting someone else. They probably would have complained, but they were all too busy trying to get out the door.

Plus, I took the gun away from the bartender and pistol-whipped him with it just as soon as he got his hoodie on. I pressed the gun against my helmet in a mock salute. “Here’s looking at you, kid,” then stopped myself from bending the barrel. Might better look at the design and find out if it would penetrate my armor or not.

While I sat at the bar and made sure I wasn’t getting exposed to the chemical, the situation in the bar escalated. The bar’s patrons were attempting to make a break for it, but the door stubbornly refused to open because Moai stayed outside and probably pushed a dumpster against it. Amused, I watched their attempted escape and poured drinks against the front of my helmet. When the fleeing drinkers decided to put some power to it, I had to chuckle to myself. Someone tried to burst the door with a fireball, but hit a couple guys trying to push it open. One of them turned and stretched his arm back in a badly-aimed punch that hit someone who shot thorns all around himself. Panic, anger, bad decisions, and a helping of synthetic THC had an orgy in their brains and produced the sad, abandoned baby of a bar brawl.

I grabbed a last glass and the gun, then headed upstairs. The upstairs locks were probably pretty difficult for just anyone to lockpick, and the doors were thick, but I had the power. The power of Greyskull, or at least the power of my energy sheaths. I didn’t want to screw up my joints by trying to kick through that heavy son of a bitch. I haven’t replaced those with anything better so far. I’m still trying to design better skin, or maybe more efficient muscles. Maybe put lasers in my boobs. Suckle stimulated light, suckers!

Upstairs, I faced my worst enemy yet…disappointment!

Man-Opener did not, in fact, eat there that day. Well, poo. At least a snooty butler-looking guy attempted to take me out with some sort of fancy spinning hurricane kick. I broke my glass over his head, then countered his moves with my favorite martial arts style: Dildo Style. I shoved the pistol up wannabe-Alfred’s ass and held on, then picked him up by the back of his collar with the other hand. “Window, window, window, where’s a window?”

Huh, I guess I never noticed there weren’t windows around. It works as a privacy issue, I guess, but I wasn’t thinking about it too hard since I had to keep hold of a squealing, wiggling butler. “But butler, you’ve got a gun butt up your butt-ler!” His screams showed a clear lack of appreciation for both the wordplay and the buttplay. “Shut up! Where’s a window?”

“Bathroom!”

Wow, it’s amazing how enthusiastic people can be when you use their intestines as a holster. I carried him to the door. “You mind getting this for me?” He couldn’t yank that door open quickly enough. Inside, a bathroom attendant sat by the door and a basket of towels, wearing a gas mask.

I paused, staring at this guy. “Hi, how ya doing?”

He shrugged.

“You going to try and stop me?”

He held up a towel and mumbled something I couldn’t understand through the mask.

“No thanks. Now…window…ah, there.” It was high up on the other wall. I shifted the butler up. “Hey, stay steady. This isn’t easy, and I’m a bad enough shot as is.” The first shot popped the buttler’s skull cap, but missed the window. What I lacked in aim, I made up in ammunition and decreasing distance. The window didn’t shatter, but several holes weakened its integrity enough that tossing the butler’s body through it knocked open the window.

Disappointing, but at least it reasserted my dominance all over their faces, like a brisk teabagging.

Before going straight to the penthouse, I stopped off at the roof and worked on my guns a bit more. No, there’s still no gym up there; adding a guided missile emplacement in case I need it. I don’t have it disguised since the heroes most likely to spy on me are also the ones working with me, though I considered a giant foam gargoyle. It’s the foam part that takes away from the awesome factor of having a gargoyle. Seriously, that’s an architectural thing we need to do more of. We need a lot more menacing stone figures on our buildings.

Eventually, Wildflower found me up there. I spotted her coming around a corner from the roof access in the 360-display and let her pad closer. I’ve been keeping an ear out to better listen to her, and it was easy to see she was taking her time, so I called out to talk to her first. “Hey there, pretty petals. Have a nice patrol?”

She walked over, getting those pretty bare feet all dirty on the rooftop. I’m not necessarily watching foot crushing videos, but that doesn’t mean I like seeing dirty, nasty feet. That’s one of the areas Wildflower could improve. She knows what I think after a discussion we had while shoe shopping. That’s why she reached over and nudged the back of my helmet with the ball of her foot.

“I broke up a scheme by Wilderment to rob a bank. He hypnotized a bank manager into letting him and some minions in.” A quick online search pulled up info on Wilderment that I went ahead and saved into a short dossier. Willis DeMott, amateur stage hypnotist-turned professional criminal after his first professional show went poorly and the venue stiffed him. A good hypnotist, but even a good one can’t force everyone to listen or do things they never would do normally. Convincing someone to rob a bank is easy; persuading them to hand the money to someone else is quite a bit harder. Wilderment is always on the lookout for some magical or technological improvements, but has never quite gotten his hands on anything useful. Seen as having too little potential. On the plus side, he’s served as his own attorney six times and never been convicted. Credit where credit’s due.

I smiled to myself as I next spoke. “Sure, sure, save the greedy banks. Wonder how much money they stole while you were protecting them.”

Wildflower nudged my helmet some with her foot. “Uh huh.” Her tail gave this extra little swish to the side. “I wanted to see you.”

“Aww, that’s sweet.”

“No. I wanted to see you about something. They tried to arrest Captain Lightning.”Ah yes. They. While there isn’t yet an organization, private or public, with a name forming the acronym THEY, the name itself lends itself to easy contextual understanding.

“Aww, fuck me with a cotton candy candlestick.” I set down the tools and turned back to her. “Oh yeah? Oh ho! Oh no! This ale ain’t no cocktail, but life is candy, cherry brandy, ain’t that dandy, sweetie-pie?”

Wildflower jumped, landing expertly on my shoulders without trowing me too far off balance to the rear. She squatted like that, wrapping her arms around my head and nuzzling her cheek against my helmet. “That’s not how I thought you would react. The news said he is wanted for allegations of espionage after blowing a hole in the Pentagon earlier today.”

Venus walked around the corner, too, ruining my nice little moment with my Weird Science girlfriend. “He was asking questions about a medical examiner who worked with the FBI who disappeared. The Feds wanted to know about the alien organ. They said he stole it and tried to bring him in. He’s fled the country now. It would look bad to come running here. Oh, and he said to tell you ‘thanks’ for the coffee trick. It paid off.”

“Looking bad? Looking for me?” Another person joined us on that rooftop in a smooth, expressionless shiny white helmet. He wore a bright white skintight suit with black at the joints and the palms of his hands. “You need my help, don’t you?”

I stood up, Wildflower digging her claws in to hold on despite the shift. “Man-Opener. How’s the armor? Guess you found out it isn’t so easy fighting Venus, huh?” I’ve rarely seen him without his armor, but that suit of his provides easy access. Probably wouldn’t save him if I tossed him off the building. Disappointingly, Venus and Wildflower probably would.

“She’s got balls. More than you.” He crossed his arms. There’s only so much you can emote when you’re in a helmet.

“I got balls enough not to run arou-”

“No, stop it, this isn’t going to turn into an insult fight!” Venus held her hands out to cut off any conversation between myself and Man-Opener. “Gecko, I told Man-Opener what’s going on. He’s here to see the proof, then we can agree on something that helps all of us, correct?”

She looked between myself and the other villain. “Good. I think we can all agree there are worse people to work with to save the world. But first, you owe him proof that we have a problem.”

I sent out a message to my assistant asking her to bring a few things up to the penthouse, including some of the drugs to ease telepathic headache. “Sure thing. Time to show y’all the coffee trick.”

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Local Politics 14

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On the off chance that I get offed, I have chanced to hide a statement in my computers roughly outlining what I know and what my plan is. It’s not much of a plan. Should be fairly clear by now that I’m not the planning type.

I’ve just gotten really paranoid with all these heroes around, but the natives are restless. The native heroes, I mean. When the other natives are restless, that’s when you see skeletons scalping people. It doesn’t happen often.

They’re all the problem, but Venus and Forcelight are the shiftiest. They obviously don’t trust me, despite my help. See, this is why it’s so hard out there for a pimp. I wonder if one of them knows. But if they know, you’d think Venus would have gotten frustrated to the point of letting me know she knows. I’m exceedingly frustrating. Perhaps I need to let her know that I know. Or, better yet, hint to her that I know that she knows, so that if she doesn’t know, she won’t know.

I don’t know, but see what I mean about Venus making me think all weird and sane?

Ok, ok, OK!

I don’t like her collaborating with Forcelight especially, with them knowing each other so well. But I can’t send them out. None of them. They have to stay in one place because I need to arrange things right.

I know, I could just have them all drop in on another meeting of The Order. We’re setting up shop at City Hall now. The Mayor’s former staff left it to us once Oligarch strode in with Man-Opener at his back. Unfortunately, they practiced a policy of scorched earth and took the coffeemaker with them, so we’re out of that at the meetings. It’s not a problem for me, since I really don’t care that much for coffee. But it’s the little things. You know, stuff that makes the people you’re hanging out with decide not to kill you in a pinch.

That’s important. I wouldn’t be surprised if manners improved some when you know knew that anyone around you could kill you at any time. You know, up until all the killing started. I imagine that part would be quite rude. A lot of amateurs don’t know the polite ways to kill someone. There’s even a specific way to tie a napkin at the dinner table so other victims will know you’re coming back. If you just leave it draped over the corpse’s face, the others will think you’re finished.

It’s called Deadiquette, people, and it’s becoming a lost art.

Anyway, I can’t just have the heroes attack any such meeting and round everyone up. That doesn’t work. It goes against the first point on my plan:

First, maximize the number of potential defenders against the alien attack. This doesn’t mean creating lots of conflict. Conflict doesn’t necessarily create more supers.

I’m trying to do that. I just have to come up with how. I need to keep the group in Empyreal City. I need villains. Hell, I need civilians with machineguns built into their prosthetic arms. And I need heroes. I can’t let them die off or run away, either. It’s not easy to need people, folks. I learned long ago that other people will either let you down or just make shit worse.

The thing is, I can hide. If Oligarch is around, he doesn’t strike me as the type to hide. He’s egotistical, and all about these grand plots to take over something. The sort of guy who could never spend a day just planning to make a really good sandwich instead. Busybodies like that can’t ever leave well enough alone.

Hmm, so I need to eliminate Oligarch…small hiccup, though. What are the odds the heroes would actually take him out? I mean, they didn’t even kill me. They thought about it, sure, but they decided against it. And I can’t do it as Banshee. That’s supposed to be the line that gets drawn. The other villains would give me up to the heroes, or at least refuse to help me out when the heroes come knockin’. I can’t even have people find him murdered with no witnesses around. Why? Because whenever I am forced to inevitably “come out” as Psycho Gecko, I’m going to get unsolved murders pinned on me left and right. Who knows, they might even write a book blaming me for JFK.

And they probably won’t give me any royalties either. I’m still a little nettled at O.J. Simpson for that little “If PG Did It” book he came out with. Not super nettled, but nettled.

Since I can’t make it look like an “accident,” I’ll just have to make it look like an accident. Whenever I arrange this big battle of epic proportions, I’m going to need Oligarch to accidentally die.

I knew ahead of time I didn’t want that to happen at the big dinner we had. It was some fancy Italian place, which was really going above and beyond for the crowd they catered to. Especially Powder, who had survived getting knocked around by The Saurus. Saurus is fine, by the way. Like the other heroes, he doesn’t like laying low and letting villains walk around doing whatever they want.

I think the worst we did at the restaurant was under-tip the waitstaff. Like I said, horribly rude individuals abound. Worse, because so many of them wore costumes, they didn’t have any wallets with them to pickpocket. Most costumes don’t even have room for a wallet, but most people who wear them would never think of putting that kind of personal information within easy reach of an enemy. Which is a shame, because nothing rubs it in quite like the villain beating a hero, then using the goody-goody’s card to pay for a victory meal.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Oligarch went on at the meal. “Congratulations are owed to each and every one of you. We have taken an amazing first step in building a truly better world.”

A better world? Sounds like someone’s buying their own propaganda. He’s unstable and delusional. Tsk, tsk. It’d be a favor, really. Gotta put folks like that down before they wind up hurting themselves and everyone around them.

“I have opened negotiations with organized crime and the unaffiliated criminals of our city to join our Order, as lesser partners, of course.” He smiled. The poor, hallucinating freak. It’d be so easy to put him out of his clear misery. I mean, just look at how pained he looked eating that penne? He’s clearly drunk on pasta and power. All it’d take is one or two good stabs to the throat with the fork I had in my hand.

But no. Too difficult to pass off as an accident. No one at the table, save for Powder getting her little fix, would likely believe I just happened to trip and fall twelve feet to jam my eating utensil into Oligarch’s jugular.

Besides, I’m having the alfredo tonight, and I hate mixing red and white sauces like that.

In a more subdued, conversationalist tone, Oligarch said to me, “By the way, your idea to fix cannon emplacements around the city is great. Please do so at your earliest convenience.”

I nodded. I already had a couple more in place, hidden. Military surplus, which is how I got them so quick. I still have to rig them so they’ll work remotely under my control or as automated systems. That means autoloaders. Most buildings are not made with that in mind.

See, that’s part of the second part of my plan: infrastructure. I don’t know why aliens would pick this planet to invade, or why they’d pick this country to invade, or why they’d pick this city. In fact, technically speaking, I don’t know for sure that they do. But I’m figuring they probably do for some reason. Urban environments are not an ideal battlefield for most confrontations. They can be made even less fun if a city has defensive weapon emplacements, hidden bunkers, underground tunnels, and the occasional explosive device.

He sipped his glass of wine, then looked around at all of us. “It will not be this easy every time, but days like today give me confidence in our ability to make this world into the utopia it deserves.” See, crazy talk. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either.

“What are you on?” some guy called out in a general way, avoiding identification.

Oligarch smiled. “I think we are headed for utopia if we can make it happen. We have the tools, tools like advanced robotics, miniaturization, nanomachinery, and chemistry that goes beyond what mortal man is capable of. The pieces are there, but mankind is too enamored of the concept of independence. For the good of everyone, we must break their laws and drag them to utopia. They require a strong hand.”

This guy’s almost as bad as I am at monologuing. “If they’re so damn dumb they can’t fix their problems themselves, then why do they even deserve a paradise?” I asked.

“We give them paradise because we are their betters. Being better means granting mercy.”

Can’t say I’m big on mercy, and I doubt he would be too if he was at someone else’s mercy. Mercy is fine for the powerful, but not so much when you’ve been the bottom of the totem pole. And it’s more than humans show. Like with my nanites. Someone got a hold of them and figured out how to make more that’ll work for anybody. It’s a revolutionary invention that would drastically cut down on worldwide mortality. What do they do? They’re jumping through hoops so they can make people buy it instead. Explain how doling it out in proportion to money is merciful to a mother and father watching their son go blind from Robles disease, when it could have been given to them instead?

If you’re looking for some grand philosophical statement about how much better I am, that’s not what I’m saying here. I’m just explaining why I hate these people and want them to die.

And I need them to have any hope of surviving. Even Terrorjaw over there, whose maw smells like a skunk getting pegged by a string of garlic.

That brings us to the third part of my simple plan: cooperation. I need to get heroes working together and villains working together. Even heroes and villains working together. Under rule of law, criminals can still flourish. Under rule of Oligarch, he’s notably discriminatory against the whitey tighties of truth and justice.

So Oligarch has to go, but The Order has to stay.

“Oligarch, I have another idea in mind you might like. My company’s had something of an infestation at the docks. Giant bugs. I think it’s about time I was also seen with The Order, and we can clean out some pests. How about a show of power that lets the little people see how merciful we can be?”

Oligarch held his glass out in my direction. “Wonderful idea, my idea. You are a fine example of the cream rising to the top.”

Nope. That was just me resisting the urge to spit alfredo sauce back up in his direction.

I’ll tell y’all one thing. This invasion better be worth it, with ships and lots of enemies and huge explosions. If this turns out to be a bunch of alien bishounen pop stars trying to sleep with easy earth women, I’m going to be sorely disappointed.

Hopefully that’ll be the only sorely I’ll be, too, seeing as I’m now an easy earth woman.

You hear me, horny aliens? This taco cart is closed!

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Local Politics 12

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On this episode of “World Domination in Retrospect,” I’m going to discuss important tips for pest control. Now, if you’re not careful with extra candy, it’s possible you could end up with a T-rex infestation. It’s horrible. You go to open the closet one day and there, scampering away, is a T-rex escaping through a T-rex hole.

Not everyone can identify a T-rex hole by sight, but I have a handy tip that can help even the amateurs figure out if the whole they’re dealing with could be a pest problem. First, take a look at the hole. Is it large? Does it appear to have been made by a dinosaur? Is it between your mother’s legs? If you answered yes to two of those questions, you’re probably looking at a T-rex hole. If you answered all three in the affirmative, your mother might be getting some Jurassic penis.

Now, if you find you have a T-rex infestation, the first thing you’re going to want to do is lay down some bait. Cows, pigs, and your mother in a nightie are all viable options for tempting the creature out into the open. Just make sure it can distinguish your mother from the cows and pigs.

For example, The Order used pigs for bait. Oligarch mapped out a rough area where The Saurus often patrolled, made all the more predictable by The Saurus’s size, and then led an attack on a police precinct. Once again, I served as an observer, except to keep other precincts from interfering. Word got out from assault, but any attempts to mobilize reinforcements failed when radio, phones, and even emails all stopped working for Empyreal City. Kind of a scorched earth way of cutting communications, but I didn’t have the time or give-a-damn to pinpoint each and every cop’s work and business phone.

A calm voice told callers “In the face of almost certain death, smooth jazz will be deployed in 3…2…1…” and then they got an earful of Judas Priest singing “Breaking The Law”. Why be honest about the smooth jazz? Plus, it was decent accompaniment as I watched Powder take a shotgun to the chest as if the cops were shooting spitballs at her. She took the hit, grabbed the gun away, and dug her fingernails into the skin around his mouth. He shook, then collapsed in the throes of overdose.

The other villains made quite the mess out of the cops there, though a Pinkerton detective managed to give them a bit of a scare. He had a bigger sidearm than anyone else, and it packed enough of a wallop to shoot Powder through a wall. Didn’t kill her, but it took the head off Patches when she ran to assist Powder. One moment, the scarecrow woman knelt down, face obscured by burlap sack and sewed-on button eyes.The next, that burlap sack is fluttering in the wind beside a gooey, blood-soaked hole in the wall. Which sounds like an intriguing beverage, now that I think about it.

Patches shouldn’t have bothered anyway, but she really liked sewing stuff. Problem is, this time she reaped what she had sewn.

Powder propped herself up and fixed her shoulder back into its socket, her flesh already closing up. Meanwhile, the Pinkerton ran out of there with all the motivation of a man whose life depends on it. To his credit, he managed to gather a couple other survivors in one of the back rooms and the three of them all made it out. While it wouldn’t have done them any good to die in some futile last stand, it would have entertained me. If only Oligarch gave him a shot, right? Nah, Oligarch floated in the front parking lot near Man-Opener and Terrorjaw.

I’m not amused that the two are seen as reliable heavy hitters nowadays thanks to helping to beat me up that time. I’ll do something about that.

Once the coast was clear and prisoners were rounded up, the three higher-ups took up positions in the area. Man-Opener laid in wait on the top floor of a parking garage. Terrorjaw concealed himself in a fountain out in front of the station. I didn’t see what Oligarch hid behind, but I have to assume he found some way to keep from being spotted.

See, this is one of those notorious gray areas. If I’d given up the safehouse The Saurus stayed at, I could have saved a lot more lives. I’d be a regular philanthropist, relatively speaking. See, The Saurus isn’t like most superheroes, who can just take off the mask and blend into a crowd. Mostly because he’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s such a distinctive feature that he pretty much has no secret identity. He could, but that’d probably involve standing around in a museum all day, trying not to chow down on vandals from the Institute for Creation Research.

The attack brought The Saurus running. More than that, it brought Saurus Jr., too. That smaller T-rex should have been doing my bidding, not running around at the side of the hero his genes came from. The traffic cameras showed Saurus nipping at Junior along the way, trying to get him to back off. That’s a fairly normal response to kids, actually. Annoying little brats. The Saurus tried to slow down and check the situation out tactically, or at least as tactically as possible for him. His young clone ran on regardless, perhaps thinking the whole outing was a race.

Say what you will about villains: we get the best lines, we’re allowed to wear horns and spikes on our outfits, and some of us look awesome in bikinis. However, we are not the most disciplined sort. I speak, of course, about villains beside myself. Of course. First to strike was Roadkill. He sped in behind the wheel of a semi doing 240 in a thirty-five. Junior overshot the crossroad he was stationed beside, but Roadkill managed to turn the truck and smack it into Junior’s rear. It smacked the young dino forward, then caught it on its grill and smashed into the front of a donut shop. And out the back. And through the back of the building behind that.

It was a little harder to make Oligarch out as he chastised the rogue villain, probably through clenched teeth. “Roadkill, I didn’t give the order to attack. That was not our target.”

Roadkill crawled his way out of the architectural and automobile damage to shrug. His earpiece survived, too. “Get me something else good to drive. I can go all day.”

He can. Roadkill is one of those few gifted with superspeed. Unlike the more conventional definition, though, his speed only activates when he’s on some sort of vehicle, in conjunction with it. He can see just fine and breathe just fine, all while trying to break the speed of sound with a golf cart. Well, he probably can’t go that fast, but who knows if he’s tried that in a car designed for speed? Personally, I’d like to see what he could do on a horse. I asked him about that once, and he actually revealed to me that what happens is, “Fuck off, bitch.”

Unfortunately, he also appears to be effectively immune to any crashes he’s involved in, and there have been numerous to test that. Roadkill likes to use cars as battering rams. And, as his maneuvering against Junior shows, it’d be a mistake to assume turns are his weakness. That’s another one of those speedster powers that he’s lucked into.

“Mini Cooper over here. No keys,” someone chimed in.

“Don’t need ’em,” Roadkill said, “Just tell me where ‘here’ is, dipshit.”

Speed was of the essence. Thanks to Roadkill’s premature acceleration, The Saurus knew this was a trap. With Junior now stuck firmly inside it, though, he knew he had to charge in anyway. He roared, and I swear I could see windows vibrate from an aerial view. “Correction: tell me where it is and keep that emu off me.”

I couldn’t tell from the angles if Saurus saw Roadkill, but he stomped right for the endpoint of the crash.

“I’ve got him!” Powder said, running out into the street with speed borne from superior strength and stamina rather than superspeed. The Saurus waited until they’d closed the distance between each other to skid on his foot claws and turn to the side. With one swipe of his tail, he knocked Powder for a home run.

Roadkill stopped to stare at that when he got out to the main street. “Anybody else want a go?” he asked. For a second, nobody answered. Then, everyone heard a clang, a whine of servos, and a whumping sound like helicoptor rotors starting up. Man-Opener’s gleaming white armor had dropped down onto its chicken walker legs behind The Saurus. His walker stood half the height of The Saurus, so the long arms on the side of the wide, headless body could easily reach the T-rex’s neck with its rotating axe-like blades.

Accompanying him, a pair of miniature helicopters descended. They opened up with their tiny guns and rockets, doing practically nothing to the tyrant lizard king. The Saurus took a moment to throw his dictionary at one of them, missing. Then he continued after the last known location of Junior, crunching a Mini Cooper on the street in the process.

“Roadkill, are you still there, or are you, ya know, Roadkill?” I asked.

He hurried out from behind a mailbox he’d hidden behind. “Momma said there’d be days like this.”

“Your mother said this kind of stuff would happen to you?” I asked.

“Momma did a lot of drugs,” he answered back.

The Saurus didn’t actually do much to confront any of them, even Roadkill. Instead, he smashed his head into the building to find Junior. Once he found the clone, he pulled him free. Then he worried about the approaching villains. Roadkill cranked up a mail truck. Man-Opener stomped forward, blades womping. Terrorjaw circled the fountain, then jumped out. Oligarch hovered on jets of flame under his feet and at the rear of his hips.

“Remember, guys, get him over to the area we set up in the street,” I reminded them. We dug, cut, and blasted away a portion under the street and in the sewers big enough to hold The Saurus. Get him over it, blow it, let him fall into our little canyon, then cover it over enough that he can’t get out. Then it’s just a matter of food and waste management. Or so we were told. If Oligarch’s going to blow the roof off the asylum, then I bet he never intended to merely capture The Saurus.

“The center cannot hold. Things fall apart. We shall improvise, Banshee.” Oligarch raised both arms. Panels opened along the bottoms and tops of the forearms, the shoulders, the thighs, and his calves. On his back, a circular panel pushed itself open. A seemingly endless number of bullet-sized micromissiles fired, trailing lines of smoke that weaved a tapestry in their targeting patterns. They closed in on The Saurus, who tossed Junior a neighborhood away for safety before they tore up the ground under his feet. He fell from lack of proper footing, at which point the micromissiles tore into the supports of the already-weakened buildings surrounding him. It was nowhere near as clean, painless, or deep a burial.

“I am afraid this one must die with our original plan for containment scattered to the winds,” Oligarch said.

I talked to him while shooting emails over to R&D. “Belay that. I’ve got room in a lab. It’ll mean public association, but I think we’re close enough to our goals that we don’t need to worry about that, eh?”

“Are you sure?” Oligarch asked.

I tried to sound as enthusiastic as Technolutionary. “Think of the research! With the right equipment, I could make an entire clone army of these guys to do our bidding…”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Cloning isn’t really that useful yet, especially accounting for aging.

Roadkill whooped at that, and even Terrorjaw got a chuckle out of the idea. “That sounds awesome!” Powder yelled into the comms.

“Powder, you’re alive?” I asked.

“I landed in a pond in Central Park with a bunch of bodies and a truck, if you can believe it.”

“I suppose I can. So, Ollie, what do you say to some dinosaur ranching?”

The trailer hauling the captured dino to one of my lab compounds made quite a scene. I answered Venus’s call before it finished the first ring.

“You traitorous bastard! I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you!”

“I made a deal. He wanted one with me because SOMEHOW word got out that I was Banshee. Gee, I wonder if anyone had been spreading that rumor. So I finally agreed to save The Saurus for quote-unquote ‘research purposes’. You should be glad I did. Now, for once, can I get a little trust and respect from one of the alleged ‘good guys’ around here?”

“Are you going to release him to me, at least?” Venus asked, voice chilly.

I narrowed one eye incredulously. “You have a way to get him back to you safe house unnoticed, and the medical equipment to bring him back to 100%? He’s in bad shape right now.”

“I have regenerative nanites from Forcelight’s company. They’re a miracle in a bottle.”

“A miracle for humans. Do they work on dinosaurs?”

She paused for a long time after that, then answered, “I don’t know. I haven’t tried them on Kid Saurus here yet.”

“He’s with you?”

“Yeah, we got to him before any villains could. He’s shaken up and hurt, but I don’t think there’s any permanent damage.”

Damn. Son of a bitch tried to fellate a 200+ MPH semi and the worse they can say is “shaken up.”

“I know that we have doctors and veterinarians. We can do more for The Saurus than you can. You can let the little guy know that. But I have some bad news about Oligarch. He’s close to his endgame, and he’s not going to stop until you’re out of the picture. I have reason to believe he wants you dead. Good news is, I have a way to pull the rug out from under him.”

“How?” she asked, voice losing its angrier edge, but sounding a note of impatience.

“Well,” I told her, “first thing’s first: you’re going to have to die.”

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Local Politics 7

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I got to be mission control for a crime. Normally, I’m a hands-on kinda person, but watching and advising turned out to be fairly entertaining, too. Gave me an idea or two for the future, while we’re at it.

So the first part was fairly simple. When I’d talked to Professor Electro, we’d gone over that there were two main ways to start things. Either hit someplace smaller and leave enough of a mark that everyone knows he did it, or get it into position for the big score and perform a demonstration there. The problem is the lack of time. You start throwing lightning bolts around, you either wind up with significant police and hero attention or a bunch of worshipers. I suppose it depends on who you aim at and if anyone wants to base a system of governance on some guy on a mountain handing out lightning bolts.

We opted to try a demonstration first. Everything and everybody fit into a moving truck that stopped outside Global United Trust. The bank, with offices only in the United States, is particularly divisive after losing a lot of people money back during the financial crisis. Like the rest of the people, they got into the mortgage-backed security business.

Not sure if I’ve explained that before. This is going to be one of the more boring, educational sections for y’all, but parts of it are important for understanding the overall scheme.

Basically, big banks started making home loans so they could use the debt as an investment. According to Einstein, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. Regular interest is pretty strong too. This doesn’t sound that bad so far, but where they really got greedy is when they realized they’d made about all the loans people could afford. So banks began to go after people with worse and worse finances by making the payments look small at first and by telling these people they could afford it. After all, they’re banks. Why would they ever want to lose money by loaning money to people they know can’t pay it back? Well, they did because the mortgage-backed securities were so juicy and could even be sold off to make immediate money.

This only lasted as long as people kept paying their mortgages. I said they made the payments look good at first, remember? Yeah, once a certain amount of time passed, those payments went up. Or giving a loan to people with no ability to pay it back led to the natural consequence of them failing to keep paying it. Either way, that amazing source of income suddenly got cut off. But don’t worry; the banks insured many of those investments.

Of course, as y’all may or may not realize, too many expensive claims coming in at once messes with an insurance company’s ability to actually pay out. Insurers don’t just keep premiums in bank accounts to earn interest for them. Well, some of it they do. They’re required by law to keep at least a certain minimum in there. The rest is invested to make more money. Anyway, the companies who insured these securities weren’t able to pay the claims and started going bankrupt, which suddenly meant that all these banks were going to lose their money after all. On top of that, there’s apparently this thing called a credit default swap where people essentially took out insurance on other people’s debts that would pay out if the other company defaulted, which made a killing for a lot of people, up until they realized that the people who owed them money didn’t have it to pay.

That really exacerbated things. Dear readers, y’all shouldn’t exacerbate so much. You could go blind.

That, FINALLY, is where Global United Trust came in. They made a lot of money in the short term, then lost a lot of money. Global United Trust being quite a bit smaller than some of these banks at the top, they could have lost a lot of people’s lunch money. You earn a fuckton of bad will by telling people “Sorry, you can’t have your money back because the bank needs it to pay off our own debts.”

That’s why runs are so dangerous, and I don’t just mean the sort caused by adding too much Rotel to your taco meat. Banks also only keep some of the money in people’s savings accounts. They reinvest too. That’s one of the ways they actually make money, doing things like investing in bonds, real estate, and mortgage debt.

All of that is why most of the money in the United States doesn’t exist in dollar form. Ones and zeroes, just like the financial stratification of the U.S. And, hey, I know I sound like the Red Menace here, but I wouldn’t have to steal from the megarich if they spread the wealth around a little more. If people could make good money from middle-class people with less risk, they would rob them instead. Simple as that.

That’s why we went after Global United Trust. Prof. Electro hopped out of the van, accompanied by a half dozen men and women wearing black coats, black gloves, black pants, and wearing black Lycra underneath all that to further protect their identities. According to Carl, minions hate being identified working with specific villains. It gets them punched on more often by heroes, or charged as accomplices to actions that would be crimes even during wartime.

Before anyone could get a good look at everyone, the Professor and his crew headed down an alley next to the bank and popped open an exterior door to the security room. I’d sent out some interns to find the blueprints for the bank. Don’t say Chat Des Combes didn’t get me to listen to at least some advice before the French catburgler in the skintight suit turned on me back in Europe.

I’m already changing everything about how I operate, so I might as well take in the occasional piece of good advice. Keep the good, ignore the bad; “but test/examine everything. Hold fast/on to what is good,” as the Christian holy book says in stark contrast to the bumper sticker that reads “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

Once in the security room, the security guard cashed in his life insurance policy and the team plugged a USB drive into the security computer that gave me control over it for my viewing pleasure. They then spread out, some through the connecting hall and some through windows that gave office workers a scenic view of graffitied alley walls. Coming up behind everyone, they forced tellers down at electro-gun point.

Professor Electro’s own creations, the electro-guns are designed to shoot electricity at people in defiance of conventional physics. Tasers have to use those little line things to convince electricity to go through another person before it heads to the ground. Lightning is a notorious hippie like that, always trying to hug the Earth. And no, he wouldn’t tell me how he does it.

The civilians went down also, except for some old guy who pulled his concealed handgun and then dropped it once his heart attack started. Professor Electro, resplendent in his lab goggles, breast plate, and lab gloves, marched the bank manager out in full view. Two of the minions went to work packing up the teller cash while the other four ran out and unpacked the Lightning Rod. I used the capital letters because Electro named it that. It isn’t actually a rod. It looks more like a box with four swirly antennas on the sides and a pump going through the middle.

The minions had to get it out because it needed a straight shot to the sky with its antennae. I told the Professor I could get a chop shop to add a sun roof to the truck if he gave me enough time, but he wanted to hurry on this one.

“Everyone, please file outside into the street!” Prof. Electro announced, waving his electro-pistol around the room.

This is where he and I had a bigger difference of opinion. I’d suggested he just bring out the manager, or even leave them all in there. The Prof. Insisted that we minimize casualties. This from the guy who wanted to threaten the entire city with the machine! When he told me that, I wished I had a metal glove or something to hit him upside the head with. Even though I shut him up in the office by pointing out that he should be willing to carry through with whatever he’s threatening, he called an audible in the field and led them all out. I even heard him mutter over comms, “We could have taken the one in the office if not for that psycho henchwoman.”

Louder, addressing the crowd, he said, “Behold! I will now demonstrate the power of my Lightning Rod!” With that, he ordered the henchmen away, revealing his Rod to the assembled hostages to great gasping. He set to work, adjusting the knobs and levers. The tips of the swirly antennas glowed, then released beams of pale blue light into the air. Almost immediately, lightning crackled across the clear sky and a bolt struck the bank, trashing the electronics.

Professor Electro and his somewhat-stunned gang cleared out of there before anyone knew it caught fire because the police were on their way at that point. Even without alarms, plenty of people had cell phones outside to catch the attack and report it, with videos making it to Youtube before Prof. Electro even escaped.

The next day, Prof. Electro stood atop 30 Park Place, a skyscraper still under construction. A shame we couldn’t use one of the better looking buildings instead of one of these newer monstrosities. I actually like the arches and points of the ones from the early 1900s as compared to the giant glass sticks everyone wants to put into the sky nowadays. It also didn’t help that some of those older ones house financial services. Prof. Electro and I considered some of those, but he accepted my reminder to back up his threats if necessary. And he definitely didn’t want to be on one of those buildings when struck.

So he sat on the roof of 30 Park Place, not passing Go, not collecting $200, and addressed a Giant Screen that featured icons of a dozen major banks and insurers who had interests in the residential and commercial buildings of New York. “Ladies, gentlemen, parasites… what I did to Global United Trust was only the tip of the iceberg. Pay the amount I forwarded to each of you to the accounts I forwarded to you within the hour, or the entirety of the iceberg will fall upon you like the Titanic…which really sunk by aliens, but nevermind that now. You can lose millions each….or this wonderful skyline becomes target practice and you lose everything, just like what the aliens did to the Titanic.”

I wasn’t sure about letting them know they weren’t the only ones in that boat, but the Professor claimed it would set them at ease to know that they weren’t the only ones in that situation. They got to keep it within the family, with an understanding that they could help each other get out of it.

I invited some others to watch the view from the cameras, satellites, and Giant Screen. Moai pulled up a recliner just in time for Crash to settle into it when Carl walked into the art gallery. “Hey boss, I got the cooler!”

“Good, hand me soda.” I held up my arm, hand in position to hold a bottle. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed me a bottle. “Hail Hydrate, boss.”

“Hail Hydrate?” Crash asked.

“Hail Hydrate.” I told her.

She held up her hand. “Hail Hydrate!”

Carl handed her a drink. “Hail Hydrate.”

We didn’t have much of a view for awhile as the clock ticked down. Prof. Electro got his ass out of there. Then, at about the thirty minute mark, Forcelight flew into view. She glowed white, which matched her long hair and blank eyes. She’d altered her costume, though. She wore clingy black and grey with gold trim.

It figured. As the owner of a medical company with a lot of hospitals and research facilities, she and her board probably had connections with one of these captains of finance. The project that gave Forcelight her ability to fly and manipulate light as if it were solid put a hit in the coffers of Long Life, her company. The resulting loss of money forming a superhero team called Shieldwall actually convinced the Long Life Board of Directors to remove much of the financial decision-making power from her.

They needed the money, in other words, and she could get back in her own people’s good graces by helping out. She wasn’t quite who I expected to fly in and try to save the day. I’d hoped for another sighting of my dear Venus. I’m sure I’ll get over it.

“There’s no one here. Just the screen,” she spoke to a device on her wrist.

I held up my phone and spoke, my voice coming out of the screen. “That’s right. Professor Electro can fire his device from anywhere in the city. Much of this was a deception, I’m afraid. But you don’t shouldn’t worry about that. You have bigger problems.”

She blasted the screen to pieces, then looked around, noticing the situation she’d fallen into when she wasn’t looking. The Oligarch, Terrorjaw, Man-Opener, Giuseppe’s Toy Soldiers, and numerous other villains flew into view from lower floors of the building. Herne the Hunter rode his motorcycle up the side of the building and landed it on the roof, aiming his spear right at Forcelight, his ghost hounds appearing at his heels.

You could almost hear the ding as the lightbulb went off in her head. Maybe that was the ka-ching as the various accounts on my side computer monitor began to fill up with the requested amounts. Or, more likely, it was the microwave announcing that our popcorn was finished right at the best part.

Still, a shame we didn’t fire off that Lightning Rod again, but at least my little Psycho Sanitarium got itself a new tenant.

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Local Politics 4

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Ah, finally. A couple weeks into this endeavor and I was graced with an audience. The Oligarch got around to visiting with me. He pretty much decided he’s the leader of this “Order” group, which is to be expected. He is the arrogant son of a bitch who called us all together and decided we could take over a city. And then, the world! Of course, it’s all doomed to failure.

I got an email from him. “Are your affairs in order?” is all it said, though the sender said “O”.

Looking at it, I figured it was either Oligarch attempting to get a hold of me, or someone threatening me. Turns out it was just an invitation from Oligarch to another meeting, this time to be held in slightly less swanky conditions. A shame, really. The fancy room at Rothstein’s was much better than I thought it’d be last time.

This time, we all met in some old community center in one of the bad neighborhoods. Naturally, it meant we dressed down for the occasion, but I still kept a mask on me for when I walked through a foyer with coloring best described as various shades of depressing yellow and brown. I didn’t think “kill me now” was a color, or at least I figured it was a sort of pink.

I found a circle of chairs, some of them occupied. I didn’t show up last this time.Oligarch reserved that honor for himself, barging in and tapping his cane on the floor. “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to see all of you again!”

“A step down from Rothstein’s,” mentioned Man-Opener through the vocalizer on his helmet. Excellent point.

“Last time, I spoke on where we can be. After that, we broke for mutual cooperation but little direction of how to achieve that goal. Our meeting place today reflects where we are now, a word choice including both our group and the world itself. Look-”

I interrupted here. “Last time I checked, the world had donuts. Danishes maybe.”

“Look around.” Oligarch started up again.

One of the others, a man in a rainbow costume, spoke up, “What about coffee? Even AA has coffee, and they’re required to give their lives to God.”

Terrorjaw chuckled. “Oligarch, I mean this in a good way, but you’re not my higher power.”

Oligarch slammed the bottom of his cane against the floor and raised his voice. “Look around! This is a humble state, but this is where we are now. If you don’t like it, work!” he slammed the cane again for emphasis on the final word.

“On what project?” asked Giuseppe.

Oligarch smiled warmly. “I think you are all going to enjoy this idea. We begin by driving out the heroes.” He tossed a stack of files onto the floor in the middle of us all. “The Saurus. Captain Lightning. The Lone Gunman. Forcelight. Vixen. I have other names in there. If we topple this ‘tower of justice’ from the top down, the bottom floors will pull themselves out.” He gave the base of the pile a poke with his cane. “You get the point.”

I raised a hand. “I’m trying to keep myself from being publicly known as a villain, something that’s become somewhat difficult with Venus and Wildflower linking my identities. I can help a lot, though. We have lab space for rent, a moving service, chop shop, transport resale, and temporary hiding places in our various Double Cross businesses.”

Oligarch nodded before dismissing my concerns. “You bring a lot to our organization. I have others more qualified for beating our fellow superhumans in a fight. Barring a change of mind from the current Rubik, you can assist us by working on containment of superpowered threats. A prison or laboratory would work best for holding the heroes we defeat. Perhaps Giuseppe can assist you?”

Giuseppe nodded, but then another of the villains I’d yet to look up announced his urge to speak with a knock on the side of his metal chair. If I remembered correctly from introductions, he was Herne the Hunter. He wore the same mask as last time, a luchador-style that exposed his mouth, chin, nose, and eyes. He wore an antlers design on the forehead as his symbol, apparently. He pointed to me. “I c’n whip up some traps ye’ll find useful.”

I shrugged, then nodded. “If you have anything particularly useful against Wildflower, that might help. Kind of a human-plant-catgirl hybrid. I think she’s reporting to Venus on me. It’s real annoying having her around company headquarters. Last I heard, Security’s started using burning pitch.”

A little bit of an exaggeration. Pitch would do terrible things to the windows, sidewalk, and passerby. Instead, they’ve taken to using large barrels of boiling water to dislodge Wildflower when they catch her hanging around. It doesn’t work as well when she’s at the very top, for obvious reasons. Worse, she’s delaying installation of more defenses for the building. The cannon was just the tip of the iceberg. I have rockets and a surface-to-air missile emplacement sitting in storage until we put them in. If a more permanent solution isn’t found soon, I’ll just have to authorize my guys to start launching cattle at her. It’ll be messy, but it’s a lot more effective than hurling insults.

So that’s how the meeting went. Oligarch’s keeping the long game under wraps, but a conspiracy to expel or capture heroes from the city is a fairly solid start. He’s right in that once you get rid of the big threats, the smaller ones won’t be able to pick up the slack. Sun Tzu would be shitting bricks over it, though. The old Chinese fellow was a firm believer in winning the fight first, then starting it.

As far as the company goes, things are starting to get on track. Our more basic prosthetics are blowing people away. The big bucks, though, will be in celebrities. Once a famous enough person loses a limb and their career, we’ll be there to offer a premium prosthetic with full range of motion for extremely high cost.

Also of note is that the food and coffee division of the company will be releasing a new candy bar for public consumption. The Asylum Bar. I was quite firm on the name of our little wrapped-up stick of peanut brittle, but Marketing is still debating on a slogan. Most of the team is pushing for “When life gets stressful, seek Asylum Bar.” Of all the other suggestions in the pipeline, nobody but me wants to go with “Asylum Bar: it’s packed full of nuts.”

Finally, there’s the issue of Technolutionary. I try to keep tabs on the guy since I don’t like him. It’s gotten harder because he’s holed himself up in a sub-basement to Sigma Labs that does’t even show up on the blueprints. Despite the successful recovery of most of his research, he no longer has the files needed to continue on the T-rex cloning project. Looks like we’ll just have to kidnap the fresh new dinosaur back sometime in the middle of all this “taking over the world” business.

Technolutionary also apologized for all the heat Wildflower’s invasion caused, but he’s going to turn the corner on human-computer bonding any day now. Yeah, right. In my experience, most people say “any day now” when they aren’t even sure what year something will get done. I finally gave this guy what he’d been masturbating to, a sample of my DNA, and he still resorts to scooping the brains out of homeless people and putting in slave computer units.

He has fewer of those, too, and mainly serving as lab assistants since he doesn’t trust anybody else to work with him.

I suppose he has a point when it comes to Wonder, our resident R&D drug guru who tells me that Stang’s been selling a lot of Boneless ever since a series of odd accidents caused most of his business to do their titty oggling elsewhere. It’s one of the drugs Giuseppe had, and I think it’s pretty funny what people will come up with. Boneless is, to put it mildly, a muscle relaxer. Except it doesn’t just relax muscles. It relaxes muscles, tendons, and even the bones themselves. There’s some rumor floating around that somebody did so much of it his bones completely disappeared.

Regardless of that exaggeration, it does relax people more than any other drug out there, and the bones are affected. Whatever the drug is made of renders bone soft and malleable to relax the fuck out of people. I’m not likely to try it until they figure out how to pack a Chinese masseuse into a pill so she pops out and steps on your back wherever you are.

Wonder suggested we get some ourselves and put it in the herbal tea, then charge double per cup. I like his thinking. That’s one use for Boneless that wouldn’t extend to masseuse-in-a-pill. I know from personal experience how hard it is to hide a pair of women in a bunch of tea after this one infuriating incident involving Wheel of Fortune.

Becoming a non-action villain sure has been boring, though. Sure, you’ll get tired at a desk, but it’s not the same thing as being out in the field, knocking heads. Seriously, if you coop me up, I start to go a bit crazy. And I needed to go find a place qualified to hold violent people.

Naturally, I shopped for an asylum. If only they still had one of those classy old places where people abused the patients. They’d be very well equipped for dealing with supers. I wonder what Venus looks like strapped to rusty bed springs?

You’d think a neighborhood with an abandoned, creepy old asylum would be a safe place for a woman to walk by herself nowadays, but then I was accosted by a mugger. A mugger! Me! He walked up and pulled a knife out like that’d do something. “Give me your purse.”

I giggled. “Is that all you got, that dinky little knife?”

“It’s a knife, bitch. I’ll cut you!” Combined with the hoodie and the loose jeans, I was reminded why cliches are sometimes created in the first place.

“With that? I can understand if someone’s got performance issues. Can’t quite bring a big weapon to the table. If that’s all you’ve got to work with, maybe you ought to get someone else and doubleteam me.”

The fellow cussed and grabbed for my purse. I kicked my heel right into his crotch. The mugger dropped to one knee, holding his wounded crotch. I grabbed the knife from his hand and walked around behind him. “Now then, let’s give the emergency room doctors a funny story.”

Ya know, it really sounds like it hurts to get a knife shoved up your ass.

It’s also rather odd that Venus didn’t show up. The one time I need a hero and one doesn’t show? She better not show up whining about me hurting someone. That was clearly a reasonable self-defense response.

Look at me. I’ve toppled supers with godlike powers, and I’m so starved for personal conflict I’m settling for muggers. I mean, it was hilarious, but still. That’s it. I’ve got to call up Herne and set up a hunt. I’m thinking big catgirl, preferably with plants.

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Local Politics 1

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“That’s why we need registration! These are dangerous people, dangerous beings. They aren’t human. Clearly they don’t hold themselves to human laws. The law I’m discussing isn’t meant for every ma and pa, their children, their neighbors. It won’t affect the rights of normal folks, but it will make your lives safer!”

I switched off the TV with a blink. The election cycle had fired back up the registration crowd. I’m actually considering supporting it, just to make things more difficult for the heroes. It’d help if I didn’t do that whole Banshee thing. Prior to that incident at the Mask & Garter, I’d have been a perfect spokeswoman for an innocent, hard-working business owner hassled by superhumans.

Now, I settled for wearing a fake sling and doing business out of my penthouse because I was supposed to be wounded as far as the general public knew. Secret identity problems, except it’s worse. Now my secret identity has a secret identity. All that’s left now is for me to secretly be Marilyn Monroe having found the fountain of youth and now a supervillain. Perhaps I’ll arrange for someone to discover that about me so my secret identity’s secret identity has a secret identity.

So I sat in my penthouse, avoiding the news because they can’t stop talking about the latest clown car of candidates. I had more important things to do. If I want to pick who is president, I’ll go make it happen. Kidnapping, mind control, evil clones, assassination. There’s a thousand different ways for supervillains to participate in politics. Still, the lack of good television had me irritable. I had hoped we’d be on to showing horror movies. It’s October now, after all.

One of the things I was working through was personally overseeing some major operations. We’ve burned through a shitload of money and taken a lot of losses lately. Luckily, we’re insured for meddling superheroes. Now Wildflower is actually wanted for breaking and entering, theft, assault, and maybe corporate espionage. I’m not sure if that one’s a legal matter, but I told them that all the same. Either way, I called the cops on the hero who broke into my hidden secret lab where Technolutionary was turning hobos into robots and growing a cloned T-rex. Then I filed an insurance claim and bribed the adjuster. That stolen lab equipment can get real expensive.

I did something similar with the telepath. There, public prejudice is on my side. People are uncomfortable with someone reading their thoughts. I don’t have to deal with that problem, I type as I share my inner thoughts with almost tens of people in another dimension. Also, the security guys are playing ball and claiming she forced them.

I stand by my poor, deluded guards and paid their bail. They’ll fit right in, working for Carl.

I showed mercy to the poor girl, too. The District Attorney’s going to try and get her treatment for her obvious mental issues. I spoke with him about it personally. It means a lot, you know, when the near-victim makes an effort to get their assailant some help. Good guy, that DA. I’ll have to make sure he gets reelected. I’m sure that’s nothing money can’t solve. It’s a shame Venus is probably going to be harder on the poor woman.

Hey, there’s an idea. I fired off an email to Marketing and Sales to have someone manufacture a link between Venus and the Super Registration crowd. Ain’t I a stinker?

I think I’ve mentioned I’m getting proposals from some villains? Not the marriage kind. Those go to the spam folder. These are people looking for investors. Some people just need a bit of funding to make their dreams into other people’s nightmares. Mad scientists, homegrown inventors, and thieves; all need just a little bit of help to get things started. It’s not just money. A centrifuge. Work space. A getaway van. I’m not funding that one. Anyone who can’t steal their own van for a plan to rob an armored car hasn’t earned a lot of confidence in their abilities. Even the ones I turned down, I still informed them they were welcome to make use of other services like the hideaways and secret medical care.

Hospitals ask questions if you get shot. Imagine how many more questions they ask if you come to them with one of The Saurus’s teeth sticking out of your leg. With my labs undergoing extensive renovation, it won’t be that unusual for my people to operate out of unusual facilities with strange equipment. It’s not perfect, and I really should acquire my own hospital, but it’s not a bad alternative to seeing someone whose license was removed. Or a vet. Then again, some superhuman physiologies have so many other species mixed in that a vet is entirely appropriate. Just look at Urban Croc, Terrorjaw, or Venus’s late boyfriend, the Human Sloth.

Add in the tendency for equipment mishaps and cybernetics, you might as well bring a car mechanic and a computer programmer into the hospital visit.

One curious little thing I received: an invitation. I was invited to bring along one armed guard to meet in Rothstein’s Executive Dining Room. Ah, Rothstein’s Executive Dining Room. The perfect place for a bunch of supervillains to meet in fancy dress without having to openly admit that they lack the influence or money to avoid fancy dining at other places.

I know I haven’t made this argument very well, but super crime doesn’t often pay that well. I don’t care about money, but I had to steal from pretty much every bank in this city to be able to burn through all the cash I’m spending now, and others usually have it worse. I already mentioned problems finding healthcare, and that also means that most villains pay a bit more. Factor in costumes, gadgets, special tools and equipment to build gadgets, materials, programmers, henchmen, lairs, and the possibility of losing all that with one badly-timed raid. It can be hard for even a frugal supervillain to hold onto money.

Won’t anyone think of the starving villains? For just eighty cents a day, you could provide clean water and good food to a grown man who wants to tear down civilization with his army of mutated flying scorpions.

Why do it if not for the money? Now that’s a good question.

I arrived at Rothstein’s in a limo with Carl at my side. I’m letting Crash stay innocent. Well, innocent of this supervillain stuff. Not saying anything about anything else she may or may not be innocent of. When it comes to criminal records, Double Cross is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Carl got out first, adjusting his suit before helping me out. The bouncer, a short but wide man with glowing purple skin, actually opened the door for me. While I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of Rothstein’s many times as Psycho Gecko, rarely have they been so welcome to me. Nobody even cussed at the sight of me. Wait, scratch that, I do remember somebody saying “Damn, would you look at the legs on her.”

I walked those fine legs of mine past the bar and normal dining area where some of the patrons enjoyed their sports shows. One floor up, I came to the Executive Dining Room and found a few other costumed or suited men and women milling around. Some were watching it, but none objected as I entered. Carl peeked his head in long enough to see nothing but a crowd of costumes and decided to wait outside.

The room was nice; lit by a chandelier with antique wallpaper. I know, you wouldn’t think wallpaper could be antique, but I actually recognized this one from the Louvre. The Grande Chasse, and one of less than ten remaining from the 1850s. Old wallpaper, old paneling, old wood flooring, and an old table in the middle of the room. I suspected the tablecloth probably wasn’t as old. I’m just guessing that part based on basic human nature. Specifically, human eating habits.

The inhabitants painted quite a contrast to the setting. I recognized Terrorjaw, the sharkman. He sat across from Man-Opener, who left his normal white and black walker at home on this trip. Surprisingly, he’d popped a section of his black faceless helmet off so he could eat. There were others, including a wild-haired, bespectacled old man in an ill-fitting suit. He sat at one end of the table. Didn’t recognize him. I just mentioned him because it worked well with pointing out the other end of the table: The Oligarch. That oldtimer’s hair wasn’t wild at all, and his suit looked custom. Nice vest, too. Diamond stud, ruby ring on platinum. Money, but not gaudy.

You’d never know it if you’d ever seen his armor. The guy favors purple and gold.

So let’s see who all I’ve accounted for…four, along with me. There were more, but I could spend up the entire interdimensional data ration describing costumes on people of little to no importance. So how about we move things along?

Oligarch stood up and raised his hand. “Wonderful to see you, Banshee. I apologize if we get right to our meal, but we are eager to start the meeting, though your presence truly blesses and enchants our gathering. Please, sit and enjoy the hospitality of Rothstein’s.”

Perhaps if I was George R.R. Martin or Brian Jacques, I’d waste a lot of time describing food in intimate, almost sensual detail. As the humble Psycho Gecko, I can merely say that it was pretty good. The rice was a little cold, and the gravy could have been thicker on the chicken. It’s just that some of us have better things to do than pad our autobiographies with all the meals we eye-fucked. That’s fucking with the eyes, not in the eyes.

Unfortunately, since no one talked about why we were all there until after dinner, it didn’t leave us with a lot to talk about during dinner, though Terrorjaw and Man-Opener looked chummy. They should be. The bastards were part of that team once to kill me. Didn’t I disembowel Terrorjaw? Ah hell, everyone kept coming back to life from that mess anyway. Why should it be a surprise he’s back now? Can’t ask them about it anyway. Damn secret identity problems.

“It’s a nice meal, and all,” I started once staff began clearing dishes. “I’m sure y’all understand that I’m a busy woman in my position, so please enlighten me and anyone else not in the know. Why are we here, Oligarch?”

He smiled the brightest smile I ever saw on a human being. Damn, he can afford lots of dental work. “I am here in order to prevent my old wayward friends at the Master Academy from extending their good works to the east coast. They believe I am dead.” Come to think of it, I’d heard that rumor too. See, this is why someone like me is so valuable. I’m really good at making sure people stay dead, Terrorjaw notwithstanding. “This city is different after Spinetingler’s visit. Much is up in the air in the largest city under the eagle’s wing. Conventional order is tenuous and the Master Academy moves in to take replace it. Captain Lightning patrols on occasion. Organized crime has become unorganized. Ironically, the anarchist Psycho Gecko is no longer present to frighten away those who would bring order when the city needs it most. Ladies and gentlemen, we can be that order. We can take this city, and hold the largest city population in the United States hostage against any attempts to oust us from power. You hear the politicians. They preach against us, afraid, uncertain. The human species is becoming obsolete. It’s time we hasten their end. My dear friends, let us join forces and we can rule this city. We can forge a new nation. We can forge a new…world.”

This has got to be the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard. Eh, I might as well see how this plays out. Who knows, maybe I can get a bronze statue in my likeness before we all inevitably turn on each other. It’s like this one cop explained when talking about this high speed chase he joined in: how often do you get to be part of a thirty-two-cop-car-pileup?

And that’s how Banshee became a member of The Order.

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Killing Time 9

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I’ve generally considered extensive plans to be overrated. I’ve barely been keen on simple plans, though they are better than most. Just like with a machine, the fewer moving parts on a plan, the less chance it gets screwed up. The inevitable struggle between order and chaos.

If I had to say one came first, I’d think it was order. A nice orderly pile of all the energy in the universe and then…bang. Since then, chaos has been the great equalizer in any plan. Every independent actor has fed it.

But enough philosophical talk. It was a good enough distraction, but you probably wanted to hear about what predicament I’m in now, which conveniently undermines my point.

It started much the way my puberty began…surrounded by deformed beings while I planned how to get into a place. The place in question was the Foley building. At 725 feet tall, it wasn’t the tallest building in the city. I wouldn’t be climbing it anytime soon, though. Thanks to my own high profile crimes, the only service I knew that offered discreet flights for secretive clientele with lots of money was out of business. I was about as grounded as the mercenary pilots who had helped me.

That meant I needed to improvise a bit, which I’m none too shabby at. I ran into trouble getting the cooperation of my allies around my car. The Rejects, as a semi-official group, were being rather stubborn in their regard for conventional views on physics.

“You’re going to get us all killed.” Zane said as he pounded his fist on the hood of my car.

“Hey, watch it! I’ve got some explosives in there that are tempermental,” I berated the man with the giant version microencephaly.

“You almost killed us already, didn’t you?” Mika asked. She rubbed the bone spikes composing the lower half of her arms together. Her nervous tic irritated the rest of the group, I could tell. It sounded like bone rubbing over bone. But her flesh ended at her elbows and bone alone stuck out in conical points. There just wasn’t much she could do with that, nor could she help the similar spikes under her knees. She kept her balance with the last of her mutations, a pair of skin-colored tentacles that dangled out of her back.

I had been learning their names. Mika, Zane, Larry, Roberta, Steve, and…I glanced at the last of the Rejects, whose group identity warranted treating that as a proper noun now. The last member of the group had been nicknamed Tom by all the others in the group. In contrast to Zane, his head was perfectly normal in size. Yep, there was nothing wrong with it in circumference and so on.

It was just shriveled looking and a dark grey color, with deep, black pits where the eyes and mouth would normally be. We sometimes noticed something moving around inside the holes. He never spoke, but he chose to stick with us.

Tom had no particular objection to me getting him killed. Good man thing, that Tom. He was dependable and loyal. Possibly brainless, but dependable and loyal.

“It’s a very simple plan. Nobody needs to die, except for all the people we kill. They definitely need to die. Think of it this way, every person you scare off is someone I don’t have to mutilate. Y’all can spread out through the downstairs, cause some panic, and save lots of lives. Just leave this Prime guy to me.”

They bought that long enough for us to all get loaded up in the ice cream truck and ready to go. Moai and I sat in front, with the Rejects in back. Yeah, we saved the truck.

From the back, Larry cleared his throat and spoke up. “Psycho Man, why are we doing this in the truck?”

“Because it’s expendable.”

“Why are we riding in something expendable?”

I threw up my hands. “Look, there’s no reason to be worried. This is top of the line rocket technology like what the North Koreans use. You know, they have a very high survivability rate, or so they say through their state-controlled news service. If it’s good enough for their missile program, it’s good enough for my ice cream truck program.”

“That’s not what I asked, but I suddenly feel worse.”

I rolled my eyes inside my helmet. “Oh, you big baby. Just buckle up and grab a puke sack. It’ll all be over soon.”

I heard his belt click as he whined one last time, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

With that, I gunned the truck and flipped a switch to activate the jury-rigged rockets attached to the sides of it. They added to our acceleration but would never be enough to achieve liftoff. That’s why we were driving into a rubber band. Yep, a bigass rubber band stretched between two taller buildings. It caught us perfectly as we drove into it on top of a parking garage.

I adjusted the rear view on the driver’s side to catch a glimpse of the Foley building. We pushed against the taut rubber. As we drove off the garage, we were embedded in the band enough that it didn’t let us just fall. When I thought we had about the right angle, I killed the rockets.

The rubber band flung us at the building, leaving me feeling like my stomach had turned into a screaming killer frog. My frog stomach got worse as we flipped end over end, but I activated the rockets long enough to slow our rolling. That was hard with me smacking into the windshield like I did. Lucky Larry and his damn seatbelt!

Thinking of Larry reminded me of what he called me, Psycho Man. That put a little song into my head. “Psycho man, psycho man, does whatever a psycho can. Kills a group of any size, he’s got cybernetic eyes. Look out! Here comes the Psycho man.”

Still, I got a front row seat for my moment of triumph, or so I thought. Instead, I saw a figure step out onto the balcony facing us. The person raised a hand, and suddenly we shifted slightly downward. There was no loss of inertia, no glancing blow on a shield or anything. We were moving in one direction, and then it changed suddenly with no loss of speed.

“Cushion with the soft serve!” I called out to everyone. That too was part of the plan, back when it seemed more unpredictable. I didn’t get a chance to see how well they followed it because my head was spinning along with the truck.

We hit just below where we meant to, the truck cracking the glass windows and blasting a crater into the marble floor. I was first slammed back into my seat, then through the windshield. Some of my favorite body parts made wet thudding sounds as I flew end over end along the floor through some sort of aquarium and then into a water bed, which halted my movement but ruined the bed.

I curled up in a ball there for a good minute, nanites flooding into me from the busted quilted layers in my armor. I would have said the pain was excruciating, if I could have made that out. Really, it was like everything hurt so much at once that I couldn’t tell any one individual hurt nerve ending from any other.

Then I heard a voice call out, “You couldn’t direct him down to the street, Pivot? Really, you dropped him into my living space?”

I crawled out of the busted bed frame amongst leaking water tubes. When I felt like enough of my leg bones were solid again, I stood up and pointed a finger in the direction I hoped that voice had come from. “Listen here, Prime! It is I, the Great and Devious Psycho Gecko, here to, to, to, to…” I got caught on that word for no particular reason that I can remember. Then, something stoney bonked me on the head and I realized I had more to say “…to put you on ice cream!”

I turned and high fived my rocky helper, who turned out to be Moai. He just stood there, facing off to the side. My addled brain figured out I should check that direction, but didn’t yet remember the 360 degree view on my helmet.

Pivot stood there, the Annihilation Eight stepping up to form a line in front of her from where they’d been scattered about the place. All eight. Wait, eight?

Yep. Gorilla Badass, Man-Opener, Motley Sue, Terrorjaw, the polka-dotted guy, and Rumble were there. So was a mass of shiny, shifting pieces of something metallic mixed with sand. Quick Sand, or more like Cyber Sand. And Dr. Typhoon, who wore some sort of new collar and helmet within that swirling localized tornado he had created around himself.

That shit just wasn’t right. I killed those guys. They were supposed to stay dead.

“Moai,” I whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “bring me my red underwear.”

He didn’t respond to the bit of horribly-timed humor. Instead he looked to the second story landing of the penthouse we penetrated. There stood two familiar facies in suits. I recognized Pivot, who had ruined our landing with one wave of her hand.

I knew the other, a young man, as well. He had put on some muscle and height since the first time we crossed paths. Back then, he had been a sidekick who followed me to my hideout and was tortured hysterically for his trouble. I knocked him repeatedly with a frozen bratwurst. Holdout, who had taken the name Lone Gunman after I killed his mentor. I should have used a knockwurst.

“Going to try and run away again, Great and Devious one?” asked Pivot with a smug smirk as she leaned over the railing on the second story. “You didn’t think the heroes were the only ones who could reverse engineer the life-support systems of your armors or that handy surgical nanotech, did you?”

“Is there anybody else who wants to come back from the dead around here?” I asked, looking about. “My day would just about be complete now if Uncle Ben and the Wayne parents showed up looking to kick my ass too. Anybody?”

Shifting metal behind me provided a disappointing answer. Looking back through my helmet’s rear cameras, I saw the Rejects climb free of the totaled ice cream truck. They were each covered in cuts, bruises, and various flavors of ice cream, but they all looked like they would live. Even Larry, who stopped to throw up all over himself.

As I said, they were not a sight for sore eyes. On one side, you had a superhero and nine villains. On the other you had six untrained mutants with powers, my minion Moai, and me.

I didn’t know we were busting into this place while Prime, aka Lone Gunman, had the whole frickin’ team of Pivot’s here. Like I said before, I didn’t want these Rejects to die. I didn’t like the idea of anybody dying for me. I was more sure of that as the group stepped up behind me. They readied sharpened claws. Their powers made the air glow. I joined them, gathering energy in the sheaths surrounding my gloves.

With the tension so thick, the fight would start at any moment in a deadly dance of chaos and blood. I turned to Moai while I had a moment. “Well, Moai, you better promise me that no matter what, you’ll get these guys out of here alive.”

He turned his face toward me, just staring.

“Come on, man. If we’re separated, and if the odds look like they’re against me, you get these guys out, ok?”

Moai nodded reluctantly.

“Good,” I said, then I slammed both my fists into the ground just behind me. With a series of loud cracks, the otherwise ineffectual double punch unleashed too much energy into the marble for the floors to handle. A very confused mob of mutants fell through to the next floor. According to the blueprints I stole, that would put them in the executive offices. They could evacuate in comfort with the VIPs and VPs.

I looked to Moai, who stood dumbfounded beside me. Then I gestured toward the hole. “Well?”

With a slump of his stone shoulders, Moai jumped through after the Rejects.

Even before Pivot shouted “Get him!” Man-Opener rushed at me, with Dr. Typhoon and Quick Sand moving through the air to flank me.

“You dare come at me, bros?! I am the Great and Devious One!” I yelled, disappearing and making three holographic copies of myself. The holograms split up. Quick Sand cut through the one that headed for him and began to spread out as much as he could to find the real me.

Lightning crackled in Dr. Typhoon’s funnel before he struck out with it. It curved away from his ideal path toward my hologram and instead arced through Man-Opener’s armor. The other man’s armor shut down momentarily due to the electromagnetic pulse. I hopped up its knee and then to its shoulder, then leapt high into the air over Dr. Typhoon.

A sonic blast knocked me into the ceiling and against the glass window, but not before I dropped a headless rubber chicken grenade down the eye of Dr. Typhoon’s personal storm. The explosion flung him onto a leather loveseat. I couldn’t see if any bloody bits were sticking out because I had a rock villain to deal with.

Motley Sue rocked a rapid fire solo, shattering the windows behind me and slowly pushing me towards the edge. I gave my gloves a reduced charge and thrust my hand into the floor. It broke part of the way through and gave me a grip. Another punch with the other hand gave me another. I pulled myself along the floor.

Gorilla Badass threw himself in front of Motley Sue’s hair amps and let himself be hurled toward me by the same force pushing me back. I was still invisible, but that hardly mattered with the holes I was leaving behind.

Badass flew at me and instead of making another handhold, I threw my hand into his chest. Bones gave beneath my fist. I brought my helmet close enough to his ugly mug for him to hear me over the notes that pushed against us both. “I am the Prince of Pain.” I tossed him away.

Before I could make any more forward progress, Badass’s chain belt wrapped around my wrist and I was hauled back. I saw the gorilla clinging to the edge of the building. I held on tight as gravity took me down, figuring I could break through lower on the building and make my own escape. As I was swung against the glass, however, a yellow portal appeared and I was pulled through it by the man in the purple tights with the yellow polka dots. Portalmeister.

I was back in the penthouse, but when I threw a punch, another portal appeared in front of my hand and sent it somewhere. It was still attached, but just not occupying the space at the end of my arm. Portalmeister grinned under his headset gadgetry. “You’re the one who denied me a chance to prove my superiority.” He fell back, taking me with him through another portal.

We ended up somewhere dark and huge. I brought my knee up into Portalmeister’s gut. “I don’t know what rivalry you’re even talking about, but I’ll deny you a lot more in a second, for I am the Executioner’s Blade.”

I went to throttle the other man, but my hands warped somewhere else again, followed by the rest of me. This time, the area appeared like a kaleidoscope of bright colors. Reds, yellows, greens, purples. Whatever strange excuse for light suffused the place, it left me visible. I went ahead and shut off my stealth in that case.

Portalmeister followed me into this strange dimension that I hurtled through, falling with no bottom in sight. Portal after portal appeared beside me as he flew out of one and into another to keep me from catching him. “Sixgun was mine to kill! I was going to make him kill a civilian. I was going to make him shoot himself!” He babbled on about Lone Gunman’s mentor. Gunman, back when he went by Holdout, served as a sidekick to a Lone Ranger knockoff named Sixgun.

“So you thought you’d work for his fucking sidekick to get back at me?” I asked, throwing a kick at him as he zipped out of a portal.

The question hit him with more force than the kick had. “What?”

I spun around and caught him by the collar so I could address him face to face. “Lone Gunman is Holdout! You’re being ordered around by his old teenage sidekick with the short shorts. Geez, were you somehow deaf for the big press conference he held?” I projected images of Holdout and Lone Gunman overlaid on one another.

Portalmeister finally found his ability to speak again. “I was in prison when it happened…I didn’t know. The Lone Gunman hid this information from me…” He growled. Hey, if I could be cheesy by calling myself the Prince of Pain, Portalmeister was allowed to growl.

“Drop me off back there,” I proposed. “In all the chaos, I’m sure you’ll get a clear shot at him. Drag him into your freaky kaleidoscope chunks-blowing land here.”

Portalmeister summoned another yellow portal and pushed my grip loose to fly through it. I was lost in that shifting landless dimension for a few seconds until he swooped in from above me and hurled me into another of his portals. Then, I popped back to reality on the floor of the penthouse. I slid along the marble and knocked over a lamp.

Rumble jumped at me, trying to squash me like a bug. In his case, he could squash a Volkswagen Beetle without much effort. The downside was that I rolled forward. His foot broke through the marble and I launched myself into what would normally be a knockout blow. My fist caused a bit of testicular torture to the man, and then I grabbed them to swing between his legs and onto his back.

I put my arms around Rumble’s head and locked in a sleeper hold, putting pressure on the massive man’s massive arteries. “I am your pointless death,” I announced to him.

Rumble tried to grab at me, but his boxing gloves made that difficult. He had trouble gripping me with them on. He threw punches, but I slid from side to side and he beat himself instead.

I was pulled off when Terrorjaw hurtled Rumble, clamped his mouth down over my head, and yanked me off. It was less fun than being yanked off normally sounds. I could see down his gullet all the way to his stomach. I brought my left hand up and activated my Nasty Surprise. The miniature sawblade extended out from under my left wrist and chewed through Terrorjaw’s belly tissue. Terrorjaw’s resistance soon ended entirely. I plucked him off me and threw him into Rumble’s face. “I will bring you to your afterlife.”

I dodged another blow from Rumble that sent him down into the next floor and turned to a reactivated Man-Opener who charged with his blades brought to bear. I pulled out my laser potato peeler and aimed for the exposed helmet of the pilot. The peeler sparked and refused to fire.

Fucking ice cream truck crash.

He swung at me in a ponderous arc, but I was able to jump forward. I wrapped my arms and legs around the massive arm of the machine, too far along for his blade. He brought the other one up to chew me off with its sharp teeth, but I let go with my arms and hung upside down with my legs. The saw on the arm I held onto stopped as the other arm’s blade cut into the armor and wiring underneath.

I saw my opportunity. Man-Opener looked up at me. I chuckled as I looked down at him, then jumped high into the air, pulling energy from the core in my chest into the sheath around my fist. I would bring it down and crack the skull of my enemy. I yelled for all to hear, “I am Psychopomp Gecko!”

High in the air, I saw Portalmeister sneaking up on Lone Gunman. The Gunman whirled and pulled a scoped revolver, executing his mentor’s old rival with a single shot to the head that blew his headset to pieces. All of the yellow dots on the deceased villain’s costume disappeared as he dropped.

While I was focused on them, I wasn’t paying as much attention to Pivot. Right as the gun fired, she redirected my motion with a wave of her hand and conked me against the ceiling. Then the wall, the elevator door, through a hundred and twenty inch television, against the floor, through another wall into the kitchen, up into a light fixture, through the kitchen sink, into the bathroom, through the toilet, and then face down into the floor right in front of Man-Opener.

Before I could get to my feet or roll out of the way, a shot rang out. The Gunman had faced me before. He knew what it took to pierce my armor. I roared with pain as my kneecap burst apart.

Nearby, I heard Motley Sue playing. The notes raced higher and higher, as if trying to run up a sharp cliff. Then they sank downward, bringing with them a sharp stab that cracked the armor on my lower back and embedded some of the shards into my skin.

At least it took my mind off the knee pain.

Gorilla Badass flipped through the air and landed on my left arm before I could make further use of my Nasty Surprise. Quick Sand piled himself onto my right and pressed down hard enough to keep that one down.

“Cut him loose,” ordered Pivot.

“But only loose from his armor,” added Lone Gunman.

Pivot turned toward him, furious. “This again. You gave me this job and you’ve been countermanding my orders every step of the way. At New Orleans over and over again and at Three Mile Island. Now here. If you want him dead, why not kill him now? Why all the games?”

Another shot rang out and Pivot dropped as well from a hole to her head. “Thank you, Pivot, that will be all.” Gunman twirled his gun and then blew on the barrel. With a grin, he holstered the gun, then leaned on what was left of a railing. “You heard me, just his armor. He has a power source hidden in him. Pivot’s orders would have killed us all if you had cut into it.”

Man-Opener nodded and turned his remaining arm to the delicate task of slicing through my armor. Gorilla Badass pulled it loose from me, leaving my skin covered in blood as the connective nerves were torn loose prematurely. Once, on my chest, Man-Opener cut too close and opened me up about a half inch deep.

Soon I was dropped like a sack of potatoes. A naked sack of potatoes covered in blood, with more pouring out a chest wound.

“Gorilla Badass, would you be so kind as to hogtie him? We wouldn’t want him escaping like his friends, now would we?”

I tried to struggle, only to find my mouth filled with sand and what looked like small robots. Not nanites, but sand-sized mini machines. Quick Sand really was Cyber Sand, it seemed.

To add insult to injury, a security team arrived through the elevator. They didn’t even need to stay on alert around me. Hell, one squeeze of the trigger by an excited idiot and I could have died thanks to them.

Naked and bound before a hero who had every reason to want me dead, I didn’t have very high hopes for the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to try anything. That wasn’t what Lone Gunman had in mind, though. He walked calmly down the stairs and over to me, then knelt. He looked pristine in that damn business suit, with an obnoxiously charming smile to boot.

“I wanted you dead. It was the most pragmatic thing to do, but now I am so glad you could be taken alive. My new people here at Hephaestus can take apart that dangerous power source of yours. They can carve out those cybernetics, like those eyes there, and learn how to build them. Improve on them. Would you like to know we can make you obsolete? Do you want to hear how your dissection will let me build the world I want? That’ll have to wait. I have something more important in the works for you before I grant you the mercy of death.”

He patted me on the head, then stood and buttoned his suit jacket. His security detail parted to allow him access to the elevator. He got in, turned around, and smiled at me. “You once introduced me to your form of torture. I think I’ll show you mine. It is new and improved too. Boys, let’s find the ‘Prince of Pain’ a room of his own, with thick chains to keep his hands from roaming.”

I suppressed a groan. “Hey, you can’t call me the Prince of Pain. That phrase is only allowed if it makes me sound badass. Besides, torture? Oooh, scary. You think there’s a kind of pain I’m not familiar with? Here, have your guys check up my ass for any damns I may have smuggled in. Reach way down in there and see if I have one to give. Don’t worry. My ass won’t bite.”

Lone Gunman shrugged and spoke softly, but got his point across nonetheless. “I’ll go see if our surprise guest is ready for the big reunion.”

Leah.

With the battle over and the adrenaline subsiding, pain that my body was able to ignore was visiting with the latest bunch of it settling all throughout my system. It was hard to force myself to talk loud enough like that, but I managed a glare at him as I said, “You know, Holdout, you used to be a little shithead, but you’ve grown up to be a real bastard.”

“I had a good teacher,” he said as the elevator door closed.

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Killing Time 7

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All things considered, I expected my enemies would assemble to kick me out of their laboratory sooner than they did. The arrival of the Annihilation Eight was heralded by a call coming in live via the control room. Pivot, of course. I wondered what her angle was in all this. With the revelation that her new boss had a personal vendetta against me for some reason, maybe she was trying to move up in the organization. Maybe we had sex once and she wasn’t satisfied?

That was a joke. Ha ha. Fat chance. I haven’t had sex in a loooooooooooooong time. Some people have posited that this fact explains a lot about my behavior. They weren’t there the time I had a girlfriend and tried to destroy the world. Then she betrayed me and left me, battered, leaning against my own dimension bomb.

I guess you could say it worked out in the end. You might even say she dropped quite the relationship bomb on me.

But I digress.

Pivot called and I shushed the rejects around me before taking it. I had my armor on, though. I got to see her masked face and blonde bun, but all she saw of me was an eye filling her screen. “Hello,” I answered, “Kong residence. You calling for King?”

“I have someone with an animal name in mind.”

“You want Donkey then. He’s off getting smashed with his brothers. I swear, that guy’s practically off in his own little land half the time.”

“Cute,” she said, annoyance creeping into her voice like some sort of creepy creeping thing that creeped. Like an Aye-Aye with a pornstache shooting finger guns. She reached up and adjusted the corner of her domino mask.

“Alright, I’ll go easy on you, Pivot. What are you calling about? Is the master plan coming together? Is the masturbator coming? Or is this more of this little taunting thing you’re trying out?”

“I don’t need to taunt you. I just wanted to see the look on your face when you realized I have all my team at your gates.”

“All your team but the guys I already killed,” I reminded her.

“Even you can’t fight them all off. Rumble said you were so small you offended him.”

“Uh huh.” I nodded along as if I was listening. She couldn’t see the nod, so she noticed when my eye wandered off to the side. I was pulling up the exterior video feed, which showed six supervillains at the entrance gate. Rumble walked over it like it wasn’t even there.

“Well, we’ll see how your guys like it when I go medieval on their asses. Ready the catapult!” I called out to no one in particular. Improving on an idea from the Middle Ages, I decided to automate the catapult which you’ll remember fires cats. Irradiated and mutated leopards with three heads. I activated it from afar and watched as cages tumbled through the air. We only had three living ones, but I had them save some of the corpses too. More ammo.

I had been anticipating an attack for awhile.

Motley Sue blasted one crate out of the air with the power of rock. Gorilla Badass pulled the chain off his belt, but then he did something and a glowing blade grew from the end of it. Dextrous with both hand and foot, he whipped the chain around and carved through a cat carcass like it was nothing.

Geez, if I’d known friggin’ lightsabers were part of this struggle, I’d have cloned some troopers to fight these guys off with. I would also clone David Bowie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Andrej Pejic for personal reasons that should not be elaborated on at this time. Spoiler alert: the whipped cream would get eaten.

Rumble resorted to punching in order to solve all his problems, but that left him with a loose leopard. That wasn’t good. There were few enough situations where loose leopards were acceptable, and there was too little beastiality going on for this to be one of them.

Despite their best efforts, two of the leopards got loose and Terrorjaw got a mouth full of kitty carcass.

In the midst of all that, I caught a glimpse of the final members of my opposition. The first stalked forward in a suit of power armor that fell into the size range of a “walker”. It was about as tall as Rumble, headless, and bright white. Two thick legs that bent similarly to a human’s rose up into a wide torso. From the capabilities of the armor itself, it seemed a stylistic choice that the pilot’s helmet and armored arms extended out of the torso.

From the shoulders extended arms that were nearly long enough to reach the ground if fully extended. In place of a hand at the end of the limb, it had three heavy duty axe heads spinning around a central axis. The blade shaft in the middle was held between armored shafts that matched the same rectangular design as the rest all along the walker. These bright white plates ran diagonally with the interior corner at the lower end, on top of some sort of black underlayer that barely showed through at the corners. Where they met in the middle, they formed a “V” shape that protected everything but the exposed helmet and arms of the pilot. That was hardly a weak point; experience had shown that this suit could take a lot of punishment in that supposed weak spot.

“Huh, Man-Opener, eh? Interesting choice, Pivot. Tell me, is this one of those guys who has his own grudge against me?”

Man-Opener stomped straight through, not pausing at all even as he brought one arm forward and chewed through a leopard that put distance between itself and another member of the team. That guy was the final member of my opposition. He wore green boots, green gloves, and purple tights with yellow dots all over it in various sizes. The tights came up into a mask that covered his face, but there was something else on there I couldn’t make out. He was a let down after Man-Opener.

I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Pivot’s reaction except to note that her voice had an edge to it, like she was tired of talking to me. That happened to most people who deal with me on a regular basis. “You’ve been doing some reading, I see. Frankly, I’m surprised you can sit still long enough.”

The Eight hacked their way through my stalling attempt relatively quickly, with Man-Opener in the lead. I closed the blast doors on the entire place.

“Trust me, Pivy baby, unlike some men, I know when it’s time to stay nice and still for a woman. Wait, that’s not what I meant to say. Damn! Anyway, looks like you have breached my outer defenses.” I switched to interior cameras in time to see the man in the purple step out through a yellow tinted portal. He turned to watch Man-Opener carve partially through the door before it was knocked against the opposite wall by Rumble. He and Man-Opener crouched to walk through halls designed for regular folk.

The group stayed somewhat close together as they made their way down the hall. Just to be an ass, I switched off the lights.

“Yep, they’re in. So much for the leopards. Should call them leopeasy instead. Of course, they still have to get all the way through the power plant, then through the corridor to the lab. If you’re recording this to see some shocked reaction of horror, you’re going to be disappointed. Or your boss is, since he’s probably the one making you call me up. Am I right? This thing where you get a taste of my reaction, it’s for the benefit of Prime’s video archive, isn’t it?”

Pivot smirked. “You act like you’re smart now that you have access to our internal documents. That doesn’t take a keen deductive mind, Sherlock. If it wasn’t for the sight of you finally laid out on a slab, I would love to see you react to more of our surprises. You still don’t see them even when they’re right in front of your face. Every time you talk, it gives it away.”

She smiled as she held her hands up, palms toward me, fingers spread. “You think you’re sharing these big revelations, but you provide a showcase for your own ignorance instead. You petty, pitiful man. Your personal touch of madness is that you think you’re free even though you keep playing to someone else’s script. Like how you want to gab with me instead of running or fighting. I taunt you, you can’t help but taunt back. Tell me more about your brilliant insights while my men come closer and closer.”

She grinned like a mustached stalker in the night who had me alone. “I hate our conversations, but if it keeps you too preoccupied trying to prove you’re smart, then I’ll at least use that.”

I detected some hypocrisy there, which would make the next knowledge bomb I meant to drop on her even more delicious and destructive. I checked the cameras.

Yep, her team was in the corridor to the lab. I took a seat on my trailer couch then, between Roberta and Larry. “You know, when I showed up and took over Three Mile Island, I implied that I could blow the place up with a few pushed buttons. Truth is, it takes a lot more than that to convert a radioactive core to a nuclear weapon. Plus, I had my hands full just keeping that core maintained by my lonesome. So I thought ‘Hey, why not start disabling some alarms?’ So when Moai and I hightailed it a couple days ago, I left the place with only automated maintenance and a program to force a meltdown from a distance. Which I activated.”

Looking like a deer caught in a pair of headlights, Pivot said, “We cut outside access. You shouldn’t have been able to get anything to or from that place by internet.”

“True, true. Perhaps this is a bad time to point out that your soul-sucking bureaucratic procedures involved faxing things. Why bother hunting down how you folks got internet service behind those thick walls when I had a fax landline right there to get me in?”

“That’s a nuclear power station, Gecko! You won’t get away with this!” She restrained herself from baring her teeth at me, but I could see she was grinding them.

“Pivot, do I look like the world’s most charitable pimp all of a sudden? I only ask because I wasn’t aware I gave a fuck. Hey, you think you can have your guys pick up a box of Hot Pockets we left back in there? They might be cooked in the middle this time. Did you know that if you pay close attention to a person’s hair, you can find out their astrological sign? Before long, it’ll be obvious they’re all cancers. Cancer? I don’t even know her! You know what’s a good cheer for small teams? The micro wave.”

Pivot quit the conversation in a rage, presumably to try and get a hold of her team. I took off my helmet and smiled at my various rejected companions hanging out in the trailer. I mentioned Larry and Roberta. There were others, like the pinhead guy, but I didn’t have their names quite down. Boring names like “Bob” and “Steve” were always harder for me to nail down than interesting ones like “Sunbright” or “Arctica Blitz”.

“Ooh, how did she take the meltdown?” asked Roberta, swiveling her eye stalk around to look me in the face.

“She did not care for it. But you know what they say: if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the meltdown,” I said.

Microencephalic Man, which was purely a placeholder name, nodded. “Most of us didn’t like that plan either.”

True. That was why I only had six rejects with me out of the thirty or so who had stayed at the place. The others went their own way. Of the six with me, the other two were in the car with Moai, driving us to our destination.

“Did you warn them where we’re going? Please say you didn’t tell them that,” whined Larry next to me. I think he didn’t really have anywhere to go.

I put an arm around his runny looking shoulders. “Nope. We’ll have the run of L.A. before they even know we’re there.”

Another reject, who I think was named Steve, spoke up then. “Just to be clear, I didn’t sign up to get killed in a hail of gunfire. I want to survive getting a little payback on them.” His skin, muscles, organs, and blood vessels were all clear. His skeleton wasn’t. Unlike many of the other rejects, he had regained his confidence fairly quickly by wearing a hoodie and long pants. I didn’t know how he could see things, but I knew I didn’t want to face him in a staring contest.

I started to answer, but then Roberta jumped up on my side excitedly. “And I want to go sight-seeing! Rodeo Drive, the movie studios,…um…the Hollywood sign?”

I put an arm around Roberta too. It didn’t fit well because of how her legs worked. She leaned back against my arm, so I think she appreciated the sentiment. I looked over at Steve seated at the breakfast table. “We’re going to play this smart. Hell, if y’all just want to sit back and watch the fireworks, that’s fine with me. I never planned to bring a team along and I’m not much of a leader. Just help me out how y’all can and remember to enjoy yourselves. Uncle Gecko’s going to take Prime out to the shed for a little game of hide the bacon. It’s a fun one, for me at least.”

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