Shit’s gone slightly apocalyptic. But just slightly. The heart of the whole thing is Empyreal City, of course.
People are getting sick all over that place. The boils and vomiting is cruel, but Epidemic’s just being mean with the anal leakage. I suppose I might find it funny if I was behind it, but they think my kid’s there. As far as he’s concerned, he’s inflicting that shit on my family.
While he’s doing that, animals all over the fucking continent are freaking the fuck out. They’re all acting more aggressive, even the prey. Herbivorous or not, most people don’t do well going head to head with a mad bull. Sheep and goats are devouring the crap out of stuff, too, feeding themselves to bursting in places.
Next to all that, Machine Man’s little army of followers is almost quaint. I guess Venus still has plenty of cred worth trading in on. The robot disguised as her has gathered her own gang, even including some supers. They don’t have the Master Academy supers, though. That place is sealed up tight, with heroes heading in and out with some sort of secret entrance.
A lot of other heroes are staying away, or trying to face threats around the country, like the animals gone wild. Or the plague. Or the roaming groups of people with guns. From what I understand, the government’s Freedom Legion doesn’t have as much manpower as it used to, what with Omega and I killing a bunch of them.
You know, with a better idea of the bigger picture, I can understand why Captain Lightning decided not to continue the fight against me. He and his apprentice have their hands full enough without dying.
Thing was, they could tear Empyreal City apart and they weren’t going to find my people. I don’t know if I gave myself some sort of subconscious programming or if Omega’s ignorance of technology was really that big a hindrance while we were mentally merged. Either way, when I was working with him, I didn’t think to hunt down any concentrations of my nanites outside of Ricca. There’s Belgium, North Korea, and some Cape Diem bases. And then there was a small concentration in Las Vegas.
Vegas doesn’t like me, but it seems to like Mix N’Max well enough. He spent a lot of time there. I think he invited all of them there.
It’s a smart idea. Las Vegas has its own protectors, who don’t like me. I’m pretty sure they don’t like any cyborgs hanging around there without getting into all the trouble I cause. And I haven’t had much reason to go to Vegas. I can eat buffets anywhere. Or I could. I can’t even pick my own nose at the moment, let alone my friends’ noses.
As felt appropriate for a city that far west, the Dudebot I sent to Vegas rode in on an automaton horse. It’s like a real horse, but it can run indefinitely, doesn’t need to eat or shit, and is less of an asshole. I stopped short of the sign welcoming visitors to Las Vegas and waited. This is not the time for me to be stepping on these folks’ toes. It also gave me more time to get things in position in Empyreal City.
I had a few Dudebots in that area already. Knowing they were heading there, I set some to make their way. That gives me some backups, or a chance to double team one of these Omega Minions. I’m tracking them, too. Epidemic and Stampede still have to sleep sometime. It’s easier to track with Stampede, because animals calm down whenever she’s out. Best of all, none of the three are working together. I don’t have to beat three supers remotely. I just have to beat one three times over.
The Dudebots are heavier than me, not so good at being stealthy. They were based on a bulkier design of my armor that emphasized durability over stealth. I managed to keep up with her, staying at a distance and maintaining invisibility. She liked to run with the animals. In the city, that mostly meant rats, raccoons, and pigeons. She’d taken up a grudge against the Greens, circling their territory, nibbling away at it with pests.
Whatever the Greens are on that’s giving some of them animal features and powers, it hasn’t made them susceptible to Stampede’s power. Which is a weird one. Animal control should work on humans, too, but it doesn’t. I’m interested to see how much it works on other primates, or other intelligent animals like dolphins and octopi. Could be she’d get pissed when trying to boss around an octopus and the cephalopod does nothing but gives her the tentacle. For that matter, raccoons are pretty smart, too.
After a night of pestering the Greens, Stampede and her flock of furry and feathered friends flooded into an old apartment building. A lot of people came screaming out, some with rats biting at them to encourage their flight. After a half hour, when she didn’t come back out, I headed in after Stampede.
Critters were everywhere. Roaches and raccoons and rats, oh my! If any of the people who lived there saw it like that, they probably wouldn’t want to move back in. Without the ability to levitate, making it through there without some crunching sounds was impossible. There were plenty of heat signatures all over the place, but the source big enough to be her was just a couple floors up. I could jump to the landing, minimizing the amount of bones and exoskeletons I broke.
I detached a power collar from the Dudebot’s belt and readied it. I was sure she’d already come down with that little illness being here. Then I proceeded into the one-bedroom apartment.
I crunched up to the bed as quietly as I could. With an elephant’s trumpet, Stampede opened her eyes, shot to a sitting position, and punched me through the wall and living room/kitchen. All these little pests swarmed the Dudebot, crawling all over it, trying to bite.
Stampede walked over, beating at her chest, her body bulging with muscles. “You smell wrong.”
I generated the sound of a raspberry through the Dudebot’s speakers. Outside, a second Dudebot got into position, invisible as well, and jumped. It crashed through the bedroom window, jumped through the hole in the wall, and snapped the collar around Stampede’s neck.
Snapping her neck would have been easier, but she’s a kid.
Immediately, the noise level increased as animals went nuts and tried to flee or eat the roaches. The two Dudebots stood up, secured a deflated little Stampede, and tossed her over one’s shoulder to secure elsewhere.
Epidemic, meanwhile, had been targeted by the Reds and was retaliating in turn. The Reds are trying to fight disease with fire and gas masks, to mixed results. They’re also using the situation to distribute medicine and supplies, making themselves look better.
Epidemic preferred to keep to the shadows, even the sewers at times. The guy still came up to eat, and people still called him into the cops. He offered to spare people who made him a good meal, so he didn’t keep it that secret he was behind all the outbreaks.
I showed up while he was eating at a barbecue joint. This being Empyreal City, it looked like they only got as far as some sort of light sampler, but that could just be the entree around here.
The Dudebot was invisible again, but he called out to me as soon as I entered. “This is a private function!” When I kept approaching, he turned, didn’t see anyone, then snapped his fingers. “Another boring super cop.”
He frowned then, and snapped his fingers again. I lifted him up out of his chair, turning visible, and snapped a power collar around his neck. “You’re not even human, are you?” he asked.
“More than I thought. Less than you’d think,” I said to be all cryptic.
Behind me, the waitress came back into the room, then ducked down. Epidemic snapped his fingers again and her body jerked. She began to scream. “Let me go, or I kill her,” he said.
“I don’t care about that,” I said. I checked over the collar. All functional. “You can’t convince me to leave you alone, and you can’t infect me.”
He laughed. “I am the Master of Disease. The Emperor of Illness. The Lord of Fungus. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Ah, right. He probably stopped his own self from becoming infected by the same disease that allows the power collars to work. Behind me, the waitress stood back up, her head swollen with something green and black. Her eyes looked weird, glass and black-veined, as she walked toward me. Some sort of zombie plague, then.
I casually grabbed Epidemic’s chair. Still holding him up, I smashed the crap out of the waitress, beating her head in. Black ichor dripped out as a toadstool poked out. I stomped it and ground it out. Then I slammed Epidemic on the table, took a broken piece of wood, and slowly pushed it through his chest. Guy looked like a vampire, so I figured I’d stake his ass.
He screamed and cursed as I forced the chunk of wood into his chest. He kept at it briefly because I didn’t get the heart, though it quickly turned to squeaking. I grabbed another chair, broke off the leg, and used that one to pin his head to the table, right through his brain. I pulled off the power collar and gave him an answer as I walked away. “I am death, and hell to pay.”
Compared to them, it wasn’t nearly so difficult to find Machine Man, and I was confident such an outdated piece of machinery would be easy pickings.
But, finally, a delegation from Las Vegas came out to meet me. They pulled up in humvees and technicals, with a wide variety of firearms and energy weapons aimed at me.
“I come in peace!” the Vegas Dudebot said, raising its arms in a gesture of surrender.
“You mean you come in piece,” Medusa said, hopping out of the back of a humvee. “That’s a robot double. Why shouldn’t we destroy it now?”
“Because Omega and I aren’t really working together anymore. Listen, I got upset and I made a mistake. A big one. I’m trying to make it better, but he decided to lock me away. As far as Omega knows, I can only watch. It’s… not fun. Seriously.”
Back in Ricca, Omega laughed as he binge watched Friends as a way to become acclimated to this new world.
“In fact, it’s downright torturous,” I told Medusa. “But I’m serious. The people he sent after you in Empyreal City? They’re being handled. All I have left is the one pretending to be you.” The Dudebot projected clips of my confrontations with Stampede and Epidemic.
“Face-stealing son of a…” she drifted off. She pulled out her phone and started checking in on things, texting some friends, trying to get the low down. I didn’t spy this time. I let her do it. The fact that animals were calming down and staying that way were easy to come across, but we ended up waiting several minutes while she got outside confirmation. “Where’s the kid?”
“Locked up somewhere she can’t hurt anyone or herself. I didn’t want to kill a kid. Tried to give Epidemic a chance, but turns out he kept that thing from infecting him.”
Medusa nodded to me. “Let’s say we trust you to help again… what’s your plan?”
In Empyreal City, a crowd of Machine Man’s gang, hunting down some of the Q group, came across one of my Dudebots standing there. It raised its hands as well. “I come in peace! Take me to your leader.”
It didn’t take long before the False Medusa stepped up, her movements more smooth now, but almost seductive. Still nothing like how Medusa herself walks. “Who are you and what do you want?” she asked.
“Let’s just say I plan to give Omega what he’s asked for,” I told both of them at once. “But I can’t do it alone.”
“We already have our own plan,” Medusa told me.
Machine Man cocked its head to the side. “That is an unusual way to phrase it. What is your plan?”
The Dudebot reawakened. I looked around to find out where they’d stored the thing. Looks like they packed a lot of my stuff together, but I didn’t recognize the room offhand. My things weren’t dumped haphazardly, though they could have treated my fucking dresses better. I lifted up one that they’d set on my armor chamber and ran unfeeling robotic hands over the badly-wrinkled fabric. I tossed it back down and crawled over the whole mess to make it to the door on the other side.
They had locked it. I kicked it. When it didn’t open, I kicked it again. I charged the gauntlets and slammed them into it, knocking the door open. It swung to the side, one tough fucking door, and I stepped out to discover my things had been vaulted. It was a short corridor of vaults that. Had to break my way out of a door at the end and climbed up some stairs to find out I was in a bank. Huh. And here I thought they’d stick my crap in a storage closet somewhere. I guess they didn’t want anyone playing with my toys.
It looked like one of the nicer banks, which gave me an idea what part of town we were in. The ones in the residential section were a little less plush. I think a bank tried to set up shop in the recreational part of town, but drunk supervillains didn’t bother to make any deposits before they withdrew. That put me in the same area the bigger banks set up. Corporations love to have an office in countries that don’t extradite.
I’ll give them credit, I had to bitchslap the doors open, too. They made the whole building tough. I walked out to find a crowd of Buzzkills and Island Security. The Sec guys looked disheveled. They were half out of uniform from what I could see of them above the cars they arrived in or the barricades they unloaded. The Buzzkills lowered their Stingers, but most of the Sec guys kept theirs up.
I stopped, arms akimbo. “Bow.”
The Buzzkills did, save for a couple. They looked at each other, then one started rushing around, trying to pick up Buzzkills. The other approached me, motioning for the Security guys to lower their weapons. “I must apologize, Imperial Mother, but you are not Empress anymore.”
“As your Empress, I say otherwise. Now, bow,” I ordered.
“We don’t need or want you!” A Security officer yelled at me.
The one next to him slapped him upside the head, but added her own two cents. “By order of Empress Qiang and her Regent, Queen Beetrice, you are sentenced to exile until we’ve established a stable and secure government for us, for the people.”
“This sounds more like something you were told to say, not some spontaneous will of the people. I did so much for you. I made the island safe in a time of chaos. Restored order. Corrupt politicians? Out of a job or dead. We even have a whole new island. And not a peep from y’all. No protests or signs or letters.”
“You, uh, tended to kill people who caused you trouble,” said the second Sec officer.
“Doesn’t mean I’d have killed you,” I answered.
The Buzzkill spokeswoman decided to rejoin the conversation. “Imperial Mother… all the attacks and villainy.”
I looked back over their faces, trying to read them. The Buzzkills were… sad, maybe? But the humans were scared or angry. This next part wasn’t going to help that. I activated the eye laser on the Dudebot. I sheared a barricade in half and took a Security officer’s arm with it. He fell, screaming. Before I could move onto the next target, a large stinger lodged knocked the Dudebot’s head back. Laser shot into the sky and the energy barrier over the island. It didn’t go through, of course.
The Buzzkills and Security officers unloaded on the Dudebot. They didn’t have enough firepower to puncture the armor on this model. I lowered my head slowly, cutting the laser. I wanted them to watch as everything they tried did nothing. A few of them made for their cars and came up with grenades. The Buzzkills tried to stop them, but nonviolently.
I shrugged and jumped the Dudebot out of there, bounding from rooftop to rooftop toward the palace. Alarms spread throughout the city I’d come to think of as my own. It seemed weird to think they were signaling that I was a danger to them, but it was true enough a few years back.
I skidded to a stop in front of the palace, where there were guards, Buzzkills, and some regular citizens who decided to pelt me with produce. Mangoes were mangled hitting me. Squashes squished. They didn’t yell at me before this little coup, but they yelled plenty now. The words they said were a hell of a lot freakier. “You won’t hurt her!”
I thought that would give me pause, but I kept walking. The Nasty Surprise popped out, a threat. The Buzzkills fired stingers at me and formed a human wall with the Sec officers and civilians present. Human/Buzzkill wall, I guess.
I was going to kill all of them. I knew it. Forget maiming like back at the bank. More than anything, I wanted to make those clueless peasants in front of me feel pain. I wanted to just let my anger loose. Destroy and kill, again and again after all these wastes of people did to me. I didn’t realize how much of a state I was in until I heard my daughter’s voice cry out.
Qiang wiggled through the human wall and ran toward me. I retracted the Nasty Surprise and bent down, holding my arms wide. I missed her, even for that short amount of time. It was the uncertainty over seeing her again and not knowing if she was a pawn in some scheme. But she was there now, in my arms, hugging me. I wish I could have felt it.
“I’m sorry I left. I didn’t know they’d do this,” I told her.
“I’m sorry too, mommy. I don’t want to be Empress now. They said if I did, you’d be safe. I want you to be safe.”
We just hugged. The crowd had the decency to shut up, but then another moodkiller arrived in her own power armor.
Medusa, Venus, whatever she wanted to call herself; the fucker who had a hand in all this. Giving people ideas about self-determination and stirring up trouble. Having the shield put up and cutting me off from using my portaholes. She bent down and tried to join our hug.
I stood up, pushing her away. “How fucking dare you?”
She held her hands up. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t how I wanted this to happen.”
I glared at her as best I could while remotely controlling a robot with three fake eyes. Luckily, my nemesis has a good imagination and knows me well enough to understand what I was trying to do. I could tell from her lip. It was an apologetic lip. “So nice to know the woman I love has it in her to stab me in the back and exile me far from everything I care about except Mix N’Max. Do you know why they call it heartbreak?”
She nodded. “I do. But I want to know how you are able to get through right now.” Yep, quick enough on the uptake that she asked a really important question. The second most important question out of those asked that day, in fact.
The Dudebot lit up red and began to warp. Medusa called into a radio to, “Maximum strength on the shield!”
It distracted her long enough for me to get her with a cheap shot to her firm abs. She caught the next one and kicked the Bot’s knee hard enough to topple it, throwing off a follow-up. Before I could try the laser, the connection ended.
I came back to myself, over in California. California, California, not California, Pennsylvania. I was in some house the Dusk Priest, Shockley, found for us to stay in. I opened my eyes and let myself float to the ground. I’d been sitting in midair, cross-legged like I was meditating.
“Your new method of spying failed?” asked the old man. He had put on a dress shirt, pants, and a tie after leaving his Snuggie behind. He kept an athame clipped to his belt next to a pouch of sand in case he needed to do anymore weird magic stuff or blind somebody for a minute.
“Even with my new power, they have a way to fend me off. Temporarily, at least,” I said, smiling. “Originality doesn’t matter that much. Everything fundamentally comes down to the same old principles and stories, and I know some guaranteed ways to do what needs to be done.”
“Don’t you know enough to build it here? Or there?” he pointed in a random direction. “Or anywhere?”
“This is the price she asked for, Priest,” I chided the man. “Wait for me here and don’t fret; soon, we will be on our way to pay in accordance with our deal.”
He didn’t seem happy, but I don’t get his complaint. He got to hang out in a mansion.
Meanwhile, I flew, armor left behind with the weight of mortality. I shot up through the ceiling, envisioning a barrier of my own that punched a hole for me to avoid getting any splinters in my long, crimson hair. I smiled as I hit zoomed into the night sky, the crescent moon illuminating my scarlet skin. It wouldn’t have been so easy to make out the black, long-sleeved dress, or the harlequin green and Mardi Gras purple of the legging stripes that lead into a pair of black booties. The white glow of my eyes and the Omega symbol on my chest were much easier to make out.
My joy of flying was bolstered by the experience at it I felt in the back of my mind. That kept me from getting too distracted on my way to the Master Academy. In a part of the country with such high land prices and a lot of homeless people looking for somewhere to camp, the Academy and its walls stood out.
I waved a hand in the air and left behind a red trail. The walls cracked in half at their middle and tumbled. Then I held up a single finger, and not my preferred one when dealing with heroes. With a little thought and giggling, I put the other three arms behind my back. A tiny beam of light shot out from my fingertip and down, burning through the roof of the main building. I dragged it one way, then the other, cutting it into halves as well. Then I brought it closer to me, taking out a statue in the middle of the grounds and spinning. I’m pretty sure I got some other buildings nearby, but most of them weren’t subject to what I was planning.
There were more alarms, but these had all the right in the world to be worried. I put that hand behind my back and brought out another one with its own pointer finger of doom, cutting a perpendicular line through the first so as to divide the main building into fourths. Below me, I saw people rushing out and about, some with flight and others with superspeed. I swapped out the other two hands who went diagonal, with the students and staff below more concerned with getting everyone to safety and dealing with whatever incidental casualties I was causing. It being a school, some of them were smart enough to realize I was following a pattern that could be avoided.
A few began to fly my way, scattering to present a more disparate field of targets. Oh look, the mortals think they can fight back. It probably seemed more manageable until I pointed all four index fingers down and split another eight beams off from each one.
Some of the heroes and trainees managed to get away. The really lucky ones did so intact. And one bold son of a gun flew up at me, sparks flying off his body before he tried to barrel into me. He let out an “Oof!” as he bounced off me.
I sped faster than a speeding bullet, and far too quick for him to have recovered before I landed a series of very light slaps to his face. Lovetaps, really. I stopped in front of him to grin afterward. Defiant little guy tried to zap me with an electrical bolt. I grabbed it out of the air and tossed it aside like a paperball.
“What the everloving fuck are you?” he asked.
“I’m Omega. And if you call me your goddess real nicely, I may spare you.”
I raised a fist, taking my time. He shrunk back. “Please don’t hurt me!”
I paused. “You know what to say.”
He closed his eyes and turned his head down. “Goddess.”
I brought my hand forward and patted him gently on the head. “Good. Now, your goddess has a little task for you. Just a trifle, really. When she asks, and she will, I want you to let the person formerly known as Venus know it was me who did this. And tell her I’ll see her soon.”
He nodded his head, so I used my new powers to force him to the ground. It was as simple as encasing him in a bubble of the energy that flowed through me and dragging it down to the grieving and the wounded.
I’m sure she knew before I returned to my priest, who grumbled about not knowing why we were taking our time. The resentful little toad was jealous, of course. He also had nothing to go back to and nowhere to run, not even to the nothing between somethings where the rest of me waits.
But while I’m here, I’m going to enjoy myself.
Shit, meet fan.
I blame myself, and lots of other people, but mostly the other people. It’s a burden of being better than everyone else that I have to take the blame for their failings. Forgive them, me, they know not what they do.
Some of the problem was that Medusa wanted me to work on making the government more democratic again. And it wasn’t just her idea. She’d been getting to know Riccans, and the people who had been cowed into taking me as their Empress in the past had begun to get ideas about organizing for themselves again. I’d agreed that we could see about transferring several of my closest top guys to a more traditional cabinet position and open the Directory back up to being a legislative body that shares power with me.
It wasn’t going to take too long. I could make the change in a snap, but I wanted to let any furor, and there was some, die down a bit. Let people get the excitement out of their system. When their enthusiasm has dampened a bit and they have time to think things over, they probably won’t be manipulated as easily by the sorts of people who argued over street names last time.
Eh, I’m probably wrong. I’m really just winging this.
It’s part of Medusa’s pretty good idea to give them more of a say instead of being so much of an asshole, leading to stuff like establishing a ministry to handle the day to day running of the country. That way, I have time to do all the fun stuff I like. And Medusa gets to make me less of a dictator. She didn’t say as much, but I think I worry a lot of people being in charge of so many people’s lives.
But that’s just housekeeping.
That group of Japanese superheroes I still hadn’t personally encountered came forward about their experiments about the recent dimensional shenanigans. They’d lost their lab, but they had backups of their data.The guy running the United States thinks you can nuke hurricanes to make them go away, but a lot of the rest of the world is paying attention. I could have covered for it. You pay the right people and you can have an enormous network of Right-wing misinformation mercenaries saying anything you want. I’d hardly be the first dictator they cozied up to.
A spokesman from the Institute of Science initially denied the allegations with some technobabble. The public doesn’t really know what these things are and how they work. All you have to do is put the lie out there and they’ll believe it, no matter how many doctors point out vaccines don’t cause autism. It’s one of the things I hate about people until it becomes convenient for me. We pinned all of this on resurgent Japanese imperialism in the Pacific power vacuum.
That got China on our side, and they were more than happy to release documents about Japan’s greed. Before too long, we had the Mao apologists talking about how Japan was trying to steal land away from the natives of Mu, who were being protected and watched over by my Ricca.
They still figured that Mr. Omega smashing spaceships with his hands was the same person as me flying around, blowing shit up until the footage was released from the end of the fight. When Omega abandoned me suddenly, there was a split second when my armor was visible. It was red with an Omega symbol. Even then, the design was fairly new. Maybe it was an impostor, right? Not so much when plenty of video and photos get out showing me around here in the same armor.
I knew when Medusa found out because she called me up and we had a screaming match briefly. She heard about those attacks by Omega’s avatar, and I hadn’t told her it was me. She disagreed with me killing for him. But I think she mostly disliked that I didn’t tell her about it.
We would hang up on each other, then on of us would call the other back. It got ugly, but not as bad as us physically attacking each other. She was off talking with some regular people, offering them a chance to have their opinions heard by the Imperial Consort, so I bet lots of those folks heard some of that dirty laundry. Besides, my kicking in my sleep is no big deal compared to her drooling. They probably heard all about that, and in the aftermath, I heard we finally located someone of interest.
One of my people in Intelligence got back to us with some information gained from an informant who decided to look into the government’s deal with Hephaestus. He was actually a Treasure agent, and he found out the guy was being hidden by the Secret Service. First guess, I’d have thought he was hiding himself, but the Secret Service is especially weird. That’s more the job of the federal marshals, and he has to know I can handle the Secret Service. I just assassinated a President, after all. So, they seem to think they’ve got an ace up their sleeves, and it’s hidden in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Ugh, nature. I mean, I have no problem with it if it stays away, but I don’t care for it in general. Too much sunlight, too little air conditioning, and everything’s part of that raw food movement. Us sapient apes were not meant to exist without refrigerators and internet porn.
Speaking of internet, it really is tough staying connected to the world out there. Too many mountains and not enough cell towers. Satellite coverage can be spotty. That probably explains why the guy hid out there from me.
Rather than forget about how I can just waltz through portals like in Tokyo, I remembered this time. Yay, me. I finished fixing a nice dinner for Qiang for when she gets done playing with her friends, slid into my armor, and created a portable hole to the mean lakes of Montana. I appeared in the air above the shallows of Lake McDonald and splashed down near the shore. I don’t entirely know what happens if I were to appear partially inside a tree, but that’s a question I hope to let someone else test first.
Two things stood out to me immediately. First, the view off in the distance looked a lot like a work of art. Second, something had taken a truly massive shit on the shore nearby. I was glad for my air filtration system.
GPS put me less than a mile away. I finished tromping out of the water and faded into holographic invisibility. I stopped walking so heavily before too long. The forest is absolutely full of things that make noise on trees you pass by and things you step on. There are plenty in the canopies, too. Birds are an indicator, one I doubted the Hephaestus guy would know. But maybe those guarding him know better. I took it nice and slow on my approach.
He turned out to be hiding in a cabin. Weird. I thought a guy with his money would spring for a whole big house. Not sure how much they let people do that on Federal land, but he has money. If you have the money, laws and prices are both negotiable.
Coverage was absolutely shitty here. I couldn’t get a good look via satellite because of all the trees in the way. No cell service, no internet. I stopped to check it out with my eyes instead. Let’s see… a trio of ATVs, a pair of jeeps, and a pair of men in suits walking around in suits. That seemed incredibly impractical. And either these guys really look this generic, or they were twins.
I was going to wait until one got close, but instead I opened a hole right underneath one of them that dumped him into Antarctic. For the other one, I reached a hand through another hole that let me grab a tree branch high over his head. I snapped it and pulled my hand back, then thrust it through again this time to crush his throat. I pulled him through the hole, leaving him behind in the bushes as I stepped out where he had been.
It seemed all clear from there on out. Just a little cabin in a little clearing. I headed up to the cabin, apparently avoiding any creaking boards on the steps or deck. That’s one way that wood is a handy flooring for security purposes. The door was locked, which was simple enough to carve through with a laser, and in I went.
My target was walking in from a hallway, wet and dressed only in a towel, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. “Oh shit,” he said, having evidently seen the door open and close of its own accord. “I guess it’s today, huh?”
I became visible. “Yeah, your time’s up.”
He raised the bottle and took a sip, then sat down on a metal bar stool next to a small island at the point where the living room became a kitchen. “My time’s been up since the Feds caught me.” He looked at me, then laughed, shaking his head as he enjoyed a private joke.
“They’re not exactly giving you their best protection,” I said, stepping closer.
“Yeah, but they know how full of yourself you are,” he said.
My paranoia sense tingled. I turned back to the door and pulled it open to reveal a thick metal door. A hole appeared in it as big as my fist, punching me in the stomach. I stumbled. I heard gunshots as more of the walls disappeared. My HUD warned me of damage as the shots that it broke bones and burst organs behind the armor it pounded and weakened. Both myself and my target dropped, me to take cover and him because most of his chest was missing. I set the nanites in my armor to myself and the armor, then opened a hole and came out next to where I thought I stashed a dead body in the bushes.
The cabin was ringed with more of these expressionless men, many in camo or gillie suits, but a few in suits. I saw the one I thought I killed, somehow still standing and firing his handgun despite his throat being punched in. It was odd. They were all firing from the hip, no matter the guns they used, all emotionless and stiff. When they finished a few minutes later, one of them held up a remote and pushed a button. The cabin exploded. The shooters didn’t respond, even when I saw on take a chunk of wood through the thigh.
A sudden power failure caused the portaholes to go out. Damn, right when I want to kill a shitload of people. As awesome as these things are, their reliability is a pretty damn big issue. I didn’t have time to worry about it, though, as I had a crowd of thirty or so of these weird, robot-seeming men to kill.
Still invisible, I came up behind one and yanked his head off. The body fell. The rest of this bunch turned toward me, but I was already jumping, landing with my feet on the head and chest of another guy. When we came down to the ground, his head went sploosh. My Surprise whips shot out as I ran forward to dodge the tracking of these things. I wrapped one around the neck of a guy, squeezing it off as I used him to change my velocity. Another took a whip to the head, revealing metal under the skin.
More fell to a laser to the face, and I picked up a nearby sentry to club one of his friends to mush with. The secret was to stay moving as those with ammo used it up and those without tried to reload quickly. There was one gaggle of them that got fresh magazines in when a headless rubber chicken wandered over to them and exploded. I grabbed a second of the guys and spun like a whirlwind, sending guys flying.
It got a bit messy, but a few more rubber chicken grenades left me the only one standing. Any other that tried were easy enough to stomp back down. The last one, stopped while he was on one knee and tried to use the portaholes. I was going to pull his skull out and use it to beat his body with, but then I remembered it wasn’t working. I settled for squeezing his head with my hands until it exploded in a gooey mess of blood, scalp, metal, and circuit boards.
I jumped to the conclusion that my old enemy the Technolutionary might be working with the Secret Service. He’d been obsessed with me in a creepy way, feeling that I was humanity’s future and that he should be able to make humans like me. We did manage that process, but he got away. Before I met him, his favorite pastime seemed to be replacing people’s brains with computers that made them is servants. These looked like more sophisticated versions, with way better weaponry than he’d had. A lot of my older armors wouldn’t have stood up to being shot like this, and I’d have been in little shape to fight without armor being able to release regenerative nanites out in the field.
So, this whole thing had been a trap. Lovely. That still left me in the middle of nowhere without a ride, my personal conveyance not working, and unable to call in for help. That might have been part of the trap as well, and a part I wouldn’t have thought about given the location.
I didn’t take a hike so much as take long leaps through the forest until I could get enough of a signal to call back to Chu, the head of my portahole project. He picked up on the first ring. “Chu, buddy, what’s wrong with these things? I need a way back, ya know.”
“Chu is otherwise detained,” Medusa said. My paranoia sense didn’t like that.
“What’d you do?” I asked.
“It wasn’t me, or just me,” she said. “I know you’re going to be pissed, but let me explain.”
“How about you explain it to me in person?” I asked, wanting to beat her to death with her own foot.
“I can’t do that. We received a message while you were gone. A lot of people want war with you, and your own people want to disavow your actions. The ultimatum is that you leave power,” she explained.
“We have the shield and all. We can hold out,” I said.
“That wasn’t just the ultimatum the UN gave us. A lot of people seem to agree with them, and I didn’t want to cause a riot.”
“They never would have tried this if I was there, but how’d they know I was gone?” I asked.
“Your government isn’t as private as you’d think. That’s partially my doing,” she said. I could feel the tension in her words.
“Have you been a spy this whole time?” I asked, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.
“No. I love you, I really love you. I wanted to help free you and reform things, so I tried to keep things transparent with some leaks. They told me and others you were gone. Then the UN contacted us.”
“Where’s my daughter? What have y’all done with her?!” I felt the rage course through me, hurting my jaw as hard as it clenched.
“She’s fine. The people who flooded the Directory forced them to vote your abdication and her ascendancy to the throne. We’re pretty sure the UN isn’t going to declare war on a little girl,” she tried to reassure me.
“Little girls are the only group the UN will go after because they’re too scared of dictators!” I yelled. I tried getting through to Shield Command. Nothing. My command codes were no good anymore. Same for the base, or even Intel. They all ghosted me when I called, too.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll take care of Qiang. She’ll be fine. If there’s a silver lining, Mr. Omega will give up on you soon, right? It’s no fault of your own. Well, I mean, that’s not really true, but it’s not like you knew this would happen.”
I hung up on her and punched a tree. It fell in the woods. I stood there, not making any sound for awhile. Then a message got through on what I recognized as Intel Chief Pagan’s accounts. “Empress, I remain ever loyal. I will act to protect your daughter from your enemies and do what I can to aid your return. Attached is a dump of useful information we compiled on the incident as it happened, as well as other information you have requested. We found an outpost of the Dusk Club if you feel you are in a mood for violence and would like to channel it to your ends. Yours forever, Pagan.”
Another voice broke in, courtesy of the icon of a white face on my HUD of Mr. Omega. “Such ungrateful people.”
“Damn straight,” I said.
“We will take your island back for you,” he said.
“You’d help me with that?” I asked.
“I prefer you to your daughter. I would think you would, too,” he said.
He didn’t need to. He had the power I need right now. Might as well get rid of that Dusk Club first before I go back and prove why I’m the one who deserves to rule.
“I find it hard to believe you’re this powerful, able to keep an eye on me and check messages from me, but you don’t know where these guys are,” I said, perched upon a neon-lit skyscraper in Tokyo. Always Tokyo with Japan. I had Mr. Omega in my HUD.
“You procrastinated and they escaped,” he said. “I am searching. When they do, you will find the power you need to destroy them.”
“Uh huh,” I said, though it did interest me to learn a little more about how long it took him to find things. Anything that gives me an idea about his powers is helpful, including the fact that he sometimes needs an avatar on Earth to focus his power through. Why he does is a mystery to me at this point, but maybe the Dusk Club will clear that up. Awfully convenient of Omega to ask me to hunt down people who can help keep stop him. But if some group of do-gooder superheroes are going to confirm that I helped cause all these problems and am working with Omega, even temporarily, I won’t mind wrecking them.
The thought also occurred to me, as I watched some people leave a nightclub for a nearby themed love hotel, that I could also bring Medusa here and go on a public date while we claim to be cosplayers. It’d be a whole lot easier without the extra arms, but I could pull it off.
Even with cloaking activated, I kept an eye out for any Justice Rangers. The ones from my home dimension had kept a close eye on me but I don’t have any more trust for the ones from this Earth. Their enemies may also complicate matters. Most Justice Ranger teams tend to mop up whatever threat they were activated for within a year before standing down. And since they tend to keep to themselves, nobody’s got them on VillaiNet. I’d prefer if they didn’t butt in on my attack with one of their own. Plus, ya know, it being THE main city where superheroics happen in Japan means I have to watch for random superheroes or giant monsters. If it happens in Japan, it happens in Tokyo.
“I found it,” Omega said. “There.”
He didn’t make an arrow appear or anything, nor did he bring a hand up into his image to show me. He just said, “There.”
“There where?” I asked, looking around.
“That way. Left. Left!” he instructed.
“Do they have left in your direction? I’m turning left,” I said, turning and leaning out over the side of the building.
His face didn’t betray any frustration. “I know. I will show you, but you must open yourself up to my power.”
“If you’re suggesting you need to get into my pants, and skin, and give me some of that raw power of yours… well, I might be open to that,” I said with a grin.
I felt like I jammed all my pointy bits into separate electrical sockets. I lit up with power. My armor became a blinding flash of red and held steady. My fleshy bits jolted with energy, and it was at that point I realized I’d fallen from the building in my preoccupation with the power.
I decided I didn’t feel like hitting the ground that evening, so I stopped falling. “Ok, where we goin’?”
I began to fly down a street, but it wasn’t really me doing the moving. It wasn’t like I was being forced to do it, but almost like that’s what my body decided to do when I didn’t tell it to do anything. I landed in the middle of the street near an odd structure.
It was a tower of sorts, with a garage door in the middle of the base. It looked like a tower of blocks, three blocks wide and one block deep. I realized what it was when someone walked up to a screen and keypad outside. They typed in a code, swiped a card, and the tower let out a little rumble. Then the garage door opened and there was a car. “Hey, Omega, this is a parking garage. A little smaller than I thought they had. Are they in one of the blocks?” I looked it up and down. Twenty-three stories. Not hard to take apart.
“They have hidden their lair within the top floor of this parking tower,” he answered.
I heard a roar behind me, which is when I realized all the glowing made it harder to see through the 360 cameras. I turned and saw a Tyrannosaurus rex standing on the sidewalk at a table by a 24 hour ramen shop. It set aside its tiny bowl, grabbed a book off the table, and tugged on the chain of its monocle to adjust it. “What devilish dispute dares disrupt dinner?” it asked in a British accent. Under its breath, I heard it lament, “Why must these occurrences plague my every holiday to Tokyo? Always whilst in Tokyo!”
“Oh wow, it’s The Saurus!” I said.
“Is this being a threat to our plans?” Omega asked.
“I mean, he’s a hero. He’s lost us the element of surprise,” I answered.
“No,” Omega informed me, “the lair is empty. You may deal with this foe if necessary.”
“Go back to eating, King Tyrant Lizard. You don’t want any of this,” I ordered The Saurus. I turned, ignoring the honkings of annoyed drivers, and raised a hand to the building. I aimed for the base, and imagined another lovely explosion. The tower rumbled as the middle square blew outward, followed soon afterward by the block to its right muffling a secondary explosion. The tower began to sway, then fall.
The Saurus was up and by it faster than you’d think a T. rex could move. He braced against the side of it, calling out in Japanese for people to move out of the way. I believe the exact phrase was “Save yourself, mammals!”
It was going to topple no matter what, but he eased it down as best as he was able by sidestepping with as much weight as he could hold on his back until, at least, he had to race out from underneath it and let it fall the last weigh. The lab might have been destroyed if it had fallen unimpeded, but I doubted I wiped it out this time.
“All you had to do, was nothing,” I said. Then I looked down at myself. That was difficult as well. I was one bright motherfucker. “Let’s see if I can find someone your own size to play with.” I was scrambling for an animal for the theme as I felt myself growing larger and warping, slightly. My hands on either side came together and my armor kinda spread out like a membrane between them, forming wings. The hands were covered over by a fists. The membrane extended up and down to join at my head and at a spiny tail growing from my ass.
I was now a giant red sea ray. I shouldn’t have tried to think of animals. I’m lucky I didn’t turn into a sea pig. Hell, with my track record, I’d have probably become a giant penguin. There’s a reason you don’t see penguin kaiju. I looked down at myself, then up at The Saurus and tried to sound as menacing as possible when I pointed at myself and said, “It’s Do Ray Me, motherfucker.”
“I observe your ponderous transformation and raise you a swift beatdown!” the eloquent British cloned T. rex said. He hoped over the downed tower and came ran at me. I… put a hand on his head and held him back. He swiped his little claws and tried biting, but I held him at bay. This was ridiculously more simple than I expected, so I uppercutted him under the chin with my free hand. I grabbed his head then with both hands, one above and one below, and swung him over me to smack into a car. He lay there stunned as I grabbed another car and slammed that on top of him.
“Look at that, a prehistoric chicken sandwich!” I said.
He started to squirm to get out, so I decided to see if Omega’s powers included anything with some heat to them. I put my hands on the cars, concentrated, and watched as they glowed and melted together where metal touched metal. With The Saurus sealed between them, I turned and hopped onto the tower, approaching what had been the top floors. “Now, let’s see what all the hub bub was about…”
Before I could do that, a beam of energy erupted from my head and tore into them. My hed moved side to side, again in the same way I recognized from Omega flying me around. On top of that, my perspective shifted as I shrunk back into my on form.
In the end, the only thing left was a runny puddle of melted cement and metal in a trench carved through the Tokyo sidewalk. I at least wanted to see what all they were doing. “Dammit,” I wrote in a text message for Omega to read. “If I got a good look at whatever they were doing, I could have maybe guarded against it. Without the heroes here who did it, they can always warn others and lead them toward the same observations.”
“Then we should hunt them down, one by one. I think you find the though fun,” he suggested.
I did, but I also promised to look over some proposals from Medusa. I thought maybe I’d be legalizing some polygamy, but when I brightened up, she stopped to tell me she meant policies and reform. But I figured I’d look at them, and not just in the sense of trying to get her into my pants. I intend to take a good faith look at this “Badass Plan” of hers.
“Your miscalculation, Omega. I don’t have time to hunt them down right now. Check in with me later,” I told him.
In response, I felt the heat and the electricity abandon me. I was there, standing on the tower, in full view for just a moment before I disappeared as well and made sure to get away from the angry dinosaur trying to escape his melted containment.
I had to call in a Psycho Flyer for pickup, but I made it in time for some policy planning with Medusa. The things we do for the ones we love.
With most of my spies tied up undermining the United States, we’ve had to transfer a lot of valuable people away from China, Hong Kong, and Japan. We can’t just fly people in to hunt for whatever supers are experimenting with the dimensional veil. Other villains on VillaiNet can only tell us so much.
Took a bit of work to get Apollo on the horn, too. “Yo, god-dude. I had some questions. You ever hear of something called the Dusk Club? Or some group like that?”
I couldn’t see his expression as he paused because we were on a standard phone call instead of a video call or smell-o-vision. “I will have to check? What are they?”
“I think they’re mages, unless they also somehow have advanced technology. They were active during the 20th century, but I’m not sure what they really do. Supposedly stop threats that cross the dimensional barrier, but they disbanded or died off before I ever showed up. I’m honestly surprised so many groups keep managing to sneak around for so long with nobody finding out about them. Like you guys, somehow managing to avoid detection for hundreds of years.”
“We use magic,” Apollo said. “There are spells that can prevent people from speaking about secrets and spells that can alter memory. The latter are fearsome if mishandled and wipe the mind of the sorcerer foolish enough to have tried them.”
Hmm. Interesting. I mean, yeah, it makes sense that the Hares used literal magic to avoid their conspiracy getting out. That’s an option NASA wouldn’t have if they filmed the moon landing on a sound stage. But more than that, Mr. Omega claims the people who evicted him from this dimension used that kind of magic. I wonder how much the successors of that group made use of that magic, if they had access to it. As was figured out by The Claw, being able to screw with people’s memories can open up all kinds of fucked manipulations.
“If you can ask around for me, it would be appreciated,” I told Apollo.
“How appreciated?” he asked.
“You like diamonds?” I asked. “I got a diamond here the size of your head.”
“That exaggeration is so common,” he said.
I looked to a stand in my study holding a small part of our mining operation on Uranus in the other universe. The diamond there could have been cut into a basketball. We can’t access anymore until the Telechamber is rebuilt, but it’s coming along. If it wasn’t for Omega, that thing would be such an awesome source of power and riches for us. Just look at Elvis. The old redneck’s sold out a new tour.
So despite all the power at my fingertips with Omega on my side, I have nothing to aim it at, a concern I expressed aloud in the hopes he or it was paying attention.
I had an easy day, with nothing to do but wait for everyone to get back to me. I was a few drinks into waiting when I got a report from the military base that Medusa was spotted sneaking around. So I figured I better go see what that’s about. She’s got the run of the place pretty well anyway, so sneaking means she’s doing something she doesn’t think I’d approve of.
I threw on my armor real quick and pointed an arm at my study wall. I holographically projected a tunnel on the wall and set a portahole in it so that I could walk through. Because when I get the chance to pull that shit, I do it. I stepped out near the outside of the base, looking up at the wall nearest to the base. If this was a movie or tv show, I’d have arrived just in time to catch her in the act. But this isn’t fiction. It’s dirty, wild reality, far stranger than any fiction.
I had to wait a few minutes before a rope latter came tumbling down the wall off in the distance. By the time Medusa shimmied down, she found me leaning on the wall next to her. “Hey there, beautiful. Who’s your friend?” I pointed up the shaking ladder at the prisoner climbing down after her.
She sighed and crossed her arms. Looking me right in the eye, she said, “A spy.”
“Why, my dear, are you breaking spies out of my prisons?” I asked.
I reached over as the spy in question came down and hopped the last few feet. He was a fairly round man despite not being fat, with wispy hair that lifted off his head easily in the breeze. His eyes seemed just a little too small. If this man was an international superspy who went around seducing beautiful women, he must have a hell of a talking game to make up for the handicap his body and faced gave him. He held a hand out toward me. I took it and he bowed, giving my armored hand a kiss on the back. “’Ello. Carter Brendleton. A pleasure to meet you. You a friend of ol’ Venus?”
Not a smooth talker. I pulled up his file from my guys. He’d been caught snooping around one of our “fishing” warehouses. An awful lot of interesting things get swallowed by fish. USB drives, gemstones, even some misplaced treasury printing plates. You never know what my guys will turn up when searching the fish. And you never know what spies will turn up when searching fish.
“You could say that,” I told him in regards to his question about being a friend of Medusa. “Psychopomp Gecko. I’m kind of a big deal.”
“Oh, Empress Gecko. You run the place. Very good. I don’t mean to be a bother,” he leaned in close. “But could I persuade you to not throw me in prison for inspecting fish?”
I put an arm around his shoulders. “Buddy, you’re accused of being a spy.”
Medusa walked up and put her arm around my other shoulder. “Babe, he’s actually a British fish inspector.”
“That’s what they all say,” I told her. “It’s clearly a cover story.”
“I am. Her Majesty has authorized me to investigate unusual fish imports that could endanger the British Isles. The Crown takes reckless fishmongery as a serious threat. First, the Krauts came for our fish. Then, our chips.” He held up a fist, getting a far off look in his eye as he locked his jaw defiantly.
Medusa nodded toward the Brit. “Why don’t you tell us about your favorite fish?”
“That is a complex question, of course, because most people think of osteichtyes, what are commonly referred to as bony fishes, but there is so much to love about chondrichtyes, or cartilaginous fish. And the amount of diversity between bony fishes is an added complication…”
Thirty goddamn minutes later, I had to put a stop before he could go into extinct species. I felt the distinct need to install a liquor dispenser in my power armor to make up for situations like this. I’m pretty sure the grass around us died of boredom. But Medusa’s point was made. She was fairly certain this guy was nothing but some sort of fish inspector, and now I was too. Problem was, we actually are smuggling things using fish. Forget coffee, there’s nothing that throws off anyone’s ability to smell like fish. And if you’re lucky, they don’t smell worse when they’re dead.
As an island nation, Ricca naturally has a long tradition of fishing. As a nation run by a supervillain, it also has a long tradition of smuggling drugs and other illegal goods either within fish they export, or in fish canned for export.
I left Brendleton to wax nostalgic about the good old days of giant bottom feeders to pull Medusa aside and quietly tell her, “This guy’s still dangerous to our business.”
“He’s a fish inspector. How dangerous is fish inspection?” she asked.
“It depends on if they find something fishy,” I said. I holographically projected secret film of a wild shootout at a dock that looked like an action movie, up until the amphibious tank tried coming to shore to fight guerrillas in yellow uniforms and white facepaint. It was blown apart by multiple anti-tank missiles and doused with flamethrowers to make sure. “That’s what happened the last time someone tried to figure out how McDonald’s sources the McFish. You don’t even want to know about the McRib.”
I started to show her the video of the Ghurkas heading into a deep jungle ambush but she waved me off. “You know you don’t have any reason to worry about a fish inspector. Stop wasting time on him and expel him from the island.”
“It’s the principle of the thing!” I said, holding up four pointer fingers.
She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the helmet. “Gecko, I know you can be better than this. You know you’re better than this. It’s time to be better, in the way only a badass can. Is it that you’re scared?”
I covered her mouth. “Not in front of the spy, honey.”
“I am barely a spy!” Carter said. “I do not even have my license to kill. I have a fishing license, however.”
Medusa moved my hand. “There’s no need to be afraid. I believe in you. And you have me by your side.” She winked and smiled, which felt awesome. But I didn’t like all this talk of me being afraid. That’s not what it was. I just had people to look after, and a family. A little girl counted on me to survive. Sure, I’ve hidden away millions of dollars worth of money to take care of her if something happens to me, but money can’t buy a p- you know, money can buy you a parent, but she’s too young for that kind of roleplay. She wouldn’t want to go back into the diapers.
More to stop from having this particular discussion, I relented and let Medusa officially deport the fish spy, with a warning that Ricca would prefer if the United Kingdom kept its grubby fish watchers to itself, lest they sleep with the fishes.
At that, Carter Brendleton stood up just a bit straighter. “I would never! I don’t know what rumors you have heard, but I do not shag that way.”
I left a message written on my HUD where Mr. Omega normally pops in at when he contacts me, letting him know that if he can show me roughly where those experiments in Japan took place, I’m more than happy to engage in a bit of widespread destruction. Me, afraid, hah!
I’ll show her. I’ll show them all!
I also need to tell Medusa to get her head off that arm. It’s starting to fall asleep.
My destruction of the Hephaestus labs serving the Feds caused some shockwaves. Enough news went out about the exposed project in the government that some of the informants I have sent reports on to my agents. They considered it worse than a clusterfuck that they were warned about me coming and still couldn’t handle the situation. That was some lovely information. Then, of all things, the Hephaestus offices told me the dude I talked to went on a sudden vacation out of town.
Of all the… yeah, I knew the guy wasn’t trustworthy. That’s why I offered him a bribe. But I didn’t think he’d be so untrustworthy as to not honor the bribe. I mean, that was a deal between the two of us. Someone working for Hephaestus should know better than to violate a deal with me. I have some of my guys looking into where he may have hidden so I can deal with him personally. I was hoping it would be a quick job, so I could use him for weapons testing.
I had to make due with a fellow Pagan was more than happy to deliver. He called me out yesterday, said my presence was necessary at the proving ground range, a section of the island reserved for blowing things up to see how well they blow up. I don’t like that we waste our limited land area on such things, but they’ve been doing it for a long time. The Interior Director, with my approval, is trying to have the land surveyed to see how much work it would need to be safe for other use, but there’s something of a pissing match going on. Something about artillery running tests every time the surveyors go to do their job. Sometimes while the surveyors are out there.
I took a rocket, missing the effortless flight I had with Omega’s power running through me. Next to that, an oversized firework was a little bit of a letdown. I came with my armor, too, which still had the red color scheme and the Omega on it. Works like a charm, though the little wormhole gloves needed a going over and recalibrating. Chu told me the stack overflow wasn’t the whole problem, and wasn’t even most of the problem. The power surge was related to the portable holes themselves. That got the physicists hornier than a big bang, and while they set up a system to better regulate the power, they’re still studying the effects.
As I approached the proving grounds, I saw Pagan’s group. He stood flanked by a trio of other agents who kept their guns trained on a man in a suit. The man in question had been roughed up a bit. He had blood on his shirt and in his mess of hair. His hands were bound in front of him with a zip tie, and he had no shoes or socks on. I liked those last touches. While it’s more difficult to do things with your hands tied behind you, it’s easier for someone with a knife to cut them without being noticed. Leaving his feet bare also makes it tougher for him to run for it. They even had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He could still palm something, but it’d take some serious legerdemain. That’s a fancy word for all that palming and other hand work that prestidigitators do. And that’s a fancy word for a stage magician. But don’t defenestrate yourself just yet, dear reader. That means throwing yourself out of a window, and if you did that, you wouldn’t find out this man was a leaker.
Hell, so much for keeping that secret. Now, I don’t mean the man had a bladder problem, though he had certainly wet himself at some point in their handling of him. I landed near Pagan and remotely directed the rocket to continue on, curve up, then plunge into the ground a safe distance away. “Howdy,” I told my Intel Chief.
“Empress,” he said with a bow. The other agents staggered theirs so someone was up and capable fo dealing with the guy in the zip tie.
“What did you need me here for?” I asked.
“After the Fluidic alien infiltrator attacked the power plant and Telechamber to bring through the remains of his fleet, I knew someone helped him. He knew too much to have worked alone, and knew to avoid the water. These men I trusted to find how,” Pagan explained. He motioned to the prisoner.
“After extensive investigation, we discovered this man had provided details of the Telechamber problems and the layout of the nuclear plant to a third party via TOR browser. We believe the third party was the Midnight Man or a group he was part of, though they claimed to be a collective dedicated to aiding whistleblowers and exposing the secrets of corrupt governments. Per further checks, we found that the leaked information has not been released to the public by any such group. It was merely a front for infiltrators to further their own imperialist agenda.”
“Tsk, tsk… whistleblowing state secrets? For what, for morality?” I turned to the man.
“You stole the nuclear plant and kidnapped those men. Your experiments threatened the world,” the man said with a shaking voice. The agents started toward him, but I held a hand up and they stopped.
I shrugged. “Yeah, I am indeed a bitch, like any other leader. Nobody’s hands are clean, and maybe it’s wrong to think that’s the only way. But something you should have remembered is that information like that is never free. It’s always got a value, and if you’re not getting paid, you’re getting duped. You got duped, big time. So, tell me now, is what Pagan said here true? I don’t like scapegoats either, so I’m willing to hear your story, too.”
“I thought Ricca was changing, that if my mother lived, she would have been able to return to her people. You are just as bad as The Claw. Your insanity threatens to destroy the world. You are as bad as any Soviet or American with Mutually Assured Destruction,” the analyst said.
I sighed. “Sorry to hear you feel that, and sorry you felt it was more important to hurt me than to help yourself.” Turning to the agents and Pagan, I said, “You’ll want to stand clear of this one.”
Pagan nodded and the four of them began to walk away.
“You will kill me,” the analyst said, no doubt in his voice.
“Yep,” I told him. “No matter how merciful I might want to be, it’s what I have to do. You helped someone attack us. People are dead. Other people’s kids and mothers are dead because of what you did. For all you think I’m just like the evil alien conqueror, you unleashed a whole ‘nother band of evil alien conquerors on the planet to destroy people just like yourself. So you die here today.”
I activated the portable holes. I need a shorter name for them. Portaholes is the obvious portmanteau, but it makes me think of portapotties. I’ve talked about all kinds of portals and breaches. Wormhole just feels inappropriate to me, but it might be the best option.
I suppose I could have given the guy an easy death with some dignity. Or I could have done something really brutal to make sure people knew not to fuck with me. Vlad the Impaler came to mind, except I now had the ability to impale this fellow on anything in the world. The Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Sputnik on top of Joe’s Liquor’s sign in Memphis: the world was my boner.
Instead, I reached out with my mind, looked up a few things, and used some GPS info. I created a pair of wormholes and punched the man, once from above, another from behind. The next thing to hit him through a wormhole was a gloved fist from a boxing match, then a footballer’s cleated foot caught him in the balls, followed by a portal above him dropping an anvil on his head. It was significantly less survivable for him than it is for Daffy Duck. You couldn’t much hear the bones break because of all the squelching.
For the final cleanup, I tried double the holes, and much bigger than I’d done before. Chu’s not monitoring them all the time, but we’ve still got a full-time staff with a direct line to me if anything goes wrong. That they didn’t speak up when the train appeared, plowed into the anvil and the remains, and then went back through a portal almost as quickly as it appeared says good things.
I had a lovely dinner with Medusa, Qiang, and Citra. Citra had been on a break between semesters, but finally stopped here for a little bit. She did some important schmoozing in Belgium and she’s not really into the whole lesbian thing, so that all explains her absence lately. Perfectly reasonable stuff. I’m certainly not disappointed with the fact that I partnered for political reasons and not for amazing, clothes-tearing lust. Or love.
I woke up early thanks to a voice whispering in my ear. “Psychopomp… wake up. You’re missing the fun,” Mr. Omega said.
“What fun?” I asked groggily. I’m a morning person like Elton John’s a ladies man.
“You have done amazing, but our enemies gather.”
That woke me right up, though I stopped talking out loud so as not to wake up- nevermind, Medusa was already up. Huh. I thought I did a better job tiring her out. Should I be worried? Anyway, enough about sexy times. I talked in my head. “What’s going on? Someone about to attack the island?”
“Yes. Gifted humans in the Empire of Japan have studied the breaches in the dimension and the weakening of the barrier. They suspect a connection between this and your island. They drew my attention when I observed their testing. They are not the only enemies. I feel the Dusk Club has reunited.”
“That’s that group you pretended to be a part of. They’re real?” I asked.
The face in my HUD nodded. “They are the successors of the ancient tradition that banished me to the void. They have been in decline since the conflicts of the last century. They sense the veil is weakening and will rebuild.”
“What’s that mean for us?” I sent off a text to Apollo of the Hares to check on some group called the Dusk Club. If I still had the number for The Trust over in Los Angeles, I’d have asked them. That family is supremely fucked-up, but they’re involved in the magic world. And the magic bar on Beale Street in Memphis might get me where I need to go.
“It means I will soon have need of you to serve as my avatar again, channeling my power to further our goals,” Mr. Omega said.
Bingpot. Ok, Gecko, play it cool… “Yeah, sure, I suppose I could if you think I’ll need all that extra power.”
Mr. Omega smiled. “Those without power, risk. Those with power, rule. All we have to do is but find them. Then, we crush them.”
I mean, yeah, he’s vicious, but so am I. And I like the idea of flying like that again, with all that power. “I guess we’re hunting the Dusk then.”
“On behalf of the President of the United States, I am proud to present the new official metahuman protectors of the greatest nation on God’s green Earth, the Freedom Legion.”
Cue polite applause from party officials, staffers, and a few members of the press as a men and women in red and white uniforms walked out on stage. The outfits were padded with body armor, red with groups of four white stars forming a cross on the chest, hips, and thighs. Their gloves and boots are white, but their helmets, which don’t appear to have any openings for breathing or seeing, are red with a white panel from the top of the head to the chin. Reporters hands went up, but the Secretary of Defense, or at least the one belonging to that administration, told them, “Direct all questions to the proper channels.”
There are two different people claiming to be the rightful President of the United States. One is the guy who took over after I tossed the nincompoop-in-chief to another dimension the first time around. The second is the nincompoop’s VP. The cabinet’s divided on which one is right, and that’s complicated by some of the ignoramus’s cabinet having been in the White House and just recently returning to find someone else claiming to the same title they have. It’s a real Pope and Anti-Pope situation. Just like with those crises in history, I expect legitimacy will be retroactively determined by whichever one wins the conflict.
Still, even Congress agreed that the government needed its own team of domestic law enforcement supers instead of relying on the private market and regular vigilantes. One of the presidents rushed through his own version of it, this Freedom Legion. The other one’s probably working on something similar, and he better work fast. I expect one of the first threats the Freedom Legion is going to deal with is the rival administration.
I don’t really feel threatened by these guys. I can deal with regular ol’ supers. It’s things like Mr. Omega I worry about. And as an assassin, even one so good I usually kill for myself instead, it’s my business to have a plan to kill everyone I meet. Even my new buddy Chu. The guy’s allergic to peanuts, so I’ve already made a knife out of peanut brittle. Well, I’ve made a couple dozen because I keep munching on the things. But anyway, these Freedom Legionaries are a good thing for me.They give me an excuse.
I can claim the Legion is all about trying to destabilize Ricca. Plenty of people will believe it even if they never do get used for any of the U.S.’s overseas adventures as their military so often has. And I’ve had a reputation of being insane, so plenty of people can excuse my focus on them as an extension of that. That gives me all the cover I might need to justify my weapons programs in the eyes of any prying extradimensional entities. Why do I need the ability to shoot a star at my enemies? Freedom Legion. Why do I need something to help me fight giant robots? Freedom Legion. It’s perfect.
All in all, the flaunting of American power in a time of internal conflict makes it incredibly easy to strengthen my own power using them as a scapegoat.
I went ahead and let Intel Chief Pagan in on the masquerade, even if I didn’t tell him why. His lack of any real response to me wanting to build superweapons has been noted personally. While having someone antagonistic heading up my intelligence service would be dangerous, I also don’t need a yes-man there. I need the truth. I’ll keep an eye on my interactions with Pagan from here on out.
Chu, the guy working on other applications of teleportation for energy and firepower, has been given high priority. He’s getting his own team, way more lab space, and all the funding he could need. If that works out, it’ll take my armor to another level. Or it’ll fuck things up even worse than the Telechamber did. I’ll scorch the Earth permanently by losing control of the power of a star. Or there’ll be some kind of creature hiding in the heart of a black hole I let loose who empowers people that want to kill me. Or something. I’ll have to kill that bridge when I come to it. Be nice to have another break from crises at some point.
For now, there’s no rest for the wicked. You know, aside from sleeping in bed with my hot superhero girlfriend who likes me for some reason I haven’t yet figured out. Ever since our little connection via electronic medium the other day, I’ve had a desire to randomly throw my hands up and squeal, “She really loves me!” Was real embarrassing when she caught me doing so alone in my room.
The strict “Do Not Disturb” status I put out in the aftermath of her catching me is why I was late to hearing some news from our neighbors across the pacific. The non-Freedom Legion president had fled to Canada, which was refusing to extradite him and the remaining cabinet-in-exile back. I considered it a hell of a victory.
Then, the next day, we got news that a nuclear submarine identified by sonar as one of the U.S. Navy’s high-priced toys had gotten awfully close to the island. It wasn’t violating our sovereignty, but it was close enough to know they were up to something. Pagan had the alert level of the Security and Military raised in case of attack or infiltration, and the island’s shield was on standby. Just as he was starting to hear reports about power surges from the shield people, which he summarized and set aside for me to see, he also got reports of an attack at the nuclear power plant. That put us on full alert and immediately jumped to the top of my priority list.
I ran out of the Institute of Science in my armor and ran to a long case I left sitting on the ground outside. A button press blew the sides off and shows a rocket with straps on top. I slid my boots into them and they tightened automatically before blasting off. That’s right, in order to help me cross the island more quickly, I’ve got the personal rockets going on again. It got me to the power plant in no time, where I found my guards firing on a black-clad individual who was trying to get into it.
The super had these energy tendrils emanating from their belly that formed a shield from gunfire, but a grenade exploded behind the individual and knocked them over. That one was standing up again when he or she took a rocket to the chest that pounded them back onto their back. I had flipped off of it and landed over their chest. Before I could go for the kill, a bloom of tendrils wrapped around all of my arms and held them. I stomped the person in their masked and goggled face. The tendrils didn’t weaken, but a new one grabbed my legs and held them splayed out.
Next to me, another black-clad person of indeterminate sex stepped through the wall, twirling a sword in hand. I turned my head and fired off my helmet’s laser at the ghostly swordsperson. It passed through his head without making it explode into steamed chunks of brain, but he fell back and through the ground. His sword, meanwhile, spun through my neck, through the head of a nearby guard, and disappeared into the ground as well as gravity somehow took hold of a thing that appeared no more substantial than light.
But then, lasers are light too. And the guard who was hit ended up falling, his armor unscathed. I knew right away what got him, as blood filled my throat from where my flesh had been sliced under my untouched armor. The tendrils tossed me high into the sky, quite likely expecting me to be too busy dying from decapitation to do anything to save myself.
Tendril person also threw him or herself out of the place, trying to flee while most of my guys fired after them. Another couple of them looked after the downed soldier, while a trio stared up and tried to guess where I’d land.
I concentrated more on the landing, which I figured I could take easily enough. The fall wasn’t high enough to splatter me, especially not while regenerative nanites flooded my neck, absorbing stray blood while knitting blood vessels, flesh, and bone together again. By the time I landed, I was in shape to chase our friend. I only had to follow the sounds of gunfire and flash of laser rifles. And the big explosion that took out a furniture store.
“Report,” I ordered as I landed near the place, finding soldiers picking themselves up off the ground and sweeping the area for survivors.
An officer came up and bowed. “Empress, we cornered the intruder in the store as he tried to escape. We managed to wound him with laser rifles and were closing in to capture him, but he detonated an explosive device. We’re searching for casualties and remains.”
“Thank you,” I said, checking around. Reports came in that the sub was heading out of the area, so I doubted they’d find them, but the real report came in that there had been another incident, this one at the children’s school.
I hugged Qiang tight when I got there. She cried as she squeezed me as tight as she could. “Shh. It’s ok.”
Nearby, one of her protective agents was talking with Pagan, who came personally to oversea what the hell went wrong here. Seeing me with my daughter, he opted instead to text it to me. “It was another individual dressed like the intruders at the plant. He used claws to quietly kill members of her hidden detail, then captured Qiang. Your daughter stabbed him in the neck, without effect. Agents pursued until a large red finger appeared and flattened the intruder. We’re checking the crater for explosives and any evidence we can gather before one may go off.”
A large red finger. Sounds like Mr. Omega actually did me a solid this time. It also sounds like the threat I thought would give me all the excuse I needed to fight Omega turned out to be a real threat to me and mine. It’s almost enough to make me wonder if I might reevaluate this relationship with Omega. Either way, I’m not stopping the weapons development program. Someone’s about to get their ass kicked, and it’s either a godlike being from outside this dimension or a superpower.
To celebrate the rescue of so many refugees, we tried throwing a little bit of a concert. Just something to help them feel welcome while associating good things in the eyes of the people who were already here. I have no clue who inhabited the island back when the various ruins were created. It may be that the Claw, who fulfilled his role of “Dictator For Life,” wiped out a bunch of indigenous folk in order to build a nation of East Asian immigrants under his rule. Even I can’t do anything about that. But I can make sure I capitalize on the mistakes of others.
I need people and they need to go somewhere better than a country living under the legacy of being a third world plaything of the Cold War, then either neglected or intervened in during the 90s and Oughts. I can’t control whether people complain about the States intervene militarily in South America or those same people then complain that the States didn’t intervene in other countries down there. And I’d hardly be a good contrarian if I copied the assholes in power.
Which is really too much of an explanation for why we had a Led Zeppelin cover band rocking out while Dr. Creeper flew around a small blimp with a red balloon and tossed down treats. It did make it a little hectic giving out gift baskets of some of the essentials people might need, like shampoo and toothpaste, but I think it worked out. Mostly. Gotta tell Creeper that t-shirt guns are appropriate; t-shirt howitzers are overkill. That guy will be fine once the nanites patch him up, but the car was totaled.
While they focused on that, I checked on the Telechamber progress. Creeper wasn’t happy, but he acquiesced over the objections of the scientists specifically studying transdimensional physics. I pulled rank, which is one advantage to being the dictator. And I can dic tators like it’s nobody’s business. They’re finding all kinds of odd hold-ups, though. Some of the guys tried to go ahead and lay a new foundation as soon as the old one was cleared off nearby roofs, but sugar seems to have gotten into the cement mixers. The darn stuff didn’t want to dry after that. They’ll have some problems with rats eating the wiring too, when they get around to that. Then I expect I’ll complain about them doing the same flimsy construction as last time once they’re about halfway done and force them to redo it.
I need time in the hopes I can come up with something to wiggle out of this. At the moment, it feels beyond me. In the past, anything I couldn’t kill by more conventional means was eaten or transformed by nanomachines, or I used a D-Bomb. Except this thing, Mr. Omega, is already outside the universe and has some ability to move things in and out. And nanomachines have their own weaknesses. Spinetingler was able to keep from being completely eaten by them, and I don’t want to rely on just the one weapon that’s failed to kill before when dealing with a guy so big he can crush me and the entire building I’m in with his pinky finger. That’s not getting into whatever else made people scared of him so much they stuck him between universes.
So even though I was mussing up my daughter’s hair while watching the show, I think she could tell I was worried. I didn’t used to be worried so much before I had loved ones. You know, people I might theoretically care for, in a hypothetical scenario where I had feelings like a person.
But, dear reader, do you know the good thing about being a supervillain tyrant? If you said “Doomsday weapons,” you are right! My guys practically expect me to ask them for toys to kill people on a huge scale. I just need to secretly convey to them a need for a weapon to kill one person who exists on a large scale. This is no time to rely on my usual level of subtlety, either.
I reached over and put my arm around Medusa, who was also watching this from atop the building with myself and the others. She put hers around me as well and pulled my head onto her shoulder. I smiled, which was just because she seemed to know who and what I am and accept me anyway, and let my fingers dance over her opposite shoulder. She giggled. Her smile began to fade as my fingers kept tapping away, three times quick, then three longer rubs, then three more quick taps.
She turned her head toward me and I kept my own smile fixed, moving my face in close to hers. We stayed close like that, my fingers drifting over her skin and through her hair, starting to tell the tale. I didn’t get all the way through it because of the stage pyro that went off. She jumped as it went off and I lost my place.
“Hey, where’s your phone?” I asked, trying to salvage the situation.
“Uh, right here,” Medusa said, pointing down between us, where she’d left it on the lip of the roof.
“Just making sure you don’t drop it from up here,” I said with a wink that also shielded me from the brightness of the lead guitarist’s flamethrower guitar going off. I turned to watch, setting one of my hands down. It just happened to touch her phone and begin to connect with it due to my homo machina biology. Venus looked to me, then noticed where my hand was and set hers on it, and on the phone.
With the medium of her cell phone between us, I was able to share the whole thing as I played back my memory, including my thoughts about making sure I betray Mr. Omega, my paranoia about him watching me, and the need to be secretive. I could feel her surprise, her calculation, and her understanding. Even some weird, fuzzy feeling. That might have been related to the greatness that was our guys starting their cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”.
With Medusa brought in on this, my next step was to find a way to get Max in on this. As my only surviving friend I haven’t murdered, we have both a bond of trust and a knowledge of each other’s killtastic abilities that will significantly improve my chances of taking down Mr. Omega.
But how? That’s the thought that plagued me as I sat upon my throne. The porcelain one, that is. I find that the bathroom is the ideal place to do my thinking, in contrast to the study where I instead like to work.
He approached me as I headed back down to the kitchen. “Hey, Gecko. Sam told me about, ya know, that thing that happened.”
I cocked my head to the side. “That thing that happened?”
He nodded off to elsewhere. “Sam reads your blog. She knows it has a lot of sensitive information and spoilers, so she’s being discrete. She told me about the last couple of entries.”
I held up a finger. “First, how is she reading it?” Then a second, “Second, she didn’t say anything about it, has she? I know the early stuff’s kinda rough.”
Max held up a hand in a “so-so” gesture. “She keeps up with it, but she keeps complaining there isn’t more explicit gay sex or non-explicit gay sex. She wants to see you top me.”
“Hey, I’m having plenty of lesbian loving!” I yelled.
“Not with that attitude you aren’t!” Medusa called from elsewhere.
Max winced. “That’s not what she meant. She asked me to see if you could write a homoerotic love scene between as a guy again, and me.”
I shrugged. “I mean, I could write about that time…”
He waved it off. “Don’t give her the satisfaction. It was a wonderful night and next day, then another night, but I don’t want to lose what we have as friends.” He put his hand on my shoulder.
I pulled him into a hug and whispered, “Think that’ll do her?”
“It’ll have to, because you’re way happier as a woman,” he said. Aww. See, there’s a friend.
Well, it was easier letting Max find out than I thought, even though it means Sam is constantly peering over my shoulder and fantasizing about me being a lady in the streets and a man in the sheets. She’ll have a little less time since Max decided to travel back to the States to see about some goodies he left baking over there that might be of use.
That’s a good idea, too. I need all the weapons I can get, so it’s off to the Institute of Science. I pulled up the files in my head and scurried about, looking through the most menacing files. Like Project: Unspeakable. I pulled a crate out of storage and opened it to find Furbies. It turns out a supervillain created the annoying late 90s toy as a way to spy on people. Unfortunately, the learning program the Furbies already came with caused people to start being real cautious what they said around a creepy little puffball that can repeat what you say around it.
The second time around, I at least looked up a synopsis of the project. That eliminated a few more projects with meaner names than abilities, and instead I paid a visit to a storage room said to house equipment related to Operation Plague Rat. It was designed to spread disease that would hinder the NATO nations. I flicked on the lights in the room and found three stasis containers holding naked Jenny McCarthy clones. Huh. And here I thought she was just a gigantic fucking moron.
The idea did occur to me to see if Medusa wanted to activate one of them. Or all of them.
After that, I remembered that secret code names for evil projects are often a bit different. Like the Manhattan Project, Operation Paperclip, or water tanks. That last one is where the name “tank” comes from for the treaded, cannon-wielding vehicles of war. With that in mind, I settled on BEIGE123, the most plain and innocuous-looking of the files.
I found a lone researcher tucked away in a corner somewhere, adjusting a piece of circuitry under a microscope. He jumped when I entered the room. “Lao, did you finally remember I was back here?”
“No clue, I’m Empress Gecko,” I told him.
The man jumped up and bowed deeply. “My Empress! Nobody informed me you would be visiting.”
“At ease, smart dude. What do I call you?”
“Smart dude’s fine, i-if you want. Otherwise, I’m Chu,” he straightened up, having broken out in an insta-sweat while bowing.
“Ok, Chu. I’m taking a look through some files, looking for any super weapons I think are fun, and whatever you’re doing has the absolute most boring name ever thought up in the name of science since John W. Dildo thought a device he intended to please women. But enough about the invention of the electric dishwasher. What is it you’re working on here?” I looked down at the circuit and the other pieces on his desk.
“Wha-well,” he turned, “Most of the team are thinking of ways to use transdimensional tech for travel and infiltration within the same universe. It’s useful, very useful, very, very useful, but I thought of other ways we could use it. First, I theorized we could use smaller breaches targeting stars to use their radiation and heat in a combat capacity. If the breach on our side can function like a portal that expels solar plasma directionally, it can be a powerful tool.”
“That’d take a heck of a lot of power,” I said, thinking how awesome it’d be to open up my hand and shoot a tiny piece of a sun at someone. This was something I could work with, but the power cores for the Telechamber were prohibitively large and unwieldy. This wasn’t the kind of weapon I’d be able to fit on my suit. “How could you lug a suit around to do all this?”
“You wouldn’t have to,” he said, grinning. He reached around and pulled up a set of schematics to show me. “I think I’m close to a breakthrough on miniaturizing the transceiver for use by a single person. That is the hard part, because power is as simple as opening a portal to a star to use it as the world’s biggest nuclear reactor. Then, more breaches can be used to send the electricity wherever you need it. It’s completely self-sustaining once the initial energy investment is met.”
“Oh Chu,” I said, putting all four hands on his shoulders, then pulled him into a hug. “You and I are going to blow up so much shit together.”
“Gecko, let me in!” Medusa said, banging away at my door. I’d locked myself in my study, hanging upside down while my consciousness raced through computer systems to collaborte with my science guys and steal info from around the world. The Fluidics hadn’t done anything yet. Yet.
Normally, the solution I’d resort to is a D-Bomb. Oops, looks like there’s no guarantees that’ll keep working, and what the brainiacs said makes me think I should ease off on those. Considering we’ve got a couple of permanent holes to other dimensions around this world, they seem to have a point. That’s really going to fuck up that contract I had to drill Uranus while providing things like food and consumer products. That’s a miner concern at the moment.
I was trying to ignore Medusa while I dealt with bigger, deadlier concerns, including the aftermath of the Telechamber explosion. She didn’t want to let a sturdy door get in her way, though. I heard it rattle from an impact, then dear Medusa’s voice a she yelled “Fuck that hurt!” I should have installed a window with the words “In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass” on it.
“There’s a door knob!” I called to her, unlocking it remotely with an audible click. I nearly locked it back just before she could open it.
“You are really worried about this,” Medusa said as she opened the door. I couldn’t really see her as I’d put a blindfold over my head to help me concentrate
“I’m surprised you aren’t,” I answered.
“There are a lot of heroes who will help fight the big stuff,” she said. “I have to trust in them if I’m going to do what I do now. You should trust that you have people who will fight for you if they come for revenge.”
That caused me to pause for a moment. “Well, normally people don’t. They’re more than happy to see me die. That’s one of the downsides of my Machiavellian, fear-based respect. And on top of that, if they come for me, I need to make sure a lot of other people don’t get caught in the crossfire. The Fluidics won’t care who they have to go through. I got some ideas for things to do, but this kind of shit is always a gamble. There’s always a chance they’ll move faster, or have some advantage I can’t overcome, or that they’ll simply know stuff I can’t know.”
“I get that you’re used to that, but you’re not alone. What can we do to help?” Medusa asked.
“Yeah, you got friends in low places,” I heard Max say from further, probably around the door.
“Not like you can do much about the remains of an alien fleet lowering themselves slowly into the atmosphere,” I responded, watching that happen over various feeds.
Sam spoke up, “They may not want to kill you. You should be open to the possibility of giving people a second chance.”
“Yeah, that’s why you have a girlfriend,” Holly added.
“True, I gave her a second chance after all the times she tried to thwart my plans, but I don’t think we can risk that kind of trust for murderous aliens who want to take over the world. Or at least, I can’t as an Empress,” I said, which attracted snorts for some reason.
After a second that I was using to check data on the island’s forcefield, Max decided to expand on this whole thing, “You are a murderer from another universe who once took over the world. You even killed The Good Doctor, who was our friend.”
“That’s not the same,” I said.
“I remember when you made stupid jokes about assuming gender even though you and Max’s sister are, ya know…” Sam said.
“Remember when you jumped up and tanked a rocket for a little girl you took in as your daughter?” said Holly.
I didn’t quite know what to say, so I tried to keep looking things over. I had ideas about the island’s shield, but it’d be dangerous to pull off with people around and it wouldn’t really come up unless the aliens came at me with their ships. I figured I could repurpose the nanomachines in the waters to handle a ground invasion, though.
A caress of my cheek drew me back out of those thoughts, and Medusa told me, “If nobody trusted you, you wouldn’t be here to argue about protecting people you feel responsible toward, or smuggling people out of concentration camps to safety. Does that sound like someone who deserves to die?”
“That’s not the whole story and you know it,” I said.
“Yeah, but what you think is justice is sometimes revenge and paranoia. The Academy and too many heroes get confused about that, and I’m tired of seeing that. If you want to be no better than the heroes, though…” Damn, this is what I get for dating someone with a sense of morality.
“I’m still going to plan on how best to kill them,” I said.
“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t,” Sam said. “Also, can you put on some clothes.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who barged into my private study. Besides, it’s not anything you haven’t already seen.”
“We need to talk about all the public nudity, while you’re at it,” Medusa said. “It’s making everyone uncomfortable that you don’t wear a hair net when you cook.”
You miss one Brazilian…
Just because my family doesn’t want me committing preemptive strikes or walking around with no panties on taco night doesn’t mean I stopped thinking of how to take the Fluidics out the second they step out of line. It didn’t hurt they only had a handful of ships, and those didn’t look good. Pieces were missing or blackened with burns. I could take them, it’s just a matter of how many casualties they cause before I send them on to another great beyond.
They didn’t take long to make an announcement, breaking through on every TV and radio channel out there, even the smutty ones. I was watching a guy in handcuffs say, “Punish me, daddy,” to someone wearing all black, when suddenly my attempt to learn how that murder trial turned out was interrupted by TV snow. It began to shift as a digitally simulated voice began to speak. “You call us the Fluidics. We came to conquer. You banished us to another dimension.”
I knew where this was going, or so I thought.
“In the space between universes, there is a greater threat. It called itself the end. Extinction. It did not kill us slowly. An anomaly allowed it to escape to the universe it had drawn closer to. We found ourselves here, again. That is why-”
That feed cut off. I immediately cut back to my bootleg view of their ships from all the angles. Every country on Earth’s got eyes on these guys, and I’m tapped into as many independent sources as I can. Cameras on the ground, satellites, drones; everything.
The sky split the fuck open. I can’t express what the fuck that looks like, but I’ll try. Imagine the sky, and then it’s pushed apart like it was wallpaper. Instead of seeing anything on the other side, even a black void, you just see a red hand and wrist hanging in the air. Its fingers were curled around the Fluidic ships. It squeezed, then pulled back into the sky, leaving little scraps of metal to fall to the ground while it and the ships disappeared.
That wasn’t the end of my unpleasant interruptions, though. Once again, my view of things was hijacked. It was just a face, as generic and hairless as human faces come, and not even in color. “Hello again, Psychopomp Gecko.”
“Is this going out for everyone?” I asked, wondering if this thing would answer.
“No, this is between the two of us. Do you recall who I am?” it asked.
I thought it over, glad for my facial recognition software. “Mr. Omega. You wouldn’t happen to be the guy those Fluidics were talking about, are you?”
The face grinned. “I promise, I come in peace. I defeated the Fluidics for you, did I not?”
“You scared the shit out of a lot of people while you did that, and I still know so little about you.”
“I have offered to help you once, and defeated your enemies for you another time. I am a powerful and grateful friend.”
“What about that Dusk Club you claim to be part of? I thought you were already defending the Earth?”
“I was banished from the universe long ago for the crime of having ambition. I didn’t want to stay in my place, so I was banished by those jealous of the power I tapped into. So great was their jealousy, they forced even my closest allies to forget me. I nearly went mad alone in the aether, but I found the power to watch and, eventually, the power to make myself heard. I owe you a debt of gratitude for weakening the veil between worlds. Continue to do so, and you will have a place of honor and protection.”
I know this pitch. This is not a good pitch. He’s basically asking me to betray the world, much like the invaders from Uranus did, in exchange for being one of the slightly higher-placed servants. Everything that’s come through might have even been his doing, which explain why so many of them were threats to me. Normally, I’m disinclined to accept anything like this, but I also just saw a giant hand rend the universe to grab a fleet of spaceships and pull them out of our universe. This is a heck of a power imbalance I’m on the wrong side of. So that left me with an important question.
“And if I don’t, you’ll reach that big red hand right up my ass and pull my spinal column into the universe divide, right?”
“Do not be so crude. There are so many ways I could punish my enemies, or our enemies. Nobody needs to know it was you, Psychopomp. Not your loved ones, not your rivals. Wouldn’t you like to have a god on your side? A true one, not the petty pretenders.”
“In some ways, it feels like I already have one. I think I need to speak with my people about our deal with the Uranuses in that other dimension. I have people over there and important resources to trade with them. Luckily, the power cores weren’t breached.”
“Hmm,” is all Mr. Omega said, a toothless smile stretching his face.
I don’t know how I’m going to pull this one off, but it looks like I get to try and betray an extradimensional being that can literally squash me like a bug. Ah, how I long for the days when I kicked Cthulhu’s ass off my island.
Oh, and for added bonus, I have to do all this without tipping off the entity watching me. Kinda wish I was telepathic, now.
My private pit of darkness and relaxation was interrupted by a blast of light from the door opening. My eyes automatically adjusted to keep it from hurting my sight, allowing me to pick out the curves of Medusa, my renamed nemesis. “You’ve walked right into my trap!” I told her, pointing right at her.
She smirked as she turned on the lights to my study and shut the door behind her. “It’s not much of a trap when you’re stuck in that back stretcher.”
True. She looked upside down to me, but that had to do with me being held by my ankles from one of those things that flips you upside down and helps you stretch out your back. “I had a headache and I thought it’d help.”
Truth was, it did more than just help with headaches. I’ve made improvements to my physiology many times over the years and I’m beginning to realize I’ve neglected a few important parts of the body that don’t normally see a lot of improvement. My cartilage isn’t meant for the kinds of impacts I take regularly. I’ve got some bio guys at the Institute working on some formulations to help pad my body better. In the meantime, I decompress. And try to digest the data the brainboys gave me. “I asked them to walk me through how they figured the Telechamber was causing problems and they did. I feel like I gave birth to a quantum physicist through the center of my forehead.”
“Were they right?” she asked, walking up beside me. She bent down to kiss me, which eased my pain quite a bit too.
I shrugged, still upside down. “I don’t know. It’s over my head. We’ll have to wait longer to really tell, because more of these crossovers are bound to come to light as more people realize what’s going on. They’re not sure what might drift in from the Sargasso.”
“The what now?” she asked, settling into a chair in front of me and crossing her legs.
“The Sargasso. It’s short for Super-Sargasso Sea. This guy named Fort presented it as an idea he didn’t actually believe in to account for lost things. He presented it as another dimension that lost things somehow slip into. The guy wasn’t very highly thought of in his time, but he talked a lot about weird concepts that don’t match up with conventional science. Unfortunately for all the scientists who prefer a nice, orderly world, neither do superhumans. I got a lecture from an evolutionary biologist earlier today insisting that there’s no way my species of human can exist because evolution doesn’t work like that.”
“You make an awful mess of everything,” Medusa said with a smile.
I crossed both sets of arms. “If the entire world can be so moved by one jackass, then it’s a lot more fragile than they’d all like to think. Speaking of jackasses making a mess of things, how’d your trip go?”
“ICE missed a lot of quotas and I beat the crap out of some border patrollers who need a better hobby,” she said. “It’s a lot of work being a criminal.”
I threw up, er, down my hands. “Finally you get it! You wouldn’t believe all the work we put into this stuff, just for the heroes to show up at the last minute and wreck things. You have any of those?”
“No. I knew the government had some heroes, but they freaked out and started rushing to Miami and Washington. Do you know anything about that, Little Miss Assassin?” She gave me an exaggerated questioning look to make it perfectly clear she knew I was responsible.
“All I know is that if being criminal makes you tired, you should toss those clothes away and we’ll go on crime spree.” I winked at her. She laughed and stood up, tossing her mask aside, walking to the door, turning the lights off… and then leaving the room with me there hanging upside down still.
It wasn’t all fun, games, and good feelings around the house, though.I don’t just mean the unflattering pictures of me on the news for having assassinated the once and never again President.
But, hey, things were great. The Telechamber was shut down. There wouldn’t be any more of these things popping in to ruin my day. It wasn’t even all bad, if the new Tupac concert is anything to go by. Don’t get me wrong, I’m disappointed we didn’t get Kurt Cobain back, but you can’t hold Kurt Cobain. He goes where he’s needed.
Annoyingly, it was a late midnight dinner when I got the call about a weird big arrival. A passenger liner had arrived, one of the ones bearing some of our newest citizens. They received their passports and visas special thanks to my trusty agents in the United States. For some damn reason, ICE nabbed them thinking they were illegal immigrants from Central and South America. Don’t know what that’s about, but my Foreign Service, in full cooperation with my Intel agents, were diligently plucking them out of camps and prisoner convoys, usually aiming to keep families together.
Finding room, food, and clothing for them is a little tougher, but I’m sure my guys will manage a whole lot better than shoving hundreds of them in a cage.
Well, it seemed to be going well, except this one came back a bit… dead. The ship drifted in close without responding, so my Deep One marines boarded it. They found a fuckton of bodies. I usually like people dead, but I specifically ordered these ones to be breathing and mostly intact, so that caused a stir. They managed to find a survivor, an older ship’s hand who knew some good spaces to shove himself into to protect himself.
According to the report from our debriefers: “There was a passenger that stayed covered, until he didn’t. His skin was black as midnight and slick. His clothes obscured what he looked like and he never came out for meals or showers. He managed to hide among the refugees, until he didn’t. The first sign was a family torn apart. Then an ensign went missing. We started a search, and that’s when he stopped pretending. He killed them all, and neither bullet nor blade stopped him. The one to put up the best fight was the Agent onboard. I saw them fighting while I was fleeing. The Agent was tasing him and going for a fire extinguisher. I stopped and almost helped, but the Midnight Man recovered and pulled the Agent back into his arms at the last second. I can still hear the defiant scream.”
So… that’s a setback. I have my people on alert, though. Pagan sent me a message, another dark file asking, “Stop the refugees?”
“No,” I sent along. Because, sure, you can occasionally get some freaky super killer among any group of people, even refugees. The refugees clearly aren’t this guy’s friends either, and I know my people can handle the guy. If it comes down to it, I’ll take his heart out of his chest and pop it in a blender myself. So the patrols went out with some idea of what to do.
They’re pretty sure they found evidence he came ashore. There was a warehouse area near the docks full of consumer electronics that “fell off a truck” somewhere in the middle of being shipped from Japan to the Americas. Being the kindly people we are, we took in these lost electronics and figured we’d hold onto them until their rightful owners came looking. We might even send them off with some people to help find their rightful owners, so long as they present some ID in the form of currency.
We’re a generous people.
Security didn’t know what to call this break-in until they’d been briefed about Midnight Man. I snuck a peek at the detective’s notes, and he pointed out, “It isn’t the superhero menace. He takes from the government. It isn’t the thieves. They pay their cut for protection. It isn’t the people, because they already have these.” Among the unusual items found was a wet and bloody sweatshirt with bullet holes and tears in it.
The mystery of what he needed with flatscreen TVs and wireless phone chargers would soon be solved. I was sleeping when the power plant was attacked, but I had video off drones and helmet cams. The first sign of a dead body, they were all deployed. If he went to shut it down or send the nuclear core into meltdown, he didn’t manage it. By the time the video started, a jet black man, not African, fucking black, was punching a Security officer through a wall. His t-shirt and sweatpants were riddled with burns and holes from the laser pistols the Security guys were using.
I stopped it and zoomed in as much as possible to catch a glimpse as he took a shot through the head. It didn’t stop him… but it did go through and burn the wall behind him.
Bullets didn’t do much either, so my guys switched to grenades. Why do my police have such ready access to grenades? That’s not rhetorical. I actually sent that message along to the head of Security, because while the explosives did manage to drive off Midnight Man, they also blew some shit up inside the nuclear power plant. That’s generally not a place I want explosions.
I studied that footage quite a bit. Even adjusting for different skin tones, Midnight Man’s face didn’t show up on any facial recognition. We couldn’t find any DNA, blood, skin flakes, or even loose strands of hair. If he even had had hair. He either had a misshapen skull or an obsidian hairdo. No matter what, this guy didn’t show up in any records or seemingly on any cameras whenever he was moving around the city. I figured that meant he traveled by sewer system, so it should be easy to take him down with nanites. Even if he didn’t, the water around here is inundated with regenerative nanomachines that I can order to start eating him the moment I can give the ordr
I figured we had another hero on our hands. I thought I’d have a little fun taking him on personally.
Then I got word that the Telechamber was firing up from Creeper. “It’s not just on. We’re detecting an energy surge of unprecedented proportions. It’s using more power from its own power core, and it has tapped into the nuclear plant!”
I brought up the nuclear plant. “We need a shutdown or something. We need to stifle power to the Telechamber.”
The plant manager didn’t sound calm. “Empress, we don’t know what’s going on. We detected an unusual drain. The controls aren’t responding. We will attempt an emergency shutdown.”
By now, I’d rushed into my armor and was leaping out into the city toward the Telechamber complex, which glowed a blinding white light all around it. I sent an alert to all Security and Military to evacuate the Telechamber area of all civilians, while also sending out a general evacuation order myself. I heard the plant manager yelling in my ear, “Empress, it’s not responding!”
And then a column of white light soared into the sky toward the sun. The Telechamber complex exploded, throwing up dust, flattening the adjacent buildings, and tossing pieces of the Telechamber building all over the place. But I was a bit slow to respond to that because the sky had gone pretty dark.
There, up in the sky, wasn’t a cloud, wasn’t an eclipse. It was a small fleet of alien spacecraft in high orbit. I knew them from a couple years back, when they had more ships. I’m the reason they’re down to so few. The Fluidics are back. Seems just about everything I tossed a D-Bomb at is coming back to bite me in my shiny fleshy ass.