Tag Archives: Medusa

Summer Sunnin’

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You’d think a gal could take a vacation without problems cropping up. I don’t just mean various day to day issues of running a dictatorship. Unlike a democracy, I actually have to be responsible to my people. If I screw up, I can’t blame another party that then has to fix my mess.

I mean just trying to relax. Have a good time. Like swimming. My family hung out at the beach a bit. It’s real popular. We have all these little boats that can go out there and set up awnings for shade or grills for cooking. I was out there, swimming with this big fruity drink in my hand that glowed bright green. Pretty sure that wasn’t a healthy radioactive glow, but it failed to set off either my internal Geiger counter or my Giger counter. The former measures radioactivity, the latter measures whether a substance contains an alien parasite that will try to mate with my mouth. I mean, aliens mating with my mouth aren’t a dealbreaker normally, but I’m still trying to make monogamy work.

Where were we? Swimming, right. I was out there with my nemesis-turned-girlfriend, my bribe-turned-daughter, and my ex-turned-bodyguard. At the moment, Medusa and Qiang were playing chicken with some other swimmers. Silver Shark was off doing something. Not sure. I saw her jumping onto a pad at one point to launch people into the air, but that had been before I picked up the bowl of liquor. I took a sip of my ridiculously large drink and felt a bump.

I looked down and saw a fin pass by under the shining water. Ah, that’s where Silver Shark went. She’s one of the ones who had a problem with my lack of monogamy after I blew a bunch of North Korean military officials to gain their loyalty. It bumped me again and I reached down to try and run my hand over the metal of her cybernetics. “Easy there, Shark. We aren’t that close anymore.”

A squeal of delight drew my attention to that big pad thing, where a kid splashed in the water and Silver Shark hopped off the pad.

Oh. Shark attack. I took a drink because I was gonna need it.

I turned to try and find the shark that had been bumping into me. A big fucking shark came right for my chest, eyes black, before it dived. Sharp teeth stabbed into my leg as I was dragged down. My ears caught screams before I was pulled under.

Bastard probably thought I’d just let the leg go. Someone bit into the wrong bitch. I grabbed the plastic cup my drink came in and broke it so that it was jagged. It wasn’t easy to keep track of what was going on with the water rushing around, but we seemed to be heading into deeper water. I went a-jabbin’ into that sleek undersea predator. I felt its jaws let up, but the fact that I was in front of it meant I didn’t get away. This time, it chomped down on the side of my belly. It hurt, but my body’s a tough piece of meat and metal. I stabbed into it for a handhold then bent toward it to bite it.

We must have taken a downward turn at some point, because I smacked into the bottom and threw up a bunch of sand. The shark let go and shook the front part of its body to get loose from me. It tried to swim away, but it found the steely grip of three of my arms holding onto its tail. Now it was my turn to smile and roll my eyes.

I can only imagine how it looked when that shark burst out of the water and flew through the air toward the shore. I know I didn’t look the best when I walked out of the water and toward the crowds. My leg and belly were bleeding. Medusa and Qiang ran up, my former nemesis now asking, “Are you ok?”

Qiang hugged onto me and I gave her a quick hug in return, saying, “Yeah, I’m fine. You should see the other guy. In fact, let’s go see the other guy.”

I walked past the concerned citizens gathered on the shore and grabbed someone’s folding beach chair. I folded it up while pushing past the crowd that gathered around the shark itself. I looked down on the floundering finned fiend and started whacking it over and over again with the side of the chair. When that broke apart, I tossed it down and looked around for something else. Someone held a bottle of sake out for me, so I grabbed that, sipped some, then started beating the shark with the bottle.

It died eventually. I like to think it wasn’t entirely from being on land. Someone offered to make me a special dinner of shark fin soup, but I declined and threw the shark over my shoulder. “Hey, Qiang, wanna go with me to the taxidermist?”

“What’s a taxidermist?” my daughter asked.

“It’s where grown-ups go to make stuffed animals out of things they hit with their car. Only they don’t cuddle them or hug them or play with them. They just stick them on a wall.”

“Mama, are you going to be ok?” she asked.

I patted her on the head. “I’m just fine. You can stay here and play with Medusa and the others if you want.”

Reassured, she ran over and grabbed Medusa’s hand to lead her back to the water. Medusa looked at me concerned, but ultimately decided I knew what I was talking about. So I dragged the shark off with me.

“Yep,” I told Mix N’Max later, in my bathroom. We were in my hot tub, soaking. I pointed up at the shark mounted on the wall overhead. “I caught one that big once.”

“Stop it, you’re making that up,” he told me.

“Ah!” said Holly, one of his assistants, as she stepped into the room and saw the shark on the wall. “Oh my god. You put a shark in your bathroom.”

“Let me see!” called Sam, his other assistant, who ran into the room and seemed disappointed. “Oh, a dead one.”

That wasn’t the only interruption either. I was out on a date with Medusa, which was a raincheck after she missed our last one to go wreck a concentration camp over in the States. She was treating me all gentle and all after the shark attack. Normally, and quite predictably, I don’t tend to like people babying me, but I liked it in this context. The way she held me in her strong, muscular arms.

Then she got a call from one of her hero buddies. I listened in from the other side of the dinner table as she asked for details about something. She gave me a sheepish look when she hung up. “I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

“You do? There aren’t any other heroes in places that speak English?” I asked, wagging a piece of steak at her.

“It’s one of those grey areas that known heroes can’t mess around with. It’s that Deputy Program they implemented. Portland PD’s got an arms deal set up with another group like the one that got into that shoot-out at the mall last week. I want to put the fear of God into cops selling off evidence and armories while claiming they’re deputizing white supremacists.”

I folded my lower pair of arms across my chest while continuing to eat with my upper arms. That’s another great thing about having extra arms. I can show my disapproval while still shoving food into my mouth. “Fine. Arachnoid might want to help out, while you’re at it.” She clapped her hands and stood up. I sighed, but felt a little better when she bent down to give me a quick kiss.

“I’ll be back as soon as possible, don’t worry. Besides, we had half a dinner,” she said, before rushing off to go help people or whatever nonsense she was up to these days. It’d gotten a lot easier for her ever since we got the tele-chambers set up. The scientists used the data I stole from that other dimension to figure out a way to create an intradimensional portal. It was a hell of a strain on the island’s power supply, but we put a hell of a lot of work into that system having its own separate power supply. We’re really growing all the way around over here, and the ability to teleport people anywhere in the world or call them back has helped tremendously. So have the Deep Ones. Without them and other refugees, we’d be terribly understaffed.

So with her off, I was left to finish my meal with the prospect of having both dessert and “dessert” alone. As it was, I took my time with the first and ended up trying to survive overeating by catching up on the island’s news. That was interrupted by an alert on my internal HUD that started just as the ground started shaking. I thought it was an earthquake at first, until a big white mass of fur slammed through the ceiling of the restaurant nearby, knocking my table over and me out of my booth.

I looked up at the thing, which quickly raised up. More of the ceiling fell in under an even bigger and longer white-furred thing the size of a car. I connected to the city’s drones and cameras to see what the hell was attacking the restaurant. I beheld a giant bunny, thirty feet long if you didn’t count the head. I was going to give its height, but it sat up on its haunches and looked around, which made the length the same as the height in my book. It hopped, crushing another building under its weight. People ran, screaming in terror as it leaned down to nibble at the top of a tree.

I answered the alert from the Institute of Science and Dr. Creeper, its head. “Creeper, why is there a giant bunny running amok in my city?”

“I have here the scientist to blame for it, ja,” he said in his faux-German accent. “He has been a naughty boy, experimenting with a food additive meant to increase the size of animals who eat it. It is meant for livestock, but this is too far!”

“Huh. That’s actually kind of impressive. While I’m unhappy with the immediate result, I think he’s on to something. We’ll discuss this more once I’ve killed Thumper here,” I said, calling a Dudebot to carry my armor to me and putting the military on red alert. They always knew, being so close to Japan, they might have to deal with a giant monster. I doubt they expected it to be a rabbit. Someone lost the betting pool, I’m certain.

“You can’t do that!” Creeper yelled.

“What? Why? Is it important for the experiments? The only survivng sample of whatever caused this? Will it explode into a pair of rabbits half as big over and over again?” I asked.

“It’s so cute,” he answered.

I took a moment to think about the reason my Science head was giving for not killing a giant rabbit causing hare-raising terror in my city. As if on cue, it jumped a few more times, tearing a swath of destruction and flipping a bus that landed with an explosion. I told Dr. Creeper, “That’s not a good enough reason,” and clambered my way out of the restaurant.

The Dudebot met me, having jumped from the palace with my armor that I pulled closed around me. The robot doppelganger of mine wouldn’t fool anyone up on how my latest armor looked, but it had two arms and all the usefulness of my prior suit, so it was still worth keeping around. I jumped onto Big Bunny’s head and grabbed its ear. At the same time, the Dudebot made for its front paw and tried to pull it out of the way so we could topple this lagomorph. The bunny shook its head, jerking me around, then turned and kicked the Dudebot halfway to China.

I grabbed onto its fur and gave it a mighty punch that knocked its head down. It responded by rolling over and trying to crush me into a car. I let go and it rolled back over, exposing its belly to me. I flew up with a punch that caused it to jump and kick at the air, barely missing me while I fell. I landed on the front of the car and rolled backward off it, a little winded. The bunny recovered as well, but its fur stuck out when it landed and a portion of the city went dark. It hopped forward again, off whatever power lines it had been on, and started trying to shake that out. I threw a car at it. It bounced off, but the bunny began to flee. It made for one of the island’s skyscrapers and actually began to scramble up the thing, its fluffy paws smashing through glass as it lifted itself up straining steel. If that thing tipped over, it would do a lot of damage. I jumped after it, the sight of Psycho Flyers in the air making me grin.

They’d named the VTOL aircraft after me. The heavily-armed transports opened up on the bunny, firing machine guns and unleashing rockets into the white body of the rabbit, that began to turn black from the attacks.

At the base of the tower, I felt pretty useless until I found a pretty young woman frozen in terror. I grabbed her, and also that guy she was with, and gave them a push in the right direction, which was away. “The first rule of giant monster attacks is not to stand still near the thing and stare at the giant monster!” I yelled after them. Then I noticed it was getting darker. I looked up to see a burnt white mass descending upon me, filling the entire sky from my perspective.

When I did manage to crawl out, it was next to some amateur reporter streaming from his phone. “I think it crushed the evil dictator here to death. It wasn’t the Flyers’ fault. It was bunny that killed the beast.”

“Who are you calling a beast, asshole?” I grunted, prompting him to flee.

Fucking tourists.

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Love And Villainy 8

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It… it… the, it… flames, flames on the sides of my face, breathing… breathless… heaving breaths…

It’s been difficult to talk and think since the big revelation the other day. My girlfriend ran off with the Pink Justice Ranger because the Pink Ranger was the chief suspect in my attempted murder. And Medusa wanted to find out more about my past from her, because the murder suspect was my ex. The same ex who had once been a devoted follower of mine in our home dimension until she learned I was going to destroy the world. She kicked my ass and left me laying against the Dimension Bomb in the middle of a force field that had its polarity reversed to hold the explosion inside it.

It’s how I got to this dimension, but it’s safe to say it left me with a bit of residual bad feeling. So much so that when I found out about it all, I disappeared and left. I didn’t run. I just couldn’t deal with it then. I know it’s ridiculous. I guess the whole scenario just left me with some unresolved issues. You know, because that’s the first time anything did.

So I got out of there and left a message for Venus before going silent. She and pretty much anyone else would have trouble contacting me, but I still let her know that she should still determine if Alyss did it. If she did, I want some form of justice for the attempt on my life. What I should want as a dictator is her life, actually. It’s what I aspire to as a person, actually. My mind started to go to excuses to let her go, but… why?

I took a bit of time to myself to get sorted out. Just me, a bottle of seashine, and the medication I take for my brain. I awoke the next day feeling like I’d deepthroated Godzilla. And on the island of Martinique. It took me awhile to figure out, because the language of the people around me seemed less familiar than usual before I realized they were speaking French. I was still wearing my power armor, and nobody had filled the pants with chocolate pudding this time. The health and recycling system of the armor would have gotten rid of any of that.

I checked my surroundings and found them mostly covered in sand. Indeed, I was almost completely covered up in sand. Some gifted sand sculptors had decided to use me as the base for a sphinx and pyramid complex. I stole a picture off someone’s phone. As bad as my head felt, I could still appreciate the work to do that. The artistry and skill, all that crap.

It shocked them when music started playing from my armor. Though somewhat muted by the sand, Iron Maiden began to serenade onlookers with their ballad “Powerslave” before I burst out of the sphinx. I gave a polite golf clap before heading out into the water to wash any clinging mud or sand off me.

I found my Psycho Flyer and a couple of soldiers hanging out at the airstrip. They directed me to a nearby bar for the rest of my bodyguards and the pilot. They’d just gotten their drinks when I pushed the door in. They took one look at me and the guard closest to the pilot stole his mug away. “Get it to go, boys,” I ordered.

I didn’t check my messages until I was in the air. I had a few texts from Medusa about calling her and talking and them not being that bad. Then I had checked the voicemail message, which was the latest and came early this morning. It wasn’t Medusa’s voice that greeted me. “Hello Gecko. This is Alyss. Medusa thinks we should talk. She thinks you changed, that you care now. That you have a real love for others in your heart. I remember how tempting you can be, poor, damaged thing. She’s so trusting, she doesn’t realize we can hold her as an accomplice to your continued freedom on our Earth. She thinks it’s a fun trip. Meet me at the portal on your side, alone. If you surrender to me, I will show her leniency.”

So there I was. Medusa, my longtime nemesis, stood up for me. Investigated my attempted murder. She’s had a huge change of heart about me, and thinks I’ve had a similar one. So foolish and naive and trusting. Why?! She should know better. All I really have to do to get rid of one of the few people on this world who can actually stand up to me is nothing. I can just let her go over there and be imprisoned or killed by people who see me as nothing but a genocidal madwoman. All I have to do is stay away. I mean, Medusa’s obviously planning something. She can’t really care about me that way. She’ll turn on me. And the alternative is surrendering.

I didn’t mention that message at all when I gave the pilot his sobriety test and then directions. I thought about what Alyss had to say as we flew. A poor, damaged thing. I’ve used my past as a hell of an excuse. There’s no disputing that I was wronged. And when I was cut loose, betrayed, I turned on them. They killed my humanity to give me a set of skills that I turned on them. I had been a killer for their order, then an agent of chaos who killed to tear it down. Always a monster. Always selfish.

They knew it too. Probably made it pretty damn hard to figure out then when I hopped out of the Flyer and stepped toward the barricaded portal in Canada. The staff went from gawking at the Psycho Flyer and watching it speed off to taking cover at my approach. They knew who I was, and from the way Alyss stepped forward in her costume, they had been warned shit was to go down.

“You’re here,” she said, twirling her Ranger energy blaster around in her hand.

“Wouldn’t be the first time you got me to come,” I said. “Just you out here waiting for me?”

She nodded. “Just you and I.”

“It was you who tried to knife me on that other world,” I said.

“I didn’t know about that fucked thing you did to that other woman, and who could predict you would stop the destruction of a world?” she commented. “Medusa made it sound like the most normal thing. You’re a selfish bitch that’s there when it counts. I thought I knew better, but you’re here. Or are you just here to kill me? The team isn’t here. It’s the perfect time for revenge if you want to sacrifice Medusa.” She held her hands out to either side, daring me to take a shot.

I stopped and looked at her. I’d been the devil in enough deals to see one. I could kill her easily enough. She hurt me. Not just physically, but bad enough I’ve had nightmares about the time someone I cared for turned on me and left me in a situation meant to kill me. And it’d be so easy to use it as an excuse for letting them win. Couldn’t help myself. Had to kill her, but at least I got revenge for Medusa, ha!

I pointed to the portal. “She through there?”

Alyss nodded. “Leave your armor here and go through. Medusa goes free and we bring you to justice.”

I snorted. “You wouldn’t know the first thing about justice, no more than you really know me. You were wrong about me then. You’re wrong about me now.” Big words, but they didn’t make it any easier when the armor snapped open and I stepped out. Ya know, I suspect that traitorous piece of dickcheese played a part in my paranoia about relationships, but I didn’t come here for her. I didn’t even come here for Medusa, not really.

I came here for me. I didn’t want to be a puppet, and I didn’t want to let those fuckers who turned me into a killer have a say in every action for the rest of my damn life. I wasn’t going to let this woman do that to me either.

The armor closed behind me as I walked toward the portal that led, if the past was any indication, to the old memorial in honor of my defeat. They’d left sensors intact there in case I ever showed up again the first time. After that, they left entrenched guards.

This time, they had a group of shocked-looking Justice Rangers in civvies standing around while Medusa ran up and hugged me. “What the fuck?” they asked.

“The fuck?” I asked.

“You’re so getting fucked,” Medusa whispered to me before kissing me and turning back to the Justice Rangers. “Told you.” Turning back to me, she looked down. “Let’s get you covered up, ok?”

She pulled me away from the portal, which glowed as Alyss stepped out of it and asked, “What the fuck?”

Finally, another appropriate reaction. I stopped going with Medusa. “This was a test?”

She beamed at me. “I’m sorry, yes.” She kissed me on the cheek this time. “I knew you were better than they thought.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t think it was the least bit risky to put me in such a risky position around people who really could have betrayed you and used this to catch me?” I looked over at Alyss as she walked over to join her team. “And you bunch. You’re supposed to be the defenders of your world. Everything’s safe, no problems need solving, so you can spend all your time on my Earth, bothering me, looking for a chance to kill me or play games with people’s lives?”

“Like you care,” said Blue.

“Lose that costume and let me take you into my custody, right now,” I said cocking my head toward the portal. He didn’t, just standing there. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re more than willing to see me as the monster every time, but someone had to fight for our people and show the humans they couldn’t do that to us. I know how many bodies your shining utopia used for a foundation. You were thankful I made them at the time. If you’re going to encourage monsters, don’t be surprised when they turn out to be monsters.”

“You feel better?” Alyss asked, arms crossed and gun holstered once more.

“I’ll feel better if you never set foot on my world again,” I told her. “None of you, or Ricca will consider it an official act of war.”

“Babe, isn’t that a bit much?” asked Medusa, looking up at me. “I wasn’t in any real danger.”

I admit, I was a bit mad at her. Making a game of it like that seemed mean. I knew I had done much worse, and used that to temper my anger toward her. “As much as I’d like to beat some people up, maybe even kill them, I’m taking the high road right now, hon. I’m showing how more evolved I am. As the superior being, it is my right.” Then I grabbed her, threw her over my shoulder, beat my chest while hooting, and ran off naked with my girlfriend through a portal to another dimension.

As highly-evolved beings do.

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Love And Villainy 7

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I’m pretty sure about half the words these Justice Rangers used while fiddling with some of our equipment was made up. The Blue Justice Ranger did most of the actual sciencing, along with the help of some voice talking to him through his helmet. It got through despite the Institute of Science’s hardening to outside signals. I tried to listen in, but it didn’t really work right. I tapped into the feed and there was a freaky power surge that stumbled me. I sniffed around a bit where I was in the lab while one of the assistants nearby reached for me. “Empress?”

I waved him away. “It’s ok. What smells like plants in here?”

He looked around. “Nothing. This is the time travel lab.”

I looked around at the room made of brilliant white tiles with glowing lines running in the cracks between each one. “I don’t remember a time travel lab.”

The assistant bowed. “Allow me to explain. You traveled here from the past, and when you leave, it will be the future.”

Another man stomped up and grabbed the assistant’s elbow. “I told you to stop saying that! I’m sorry, Empress, Brad here thinks it’s funny to pretend the doorway is a time machine.”

“Ah,” I said, eyeing the equipment here. “What do you do here then?”

The second guy pointed to a part where one of the tiles had been pulled out of the wall to reveal a drawer full of dirt someone else was checking through. “This is an ag lab. My project is cultivation of domesticated truffle species that don’t require trees. Brad here is helping with blight-resistant strains. It’s not flashy, but it needs doing.” He gave a little nod at that.

“Huh… fancy room for growing stuff,” I said, pointing to the cracks next to me where lights raced towards intersections.

Brad laughed. “That’s because the group who had this room before us were testing whether or not futuristic room design improved production and creativity in scientists. Doctor Creeper was pissed when he found out. It is pretty cool though. Makes me feel happy to come in and do the drudge work.”

“Yeah, makes my job feel cooler,” his truffle-loving companion said. “Anyway, is there something we can help you with, Empress?”

I shook my head. “No, was just wandering while I worked on something in my head. Got a bit of a headache there. I hope the results are good here. I’ve got plans to create our own centralized food complex to strengthen our food security, and I’m interested in anything we can do. Truffles could be a good revenue stream.” Especially if something were to happen to the world’s truffle supply, leaving me the biggest supplier of mass-produced mycelia around. I’ll save that idea for if the things actually work out, or maybe I’ll farm it out. Some of the schemes I come up with seem a little beneath me now, like I’m supposed to focus on world domination and stuff.

I was met at the door to the Rangers’ work space by an excitable Green Ranger. He seemed to be the awkward and jumpy one of the group. I’ve found certain archetypes appear again and again in Justice Ranger teams, and that sometimes involves a quirky one. “Good, there you are. Ranger Blue says we need a laser, a big one, the biggest you have. Do you have a giant laser?”

I put my head back and let out a dark, bellowing, “Mwahahahahahahaha!” Then I looked back at him. “Yeah, sure, let me show you. What kind of supervillain with my own lab would I be without a giant laser.”

Creeper butted in before we took more than a couple steps. I stopped and answered, catching his video call on my inner eye HUD. “Gecko! We have a hit!”

“Did we sink their patrol boat?” I asked.

He paused a moment, then scrolled on something with a mouse and typed a few characters. “We established a sort of crime-puter to monitor superhero and supervillain activity around the world via social media, law enforcement, and the news. We just received an alert that identified Medusa’s involvement in a crime. She had the Pink Ranger with her.”

“Yes!” I said.

“What?” asked the Green Ranger. “Why’d we stop?”

“My guys spotted Venus. No need to do all the bio force-whatever y’all are playing around with in there,” I informed him, pointing back at the lab he had come from.

He held a fist up in front of him triumphantly, then deflated a moment. “This means I won’t get to see the giant laser, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe another time,” I told him. “First, we hunt down our missing comrades. I’ll save the giant laser for when we have your pink friend in our grasp.” I started to walk away, grinning.

“Yeah!” the Green Ranger excitedly agreed. “…wait, what?”

The Justice Rangers weren’t happy that I had the Psycho Flyer loaded and ready to go without waiting for them. I read it in their body language, as they still haven’t taken their helmets off around me. It was just something about the anger and defiance in Red’s body language. They could probably tell I was smiling despite my helmet, too. “Finally. I thought we were going to have to leave without you.”

“Good thing we caught this flight. We wouldn’t want to be here without you,” Red said. Ya know, I think he meant that last part as a threat.

“Buckle up then, buttercup. We’re on our way to New Mexico.”

“What’s in New Mexico?” he asked me. The Rangers looked around and found some seats alongside my Dragon soldiers.

“New Mexicans,” I said by way of answer. “And a smoking crater that used to be some kind of detention facility nobody knew about. Lotta people swear they didn’t know it was there and that the state and the federal government both had nothing to do with it. It got blown up by a woman in power armor and another in pink spandex.”

“It’s. Not. Spandex,” growled the Blue Ranger. Ooh, testy.

It was a long flight, made worse by the hostile groups. I mean, it got old only playing against the Green Ranger. There’s only so long you can fight the same person in Smash Brothers before it gets boring, no matter how many times you beat them by growing a tree underneath them. What eventually drew the interest of the other Rangers enough to comment was the revelation we were playing Metal Gear Solid co-op.

“No you’re not,” Red said. “You’re taking turns.”

“He’s pretty good at some of the stealth. Lots of patience,” I said of the Green Ranger, while I was busy with the controller.

“Yeah,” Green said, turning and pointing to the screen. “And she’s sniping without using the diazepam.”

“You can’t play videogames with the enemy!” Blue said.

“He sure as shit can’t play them with the rest of y’a,” I said. I handed the controller back to Green. “There, everyone’s dead. I’m hitting up the bathroom before we land, get rid of at least one piece of shit on this aircraft.”

It’s safe to say tensions were high. The Flyer went in cloaked to avoid adding any more. There were federal agents watching over the scene. It took long enough to get there that we all had the official story. It was a militia camp of unusual size. They figure they’d been playing with something they shouldn’t have, like too much Tannerite. Unless they made an entire building out of the binary explosive, that doesn’t explain the size of the crater.

Video didn’t do it justice. Being there ourselves, we got a better sense not only of the size of the blast, but also of something else not being reported on. There was a trail leading away from the place. The explosion obscured its start at the site, but we caught a glimpse of brush and dirt that had been disturbed by a lot of folks walking in a line and decided to follow it.

It got a little harder to follow when we figured they spread out. They left a wider impression on the environment, but less of it showed because of how few had tread over the same spots. The journey they took avoided the closest town, to the east, instead heading further northwest on a journey punctuated by the occasional abandoned plastic jug.

Finally, we came to Six Shooter, New Mexico. We hovered over it, as many of myself and the Rangers packed into the cockpit as possible, looking for any groups of unusual size or if Medusa was just strolling along. Finally, Yellow pointed to a bar and grill. “I saw her. She’s there!”

I didn’t, but I quickly turned and tried to push past the Ranger team. They weren’t standing still either. They all ran, slid, and flipped past my soldiers to reach the drop hole before me. I cussed under my breath and activated my armor’s cloaking before jumping down. I landed in the middle of an intersection just in time to take a minivan to the face. It took me a minute to peel myself out of the engine block and sneak off, which was more time the Rangers had to move in on my Medusa without me there.

I brushed myself off and snuck off, leaving the befuddled driver and passengers to figure out what unseen thing they hit. I didn’t have the suit disguise me as a two-armed version of myself in regular clothes until I reached the sidewalk. That side had this porch area of the bar and grill that people were eating on. I didn’t see them around anywhere, but it was a busy place, full of New Mexicans and Tex-Mex. A gaggle of waiters appeared in front of me as if summoned by a malevolent force to keep me from my goal. Their rendition of Happy Birthday did nothing to dissuade me of this notion.

Before I could sidestep them, my voice picked out my name from off to the side. “Gecko?”

I turned and saw Medusa, out of costume and armor. She was smiling, glasses hanging over her face. “V-Medusa,” I said, rushing over to hug her. “What happened? Did they hurt you? Did you hurt them? Was there blood?”

She giggled. “Calm down. I’m fine. The militia was a bunch of pushovers.” She tried to run her fingers through my hair, then realized why I felt so weird. The armor. “Really, I’m ok. I came to deal with a problem a friend told me about and I brought Ranger Pink along. I figured I would measure her up and see if she was your killer. Even better, I thought I would pick her brain about your past with her.”

“What?” I asked.

The birthday singers parted and Medusa pointed. At the table they’d been singing at sat a group of old ladies, one of them wearing a big novelty sombrero. “Uh, Medusa, I don’t know what she told you, but…”

“No, there,” Medusa said. I followed her finger more closely and saw a booth against the wall past the birthday table. There stood four people who looked mostly normal except for shirts of bright red, blue, green, and yellow. And at the table sat… fuck… my ex. The one who turned on me when I tried to destroy the world. In a pink shirt. Because she was the Pink Justice Ranger.

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Love And Villainy 2

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A hero asked me a favor. Psychsaur arrived here on the island, direct from Los Angeles. The reptilian, feathered hero is one of the few I’m happy to see, and the feeling is mutual. She gets me a bit better than most, thanks to the telepathy and the mind reading. I worry sometimes that my positive outlook toward her may be the result of even more tampering she’s done to my mind. She’s messed around in there in the past. I don’t exactly like that she did it without asking, especially in regards to some problems I hadn’t been ready to address at the time, but it’s done. And she was one of the first heroes to really get me.

She walked into the tent that served as my temporary throne room while everything was being rebuilt. Two capital buildings and throne rooms since I’ve been Empress isn’t a good track record. I don’t like buying new furniture every year. I wouldn’t have even bothered with concept of a throne room just yet, but I need a way for things to come to me officially without letting everyone into the residence.

I was playing with my daughter, because she’s still not leaving me alone too much since I got back from the other dimension. Today’s lesson: chainsaw juggling. Just kidding. That’s one of the things I’m gonna get a tutor to handle. No lesson today, just videogames. The dastardly duo of PsychoGecko and Noobmaster69. I don’t know where she got the 69 part. I teach my daughter to use only the most refined language.

I sat there, my brain plugged in for voice chat. “I don’t care who the fuck you are, you’re talkin’ to mama bear now. You’re sore? Fly your ass on over here, we’ll see how sore you’ll be. I don’t care, I got an extra pair, and the only ass they’re going up is yours before I pull your tonsils out through your sphincter. Go cry to your mommy, you alcoholic asswipe.”

Next to me, Qiang giggled and kept shooting at someone.

“That’s one way to greet a guest,” I heard a feminine voice call out. Psychsaur walked in from the shadows on the outside of the room. Gotta get better lighting in here.

“Psychsaur!” I dropped my controller and hopped up. Qiang was too busy at the time with the game and pause buttons are incompatible with multiplayer.

The hero smiled as she approached. “You’re camping in style now.”

I rolled my eyes. “Just a temporary matter until we rebuild everything and then they spend half the time gilding it all. I’ve got ideas on where to take the gold from, actually, but that’s a whole other thing. What are you doing here? You know, so soon after we were all on the same flying ship together.”

“I had to stop elsewhere first. I’m here for a favor, but I brought money,” she checked around and found some place better to sit than the cushions my kid and I were using. We both took a seat at a nearby table brought in for formal business.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Before I say this, I want you to know I thought about this a lot. I see it as a way of improving myself and fixing a defect that impedes me and prevents me from doing what I want to do in life. There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding body issues and disabilities, and I see this as the latter. It doesn’t indicate I see my condition as a sign of immorality or that it makes me less of a person. But it doesn’t let me be the person I want to be.” She fixed me with a look. I got the feeling this preamble came from experience.

I could sympathize. I have an extra pair of arms and boobs I wasn’t born with. “You, like most people, were born with an unfortunate defect: you’re not me. It severely hampers how awesome you can be.”

She made a drawn out “Heh” sound and looked to the side. “I want you to make me look like a regular human.” She fixed her eyes on my face, watching.

My reaction was more like, “Kind of a shame. You’re so pretty.” The scales, the feathers, they work. Not in a sexual way, not since she really went and mind melded with me, but they’re pretty features. The fact that they aren’t human ones isn’t that big an issue for me. It obviously is for her. “Sure. Got any particular person you want to look like?”

She brightened up and smiled. “Sure!” We talked it over for a bit, before she confessed, “I didn’t know how you were going to react. Thank you for not giving me shit.”

“Who am I to tell you you can’t do what you think improves yourself?” I reached up and ran one of my lower pair of arms through my hair.

And so the three of us set out for my workshop. I’d gone ahead and taken part of the basement level under the old Palace Grounds for personal maker space. That way, I didn’t have more giant vats of nanites laying on the floor of the living room. There was a small armory as well, with remaining pieces of past armors, as well as a copy of my current iteration. On one wall was the armor closet, assembling an upgrade. It was partially visible.

“Is that a shell?” Psychsaur asked as we made our way to a nearby nanite submersion tank.

I nodded. “Of a sorts. It’s a bit of a departure from some of how I’ve done armor before now. Instead of modular armor or a bunch of layers, I’m building it all in. I’m aiming to create a fully integrated and sustainable suit of power armor. No nanoweave with armor plates on top of it or embedded in it, with nanite quilt or exoskeletal muscle layers below. For starters, having an exoskeleton underneath stuff is just bad grammar. But I think there’s reason to believe I can make armor that provides superior protection with no loss of dexterity. Aside from the damn rockets. Haven’t figured out a way to incorporate them.”

Sad, that. I like having elbow rockets. There’s nothing like opening up an intercontinental ballistic can of whoopass on someone’s face.

I directed her to a square tub on the floor with a hand scanner attached. I touched my hand to it and a hologram appeared overhead, showing what we were aiming for with her looks. She looked past it, to a much larger block taking up most of the back of the space. “Make the hair a little darker. Hey, what’s that?”

“Oh. Working on something bigger, with a very different philosophy than the other armor. I prefer the integrated version, but you never know when you’re going to need some power behind your punches.”

“Hulkbuster, got it. That’s good… do you think it’ll work?” she wondered, setting a hand on my shoulder.

I shrugged. “I’ll do my very best to make sure it does. If it doesn’t, we can always change it later.”

Feels nice to do something for a friend, and it gave me time to metaphorically pick her brain. She could hear me from inside the tank, unless she turned on the TV or sound system. “So… do you know anything about a man named Erin Meecer?”

“Who?” she asked. Qiang snuck up and nearly hit me with a hammer.

“What’s this do?” My adorable daughter asked.

“Anybody you hit with it is disintegrated into a pile of ash and never comes back,” I told her. I pulled the hammer away.

“Really?” she asked, unsure of herself and looking from the hammer to where she almost smacked me.

I tossed the hammer aside, “Nope. But you shouldn’t mess with whatever’s laying around in here. You keep doing it, you won’t go with me to America.”

She hopped up and down. “Yay, am I going back to the Academy?”

I looked to where Psychsaur was being changed. “What’s going on out there?”

“I’m trying to find out what you know before my daughter and I visit the U.S. To impart a little karma on someone.”

Sadly, she didn’t know anything about the guy. Erin Meecer. Rich. Part owner of various companies, including a car company. Probably done all the same bad things anybody does who gets paid thousands of times more than their employees do for less work. Not really the sort of thing to disgust Medusa when she was Venus. Nope, this one has to do with private parties with kidnapped people, boys and girls both, helping to entertain guests.

“Mommy, do you hate rich people?” Qiang asked me as we flew into the country.

Psychsaur, seated nearby, smiled. We were kinda on my, uh, private plane. And Psychsaur didn’t look too bad. Not quite as unique without the scales and feathers. She reached up and rubbed her nose, getting used to it still.

I stuck out my tongue at the heroine before I answered. “When someone poor or powerless gets into trouble, they have more than enough people ready to make them pay. Not always, but since they don’t usually do it just once, there’s always a chance. But sometimes bad people do bad things and people don’t stop them because they have a lot of money or are important. I’m one of those people, too.”

“No you’re not!” she squealed as she hugged me.

“D’aww… you wanna help me break into a place?”

But Gecko, why would you take your daughter to go break into the house of a sex trafficking pimp bastard? He was out of town. I figured we wouldn’t find anything here. A guy like that has a lot of properties I could waste time looking through, but I thought I’d go about this the direct way. That’s why I busted through the door of a mansion in rural California on a hill overlooking the vineyard. The alarm sounded and tried to put out a call. I stuck a Psycho Gecko bobblehead on a table by the door. They’re cute. A bobbing head, then a pair of arms in my older, more iconic armor holding bobbing, decapitated heads. I built in a signal jammer in the base to make sure nobody radioed or used that pesky internet to get a signal out. I even showed Qiang how to cut the phone lines.

“Doggies!” Qiang said when a pair of Dobermans came checking the door.

“Honeybun, is your armor on tight?” I asked.

She ran forward and squealed with delight as one of the dogs tried to bite her arm. She tugged her arm free easily and tried to pet it. “Yes, mommy!”

“Don’t let them hurt you, dear,” I told her. I started in, but paused to see how she handled the dogs. They went for her arms and tried to drag her down. The couldn’t get the best grip on her armor, which was designed to handle worse than dog bites, and it had the strength to help her get up. Plus, it had the same tight seal to allow it to survive a chemical attack as my own. The dogs can’t get through unless she lets them through.

So with the alarm being nothing but loud noises and the guard dogs thoroughly distracted, I headed in. I kicked in a few doors, grabbed a few small, valuable trinkets. I wasn’t here for major theft, or even burning it down like I would prefer. Qiang loves the flamethrower, but this was about sending a different sort of message. It required a slow burn, some might say. Like me. I’m saying it. I didn’t get to use a damn flamenwerffer. Instead, I tried to find anything that might have particular personal value. A trophy or plaque of some meaning, perhaps.

In his living room, I found an eleven foot by six foot painting of Meecer wearing a lion’s skin and wrestling with a dragon.

I was taking it down when a man in a suit arrived, swaggering around the corner. He wore a pair of glowing red glasses and knuckle dusters. “So you’re the asshole waking me up?” He clapped his hands and the light came on.

Where before my armor looked like power armor, this guard got a look at armor that looked like dark grey skin, with no gaps. On the chest, four tendrils, like two uppercase omega symbols, one inside the other, stretched downward, colored a dark orange against the grey, one not meant to show up as garish in the shadows. The same orange colored my fists, knees, and spine. The helmet featured a grinning maw of fangs underneath a triangle of eyes that contained lasers. The helmet had its own “hair” in the form of a pair of horns that cling to the helmet as one piece and curl downward along either side of the face, ending in a pair of spheres: my take on a jester’s cap. This armor lacked the cape of my prior version. But instead of metal plates or nanoweave, it appeared more like a thick skin or soft shell.

“Who the hell ARE you?” asked the man who stumbled up on me.

I let the helmet do the grinning and raised my lower pair of hands. Glowing orange nails extended from the fingertips. “I’m Psycho Gecko. Tell your boss I want to talk.”

He raised his fists in a boxer’s stance for a second. I took a step toward him and he lowered them. “What am I doing… you don’t look like that guy, but I don’t make enough. Take what you want… just make it look like I put up a fight?”

I nodded and walked over. His shirt ended up shredded and I tossed him through a wall, but I didn’t hit a stud on the way through. He’d survive, probably end up with a nice scar that, if leveraged well, could really help his reputation. He’d be one of the few to survive a fight with Psycho Gecko. I’d say he should pray I don’t find out he was a part of Meecer’s side business, but he wouldn’t want to bring gods into this. They’s so squishy.

I carried out a big ol’ painting past Qiang, who had picked up one of the dogs overhead and was spinning it around in a circle. The other one was hopping around, trying to reach for the spinning dog. “That thing’s gonna spew,” I warned as I stepped outside and out of the blast radius.

Her giggles turned to a gasp, then crying. “Momma! He puked on me!”

“Looks like we learned something tonight. Come on, kiddo, let’s get back to the hotel and get you cleaned up.” I giggled a little bit, with the sound turned off, as she walked out of the house covered in a disgusting tax mixture. Aww. “At least you don’t have to smell it or wear it.”

Now then, I just have to wait until I get a call from Meecer or one of his associates. Sure, a hero might have trouble infiltrating whatever he’s doing and getting some proof of what’s going on, but I’m no hero. He has absolutely no reason to fear me going to the police or the FBI with what I find. He just has to fear going to the grave.

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Love And Villainy 1

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When I first got home, Qiang, my dear daughter, clung to me. When I went to bed, she clung to me. When I woke up, she clung to me. When I took a shower, when I ate breakfast, when I set my machines to build a replacement armor. I had to enlist Buzzkill bodyguards to finally pull her away long enough to see to her schooling, though I didn’t want to. If every there was a learning curve to master, it’s the one that comes with her being the heir to a supervillain’s empire.

With the nation militarized and under alert to deal with the threats of extradimensional invaders, my government was able to limp along. They deferred to Qiang and Citra, my political wife, as much as possible, but we’re lucky no one cared that much to ask who was running the country while I wasn’t around and what authority their decisions rested on. They might have said Qiang, who was a vocal advocate of Ricca continuing to aid the heroes and other countries while I was away, but there should have been a regent with a better understanding of the circumstances.

A failing on my part. I already have an idea to rectify it, but after spending time sorting out an important piece of business.

“It wasn’t one thing. Maybe it should have been. It’s easy to know what’s right when you first start out. If there’s a hoodlum who snatches a purse, you stop them. A pedant would say there’s nuance there, but not really. You get experienced at it and you can handle bigger thefts and fights. I was so proud of the first headlines about arresting carjackers and robbers. One morning, I’m having my coffee to warm me up after a cold shower. I bumped a bruise on my arm and scatter the newspaper. I was on the front page for stopping the Privateers from stealing a microchip from a Defense Department lab in the city, but I was reading about murders and carjackings no one stopped.”

I reached out and put a hand on Medusa’s shoulder. We sat on a couch at the Riccan Institute of Science. We were waiting for the doctors to get done with Dame. I’d taken a huge risk the first time I messed with Dame’s brain because I didn’t care that much if she lived or died. Medusa would rather she live, so I had brain experts and nanosurgeons do the job right. The nanosurgeons use holograms and Homo Machina physiology to closely manipulate regenerative nanomachines to handle jobs that Riccan doctors think are too risky or delicate for machine thinking alone. I think it’s bollocks, but I handed the job over for them to do their way. They know a hell of a lot more about brains than I do.

Medusa wanted to wait on her. Dame had been her friend. I wanted to wait with Medusa, and we decided it was time for a talk.

My nemesis-turned-girlfriend continued, “I wondered how many people were going to be killed by the chip I saved. Maybe more than if the Privateers took it. That was a scary thought for me to have. Mercenaries and pirates might be more responsible with it than law-abiding companies and my own government. Law-abiding doesn’t mean they’re right. The Privateers were wrong and would hurt people with it, so why wasn’t it wrong when the private company does it?”

“We still keep criminals in those basement cells where we kept you. Mender wanted you to be our assassin off the books. And he was wrong to think that, but it means I’m not the only one seeing this.” She went quiet for awhile. “He used to tell me, sometimes, to drop investigations. I had reason to suspect this guy, a rich man, of things. He was a philanthropist. I wonder if the money he gave to charity eased the guilt of what he did or if he used it to fish for victims. I wanted to move in, stop it, capture him, and turn him over to the police. Mender…” She shook her head.

“He told you not to bother?” I suggested. I shifted so I was laying with my head next to her, running a hand absentmindedly down her leg. I like touching her just because. She shifted so her bare feet were over to the opposite side, so I just laid there.

She patted my head from behind. “He did, and he showed me an article from ten years ago. A woman was arrested for making false police reports. She was a private detective. Her business license was revoked. She was evicted. Then he showed me another, about a local superhero. Villains hunted her down and beat her to within an inch of her life. She once worked with the FBI. Mender wanted me to know there was no one who would legally do anything about it. The best result would be him threatening us.”

Her hands lazed over my back, her nails lightly scratching me through my dress. “I threatened to go after him off the books. Mender asked me what would happen to the academy once the FBI snoops on us in retaliation. He had to protect his students. He’s just as selective as the cops. That morning, years later, I think about how I’m not stopping the clear-cut crime. I never found the time to go after him. I’m not stopping the really big crime. I’m just doing enough to maintain the status quo and anyone it doesn’t work for is screwed. I had to get out, but I couldn’t do this on my own.”

“Mmm… I thought you had lots of hero friends.”

She sighed. “They all knew the Academy and I didn’t feel like I could trust them. I needed help.”

“Of all people, you trust me?” I asked, rolling over. I had to see he face on this one.

She laughed. “To let me be a villain so I can fight the good fight? Yeah, I can trust you for that.”

“I dunno… maybe I can’t trust you. After all, you’re so off your rocker, you picked me for a girlfriend.” I winked up at her.

“Stop it,” she leaned down and kissed my forehead. “You’re better than you think you are and you’re getting better. I think I’ve been a good influence on you.”

“You think you knocked sense into me so you’d try smacking it in a different way?” I asked.

She looked away from me with a smile on her face and lightly shook her head. “I think you’re fine and you can be endearing when you aren’t trying to drive someone away. I’ve watched a lot of Gecko because of my job.”

I scooted up to rest my head on her thigh, propping me up a little to look away from her. I didn’t say anything for about ten seconds, so she added, “Be honest with me, ok?”

“I just don’t see why anyone would love me unless they were in a fucked up situation. I killed your boyfriend that time. I’ve tried to kill you before. How do you forget that?”

She reached down and took my hand. “You don’t. Maybe you learn to forgive it.”

I held her hand, ran my fingers over her palm. “I dunno how you do it.”

“You dropped your attempted murder investigation quick.” She intertwined her fingers with mine.

“I wanted to come home and be with my family. That reminds me, Qiang and I made you a present.” I held out my hand and activated the little homing drone. About the size of a small flashlight, it zipped along toward me, carrying a small box. I untied the drone from it and held it up to Medusa.

I’d worked hard on it in my workshop, with Qiang at my side. If not for me forcing her to go to school (and assigning guards to make sure she stays), she’d still be with me. Can’t blame the rugrat. So she was there with me, both of us in power armor, as I swung a great hammer overhead, pounding out a hunk of metal Above me, robotic tendrils spread out and turned downward, great lasers refining my design. When I was done, I backed away. The tendrils grabbed a see-through case and set it up around my creation. An arm lowered itself, no thicker around than a pencil and opened up. Arms small enough to have an arm wrestling competition with a mosquito spread out and latched onto the gift, holding it up in midair. Qiang and I unleashed our barbaric yawps into a receiver that amplified the sound and the box reflected it inward on itself. The box shook as sound waves slammed into the metal and refined it further, helping to distribute the carbon and forge a strong piece.

Medusa held it up. “Is it a keychain?” she asked of the small piece of metal in her hand. “How sweet of Qiang.”

Hey, I put a lot of work into that bracelet. I said watched her reaction to it, the way her eyes shone looking at it. I think she was fucking with me. She slid it on and looked down at it, then smiled a brilliant smile up at me. “I love it.”

After a brief kiss, she had to point out, “I didn’t get anything for you in exchange.”

Lightbulb. Exchange… “You did a lot for me on the ship. The way you stood up to Warman really meant a lot to me. But if we’re talking exchanges, you just gave me an idea.”

“I’m not swapping bodies with you through a transceiver like Dame has,” Medusa said.

I grinned. “Way to ruin Christmas for me early, but no. I was just thinking about a fun time you could give me, involving your rich asshole and whatever nasty business he’s up to.”

“That’s my problem to deal with,” she said. “You’re already doing this for Dame even when you don’t want to.”

I grimaced. “I do have something you could do for me instead, but I don’t want to. You’re here to forge your own path and do your own thing, and it’s a little close to what you did before. What I… I don’t want us… I’m trying to figure out how to say this. I don’t want our relationship to be about what we do for one another like some kind of business deal. I want to help you, and I don’t want you to think it’s about getting things in return”

She bit her lower lip, then ordered me to “Sit up.” I did so and let her pull me onto her lap. “What are you thinking?”

The way I sat there, with her hands on me, what I was thinking isn’t fit to print. Mmm, the taut muscles under her skin… “I handle the bad guy who got away, you find the person who tried to murder me?”

She smiled and kissed me again.

The opening of the doors interrupted us. One of the surgeons walked in and bowed. “Empress, good news.”

It was a little blow to the ego how quickly Medusa set me aside to go run and check on her friend who, apparently, had made a full recovery. I didn’t care to interrupt. I’m the last person Dame ever wants to see in her life.

Instead, I sent off a message to Queen Beetrice, the bee-woman in charge of North Korea. I made sure it was a formal electronic invite. Perhaps it would have been less rude to call, but I knew the kind of high-pitched sounds she makes when she’s happy. It’s entirely possible that every dog in Asia heard her reaction to a formal invitation to brunch with me to discuss an important matter of state.

Like it or not, as childish as I see her quite often, she’s proven to be damn competent. If anything happens to me before Qiang comes of age, she’ll make a fine regent.

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War On Uranus 9

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Finally, the day we were to head back. I woke up, noticed I had an extra pair of arms in bed, and smiled at the thought of the body pressing against me from behind. I turned and pushed Venus’s brown hair out of the way before kissing her. She eventually woke up, returning my affection until she opened her eyes. She started and sat up onto her knees before smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, forgot who you were for a moment.”

I tugged the covers up over my chest. “Mmm, was a little longer than a moment.”

She smiled that lovely smile before she leaned in close. “No, I knew what I was doing then.” She kissed me once on the forehead.

I winked at her. “I’d say you did.”

She blushed, then bit her lip. She hugged a pillow to herself and looked over to where Dame had been propped up on a chair, still not waking. An earbud-like device rested on Dame’s thigh. “Trying that was wrong, though.”

I’d given her the gizmo for her as a surprise. It let her inhabit Dame the same way I could, but Venus wasn’t having anything in that situation. She got back out of Dame and we got into an argument. There was some light pushing, and I fell on the bed while dragging Venus with me. Before we knew it, the argument was over.

I rolled my eyes, then walked my fingers up Venus’s thigh. “If it’s so wrong, go grab some handcuffs and lock me up.” I started to kiss her knee, but she popped me with the pillow.

“I’m serious. What you’ve done to her is beyond the pale. And trying to get me in her?” She shook her head.

I pushed the pillow away and reached up to run my fingers through her hair. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” I smiled at her, hoping temptation would override her morals again.

She got up and walked over to the other utilitarian chair by Dame, gathering her clothes up along the way and began pulling them on I slipped into Dame and sat on Venus’s lap. She held me for a moment but pushed me away when I moved in for the kiss. “No. And I don’t care what your nanites said about the damage. Fix her. Bring her back. Give her her brain back where neither of us can take it over again.”

It was more of a sad rebuke than angry. She followed it up by getting dressed and heading out to check on our departure details.

When the Buzzkills used some of our limited nanite supplies healing my stab wound up, I held onto a little bit. I reprogrammed them for diagnostic purposes, to tell me more about what was going on with Dame. They found damage throughout her lovely cybernetic brain. If anything, it’s a surprise it didn’t affect me more. Or maybe it did, like when I forgot who I was. After that, they focused on healing her injuries from the underground fight. You’d be surprised what organs can bruise, dear reader.

Either way, I figured I’d keep her fed and watered, make sure she goes to the bathroom in the right spot. I’ll get her fixed when we get back home. Probably. I’m tempted not to. It’s the kind of perverse transhumanist mayhem I so selfishly love. Maybe I’ll get lucky and she won’t be there when it’s fixed. Brain injuries are interesting like that, but doubt it’s the kind of thing that could kill her while leaving her intact enough for me to take over.

Speaking of taking her over, I can freely move back and forth again. Near as I can tell, something in my transceivers just… gave out. A power surge from the Domeship shouldn’t have affected me, so maybe it was residual damage left over from the mag-lev rails. I’d been dancing with those trains an awful lot. Fuckin’ magnets, how did they mess up my brain?

It took me longer to get ready for the day than usual, due to having to shower and dress two bodies. Maybe Venus wants to walk around smelling like stank, but I have some class. Travel looked to be more difficult, and I thought of grabbing some duct tape and doing a conjoined twin scenario. I remembered there was already someone who tried to kill me on the ship and figured that would probably add a few more enemies I didn’t need yet. Never know when you’re going to catch something bigger than a scalpel to the heart. I opted to tie her to my back, like a pack. I don’t actually want her hurt while she’s a backup body for me.

I still attracted dirty looks with Dame tied to my back by a bedsheet rope. Good thing I didn’t need to ask for directions. I got enough glares and “Fuck You”s from heroes I only cheerfully waved at.

We all met in the dome. We stood there among defectors and rebel crew to watch as the Senate renamed itself the Forum and appointed a three-person ruling Council to run things via the dome functioning like a giant round TV screen. Some of the rebels near me, who weren’t so much rebels anymore, muttered about how they thought the whole body should have been gotten away with and replaced by regular people.

I’m not sure what that said about the chances of this government standing up, but I felt a lot better when Warman met with the joint session of the Forum and Council to be presented with an armistice. I rolled my eyes at that one. We fought for peace and got a break. Now, we get to leave the peace treaty in the hands of some of the people who tried to sell us out and join the invaders. I sighed and texted Venus. “This is why I should have assassinated the Consuls. They’d be much more inclined to go ahead and accept a peace treaty if they knew how grave the situation was.”

“Bad gecko. Bhave.”

“We have to talk about your shortening problem.”

“L8r. Turning ship over 2 nu capn.”

“I may have to break up with you over the text speak.”

She didn’t reply for several minutes, either processing it or too busy with ceremony. After nearly ten minutes, I received he reply. “U! Break up w/ME after last nite?!!!”

What’s the point of all the shortcuts if you’re going to add so many extra exclamation points. Some believe more than three such pieces of punctuation are the sign of a diseased mine, and I can’t help but suspect it’s true after seeing it in action. “It is painful to read.”

“U tricked me n2 Dame.”

“She’ll never even know unless you tell her once she’s back to normal.”

“I no. That’s y its feels so bad.”

I frowned as I looked over the words in my HUD. I’m going to go ahead and take her at her word this really did make her feel bad once she stopped thinking with her vulva. I thought of all the confusing feelings and the way she used those. Her replacing her doppelganger and tricking me. Freeloading and getting close to my daughter. She tricked me into dates and cuddles and snuggles. Just talking and watching TV together. Dates. Her smile.

And even though she seems to have meshed well with her old friends, I still caught the clear disapproval about her being with me. I have no clue why she’s with me. And I realized that really mattered to me. Because if I knew why she stooped to slumming with me, it would give me an idea what I could do to keep her. It was truly an insidious plot.

“I don’t know what you see in me, Boopsie, but I wish I could live up to it enough to keep you around. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that to you,” I sent to her. Not exactly reminding her it takes two to make the beast with a billion backs, but she knows that part already. I’m giving her an out. A way to shift blame onto the villain.

They announced that the ship would be transitioning back to our world within one hour, pending the return of our delegation from the surface and the arrival of diplomats from the new government. I set my system to hold all incoming texts and calls for awhile. It seemed safer to stay out of the way. Instead, I stopped by the infirmary. They had taken good care of me, feeding me nutrients through IV. It could have been much worse. I chould have had to eat their shitty food.

The understaffed bunch who had been manning it were taking a well-deserved break. I stared at the bed where my body had lain. I’d already checked around it for anything to tell me what was going on, but they’d cleaned up already. It was a hygiene concern when you’re supposed to heal the sick and dying. The heroes signed off on it, said they checked the area over thoroughly.

There was no video surveillance of this hall of rest beds. It wasn’t expected to be a private area at all; it held seven beds. The report I cajoled out of Eschaton said they had hardly anyone else in the room with me. Of the two, one was zonked out on a sedative at the time and the other was in the bathroom. My paranoia wanted to tell me this was by design. My pragmatism said anyone waiting to kill me would have found that to be the perfect moment to go for it.

Still, I had to check.

The hero who’d gone to the bathroom had been identified in the quick report I’d been given. Almost two pages long, it didn’t have a lot of details, but it emphasized that Electrikitty had been cleared and had nothing to do with the attempt on my life. It took most of the hour to find out where she called her litter box. She didn’t have as good of quarters as Venus, which led me to briefly wonder why Venus got special treatment. Leftover goodwill, or a protective measure for being close to me? Probably just my paranoia acting up again. Either way, I walked into one of the eateries and sat down across from a superhero wearing an electric blue cat ear headband, and a white costume with blue electricity patterns over the chest, arms, and legs.

“Oh my god, is that a dead body?” she asked, looking at Dame on my back.

I glanced back, then shook my head. “She’s only sleeping. Say ‘hi’ Dame.” I inhabited Dame briefly to raise her head up. “Hi, Dame!” I jumped back into my body to look into the gawking, open-mouthed expression of Electrikitty. “Listen, do me a favor. I’m looking into that incident in the infirmary, the stabbing?”

“I already talked to the other heroes,” she said, squinting at me. “Have we met?”

She looked pretty convincing, not knowing who I am. I smiled at her, “Maybe in another nine lives.” I watched as she rolled her eyes at the comment, then I continued, “I was just wondering if there was anything you saw at all. Maybe something you remembered. Anyone you noticed between your bed and the restroom.”

She shook her head. “No. The only thing I can think of is to ask those guys in the colorful suits and the helmets. One of them had a crush on her or something. He was always watching.”

“But not that day?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Maybe?” Truly, Electrikitty was a font of knowledge. She legitimately seemed not to remember me the whole time. I dunno, maybe she was just that messed up at the time. Even her tipoff about the Justice Rangers was just pointing toward a direction I was already headed. I didn’t just suspect them of having something to do with it, but I did remember how often they liked to hover over me and watch me. They either almost certainly knew what happened, either by participation or observation.

I found them hanging out back under the dome itself. They mostly stuck together in a group and were all in costume. Justice Rangers inevitably stand out. They even usually wear their colors when out of costume.

I walked right up to the group, who were conversing with a group of Uranals in fancy dress and a few heroes, including Pinion and Warman. The group quieted as I approached, as if it’s unusual to see a four armed woman with a seemingly-lifeless woman tied to her back.

“Can I help you?” someone asked.

“Ricca Island Police. I need to ask someone a few questions about a murder,” I said. I dont know if my Security forces, the primary peacekeepers of the island, go by that, but it made for a good acronym: RIP. And I am in the chain of command, so it’s not really a lie. I’m at the top of the chain.

“Gecko,” Warman said, “May I have a word with you in private?” Warman’s shrewd party politicking caught me off-guard. I hadn’t taken him for the diplomatic type.

“No can do, Wardude. I need to have a chat with these guys, gals, and non-binary pals to see who tried to kill me.”

Warman pushed past the group, none of whom were smiling now. Or so I assume. You can’t really see into those Justice Ranger helmets. He caught me away from the group and put an arm on my shoulder. “This is the diplomatic entourage. We do not need any wild accusations flying now.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t have this peace if not for me and you know it. They’d have shattered Uranus. The food riots, the food relief, the Buzzkills coming to your aid during the protests; all me, baby. Hell, the Buzzkills would have been keeping a better eye on me, but I had them helping y’all out.” I poked him in the chest with one finger, staring him down.

“If you want to talk about all this after we get back to Earth and the diplomats are out of sight, have at it. Accuse whoever you want. Hell, accuse Elvis,” he gestured over in the direction of Honky Tonk Hero, who was having a picnic with Pinion. “But I’ll tell you now, you won’t find nothing. Nobody saw anything and nobody wanted to see anything because you’re a vile son of a bitch who half the people on this boat want to see knifed. To be quite honest, no hero here is going to throw their buddies under the bus over you.” He poked back, between the boobs.

He withdrew his hands as things got quiet. I was looking into his eyes, but thinking through the best ways to hurt him. He nodded behind me. “You want to give them a reason to put you down? Nobody here gives a damn about you but your bugs.”

Oh look. I just found out I CAN get even angrier. “You don’t call them that,” I told him.

“Hey Warman,” said a voice from the side. He turned to look and caught a fist to his jaw. It stumbled him, owing to the element of surprise and the enhanced strength of the woman behind the fist.

Venus stepped between us, rubbing the knuckles on her right hand. “Murder isn’t ok just because the victim is an asshole, asshole.”

Warman spat off to the side. “Look who’s talking. You seem pretty tolerant of murderers nowadays, Venus.” He projected his voice, making sure he was heard by those around us who were clearly following the action. I glanced around and saw many of my Buzzkills assembling in squads in case it came to it.

“My name’s Medusa,” she responded. “I for the people, not the law. There’s no one so wretched they don’t deserve to be saved.”

Whew. Terrible day for rain. Had to hold back and make sure none got on my face.

There was a bright flash, then a voice over the ship’s intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Earth, home universe.” I could even feel the familiar internet sync up with my brain, managing to spoil the entirety of the current season of Game of Thrones before I ever had a chance to watch it.

That got a cheer from the part of the crowd that wasn’t caught up in our drama, as well as the Justice Rangers and the Uranals.

Warman turned. “I have to go see to a lasting peace to a war that threatened billions. You go kiss that bitch who murdered your boyfriend,” he said by way of parting shot. He headed back over to the diplomatic entourage, who seemed to quickly forget the scuffle.

Medusa wrapped her arms around me. “Don’t worry. I got you.”

The absurdity of it got a laugh from me. I hugged her back, kissed the top of her head. After a couple of minutes, she looked up. “You want to round anybody up?”

I looked over her head at the Justice Rangers. The pink one stared at me. I raised one of Dame’s hands to give her the finger, then answered Medusa. “I want to go home to my family and hug my daughter.”

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Malicious Mercy 7

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Medusa’s come a long way. I gave her a couple of daily quizzes on Venus and some of the events on this world, even if she didn’t realize it. We had a lot of time to talk. We talked over dinner, while walking, and while watching Qiang play with some friends she made. They’re having a hell of a time on the obstacle course.

I paused for a bit, just looking at Medusa. Then I put my head on her shoulder. “Hey. I wish I’d spent more of this time learning about you. I’m just… planning shit. I get caught up in things, and it feels like I’ve nothing but exposite all over your pretty little face.”

Medusa nuzzled her cheek against the top of my head. “Oh no, I love hearing how obsessed you are with Venus. It never gets old.”

I shut up and watched Qiang hang by her legs from the monkey bars, swinging back and forth. It felt nice like that. You know how hard it is for things to feel nice that don’t involve hurting someone?

It was Medusa that broke the silence between us. Plenty of non-silence with kids around, what with their bodies’ natural cocaine production keeping them active and loud. Medusa said, “It’s good that we can find peace like this.” She must have felt my body tense a little at that. “You don’t like peace?”

“It’s always only temporary,” I said.

She patted me on the cheek. “Just shut up and enjoy it.”

“Noooo,” I whined. “I can’t enjoy things. I’m too much of a bitch.”

“A little bitch or a big bitch?” Medusa asked, forcing a grin out of me.

I sighed in contentment. “The kind of bitch who hates someone for giving me hope.”

“Here we go again,” she said. “You’re sitting here with me. We’re fine. This is peace. You can have peace with me. You have to have some hope from that.”

“I guess,” I said.

“When I first came to the Master Academy, I saw people with powers and costumes. It was amazing. I thought there was no way I could measure up. I found out that they weren’t better just because they had power and saved people. A lot are messed up. I know some shitbag heroes because that’s who they are and I know some who make bad choices. Like dating a supervillain.” She took my hand.

I squeezed it back. Her skin still feels so soft, despite the layers of bulletproof nanoweave added inside her skin. More than that, I could feel the engagement ring. I had to make the whole lie look good, and I guess Medusa approves. “Then you became a villain yourself in the coup. Now, someone gets to say superheroes make a mistake if they date you. Even if you wanted to change, you couldn’t. Too much punishment over any past mistake. Can’t even get away from it by going to a whole new world.”

“You did,” was her laconic answer to our little conversation.

From there, things got significantly lighter. Turns out they have The Orville over there, too. Or she’s caught up on our version of it. It made good filler, if nothing worth going into depth about here. Nor was our night out worth going into all the detail. Especially when those details involve me looking up at the stars and trying to compare Medusa to a distant ball of flaming gas and sound smooth while doing so. My understanding of English doesn’t extend to the notion of poetry. Then again, I consistently mess up haiku, so I’m incapable of being poetic in multiple cultures.

And there was talking, about movies, podcasts, books. She heard someone claim there’s a universe where time moves backwards. I suggested we invade it to get Game Of Thrones spoilers. We could make a fortune off them, but more importantly, we’d get to see the Cleganes go at it. Despite all the early difficulty, it was easy to talk to her. And I like her.

The next day, though. Ugh.

I was having a spar with Medusa. I didn’t even plan one, but she insisted. Me, I thought we were ready. I just had to figure out where they all were. The nanites showed nobody in the housing I’d so generously dumped them in. I was frowning to myself and calling up the spies I had on them when I walked into the gym area and took a kick to the face from Medusa.

“Fucking hell,” I said, holding up a pair of hands to my face.

“Oh, I thought you’d block it!” Medusa said, grimacing.

I waved her off and tried to keep the blood from dripping too much. “It’s fine. Just let me get under the shower and get some of this loose blood out. I’ll be fine after that.”

So while I shoved my head under some water to get the nanites to close off a wound, I finally got through to the spies in a conference call. “Where the hell are the superheroes?”

“They are still present at the villa,” Intelligence Chief Pagan answered.

“Why can’t I feel any nanites in any of them?” I asked.

“That is revealing,” said another voice. “There was a temporary power outage the other night.”

“EMP,” Pagan commented.

“So they fried the nanites within themselves,” I said.

“That explains the excessive purchases of prepackaged foods and water,” said the other voice on the line.

“Venus is there, right? We have a count on every single one of them?” I asked.

“It is a large group and they stay spread out,” said the other voice.

“Empress, give me five minutes and I will confirm for you their locations,” Pagan said

“Thank you, Pagan. I’ll be expecting it.” I hung up, my nose good as new, and dried off my hair. I could use the time waiting on them to hit my girlfriend. It’d be fun!

I walked out there, giddy at the thought. Not about the hitting, not entirely. Just about the thought of Medusa as my girlfriend. She was even supposed to marry me.

“You want a free hit?” she offered as I stepped out.

I raised my hands. “Now, now, I don’t know why we might have to res-” I hit her in the ear.

She stumbled back, holding her ear. “Ah! Crap, that hurts! Ow.” She took a minute to recover from my vicious ear bashing, then got into a defensive stance.

It was close, but I ended up tossing her on her back, smiling down at her with sweat already building up. I straddled her and pinned her arms down, upper arms ready to smack her. She winked up at me. I looked down at her then, wondering at the plan I had to force this wonderful woman to try and be Venus. I shook my head, stood, and helped her up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

I sighed. “Just thinking how much I’d miss you if we do this. Getting second thoughts.”

“We should really sit down and talk,” she said.

I got a call earlier than expected, though. “Hold up on that. I gotta take this. Important call.” It was a direct call from my Intel guys in Empyreal City. I told them to get me on the line if they saw anyone entering or exiting the portal. I sat on the mat to take the call. They’ve sent me updates about the pace of the lab cleanup over there, and what they saw of Taskforce Manticore’s activity on this side of the portal. Some of their actions showed up in the news as the otherworldly law enforcement acted as vigilantes. Villains who tried to probe the portal grounds were particularly prone to getting an crossbow bolt in a sensitive body part.

“Empress, heroes from the Master Academy have arrived with a prisoner. They are handing over one of their own. Venus.”

I don’t know about y’all, but those words caused a series of strange reactions. Anger, for example. Rage. I detected a hint of fury as well. Cold blood and ears with a heartbeat. “What kind of manpower do you have available?” I asked.

“Eight agents with small arms and bulletproof vests. We are not an assault team. The Manticores outnumber us, and there are five hero besides.”

I closed my eyes to get a better feel for things. Satellite imaging confirmed that some sort of meeting was taking place, but I couldn’t get a good look at the person they were carrying in some sort of secured sleeping bag. I had a Dudebot in the city. I sent a notice to the Intel guys that they were going to come up at least one person short in their survey of the heroes. And I was going to want answers.

A kick leveled me just as I attempted to activate the Dudebot, coincidentally reminding me that there was someone present who had a lot to answer for. I blinked and looked up, checking to see if I needed to roll. Who I thought had been Medusa stood there, fingers pressed to her neck. “I’ll be fine.” She met my eyes as I stood, continuing. “Just go.”

“How long?” I asked.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” she said.

Too late? I laughed in spite of everything. “The first thing you did when I walked in was hit me.”

“I’ve been waiting to get back at you for that tattoo you gave me,” she said.

“How long?” I repeated the question. “You were the one I had enhanced, but…?” I left it hanging in the air, looking her over. She had no active nanites in her system as well. It’d… how… she’s played me magnificently. This beautiful hero I’d spent so much time with and grown comfortable with, and the whole time it was just a game.

“We captured my doppelganger when she went to get a costume,” she said. “I’m-” she stepped toward me, hands up, but stopped when I moved back away from her. “I’m sorry.”

I scrambled everyone: Security officers, Intel agents, the Riccan military. I did it while looking into her eyes. “Nothing personal, eh? Gecko’s obsessed. Gecko’s creepy. Just use it. Makes sense. Good job, Venus. Fantastic job tricking me.” I gave her a thumbs-up.

“You were going to replace me and dump me in another universe,” she said.

I laughed. “I was doing it to finally be rid of you. You think I like you living in my head rent-free?” I pointed to said noggin with a finger gun. Instead I had to watch as Medusa was carried through the portal. What made it worse was knowing I didn’t actually care about her. “You were the turning point again. I didn’t get along with Medusa until you took her place. I actually thought you cared.”

Curiously, she wasn’t in a stance. She stood there wide open. I snarled and launched myself at her, throwing a punch. She redirected it to the side with strength I gave her and shifted her body to avoid a follow-up from my lower left. I aimed my left knee at her belly. She locked her leg with mine and shifted around to stand next to me, then elbowed me in the stomach. I hopped to keep standing and grab onto her. My upper left grabbed her hair. She growled and stomped her and my legs down to the mat and ducked, pushing her back against me. She lifted me up on her shoulders. I tried to roll off when she threw herself back in my direction but I landed on my side with all of her weight on top of me.

We separated and I spun as I came up, throwing a kick at her head. Instead of waiting to get my feet under me, I used my four arms to push off and throw myself at her. I straddled her again and punched her in the face. The second punch sounded like it broke her nose. Still, she slid her legs up between my pairs of arms. She grabbed my upper arms and pulled them across one at a time, using the momentum from pulling my left across to the right side of my body to roll me over and come up on top. I tried to kick up with my legs to catch her neck but she leaned in close. I winced preemptively for the headbutt, but she stopped short. “Does this mean you’re calling off the wedding?”

“What?” I asked. As fight stopping moments go, it’s better than “Martha!” I growled up at her. “You were throwing our sparring sessions, too.”

She smiled at me. I gritted my teeth and told her, “I’m going to kill your friends.”

Her smile turned into a grimace of effort as she held me down. “I know you’re hurting right now. I’m sorry. I had to stop you. We were supposed to meet up and fight our way out together. Now they’re screaming in my ear wondering where I am. If I let you go to tell them I’m not coming, will you be cool?”

“I think we’ve established I can’t trust you,” I told her.

“Fine,” Venus said. She let go of my arms got up off me. She held her arms up, backing away. I took to my feet again and got into a stance. She pressed a finger to her neck. “Go, team. Leave me.”

I checked to see what the score was. There were heroes all over the place. This wasn’t an organized retreat. They were spread out. I saw one group near the power plant. Another had gotten close to the Institute of Science. But, wait a minute… I switched between cameras in both places. Heroes were in two places at once. As I watched, I saw a power-suited Riccan soldier grab one of them, Ball Boy. He slid a sword into the kid under his ribs. Instead of blood, playing cards fell out.

I pulled back to the room where Venus finished telling them, “No. I made a deal. I surrender and you go free.”

She looked to me. “Why?” I asked.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. Venus held her free hand out to me.

“How do you know I won’t destroy their plane out of here?” I asked.

“They aren’t taking a plane,” Venus said. “You already lost. I’m trusting that you don’t want revenge, but you have me if you do. I hurt you. I lied to you. I messed with feelings you try to hide and I truly am sorry. I owe you this.”

It’s so easy to believe her.

I reached out and… took her hand. In my head, I passed along new order: disengage. See to the wounded and any destruction caused by the conflict. Begin the disaster relief protocols. Also, Pagan’s number one priority was to debrief the people I had on the heroes and find out what went wrong. I don’t wanna have to put spies on the spies I have on my spies, but I’ll do it.

Venus squeezed my hand, which made me wonder how much she was playing me again. My thumb wandered over her hand as I tried to figure her out and came across a metal band on her ring finger. I turned her hand around. She still wore the showy, shiny engagement ring I’d first presented to Medusa.

“You’ll be held in our highest-security prison,” I told her, keeping my face calm because I was a mess of emotions at this time. I hated her. I had some very un-hate-like feelings toward her. She hurt me and deceived me in a huge way. She gave me hope. She’d defeated me, twice. If I wanted to, I could kill everyone she cares about. “I’ll make sure you’re comfortable.”

I looked back down at her hand again before adding, “We’re going to have to talk about a lot of confusing shit, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” she told me. “But today, nobody dies. I’m ending this the way that’s best for everyone and relying on your mercy.”

Ever the hero.

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Malicious Mercy 6

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Venus keeps leaving me notes. Not even good ones, detailing her never-ending love for me and admiration for my ability to give her lady boners.

Why do I do that when it’s just you and I, dear reader?

Let’s just get into it.

I was on my throne, taking a holographic call from the Institute of Science with an update on a few projects. Dr. Creeper was excited to tell me that the Ferrari prototype flying car… was a dud. “They stuck alien anti-grav on it. There are four modules that replace the wheels. It vas a complete hack job of a graft. You can move it, slowly, but it fails if you attempt to travel too fast.”

“Interesting…” I murmured, calling up news about the theft. Ferrari had put out a press release about the theft by Riccan criminals. They assured their investors that despite the cyborg Empress of Ricca stealing their car for its advanced design, they would easily be able to recreate it the design. They even admitted they had more features to add and were happy to be able to create a version that fixed bugs present in the first one. Rather than tanking, Ferrari’s stock shot way the hell up. People took it as a good sign that someone known for futuristic dimension bombs and nanomachines felt he need to have Ferrari’s special car all to myself.

I had to laugh. Audacious bastards. No wonder it wasn’t already locked up inside Ferrari’s company fortress and no wonder an insider wanted to help us steal it. The car wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny on its own for very long. Their public demo showed it off a little, but now I’ve taken it. Even if I tell the world it was a shoddy melding of alien and human tech, a lot of the world distrusts me.

If I find out who it was behind that little closed email account, I’ll have to take them out for a drink and steal their bank account for not letting me in on it.

After reflecting on the whole plot, I asked Creeper. “Is anyone eager to look into alien anti-gravity tech? We may as well see what we can get out of it while we have it.”

Creeper nodded. “Gralz has expressed an interest in one of the modules. He believes he can make it vork properly with his designs.”

“That’s the guy working on the Arachnoid armor,” I said, channeling the world famous superhero Captain Obvious.

“Yes, Empress. It is serendipitous you mention that. He believes he can fit it in the Arachnoid armor.”

“Ooh. Kinky,” I said. I shifted around on my thrown so I was lounging with my legs on one arm and my back bent over the other. “A flying spider person.”

“Vhen I asked about his idea, he told me the device could be used to negate gravity for the armor. The Arachnoid armor could jump long distances, climb walls effortlessly, and cling upside down to ceilings.”

It sounded cool as morgue sex. Hmm. Extra limbs and the ability to leap? It’s almost like they’re trying to make a Psycho Spider instead. “Any other projects that’ll get in the way of?”

Creeper shook his head. “I see no reason the others can’t be studied separately.”

I gave him a thumbs-up. “Awesome. Make it so.”

He hung up and Medusa slinked out of the shadows. She knows how to work a short, tight, red dress. Or, more accurately, she knows I respond well to her in those dresses. Hell, she’s not immune to them either. She stepped up to me, high heels loud on the floor of the Directorate Building. “You look so imposing on your throne.”

I shrugged and slumped forward, playing with a portion of my hair sticking out from my headdress. “Hail to the Empress, baby.”

She walked up and leaned over to kiss me on my forehead. “Gecko, baby, are we getting rid of all those heroes camping out?”

I waved it off dismissively. “I have people slowly preparing the wedding festivities. When I think you’re ready, though, we’ll find some way to get to her specifically. Maybe I should invite her for a private sparring session? Could annoy her into a dinner… either way, it’ll work out. I assure you. The only thing left in question is whether you’ll be ready.” Truth is, I already had the perfect cover.

Medusa laid a finger where she kissed me, then walked her fingers down my face and neck to grab the collar of my dress and haul me up. “My dear, my fiance, my lovely bride to be… I have a favor I think you’ll love to grant.”

Pegging? “What would that be, my partner in crime?”

She moved to sit on my throne, but I shifted so that she sat on my lap instead. I wrapped my hands around her gently, the fingers of my lower arms digging into the material of her dress and her lovely abs. My upper hands ran along her neck and eased her head back. She was close in my arms, neck and belly exposed. “Mmm,” I told her. “You may sit on my lap, not on my throne.”

She… relaxed against me. I felt her body wiggle, cuddling back against me. I know I’m considered pretty much the world’s biggest psychopath. Plus, that little bit where I only broke her out of prison to kidnap her for her involuntary aid in dealing with my own nemesis by forcing her to pretend to be Venus. The sex, the flirting, the clothing… I figured she was trying to get on my good side. Use a relationship with me to her own benefit. That’s a really big part of so many relationships in the past, and I don’t just mean the ones involving sex.

Speaking of sex and Medusa, the way she acted in my arms suggested either some submissive stuff going on or- no, probably nothing legit as far as feelings. I need to cut that shit out. She’s not my dream Venus. Venus isn’t my dream Venus. There really is no scenario where Venus and I are anything more than a fantasy. Hell, that’s a big part of why I’m doing what I’m doing. If I toss her ass in another dimension’s prison, I don’t have to worry about these feelings or short-sighted obsession with her further.

Besides, with hindsight on my side, Medusa was just cynically using me by the way she flattered me and pressed against me. She finally spoke, “You have strong arms. It’s because you’ve had them enhanced.”

“Mhm,” I said. I even like the way she smells. Some kind of perfume I can’t describe because I lack the vocabulary to express myself with regard to smells. Ugh, there’s a bad sign: talking about how a crush smells. That’s not as bad as using discarded skin flakes to form an alter, but I won’t pretend it isn’t a step on that path.

Having lived in the United States so long, I am aware we’re approaching Valentine’s Day. The fact that I’m spending the lead-up to it pining over a woman who hates me irks me. Irks, I say!

I didn’t have time at that point to think about the woman I have varied and strange feelings for. I was too busy nuzzling and caressing someone who looks exactly like her, who proceeded to ask, “Do you think I could be given more strength as well? Is there a secret to it?”

“No,” I whispered in her ear. “It’s all a matter of the right increases to the makeup of your muscles, bones, and ligaments.”

“What about bulletproof skin?” she asked. Fuck, I’m romantically lonely. I know I have friends and all, and a wife, but there’s a difference between all of them and this kind of passion and intimacy. To feel wanted in this way. That’s why it’s important for me to remember that she’s a villain, and she’s just using me. Fantasies can be so very wonderful indeed, but not if you believe in them

I sighed and leaned back, settling my arms on my belly while she turned to look at me. “Sure. I’ll send an order to the Institute. You can head on over and they’ll get you whipped into shape.” And I did send the message over, along with an additional bit of code to absolutely be given to the nanomachines used for the surgery.

Having gotten what she wanted, she left. I should have had a cold shower or my hot wife. Instead, I headed to a club.

It was dark. The bar area was dimly lit by yellow light, but the dance floor was in more of an indigo that avoided being blue enough for embarrassment. There were glow rods, and multicolored lights shone down on occasion. Shadowed booths held tables where the only light seen came from the ends of cigarettes or from beneath heavy lampshades that gave off dark red or green.

I took control of the place as I walked in, a gold-colored mask over my face and my lower arms hidden in adaptive camo gloves that mimicked the invisibility of my armor. The music had a sort of Asian-goth vibe to it, but when that song ended, one of my choosing came on. I danced slowly by myself on the floor, eyes closed, with the voice of Nostalghia and the notes of her song “Coronation” taking up the full attention of my ears.

It wasn’t a long song, but I realized I had other senses butting in. Like feeling my nanomachines. I set up a machine at the water treatment plant to distribute nanites into the water for everyone’s health. Ricca’s one of the few places you can replace a lost limb with a dip in a swimming pool. With the exception of the disease the entire Earth has that enables special collars to neutralize superpowers, we have one of the lowest rates of disease on the planet. And I could feel those little machines still in so many people. I think I even subconsciously moved many of them away from me. It left a little opening that someone stepped into.

I opened my eyes and stopped dancing, looking at a teen in front of me whose face didn’t seem familiar. My HUD matched him to the gold-skinned hero I’d fought at Master Academy when breaking out Medusa. Just a costume, it seems.

“I know it’s you,” he said.

I held out my hand. “Care to dance?”

“No,” he said. With a flash of light that almost killed the club’s mood, his civilian clothes and normal skin were replaced with his costume that covered his skin in that gold I remembered. Frustratingly, the dark light didn’t show too well how the eyes worked, turning red like that. “What the hell?” he asked suddenly as he reached out and took my hand.

The song ended and I threw on another one as the nanites inside the hero gave me a dance partner over his objections. As someone who has been known to kill people over not being paid according to my agreement, I disliked the singer, but I had to admit “I just wanna be, wanna bewitch you in the moonlight,” to my captive partner.

“What are you doing? Stop this!” he pleaded.

I rolled my eyes. “You’re straining my hospitality. Don’t fight it. Just dance.”

He had enough control still to turn his head and look to someone. I spun us around to get a look. The guy in a Hawaiian shirt with card queens, kings, and jacks all over it looked at me, twirling a card between his fingers. Beside him stood… ha! Ball Boy. That’s right, he came along on this adventure too.

I smiled at them as everyone on the dance floor began to move around myself and the teen I had commandeered. I can be a little bit of a showoff at times. It’s not like the heroes could hurt me. Ball Boy and the other one were just as infested as this fellow, who I let run back to them when the song ended. I left control over the music to the DJ and helped myself to an upstairs VIP balcony table, musing on whether or not to have more fun with the ensorceled heroes. My mind wandered once again to Venus, though. As it did so, I reached out.

If only it was so easy to just plumb their brains with the little machines. They weren’t all back at the villas, and the nanites could only do so much to identify anyone. But they’d have to come back to rest at some point. In the end, I don’t even need an excuse to get her away from her friends. I just never bothered telling Medusa about the full capabilities of the nanites. All I really need is to find Venus and walk her right up to me for replacement.

I have already won.

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Malicious Mercy 5

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Just because I have an assload of heroes on my island, eyeing my ass, doesn’t mean I’m going to play nice.

It helps that there are all kinds of celebrations going on. I try to do outreach, but I am woefully ignorant about all the holidays over here. They’re gearing up for another big celebration, and one of my Directors I kept around has been running around trying to get things ready for the Lunar New Year, which is especially a big deal among the Chinese population of Ricca. With the Year Of The Pig on the way, they’re organizing a massive parade, with some “God Of Fortune” character, dancers, pop girl groups, and dragons. Between my temporary erasure from the timeline, spending time with my family after my return, and all the kidnapping in the United States, it’s hard to keep track of it all. It’s a good thing I pay people to handle some of it for me.

It’s been a good way to keep the heroes’ attention away from me specifically, though I’m sure they’re trying to spy on me. I know, because my spies spying on them told me so, as confirmed by the spies spying on my spies. That one with all the Hawaiian shirts leads me to suspect at least some of the heroes are taking their visit as seriously as it deserves. If I aided that by quietly directing a visiting C-pop girl group to stay in that area and rehearse there, well, it’s on their end to stay vigilant. I’m not doing the heroes’ job for them.

It has been more difficult keeping Medusa away from them. I didn’t set her up in the palace with me and the rest of the family. Maybe it’s because I don’t like her. I think it’s about time I built for guests what my current home was to me: luxurious guest housing. Until then, she’s staying at a safehouse. It’s harder to keep a constant eye on her that way. That means sticking some undercover Security personnel on her. It also meant getting a call from my Security guys that they had moved in and stopped Medusa from beating the crap out of my Director of the Interior.

I was disappointed, so very disappointed, in the Director. I don’t know what he was doing recruiting dancers at a strip club. That’s his business and it’ll probably be a hell of a parade. With him, I just expected better than to get tangled up with someone who appears to be one of the world’s foremost superheroes that his Empress is apparently going to marry. Almost makes me regret how good our medical care is that he won’t even get a scar to remember that decision by.

I’m fine with the Security officers, though. They got a bonus.

But then there’s Medusa. Hungover, horny, frustratingly beautiful Medusa who can’t even beat up a couple of guys in power armor at the same time. She just refuses to be what I want her to be. I have to wonder if it’s me. Am I holding her to too high a standard? Is it somehow wrong to force someone to be their good doppelganger in violation of a lifetime of instinct? Is my obsession with Venus blinding me to the true, but different, potential of her evil double from another dimension?

Nah. The problem’s obviously not me. The problem’s never me. I should have Max up my dosage of whatever he gives me for the PTSD and the other stuff just for considering it.

When she woke up on my couch, her beautiful face drooling all over the cushion, I greeted her with some breakfast spring rolls: scrambled eggs and sausage rolled up in paper-thin lumpia wrapper and fried until light brown on both sides.

She jerked awake from her snores and pulled a pillow over her head. “Oof,” she said before I shoved a roll in her mouth. She sat up then and tried to hit me with the pillow while reaching for the breakfast roll. I pushed the pillow and her hand aside and pulled her into my lap to continue feeding her breakfast while strokin her hair.

She tried to say something around the food in her mouth. I couldn’t make it out over all the muffled noises, so instead I leaned down and whispered, “There, there. Eat up.”

She humored me for one roll before sitting up and backing away from me, then jumping up from the drool she just got on herself. I snorted. “Aren’t bodily liquids the best?”

She wiped at her pants. “What was that?”

“Drool. Don’t worry, it’s yours,” I told her.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better… gimme another of those,” she held out her hand for a roll, so I provided.

“I think you and I haven’t gotten on very well,” I told her.

She didn’t bother to swallow before answering, “You think? You have a hard-on for me, but you’re dumping me in some apartment. When you do want me around, it’s to try and teach me to be Venus. Oh, and your cops beat me up when I tried to have fun.”

Ok, so there’s a chance the problem might have something to do with me, too.

“I think I’m still getting the hang of leadership,” I told her.

She pointed her half-eaten breakfast roll at me, “I don’t want leadership.”

I leaned back and pondered. Medusa sat herself across my lap, helping herself to another roll and my attention in the process. I looked into her eyes, raising an eyebrow as she ate. “You’re too controlled,” she said at last.

I tried not to laugh hard enough for everyone on the island to hear. But, being a wise dictator, I was at least willing to hear her out. When I calmed down, and she’d finished her current roll, she leaned close, chest pressed to mine, and asked, “What would you do if you didn’t have that stick up your ass?”

A couple hours later, I was the middle spoon between Citra and Medusa and reaching over Medusa for the plate of breakfast rolls on the nightstand. Medusa turned to me with a smile. “Mmm, got anything else in mind?”

“Actually…” I said, taking a bite. “Why don’t we go steal something together?”

Citra actually helped us pick out the target. It was fun just shopping around. Targets ranged from tourist traps (such as the Great Wall of China, Maine), to the culturally and historically significant (the cuneiform tablet of the world’s oldest beer recipe), money (the Lost Bitcoin Exchange) and the technologically significant (a prototype anti-gravity car developed by Ferrari).

That last one intrigued me. The latest I or my guys know is that, outside of a few mad scientists with unreliable designs who don’t keep blueprints for fear of others replicating it, are still way behind figuring out anti-gravity. By now, there’s plenty of leftover alien technology after all the invasions, but understanding is a huge limit to recreating it. Imagine if people in the Middle Ages acquired an atomic bomb: they could probably figure out how to use it, possibly even without killing themselves, but could they ever make a new one? Did they even know how to think in order to study it? Could they safely dismantle it? Even if they understood it, what about the tools and processes needed to recreate the materials involved?

Medusa’s desire spoke to a more base one. “Fuck me, I want a flying car!”

I sent her off to a costume tailor in the city to get dressed for success while I researched how best to nab this lovely new aeromobile.

Ferrari finished a public demonstration couple of weeks ago, meaning we’d missed the most dramatic time to grab it. Amazingly, when I reached out to Intel Chief Pagan, he had some a useful message to pass on to me. Someone within Ferrari had reached out to Ricca through our Vatican City consulate offering to provide pass codes and radio frequencies to defeat security at the big demonstration, as well as an unassuming email address to contact to confirm our participation. He had no reason to believe it would interest me more than anything else, and we aren’t prioritizing “stealing cool shit” as a country, so I hadn’t been told.

Even though the demo had come and gone, I sent the address a message. “Give me a location and the car disappears.”

The recipient got back to me within the hour, pointing me to Malta International Airport, the only airport on the Isle of Malta. It surprised me, though. Fort St. Ferrari looms over the city of Birgu on the island. It serves as the fortified repository of Ferrari’s most important research, prototypes, and trade secrets. Plus, the on-site test track features some bitchin’ views for photo ops.

It was a little disappointing that we weren’t just busting in there to take it, but Medusa’s maybe not up to that just yet. I didn’t let her know. Upon her return with a garment bag, I instead swept her up into a cuddle and a kiss. “Good news,” I told her upon breaking the kiss. “No need to spend all day hunting it down. I know exactly where we strike. Plenty of time for more fun…”

She winked. “Maybe later. I’m fucking hungry.”

I guess she’d worked up an appetite. And then some gas. Despite that, she was more than happy to hang out with my daughter when Qiang got in from school. With Medusa looking just like Venus, my kid seemed to get on just fine thinking a teacher from her friend’s school had taken a liking to me.

So it was that the day of the Lunar New Year arrived, and yet we were zipping off through the sky at the inhumanly early hour of 10 AM, Riccan Standard Time. That’s the island’s name for that time zone and any others can go to hell.

The Psycho Flyer came in low and camouflaged, dropping Medusa and I off just outside the airport. We hopped the out fence easily enough and approached tight to a hangar. “They must have been letting someone have a private test,” I guessed as we waited. We’d gotten there early, but only by about ten minutes. One reliable thing about pretty much any other air travel in the world besides my Flyers is that airplanes are late all the time but never early.

We stayed there, Medusa enjoying the weather and myself enjoying Medusa’s outfit. It looked remarkably like Venus’s, but with a different grouping of colors. Instead of the white, gold, and pink of Venus, Medusa wore black, silver, and amber. Venus had swapped to a powered and armored exoskeleton in those same colors some time back, but this outfit looked like pants and a jacket with armored plates in the fabric. Venus’s mask covered her face and even her nose; Medusa’s did all that with wild swirls at the top where all three colors repeated in stripes like the warning coloration of some snakes.

Our anonymous turncoat had provided the details of the plane flying in our experimental flying car. I smiled under my armor and pulled open the door of the little plane, then turned and held out a hand for Medusa. “I’m going to need you to trust me a bit.”

Medusa looked between myself in this small prop craft and the cargo plane coming in for a landing. She hesitated long enough that I began pumping the chorus from the song Umbrella out of my suit’s speakers. With Rihanna assuring her, “Said I’ll always be your friend, took an oath that I’ma stick it out ’til the end,” Medusa blushed, smiled, and took my hand. I pulled her in, busted into the dash, and started that baby up without the key.

The target plane had landed by then, going right by us. It began to taxi around in the direction of a semi truck with a bare trailer on the back. The black horse of the Ferrari logo reared up from the door of the truck. We passed in front of it, my bottom left hand taking the wheel so the top left could give them the bird. Have I mentioned I’m petty? I feel that might have come up once or twice.

Medusa reached over and grabbed my forearm as we headed right for the plane. Seeing us, the pilot tried to turn. We headed right for that low-sitting belly, turning to meet it. Just before impact, I grabbed Medusa and put myself between her and the oncoming collision.

The propeller on our own vehicle made a pretty good attempt at stabbing me in the back, the traitorous son of a gun. Quantifying the pain is also kinda tough. There was the propeller, the engine, the wall of the cargo plane. It all blended together, but Medusa took it much better than I did.

That’s probably why she was so quick to stand up and catch her breath. My 360 display told me there were other people around, most of them down as well. A half dozen, but I still doubted Medusa’s ability. My lungs told me to slow the fuck down and pull them up out of prostate. I tried sitting up and quickly slammed myself back to the floor. My back had decided to clock out early. So, knowing I was going to hate myself, I activated the spinal transceiver meant to keep me going in the event of paralysis.

Nobody could hear me yell when I forced myself to stand, but they might have seen me free a syringe from my belt and free a glove to quickly push the nanomachines and saline into my body. I shaved a glove back on and turned to see someone in coveralls falling. Medusa stomped on the foot of a man in security business casual: trousers, dress shoes, button-up shirt, tie, and holster capable of carrying a holster. She grabbed the gun, dodged a punch, dropped the magazine, ejected the round in the chamber, and beat him in the eye with it. He raised his hands to shield his sensitive, jelly-filled light sensors and she rewarded that caution with a spinning kick that knocked him to the ground.

Another guy in coveralls jumped her from behind. She flipped him over her, then grabbed his head and put him in a hold until he passed out. If anyone else around us was capable of fighting, they didn’t bother trying. I grunted to myself with every step toward the rear of the plane. Medusa ran on ahead, either into a separate room or just around a bunch of wrecked metal caused by our unique boarding action.

I walked after. Step after step, grunt after grunt. One guy in khakis and a polo shirt grabbed a big monkey wrench. Maybe he thought he was sneaky. I turned and caught his arm in midswing. I gave him a few slams into the wall, floor, and ceiling before tugging the tool out of the other tool’s hands and jamming it into his neck. It didn’t take many turns to unscrew his head, but by then I heard the sound of a car engine cranking. I pushed myself through the pain to reach the bay proper and found Medusa behind the wheel of a sleek crimson Ferrari with a low body and four glowing rounded stands in place of wheels.

“Checkit out!” Medusa called, “It makes engine noises still!”

I hobbled over, raised the passenger door that opened up, and settled myself into the front seat. Medusa reached across and patted my arm. With a wink, she flipped a switch and the car rose into the air. Spinning the wheel brought us around to face the rear of the plane and what had once been a functional door. She pushed up on the wheel, moving the steering column forward and bursting out through the door. It dented the hood a bit, too. “That’ll buff out,” she said.

“That’s ok,” I assured her. “I like big buffs and I cannot lie. Now get us home. The only pigs I want to see are the ones in the parade celebrating the Year of the Pig.”

“Oink, oink!” she said, punching the accelerator. The car shuddered and hung in the air.

I opened a channel to the Psycho Flyer. “Hey guys? We need a tow. I think I know why they needed the plane.” I pulled my helmet off then and freed my hair. In front of us, the Psycho Flyer decloaked and began to ease back around us. “Just one thing left to steal.”

She turned toward me. “What’s that?”

A kiss.

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Malicious Mercy 4

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For all my teasing, I didn’t think Venus would show. I know, I know, I’m trying to piss her off. Anyone can see it, and she’s used to it. As much as I insult her intelligence for keeping me alive, she really isn’t so brainless. Medusa didn’t consider it. I think, like me, she’s been too willing to take their honor and principal for idiocy. Medusa’s a disappointment like that. And Venus might have outdone her.

I was playing with Qiang in her new playset that’s totally not an obstacle course and starter lair. She might someday realize she can use it as such, but it’s a fun thing for her to enjoy until then. I should really just let her be a kid and let me be a parent, but I don’t think I know how. I got a call in, which almost caused me to drop the water guns I was shooting at my girl while I crossed the monkey bars. Extra arms means extra awesome, but being Empress means I gotta hang in there sometimes.

“This Empress Gecko,” I said.

“This is the Customs Authority, Empress. We have an unusual arrival we felt we should alert you about?”

“If I tell you I’m spending time with my daughter, does it become any less urgent?” I asked.

“Your new fiance just arrived with a lot of superheroes,” said the voice on the other side of the line.

I instantly tapped into the cameras around the airport. They were all standing around the tarmac, a group of twenty or so teen or adult supers.

“Empress, would you like us to deny entry to the superheroes?” asked the Customs Authoritarian on the other end of the line.

“No… they can come through, but there’ll have to be a thorough inspection before they enter,” I smiled, thinking of some of our protocols.

“Going through every piece of luggage?” asked the Customs agent.

“Uh huh.”

“Full body scans?”

“Yep.”

“Tearing up their plane looking for smuggled contraband.”

After a moment, he whispered the final part with his own glee at the thought of enacting this protocol. “Cavity searches?”

I was going to confirm the order, but I heard a scuffle on the other side, then Venus grabbed the phone. “You are not going to stick any gloves inside any of our bodies, Gecko!”

“Relax, Boopsie. I was going to have other people do that for me. I don’t know what you could be bringing to my little island. You know how violent you heroes get, constantly blowing stuff up and fighting people in the streets.”

“We fight crime,” she said.

“You’re on my island now. I decide what’s crime. But I’m still checking the luggage and the plane. If you remember, I’ve already had one group sneak a deadly infection and power dampening collars onto this island. Collars like I know you yourself now have. Unless you seek to have the full force of the Ricca’s law enforcement used against you, you will comply.”

“Fine, but only if you agree not to steal our stuff,” she said.

I scoffed over the phone. “First you show up unannounced, now you demand VIP treatment without even bribing us? So inconsiderate. I can hardly believe I’m going to marry you.”

I hung up on her, but kept an eye out, bringing up some of the Security guys. They already had pretty good armor in their uniforms, but I had them assemble in riot gear. That included grenade launchers and the “thunder tower” spikes. Cool shit. Stand them up on the ground and they form an electrical arc between them to cut people off from going a certain direction. Some of the crowd control grenades do something similar for a second in a smaller area. That’s less about containment and more about stunning folks. My favorite part is the shield. It’s normally attached to the rear of the torso armor, but can be deployed with a release that swings it overhead on the end of an arm. The Security people retain full use of their hands and get a shield rated for small arms fire short of anything that can crack a safe.

My power-armored infantry were on standby in case they were needed. The heroes better hope it doesn’t come down to that.

After making those arrangements, I hugged Qiang and told her I needed to go see to some more business involving her old school. She hopped up and down. “I wanna come! Is it Kayla? I wanna see Kayla again.”

“No, sweetie, Kayla’s not with them. She’s probably back in Empyreal City.”

She calmed down then, her face falling. “Oh.”

“Still want to come with me, or do you want to play on your own?” I asked.

“I think I want to paint,” she said.

I patted her on the head. “Paint away then, dearheart. I’ll tell them you said ‘hi’.” She blew me a kiss as she ran into the palace. I dislike her affinity for the heroes, but at least I know she’s capable of stealing hearts.

I didn’t bother with armor and the outfit I was in was a more functional form of regal dress with some sturdy leggings, so perfectly suited to keep anyone from catching a peek when I jumped on one of the personal use rockets outside the palace. It shot me through the air, hair and sleeves streaming behind me. Minutes later, I stepped into the airport with my Security officers flanking me.

Venus and her bunch didn’t look amused. She tapped her foot, arms akimbo. “You’re late.”

“I took a rocket here, how can I be late?” I asked, shaking my hair out.

“We saw. You took too long after landing it. What do you have planned?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes. “You always assume the worst about me. If you must know what took so long, I was parallel parking.” I paid no mind to the shaking helmets of some of the Security personnel on either side of me as they tried not to laugh.

“A rocket?” asked a guy in a Hawaiian shirt with playing card designs on it and a lei around his neck. My HUD reminded me he was called Wildcard.

Smiling, I dangled a key fob in one hand and raised it while pressing a button. My guys lost it at the beep from the parking lot, and even some of the heroes joined in. The tension was just gone at that point.

“Why are you here?” I asked Venus.

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re getting married to my double. Don’t I get an invitation?”

“As if this involves you?” I asked. “And twenty of your closest friends.”

“What better way to show we’re no threat than to house the wedding party?” she asked. “Come on, I enjoy a good wedding. I missed your first one, and no way am I going to let you marry my evil twin sister without keeping an eye on her.”

Lady boner activated. The image of Venus watching me and her evil twin sister wasn’t the reason why, though it followed closely on the heels.

“Fine,” I said, pointing at her. “I’ll tell you exactly where you can stick these masked crusaders!”

A half hour later, I walked into the middle of the housing division used by the supervillains when we met and established VillainNet. They remained temporary housing for villains passing through or waiting out heat, but most were empty. “Here. Here’s where you can stick them.”

Venus and the others looked around, not really objecting. “You surprise me still,” she said. “I thought you were going to show us to the resident proctologist.”

“As careful as I am, I’d never pull a plan like that out of my ass,” I responded. I turned to her in particular as all her friends spread out. “I could kick y’all out at any time, you know.”

She smiled. “Yeah, but then you’d be publicly expelling your fiance and her friends from the island. I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, but I’m guessing that’s not what you want to get out.” She winked. “I know better than to think your weird stalker harassment doesn’t happen on its own. You’re up to something that you’re using me to cover for. To answer your question back at the airport, that’s why this involves me.”

Clever woman. She’s right that I’m up to something and that it involves her. I wonder if she knows how much it involves her, because that could better explain why she pulled this stunt. “I prefer not to think of myself as your harassing stalker,” I said, feigning that I was wounded.

“You can prefer whatever you want,” Venus said, the tone of her voice making a lie out of the smile on her face. “Mind if I have a word with my doppelganger?”

I patted her on the head. “She’s busy, I’m afraid. Spa day and beauty treatments. Have to get ready for the big day.”

“Right. I’ll be here then, with all my friends who know exactly where I am at all times,” she said, walking off to join the others in picking out a house.

I, on the other three hands, headed over to the Institute of Science and double parked my rocket. I skipped in, humming to myself, finding the turn of events interesting and advantageous. I was still skipping when the doctors showed me to Medusa’s recovery room where she was testing out her new form.

I bounded in the door. “Guess what?!”

Medusa was starring down at her six pack. “Oh my god, my abs!”

“That’s not what,” I said. “I thought you’d be more interested in the powers, anyway.”

“I am, they’re awesome, but have you seen my fucking abs?” she pointed down to them. In addition to treatment to transform her into a homo machina the same as Venus has been made, the doctors used the nanomachines to get rid of revealing scars and to bring Medusa’s fat and musculature to match with Venus. “What’s your good news?” she asked.

“We don’t have to plan an actual wedding for one thing,” I said. Which was great. Citra’s been a bit cold about that lately. I guess that’s how you describe it when your wife finds out you pretended to ask another woman to marry you so she comes back from college to slap you upside the face. On the plus side, she’s enjoying her economics course and is thinking of trying out for the debate team.

“Good,” Medusa said, about the scrapped wedding instead of my wife troubles. She dropped her shirt and picked up a cell phone, letting her newfound abilities merge her nervous system with it. The screen flashed as she tried messing around with it.

“Yeah,” I followed up with. “Because Venus and a shitload of heroes are here to attend it.”

Medusa frowned and tried to set the phone down. She waved her hand a bit to get it free. “That sounds like we have to fake it for them, doesn’t it?”

I took her hand and tugged gently, easing the phone away from Medusa without hurting her. “No. We just have to swap you and Venus while she’s here. We toss her in a Flyer, drop her off with your Taskforce Manticore buddies, and find some excuse for you and the other heroes to leave the island. This way, we don’t have to hunt her down for the switch while tricking people into thinking your here.”

She nodded. “Fine, whatever. Just as long as the one who reads minds isn’t here.”

I thought back to it. “Huh, yeah it is odd Psychsaur wasn’t here, but that doesn’t matter now.” I poked Medusa in the head. She squinted and pushed my finger away. “Your new powers make you tougher to read that way,” I explained.

She walked up to me, wrapping her arms around my neck. “Show me what I can do, sugarmomma. I feel great. Come on, let’s go tear something up together.”

Sploo- aww who am I kidding? She’s still no Venus.

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