Tag Archives: Minotaur

The Empyreal March 7

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And I thought this was going to be hard. No, I really thought it’d take more to get the military to back the fuck off. Thing was, it wasn’t the reporter showing that the soldiers were rescued and being taken care of, nor that innocent people were hurt or killed in the attack. It wasn’t the illegality of the soldiers being in the city in the first place. It wasn’t the lack of reinforcements. It wasn’t all sorts of things that were so easy to predict.

Nope, it was the incompetency of the Commander-in-Chief. It’s amazing. I’m not meaning to make all this political, but he’s the one inserting himself into everything and failing. Apparently the idiot went and watched the clip of the video in the middle of some hotel restaurant and it leaked out. I’m beginning to understand what people mean when they can’t even. They chose this over me. They fucking chose THIS over me.

Worse, it totally stopped me from being able to hold out. I just… seriously? I had it all planned out. I’d let things deteriorate, push to get my connectivity restored, and push for having my recovery improved with nanites. Maybe have something dramatic happen, wake up to an attack so I can singlehandedly save the day. It would have made a great music video.

Seriously, though, this just seems like stupid way for things that to end. I mean, the military’s still around. When the school’s scouts came back, they just burst into the cafeteria talking about how the military’s pulled back to Central Park. A cheer went up among everyone.

Well, almost everyone. I caught a distinct glare from Good Doctor, who sat beside Elita the Warrior Woman. She didn’t look too friendly either at that moment. I checked my food, a plate of some of the worst meat loaf I’ve ever stuffed into any hole on my body. It probably wasn’t poisoned, but just because neither Elita nor Good Doctor tend to use it.

Good Doctor’s power makes him deviously competent at finding weak points. Armor, both natural and artificial, as well as all the various weaknesses of a human body. Got an old knee injury that acts up? He’s your guy.

Elita’s the muscle. Big, strong, and with the ability to level a building if she’s mad. Unlike me, that’s without using explosives. There are ways to work around that, but it’d be a very bad thing to let her get her hands on you. There are multiple parts of her body she could use to snap me like a twig, some of them more fun than the rest. Then again, no body part’s that fun if it’s breaking you in half. I’ve never had my spine snapped in an amusing and entertaining way. That’ll have to go on the bucket list.

It’s entirely possible they’ve decided my usefulness is at an end. The same thought crossed my mind when I passed by Psychsaur walking with Victor Mender. Minotaur stepped behind them, holding a clipboard and chewing on the eraser of a pencil.

This was a bad time to have things so readily on my mind. I walked away briskly, wondering if it made any difference at this point. But am I just paranoid and schizophrenic, or did Psychsaur watch me leave?

Down in my little prison cell room, I started packing what I could carry. I slid into my armor and wished the place had a few more exits. They might kill me. It’s really the only option left. If they try and hold me, I’ll keep trying to escape. Things will get worse. That, or they’ll have to stick me in a situation that’ll cause a major deterioration of my mental state. And considering my brain at the moment, that also means they’ll never let me go. Or if they do, I’ll be some shambling old Alzheimer’s victim threatening people while pissing myself.

So I put on my armor. I strapped my chickens onto my belt. I packed my half-rebuilt laser potato peeler, its single blade with a gap in the middle still not sharpened enough to my liking. I wrecked my armor-printing machine. I loaded up spare materials and tools in a handy little bag and opened the door.

“Going somewhere?” asked Good Doctor from behind Elita the Warrior Woman, who did a great job of blocking off the hall.

“Ah, my old buddy. Now, I know what you’re thinking: should I kill Gecko? I can point you to a website with several answers to that question that may surprise you.”

“Why do you persist, even now, in claiming I am your friend?” He shook his head, glaring at me from under slicked-back hair. He liked to do that before “operating,” if he had a choice. In one hand, he held one of his scalpels. In the other, his mask, a sort of leather helmet that encompassed a visor area and a lower face covering.

I sighed. “It’s how I’ve thought of you. A wayward friend. You were ashamed of what you were, but you were still a friend.”

“You know why I did it. She meant the world to me. Then you…” He looked down, then lifted his mask over his face.

I nodded. “Yeah, I did. Maybe someone else would have eventually. You knew what she was. There are many risks, and you used to be one of them. I did what I chose to do, but so did she. She could have walked away at any point.”

“Could you?” he asked, his voice somewhat muffled now.

I pondered the question for a moment. “Huh. Point to you then. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise how it all ended. I hate that I did that to you, but I have to think about my life. I don’t have the luxury of imagining that my death serves some greater purpose to the world than long-overdue justice.”

“That works for me,” Elita finally spoke up. “You did so much to the world, I don’t know why the Academy left you alive.”

I shrugged. “I owe them a debt for saving me, I guess. A debt they intend to call in. But yeah, bad things goes down when I start believing in higher causes. That’s part of why I miss just going around doing my own random shit.”

She clenched a very painful-looking fist. “Got any fancy websites for me before I pound you?”

Under my helmet, my eyebrow rose. So many things I could do with that one. I just had to settle with. “Yeah. Www.gofuckyourself.com.” I opened my mouth and let loose a piercing banshee scream in a tony designed to paralyze the human body upon being heard. A gift from my time in the Cube. They used it to keep inmates under control when being handled or moved. I replicated it.

Both former villains went down, allowing my to hop over them and head up into the school itself.

There, I actually found another group headed by my way. Minotaur, Mender, Venus, and Psychsaur. Venus was even in her power armor, all shiny with its heavy plates. I didn’t know how many of them it would take to whoop my ass, but I knew how many they were gonna use.

“Please,” I thought. I turned to head down the opposite direction of the hallway but felt my body lock up

“Sorry,” I felt in my mind. “Why?”

“I must be made whole,” I thought back. I tried speaking and told the approaching heroes. “I’ll go. I’ll leave.”

“I am afraid I cannot let you do that,” said Mender’s computerized voice. “You brought an attack down on my children. You have been a menace to us despite our leniency. Remove your armor now. It is not as though you can leave.”

Someone must not have found out Psychsaur cozied up to me.

I screamed again. Psychsaur tried to cut me off, and it stopped me for a moment, but that was a moment when her own body became like jelly. It actually worked. I could move again, while Minotaur and Psychsaur crumbled. That just left Venus and Mender. Easy.

A pair of cannons rose from the back of Mender’s wheelchair even as Venus stepped forward. “You can’t win.”

“Ya know, I didn’t even want to fight right now. Can’t you just let me go? Are your morals that set in stone?” I asked.

“Some things can’t be compromised,” she responded. She jumped forward, over the downed bodies of her colleagues. She punched with enough force to break bones. I caught it easily. The left hand came forward in another punch, and I caught it as well. A metal spike shot forward but didn’t penetrate my gauntlet. My HUD reported a power surge. My gauntlets fed incoming excess energy to my suit’s batteries. “Lets get you out of that armor and back in your cell.”

“Oh, look, that ECM trick.” I jumped up kicked her in the chest, letting go of her fists to send her stumbling back to fall over her stirring friends. I turned and ran, dodging a lightning bolt and catching another with my gauntlet.

This time, there was no telekinetic force catching me, and the rest of the students didn’t get involved as I fled the school and into the city. I found a building that’s unoccupied above the first floor due to damage. Hell, I escaped at all! I guess I should have realized it when Psychsaur had to lock me down on her own. Or maybe I should have realized sooner that I even could make myself escape. It’s confusing. What did I know and when did I know it? It must have been when she gave me the ability to cuss and hurt people again.

That’s it, Psychsaur doesn’t die even if she was the one behind Mecha Gecko!

So now I rebuild. Get myself a proper lab going again, build up my own supply of nanites. Maybe take over the city. The Ukrainians had to run and hide, so that probably put a damper on their big money-makers. The military’s going to be on its way out. The Master Academy is a bit defensive, and I already know these newbie heroes couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

And I do have an agenda. I was serious about owing the Master Academy a debt. Despite my actions, I still hold to that. So first, I make Empyreal City great again. That includes making it a bit safer for them. And I kinda like this place. I think I’ll keep it around, and that means finding a way to encourage people to not completely abandon this city, blown up and disaster-prone as it is. I mean, it’s really been hammered a lot lately.

I’m not quite sure how to do that as a villain. I’m sure as shit not doing it as a hero. But I have a feeling I’m going to have one hell of a fun time figuring it out. I mean, that’s just a given when one of your first decisions is whether or not to assassinate multiple world leaders. I guess it depends on how big a bounty they’ll put on my head when I expose myself to the world.

Now, do I shave the pubes completely, or maybe leave it in some sort of heart shape?

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The Empyreal March 3

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“You’re pinning the blame for this new loyalty oath thing on me?” I asked. I hadn’t performed any major operations in the few days since that announcement, instead working on my armor some more. Since I couldn’t leave maintenance to the nanites or a machine designed to repair everything, I had to put more time into keeping it in working order. I’d been interrupted in the middle of a bit of necessary crotch maintenance. Totally letting it out some to accommodate me. Yep. Nothing to do with bad smells at all.

Venus stood in the library, holding an empty box. Minotaur stood back a ways, doing more watching than helping. An orange young man with six hands carried an empty box in each hand. “They’ve reviewed what you’ve been doing and it looks like everything you do is just making things worse.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ve done stuff, but they’ll use any excuse to do what they want. The doofus said he’d send in troops if there was another explosion. There hadn’t been any, but gosh if a bunch don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere. All I did was sneak in and play dress-up with the lean, mean killing machines and he’s gone all House Un-American Committee on y’all. If it wasn’t me, it’d have been something else. I bet that’s why the army was situated in such a lousy position anyway.” I pointed at her with the objects in my hand; a screwdriver and the portion of my armor that’s more or less a codpiece.

“You still gave him the excuse, and got those heroes caught so they could be his exemplars of this new way of doing things.” She started grabbing my tools and scraps and started piling them into the box.

“Hey now, those are mine. I stole them fair and square,” I admonished her.

She didn’t stop. “We’re relocating you back underground. You don’t have to stay down there all the time, but we don’t want you out in the open. There’s going to be a tour of the grounds for some very important people.”

“I suppose I can understand that. Y’all wouldn’t want to show the proper authorities your little hidden prison anyway, especially with the Loyalist heroes’ little buddy held down there. You know, I don’t think my time beating up Ukrainians adversely affected anything.”

“Did it help?” She turned and looked at me with one skeptically-raised eyebrow. “Did it accomplish anything, or was it just an excuse for you to hurt people?”

“I mean, hurting people helps me. It’s also valuable training. Not to mention, it curtailed various Ukrainian mafiya operations around the city while they relocated and got set up again. Y’all were stopping muggers. I stopped the people who don’t make such obvious waves.” I winked at her.

She rolled her eyes at that, then looked over to Minotaur and Swiss Arm-y Guy. “Enjoying the view?”

Minotaur snorted. “Just tell me what to lift.”

She pointed off into the corner to my armor-makin’ machine. “That looks big enough. And you can get more of the little stuff,” she said that to the other one. Finally, she grabbed my helmet where it rested on a bust of Mark Twain and tossed it to me. “You’ll probably want to wear that down there.”

“Like it? A little different, but I’ve liked the idea of having multiple eyes on it, even if only in an aesthetic sense. A subtle way to get to people. And I’m not stuck with pink, gold, and white as my color scheme.” I spun my helmet around and set it on the table while I continued refreshing my crotch armor.

“I’m not stuck with those colors. Besides, I heard you like pink. Your ex mentioned it.”

“A master criminal such as myself is allowed the occasional indulgence,” I responded.

“Pink nails, pink shoes, a poofy pink dress, pink ribbons for your pigtails…”

“You should have seen me in the tight pink dress.” I bit my lip and let my eyes roll up. I looked damn good in that thing. I looked ‘guy checking you out accidentally walks into a sign’ good. Sadly, I hadn’t quite mastered ‘girl checking you out accidentally walks into a sign’ good before everything happened with the alien invasion and another sex change. There’s alw- crap, they won’t let me fiddle with nanites.

My occasional foray into pink notwithstanding, the relocation was cheap and easy as myself when I wear lots of pink. They didn’t restrict me, really, just wanted to keep me under wraps, though I think Venus’s talk was meant to be a subtle hint not to stir up even more trouble.

To be fair, I didn’t set out to do so this time. All I meant to do was buy a shitload of hot wings for the big night of watching great commercials and a short concert interspersed with a football game. I have nothing against a bunch of men in tight pants piling on each other to see who can touch the other groups’ ball. Hell, that could easily describe most superhuman conflicts right there. I just don’t happen to follow it.

All I did was set out to obtain some delicious hot wings. I got myself a big box of them, and was walking home. Just minding my own business, thinking of maybe picking up some pink nail polish, when I was accosted. Accosted, I say, by a trio of rogues intent on besmirching the good name of Empyreal City by engaging in street crime like common riffraff. Like Riff Raff, I had a hunch, though mine was that they didn’t know what they were getting into but were aware that the city’s superheroes were grounded. I could not allow such perfidy to stand, I say. And I said as much to them, until the gentlemen pulled a firearm on me.

Well, I didn’t have a weapon of my own to ready in hand, so their call of “Your money or your life,” was instead answered by myself grinning and going, “Do you accept payment in chicken instead?”

Sadly, I had to go back and get more chicken, but I don’t believe those street hoodlums will be causing me anymore trouble. Indeed, the one will be lucky to walk if he ever makes it off that fire hydrant, and his friend with the gun was last seen trying to hack up a box of chicken wings, box included. I impressed the third one so much, he accidentally ran into a sign while trying to run off. However, it left me replacing my wings and passing by the same area in time for cops, some soldiers, and one of those idiots with the loyalty oath to finally have responded. I just hoped to pass them by, walking on the other side of the street and behind some parallel parked cars. I didn’t take it as a good sign when one of them, presumably the one from the hydrant since he lay on that stretcher belly-down, pointed in my direction.

“You!” called out the super with the flamethrower. He pointed in my direction.

I looked around, confused, then pointed back behind me. “Oh, he must have gone that way. If you hurry, you can still catch him.”

He raised his flamethrower. “Stop and put your hands over your head.”

“One, don’t just point a weapon at someone,” I said as he approached. “Second, you might pick words more carefully.” I indeed raised my hand, throwing the boxes of chicken wings into the air right toward him. He raised his arm and shot a spurt of flame at them. Spicy.

I jumped up and slid over the car hood, almost singing my eyebrows as he lowered the stream of flame while firing. I stayed low to rush him, and even he wasn’t stupid enough to try and lower his aim to take me out. Not with a car there. Cars really don’t explode easily when shot with a gun, but flamethrowers are a different story. I reached inside my jacket to wrap my hand around the handle of my laser potato peeler. At last, its time has come!

I’m still not entirely sure where the flashbang effect came from. I don’t think I saw the actual grenade, but then everything lit up like a flashbang and my ears were ringing. I felt myself thump into the flamethrower guy, and tried slashing. Something hit me in the face and burned, but it was solid, so I figured I didn’t have to worry about losing my hair. There were a lot of arms and fists all of a sudden, take my face’s word for it. I stabbed and slashed, but something metal hit my hand and knocked it loose. My eyes and ears adjusted quickly to find myself being knocked on my ass by a squad of soldiers who, to be fair, were being much less lethal than you’d expect from soldiers. One of them did the barrel of his gun against my forehead and say “Stop.”

They had these big magnetic shackles for my legs and arms. Put a pair on and they were pulled together. And as much as I hated it, I’m not so suicidal as to try and when the gun barrel’s right there. So, after getting trussed up like a pig for a barbecue, they frisked me and it was off to the zoo!

I wish they’d at least left me the laser potato peeler before tossing me into one of the reptile enclosures. At least they remembered to take the big metal cuffs off.

But I’m cool with it, I think. There’s no need to fear, I am here. No, no, no, just think about this. I’ve been planning stuff, and things have been going to shit. So clearly, my mind is the problem. To exceed the limitations of my mind, I must lose my mind. I must stop planning. I must become one with the piss which I take from my enemies. Because I care about some people at that school. I care about stopping these assholes, solving the Ukrainian mystery, and eventually stopping the Claw.

The more fucks I have to give this situation the more fucked-up it becomes. And from that perspective, I’m in a great place. My enemies surround me. No prison has ever held me. And while they’ve upgraded the defenses of this makeshift, the look I got at them showed those walls, emplacements, and sensors would do a great job of helping keep people out. This zoo, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have too many more additions made to it. Certainly not enough, I think, to hold off a big escape with all these superpowered prisoners.

So what do I spy with my little laser eye, hidden fangs, blackened zirconium fingernails, and paralyzing scream? Opportunity.

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Season’s Thievings 5

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So there I was, flat on my back in the academy gymnasium, barely able to breath, with a face bound to bruise up as soon as it had time, the song “That’s Not My Name” playing through my head and into the gym. I was sweaty. I was hurt. My shorts had ridden up into my crack just enough to annoy me. I rolled over with a groan to fetch them out of the crack of Mt. Doom before they poked against my one ring.

As soon as I could, I rolled over and cut the volume on the song. I looked over at a stopped obstacle course that caused this. I’d wandered out of the library one of these days, well, been forced out. The official school year is closing up, and Master Academy is trying to be a normal school where possible. Parents are visiting the school a lot, and the heroes are trying their best to look responsible. Seeing as I’m officially dead, and the school would have every reason to toss me to the wolves if my identity got found out, I am reluctantly having to go along with it. So I wandered a bit and saw students using this thing. It beats getting dragged into some school concert by that pigtail-girl Chloe, or to a dance by Leah, or having Quincy ask for some combat tutoring.

This magnificent monstrosity rises from the floor in the gym if the proper settings are entered into a panel on the wall. It’s got rollers, pistons, swinging arms, and floors that seesaw. It’s a compressed Japanese obstacle course game show, with less padding. I just had to give it a go. I can’t use nanites to just whip my muscles and tendons into shape anymore. I used to have those things work on my body until I was as strong and flexible as Gumbie and Hercules combined.

The obstacle course had stopped when it felt a strong impact indicating it had potentially injured me. I know this because this wasn’t the first time. But then the floor opened back up and it began to lower. I looked up at the young boy who stood by the wall, looking at me with some concern. I stood up, coughed up some metallic-tasting spit, and told him, “No. Again!”

“You sure, mister?”

I nodded. He turned the knob, causing it to stop, then reverse until the entire course settled back into place. He stepped away from the controls and said, “Most people don’t sing while they’re trying to do it. And they start at an easier difficulty. You had it set to hard.”

“Make sure it’s still there. I want it hard.” Probably not the best thing to say to someone who might have made it to middle school at the most, but the heroes had already caught the predator in this case. And the added difficulty is why I once again started singing along to the song. My singing’s still horrible, but at least other people can tolerate being in the same room as me now. They threatened to use the fire hose on me when “Cotton-Eye Joe” came up on my playlist.

I didn’t wait to get all nice and comfy and be able to breathe perfectly again before circling around and diving in again. I rolled to my feet jumped over a swinging arm, ducked under a piston that shot out from my right, then heard the tell-tale sound of the machine swinging something at me from higher up and behind. I rolled forward again. They seemed to have a certain amount of time they kept going for, a distance limit. When I got to where it should have stopped, I launched myself into the air. The arm bopped me on the head and knocked me toward the mat, which shot upward as some sort of launcher. It should have splatted me into the ceiling of the course, but the ceiling opened up to let me fly out and land on the laminate floor of the gymnasium.

“It wasn’t necessarily smart of me to assume when the thingy would stop, but what really surprised me was the floor shooting me out. It never did that before,” I said to no one in particular, raising an arm up. I was about to bring it down to help me get some leverage when a large hand grabbed it. Minotaur dragged me squeaking along the floor.

“It changes a lot of things between tries. Now come on. You got a meeting with the Headmaster.”

“The Headmaster, Hagrid? Surely this won’t be yet another angsty adventure where I don’t do a lot of interesting tricks with my ability to warp the fabric of reality itself. Quick, get me a ginger and a hot nerd. Oooh, can we get Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton for this one?”

He didn’t have to be so rough about picking me up or pulling my shorts back up. He should have known the natural consequences of dragging someone in workout clothes along a floor. Didn’t have to pull them up quite so far, though. What is it with these Master Academy capes and my balls? I think it’s cover for them trying to vigilante a feel.

The way he tossed me down into a chair in front of Victor Mender and put his hands on my shoulder didn’t help matters. Made it much harder to squirm and free my balls from the tyranny of clothing.

“Gecko, we need to have a talk,” said Mender’s computer, digitizing the voice from the front of his wheelchair.

“Ok, ok… so when a man and a woman both love covering her face with baby-makin’ juice…” Minotaur’s thick fingers dug into my shoulders. I arched my back. “Ooh, a little lower?”

“Please stop provoking him and speak respectfully to me. We are owed this much for the liberties you have taken with your confinement,” Mender said. “By the way, I heard you found the obstacle course. How do you like it?”

“I’ll beat it yet, front and back. Then, I shall disembowel it, reach into its oily innards, and rip out its still-beating heart of steel and circuitry. After that, I shall consume it to gain its power. But since power has a lot of calories, I’ll probably stick a finger down my throat and purge it in the bathroom. I got some body issues I gotta work out. These thighs don’t need more fat on them.”

“It’s a machine, it doesn’t have fat,” Minotaur growled.

I rolled my eyes and, without looking at him, responded, “It’s got oil, right? Lipids, same as fat.” It should be noted that I don’t particularly care about the accuracy of some statements I make. “Now that you’ve led us off on a tangent, though, I think it’s about time we get back to the meeting at hand.” I looked to Mender. “I’m not meeting them.”

“Are you afraid?” he asked.

“Nah. But you just want me to go so you can raid the meeting and catch everyone red-handed. Except you already know the when, where, what, who, and even why. You could go all on your own, and I don’t feel like doing any extra work for my captors along these lines. You don’t need me there. If the only darn thing I can do to show my dislike for this course of action is to stay clear of it, then I will. It’s despicable the way you’re going after them just for a little bit of theft. I mean, come on, theft is what Christmas is all about!”

“I can not think of one single, solitary way in which Christmas is about theft.”

I didn’t even need to think. “Guy in a costume breaks into people’s houses all night and helps himself to their food. Plus, I think there’s a story of him having a helper who kidnapped naughty kids. Probably made them work as slaves in his secret fortress in the Arctic, where he spies on everyone and assembles a secret list based on whether he thinks people acted right. Ow, big guy.” Minotaur’s fingers had dug into my shoulders a bit there. Since I figured I was annoying him, I also threw in, “Also, this chick got knocked up by a dude who totally said he was a god, then used someone’s barn as a maternity ward without permission or payment. Like, ‘there’s not much room in my apartment, but I have a storage shed, just don’t get afterbirth, blood, poop, and placenta all over the place. Aww, Mary. You had ONE job.’”

“Stop,” Mender said to both myself and Minotaur, who had raised one hand and balled it up threateningly next to my head. I saw it, but I had kept on talking regardless. I was going to go into detail, too. A hologram would have worked even better. Watching a woman give birth is an easy way to promote abstinence, at least for anyone sexually attracted to women.

He went on. “We can not make you do this, but we hope to avoid violence while recovering the nanites you stole. You would be doing a lot of good for more than just us.”

“Blah blah, getting dangerous substances off the street. Save the speech for drug cops. I am a dangerous substance. I bleed dangerous substances. I do other things to produce dangerous substances. Wanna see?”

“There are always men, women, and children who will need the advanced medical aid your nanotechnology can provide. When you first told us the goal of your theft, I knew we could use it to provide several Christmas miracles for people you missed before you used them to take over the world. People do not trust them now, but we can still use them.”

“Appealing to my sense of goodness will never work. I want to be changed back from human. Human sucks. Human blows. Human works the shaft,” I told him.

“You will be human for the rest of your life if I have any say. Instead, your cooperation with us will prove we do not need to keep you on a psychic leash.” Now that got my attention. It’s not as good as turning back, but even turning back without getting rid of those compulsions would only do me so much good. Plus, it’d be harder to clear those out.

He knew he had me, I think, when I leaned forward and asked, “I do this, and you get Psychsaur to let me out of it?”

“Among other things,” he said. “I want you to listen to our plan. You will be surprised.”

Which is how I wound up in that office with a bunch of other nervous criminals, getting my pay. I think I was the only one without a gun or knife in the room. To try and set us all at ease, Butterfly had offered some wine, and I was even the only one to take that. I only pretended to drink it, though. I don’t trust him. I just don’t get that much of a say in how I react to him.

“I did what I did for a reason. You were going to betray me, so I betrayed you. Now, the Ukrainians are out of the import/export business thanks to the heroes, I have the goods, and you are all alive. It worked out for all of us, and I want it to keep working out.” He gave a sly smile and stood up from his comfy leather chair to indicate a table to the side of the room. It had five open cardboard boxes and five large thermal canisters. “Feel free to inspect them and make sure I am not shorting you.”

Nobody else jumped up to it, so I stepped over first. As expected nothing blew up in my face when I opened any of the boxes. Each one was the same: packed with $100,000 in cash. When I survived looking, Mr. Blue Sky hurried over to grab a box and head for the passageway out. Hail Mary, Billy Jean, and especially Sgt. Pepper took their sweet time. They checked the cash over themselves while I unscrewed one of the canisters and reached in.Yep, nanites. But, I figured I’d prove it.

I held my hand out. “Anyone got a knife on ’em? Just nick a finger for me.”

Billy Jean pulled out a switchblade. “You sure?”

I nodded. He shrugged and grabbed the middle of my pointer finger, opening up the tip with a slice. I put my thumb over it and applied pressure while reaching that hand into the fluid below that I knew consisted of harmless filler and useful nanomachines. It felt different, feeling them seek out the injury and close it off as a human would. I normally get more of a connection to some of them. When I pulled my hand out, the finger was healed back up, which confirmed that method of payment to the group. I held on to that canister as Hail Mary and Sgt. Pepper both went over to check on some of the others.

Billy Jean took the cash, nodded to us, and left. Hail Mary got herself some nanites. Pepper looked at the cash for a long time, then shook his head. He said something to himself that I couldn’t catch, then grabbed his own thing of the nanites. When I saw he’d done that, I palmed a pebble-sized tracker that wouldn’t show up as anything to consume or destroy to the nanites and dropped it in. I closed the lid and instead grabbed a box of cash before leaving.

Yeah, it actually went well. No double-crossing, at least on Butterfly’s side. And no raid by the heroes. That was explained to me by Mender when I agreed to listen to their plan. Because, instead of raiding the place and potentially not finding where the rest of the goods are, they want all of them. They did make me turn over the $50,000 I was paid for the job though, wink wink. But I have a great deal of leeway in helping them come up with the specific plan to manage the next step.

They used to have someone they could rely on to help with this sort of thing, but she’s out of the country on holiday at the moment. And while the Master Academy’s hero education is supposedly top-notch, they don’t necessarily train their people to be thieves and burglars.

So, in a turn of events, I get to plan a heist with some of the heroes as my crew. And this isn’t just some job stealing from a warehouse or meth lab or something. Uh uh. According to that tracker, I get to use heroes to break into a bank. Ha! Serves ’em right. They want to make me do good deeds, I get to make them rob a place. Something tells me this one’s going to get loud.

Hmm. And they’re going to have a Santa show up there. Time for a little ho-ho-hold up, I think.

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Gecko’s Sucky Sucky Good Time 5

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“This is Spooky Skeleton. I have eyes on the fence perimeter,” said one of the Master Academy capes. I couldn’t fault them for having some fun with the callsigns.

Another, who sadly lacked a good enough laugh, joined in, “This is Cryptkeeper. The graveyard’s silent as- nevermind, didn’t think that one through. The graveyard’s quiet.”

“Think quicker than that, or tomorrow they’ll find you a grave man,” I said. “This is the Sausage Party-”

“Meatwagon.”

“Right, we’re sitting around wagon our wieners, and we’d gladly meat some birds, but the birds aren’t the word. Nowhere in sight. The skies are clear, Roger.”

“Roger. I didn’t expect we’d get this kind of clearance. What’s our vector in?” someone else took up the joke. Good to know they’re not all hopeless fuddy-duddies whose first action before putting on fresh panties isn’t twisting them in a big knot. Bit tip on that, other dudes who may be reading this: while a thong feels nice in your crack, they force you to play your cards real close to the chest. Your two pair will feel like a full house because of all the pressure on them. You wouldn’t expect it, but panties free you up to play the pocket rockets, maybe even poker. Just a little piece of advice to keep you from getting laughed at for Texas hold’em in public.

Maybe someday soon, I’ll do nothing but explain a plan using nothing but references to War and Peace so absolutely nobody will get what I’m saying. Actually, I’ll just wholesale steal that bit about tying a policeman to a bear and dropping them both in a river. I need more animals aside from penguins in on my capers.

“Quiet down. I have grim grinning ghosts on the prowl,” said Venus.

“Whose call sign is that?” I asked.

“Not a call sign. There are ghosts on the grounds, just as rumored.”

I turned to the rest of Meat Squad, who were all gathered with me. “Anyone remember anything actually useful against ghosts? I seem to remember something about a chicken. I’ll kill a chicken if it’ll help. I’ll do all kinds of things to a chicken. You don’t want to know. No, seriously, you don’t want to know, not if you ever want to eat one again. Two words: white gravy.”

Camera Guy kept on recording me, something which he’d taken to doing more and more after Psychsaur told him not to. I still hadn’t caught his name. Quincy was another one there. Excitable, skinny, and had a thing for glass. Not exactly controlling it and not exactly making it. More like he had to have enough of the raw materials around to form it into a useful shape. He mentioned around the strix bonfire that this might be his last and only hurrah before being turned into a super-optometrist.

He held up a bucket of sand stolen from the local elementary school playground. “I got nothing.”

I wobbled my head. “Eeeh… yes and no. If we had internet access, you might find something. Camera obscura techniques and stuff about trapping malevolent beings, maybe. That could have been that horror youtube series I watched, though. Still, I wouldn’t completely discount the idea that glass could be handy in this situation. It just requires knowledge to go with it. A little knowledge can go a long way and make seemingly-boring abilities incredibly useful.”

“Is that how supervillains act?” asked Chloe, the pig-tailed girl. She didn’t just look at me; she eyed me.

I shrugged. “Not that I am one, of course, but the good ones do. It’s easy to catch people nowadays. Cameras everywhere, cellphones with GPS, satellites, DNA tests, gunpowder residue, fingerprinting. It’s the law-abiding world against the criminals. Stupidity tends to get weeded out unless couple with lots of power or money, like a presidential election, in fact.”

The last member of our group, Leah, was practicing her camouflage techniques. She would settle into new positions, sitting or standing, then try to use her color-changing powers to blend in. Like a cuttlefish. It’s good to see that she did not forget our dear friends, the cuttlefish. Flippin’ glorious little sausages. “Like me,” she contributed, doing a very good impression of a tree. “I can change colors. It was my old mentor who made me really think about what that can be used for. Made me practice that, and learn to fight on my own.”

Chloe looked at her, then over at me. “Was that you?”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m Puss in Boots. Her mentor was Psycho Gecko. Totally different person. Try to keep up. Geez. What kind of a person thinks a cat is a lizard?

“Gecko trained me some. He even taught me the most valuable tool of all: Google,” Leah’s barky exterior turned into the Google homepage. “He’s right, it’s a seriously underused tool.”

Quincy at her and nodded. “I bet there’s a lot of made-up stuff out there, but it can’t hurt to try some of it.”

“Smart,” I said. “Lots of junk hides useful information, and evaluating a source is an important skill as well. But the right specialists can be a big help. Microscopes, magnifying glasses… when we get back, I bet we can figure out how to make a lens that sticks on your glasses and can reflect the light in a way to burn stuff you look at. Some Greek guy supposedly built a big reflector like that to light enemy ships on fire. Same principle, better techniques, material, and a few thousand years more knowledge. We’ll give you one evil eye.”

“A good eye, you mean, Puss,” said Leah, trying and failing to perfectly maintain her disguise as she moved, no matter how much she slowed down.

“Contact!” someone shouted over the radio. “For the love of God, get me Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson!”

“Ramis is dead, you fool!” I called back.

“Dig his ass up!” the person shouted back, which drew a chuckle from me. I turned to the others. “The bad news is they told us not to get in on the action. The good news is I don’t care.”

Camera guy looked up, “They said someone had to stay with you at all times to keep you out of trouble.”

I cocked my head to the side, “And they picked y’all? Oh well, looks like you get an excuse to come with me. Let’s go bust some ghosts.”

We made our way through the woods to the western edge of Angerhorn Manor’s grounds, entrance to which involved me climbing up a tree to jump an overgrown hedge wall. In deference to that fact that I was working with the good guys, I landed in a three-point stance. It’s really hard on the knees and totally impractical.

Chloe blasted a hole in the hedges and led the others through.

“Where’s that music coming from?” asked Camera Guy.

I stood up and brushed my hand off. “Thunder Busters. A mash-up of Thunder Struck by AC/DC and the Ghostbusters song. I’m playing it.”

“How are you doing that, Puss in Boots?” asked Chloe.

I did the jazz hands. “Magic. No time for questions, let’s go.”

We ran for the main building, which appeared to have a side door in our direction. Unfortunately, most of the grounds on this side appeared to be a graveyard. A hand and forearm of bone thrust itself up out of the grave in front of us and tripped Chloe. She screemed, as did the young folks. I yanked the thing off, separating it from the rest of its arm. It balled up its hand to punch me ineffectually, but I just laughed as I looked at it. Even as more skeletons popped out of the dry earth surrounding us, I just had to grin.

“This is a problem,” Leah said. “How do you sneak past something without eyes?”

“Don’t worry about sneaking.” I held up the bone forearm. The rest of the skeleton arose right next to me, causing the rest of the group to back up a couple steps in an increasingly-small safe space. I smacked the skull of the skeleton with its own arm. “This person is demised. It’s not pining for the fjords, it’s passed on. It is no more. It has ceased to be. It has expired and gone to meet its make. This is a late person. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It was pushing up the daisies. It’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-person!” I grabbed the skull and yanked that off at the neck with a snap, then kicked it between the legs hard enough to crack its pelvis. It collapsed. I wound up and threw the skull, knocking another skeleton’s head off as well.

With that adequately demonstrated I tore through them. I yanked the legs off one, kicked its head into a second, then burst the ribcage of another with the legs. I just cut loose and it felt great. It was when I looked up and found myself alone I realized the others had left me behind and run into the large Gothic manor house, with its big pointies and and windows you’d expect to see a dead person at.

As I followed them in, I found out that was the case. Drifting shades passed through the hall way, most paying me no mind. Chloe just blasted everything out of her way and rushed past, with the others following after.

The wing intersected with a great hall type of place, with a huge staircase leading to a second-story landing where a person in a cloak and a large strix held the high ground against the heroes. The person who built this was just asking for it to be haunted. They even had the American equivalent of suits of armor standing in this hall. Dusty glass cases held mannequins dressed in uniforms distinct to certain wars of the country’s past, weapons propped beside them. They had one with an M16 from Vietnam, another with a M-1 helmet and World War II khaki tropical uniform, a third with a helmet that could double as a bowl on an olive drab uniform, and the last a khaki uniform with blue pockets. So something after the Civil War, I’m guessing. Too bad I couldn’t use any bayonets they might have had in those cases.

We barely got there when the cloaked person held out a glove-clad hand holding a book. A grey book, but rather plain, immediately identified on my HUD as a magical anomaly. He started to open the pages toward the heroes.

“I think I love you!” I shouted. “So what am I so afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of.” I stopped there, not knowing the rest of the song. “Do not look at it if you are capable of reading!”

The Book, as I recall, was written in some ancient and unknown language, the reading of which could recall the monsters trapped within. I had to assume that a guy in a haunted mansion wearing a black cloak wouldn’t hold that out toward people unless he somehow made it more user-friendly.

Of course, the most I could do was give the warning, especially since they knew who I was. If I told them to look at the book, they might think I was trying to use reverse psychology. It helped that I was waving around a moving leg bone and blasting out an entirely different song from my body.

But, as someone once said, if you put a large switch in a cave and painted a sign that said, “End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH,’ the paint wouldn’t even have time to dry. One of the reasons I occasionally do what people ask me to do is so they don’t begin to assume I’ll take that kind of action every time. Someone took it now, and I didn’t get a good look at them. So hopefully just a red shirt. But a woman’s voice cried out, and not the strix above.

All of a sudden, something shot up into the air. A head floated. Like, the skin, veins, muscles, and bones were left behind, but it had a few organs attached. The throat still went down, it just left the lungs behind and brought the stomach and intestines with it. The intestines bunched up unusually, too, but this is in a situation with owl vampires and a flying head, so try to contain the sudden skepticism. I’d read about this thing, except only in the loose sense that I knew of their supposed existence. Scratch that, just existence. I just didn’t expect anyone could confuse that type of vampiric monster with the classical ones most people are used to.

Someone else cried out as the intestines hit them. Babies. You can’t make an omellet without touching a few intestines, as the saying goes. Or maybe that’s just me. But between me, my warning, and the newest competitor on Nickelodeon’s Guts competition show, people didn’t feel much like reading. I grabbed a nearby decrepit end table and tossed it up at book. The man pulled his hand back so that it missed the book and the termite-ridden wood fall apart as easily as if the spider webs were the only thing keeping it together. I think he shot me a look, but that’s when I noticed him standing there alone and a black-limbed woman landed on me.

She opened her mouth so far, I got a little bit of a boner. But just a little, because she had large yellowed fangs. She said something in a language I my translation program couldn’t figure out, nor did I care much when she decided to take a bite out of crime, starting with my neck.

“Ow, there are other places you can bite, you know!” I shouted as she dug in and suckled, which was not nearly as sensuous as the movies and books made it out to be. I tried to push her face away. She grabbed my hand and bit down on the underside of my wrist. “You know, that doesn’t help much after all!”

I clamped down on my neck with my hand, to keep my neck from bleeding out before the evil supernatural creature could drain it.

I glimpsed minotaur halfway up the stairs hurling candle sticks at the intestine vampire. The heroes had spread out. There was no cloaked person in sight.

“There!” pointed Camera Guy, looking up from the lense of his camera. “Distortion!”

The cloaked person reappeared in the midst of the glass cases. They broke apart and out stepped shadowy figures wearing the uniforms and now armed with those weapons, but I shivered and lost sight of it. The strix took a break to breathe, then flew back underneath the stairs like a doll being yanked. I think I heard gunshots over everything.

Psychsaur stepped toward me, staying low. “Still alive?”

“You’re not rid of me yet. Help me up.” I reached my hand up and she actually took it. I swear I felt her in my head more than ever, rifling around. “Yo, Solar Flare! I need a light.”

The super turned from lighting up the Vietnam soldier like a flamethrower. I held up my bitten wrist. He glimpsed back to make sure the shadow soldier was down, then jogged over. “This is gonna hurt,” he said.

“I’ll take pain over death,” I responded. He nodded and held his hands out.

So commenced a round of censored swearing so bad, you’d think I was on TV. And not the good kind of TV, with the tits and softcore porn, but it’s ok because it’s all based off a book written by a guy who looks like he’d write books about tits and porn. The bad kind, where somebody took a movie that’s 50% dirty and decided to show it on a channel that censors stuff because they’re a frelling moron. “Son of a Biz Markie snow globe, bend me over and shove a goat up my arch you hump-dumping, cow clucking father trucker! Suck an egg through a hose and shove it up your taco!”

Psychsaur almost said something, but she had to duck under the approach of the remaining strix, body glistened with sweat and murderous desire. That’s right, killing intent leaks right out the pores now. It’s kind of like wet human smell in that way. Some say it smells like Axe for Men.

My mind flashed back to that memory of how it was the wicked ones that came back as those things. But are they immortal, I wondered? If they were immortal, that’d be a pretty good deal. If anyone would come back as one, it’d be me.

As we ducked, a particular scream caught my ear. Leah had blended in against a wall, but now she had the stony arms of the cloaked person around her while everyone else fought soldiers and a couple of other remaining strixes.

A booming voice called out, “Anyone move and I-”

He shut up when my bootheels caught him in where I’d guessed his eyes were in a front dropkick that happened to land on either side of Leah’s head. I kicked off him as soon as I hit and flipped backwards. I landed on my knees, which wasn’t so bad in comparison to the heat of the sun applied to my wrist and neck.

Leah whirled and elbowed the figure that grabbed her in the throat area, then threw an open palm strike at its nose, the colors of the air and her hand shifting and making it hard to follow. Stone or not, it did enough to get her loose. A little bird told me something was flying to get her for that, or at least a shriek from a large female bird thing. Almost in sync, Leah dropped to one knee to punch the cloak person in the stones while I jumped up and threw my hand up, cuntpunching the sucky bitch who bit me earlier.

I dug my hand in and held on, then punched at her ass with the other hand. After a couple of hits, I straightened out my hand like a chop and thrust it right up there. I gave myself a high five, but you’ll forgive me if it wasn’t exactly skin to skin. Claws dug into my skin now, slicing into my scalp. She dragged me into the air above quite a shocked crowd who had manhandled the dark-cloaked figure onto the ground and were sitting on him.

I pulled my hand out of her bajingo and reached out to the people down there. “Improv comedy time. Somebody give me a noun, preferably in this room and small enough to throw to me!”

Somebody tossed the bowl-like World War I hat at me. Must be some Jay Garrick fans in the hizzy. I took a moment to switch hands and noticed the strix heading for a skylight that looked like it’d be painful to crash through. I shined that hat up real nice, turned it sideways, and the bowl went straight up her can the hard way. With a pained hoot, she shot up at the ceiling before we got to the skylight, knocked her head on it, and began plummeting.

I let go and tried to maneuver her under me, but her wings kept her from falling quite as fast as me somehow. “A little-” I started to say, but it wasn’t that far of a fall.

Large arms caught me. Looking up, I saw the guy I’d landed on was horny. Because he was Minotaur. “I won’t tell anyone you caught me if you won’t,” I said.

He snorted and dropped me on the hard wood floor.

I coughed a bit and decided to stay down. “I don’t suppose I could get something for my head. And blood. And neck. And wrist. A wet nap would also be appreciated. I can’t tell which of my hands went into a blood-diet digestive track and which shook her monthly visitor’s hand.”

“Hush,” Venus said, stepping past me. “It’s time to find out who’s the man under the hood. Spinetingler wouldn’t have gone down so easily.”

I laid my head back down on the floor. “Then why the fuck did you only attack like this?”

She ignored me and yanked back the hood. Shadows clung unnaturally to the person’s face until Solar Flare knelt and lit him up. It couldn’t have been pleasant being that close to the heat.

It revealed…

“Old Man Johnson!” I announced.

“That’s not my name, you furry dipshit,” the grumpy old man said. “Of all the no-account peckerwoods getting on my case, why did you bunch of baby asswipes follow me?”

“What were you doing on behalf of Spinetingler,” asked Venus, kneeling by him.

He glared at her, sunlight making its way in at the precise angle needed to glint off his bald head. “Not one jack squat, that’s what. I met the man, sure. Wanted to see if he’d keep my wife alive, which that pussy,” he nodded toward me, “just violated in every hole she’s good with. He showed me the book and gave me a gift. I just wanted a place to take care of her, but you had to interfere. I didn’t want to do what I did to this town, but you got too close. I just needed to stop all of you and get away to some peace and quiet where no one could hurt me and my Beth. I almost got away with it, too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids,” he nodded toward Leah, Quincy, Chloe, and Camera Guy, “and their stupid cat, too.”

Psychsaur walked over to me while they talked and put her hand on my forehead. I felt her crawling around in my brain, redoing mental blocks I’d pushed past when Leah was threatened, and likely knowing full well what it took to push me past them.

The old man’s eyes locked on the downed strix female I’d had my way with as another of the capes stepped over and checked her neck and nose. The guy looked over to Venus. “She’s dead.”

As if that would have meant anything except for the fact that Old Man Johnson had a name to give that one. Speaking of which, the old bastage cried like a baby on hearing that.

“I’m sorry,” Venus said. The old man lunged upward, throwing off the person sitting on his back. The hood slid back over his face and the cloak flattened against the ground as if it had no body, just a shadow-covered head. The head descended and the wraith-like figure disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Why do I get the feeling someone’s going to later use the term ‘rue the day’ in regards to this incident?” I asked.

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Gecko’s Sucky Sucky Good Time 3

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Imagine, if you will, Dartmoor. Rural, woody New England. A little mountainous. It appeared to be an older town in my opinion, since it had kind of a town area you could walk in. Older spots are like that, designed to accommodate people who walked or maybe had horses, because people had to get places and didn’t know cars would happen. In areas where urbanity sprung up more after the advent of cars, everything’s more spread out, and doesn’t work as well for walkers.

An old-fashioned New England church, wood and stone, stood as the last holdout in the gloom of late afternoon. The sun hadn’t yet set, instead casting long shadows and coloring the scene orange as a winged, thirsty blood drinkers circled the church like vultures. With wings like birds a color red that almost blended into the sky, they looked for an opening, a weakpoint. Every once in awhile, groups of one or two would dive down and be repulsed with a burst of bullets, light, flame, electricity, frosty whorls in the air, or even a cry of “Open bar, suckers!” and a thrown Molotov cocktail.

A group of three ran for the church; a figure in pink and gold power armor carried a smaller form and pulled a slightly bigger one after. The shapes dived between them and the church.

Into this scene, we insert a car. A fifteen year-old mauve coupe with a blue passenger door came flying over a steep hill at the end of a cross street and skidded to a frantic stop in front of a crowd of winged, pale men and women standing in the street. The car’s speakers pumped loud music into the street. The singer announced, “I will give you my all, pretty baby. I come whenever you call for me, lady, yeah!” as I got out, wearing shades over my eyes, my hair back in as close to three braids with bells on the end as I could get them after all the surgery. I wore a black leather jacket and pants, with biker boots and a white tank top rounding out the ensemble.

I faced a mass of a dozen red-winged humanoids in tunics like this was the trippiest Legend of Zelda since that Ben guy drowned. Their arms and legs were black, like rot or frostbite.

“We are here, LaFayette!” I yelled, before reaching back into the car. I pulled out a pie I immediately tossed into the face of the nearest vamp where it did no actual harm. Kept her from seeing, and even made one of his fellows laugh at her, but no real physical violence. Just like there wasn’t anything so harmful in me pulling out a can of aerosol whipped cream in one hand and shotgun that fired a stream of harmless green smoke. To them specifically, I put on an exaggerated Austrian accent, “I have enough of cream for everyone to have a taste. I’m not just blowing smoke.”

While most of them were distracted by the ridiculous notion of enemy reinforcements arriving to spray cream all over them, some prepared to fight. Except, with all their attention on me, they neglected their flanks. Venus pushed through, knocking out one of them unfortunate enough to be in the way to get those kids to safety. She might have managed it without my help, but this time I was on the right side of that little equation about how many it would take to beat me.

Yes, even though I had a small horde all looking at me and my delicious neck, I was on the right side of theat. Because I saw the others flooding out of the church off to one side. As they attacked the gathered and feather-winged vampires, another group emerged from the opposite street that I came from in a hotwired pickup truck, making use of their own ranged abilities. The second group had the teens I rode with, who I convinced to pull off this ploy by implying I am Psycho Gecko. It didn’t help that one guy kept on pestering me about it, while the driver, a pigtailed girl, just seemed mad at me. Probably because I inadvertently got her punched by a minotaur.

With myself supposedly being the threatening supervillain himself, the eager, young, nubile, presumably-flexible trainee teenagers were more than happy to follow my plan. It’d be a unique opportunity to them, as Quincy said. Or a way to avoid being hurt further, as Chloe said. Leah didn’t confirm or deny anything, and this one other guy packed in with us went from setting up his camera, testing it, and then getting lots of footage of the trip with all the focus of a college student on illicit Ritalin.

The youngsters weren’t as effective, though. They didn’t have the aim or coordination, nor were they quite so lethal. Yeah, the Master Academy supers from the church were taking every opportunity to take out heads, bodies, hearts, anything potentially lethal to the undead that they could find. They were not playing around. It was so nice to see.

Except I had my own problems, like the whipped cream and smoke gun running out, and the angry, humiliated vamp covered with part of a pie determined to get back at me for a little humilitation. She flew at me, wings stretching behind her and flapping in a way that shouldn’t facilitate flight. I tossed the can and gun aside and reached to my belt. I drew my weapon of second choice… a large peacock feather. Listen, the kind of stores I frequent in my own time is my own business. Let’s just say some of them have loads of cream, pies, and giant feathers, and leave it at that.

Grinning, my body pumping with yummy adrenaline, I jumped back on the top of the car to avoid the charge of the vampire. Sadly, she did not hit it. She stopped and raked a claw right where my balls initially landed but, oh so luckily, were no longer at. I scooted them and my legs to the side, then under me. While the vamp tried to get her hand out of the car’s metal top, I brought the feather around and used it on her vulnerable neck, the very last place any vampire expects to be attacked.

Except I wasn’t attacking. I was tickling. I saw her fangs surprisingly clearly as she shook her head and lunged at me. Maybe it’s because she got up in my face with them. Indeed, I’d hardly managed to slide back at all before the beast’s preternatural speed allowed her to catch me and begin throttling me. Just a little throttling. She didn’t make me hit 100 MPH, but she certainly aimed to break the speed limit, and possibly my neck. She proceeded to wrench my neck to the side, pressing my head against one shoulder and fully exposing the side of my neck.

Armed as I was with merely a non-French tickler, I had to resort to a less overwhelming way of trying to delight a woman out of her mind. I felt her strength falter from laughter. I also got a bit of spittle flying on me. When I jerked my head up to not have my neck exposed like a nudist running a marathon, I even headbutted her. She returned the favor. Well, no need to bite me on the neck anymore when she could just hold a glass under my nose.

I stuck the feather into her mouth and grabbed her head to keep her from sinking her teeth into me. A gentle kick helped me gain some distance, though I felt absolutely pathetic in the process of pushing myself off her, especially when I slid off the other side of the car and landed hard on the street. I used the time to fumble through my pocket for some backup. I found a flask of orange juice and some mouth spray. Gotta keep that orange juice ready. You know never know when you’ll need a screwdriver, after all. Too bad I didn’t seem to have any vodka with me.

With a shriek, a certain admirer of mine pounced from above. I couldn’t help but notice her eyes. Yellow, with an incredibly small pupil. And she seriously needed to clip those toenails, because her hands weren’t the only claws around. She got a mouthful of extra strength minty mouth spray. I tried to imagine eating something gross while she hacked and coughed. Like seafood. Some wriggling mass of slimy, stinky, spiny something sliding down my throat. Like Frenching an ugly anglerfish, as opposed to the sexy ones that swim around, teasing you with their lights. As a result of this imagination, I spewed orange juice up into the open mouth of my aggressor. It wouldn’t have been pleasant even without the minty spray.

I laughed at her for a second, heedless of the pain caused by the acidic citrus vomit upon myself. She upchucked, or in this case downchucked, blood all over me. Tasted completely gross. Just all kinds of vomit coating me, including some of my own. I almost reciprocated, which would have just gotten us stuck into a loop until one of us got an empty stomach. Then she jerked on top of me in a way that usually involves more fun and different bodily functions. The sharpened piece of wood shoved through her chest with a chunk of heart on the end also didn’t match up with most times a lady’s been on top of me.

But then, who brings a lady to their bed when they can have a freak instead?

All posturing aside, a furry hand grabbed the pointy end of the stake and lifted my opponent off me. Minotaur held her up in the air where the stake tore her a little, then smashed her head against the ground. He tossed her aside and gave a snort. Didn’t even look at me or help me up.

I had to help my own darn self up. In the process, I did find my mini-bottle full of vodka to down. Good timing.

“Is Gecko still alive?” someone asked. I had to clear a bit of dripping puke blood out of my face to see that it was Venus, standing with half a vampire in each hand.

I waved to her. “Yep. Just doing my best impression of a used tampon over here.” I walked to her, only to catch a hard left that sent me to the ground, followed by a kick to my tailbone.

“You stupid, irresponsible, egotistical piece of… you brought my students. Kids! This is no place for kids!” I got the sense she didn’t agree with my actions. Call it intuition. And pain nerves. My glasses, having made a valiant effort so far, decided to opt out of the fight and dropped off my face. For the best, really. I don’t wear my sunglasses at night, so I can, so I can keep track of the visions in my eyes. And I doubt Venus cared about switching a blade on me, shades on or no.

“We’re ok!” someone shouted.

Venus answered them with, “That doesn’t matter!”

I crawled forward to get some momentum before rising to my feet. “Make that a used tampon from a woman whose husband punches her in the ovaries. Is there running water still, or am I going to have to overcome the smell with copious amounts of liquor?”

A kneeling, balding man with a paunch and a ponytail said, “You might try Monroe’s over on Elm. There’s still some of it there. It’s not all good for lighting on fire. We still have water, though.”

Leah came running up toward me as if to check em over, but was stopped short by Venus and others of the more senior heroes who proceeded to check over the newcomers for injuries.

“You need to go as soon as it’s daylight,” said the minotaur to one of them. “Oh, I remember you.”

Psychsaur’s the one who finally gave me a checkout as I stood there, looking over the dead vampires in the setting sun. No, they didn’t turn to ash or anything like that. That helped, as it allowed me to examine them while Psychsaur probed my brain.

“You are that desperate. Oh my God,” she said.

“I take it things didn’t go as planned. Y’all arrived with pretty overwhelming force, but they got the better of you. I bet that wasn’t all of them, either. Pale, still. Probably due to the whole need for blood thing. Wings with feathers. I wonder if they transform into a type of bird, like strigoi and wolves. I think I remember some type doing that. Wings though. That’s kinda like the… let me think. Striges. Strix. Strixes? And the lilu, too. Have you noticed if they eat babies?” I reached down and into the body of the one Venus tore in half. I pulled out a heart. It didn’t beat in my hands still or anything like that.

“No, we didn’t see that. By the time we got here, most were dead. At least they don’t turn everyone bitten into more of them,” she said in my mind.

I shook the heart, then poked at it. “Still living enough in the sense that brain destruction or widespread bodily injury does the job. Taking out the heart probably helps, but the stake is unnecessary. I hope you have the ones I brought still. Even if you don’t get them in the first hit, it oughta mess them up.”

I looked up and thought back to why I referred to high stakes.

She blinked. “One of the vans blew up and stuck several of them nonlethally. We thought they weren’t attacking because they were weakened by it. You coated them with drugs? Where did you find that much?”

“Lots of students have stashes. Had stashes. For crimefighters, y’all are awfully bad at finding hidden drugs. LSD, ecstacy, mushrooms. I didn’t bother with the pot. Maybe if I need smokebombs another time.”

“I hate to be the one to save your life, but come on, get inside with the rest,” Psychsaur told me. I looked up and noticed the sun was going down and the flapping of wings began to distantly fill the air. “You’re right, we weren’t ready to kill things that look human.”

“If only you had someone here to do the killing for you,” I winked at her as I dropped the heart and followed her into the church. I stopped as a handy bit of trivia came up. “Hey, where’s the nearest grocery store?”

She pointed down the road to a small one. “You won’t have time. We need to get in stay on guard. Don’t expect to sleep a lot.”

I took off jogging toward the store. “I think we’ll sleep just fine.”

The only risk came in not making it to the meet section in time. But I did, and rounded up as much pork as possible. Pork chops, both center-cut boneless and bone-in, along with the super-cheap pork loin and Boston butt. I’ve always wondered if whoever named the Boston butt just had a negative view of Bostonion derrieres by comparing it to a hunk of pig meat.

There was one strix who landed right in front of the store as I exited. I threw five pounds of pork right into his open mouth without breaking stride with my shopping cart. I ran for the church then, building up sped and riding on the back. If a bloodsucker got in my way, he got porked. Seriously porked. And it worked. My porking them saved the day.

“Why aren’t they attacking?” asked one of the guards at the door, over-under shotgun in hand.

I rolled along, sausage links swinging from my hand. I swung them at one of the yellow-eyes who tried to accost me, right in her mouth. Some people just kiss people out of nowhere. Amateurs, I tell you! I can roll-by and stick my wiener in their mouths. A completely non-violent assault on their orifices, accompanied by the battlecry: “Pork you, mother trucker!”

I dropped plenty more in front of the church door before rolling right in on into the church. “Celebration! Cheese for everyone!” I announced.

“No, why are they just eating that stuff?” asked the guard, keeping it trained on them.

I stepped off and turned the cart to the side, noticing how absolutely packed that building was. It stank of human. Ew. I just remembered I’m human now. That stink is part of me. I have human smell. Even worse, when I get caught in the rain, I’ll have wet human smell. Ugh.

Psychsaur rushed to the door to look. Other capes joined her, but didn’t have her abilities to probe the minds of the vampires. “They’re obsessed with it,” she said.

“Quirk of the strix, which is what this appeared to be. Ancient Roman type of vampire, somewhat related to owls in the same way other types are to wolves, bats, or even rats. Can be warded off with pork and, supposedly, certain types of beans. Here, someone dump this on one, see if it works.” I tossed minotaur a can of pork and beans, one of the cheap ones. Maybe a bad example, depending on if they’re too cheap to include actual pork and/or bean, but I wanted to save the good ones for myself.

“Do you think that’ll stop them?” asked Venus, coming over to check the cart.

I shrugged. “We’ll find out, but I bet they’ll get stuffed.” I blew her a kiss. “Just think, all the ways you tried to neuter me, and here I am saving your… patooties. Frelling censorship block.” I walked toward some of the townies and took a bow, then pointed back to the cart. “If anyone needs dinner and can start a fire, I did the shopping.”

Venus pulled me aside, toward the restrooms near the front. “You aren’t supposed to be here, or even alive as far as anyone knows.”

“Y’all are terrible at secrets, by the way,” I said.

She ignored that and told me, “You need a codename.”

I looked down at myself, then took off the leather jacket and held it over my shoulder. I brushed off my cat ear headband and gave my bell a tinkle. From over in the other room, I heard Psychsaur yell, “Oh heck naw!”

“Oh Home-For-Infinite-Losers yes,” I said, looking into where Venus’s eyes would be under her visor. “You can call me Puss In Boots.” I pulled up my pantleg to show off the biker boots.

She snorted and held a hand up to her mouth to stifle laughter. She failed. Really, it’s like she barely tried to stop herself. After a minute, she fought back the laughter and regained her composure. “Alright, Puss. Since you’re here, you can help a little. But you and the others are the non-combat squad. You don’t fight again, you hear?”

“My ears certainly send signals to my brain about vibrations they pick up moving through air molecules, yes,” I said. Nothing said I couldn’t lie or obfuscate.

“He’s not planning on listening!” Psychsaur called from outside.

Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day! Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day!

“Argh! Ew! No, no, no!” Psychsaur said from the other room, hopefully backing up off my case.

Venus looked back to the door, then to me. “Listen and listen good. I know Spinetingler fought you and you want revenge, but as far as I’m concerned, none of this is your business. You are a prisoner and a patient. You’ve been let out this far over good behavior. Do. Not. Push. It.”

I held my hands up defensively. “Listen, Venus, I want to help. It’ll be fun for me. Plus, I think there’s more to this situation that y’all don’t know. Couldn’t know, because you don’t have some of my insight, both as a villain and as me specifically. And there is another reason. Judging from the costumes I saw outside, you’re missing some people, right?”

Venus nodded. “Some of us hesitated at a bad time and they have the surveillance squad captured, we think. We haven’t been able to get close enough to Angerhorn Manor to find anyone.”

“Good. Well, not good, but I mean to say I have something I can do here. I can repay a little bit of that debt I unfortunately owe Master Academy. Or is it fortunately owe? I guess it depends. I mean, if I we count the whole fight, getting wounded, and so on, it was unfortunate I needed to be repaired. But if we count from the point when I was wounded, it’s fortunate. And that’s just from my perspective, and current and past perspectives…” I stepped past Venus, heading for the door. I opened it to find Psychsaur there, eyeing me through her mask.

“He’s telling the truth,” she told Venus over my shoulder. “He’s just embarrassed and trying to distract people from that.”

I pointed a finger in her face. “You know what makes a really distraction? Those things.” I shifted the finger over toward the front of the church. She looked and peered for a second. Not finding anything, she turned back to find me gone.

I was walking into the church, announcing to one and all, arms out wide. “And if you should like to know the name of your savior this evening, who almost died out there, by the way, then count yourselves lucky to be saved by the one, the only, Puss in Boots!”

“Where’s your donkey?” asked a little boy.

Minotaur walked up behind me and clapped me on the shoulder. “He doesn’t need one. He’s already a jackass.” He walked past with a metal trash can full of wood in one hand.

I pointed after him as he went. “Don’t listen to a thing he says. I swear, nothing but a load of bull.”

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