We set up base back at my shop in Radium. If Medusa and Lulios got out, I doubt they’re working with the rangers. It’d be rough on them even if they escaped. The call was coming from this side of the portal, but it’s way up there in year-round pointy nipple territory. The frozen north. Nunuvat. Google Earth doesn’t have any photos of that particular spot on the mountain, but some borrowed satellites show a military base there with huge hangers where they’re housing something big. Knowing the Rangers, it’s a giant robot. There are so many giant robots with those guys. I don’t even know what they do with the ones they stop using. I thought back to the uniforms of the Blue and Yellow I’d seen so far. There’s always a theme, but the main thing that stands out to me is all the circles on Blue’s uniform. Yellow had some distinctive marks on their outfit, but it was more like greater than or less than signs. I hope the theme isn’t math.
I’m avoiding my house so far in case they go on the offensive. Max thought some time away from Vegas would do him some good, too. Give him a chance to regroup. Sam and Holly were happy not to be cooped up anymore.
“Who needs killing this time?” Max asked me while I wiped down the interior of my armor. He was grabbing some of the merchandise off the shelf to supplement the lab equipment he had with him.
“General Lulios, as always,” I said.
“Not forgiving him, then?” Max asked. I felt less humor in the question.
“Some things can’t be forgiven, and that goes for me, too. What he did to me and what I did in turn, none of that just washes away. The dead deserve better.” I finished with the armor and let it hang up to dry. Then, I decided to check out the bombmaker’s bin over in the corner. You know, for budding interior decorators.
Max patted me on the shoulder as he passed by, uncharacteristic even for him. “You could have changed it, that time you and the Mobian were in your past. There’s still something valuable about this life.”
I stopped rifling around for timers and tried to think how best to word a response. I was not happy at him bringing this up. “I was a coward and the best thing for everyone would have been for me to stop it right then. I won’t chicken out of justice again.”
“Are you going to kill yourself?” he asked bluntly.
“No,” I said.
“Then this is about revenge, not justice,” he said. “You can recognize there’s value in your life. He hurt you and wronged you. I’m not saying it’s wrong to pursue revenge against him. It’s just… well, killing is always more fun if you don’t consider the ethical quandaries.”
“Ha! Yeah. Besides, if he was as sorry as he claimed to be, he’d have fessed up on the other Earth,” I added. “Now can we stop talking about all this? You’re reminding me of Medusa. And no, I’m not forgiving her either.”
It was his turn to laugh. “I won’t comment then.”
Without any more to go on than the coordinates of the base the Rangers were at, I figured that would be a good place to hit. Clear that annoying third party out of the way and allow Lulios and I to settle things mano a womano. At least Lulios seems to recognize the need for us to finish things between us, even if he knows the general details of how that story goes.
That’s why I built such a lovely bomb. It could level a small building, so it might come in handy against some of the base’s defenses. The bio-force grid the Rangers use tends to bleed off excess energy too efficiently to hope this would disable the robot they’ve got there, but I feel like I can take it in my armor. I really have grown a lot since I came to this other Earth.
Speaking of growing things, Firecat doesn’t seem to have any health issues whatsoever. Neither does the basement body. I need a name for that one. I can’t call it the Ultimate Form just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. I practiced using it while I was here. Speeding along, exoskeleton protecting all my sensitive bits. Yeah, I made the thing fully functional. Slightly more than fully functional, one might say. What’s the whole point of being able to exceed the limits of the human form if a woman can’t have a couple of girldicks ribbed for a partner’s pleasure?
Throw in some kidneys so efficient I’ll never get hungover, perfect 360 degree vision, and all the space I saved on intestines, and we’re looking at a pretty awesome body. That just happens to look like an H.R. Giger painting. Oooh! I’ll call it Li after one of those. There was a Li II, and that can be what the perfected version is.
Li was fun to take on a run. Faster, stronger, with muscles that don’t tire and nostrils that make sure I’m never gasping for air. Max even liked it! He just put it in polite terms to hide his enthusiasm. Things like “Not have any visible eyes is freaky-looking.”
I, in Li, shrugged. “I was going to bring back the human nictitating membrane, but then I figured I should make the eyes even more secure. So now I have ten, all with amazing vision, all hidden and protected.”
Max cupped his chin in his hand, thinking. “Do you have a way to expel fluids?”
“Oh boy, do I!” I said, standing up and sliding the armored crotch plate down. Behind me, Holly and Sam walked in and stopped.
Holly cocked her head to the side. “What am I looking at here?”
“A dream I’ve had before,” Sam said.
“Nonetheless, I meant something different,” Max went on. “For chemical weapons. Perhaps we should focus on the task at hand.”
Sigh. “Fine, fine,” I shifted the plate back into place.
The raid began at dawn. Not that dawn, fuck you, that was too soon. The next one, though, I bounded across the snow up the mountain. The Li form didn’t mind the cold and interior insulation protected the nanites flowing through its veins from being negatively affected. From my veins. This is my body, and my skin flowed with the terrain, mimicking the snow. I stopped at the edge of the rise to reassess the situation. I was going to come in from the north. Max, Sam, and Holly were in the Psycho Flyer to the east of the base, with Holly flying and Sam smoking something Max made her to keep herself steady while flying. I shifted the pouch on me and the EMP spikes, because I didn’t build that into this body. I’ll need a way to protect my perfect from that weakness in the future. Maybe I should just implant my brain?
Questions for later. I put on some mood music, a band called Brighter Than A Thousand Suns covering the song Monster. I raced out onto the relatively flat, open area on the top of the mountain, trying to see just how far I could go. Blew my normal body away even though it was enhanced. I might count as having low level superspeed like this. Something noticed me, though. I saw the towers rise from the corners of the wall before I heard the alarm. The square tops opened up to reveal cannons that fired plasma at me. One missed, throwing up steam as it melted the snow.
The other winged me, giving me a chance to see how this body held up to the shot. The insulation protected my organs. I felt the heat, but not the pain you’d normally get. Nerves patterned after my armor’s energy sheathes redirected much of the energy to an internal battery made possible by improving on the design of the intestine. I flipped my tail up to aim at the turret. The tail opened with a three-way split and a crimson laser shot out. The beam cut into the protective shield on the left side of the turret barrel, but lasted long enough for me to sweep it over and get a little lick on the weapon itself.
Note to self: Li II needs built-in aim assist on the tail. Just a little dot, telling me where the tail is aiming when I ready the laser.
The whole thing was a success in resilience and firepower. Now I just had survive the barrage of deadly superheated plasma that, thankfully, got less and less accurate the closer I got to the wall where they couldn’t aim so easily. And that took hardly any time at all. One second, the cannon that tagged me lost track of me against the base of the wall. The next, I was up there, clawing its barrel off and leaping to the other tower to toss in the bomb I’d built. It was a star patterned fortress, with a turret at each angle. It took a minute to work my way through those turrets, but I didn’t have to get as many when Holly came in with the Flyer and blasted the eastern and southern ones to smithereens.
The Flyer laid down some more cover for me. Max dropped some fog from the back that engulfed the area inside the base’s walls. He’d immunized me to it so I, unlike everyone else, wouldn’t get disoriented and lose track of which direction I’m going. I saw more of those black-clad guards with their pseudo-Ranger armor, the ones I’d taken to thinking of as the Blackguard, stumble their way around. It was too easy. After sending the first few flying, it didn’t even seem like a challenge. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but these guys might as well have been rent-a-cops with nothing more than a heavy flashlight to defend themselves. Their rifles, more plasma-based weaponry, were nothing next to the light, healed burns of the turrets.
All at once, the fog was pulled in one direction. I turned toward it and saw the field clear up and four Justice Rangers walking out of a building marked “Command”. The mist disappeared into a funnel-barreled gun held by a white-clad ranger whose armor had a cloud pattern. He posed as he finished. “You’re through, monster!”
“Did Psycho Gecko send you?” called the Blue Ranger.
I laughed. “I am that merry traveler of the night.”
“You are creeping me out,” Yellow said.
The last of the four was in a shiny silver outfit that was blinding in even the dying light. That one, whose costume had a skirt, chipped in with, “Hope you don’t mind a cold reception!” She held a gun that looked like the White Ranger’s, but she used it to fire cold wind and small spears of ice at me. I knocked aside some, but rushed forward regardless of the ones that hit me. They weren’t stronger than the turrets.
I was among them in no time, concentrating on the Silver Ranger. A swipe drew sparks from her costume as it sent her flying. Behind me, Yellow pulled a wand or pinwheel or something. It had a handle and a guard, but there were a lot of metal sunflowers placed along a backing that came up from the handle. When they started to rotate, it looked more like a chainsaw sword. When I turned to her, that’s when the Blue Ranger circled around behind me. White Ranger checked on Silver.
Yellow swung at me. I tried to grab the sword, but instead she raked it over my chest, the exoskeleton protecting me from the pain of a boob punch. I whipped my tongue out, the prehensile muscle wrapping around where the top sunflower connected to the back and pulling it out of her hand. Blue charged from behind and my tail wrapped around his neck. I gave it a little squeeze, as a treat, before slamming him over my head onto Yellow.
“I’ve got to use it!” I heard Silver Ranger declare. She was running for the hangar building my Flyer was shooting up.
“It’s not ready!” White Ranger called after her.
I heard Sam laughing over the radio as she called “Yeah, get some!” in time to the bursts of fire from the Flyer’s guns.
Suddenly, a whole lot more Flyers materialized in the air surrounding the base. Sam’s fire petered out as she noticed them, too. “Uh, should we engage?” asked Holly
“This is the Exemplars! Everyone, stand down. There’s no more need for violence!” Medusa’s voice boomed out of the Exemplar’s Flyers.
Privately, I got a text message. “Is that u?” It was Medusa.
I waved up at them the same time I texted back. “Yep.”
“Gecko,” Medusa announced out loud. “I can honestly say that’s an amazing thing you’ve done. But you can stop now. You don’t have to be the monster they’re convinced you are. You’re better than that. You’re better than them.”
“You’re a freak and now you look it,” the Blue Ranger said. I still had my tail around his neck, so I picked him up and pulled him closer.
“Plz, ther’s nuthin left 2 prove,” Medusa texted. It would be so much more dramatic if she spelled everything out.
I grinned. It must have scared Blue to see me happy. He started grabbing at the tail more, trying to slip out. I pulled an EMP spike out of pouch I strapped on and gave him a stab, but just in the boot. It probably didn’t even touch skin, but his armor jolted and disappeared, leaving a frightened young man in my grasp. I dropped him.
Then the hangar exploded. The robot within looked like a robot version of a yeti. It pounded its own chest as if it needed any more announcement of its presence, then fired a much larger version of Silver’s ice blast at my Flyer. I heard the crew in there scream as Holly took it hard to the side then fought for control.
That left me and the robot. “Hey, Max, you think you can dump my armor out for me?”
“I’ve been thinking,” he answered. “Did you include a hole for your tail?”
“Looks like I’m doing this the hard way,” I told him and started loping for the Yeti Bot on all fours.
“Stand down, stand down!” Medusa tried to call. Neither myself nor the Silver Ranger listened. Instead, the Yeti jumped and landed in front of me, shaking the ground and causing me to stumble slightly. With me slowed down, it tried to stomp me. I was quicker and jumped onto the side of its leg, claws and tail giving me the purchase necessary to start shoving EMP spikes into weakpoints, like the joints. The Yeti swiped and missed, knocking frost and icicles off. Soon, it couldn’t walk, or twist its hips. A couple spikes to the armpits and it couldn’t even swing its arms. Finally, I mounted the head and drove two final spikes into the crown of the giant robot, freezing it in place.
“Lay down your arms!” ordered Medusa. “You are all under arrest.”
“You and what army?!” called Blue Ranger.
Right on time, transport choppers flew in. Men on horseback jumped their mounts out and deployed giant parachutes of the Canadian flag, submachine guns trained on any of the Rangers and Blackguard who moved. The mounties were here. I blended in and helped my Flyer to do the same, bringing it in low enough for me to jump right into it and start easing us out of there in the confusion.
“Do you think this will stop them?” Max asked.
“Nah,” I answered. “They’ll be out on some sort of immunity, but it means this base and that robot aren’t a problem. No matter where Lulios is, we don’t have to worry about those Rangers interfering with my revenge.”
A text came in from Medusa. “U got away. So did Lulios. Sent him home thru portal.”
Fuck me. With two dicks.
Qiang’s fine. I look after her as Firecat. Still haven’t gotten the hang of cooking scrambled eggs by hand. Power control issues. But the most important thing of keeping her there is that Qiang’s looked after. She gets that I’m doing it through Firecat, accepting that body as just another one belonging to her mother. It helps that if she gets startled and pulls a knife on me, I can still disarm her pretty easily. I’ve taught her a lot, but I haven’t held back just to keep winning. Some counters are just too advanced or require more strength from her.
Firecat’s not just there to look pretty and keep house. I’m closely monitoring the grown body for signs of problems. I don’t know what kind of issues occur when you mash too many people’s DNA together in one body and hope it all takes. I doubt I got all the issues worked out on this already. It’s the same reason I didn’t shove all the powers into my real, main body. Just my luck I’d do that and somehow melt into a pile of goo.
I have other experiments going as well. Seeing how far I can push biology in anticipation of doing likewise with technology. The one in the basement is one of my experiments in extreme biology. Black exoskeleton, hidden nostrils with filters, amphibious lungs capable of breathing air and water, a prehensile tail and tongue. A black, shiny, hard mess without any apparent eyes to even look into. If I can handle it and it holds up, the next step is to marrying it to technology. Like, nanites in it systems that can help aid in the digestive process and can replicate if I chomp on the right stuff. Instead of just having a freaky body, the body could have the same ability to shift armor plates around, add new limbs, fly. Or even growing flesh in battle. Wings. Then think if I can add powers to it. Super speed, super strength
One of many lovely distractions from the greater crisis. Ha! And my personal crisis is a distraction from all the other crises going on. A mess wrapped in a disaster wrapped in a flaming dumpster. Take all that and stick it inside a paper bag full of shit, set that on fire, and you might approach whatever the fuck’s going on with the year 2020.
But, hey, my daughter’s fed and looked after. So am I. I just had to put on a skimpy dress and pretend to be another woman working for Max. It’s a tiny bit of cover, the best I can do to keep my identity secret again, for now. Besides, Psycho Gecko wears armor, after all. The face underneath changes. Only the armor remains, protecting me from the outside world. Aggressively protecting.
That doesn’t mean I hated the nice Italian dinner at the casino. It was genuinely nice to catch up with Max and learn the story of his recent power play. “They stacked the deck against me because the knew I was a threat,” he said.
“What did you have to do?” I asked.
“They wanted me to create water from the desert,” Max said. “I was close.” He nodded.
“Water’s a bring problem here. Sometimes they go on water robberies,” Holly volunteered.
I raised an eyebrow. Sam patted me on the shoulder and told me, “Holly flirts information out of some of the low levels.”
“So they steal water, and they wanted y’all to somehow create water out of the desert?” I asked.
“The person who could do that has the right to own Vegas,” Max said. “It’s a good thing they didn’t know who you were when you challenged for us.”
“Well, hopefully what comes up won’t require turning a desert into a sea… whatever it is,” I said. “Whatever nasty tricks you have up your sleeve, you can whip them up a lot faster than what I’m trying to pull.”
“You’re on the defensive, reacting,” Max said. He shrugged. “Why haven’t you hunted them down yet?”
I shook my head. “All this shook me. It was a pretty big betrayal, against competent enemies who know how to hurt me.” I could try to justify it with other things, like these guys being good at digital security or having Venus and the Justice Rangers on their side. Wasn’t even thinking that. I needed to escape, I needed a friend, and I need to figure out how to handle a very raw situation.
I hit the alcohol a little hard, but I was so full of noodle and sauce that I handled myself well. I was able to crawl back into my armor. Max insisted Vegas honored the results of games and challenges. I wanted my armor. That way, it wouldn’t get all over the room or bed if I pissed myself.
Woke up in the wrong body. All the more confusing, it was the one in the basement. I had to process a tail and very weird visuals. The unique eye situation required a moment to get used to before I zipped over to Firecat instead. I didn’t mean to jump into either of these bodies. Then I got the buzz of a text message, but that was back in my main body. I jumped back there and had to deal with both a text communication and my own full bladder. And since the text was from Medusa, my bladder was least full of shit. Plus, shit goes through the intestines. But does Gecko ever get credit for free anatomy lessons? No! I just get molested by my girlfriend while I’m trying to murder people and I don’t think I slept off that alcohol that much.
Unlike the usual messages from Medusa, this one was as grammatically correct as a time could be and the phrase “Watch The News.” A little before noon. That gave me a little time to be hungover first before going serious. At least I couldn’t get any more miserable. And I didn’t when the time came around. Instead, all the news channels and Fox ran a brief announcement about the diplomat from another Earth, that fuckface, holding a press junket of sorts at a Toronto hotel. He wanted to allow reporters to have time to ask all of their questions after he made his announcement earlier that day.
An announcement of an announcement. Looks like I know when and where they want to meet me. The junket format is a decent way to get me one on one without risking me killing a whole crowd while going after Lulios. He could truthfully claim it has to do with security concerns. I groggily went and found someone to wake up in Max’s bunch and found Holly having a bowl of cereal. “We need to get to Toronto and pretend to be the press for a junket. If Max wants less bloodshed, he can come up with something to knock folks out. Otherwise, we need to get a move on. I got transport for us already.”
Between all of this, it hardly feels like I have a body. Once we had everything loaded up, I set the Psycho Flyer to autopilot to get us to Toronto pronto. I was fine, so I left my body in the armor and jumped over to Firecat to see to Qiang. We had some time to watch a movie together and for me to just be with her. Can’t fault her for wanting to go hang out with friends. I should get her a new knife.
Up in Toronto, we found the place easily enough. All the major news networks of the Americas were there, as well as the pretenders. We had stowed the Psycho Flyer and rented a van for this, with Max and the girls lying in wait. My armor flickered into invisibility and the deception of a normal woman when I stepped out toward one group of the pretenders with OANN marked on their stuff.
“Hi, oh my god, you’re One America News Network!” I said as if I knew them.
They nodded politely, except for the reporter who was having his makeup done. I leaned in close and whispered, “Hey, y’all wanna hear how the Jews are behind this whole thing?”
Well, that set the reporter’s undies on fire. That’s a metaphor, means he got moving. He led the whole crew over to the open rear doors of my van. As soon as they got over to it, Max sprayed them with puffs of red smoke that caused them all to start coughing, then followed it up with another watergun that sprayed a white smoke at them. They collapsed, and I made sure to grab the cameraman’s camera before it hit the ground. When we all left the van minutes later, the four of us blended in.
“Conspiracy theorists,” Sam said, shaking her head.
“How’d you know they’d fall for that?” asked Holly
I laughed. “Some people are so brainwashed by the people running things that if you tell them Jewish folks are to blame, they’ll believe anything you tell them. They’re so scrambled, they can’t see who’s really pulling the strings.”
“Who?” Holly asked
Sam, real quick, let out an “Oh god,” hearing her question.
“Assholes,” I said. “We’re surrounded by ’em.”
“Perhaps they’ll be more appreciative after their nap,” Max said.
“In that sleep of Max, what dreams may come when they haven’t yet shuffled off that mortal coil?” I asked Max in a roundabout butchering of Shakespeare.
“Near Death Experiences often feature visions as a a traumatized and anesthetized brain tries to cope with the chemicals running through its body. I found a way to tap into that and tweak it in a negative direction.”
“Dude!” Sam said, “You gave them a Near Death Experience of Hell?”
“Only while they’re asleep,” Max said. “If they were awake, it would be a vivid hallucination. I’m eager to see people react to that part.”
We were pretty low on the pecking order when they let us through with our press credentials. They immediately brought us to a room with Lulios sitting in a comfy padded chair with refreshment nearby. My own chair had a folder on the table in front of it. “Hello. You are?”
“One American News,” I informed him.
General Lulios nodded. “If you’ll have a seat, the folder in front of you has details about an initiative whereby my government offers support to your world in this trying time.”
I picked it up and glanced at it. Just a system to provide enough nanites to function as a stopgap measure until a vaccine for the virus is produced. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Lulios said, “That’s my folder from earlier. Please set it aside and check the next primer beneath it.”
I did so and found a file with the same information, but in English. As opposed to the language from my world that the other one had been in and I’d been caught reading.
Lulios shifted in his chair. “I wanted to give your people a chance to ask questions, because this is a matter of importance and you have been terrorized by someone using these medical nanomachines before. I hold some guilt for that. For many years, I held onto a hate that did nothing for me but give me someone to treat as less than human. It’s freeing, in a way. It freed the worst aspects of myself. I didn’t have to apologize for my temper or restrain negative thoughts. So long as I targeted the homo machina, I could indulge myself without feeling bad. They weren’t human, after all.” He almost looked happy at that. Despite that, he didn’t feel right. Maybe it was all the time spent as a kid being terrorized by this guy, but he didn’t have the same presence.
He went on. “I was wrong, and it took the enormity of my mistake to make me see it. To see that by treating these people as if they were monsters and a threat to everything, I made a monster. I tortured a poor soul until it became the monster I thought it always had been. I realized after he almost destroyed the world that his people weren’t monsters. Where we demonized them, they defended each other selflessly. Where I taught someone how to destroy a world, they stopped him. They stopped someone who learned hatred and terror from me. I can’t absolve myself of that. But I wanted to meet with you and tell you that I was wrong to do what I did.”
Y’all might think I was boiling with anger, but this was one of those times where I felt like ice. I was beyond simple anger. One coiling mass of nanites formed a tendril with a spike on the end and plunged through Lulios’s chest. It went right through as if punching a hole in air, but it obstructed the image of Lulios seated in his chair. The hologram appeared to be coming from below.
“I’m sorry for the deception as well, but I thought you would kill me before I could ever speak to you, and I needed to talk to you. For your sake and mine,” the illusion of Lulios went on. “I hope you can find a way to let go of the hate toward humanity and the world. I don’t expect you to let go of it toward me.”
I dropped my own hologram and swept the floor. There was no chair in the room over there, just a pentagonal box. I shifted the tendril and stuck the spike into it, piercing the casing. Cables flowed out of the tendril now, carried by questing nanites looking to fuse them into the wiring of the device. It was a way to recreate my natural homo machina abilities while staying armored.
“Gecko…” Max warned. There were noises outside. “I have to step out for a moment.” He took the camera and the squirt gun full of his Hell hallucinogen with him out the door. Meanwhile, I traced back the signal coming from the device.
Above it, Lulios looked on, sizing me up. “I twisted you into this. It must feel like a knife to the gut to find out I’m still alive. Those on my staff who know the truth wanted desperately to keep you from finding out I’m alive, but I knew it was impossible. You were always going to find me. Please be merciful if you can find it in you to be. They are clouded by hate and throwing themselves into a duty to protect me.”
“I’m tired of your perfidious charcuterie, old man,” I growled.
He was shut up by a blast from an energy weapon that soared over his head. “Shut up, for your own good.” The Blue Justice Ranger walked over and held Lulios at gunpoint. He turned toward me. “No one is being released. You are the key to ending this threat-” The Justice Ranger gasped suddenly as arms wrapped around his neck from behind. The hands hit the external release on his helmet and pulled it off, but kept up the pressure on his throat. He turned his gun toward his attacker, but a familiar leg wrapped around it and squeezed, keeping it aimed away.
I’d gotten the trace done by now, but I kept watching as the Blue Ranger fell back and Medusa stepped into frame, in costume but not in armor. She helped up Lulios and turned to me. “They’re going to use him as bait now they know you will come for him no matter what. I did wrong by you, but listen to me now and stay away.” Then, turning to Lulios, she said, “Come on, let’s go.”
It occurred to me once they were done that I had heard a little bit of the sounds of struggle from outside. Holly and Sam must have gone out to help Max at some point. I followed after, finding Canadian police, Mounties, and Lulios’s Blackguard. They hadn’t been knocked out first like the others. The red gas that still lingered in the air had them scratching at walls and the floor, crying, even fighting each other. I liked it. It felt fitting with the mood I was in.
I caught up to Max, Sam, and Holly in the lobby. There were a pair of police helicopters out there, snipers keeping my friends at bay with shots that tore head-sized chunks of the flooring out. “Not enough range on your squirt guns?” I asked Max.
Max gave me a friendly middle finger, then called out, “They’re loaded up for shooting through armor!”
I gave him a thumbs up, then turned and ran for the lobby doors. A nanite and armor tendril tore the front of the lobby open, the nanomachines taking some of the metal to digest and replicate. The one metal tendril split into two tentacles that pushed me off the ground, then became a single limb with a pair of jet engines inside. The engines pulled me through the air toward the first helicopter and wrapped around the landing struts. It grew shorter as I grew another arm that formed a blade to cur through the base of rotor. The rotor went up for a moment as the chopper’s body fell. I threw that off and launched myself toward the other helicopter that was maneuvering for distance. The nanites encased me, reinforcing armor plates moving over my body to form a wedge while two short arms with jet engines threw me through the cockpit and into the hold with the sniper. He tried to smack me with the butt of the gun but the nanomachines caught it and ate the gun. The man dove for it. I let him and decided to escape the falling copter too.
Seeing police vans around, I threw that wreck of a chopper at them with nanite tentacles. Gunfire rang out, and proved to be useless. The cops saw what I’d done so far and wisely ran for it, driving toward escape. The rest of my group walked out behind me, Sam whistling. Holly walked right up to me and asked, “Why did you need us again?”
“I needed my friends,” I said.
Max gave me a hug before Sam elbowed him. “Excuse me, battleground full of dead bodies and terrified people. Can we hug later?”
It’s been some time since I was in a big casino. Some of the nicer underground gambling spots approach the look and feel of a smaller casino, but a big, proper one has a certain life all its own. They cultivate an atmosphere of excitement, a tension that you could be on the edge of a big win. It’s a lie, of course. For every lucky $300 or $5000 win, the casino made more than that off other people. That’s nothing new, of course, but it explains why they really don’t like it when someone wins almost every single time. Like, if someone can neurologically sync up with nearby computer-run slot machines or digital blackjack. Someone with part of their brain replaced by a computer and prosthetic eyes with a HUD that can count and track cards. I’m not very good at poker, but I’m also not welcome in Vegas.
Well, Psycho Gecko isn’t welcome in Vegas, but Gecko is officially dead. So, from my base in a lovely suite, I had free rein to search the town for my friend, Mix N’Max. Last I’d heard, he’d taken a liking to Vegas and did well here with his improbable concoctions. He was a purveyor of pharmaceutical enjoyment and could craft a custom brew to better one’s abilities. Giving people luck potions and super speed pills put him at odds with the local casinos, but also built him enough money and influence to maintain some peace. Except people haven’t been hearing much from Max lately, nor from his assistants Holly and Sam.
Now, the dirty open secret of Vegas, and the whole of the world, is that having enough money means you’re exempt from laws and can do anything you want. Spending a night dropping thousands of dollars at High Roller slots showed I had that money. A friendly concierge stopped by to let me know every so often that if I needed anything at all, just to let them know. Sadly, one thing they couldn’t get me was one of Max’s unique creations, so after awhile I could try a different casino and repeat.
On the fourth iteration of this cycle, I was stopped shortly after entering the Olympus Casino by a concierge wearing a laurel on his head. It was his nod to the Greco-Roman theme of the place, with white imitation marble support columns, rubber plants, and classical statues. Nearby, a lightning bolt lit up over a slot machine to indicate someone hit a jackpot. A sign nearby pointed the way to nearby bathrooms and the Elysium Eatery. With lighter colors and strategic lighting, the place had a thin illusion of being bright and well-lit to it. Just not so bright and well-lit that they couldn’t hide cigarette smoke stains or annoy drunk, high, hungover, and exhausted customers.
Sadly, this concierge blocked my view of a lovely waitress walking around in a skimpy version of a toga and sandals while he was at it. He followed my gaze briefly and laughed. “If it’s the companionship of a beautiful woman you’re looking for, we would be happy to assist. Even her, if you’d like. Hello, I’m Richard Mendelson, concierge here at the Olympus. As I understand and hear, you’re looking for a specific fun. Have I heard right?”
I smiled at him. “You have indeed, Mr. Mendelson.”
“Madame, if you please, I would show you to the Underworld.” He led me to a pair of locked doors off to the side that had their own couple of open guards. I suspected some of the folks in the area were secret guards as well, but at least he didn’t bring any security just to escort me. That would have been a sign of distrust, maybe even hostility.
We took a short elevator ride down to a lower level and stepped out into an area with a different aesthetic. Whereas the upper floor pretended at being bright, this bottom area worked hard at being darker. The walls were a dark brown or red color with the occasional fake torch hung on them looked like it flickered, but the light itself never wavered. A trio of beautiful young with with identical hair, makeup, and black togas stood behind another fake Greek column that served as a podium. Arching over the whole entrance was a large wrought iron gate with some Latin lettering up at the top that read, “Welcome to the Underworld, all ye who enter here.”
Look at that. Took no time at all for a Psychopomp to end up in the Underworld. The concierge next to me held his arm out, welcoming me to go first. I nodded at him and stepped out toward the three smiling faces greeting me at the gates of the Underworld.
I smiled and crossed my arms over my chest. “I hope this isn’t going to be too repetitive of an introduction.”
“Not at all,” One of them said.
“Do you have any cash you want us to deposit for you? A line of credit?” asked the Second.
The Third nodded toward my concierge. “I would be happy to be your guide and show you what we can provide.”
I handed Second a couple hundred thousand dollars in cash and let myself be shown around by the Third, who linked her arm with mine and left the concierge behind. “I’ve been told you are looking for something to enhance your mood and state of mind.”
“Yes, drugs,” I told her.
She giggled like it was the funniest joke in the world. “Not just any drug.”
“Hedonism Squared,” I said. It was something Max has been doing for years. It’s a drug that pretty much erases or reverses all pain. Messes with receives in your brain so they interpret all signals of pain, distress, or discomfort as intense pleasure. Someone could cum from cutting a hand off, which has the potential for danger. The military even tried to buy a bunch, until they ran into the part that makes it so lucrative for Max. See, supposedly there are some really expensive chemicals involved in the process of making it. Selling it wasn’t the moneymaker. Unless a person keeps taking it, they’ll come down to find that everything, every single sensation from before, now registers as pain. It might not be much, but imagine if the wind felt like it was burning you. If laying sick on a bed brought no relief because the sheets felt like a knife’s edge on your skin. So they either keep buying more, or they pay a huge amount for a purgative that stops the whole cycle then and there.
An elegant extortion racket for the wealthy, celebrities, and professional athletes. And not just to use against them. Some of those posh old money families would buy some to keep affluenza-prone kids in line. “Do as I say and you won’t get your next fix. Marry who I tell you or you won’t get the purgative.”
They showed me through a much more sparse casino area. Most of the machines and tables looked the same as upstairs, but with higher stakes. Some few isolated cases didn’t seem to use money as stakes, and I even passed by a couple of old guys glancing between their cards and each other while the dealer sharpened a cleaver. I checked the sign and cooed to my guide, “I’ve always wanted to try chop poker.”
“Every grudge can be settle with a game here. Are you any good at Seven Card Stud?” she asked.
“I’m afraid not,” I answered.
She laughed. “Unless you can grow back body parts, I would advise you to stay away, ma’am.” There came a scream and a thud of metal on fabric behind us.
Second or Two or whatever led me to a more private, smaller alcove with a padded couch and a table. “Please wait here.”
She barely finished speaking when a young woman stopped by in one of the same skimpy togas. “May I get you any refreshment while you wait?”
“It will only be a few minutes,” Second told me. And that’s all it was, just a few minutes before she brought me back a small, clear glass bottle with a dropper top that came down into a clear liquid. I took it in hand and held it up to the light.
“Does it satisfy?” Second asked.
“Hmm…” I pretended to regard it. “It looks milky. Have you diluted it?”
“I assure you…” she trailed off when she saw me unscrew the top. I stayed away from it a bit, sniffing. “Ma’am, you shouldn’t!” she rushed forward. I moved it away from her, but kept track of it.
“H-Squared requires enough of it to form at least a droplet to have an effect on the human body,” I said. “Smelling it is harmless and can help tell if it has been tampered with. Your reaction doesn’t satisfy me. Bring me something fresh.” I closed up the bottle and held it out for her. When she hesitated, I pulled out another stack of cash. “I want to go with you, to ensure quality.”
“I can’t…” she started to say. She shut up once I pulled out another bundle of cash. “I guess I can.” That bundle disappeared into her cleavage. She led me into an area that wasn’t for guests. The walls were painted, unappealing cinderblock. She led me down corridors until we reached a larger room, an underground arena with three tiers. Stairs sloped down to the bottom floor with a large, electrified cage in the middle. The slope had seats, though most of them were empty. There was the floor we were on, and then a balcony floor overlooking everything from its ring. My hostess led me along our floor around to a concession stand of sorts, only they had it separated by a thick window. She pressed an intercom to speak to the inhabitant. “Wake up. We need something fresh.”
The lights inside brightened slowly, revealing Max, with a black eye and a nasty gash on my friend’s pale head. He heaved himself up with a grunt, looking over at us with resentment. It’s rare I’ve ever seen him without his Cheshire grin, but I also didn’t expect to see him in this state. “He’s your prisoner?” I asked. “You trust him to cook for you despite that?”
“He challenged the ruler of Olympus and he lost. We hold leverage over him to ensure he doesn’t try anything,” she said. I could hear the smugness. They must have Sam and Holly somewhere, as hostages.
“You weren’t kidding about solving anything with a game,” I said.
Second reached for the intercom. I laid my hand on hers to stop her. “What’s the game to win him?”
“Excuse me?” she asked. She took her hand away and backed off. “You don’t want to do that.”
“I do,” I said. “So, what’s it going to be? Care for a game of chop poker?” I turned toward what crowd there was, as well as the man and gorilla facing off in the middle of the cage. “We are at an impasse! They have a lucrative asset I want! I challenge for Mix N’Max!”
A loud blare cut off all other sounds. Above everything, a walkway extended out over the arena. A man walked out, turned into shadow by lights backing him. He turned sharply to look at me. Or away from me, but I’m guessing toward. When he spoke, the acoustics let me hear it easily. “You challenge me within my own casino? You are an audacious one. What is your name?”
“I’ve been called Trouble,” I called out to him. “But my name is unimportant. More important is if you shy away from a challenge… surely, I don’t scare you, do I? I want Max and the two companions you use for leverage.”
I heard a few in the crowd “Oooh”ing.
“Tell you what,” he said. “You’re asking for three. I’ll make this easy on you. We were just about to have a match. I would ask you to participate.” He motioned toward me. Second took hold of my arm from behind and began to lead me down the stairs. “Come on. There’s a good lass.”
I didn’t want to seem too eager, helped by my own disappointment. The thrill-seeking part of me hoped for a game of chance or something different than a mere fight. I can cage fight a gorilla in my sleep. Really, the secret to most mammals is to go for the groin. Well, we got on down to the stage level, but I didn’t see an opening to the cage. I looked up at the mysterious shadow owner who said, “Last chance to back out.”
“Last chance to grow a pair!”
The floor fell away underneath me. It was fun, actually. There was a slide that just kept going. How big was this fucking place? An image appeared overhead, a shadowed head with a tophat backed by bright lights. “Round one, for Samantha Hain, you face my deadly giant Brown Recluse… sorry, I’m being told he’s lost weight and prefers the term ‘Persian hermit.’ But tonight, he is the deadliest of your enemies in the slide race.” I got used to the lights, or maybe the lighting improved. Either way I saw another slide zip on overhead and come up beside mine. In the other lane was a skinny young guy in a t-shirt. He waved at me happily.
I stopped paying attention to him when something smacked me in the face. I grabbed at a small squirt gun, full of water.
“Your goal, to reach the exit which will close after the first person passes through, trapping the other in a bottomless pit. Yes, bottomless. Don’t think about it or you’ll lose. You’ve each been provided with a squirt gun full of lubricant to help speed you on your way. Good luck!” The floating image disappeared.
Ah, so not water. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as the Persian Hermit sped up, yelling “To infinity and beyond!” He had a huge soaker, dwarfing the tiny pistol I’d been given. Oh, right, that’s why I should have preferred a cagefight. I gave my gun a squirt at the slide ahead of me so I went over it. I sped up shortly after hitting the patch of lube, but a sudden turn almost threw me over the edge. I found I’d caught up to the Hermit, who had slowed down in anticipation. So I had an idea how to win. I tried to keep up with him without running out of that KY goodness. He managed to pull ahead by the time we reached another curve. I had to aim carefully to deal with the drop of liquid. And I knew, I only had a dozen shots at this. Squirt!
Like Icarus, the Hermit flew too close to the sun. It happened when the extra lubricant helped him maintain too much speed and he flew over the curve and down into the darkness below. After that, the ride got kinda boring until the slide dropped me into a ballpit in a small room. I crawled forward to escape the net enclosure of the pit and felt something below. I pulled it up to find a bloody femur.
The image of the shadowman appeared on the wall next to me. “Congratulations, you won the race. Fuck you. Anyway, your next challenge will be against an even deadlier opponent. An evil clown known only as… Giggles.”
“Is this a race or tug of war or what?” I asked. The wall slid open in front of me and an overweight clown walked in, his face an intense stare right into the very depths of where my soul would be if I had one.
“This is Russian Roulette! One of you lives. The other takes a bullet to the brain,” the shadowman said, laughing. The laughter cut off when the video did.
The clown pulled a revolver out of his pants and loaded a single bullet into the cylinder. He spun it, then raised the barrel to his temple. Click! Nothing happened. He tossed the gun to the floor in front of the ballpit. I pulled myself out of the ballpit and bent down to take the gun, then looked around. Huh, no guards. I cocked the hammer back part of the way so I could freely spin the cylinder so the round would be next in the chamber. I finished cocking it, rotating that round into place, and pointed it at the clown’s head. His eyes widened a little too late I splattered his brains against the wall.
The shadowman appeared on the wall. “That… was not how that was supposed to go.”
“One of us is dead and the other’s alive. What are you going to do, have him move on to the next challenge?” I asked, kicking the oversized shoes of the dead man on the floor in front of me.
“…moving on then. Please make your way through the door and leave the gun!”
I shrugged and dropped it before heading out the door, stepping out… into the cage? See, I was beginning to think this place made no sense before, and this just confirmed it. I turned back the way I came and saw the room I was in had disappeared. Even the door frame around me seemed to just be an empty frame, with no way to stand up.
Across from me in the cage stood Second or Two. I never bothered figuring out her name. Shadowman’s voice boomed out over the arena. “You keep killing everyone you compete against, so I’m not going to feel sorry for you this time. Bitch against bitch, you versus one of my Cerberus girls. Go at it until one of you can’t stand up anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” Second said.
“Um, why? You’re going to die,” I said.
Second balled up her fists and concentrated, then her skin seemed to split and stretch, closing back up over a growing form that spouted fur from it. She looked like a nine-foot tall pit bull. It was kinda cute, actually, especially with the large boobs. Sexy, even. They were just really nice boobs. And the abs on her. Tits that big with a cut belly like that? Oooh, and those thighs.
I twirled my fingers through my hair. “So… hiya.”
“What are you doing?” asked shadowman.
I stepped forward, running fingers through my own hair to straighten it out and tried giving a flirty twirl through my hair at the end. “So… I can’t help but notice you’re naked now. It would be a shame to waste all this lubricant from the slide.”
Second cocked her head to the side in confusion as I pressed up against her and ran a finger over her rock hard abs. Then I reached up and put my hand around her head, guiding her fanged, drooling mouth down to mine.
An hour later, I kicked the side of the fence down. Behind me lay Second, weak-kneed, and unable to stand, slipping in… juices. Long story short, she was a little too weak to stand. Secret to beating pretty much any mammal: go for the groin.
I ignored the now-packed arena and called up to the balcony level. “You done up there? Give me Max!”
Shadowman cleared his throat and spoke between pants. “Yeah, I’m finished. Oh my god. Give her Max and the girls. Can you come back and do a show for us sometime?”
I ignored his questions as I walked up the steps. Behind me, I heard the mutated voice of Second call out, “My number is-!” but the applause stopped me hearing the rest.
At the top waited Max, Sam, and Holly, all hugging. They turned to me, curious, but then Max hugged me as well. “Gecko! It’s been awhile.”
“Hey Max. Looks like we both got in some trouble,” I said.
“How did you know that was Gecko?” asked Holly. She had gone back to brown hair with blonde highlights, setting her apart from Sam, who looked a lot different without all the makeup to compliment hair that was dyed silver.
“I’d know that foot thing anywhere,” Max said, sly grin returned to his face.
“Come on, I’m starving,” Sam said, grabbing Holly and pulling us toward the exit.
I shrugged. “Sounds good, but you know I’ve already eaten.”
They all groaned.
With a cry of Machine Man’s machine voice, Mr. Omega appeared. He floated in all his glory, but in my body and my armor. He looked over the sight before him: one Medusa bound and gagged on her knees, another standing free behind her in a street packed with cars, the odd planted tree, and even a person watching from behind a stoop with their dog on a leash next to them. Oh, and a hog-tied Qiang laying next to the bound Medusa.
“Behold,” said the free Medusa, who was clearly Machine Man and nobody else. “I have succeeded.”
“Where are the others?” Omega asked.
“They went their own way,” Machine Man responded.
Mr. Omega stared at Medusa, Medusa, and Qiang. He raised a hand that exerted a cone of red light, because red is really this guy’s jam. The Medusa that had presumably been Machine Man, surprise surprise, was shown to be standing in the same place as an invisible Dudebot. Who could have predicted this turn of events?
Omega frowned and squeezed his fist. The Dudebot crushed in on itself. “A childish gambit,” Omega said. “Did you think you could fool me?”
My voice echoed out of somewhere. “What, you’ve never played a game of Three Card Monte?”
“Three…” Mr. Omega muttered. He gestured toward the Medusa tied up on the ground. Another scan revealed another Dudebot that was quickly blown to smithereens. “You, then?” He turned toward the Qiang. She began to cry and squirm, which stopped around the time she was also exposed as a hologram covering up a Dudebot.
“What is this, Gecko?” Omega asked of me. “How can you do this?”
“You talked about me not being able to use your powers as well as you. Turns out, you can’t use mine as well as I can, either.” The Qiang Dudebot stood up. As she did, a car disappeared and a Dudebot appeared in its place. The tree in the planter did likewise. More Dudebots revealed themselves, including the huddled onlooker and his dog.
I felt Mr. Omega’s anger as he zapped robotic doppelganger after robotic doppelganger, causing a shitload of damage to a neighborhood the Reds had cleared out for me ahead of time.
“Where is Machine Man?” Omega asked.
The Dudebot that had pretended to be Qiang pulled out the head of Machine Man out from behind it, dropped it on the ground, and crushed it. Omega didn’t seem angry about that. He didn’t seem much phased at all. Then he tried to blow up that one and missed, and that got him mad. He began to fire furiously at the multitude of Dudebots that appeared all over the place. When one bonked him on the face, his fury came from the fact that he’d been so overwhelmed. It sure didn’t hurt him.
While he did all that, a Dudebot in Ricca kept close eye on the group who infiltrated the island. They’d arrived via the Cape Diem relief camp. Mix N’Max had tossed several canisters of a smoke that was making the patrols they came across fall asleep. Medusa led the group, having assured me when we last spoke that she hid my daughter somewhere safe. With her was both of the Captain Lightnings and the bravest few of the Extradimensional Studies team.
They had ideas, you see. They figured, with me having joined forces with Omega, it was only a matter of time before the Telechamber got built, so they figured out a plan that used it. I’ve been assured it’s much better than the one I came up with using it, which is the reason I didn’t stop the Telechamber from being built. Yep, the nanites kept working and it’s ready. Mr. Omega just didn’t realize it because he’s tech-illiterate.
The heroes, and Mix N’Max, had the scientists they snuck out of the country work on a device to help them out. They didn’t tell me what it does, but they believe it’ll work so long as Omega doesn’t show up and blow up.
I was more than happy to distract him. I’m great at it! Besides, nobody else needs to take the risk. I’m stuck with this guy. And I should probably be more sympathetic to him. He reminds me way too much of myself a few years back. And maybe this didn’t have to go this way, if I’d been better. Nothing doing now, though, than to stick a dumpster on his head.
Indeed, that’s what I had a Dudebot do, which made it even harder for him to keep up with what was happening. He tossed it off and let out a blast that spread out in a circle tossing cars, melting the road, and trashing the four Dudebots actually around. That a bunch of others seemed to be around and unscathed alerted Mr. Omega to the con. He closed his eyes and did something with a gesture of his fingers, then opened them. “These are illusions, created by your mechanical eyes.”
The flashing 12:00 in our shared view adjusted to read “Fuck You” o’clock as the fake Dudebots disappeared.
Back in Ricca, Shockley came by to visit the Telechamber site. The old Dusk Priest-turned young Dusk Priest had picked out some new robes to match his new loyalties. With the city now under Omega’s martial law, few were inclined to outwardly oppose him. He used that to have himself a fun little holiday, so long as he didn’t think about any extras added to his food or drink too hard, but I guess he felt a big enough twinge of duty to show up and check on the Telechamber.
I had Dudebots on automated patrols, too, but I only spotted him once he sent up a magic flare. The Dudebot landed just in front of him. His fingers flew as he did whatever things he does with them to make the magic happen. The Dudebot punched, knocking the breath, and back, out of him just as his reverberating voice called out “Omega!”
I heard it in stereo. All the way over in Empyreal City, it jumped out at Omega. Suddenly, we were there, in the air over Ricca. Omega traced the flare down to the dying Dusk Priest. He crashed to the ground, smashing my robot double under my own boots. He pulled the arm free of Shockley’s body and pressed a hand there to close the wound.
When Shockley could speak again, the Dusk Priest told him, “Something is wrong. They are at the chamber.”
I could feel the anger bubbling up in him from the back of the mind where I’d been exiled. Despite that, Omega didn’t tear the place apart indiscriminately. At least, the roof he tore off was meant to be retractable for larger portals. I don’t know if he knew that.
The assembled heroes and scientists gaped up at him, everything seeming really quiet. Then he tossed down the Dudebot’s gauntlet. “The fool has failed. Know that your plan will fail. I will- agh!”
Mr. Omega clutched at his eyes. That did nothing to clear the image of the goatse.
“Go, go, go!” I heard Medusa call as she realized they had an opening. “Chu, where are we?”
“Buh, I don’t know! I needed five minutes to test!” the scientist called.
The older Captain Lightning spoke up. “Test time is over. Put your pencil down and do it for real.” Wow, he’s really getting into his role as a teacher.
I didn’t know how much time I could give them, but I knew I could try. Omega used his magic to clear away the goatse, only to find a bigger ass there waiting. Rick Astley began dancing, singing about his desire to never give Mr. Omega up, to never let him down, to never run around and desert him.”What trickery is this?!” Mr. Omega cried out.
I heard sounds from around, like the thunder of lightning and the whoosh of fireballs, but they didn’t seem to be aimed at Omega. Instead, Mr. Omega was concentrating on getting rid of Rick Astley, then a looping video of three guys in a car listening to “What Is Love?” What that disappeared, he got to see Carl Weathers and Arnold Schwarzenegger clasping hands set to Guile’s Theme from the Street Fighter series. Next was a stripper named Ricardo Milos, but he eventually figured out how to turn off my wifi connection.
I had to resort to the music player, which didn’t do anything to obstruct his view beyond a brief notice that we were listening to the song “What’s Up Danger” by Blackway & Black Caviar.
“I got you now,” Mr. Omega said, aiming for Medusa, who rested against a piece of wall she’d dragged between Shockley and the scientists modifying the Telechamber.
“No,” I thought coldly, swinging that arm up into the air. He yanked it down, I pulled it up. Not her.
“She betrayed you,” he said.
“I love her,” I responded.
He growled as he spoke aloud, “You side with those who betrayed you to fight someone just like you!”
“I said I loved her. I didn’t say it made sense. And you’re not hurting my family ever again.”
He tried the other arms. Somehow, I managed to force them to aim away.
“Hey Gecko, catch!” called a voice. Omega and I both looked down to see where Max had hurled a closed beaker with a handle at me. I caught it. Omega crushed it.
“Did I just ruin your plot?” Omega asked, ignoring the sizzling from the substance dripping out of my fist. It spread over us, catching purple flame. Then came the screaming.
Forget popping out Medusa’s baby. It felt like I was squeezing an entire person out of every pore of my body. Even with my eyes squeezed shut, my armor showed what looked like me splitting in two, except the second half of this mitosis was a humanoid flame with eyes of brilliant white, and I was myself in my red Omega armor.
As soon as we separated, I fell to the ground. Everything Omega had deferred in my body hit me at once. A week of hunger, a week without sleep, even a week without shitting. That last part got… messy. I didn’t want to get up. I only hoped he felt as bad.
Mr. Omega howled. “Shockley, the device!”
Shockley was pinned against the wall by the younger Captain Lightning II. Still, the Dusk Priest managed to a telekinetic flip of the switch on the main control board. The lights dimmed as it drew enough from the power core to create the first portals, tapping directly into the energy reserves of stars. Lighting II zapped Shockley and left him a convulsing mess against the wall. He rushed to try and cut Omega off as the entity rushed to guard the controls personally, some of the fire burning off and leaving him just a tiny bit smaller.
Medusa rushed over to check on me, though, so that was nice. “Gecko, are you alright?”
“It only hurts from the hair down,” I reassured her. Max joined us, as did Chu and the other scientists.
“It’s done,” Chu said.
“Ow,” I commented.
“Good,” Medusa said. She looked to Max and smiled. “It worked. She’s back.”
“I didn’t know those muscles could hurt,” I added, about my kegels. I don’t think I want to know what all Omega was up to while I was remote controlling robots.
Max reached over and patted my arm. “It’s good to have you back.”
Overhead, the sky turned red, except for the growing portal that opened up and showed the same burning red fire that made up Omega’s corporeal form. The flames reached the edge of the portal and formed into fingers that held it open as Mr. Omega’s smaller form regained the size it lost after separating from me. “It is too late for all of you now,” he said, stepping closer to this group. He spared a glance to the Captains Lightning who were instead forming a magic barrier around the device Chu had connected to the Telechamber.
Omega stepped close to us and knocked one of our brainiacs out of the way who stood up to confront him. He ignored all of them and looked at my helmet, trying to lock eyes with me. Max held up a syringe gun but was thrown against a wall and held there by a red band of energy. Medusa tried to stand, but sank into the floor up to her waist as it transformed into quick sand. The rest of the eggheads scampered off to avoid being killed. “A deal is a deal.” Mr. Omega addressed me, “For your role, you will be rewarded with life eternal. For turning on me, you will spend immortality watching everyone you love die.”
He held one arm out toward Medusa. I got there in time enough to grab his arm with my lower left and divert the blast to miss her, though it did turn a fleeing scientist into pink mist. Mr. Omega grabbed that lower arm and ripped it off. Armor, flesh, bone, all of it. My legs wobbled, and I was distinctly aware of both the immense pain and my suit having to compensate to keep me from hearing my scream. Omega slapped me lightly and I tumbled to the ground. Then he aimed for Medusa again.
I jumped up and blocked his view, trying to embed my lower right fist in his junk. He still fired a magical bolt at Medusa, but she had managed to duck down enough that it missed her head and fried another scientist. And I lost another arm. So that was wonderful. Instead of falling immediately like I wanted to, Omega grabbed me by the helmet. When my lungs reminded me I needed oxygen to scream so much, he told me, “I think I won’t let you live.”
He tore my helmet off. I dropped the pair of fangs I keep hidden in my mouth and tried to bite his flaming hand. He pulled the hand back, holding my fangs, and let me drop, bleeding from the mouth. I stopped at my knee, crying and spitting up blood, and forced myself back to my feet.
“Why keep at this when you can find only failure?” he asked.
I pulled myself together long enough to laugh at him and answered, “Sisyphus smiles.”
Omega frowned, and raised his hand to my head. I grabbed his arm and tried to push that arm upward. This time, he concentrated and stopped me. And then, I was flying through the air as that form was yanked up into the sky. I let go and dropped as that part of his form turned and tried to fight the pull of whatever was going on.
The portal in the sky revealed not just the crimson Omega and the absolute void of nothingness between universes. It also showed something strange. Like a glowing planetoid, floating orange and blue in the perpetual darkness of that void. And Omega was being drawn into it. The hands gripping the portal to hold it open now tried to hold themselves onto it. They got a burst of strength as the smaller Omega disintegrated and joined the rest of it. That’s about when I passed out from blood loss.
I awoke with a jump and banged my face on a clear tube I was in. I didn’t feel it, or any pain. I couldn’t feel the arms I had, or the holes where I used to have arms down below that. I couldn’t even feel my face, in part because it was really cramped in that tube. I didn’t even know what the hell they’d stuffed in my mouth, as I couldn’t feel much of that either. Fuck, dentists could learn a thing or two from this shit.
Whatever device the tube was a part of was seemed to be padded where I couldn’t connect to anything. Or my nerves were so numbed by the solution I floated in that I didn’t realize it. I tried my wireless connection before remembering Mr. Omega had turned it off, and that gave me some hint as to my predicament. I couldn’t find myself on GPS, because I was apparently not the G. The only thing around me were vastly different networks, some of which were the wreckage of Fluidic ships whose logs showed they were the ones to try invading Earth when I tossed them out of my universe.
This was not something I enjoyed learning until I managed to download a scan of the area based on some barely-functional sensors on the nearby wreckage. Based on the position of the stars, I was nowhere near Earth. Based on the nearby ship and smaller drones it was using to carve off pieces of the Fluidic fleet and bring it back, I appear to have been rescued by scavengers.
And based on the thing who walked in to stand outside my tube wearing a mask that looks like a fly’s compound eyes, with a tool in hand that has a lot of sharp points, I may be in line for a probin’.
Out of the frying pan, one into the stink.
To celebrate the rescue of so many refugees, we tried throwing a little bit of a concert. Just something to help them feel welcome while associating good things in the eyes of the people who were already here. I have no clue who inhabited the island back when the various ruins were created. It may be that the Claw, who fulfilled his role of “Dictator For Life,” wiped out a bunch of indigenous folk in order to build a nation of East Asian immigrants under his rule. Even I can’t do anything about that. But I can make sure I capitalize on the mistakes of others.
I need people and they need to go somewhere better than a country living under the legacy of being a third world plaything of the Cold War, then either neglected or intervened in during the 90s and Oughts. I can’t control whether people complain about the States intervene militarily in South America or those same people then complain that the States didn’t intervene in other countries down there. And I’d hardly be a good contrarian if I copied the assholes in power.
Which is really too much of an explanation for why we had a Led Zeppelin cover band rocking out while Dr. Creeper flew around a small blimp with a red balloon and tossed down treats. It did make it a little hectic giving out gift baskets of some of the essentials people might need, like shampoo and toothpaste, but I think it worked out. Mostly. Gotta tell Creeper that t-shirt guns are appropriate; t-shirt howitzers are overkill. That guy will be fine once the nanites patch him up, but the car was totaled.
While they focused on that, I checked on the Telechamber progress. Creeper wasn’t happy, but he acquiesced over the objections of the scientists specifically studying transdimensional physics. I pulled rank, which is one advantage to being the dictator. And I can dic tators like it’s nobody’s business. They’re finding all kinds of odd hold-ups, though. Some of the guys tried to go ahead and lay a new foundation as soon as the old one was cleared off nearby roofs, but sugar seems to have gotten into the cement mixers. The darn stuff didn’t want to dry after that. They’ll have some problems with rats eating the wiring too, when they get around to that. Then I expect I’ll complain about them doing the same flimsy construction as last time once they’re about halfway done and force them to redo it.
I need time in the hopes I can come up with something to wiggle out of this. At the moment, it feels beyond me. In the past, anything I couldn’t kill by more conventional means was eaten or transformed by nanomachines, or I used a D-Bomb. Except this thing, Mr. Omega, is already outside the universe and has some ability to move things in and out. And nanomachines have their own weaknesses. Spinetingler was able to keep from being completely eaten by them, and I don’t want to rely on just the one weapon that’s failed to kill before when dealing with a guy so big he can crush me and the entire building I’m in with his pinky finger. That’s not getting into whatever else made people scared of him so much they stuck him between universes.
So even though I was mussing up my daughter’s hair while watching the show, I think she could tell I was worried. I didn’t used to be worried so much before I had loved ones. You know, people I might theoretically care for, in a hypothetical scenario where I had feelings like a person.
But, dear reader, do you know the good thing about being a supervillain tyrant? If you said “Doomsday weapons,” you are right! My guys practically expect me to ask them for toys to kill people on a huge scale. I just need to secretly convey to them a need for a weapon to kill one person who exists on a large scale. This is no time to rely on my usual level of subtlety, either.
I reached over and put my arm around Medusa, who was also watching this from atop the building with myself and the others. She put hers around me as well and pulled my head onto her shoulder. I smiled, which was just because she seemed to know who and what I am and accept me anyway, and let my fingers dance over her opposite shoulder. She giggled. Her smile began to fade as my fingers kept tapping away, three times quick, then three longer rubs, then three more quick taps.
She turned her head toward me and I kept my own smile fixed, moving my face in close to hers. We stayed close like that, my fingers drifting over her skin and through her hair, starting to tell the tale. I didn’t get all the way through it because of the stage pyro that went off. She jumped as it went off and I lost my place.
“Hey, where’s your phone?” I asked, trying to salvage the situation.
“Uh, right here,” Medusa said, pointing down between us, where she’d left it on the lip of the roof.
“Just making sure you don’t drop it from up here,” I said with a wink that also shielded me from the brightness of the lead guitarist’s flamethrower guitar going off. I turned to watch, setting one of my hands down. It just happened to touch her phone and begin to connect with it due to my homo machina biology. Venus looked to me, then noticed where my hand was and set hers on it, and on the phone.
With the medium of her cell phone between us, I was able to share the whole thing as I played back my memory, including my thoughts about making sure I betray Mr. Omega, my paranoia about him watching me, and the need to be secretive. I could feel her surprise, her calculation, and her understanding. Even some weird, fuzzy feeling. That might have been related to the greatness that was our guys starting their cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”.
With Medusa brought in on this, my next step was to find a way to get Max in on this. As my only surviving friend I haven’t murdered, we have both a bond of trust and a knowledge of each other’s killtastic abilities that will significantly improve my chances of taking down Mr. Omega.
But how? That’s the thought that plagued me as I sat upon my throne. The porcelain one, that is. I find that the bathroom is the ideal place to do my thinking, in contrast to the study where I instead like to work.
He approached me as I headed back down to the kitchen. “Hey, Gecko. Sam told me about, ya know, that thing that happened.”
I cocked my head to the side. “That thing that happened?”
He nodded off to elsewhere. “Sam reads your blog. She knows it has a lot of sensitive information and spoilers, so she’s being discrete. She told me about the last couple of entries.”
I held up a finger. “First, how is she reading it?” Then a second, “Second, she didn’t say anything about it, has she? I know the early stuff’s kinda rough.”
Max held up a hand in a “so-so” gesture. “She keeps up with it, but she keeps complaining there isn’t more explicit gay sex or non-explicit gay sex. She wants to see you top me.”
“Hey, I’m having plenty of lesbian loving!” I yelled.
“Not with that attitude you aren’t!” Medusa called from elsewhere.
Max winced. “That’s not what she meant. She asked me to see if you could write a homoerotic love scene between as a guy again, and me.”
I shrugged. “I mean, I could write about that time…”
He waved it off. “Don’t give her the satisfaction. It was a wonderful night and next day, then another night, but I don’t want to lose what we have as friends.” He put his hand on my shoulder.
I pulled him into a hug and whispered, “Think that’ll do her?”
“It’ll have to, because you’re way happier as a woman,” he said. Aww. See, there’s a friend.
Well, it was easier letting Max find out than I thought, even though it means Sam is constantly peering over my shoulder and fantasizing about me being a lady in the streets and a man in the sheets. She’ll have a little less time since Max decided to travel back to the States to see about some goodies he left baking over there that might be of use.
That’s a good idea, too. I need all the weapons I can get, so it’s off to the Institute of Science. I pulled up the files in my head and scurried about, looking through the most menacing files. Like Project: Unspeakable. I pulled a crate out of storage and opened it to find Furbies. It turns out a supervillain created the annoying late 90s toy as a way to spy on people. Unfortunately, the learning program the Furbies already came with caused people to start being real cautious what they said around a creepy little puffball that can repeat what you say around it.
The second time around, I at least looked up a synopsis of the project. That eliminated a few more projects with meaner names than abilities, and instead I paid a visit to a storage room said to house equipment related to Operation Plague Rat. It was designed to spread disease that would hinder the NATO nations. I flicked on the lights in the room and found three stasis containers holding naked Jenny McCarthy clones. Huh. And here I thought she was just a gigantic fucking moron.
The idea did occur to me to see if Medusa wanted to activate one of them. Or all of them.
After that, I remembered that secret code names for evil projects are often a bit different. Like the Manhattan Project, Operation Paperclip, or water tanks. That last one is where the name “tank” comes from for the treaded, cannon-wielding vehicles of war. With that in mind, I settled on BEIGE123, the most plain and innocuous-looking of the files.
I found a lone researcher tucked away in a corner somewhere, adjusting a piece of circuitry under a microscope. He jumped when I entered the room. “Lao, did you finally remember I was back here?”
“No clue, I’m Empress Gecko,” I told him.
The man jumped up and bowed deeply. “My Empress! Nobody informed me you would be visiting.”
“At ease, smart dude. What do I call you?”
“Smart dude’s fine, i-if you want. Otherwise, I’m Chu,” he straightened up, having broken out in an insta-sweat while bowing.
“Ok, Chu. I’m taking a look through some files, looking for any super weapons I think are fun, and whatever you’re doing has the absolute most boring name ever thought up in the name of science since John W. Dildo thought a device he intended to please women. But enough about the invention of the electric dishwasher. What is it you’re working on here?” I looked down at the circuit and the other pieces on his desk.
“Wha-well,” he turned, “Most of the team are thinking of ways to use transdimensional tech for travel and infiltration within the same universe. It’s useful, very useful, very, very useful, but I thought of other ways we could use it. First, I theorized we could use smaller breaches targeting stars to use their radiation and heat in a combat capacity. If the breach on our side can function like a portal that expels solar plasma directionally, it can be a powerful tool.”
“That’d take a heck of a lot of power,” I said, thinking how awesome it’d be to open up my hand and shoot a tiny piece of a sun at someone. This was something I could work with, but the power cores for the Telechamber were prohibitively large and unwieldy. This wasn’t the kind of weapon I’d be able to fit on my suit. “How could you lug a suit around to do all this?”
“You wouldn’t have to,” he said, grinning. He reached around and pulled up a set of schematics to show me. “I think I’m close to a breakthrough on miniaturizing the transceiver for use by a single person. That is the hard part, because power is as simple as opening a portal to a star to use it as the world’s biggest nuclear reactor. Then, more breaches can be used to send the electricity wherever you need it. It’s completely self-sustaining once the initial energy investment is met.”
“Oh Chu,” I said, putting all four hands on his shoulders, then pulled him into a hug. “You and I are going to blow up so much shit together.”
I didn’t hijack Dame’s body for too long. A day, maybe. Made sure she got to safety, let her sleep, and pulled out. I find the idea of stealing her body appealing in a certain way, but March 20th was coming up. It goes against the spirit of Mr. Roger’s Day to hold onto it. Kinda ties my hands mopping up the interdimensional infestation, but one way people give a thing meaning is by purposefully fettering themselves for it. I typically refrain from acts of evil on the day.
I needed some recovery time. I’d spent a bit more time away from my body than intended while fighting in ‘Nam. The extra time as Dame didn’t do me any favors. First thing’s first: I had an IV to pull out of my arm, an adult diaper to dispose of, and some food to chow down on. Then I could worry about being a neighbor.
There’s more than enough managing a country to keep me busy, including opening our hospitals to the wounded and rushing medical nanites to people unfit to move. Cape Diem’s camp is running over with displaced people being helped by the international aid supers. Even if I can kill people all day, the world needed a moment to stop and catch its breath. Too bad it was only a moment.
The invaders said “fuck it” to anything they didn’t have a firm handle on. It was purely defensive, no matter how close they were to taking it. It saved Spain’s ass, but Portugal’s under occupation for a little while. Good thing, too. That Basque area between France and the Iberian peninsula can be vicious. It’s not just Portugal getting fucked over by occupation. When you figure up the amount of armored raiders, thunder riflemen, robotmen, and Praetors they sunk into this place, they’ve picked up relatively little territory. The fauna they unleashed aren’t actually capable of holding territory for them. There are poachers and hunters all over the world living out fantasies.
That hasn’t helped areas in rebellion. Ukraine, for instance. It sided with the occupiers to take back occupied areas from the Russians. Russians are fighting Russians. Americans are fighting Americans. The Irish… actually, they’re cool. Some crappy English people decided to throw their lot in with the invaders, lost, and tried to take over Ireland. I think they accidentally declared war on Scotland while they were at it. Some got really drunk and invaded Wales instead, which drove popular Welsh support against joining in on the invaders’ side. Don’t even get me started on Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. I’d have to learn a lot of history before I could even scratch the surface on that nuanced situation.
It’s got my people changing shipments in transit sometimes. I’ve had reports forwarded to me where one of our agents in Slovakia bounced hither and thither between five different buyers before finding one we want to help. Gotta make sure we’re selling ammo and bombs to the right people. That stuff can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Divided as we are, we came out of it pretty well. So while other people finished up fighting and killing, I did what I could for the folks in my courtyard. Qiang opened up the courtyard around the Directory tent and the Imperial residence for refugees brought in by Cape Diem. I made sure to get some nanites for them. Then, I and others brought in some movie projectors and soccer balls for entertainment. Some fireworks, too. They had food, water, and shelter, but the things that help people stay alive don’t mean much if the person doesn’t feel alive.
The first indication I had that they might not stay that way was when I felt a new Dudebot. To be a pedant, I felt a Dudebot appear again. It was over Vietnam, in a gunship that fell rapidly. Its descent slowed just before it hit the ground, and that might be why the Dudebot remained active. When I slipped back into it, I found it holding a panicked young man wearing green coveralls. He struggled to escape, saying he didn’t know anything about a bridge.
Now, this presented me with something of a puzzle. It had been days since I set off that modified D-Bomb. This guy was answering questions like they’d just been asked, and the Dudebot’s clock was wrong when it reappeared. Time had stopped on the other end of that portal.
I wanted the gunship, but even crashed it was too big. I had nothing that could move that thing that would be able to get it back to me. The Dudebot wasn’t destroyed in the crash, but its legs were severely damaged where it couldn’t walk. I dispatched a team to retrieve it and the prisoner it held onto with all of its hands. Military engineers were sent on another team to examine the wreckage for any useful salvage. Lastly, a combined Intel and Institute team were sent to retrieve as much data as possible. The weapon was incredible and the ship’s flight was unrelated to conventional flight principles. It reminded me of the lost spherical drone from my home dimension in that regard. I never managed to figure out how it floated before I lost it.
We’re still going over the information they brought back. The team got me my prisoner and Dudebot and did what they could, but they still ended up having to fry a few things and get out of there before the Vietnamese could turn this into an international incident. That’d be an unpleasant turn of events after the recent conflict.
The Dudebot went in for repairs; the prisoner was lead to his luxurious new hotel in one of the old blacksites. His accommodations include a toilet hole and a slightly worn part of the floor where someone slept for years. I made it clear I wanted him interrogated, not tortured. Interrogation is for getting information; torture is for getting your jollies. I saw a grown man get a car battery clamped to his nipples and the only information learned was that the guy had a freaky looking erection. He died happy, though. Darn Hungarian mafia didn’t understand the all the necessary conversions between their measurements and American car batteries. I find the American ones fit better up the anus, but there’s likely some bias in that survey; I wasn’t the one biting my lip and taking it all in.
I had other things to do than see to every prisoner. I still ruled, and occasionally helped cook some rice for the courtyard refugees. When the actions are simple and similar enough, I can control a few Dudebots at once, and I did a great job at it until the Intel folks had something for me. They sent over the video where our captive had been most helpful in saying things.
“I am Paldrin the Younger,” he said. “Son of the Chief Executor, assigned aboard the striker ‘Deserion’. My father will pay for my safe return.”
The interrogator’s notes stated the prisoner was more than happy to give us a radio channel and code to transmit for negotiations. Useful info, but not all that strategic. I mean, when would we even have to worry about portals to another dimension again? As far as I know, I wrecked that world. In all honesty, there wasn’t likely anything to learn from him. That’s why I concurred with the Interrogator rejecting Paldrin the Younger’s request for a villa, a sumptuous meal, and lots of wine.
So when the portals opened up over the United States, I dropped my spatulas, turned off a quartet of grills, and started bouncing some signals around. When a giant flying eight-pointed star-shaped landmass the size of the District of Columbia with a floating dome on top appears after I thought I solved the entire problem. It rained men, and not in the fun way with glistening abs and thighs, but with grey skin or armor plates.
The code I sent off via the communications satellites got me a response shortly after they occupied a capital city that’s spent a few years getting plowed by everyone from its own rulers, foreign rulers, its citizens, and yours truly. While I’m glad I helped sluttify Columbia up a bit, a gangbang with thousands of soldiers isn’t what gets me wet at this moment.
I stood in front of a giant monitor in the latest iteration of my throne room. Behind me, a green screen showed me to be in another location so as to make my location difficult for them to trace by visual cues. That’s why I addressed them from the bridge of the Death Star when an image appeared of a stern-looking man in a green and yellow uniform with a design around the shoulders that vaguely resembled segmented armor strips. “I am the Grand Executor, Julius Enoch. Who has possession of the surviving Paldrin for negotiation?”
“I am the Empress Psychopomp Gecko. I captured Paldrin the Younger, son of the man who declared war on my world.”
“Protocol is the family negotiates for the hostage’s release. That is not, it seems, possible. What price do you seek for his return?” the Grand Executor asked.
“Oh, I figured I’d start small… the removal of all of your invasion forces and never coming back.”
He laughed just the once, like a bark. “You people don’t murder a provincial Chief Executor and destroy his province world, and face no consequence for it. Ask for something to ease your subservience to our Imperator. Nothing you can offer will stop us.”
I folded my arms behind my back. “You do not know the power of the dark side of my forces. One world has fallen to ours already. Keep up your fight and your Imperator’s is next.”
The Grand Executor cut the transmission. Good. He didn’t have to see me frantically double-checking the status of the island’s shields and sending off orders for our fabricators to cook up as many freaky-style D-Bombs as possible. I want a lot, because the United States announced its official surrender a short while after Congress and the President were seized. The image broadcast around the world shows the Pentagon cracked open like an egg.
After that, the big, floating, star-pointed dome-thing started floating north. The swarm that departed like a flood returned, their armor propelling them into the air. I don’t think the guy in charge of this bunch knows I’m the one who offed his predecessor if he’s taking the scenic route to get here.
I went ahead and called up the adult members of the family, who were somewhat scattered around helping with the war effort. Including Venus. Sam, Max’s more punk-looking aide, took one look and asked, “You didn’t build a superlaser capable of obliterating a planet, did you?”
“No,” I said. Behind me on the green screen, the Death Star zapped Alderaan into space dust. “If I did, our next problem would be so much easier.”
“Who did you kill now?” Venus asked. “Dame has been blowing up my inbox.”
I waved a hand. “The exact numbers are a bit hazy to me for good reason, but it seems I took out the guy invading us. Unfortunately, killing him seems to have drawn interest from his superiors, who just gave the U.S. Legislative and Executive branches atomic wedgies until they surrendered. Now, I think they’re headed toward either Empyreal City or Canada. And I have had a profoundly stupid idea.”
Venus groaned. “You have a plan, don’t you?”
I shrugged. “Not really. Anything I got right now’s a bit cliché, and that’s now how I like to think. We need this whole war over. We need these others eliminated as a threat. We’re probably gonna need a couple of my bombs.”
“There has to be a better way than killing billions,” Venus insisted.
“There is,” said a voice out of nowhere. On my side, the image snowed partially over, the snow resolving itself into a hairless, unremarkable face.
“Who are you?” I asked “I’m getting a lot of freaky extradimensional visitors today.”
“I am Mr. Omega, leader of the Dusk Club. We are a group of occult enthusiasts, witches, enchanters, and other mages dedicated to research into the world of magic and safeguarding the planet against mystical threats.” The snow face’s voice reverberated like it didn’t work right coming through the screen’s speakers.
I snorted. “Never heard of you, and I’ve had to kill plenty of occult threats by now.”
Mr. Omega’s face fell. “We have few members now. The Club’s existence hasn’t been continuous. The war has reawakened our need to fight and the world’s need for us. I come before you now because I know a way to lock the invaders’ world away. It won’t be easy, but the alternative is far worse for all of us.”
I shrugged. “Eh, if it’ll save my home, I’ll tug whatever Harry Houdini you like playing with out of your hat for you. What do you need to defend the world?”
“Time,” Omega said. “I need the ship held still.”
Venus tried to say something, but the interference that created the snowy face of Mr. Omega distorted and muted her. So I asked, “Just holding it still? For how long?”
“It will take forty hours,” he answered. “Forty rites, one every hour, on the target relatively immobile. It is a large thing to banish. The rites will remove them and will provide a catalyst to lock away their world.”
In my mind’s eye, I eyed the projections NATO had where the floating city headed toward Empyreal City. “Good news, everyone who can still hear me. Looks like we’ve got to hold a line in EC.”
Mr. Omega smiled. “I love frightful last stands. They’re my favorite part of the movie.” He disappeared.
The whole family spoke up, but Max spoke up loudest, “You don’t trust this mysterious face, do you?”
I shook my head. “It sounds like a trap. I think we better discuss alternative plans in person. Maybe evacuate Ricca, draw them in, put up the shield and…”
Venus smiled. “Meet me in Empyreal City and help defend it.”
“Uhhhhhh, why?” I asked.
“Because I want you to fight beside me against them,” she said.
I ignored the status alert that popped up on my HUD warning me of an abnormal heartbeat. “I might be very busy coming up with more plans…”
“You can do that at the same time. It would mean a lot ot me if you were there, and you’d like to see what new tech they have.”
I sighed. “You’re gonna be the death of me, woman.”
She’s right in line behind the Grand Executor, Mr. Omega, and almost everyone else on this Earth and a few other Earths. This is spiraling out of control, no matter how many people I kill.
You could cut the tension as the invasion day approached, but most people were saving their knives for the invaders. We got most of the civilians rounded up. The old geothermal power plant had space, as did the tunnels for the underground high speed rail. Others took shelter in old black sites. Anyone who wished to leave the island was allowed. I’d have pushed for a general evacuation, but there’s really no telling where all will be hit. That’s the same reason I didn’t recall all my agents or my wife. Informing us of the invasion ahead of time may be of questionable strategy, but it created a lot of uncertainty and confusion that can work against us in the initial strike.
Those who wanted to fight were given the opportunity for that as well. The training kept my soldiers ready and helped them focus. We could always use the manpower. Beetrice didn’t stay, but at least we have VelocityRaptor back, mostly healed from that business in Africa. He failed to kill Velociraptor. We’ve also still got Silver Shark, who decided to take up position near the beach with the Deep One militia. Bronze Rhino, another Claw creation, was pulled out of his homestead in the wilderness and sobered up to help defend the city. We needed him to fight, and his alcohol for Molotovs.
So the clocks tick-tocked away, bringing us closer and closer to a clash. I finished doing what I could to my armor. Plenty of integrated nanite-holding quilt on the inner layer, spiked blades on knees and elbows, and as many chicken grenades and explosive throwing knives as I could pack.
Venus watched me as I worked in my study. “Are you ready?”
I laughed. “Is anybody truly ready?”
“Did you have one of Max’s brownies he’s passing around? You shouldn’t have dulled reactions right now,” she said.
I shook my head and turned to look at her, “I am fully in control of my own faculties. Razor sharp, you might say.”
“You look tense.” She walked over and ran her hands through my hair. “How do you feel?”
I closed my eyes, enjoying the feeling. “A little tense and excited. You?”
“The same. The big fights don’t announce when they’re coming. I had the Academy send me my exoskeleton through Cape Diem. Don’t worry, I repainted it in my new colors.” She stopped running my head and I reached up to hold her hand.
We stayed like that for several seconds, then I smiled and made the situation worse with singing. “It’s an emergency, call the police, you left me and abandoned the lease.” The guitar, bass, and drums started up when I put on the actual song to cover up my disastrous singing voice.
Venus giggled, then started dancing when I stood up. I heard a squeal from the doorway to find Qiang dancing there to “Gave You Everything” by The Interrupters. I pulled Venus over so I could grab Qiang and lift her up. Further down the hall, Sam rocked out, then hopped on something and played an imaginary guitar.
It was just stupid fun to music. It was right. It was what we needed and it broke the tension. And it was just in time, because pretty much everything we were using to detect an incursion went off at once. I didn’t know whether to expect a portal or a craft of some sort. We got both, but the portals were temporary and the craft were floating and flying. The things in the sky had hull like ship with a narrow angle. Could have been some sort of floating battleship or destroyer for all I know ship designations. The ones in the water were wider and more round, like if someone made a circular aircraft carrier and loaded the deck with guns.
Some of those ended up cut into pieces when the barrier went up. Explosions rippled across it from where the flying ships had fired already. Some were inside the dome of the shield already when it went up.
I dropped everything and began to suit up, sending out an address while I did so. “People of Ricca, the invasion is incoming. Stay in the shelters unless they’re compromised. If possible, we will evacuate you to areas of the world not under attack. I will not leave you. I’ll keep fighting. You might doubt me as a benevolent leader. Honestly, I don’t think any good leader can be a good person. Ha! By that metric, I’d be an excellent leader. Don’t trust me because of morality. Trust me to be a monster unleashed on your enemies. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go set a new world record for most bowels perforated with a single fist.”
This is why people hire speechwriters. More competent speakers give these events a certain gravitas.
I flexed my armor and reached for my helmet. Qiang held it up for me, in a smaller, less spiky version of my armor. She didn’t have her helmet on either and smiled at me. Mindful of the spikes, I grabbed her for a hug. “I love you.”
“Love you too, mommy,” she said, setting it on my head. It sealed into place and she walked over to the desk where I’d left my helmet, grabbing her knife and helmet.
“I want you underground, staying safe,” I told her. “And keep your armor on.”
“Yes mama!” she yelled, running off with her helmet past Venus. The heroine rested against the doorway, a smile visible underneath the chrome visor obscuring most of her face.
“You ready?” she asked.
I nodded. “You?”
“Yeah. Time to fight the good fight,” she said, as if that line wasn’t designed to make my eyes roll.
Sam and Holly stayed behind, so it was just the three of us setting out from the palace: Max, Venus, and Gecko. Max twirled a syringe gun in one hand, a spray gun in the other, careful of the bandoleer full of smoke grenades. Venus scanned the area and pulled out a staff that extended. I called over a larger drone that attached underneath the armored battery pack on my back, adding a large pair of lasers designed for heavy use hanging off each side of me, and a stand on my shoulder on which a pair of my normal-sized drones settled with their smaller beam weapons.
Out in the waters, Silver Shark and the Deep One marines had capsized a trio of the invading ships, which shot a lot of empty buildings on the waterfront. Some of those inside tried to swim to shore despite segmented armor, but I had more Deep Ones than they had exceptional swimmers.
The seafaring ships outside the barrier had pressed against it. They were glowing some orange color and slowly easing through. I contacted my submarine, who assured me they had everything in hand. The message came through about the time I saw the explosions tear through the ships. My admiral figured that the natural compliment to a shield around the island is a minefield around the shield. There weren’t many living invaders left to argue the efficacy of that.
I was beginning to think I wouldn’t even get to use my armor when white portals began to swallow the battleship aircraft outside the shield. New white portals opened in the air over the water, spitting them back out. They began to adjust targets.
The Intercept team was on it with surface-to-air missiles and drones. The first shots of the battlecraft crashed into the Directory building and probably wrecked my favorite chair. They turned to adjust aim once the first of our missiles began to blow holes in them. My guys focused on three of these things equally for way too long before concentrating fire on the closest. Whatever kept the battlecraft afloat in the air didn’t compensate for the hits and it rocked back and forth until something gave out and it crashed into the water. The other two focused on the military base. Note to self: when rebuilding the military base, include its own shield. Same for the new Directory building and the Palace.
The next craft to go down was dissected in a fucking grid pattern by laser drones. It was beautiful. It swung and dipped, just barely missing the remaining battlecraft. Gotta give them points for trying. That craft ended up smacking into shallower water, part of the hull crumpling on the beach.
The invaders changed tactics. Four portals began to open up at ground level and stayed open for thirty seconds. “Anyone left at Intercept who sees where these things are coming in?” I asked over my command channel.
“Affirmative, Empress. Intercept Field Unit is deployed. We have eyes on rifts and are passing the locations on, triaging per your orders.”
All are equal under the Empress, but some places are more equal than others. The base’s capabilities are reduced, but we need the power plant and the shield. We need the people in the shelters if they threaten any of them.
After that, more opened. I wasn’t paying so much attention to those, because one of those first sets of portals opened right in front of my group. The ones most eager to die were a bunch of guys who must have interrupted their beard-growing contest to get killed being the most prominent group. There were a few others mixed in. It was a pretty diverse bunch.
I giggled and began to dance, pumping out the next song on my murder playlist, Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage. I spun and slid onto my knees, hands in the air, waving like I just didn’t care, while the heavy lasers and the laser drones I personally commanded went to town on them. The first wave just died. Whatever segmented armor they had wasn’t that good at handling light. Some of the ones to survive were grey guys in tights and vests. A small blossom of light appeared where they were hit. Max tossed one of his grenades and hid behind me. They didn’t come out the other side of the thick blue smoke that spread all over the edge of the courtyard. The stream of enemies came around the sides, but something did walk out of the smoke. I caught a glimpse in between mowing down their buddies.
There were three clunky robots. Heavy metal plating and bolts on the torso chest, head, arms, and legs. It had a thick support connecting the chest to the legs, but didn’t bother with all those delicious parts of living critters. These were some old school robots, staring out at us through slots in their heads that glowed with red lights. Venus stepped up in front of myself and Max. She held her staff in her right hand, angled to avoid the metal spike she extended from the gauntlet. Electricity arced from it, then up along the staff which she swept over the robots. Ball lighting flew forth, throwing off smaller tendrils on its way into the middle of the robots. The others who got too close didn’t take it any better than the miraculous metal men did.
We were barely done with that group when another portal opened behind us. The future corpses who ran out of that one included some in old wool outfits and flintlocks, of all things. I held out a hand and gestured for them to bring it. Venus grabbed my arm and tugged me to the side when one of them fired at me, with Max diving behind me. Behind me, a person-sized hole appeared in the wall around the courtyard.
I targeted the flintlock shooters first after that. Max ducked beneath my legs to fire into the crowd with his gun and called out, “Thanks Venus!”
“Yeah, thanks,” I said, a bit grumbly. Ugh, my nemesis I’m in love with saved my life. Time to go write in my diary about how unfair my life is and how I’m so embarrassed I’m just gonna DIE. Wait, is this not the teen drama portion of the narrative? Oh, right, I was murdering folks.
Intercept contacted me for an update after we’d finished with that bunch. “Empress, we have reports of dinosaurs loose in the city. The food growers are under siege and summoned a giant demon plant for assistance. Additionally, VelocityRaptor has responded. The Institute is under attack as well. Dr. Creeper, Bronze Rhino, and Arachnoid are defending. All fronts are holding. The sea battle is over. Silver Shark is bringing the Deep Ones ashore to flank the enemy.”
“Anywhere look like it could stand some reinforcement?” I asked.
“The skeleton crew at the water treatment plant reported an attack. We have dispatched a Flyer and squad to take it back, but we are low on available manpower.”
“I thought we told them to evacuate with the rest…” I looked to Venus and Max. “We’re heading to the water treatment plant to expel some waste. Don’t let them touch the water there if you want to keep them down for good.”
Venus nodded, but I caught something moving toward us out of the corner of my eye. By the time I turned to look, one of those grey fucks was right up in my face, pushing me. The wall we passed through stunned me a bit. You know, like they do. Wrecked my big drone, I think. The grey speedster let me go and I crashed through another wall, and another, and into a small refrigerator in someone’s kitchen. The family left a pot on the stove and rice in a bag nearby. And a superspeedster coming through a hole to stop right in front of me and punch the crap out of my armor. He grabbed my throat. I tried to put a spike through his eye, but he dodged it. I sent a straight at his gut, but he was elsewhere the moment it would have hit. I brought my arm down on his elbow and instead he was choking me with his other hand.
I looked him in his blank eyes and raised my arms. “Really dude?” I asked, despite the tightening grip that threatened to shut off my air supply. But you know what’s faster than super speed most of the time? Light. Guess who has a laser built into her helmet? This bitch. I fired the trio of lasers in my helmet into his eyes and face, for just a moment. The speedy fucker clutched his head.
I laughed my ass off and grabbed him. I pulled open the refrigerator door and pulled him in, smashing the door against his head. He stumbled back away, pushing at me. I caught a beer before it fell out and smashed it over his cranium. I put my heel into his crotch, grabbed him, and threw him against the stovetop. I didn’t need to be a speedster to stick the pot on his head and hit the lasers again. I fried his noggin in the pot. I’d have done it slow, but he was fast. Now he’s a past tense person.
I stepped out, checking on the situation. Venus and Max were on their way to the water treatment plant. I figured I could rendezvous with them, or I could turn right and see why it was suddenly a shady day. I looked, and there stood a sixteen foot tall bird staring down at me with hungry eyes. It opened its beak and roared, showing off a mouth full of rows of sharp teeth.
Command channel time. “I might kill this one, but if we happen to have a spare giant dino bird after this is all over with, I would be happy to have a new pet.” Its beaky maw snatched me up. “This one wants to play already!” It tried to chew me. I put my hands up and stopped it, then stood up on its tongue. I cut the comms channel and addressed the bird directly. “You need to remain calm and stop trying to eat me, or this relationship is never going to work. And it can work! Just look at how things turned out with Venus! All I had to do was change my life, kill fewer people, medicate, have a kid, take responsibility for a bunch of people I don’t know, set up rules for supervillains, and save the world like a dozen times.”
More crap for the diary, in between talking about who I have a crush on and what I want my prom dress to look like, like ohmigosh.
I punched the top of the birdasaur’s mouth. It opened wider and tried again. This time, it caught an elbow blade. It roared and shook its head. I fell out. I hopped up on the birdasaur’s beak and stared it in the eye. “Hey there, critter. I’m your new best friend. I’m gonna hug you and clean up after you and ride you to slaughter my enemies.”
The bird shook its head, then smashed me into the side of the building. I pulled myself up and flipped around to sit on its neck. It hopped and flapped its tiny arms, trying to get rid of me. It rolled over in the street. I don’t crush so easy. I stayed on and gave a “Yippee-ki-yay!” when we came up.
On the street below us, scaly emu things ran along, hissing and growling. I pointed down at them. “Chow down!”
The birdasaur tried to shake me off, but it knew a meal when it saw it. It snatched one up for a meal. At the end of the street, a group of the bearded soldiers and grey men stepped out. They swiped at the emus to chase them off. A soldier raised his sword to point at me. One of the grey men stepped up and raised his hands. A purple ray shot from his hands and singed the feathers on my mount.
I laughed. “Kill, my pretty! Slaughter every last one of them and feast on their bones!” It didn’t seem to need much encouragement after those pitiful attempts to shoot me. It ran into them and started biting. I even hopped down to go after that one grey guy. “That all you got? I killed a guy with super speed earlier. I’ve seen some of your buddies fly and take missiles. ‘Sup?”
He tried shooting me and all the blast did was leave a dark mark on my armor. He tried again and still did nothing. A raider sung at me from the side. I caught the blade and pulled it free from his hands, flipped it around to take the grip, and shoved it through his mouth. I grabbed the blade again and pulled it free, then kicked the body up into the air where my new pet chomped on it. When I turned back to the grey guy who shot at me, he was running. I jumped over him to land in his way. He skidded short and raised his hands in front of his face. “Please-!”
I punched him in the gut just enough to double him over. “I like it when they beg. You want me to like you? Beg more. Tell me things.” I laughed and grabbed him. “Why are you so weak when some of you things are so strong?”
“We are clones,” it told me. It shook as the birdasaur roared.
I slapped its face. “Don’t pay attention to that thing, pay attention to me. You’re clones, right?”
“We are made. Some of us have strong powers. If we are loyal and strong, we are promoted to serve the masters. If not, we serve with the vassals from the provinces.”
I brushed off his tights. “There you go. Good guy, telling me things.” I punched him and knocked him out. I saw a car nearby and carried him over. He fit pretty well into the trunk. My new pet roared at me, read for another go, but then squad of robotmen rounded the corner. I yelled back, “Tag, you’re it!” and ran for them. They raised their arms and shot bolts of molten metal at me. I could feel that, whatever it was. I could also turn invisible, and did so. Shooting like that didn’t make the birdasaur happy, and it couldn’t even eat these ones.
I watched it have fun with them from a rooftop nearby. I glanced up to look around, seeing Psycho Flyers all about. Some of them fired down on hotspots, like one over by the water treatment plant. “This is the Empress. Status update?”
“The portals have stopped, your eminence. The enemy is divided, but most large groups are breaking off to concentrate on the shield building.”
“Reinforce the building as best you can to make sure it doesn’t fall. Let them gather,” I said. I hate that kind of wait. The Institute, farm, and water treatment detachments never made it to the rally point because they got fed pavement with some serious velocity with the help of my guys. The Deep Ones and soldiers used the big gathering to start clearing sections of the city. The weird dino-bird things were the main trouble there. It’s like someone opened up portals to an alternate dinosaur era and let the wildlife run through.
And then, with more than a thousand people banging away at the power plant’s gates, water rose from manholes and drains outside of it. The army might have taken it for a minor inconvenience until the itching started. Being taken apart piece by piece will do that to you. Some tried even harder to break in, but the Psycho Flyers massed to drop my people in there and to concentrate firepower on that front. The ones who tried to run found out hard that is when your feet are falling apart. Whoops, then they fell into the water.
I guided my new feathered friend as best as I could to watch, making sure the nanites knew not to eat this one. Sure, it still tried to fight me and throw me into things, but I think we were getting used to one another. It was a good enough place to watch as the invaders found out that I am quite literally the master of this island.
When the screaming was over, I called up Max. “I got a big boy for you to tranquilize. Or girl. I don’t know how to sex a bird.”
“Come now,” Max said with a chuckle in his voice.
“I was drunk that time,” I reminded him.
“Hey, butting in here, what’s going on?” asked Venus. “Did we win?”
I added Command to the line. “Well, did we win?”
The voice on the other line gave a rundown. “The enemy is no longer a coherent force at anything but the squad level. The city has been 24% cleared. The portals are stopped, the craft are in retreat. The Battle of Ricca appears to be over.”
I clapped my hands. “Very good. I’m guessing, not everyone was as lucky?”
“The United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia, and China were all invaded by significantly larger forces of differing effectiveness. In addition, the United States and Russia are fighting traitors. There are other nations fighting, including North Korea. Some have surrendered. We are assembling a list of others who repelled their invasions.”
“There’s your answer then, Venus,” I told her. “Today, Ricca. Tomorrow… the world!”
My ambition blinded me. It lit up the sky, though Intercept broke in with and explained things differently. “Large rift opening outside the dome.”
The image I saw was basically a giant gun with engines on it to keep it afloat. And maybe something loose in the water way behind it, but the big weapon might just do it for me here. The huge barrel pointed at us glowed, then shot what looked like a miniature sun at our shield.
“Brace your sphincters, everyone,” I told announced.
The energy blast blinded us as it approached, even though the tinting functionality on my helmet’s display. It struck the shield and lashed out like it was releasing solar flares. The shield went red in a ripple that rolled out from that point, audibly crackling loud enough to drown out even the communication device sealed to my head. The shield and the sun both disappeared at once.
“Casualties at the power plant!” I heard someone call out. “Evacuate and triage!”
I didn’t tell them not to bother. I patted the birdasaur and pulled at its neck feathers until its head turned in the right direction and it began to run for the gun. “Status on our D-bomb stockpile?”
Creeper answered, “It appears an infiltrator reached Bomb Storage with an incendiary device. We have no functional D-Bombs.”
“I’m moving to intercept,” I announced.
“That’s crazy,” Venus said.
“Looks like I’m perfect for it,” I told her. I saw the gun’s barrel glowing again. I knew perfectly well I’d never make it, and never be able to do anything to it. But when there’s nothing left but death, might as well let it know you’re not afraid of it.
I had regrets, though. Plenty, including for my daughter.
A beam from high in the sky struck the rear of the gun, pushing the barrel upward. The enormous energy blast it fired went well overhead, but close enough we felt the heat. I couldn’t tell if it was going to angle back to Earth and make someone’s day infinitely more shitty, but it missed us. The gunship began to slowly turn to face whatever hit it.
A blue satellite with a barrel of its own in between a trio of large solar panel arms lowered from the sky. Below it, a yellow aircraft carrier carried a humongous green tank. A pink submarine broke the surface with a jump, and a red fighter jet soared overheard.
“Oh no,” I said.
The aircraft carrier rose up like it was flipping forward. The tank backed up it while its deck split apart. The tank reached the end and fitting onto it. A fore section of the carrier bent at a 90 degree angle as it finished becoming a pair of legs attached to a green tank torso. The sub leaped into the air again, splitting apart. One half attached to the upper left of the tank. The other caught on the upper right and swiveled around. The jet flew up and curved back down, aimed at the rear of the tank. It somehow slowed, the fighter shifting to reveal a metal face as it slid into the rear of the tank, slotted in. Finally, the satellite. The giant robot reached for the tank’s cannon. The cannon split off easily, as did the barrel of the satellite as it came down. The satellite attached to the back of the robot, two of its panels forming wings that hung down behind it. The other panel arm broke off and attached to the barrel that had come undone from the satellite, then that section fitted into the end of the tank’s cannon to form a sort of sword.
“Venus, what did you do?” I asked.
“I asked them for help, like you said,” she informed me, a hunt of smugness in her voice.
The gunship fired again, this time trying to destroy the Justice Rangers. The robot batted it away with its sword, then raised it high. The sword glowed as bright as the sun. The robot went into a stance like it was taking a step to sprint toward it. The robot flew along the surface of the water, kicking up a spray of water to either side as it closed on the gunship, then past it. The sword stopped and the robot straightened up, standing in the shallow water by the beach. Behind it, the gunship fell apart into halves that exploded.
I was saved by the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers.
Sitting around and waiting isn’t much of a life for me, but it does give me time to catch up on doing things that need doing. For instance, we had a successful first test of the shield generator. It’s more my design, but the guys at the Institute of Science said they built in a few redundancies for the sake of security. When I asked for specifics, since the entire thing’s made for our security, they showed me fake panels on it that just look like you’re doing stuff if you mess with it. Now that it’s functional, they’re going to wire those panels so that messing with them sends a signal to myself and the men and women of the Riccan Armed Forces.
It also gave me time for a nice lunch meeting with Hu that I didn’t rush. It was overdue, but I wanted to prepare first. Part of that preparation involved a nice lunch outside on a balcony. Yes, I have balconies. I’ve sometimes imagined I’m never going to keep finding rooms and other areas on this house. I’m going to notice a door I never opened before, look inside, and find an entire dead menagerie of exotic animals. The smell will be horrible. But at least I knew about the balconies. Being outside, missing them would be particularly egregious.
I munched on some lumpia as Hu was sent out to meet with me. “Hey there, Hu,” I said, waving him over with the fried, flaky roll in hand. I moved a file folder out of the way as he sat in the only other chair available. Instead of files, I pushed over the plate of lumpia. “Care for one? I made them myself.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” he replied.
“You’re welcome.” I set one on a plate that I pushed toward him. “They’re not really all that authentic, since I focus on meat and don’t care for the normal mix of veggies. But I didn’t say they were authentic, just that I made them.”
“Are you alright, Empress? Have you been drinking again?” He took off his shades and pulled out a wipe to clean them off. He appraised me with bare eyes and I gifted him with a smile. He set his glasses down to try a bit of my lumpia.
“No, silly. Just offering you food here. And I offer all my people of Ricca my protection and services as the sovereign. I am the state, so they don’t have to. I enjoy cooking, and I enjoy ruling. And despite the fact that I am a vicious killer known to utilize chemical, sonic, and dimensional weaponry, I’m trusted with both. You trust me to rule, and you trust that I didn’t poison you on a whim just now.”
He looked down at the roll he’d taken a couple bites of. Then he looked up at me and sat back. I held up a hand to reassure him. “Nope, I didn’t poison you, but the point is that you know I cooked it and you trust me. It’s just lumpia.”
I lifted the plate up so I could grab one underneath it and throw the empty plate at the floor, smashing it.
“Empress?” asked Hu, still no longer touching his lumpia.
I smiled. “I wanted to be dramatic and smash a plate, just not while wasting the food. I think it’s damn good lumpia.” I set the plate down and continued. “There is an enormous trust placed in me that is not put in you. You are not the one people look to when things go wrong. When rebels storm the palace to throw someone’s neck into a guillotine, it’s mine they’re after, not yours.” I grabbed the file and set that on his plate, then flipped it open. “These signatures creating a paper trail, though, are not mine. Some people know how much I dislike paper these days. Plus, I’m a career criminal even if you don’t count my time in politics. Creating more evidence someone could use if a team of heroes decides to make their name delivering me to the UN? Not smart for me.”
“I can explain,” he said.
I nodded. “Good, because that’s why I invited you. I want to know why you’re issuing orders in my name for the sorts of things only I can sign off on. It was apparently quite the secret.”
“You hadn’t been entirely well after returning from captivity. I’ve been led to understand your nightmares are worse. You had been irritable, more murderous. Instability is the bane of nations. I used my own judgment to moderate your impulses militarily so that your disregard for human life did not extend to the grandiose crisis created by your predecessor. I feared you would lash out and create a similar situation to the one that required his removal.”
“What about my demeanor and drinking?” I asked. I wanted to keep the questions as open-ended as possible. Let him create a story to be tested and knocked down, if need be. Knowing how much I was messed up, I went back through the recordings of my memories.
“Your substance abuse convinced me I was right. Heavy drug and alcohol usage is a sign of distress after a traumatic period. I began researching therapists as well, but this is a delicate and private matter.” Hu picked up his glasses and tapped the side. A file appeared in my own augmented reality with a few names of therapists with dossiers attached. I checked to make sure they were real, then I skimmed to see if he’d done more work than a Wikipedia entry. Everything looked legit from that brief view.
“Doesn’t matter. Talk to me. Question me constructively. Suggest better alternatives. Let me know when I screwed up. I welcome that kind of interaction to help me improve. It’s better than not figuring out my mistakes until I have Eschaton halfway up my ass. And by all means exercise your power to do what you think is best. Issue your orders. But you don’t get to issue my orders.”
Hu sat there in silence for a minute after I stopped, then bowed his head. “Empress.”
“Intelligence Chief Pagan will see to your replacement. Take the day to organize the files for the continuity of your successor. Then you will be put on leave for the immediate future while Pagan decides your reassignment.”
Hu sat for a moment, then reached for his lumpia. He took a last, deliberate bite. He set it down and stood up, then bowed low. “By your leave, Empress.”
I got to eat another one before my next meeting was shown in. She sat across from me, smiling. “Hi baba!”
“Hello dear. What’s this I heard about you making fun of another student?”
“I don’t know.” She bowed her head but looked up at me.
“You don’t know?” I asked. I moved aside Hu’s plate and tore a roll of lumpia in half for her on her own plate.
She took it and began to munch happily, at least until she remembered what this was about. “The kids at school made funna this boy who had a bow in his hair and I said ‘Did you assume his gender?’ like you do to be funny and everyone laughed.”
I may have made a mistake. “Hon, let’s have a little chat, and then we’re gonna make a deal that involves ice cream.”
It’s a good thing most kids can understand all this gender stuff pretty easily. I explained to her about the differences between gender and sex, and how some people might be a certain sex but realize they’re a different gender, and this is just how people are. “And you shouldn’t make fun of people for that,” I finished, not adding that it’s really too lazy. Any asshole can make fun of someone for that, and they do. Just a constant stream of identical assholes, all needing to be torn up. “And you helped me realize that joke I made is a lazy one that works like how those bullies act even if I didn’t mean it that way. So from now on, I want you to let me know if you catch me saying it. Let’s try it for a week first. If we both get through it without using that joke, we’ll have big sundaes.”
She giggled. “Ok, baba.” Of course, then she had to sit up all excited and go, “I get it, because, because, because they’re just like you!”
I looked at her, wondering how I was going to explain the thing that is Psycho Gecko to my daughter, when she hopped out of her chair and walked over to hug me. “I’m sorry, mommy.”
Ok, let’s just leave that behind and focus on the other big major meeting that’s way more important and relevant and not gushy and in no way involves warm, fuzzy feelings or ideas about raising a child to be a better person than the parent or anything at all like that. We are dropping further discussion of Qiang calling me mommy from here on out. It’s dropped. It’s done.
After another day of observation to see how, if at all, Mix N’Max took my discussion with Hu, I invited him along to go fishing with me. Just the two of us on a little catamaran, switching off playing Kevin Costner as we headed out into the water. We each brought our kit: dynamite for me, pescacide for him. That’s fish poison, and that’s why I wouldn’t eat seafood from our fishing trips even if I did eat seafood. And even if he claims to have a way to treat them to make it safe.
Far out in the water, we opened a cooler, I pretended to drink, and began setting our lines. He took a jar out of the cooler and tied it to a rope before poking holes in the lid. I fetched out a bagged chicken, threaded it with fishing line, stuffed the dynamite inside, synced a blasting cap to a detonator, shoved the cap in there, and tossed the chicken overboard. The secret is to get good distance on the throw, and to include a bobber that lets you know when it’s a safe distance away to detonate. You really don’t want to lose track of an explosive cock. It’ll sneak up behind you and, bam!
I let us enjoy the fishing for a bit. Even set a timer for it. Max noticed when it went off. “Is that the Godfather theme?”
I reached up and squeezed the tip of my nose, shutting off the alarm. “Yeah, just to remind me of something.” I checked around to see where my bobber was. I’d had some nibbles, but nothing big, so I pressed the button. The water blew, causing the boat to bob a bit. I waited for the seas to settle before standing. “Well, guess I better get that net.” I walked on over to where we had this big net on a pole in the middle section. Max was sitting on the rear of it, legs dangling out over the water in some cheap flip flops. He’d smeared himself with something to avoid darkening his gothly-pale skin. “Hey, Max… just why have you been drugging me?”
He turned to look at me, standing there behind him next to a pile of dynamite, a net and pole in hand. “Are you going to kill me?”
“I’d rather not. I’ve buried enough friends. But I want to know what you’ve been doing to me and why.”
He shifted to the side so only one leg was dangling and he could better look at me. “I wanted to help you. I was trying to medicate your mental health.”
“Without discussing it with me.”
“You’ve been worse than ever and you never want to work through this stuff with anyone. You keep collecting traumas to carry on your psyche without ever offloading it.”
“Why the fuck is everybody so fucking worried? I function! I do more than function, this is how I win. It fucking sucks, but it’s made me the awesome being you see before you today.”
“Nice sarong by the way,” he said.
“Oh, thanks,” I showed off a little. I’d picked that shade of pink for its potential to cause blindness from how the brightness, and because it matched my bikini.
Max tied the end of his rope to a metal loop, then turned all the way around to face me while sitting. “It’s great that everyone is worried for you. It means you have people who care. That’s new for you, because you were alone for so long that you resented that and saw it as weakness. You’re still kickass, but think how much better you’d be if you were healed up there. Not to take away who you are as a person, but to get rid of the damage that’s keeping that person from being 100%.”
That made a frightening amount of sense to me, and I’d made sure my drinks on the way out here weren’t spiked. I turned away from him to contemplate this and scooped up floating fish from my dynamite blast. After a moment, I called back, “Never do it again, dude. And seriously, you’re on some Buddha level shit right now.”
“I haven’t felt my face for days!” he called back happily.
Leave it to Max to figure things out. His methods aren’t exactly science, though he argues otherwise. That’s why he’s not my preferred way of curing this thing. My guys can mass produce a cure, probably. Anything he comes up with, he’s the only one who can make more, through whatever processes he uses.
Still, his lab was safely tucked away in one of the many rooms in the palace residence while I tossed fake stuff in spare building we had over near the graveyard. That has an added bonus of being more convincing if the person we’re after is someone familiar with the island, plus the growers who operate out of the tombs will be more than happy to sell all kinds of stuff to relax people if they come looking. I made sure to pick a building at least far enough away that explosives wouldn’t screw with their operation. Probably. I also warned them that they probably want to cook any meth in the daytime until this gets cleared up.
I know, breaking in at night. How cliché, but most people don’t live where they work. Yet. Now if I’m done turning into a socialist dictator, I had a mouse to catch in my trap. And I like traps. There’s something about letting someone walk into their own doom that appeals to me, much like the concept of a deal with the devil. It’s like when the drunk old man warns the counselors not to go up to Camp Crystal Lake. Or when the drunk old man warns the tourist to get out of Innsmouth. Or when the drunk old man warns you that the woman on the sidewalk gives people an itch. I think what I’m saying here is that if I’m going full-on cliché, I need a drunk old man.
It was too late, though. I’d been camping out in the place and didn’t have time to shop for an old drunk when the motion detectors went off. It was a simple but ingenious system. The walls were rigged to detect vibrations, but the actual motion detectors were at all the doors. I watched as someone tripped them, moving swiftly but quietly through the small former store. He came to the room underneath me, one of the ones done up to look like it was in business for Mix N’Max. The figure bent down to examine the obvious bear trap on the floor, then jumped over it. The motion detector, set on the wall at stomach height, detected him and activated the second bear trap. The one on the ceiling. It clamped down with a satisfying and juicy squish.
He cried out, because this wasn’t an instant kill or anything. Just a large, jagged, metal trap that tried to get its jaws to meet just under the guy’s rib cage. I’m not saying he couldn’t die as a result of this. I’m just saying it’d take awhile.
A second guy dove between his friend’s dangling legs and over the first bear trap, which was less expected. But that’s why we have backups, like solid steel doors to slide into place, locking everyone inside whatever rooms they were in. There were other sensors going off, too, which spoke to a much larger infiltration than I’d expected. I stepped out of the corner from where I waited, staying invisible because I don’t resort to dramatics all the time. The lights rose, revealing identical men in front of me. Not just the same clothes and my usual “all humans look alike” view, but the exact same faces. I just figured it was identical twins until the cameras in the other rooms with motion showed the exact same thing. Identical septuplets spies? Talk about 007.
The guy looked familiar, too. Big forehead. The hair’s an obvious blonde dye job. Ah, and my ID program got a hit. Last time I saw this guy, he was dancing in the dunking booth while wearing clown makeup. “Seven of you clowns?” I asked.
The one who was free looked around the room and let loose a chuckle before blurring and splitting into two, then four, then eight. “As many as I need to deal with a problem.”
“I don’t know how many copies you can make,” I said as I dropped the invisibility. His clones? Extras? Whatever they were, they were crowding in enough that they’d have found me anyway. “but I know you don’t have enough to stop me whoopin’ your ass. This is my house.”
They surrounded me, and all spoke at once. “Right now, it’s looking like more of a funhouse. Let’s have some fun.”
Silly rabbit. He thought this was going to be some sort of fair fight, when it’s really a rigged carnival game. His powers must have extended to mere copies, because they went down like regular humans. I charged one of them and punched through him, and the one behind him, and into a third one. I smashed them against the wall, grabbed an organ out of the last guy in that bunch, and pulled out to burst it over the head of another one coming at me from behind. He stumbled back, but another came for me. I grabbed his shoulders with three arms and his chin with the fourth. He screamed as his skull came up, at least until he gave a pop and part of the spine came loose too. By then, the guy who got beamed by a kidney cleared his eyes enough for me to beat him to death with his own skull.
One moment, just realized I needed to put that accomplishment on a list somewhere. Beat a man to death with his own skull. Question is, do I count the consistency with physics as a plus or a minus?
Considering I have four thumbs and don’t give a fuck, a lot of dead bodies started piling up. He probably thought he could just concentrate one or two of them on reinforcements until I grabbed a pair and started swinging them, knocking the remainder on their asses. And one onto the floor-based bear trap, which clamped down on him.
“Looking pretty fun for me right now,” I said.
One of them grinned at me. “A shame we couldn’t play longer,” he said. He pulled his shirt up and tugged out a detonator. I quickly cranked the power of my leg armor’s pseudomuscles up and jumped through the roof, catching a nice big fireball up the ass because I didn’t bother to angle anything. The whole damn building blew up, and not even because of my stuff. I mean, yeah, I prepped explosives. I wasn’t going to use them with me inside the place.
I’m not entirely sure if my legs broke from the jump, from the landing, or from both. I just knew they broke sometime in all this. It took me a minute after landing to stand up and start pulling hot debris away to see if any had happened to be taken alive. As could be expected, I got a call in short order, from Silver Shark. “Gecko!”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Big-ass explosion, though.”
“Us too, fuckface! The Aryan brotherhood just broke in here. One of them grabbed Max and hightailed it. The others are fighting and blowing up.”
“Grabbed Max? These guys are pushovers.” Despite that, this was no time to argue. If he’d grabbed Max somehow, then he was moving him. I jumped to the top of a nearby building, heading for the docks while I pulled open the satellite view and focused it in on the area surrounding the palace and Directory building. “I’ll get him,” I said before dropping the call. I adjusted course for the Cape Diem compound and tried calling up Cape Diem.
I had a direct line to Titan, at least. It’d have to do. I’d rather have the number of the guy working the portals. He could still get an order through to trap the military truck with the canvas-covered back. “Titan, Gecko. Our mole’s trying to pull someone into his hill through your portal.”
I heard growling. “I’m elsewhere, but my people are on it. I just found out a mole on our end is barricaded in the central portal hub with the controls and passcodes. Hold on.”
There was a beep, then I heard Venus’s voice come through. “Titan, this is Venus. I found the mole. He’s running for the Cape Diem portal and he’s kidnapped Psychsaur. She couldn’t use her powers. He had some collar on her. He might have more for you.”
“That must be how he could get the upper hand on Max,” I said. I reached out, trying to access the nanites. He had to have been exposed to the water supply at some point during his time here, right? Fuck, somehow this guy didn’t bother washing his hands the entire goddamn time.
“Gecko?” Venus asked.
“Hold on, I got a kidnapping to stop on this end, too.” I’d hopped from rooftop to rooftop paused to pull out a drone from behind my back and throw it. I reoriented it and flew it ahead of me, trying to catch a truck that must have had its pedal welded to the medal. And me with throwing explosives. The drone flew after it. I jumped along. And it was a disorienting experience. Hard to aim, but I did. I raked the rear of the truck, lower down, with machine gun fire. The rear left tire popped and went flat. The truck wobbled. It hid some sort of debris and began to turn onto its side.
The canvas rear burst open and a motorcycle flew out, carrying one of those blonde fuckers and Max on the back, something around his neck. He had to have been tied there or something. The cycle burst through the gate into the Cape Diem compound and headed right for the tent surrounding the portal. I chased after, unable to shoot becaue of my friend.
People scattered out of the way, some in regular clothes, some in the soft white and blue of Cape Diem personnel. The motorcycle disappeared into the tent, and I landed outside it a second later, popping something. I limped in after them and saw the portal flash and close, leaving me alone with a team of confused Cape Diem portal technicians.
“Gecko, you copy?” Titan asked. “You were breathing hard and growling, then you got all quiet.”
“They got away,” I said, realizing I still needed to breathe.
“Damn! Same here,” Venus said.
“My people just retook the portal room. It’s empty. Something’s in the system. I have techs on it. Good people. One of them’s like Gecko. We’ll find out where they went.”
I stood there, flexing my fingers, pulling up as much of a view of the world as mankind’s satellite network could give me. Not like I’d get lucky and somehow run across the exact tiny spot where he was and be able to recognize him and whatever other copies of his were working. “Unfortunately, he somehow managed to avoid getting any nanites in his system while he was here. Or he found a way to clear them out. Otherwise, I’d… Oh, right.”
“What?” asked Venus.
“Nanites in the drinking water. I put them there to keep everyone healthy, which is how I knew something was up when someone got sick and stayed sick. This guy didn’t have any in him, which is why I couldn’t stop him earlier. But Psychsaur and Max both have them in their system. I can track them.”
Venus spoke up. “This is going to sound bad, but we should wait until they stop running.”
“Find them in their lair,” Titan said.
“Yeah, and then clean them out, hopefully before they can do whatever they need to do to flush them out. I’ll and order them into the hard to reach places.”
“I recommend we keep this under our hats,” Titan said. “I want to make sure this is the last mole in my organization.”
“Agreed,” Venus said.
I cracked my neck and turned with a flourish of my cape, ignoring Cape Diem people running around, trying to calm everything down. “Eh, I’d say I doubt there are any more, but this isn’t looking like a good day for me. Looks like it’s just the three of us, then.” Despite all that, I did trust Dr. Creeper to not be a mole. I had him send a team to the ambush building to see if they could scrounge up anything like what the clown had on Max and Psychsaur.
I had to delegate. After all, my house, with my kid in it, had just been attacked. Just another thing to save up for when I get my hands on someone.
Today, the great nation of Ricca welcomed a most esteemed visitor. He stepped off a boat, pale of skin, velvet of jacket, and frilled of shirt; Mix N’Max at last arrived on the island. He stepped down the gangplank right toward me. I met him in friendly hug, the both of us exclaiming the other’s name. “Gecko!”
“Gecko?” asked a feminine voice from behind him. It came from one half of his assistants, Sam Hain, who I barely recognized without her purple hair. She’d gone for something of a punk cancer look, except for this tiny puff of it at the front that was bright green. She also looked pale, but I never remembered that as an affectation she liked to share with her boss. I figured it had more to do with her shaky walk down to the ground that ended with her bending over with her hands on her knees for a few seconds. She had the sea sickness, that Sam Hain. And yes, it’s Sam like Samantha, not pronounced like Samhain. She had on her boots, her fishnet stockings, a lacy black skirt. Excellent seafaring gear, of course. Takes a brave woman to think a corset is appropriate gear for seasickness, but maybe she was trying her hand at formality.
Her friend did not have same issues. Holly Wayne ran down in a flowery dress that didn’t quite match up with the purple highlights in her bleach blonde hair. Even tugging along some of the luggage, she seemed no worse for wear. “Oh my god, Gecko? You look… pretty.” People can be a bit unsure of how to refer to psychopaths having sex changes. Ooh, that’s a nice band name: Sex Change Psychopaths.
“How do we even know that’s Gecko?” asked Holly, standing up. She held her back ramrod straight as she walked toward me.
“You can’t tell?” asked Max, turning toward her with his arm around my shoulders. He held up a hand toward me face.
I did likewise. “Yeah, it’s totally obvious.” I sent Max an email with my picture on it. The rest was the same teamwork that once made us part of a deadly trio of villains. The Dark Triad had been comprised of the three villains known for so many years as the only few to survive breaking one of the unwritten rules of superpowers by murdering other supers. Mix N’Max, Psycho Gecko, and the Good Doctor.
Doc had been a good guy, and I don’t just say that because he’s dead. He had been a good guy blackmailed into villany, but I know he had a taste for it. Once his blackmailer had been dealt with and he had a chance to live with his daughter, he took it. I never did accept it, but our difference of opinion didn’t become truly problematic until I killed his superhero daughter. It was for a good cause, but that didn’t matter. Once I started to accumulate my own family, he showed up to try and deprive me of it. I had to kill him.
“How have you been, dude?” I asked Max. “It’s been too long.”
“I had this great setup in Vegas. It was awesome!”
We spent the evening getting caught up. I showed him my palace, and my daughter, and my wife. Well, technically Citra’s just pretending to be my wife, but close enough. They took it pretty well.
“Who would give you a wife?” asked Holly.
“Who would give you a child?” asked Sam.
“Is this all the alcohol you have?” asked Max.
I answered in order of importance, starting with pointing Max toward the vault where I hide the seashine.
After quite a bit of drinking, we wandered off into the most somber hours of the night toward the big state cemetary. I say somber hours, but they’re the same early hours that super criminals like us often do our best work. This wasn’t about robbing, not even graverobbing. That business isn’t as lucrative as it used to be in the days of undisturbed Egyptian pyramids and medical colleges needing cadavers.
There was more drinking, some alleged crying, and some strange substances were ingested. I won’t specifiy too many of the actions, except to note that I smoked something and then took a trip away from the graveyard. I was being sucked away from the Earth I was living on and toward the Earth I came from. Screw that. I wanted my Earth, not that old one. My Earth, with my daughter, my obsessed bee woman, my old magical Moai statue, my former minions, my current friends, and even that poor woman who decided to be my wife. I wanted to grip the ground and hold tight no matter what forces tried to tear me away.
Then I found myself back at the tree. This pissed me off because I hate extended dream sequences. I would torture a damn tree if I needed to. I figured I was safe once it grew the face of Good Doctor. That kind of cheesy symbolism was a better indication of my own mind playing tricks than having never left the tree. It didn’t make me feel any better toward it. Its branches grew at me like claws. I grabbed it by the trunk and squeezed like I could choke it off. “What do you want?” I asked it.
The words echoed. The tone changed and the tree moved its mouth in sync with them. I really gotta cut out… whatever the hell it is I smoked. The damn echoing felt like it wouldn’t stop. Felt like it reverberated deep inside me, so I tried to yell things to stop it.
“I want Qiang to be safe! I want to get rid of the worst people!” That didn’t work. It surprised me, because I thought those were pretty good answers. Revelatory stuff that went a little deeper into my core and how I’d changed than most people would expect. While true, the answers didn’t stop the echoing question, so I kept throwing out answers. “Truth, justice, freedom, reasonably priced love, and a hard-boiled egg. I wanna be free. I wanna be free to do what I wanna do. And I wanna get loaded. And I wanna have a good time!”
It just wouldn’t end, so I sat there, punching the face of a tree monster, trying to figure out what I could say or do to make it shut up. I tried kicking it in the balls, for instance. No balls. Poked it in the eye, but it was just wood. I even tried thinking really, really hard. After what felt like hours of dealing with antagonistic plantlife, I was tired. I hung there, slowly thunking my head against Good Doctor’s face in ineffectual headbutts. I finally stopped, sighed, and said, “I just want to live and make this place better.”
I paused. “Wait, how long have I wanted to live?” I looked at Good Doctor’s face. “And don’t you get any ideas about that other part. I said make it better, I didn’t say saving kittens out of trees and flying around with my underwear showing. Those types have sat around letting bad people do plenty of bad things because it’s easier than rocking the boat.”
I awoke the next morning to find myself laying on top of a mausoleum. I crawled to the edge and tumbled off, startling Max awake from where he slept curled up on a grave. “The fuck did you give me last night?” I asked my friend, grabbing his neck and lightly swinging his head side to side.
He coughed and pulled away. “Drugs. I made this strong stuff that’s like LSD on steroids and Beta blockers.” I couldn’t easily process this statement at the time due to the LSD on steroids and Beta blockers in my system.
“I made it to get in people’s brains and mess them up for questioning.” He groaned and rolled over to me, his face really close to mine.
I slapped him. “Dick move, dude. Why would you give me that?”
He held his hand to his cheek. “Sorry, I think it happened while we were drunk. I think the seashine melted my fillings. I didn’t realize you might have smoked it until you were yelling things at the sky!”
“What things?” I asked, grabbing onto his lapels. Then a massive, nasty burp came up and I just let it go in his face. He winced and tried to keep his mouth shut, then turned his head and coughed a few times.
“It was all gibberish. A lot of things were messing with its intended purpose, but I didn’t hear anything private and nobody else could either.” He patted my ands and I reluctantly released him.
“Fine… gah, let’s get back to the palace. My mouth feels like I had a hobo-eating contest.”
It was Sam who opened the door to the palace, which looked to have had quite a party on it sown. I saw Silver Shark sprawled over a couch and Queen Beetrice hanging over the counter. Sam yawned and looked at me with my hair resembling the starship Enterprise. Then she looked to her boss, Max, whose clothes were all frumpy and wrinkled. “You two have yourselves some private fun?”
In deference to her being Max’s minion, I didn’t try as hard as I could have to hit her.
Later, after being rested, showered, and enjoying some hair of the dog that bit me, an idea crept into my brain. My brain was recovering from a lot, including my admission to myself that not only do I truly have some altruism of a sort inside me, but I don’t really want to die anymore. That wasn’t as important as recognizing a problem that Max’s drugs provided a solution to.
Armoring up again for appearance’s sake, I dragged Max along with me to the military base where they held our unknown diver. “The guy’s spoken in English before, and his gear matches up with U.S. Military, but it only tells us so much. We don’t know what they’re doing here, what he was sneaking in to do, even if he was the only one sneaking in here. For all we know, they could have a whole base set up in those old ruins off in the western part of the island.” I stopped and smiled to myself at that one. “Ok, that’d be pretty funny if they did that. Problem solved if that’s the case. But until we know, I figured you could give our friend in there a sample of what you gave me last night. I want him talkin’ like a Furby.”
Max smiled and pulled out his syringe gun. He swapped out a few parts right there in front of me until it more closely resembled a bong crossed with a super soaker. “I’ll smoke him out.”