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.”
I remained hard at work at Argentina’s Pink House. “Work, work, work, work, work, work,” I turned toward the Korean girl near me whose boobs tried to fight back against being shoved into a tube top, “Hello boys, did you sleep well? I missed you.” The Korean, whose name I’d never bothered to learn, giggled and patted me on the head. Maybe I should call her Kim? I dunno, I’ll leave that one to the philosophers.
“Emperor Gecko, it is time,” my newest assistant, the Japanese girl, added. Ya know, I’m beginning to suspect that way of referring to people might be a bit degrading and/or dehumanizing. She hasn’t complained, just like she hasn’t said a thing about my inability to find any clothes her size other than Catholic schoolgirl outfits.
I turned to her as she slid into my lap I may have encouraged her to sit there. I mean, Japanese people don’t have the same hang-ups as sitting on the lap of someone the same gender, but they also don’t get along well with Koreans. It’d be as out of place as casting a Caucasian woman as a Japanese character in a setting where a refugee crisis is causing racial tensions to flare up in Asia. “Thank you. And I see you put your hair up in the pigtails like I asked. Good…uh…what’s your name again?
She smiled at me, “Saki.”
I didn’t have anything to do with that one, I swear. She looked all confused, too, as I snorted and sat my head down on my desk for a moment. “Ok, Saki it is. You said it’s time?”
She nodded and handed over a tablet showing Times Square. Where else? Where the fuck else? Always Times Square? I’ve done it too. It’s just one of those places. It’s iconic, like how a spaceship trying to blow shit up will always gravitate over the White House, or how revived Romans somehow always end up learning English with one specific British accent. If Mobian was still around, I’d ask him what they really sound like back then. We’re all going to feel real stupid when it turns out the Romans were some Cockney-sounding bastards. Or, hell, maybe they had a Southern accent like me?
I’d tracked Cercopagis Lysis’s ship as it approached the Earth, but he took his sweet time on showing up, nor did he and I ever work out how this whole thing would start off. Except for the whole “I’ll show up, and if you don’t show up, everyone will think you lost,” thing. Perception is a well-known battlefield.
I had other things to do besides stare at him all day, waiting for him to make a move. He could play that game with people who didn’t have to coordinate shit around the world. Sometimes literaly, given some areas with a lack of plumbing and my attempts to rectify that for the good of people’s rectums. That doesn’t even count time spent kidnapping a team.
Not that it’s all kidnapping. Moai came around when I gave him a direct order, and I left Carl out of it. Then I swung over and told Beetrice, the queen of the bee people Buzzkills, that I’d rock her fucking world if she fought for me or provided a kickass champion for my team. She thought I meant right then, which caused a bit of a problem. The Korean girls got the wrong idea, see, and then Saki had to go out and buy a crowbar.
By the time she got back, I’d been manhandled enough in a literal sense that it was more a matter of avoiding death by sex with a giant bee woman than missing pointy booty call in the first place. Beetrice thought the choking was just my kink, too. She didn’t realize I still have a few issues about that sort of thing going back to when I was a kid.
So that’s Warman, Moai, and Beetrice accounted for. I also called up Mix N’ Max and asked him to be a part of the team, as both a backup and to supervise another project. I wanted him to create a monster for me. Let me briefly go back to before Saki brought me the news so things aren’t a huge surprise to y’all.
“If you want me to revive someone as a strong reanimated being, I can do that. They don’t have a lot of powers and retain their own minds, though. That’s mostly chemical, with some electrical work to pull it all together,” Max said, pointing with a pointer wand to a screen against the wall with sketches projected onto it. His assistants worked the projector and the laptop set up by it. Holly looked all bright and fashionable, like a blonde Valley Girl, in contrast to her friend Sam with the nose stud and the purple hair. Sam looked more like what you’d expect the pale, goth-looking Mix N’Max in his red coat and poofy shirt to keep around. The chemical- and drug-minded super was no stranger to odd people, and had remained something of an ally and friend of mine for years due to the both of us having some history killing other supers. In my case, it tends to solve problems. More often in Max’s case, you can’t make a few omelets without injecting a few eggs.
The Electric Eye I inhabited shook its head. I’d sent the one in Los Angeles to meet up with Max at Salt Lake City, where he’d been working on methods of changing skin tone and sexuality. Wish I could have been there for that one. “I want something with a lot of power.”
Smiling, always smiling, Max nodded toward Holly. She pressed a button and the image of a large, pieced-together human body disappeared. The next screen looked a blank lime green until an imagine flipped into the screen from the side. After a couple of rotations, it stopped to reveal a picture of a large, hulking brute of a man. No, wait, a woman. I think. One of the boobs was big and droopy, and the hair was a bit on the long side, though that technically didn’t rule out being a man. Either way, it was large, and while that size isn’t beyond the realm of humans with gigantism, the wide, heavily muscled chest.
“I present to you the ‘Mutant’ permutation of unsafe super-empowerment. Chemicals are handy, but sometimes we can manage the same results with enough radiation, but those are unstable. Strangely, the most stable variants arise with lower levels of mutation and a few generations of living out in a desert. We don’t know why that is, but if you want power, we can just grab someone, inject them, zap them with a lot of microwaves, and have you a mutant in no time.” As he spoke, bullet points shot out of the bottom of the screen, one character at a time, giving some of the same information.
“Powers?” I asked.
“Generally, strength and toughness. They are not easy to kill once you’ve made them, except they die on their own easily. The stable ones are a little stronger than people despite the radiation poisoning, but the bigger ones surpass your standard ‘Reanimated’ type and can go toe to toe with a flying brick, except for the flying part. If you can hit one with a nuke, sometimes they come out able to shoot radiation or heat vision.”
I considered it for a moment before going, “I need bigger, stronger. Do you have anything that could take out a city?”
Max pointed back to Holly. Getting no response, he threw his pointer at the sleeping assistant. She snapped to attention and pushed a button, moving us onto the next screen where the words “Tokyo-Class” appeared up top.
“If you have a candidate in mind, don’t expect them to survive this,” Max said.
I shrugged. “That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
Max cocked his head to the side, “You?”
I shook my head. “No, I meant someone else’s life is a sacrifice I am fully committed to. Just give me something that’ll work on anybody I happen to grab off the street, alright?”
And that’s how Team Gecko recruited Mystery Monster, aka Albert. Al liked to think of himself as a nice guy with some flaws. Just a normal, average, everyday working stiff. Just someone who drives a little fast from time to time. How could he know that keeping someone from merging onto the freeway would lead, several cars back, to someone hitting a pedestrian?
The butterflies know, of course. I am, I’ve said, an agent of Chaos. And the thing about Chaos is that it has this Theory. In that Theory lays omniscience and the means by which to show that even someone who does nothing more than speed and shag the occasional neighbor’s pet Shiba Inu is still capable of murder through such simple and otherwise accepted forms of injustice. Besides, the Shiba was asking for it, running around with no pants on.
Now, back to the present day. Lysis’s ship sent down a gold and purple colored saucer that landed. Out of which stepped a thin being in golden armor, because Cercopagis buys armor for the look of it. I can’t entirely complain. I do a lot for the look of things. Armor made to look good and armor made to look fortified both come out about the same as armor with any joints big enough to slide a blade. Still didn’t stop me thinking how gaudy the guy looked, with his gold armor and his staff.
He stepped well away from his craft, earning dozens of honks from annoyed drivers, then raised his staff. A minor shockwave pushed all the cars just slightly. If he thought it’d get him fewer honks, he sadly misinterpreted the Empyreal City rush hour traffic.
“I am the Herald of Cercopagis Lysis, the Galactic Conqueror!” he announced, giving Cercopagis a title we couldn’t easily fact check. If someone can conquer anywhere in the galaxy, why go after Earth? At least the Fluidics had a good reason. They needed brainwashed bodies to serve as fodder in their wars. This guy just keeps getting beaten and comes back for second chances. Any similarity to any other supervillians y’all know is clearly unintentional, wrong, and in no way me.
Anyway, that’s not all the guy said. “I am here to announce the first fight of this contest between our respective leaders. My master now gives you his first champion, secured from our daring raid upon the Hiveworld of Sathe during the Eternal Culling: The Mendes Configuration!” He turned to his ship and raised the staff. From the top of his craft, an orb rose.
I began to wonder if we’d have yet another enemy more concerned with being completely alien to humanity when the exterior of the orb broke and shifted around. In the process, it grew. It grew big. The Mendes Configuration, whatever hunk of space junk it seemed to be at first, was clearly a grower, not a shower. It grew in pulses, pushing out evenly at first, then less evenly as it took shape.
In the form of a giant robot with one eye. I frantically sent out my consciousness to the Robot Room, as I wish I officially named where I had people putting together my robot. The PA systems startled everyone as I said, “Please tell me it’s ready, please tell me it’s ready, it’s gotta be fucking ready, come on!”
Unfortunately, the camera showed that what they’d assembled looked more like a stickman with boxing gloves and boobs than a proper giant robot, leaving me thoroughly disappointed.
So I put in a conference call to Team Gecko. Warman started to say he’d take Mendes but I muted him and said, “Max, it’s time.”
“Yeah. I wanted to say that in a dramatic way. And it is time. Send in…dun dun dun!…the Mystery Monster!”
After a second, he asked, “Is that what we’re calling the guy we…?”
“Yeah, him. Stick him in the microwave, give him his shots, do whatever you need to do, preferably on a plane ride over to EC.
In order to fill the time, I brought in Electric Eye. “In the name of the Ruler of Earth, the Emperor of Awesome, the Immaculate Man-Machine, his Lordship the King of Kings, the Master of Disaster…” Now, I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t just have it rattle off titles the entire time, “while Team Gecko’s champion is arriving, I would like you all to enjoy the musical event of the…week, let’s go with week. Ladies and Gentlemen of Earth, your planetary anthem will now be performed by its original singer, Sir Mix-A-Lot.”
Because Earth enjoys big butts, even if I can lie. It wasn’t just that, I really did bring in various one-hit wonder artists to sing and otherwise earn the first musical paychecks they’ve seen in twenty to thirty years. It was a thing. Got some goodwill going.
And then Max texted me, “Bombs away!” and Electric Eye had to carry Sir Mix-A-Lot to safety as a giant-sized man-thing crashed into Times Square opposite the Mendes Configuration. That was a good enough way to describe it, because longer ways involve words like “bulbous, club-armed, tentacle-headed” and other odd things that normally don’t describe anything derived from a human. Except bulbous, I suppose, but I don’t like to see anything bulbous on people. You wouldn’t call a big, beautiful butt bulbous, now would you?
The Mystery Monster didn’t really have a head, or a neck. More of a lump on top of its torso, with a mouth that opened to roar. At the pincered, one-eyed alien robot made out of round bent pieces of metal. What is it with the lack of eyes? Then again, the monster over there didn’t have any visible eyes. Had a big lump in place of an arm, looked like a club. And the other arm ended in five very wet-looking fingers. I certainly wouldn’t shake it. I wholeheartedly approved of the other weapon it packed, though. It looked like a giant blotchy pink and wet naked humanoid except for the bony drill poking out between its legs. Some men are hung like a horse; this one was hung like it could build a house.
They both stood tall at thirty feet, but I think Mystery Monster had the reach on the robot.
All over the news broadcasts, I interrupted to provide some voiceover work of my own. “Fight Numero Uno: The Mendes Configuration versus Team Gecko’s Mystery Monster. Begin!”
Before I even finished, the Mystery Monster started on its own…by turning around and smashing its club into a car that finally learned to stop honking. I decided to hijack the scroll at the bottom of the broadcast. “Fun Fact: Mystery Monster hates obnoxious drivers. The owners of that building were probably assholes anyway. Technically, there’s nothing in city ordinances against tearing up the road with a drill dick.”
I had to stop due to the call coming in. The Imperial Hotline, aka the phone line for anyone who really, really, really needs to call me but doesn’t know me well enough to get my private number, lit up with a call from an unknown number. “Hello?”
“Greetings, soon-to-be former ruler of Earth!” See what I mean about needing better names for these titles? Cercopagis went on with his gloating and laughing, “Does your champion ever intend to actually fight?”
“Oh, he’ll fight. See? He’s fighting right now.”
“I believe that’s mating, though I believe your species doesn’t typically do that to architecture.”
“Any moment now, he’ll be doing it to your random space robot’s face! Then you’ll see.” I told him all that, but I began to have my doubts. Max warned me that making a monster bigger and more powerful, especially in such a short amount of time, left them rebellious and prone to turn on their masters. Like teenagers. And like a teenager, Mystery Monster had started sticking its parts into strange things not meant to hold it. In public, again like a teenager.
I decided to send in the Electric Eye, setting Sir Mix-A-Lot down in the hopes he could find his way back to his fiefdom without my help. Electric Eye rocketed up onto the building that was a-rockin’ because Mystery Monster came a-knockin’ and called down to it, “You stop humping this and go hump that other thing this instant, or you are ground! You’ll be turned into Mystery Meat when I’m done with you!”
Turns out he’s a lot faster with that club than I anticipated, but still not fast enough to smash Electric Eye. Eye threw it to the side and missed the domestic abuse visited upon the poor building that been drilled by MM. Figuring Eye finally had its attention, I sent the smaller robot zipping around toward the bigger one.
“You cannot have two champions in a single fight! We agreed to one-on-one battles!” Cercopagis yelled at me over the Hotline.
“Don’t worry your golden panties off. Electric Eye won’t fight.” The Mendes Configuration tracked it anyway, a red laser light appearing and growing larger as if considering an attack as the smaller robot approached, then stopped right in front of the single orb that made up its combined eye and head. Except while Mendes paid attention to Electric Eye, Electric Eye paid attention to Mystery Monster and cut its rockets, ending this dance of alliteration.
Fancy souvenir snow globe from a space knickknack store or not, the Mendes Configuration didn’t take that laying down. Unfortunately, it didn’t even take it kneeling down or losing oil control. It unloaded some sort of beam onto Mystery Monster that scorched the flesh of its chest, bring a wail out of the monsterized human. MM responded by bringing its club down on the robot’s head. That forced the robot into a squat. That turned out to be a bad position when facing an opponent with a biological drill in place of its private parts.
Right about then, the news censored the fight with black bars. It didn’t help that I inserted sounds from some porno. Debbie Does Space, anyone? Is that a thing? Wouldn’t be the first time some shit I made up to be funny turned out to be real.
Things seemed to be going well. And, as Sir Mix-A-Lot’s cameo appearance early indicates, that clearly foreshadows a but. But, the Mendes Configuration reached down and grabbed the drill with its pincers. It squeezed. It tore. It simultaneously caused billions of men around the world to reach for their crotches in sympathetic pain. And then it shoved that drill right into the middle of Mystery Monster’s fleshy torso.
Mystery Monster stumbled back, pumping a different sort of troubling fluid onto the street below. At which point, its screaming mouth filled the air with an emasculated cacophony until the Mendes Configuration shut it up with a blast of whatever laser, plasma, or heat vision constituted the red stream coming from its eye.
Between the internal burns and the loss of what may be blood (usually, it’s not green), Mystery Monster collapsed and curled up in the fetal position. From there, the fight was purely academic, if academics often beat each other to death with their own severed cocks. Which, to be honest, would make debates a hell of a lot more interesting. It’s probably the only way I’d pay attention to philosophy. Because, let’s be honest, there’s only so many times people can go around with circle jerks about wondering if the world is nothing but a computer simulation. As a dude who has crossed dimensions, that means either I disproved it, or the entirety of existence is centered on me.
Sounds about right.
Unfortunately, the Matrix fucked me over and left Mystery Monster so smashed up by the alien robot that I could have renamed it Ground Beef. Except I don’t know what you call human meat. Pigs are pork, cattle are beef, but long pork is just a euphemism.
“That is one in my favor. I will let you start the next fight, Psycho Gecko. Consider it an act of mercy,” Cercopagis Lysis said over the Imperial Hotline.
“Go eat a mystery meat dick,” I told him.
Some days, you think you get a chance to use a giant robot. Other days, you see a thirty-foot tall monster get its weaponized penis torn off and then stabbed in the chest with said penis. Unfortunately, today was dick-stabbing day in the worst way.
I wasn’t sure Pritchard Ajax would even be capable of squeezing out a spaceflight, but it’s not like I was gambling with my own life in the process. I mean, Forcelight might be able to survive a shuttle explosion.
Well, spaceplane. They were very insistent on the terminology. It’s basically where a a big plane carries a 1950s sci fi-looking rocket-plane hybrid real high, at which point the rocket plane rockets into space. It looked much older than it was, though it surprised me to find out it wasn’t the most recent of the company’s planes. “We had another one, a newer one,” the pilot told me. It was just he and me, so I was filling in some gaps in my knowledge about private spaceflight after he announced our altitude. I’d loosely heard things, but filed it away under “North Korea” for some reason.
“Yeah? What happened to that one?” I asked. It wasn’t exactly a roomy plane, even with just the two of us. The thing was designed to only seat three.
More quietly, the pilot answered, “It suffered a failure.”
“It blew up, didn’t it?”
He didn’t say anything. Yep, that’s why I had put it in that particular mental filing space.
“But this one’s sound, right? It’s in good shape?” I asked. It better be. We were attached to the bigger plane, just waiting to be hurled into space like Gaia had decided to binge drink the night before.
“Yes, she is. We kept her in a museum after her big flight.” The pilot gave a more enthusiastic nod at that.
“So, this is the first time this thing has been flown in awhile. There a reason for that?” I doublechecked the spacesuit I had on.
“After the flight where she actually made it to space, the company retired her to keep her from getting damaged.”
Ah, yes, of course. They got to space, but decided to keep the ship from flying any more in case it couldn’t do that again. I began to realize I’d gotten ripped off in my deal with Ajax. “The flight where she actually made it to space?”
“She won a prize for getting past a hundred kilometers twice in a week.”
“Any further? Like orbit?”
“Well, the prize was about getting to space, and that’s the boundary. But don’t worry, she had the equivalent of three people in her at the time.”
“…but not actually three people.”
“The equivalent of three people is good enough!”
“Except for the part about not even risking three people when you could sacrifice some crash test dummies. Or are we boldly going where only Vesta Aerospace’s trained astro-chimps have gone before?”
“You wish. We took a dog up. More more docile.”
Quite the mess I got in. I told Ajax I needed orbit, not the bare edge of space. Anyone could go to the edge of space. Just being that far doesn’t exactly exempt you from immediately plummeting back like a stone. “Congratulations,” I told the pilot. “You chased a prize that was already won back in the 1960s.”
The pilot scoffed. “Yeah, right. Those were government planes. They didn’t own those.”
“Who owns this one?”
“Vesta Aerospace, in conjunction with both Death Valley Ventures and Solar. I guess no one person owns it.”
I laughed at that. He didn’t get the joke. I just hoped that Forcelight at least got up there before becoming the punchline.
That doesn’t mean the action was entirely up in the air. I sat with Max in the middle of a campsite about thirty minutes from Empyreal City, whittling away at wood and tosing the scraps into a fire in front of us.
“It’s good you focus on a creative hobby,” Max said, chewing into a round, purple thing.
“Thanks. Figured, after putting together all the rockets and all the discs, I deserved a break that involved using a knife. And the secret, or so I’ve read somewhere, is to imagine what you want the wood to be, and then remove all the parts that aren’t it.” I turned my head to acknowledge him in a friendly enough way, though I kept my view focused on the carving itself thanks to my helmet’s display. Yep, still spending most of my time in my armor. The smell could be better. Probably why Max’s assistant, Holly, insisted on tossing a pack of incense into the fire in front of me.Then again, she had been eating smores, so she could just be baked.
Max nodded toward the piece of wood in my left hand as I scraped the knife along it, smoothing an edge. “What did you imagine that to be?”
I gave it a couple practice swings. “Well, it started out meaning to be an elephant, but then I took too much of the nose off, so then it was going to be a horse. Then I accidentally cut too much of the dick off, and figured we’d go with a goat. Then this leg went and I figured, hell, why not go for a starfish? Naturally, that led to throwing stars and next thing you know, I’m holding a shiv. You ever go to prison, this sumbitch will make sure the vampire gang doesn’t pick on you. Isn’t that right Ethan?!”
I called out to another fire over where Ethan Basford grumbled and held onto some small metal chest while the Claw minions chatted around him. He didn’t join in when they started tossing popcorn into each others’ mouths. Just kept muttering to himself and his precious little treasure.
It was then I noticed the Claw super with the metal tail, metal teeth, and scythe hand approaching with a bottle of whiskey. She stopped at the edge of the fire and grinned at me, teeth gleaming. “Hey, Psycho Gecko. Hello Mr. Max. May I speak with Psycho alone?”
Max shot me a look like “Hey, now I’m Mister Max. What are you getting in to?” then closed his eyes to nod toward her. He stood up and dusted off his pants. “You two have a nice talk. Don’t let it hold you up from moving on.”
I waved at him as he left, “Yeah, lots of ground to cover. Make sure the new arrivals are there.”
She sat down across from me with her, wrapping her modified arm around her legs. She unscrewed the top of the whiskey with her natural hand and held it out. “You want?”
I shook my head. “Nah, not my preferred taste.” I tossed my shiv into the fire to burn with the rest. “You wanted to talk?”
Gotta give the boobs some credit, I get a lot more attention with these things around, not that this person had much opportunity to see them. Before she could say anything else, I asked her, “You came with the Claw’s people, but I don’t recognize you from anywhere.”
“I am Girl Robot,” she said, though I got the “Girl Robot” part from my translator. The name in Vietnamese involved a weird U and O, so I’ll gladly stick with the English version, no matter how generic it is.
“A lot of cyborgs where you come from?” I asked. I crawled around the fire to get a better look at her parts. The metal ones, pervs.
She looked right at me as I moved her hair aside to look at where the metal arm integrated with the shoulder. “No,” she answered quietly. “I am a prototype. I was lucky. I like metal and robots.”
It looked like good work. Incredibly good work. It wasn’t as natural as me, but it was still something. “This is very good work. Do you have any trouble with your parts?”
She reached out and ran the edge of her scythe over one of the lines between my armor’s chest plating. “You could make them better. Your parts are like your real body. It is lucky I get to meet you, because I want to change myself as naturally as you do.” She brought the tip of her tail up. It went from a thick stump, the thickness of another leg, that worked its way gradually thinner until it ended in a trio of blades.
I ran a hand over her tail. “Well, you’ll never be quite the same with your human physiology, but you should congratulate your maker on a job well done when you meet him.”
She gave me a puzzled little smile. “Can you show me how your parts fit?”
Now, I could have been misinterpeting that, but I think she was into me. Just a bit. So, purely for scientific purposes, I removed a glove and ran my hand up the tail, resting it on the base of her tail.
There’s a special spark that passes between two of my species who are both connecting to the same thing, since it’s the nerovus system that’s involved. And this Robot Girl could actually feel it a little bit. Not the same way, but closer than any others so far.
But let’s not dwell on that too much either. I had lots to do in space, too. Lots to do. Lots.
Like detaching! Which prompted me to ask the pilot a question. “What are the odds we’ll survive your trip into hyperspeed?”
“Never ask me the odds,” he responded before the force of the rocket doing its thing forced me back into the seat and pleasantly vibrated Forcelight’s body, making me quite glad she didn’t have balls for fear of reverberation.
When things finally eased up, the pilot turned to laugh at me and announce, “Congratulations, lady. You made it to space.”
I reached over to pat him on the shoulder. “Yep, now to set a new record with this baby. Keep us over here and keep an eye out. We need to stay near Empyreal City for just a little longer…”
“Is something going to happen?” the pilot asked.
I doublechecked the seals on Forcelight’s suit, then smiled.
I know I’m skipping around a little in time here, not much, but I sat around the fire on my own back on the ground at this point. Armor firmly secured. I poked at my dying fire with a stick, looking around at all the others our whole group put together, with all the various faceless pieces of meat to throw into this grinder. Looking around at them, I put out a call. Not some grand horn signalling an attack. Just a phone call. To Venus.
Her voice sounded utterly emotionaless. “Who is this?” If not for the context, I’d have had trouble telling she even asked a question, her voice was that even. I responded with a bit of song.
“Hoofbeats go a-trotting, trotting, up to Heaven, bold. At the gates a-knocking, knocking, sheep in wolfish clothes. Holy jaws are dropping up in Heaven’s hold. Plant my hooves, my hooks, my books!…I’m here, Venus dear.”
Up in space, Forcelight looked out over the atmosphere through a porthole. “There! Fly us at that thing!”
“That? You were looking for that?” The pilot looked incredulous.
“It just released from higher up. Nevermind, forget that thing, pop the door.” I stepped over to the exit which was meant for more terrestrial usage. Under my breath, I gave the scared woman I dragged along into this some motivation of her own. “Get this done and you’re free, Forcelight.”
“You can’t!” The pilot called out. I looked over, more curious if he had left something open and would die. Hey, they didn’t give me all the details, I don’t have to give them all the details either. Instead of suiting up, he had reached for a bright red switch.
“That better be the manual unlock, because you don’t want me to tear this door off.” I told him. Forcelight rose, hovering a little.
“We just needed to know your plan. You will not win,” he told me, then forced a smile onto his face. I almost thought I saw it break into the beginnings of horror as he flipped the switch and the cockpit exploded. The pressure threw Forcelight out into the thermosphere. Gonna be honest, was really confusing for a second. Things exploded, things got really cold and sucky, there was some pressure stuff. Yeah, this wasn’t going like I meant it to.
But Forcelight could fly. And she could reorient herself. I just had to get her pointed in the right direction, take into account the velocity of the falling object, and try to track appropriately. And then just keep firing a whole bunch of blasts from Forcelight’s hands that tore through the night sky at the speed of light, causing distant explosions and breakings, or so I hoped. Kinda hard to keep track of things, so I was reduced to yelling, “Dakka dakka, suck it Kessler!” as I put her hands together and formed one giant beam that I tracked across a swath of space. Satellites possibly blew up or were allegedly knocked into pieces. TV shows were potentially missed. And, as soon as I finish dealing with the aliens, I’ll have to find out just how much of a wreck this may have caused for Earth’s ability to use satellites.
But I had a way to hopefully make sure.
With Forcelight falling, I spared a moment to turn her around and pick off the falling object, which almost looked like a seed to me. It was significantly easier to see with the heat building up around it, and a long blast from Forcelight sent it wildly offcourse and accellerated it. No way would it land anywhere near me, their target.
I tried my best to calm Forcelight’s body and take in the view, both because it’s space and because I needed to check, but I had trouble keeping everything together. The suit was fucked up, and being up that far was starting to do things to her. “I didn’t necessarily plan for things to go so far South for you, Forcelight. But I did what needed to be done, and I did it the best I could under the circumstances. If it helps, I’ll tell the nanites to do their best to keep you alive.”
I let her go, stood up, dusted off my armor, and walked away from the bright collection of fires, allowing the holodiscs to flicker out behind me and reveal that the Fluidics’ chance to rain on my parade was wasted anyway.
But I had one last message. One last announcement broadcast through what signal interceptors remained online after my initial warning that I was coming for Empyreal City. It interrupted regularly scheduled programming across the nation to show my perspective as I put out a fire, then walked to the edge of these woods where Empyreal City stood in the distance, lit up a bit less than before the barrier went up.
“We’re here.” I told the audience, before cutting the feed.
“Vegas?” I asked.
“That would be the only Vegas I know of,” replied Max.
“I felt we needed a vacation. I’ve gotten too familiar with what it’s like to be a damsel in distress lately and Holly was starting to crack. I thought I would try my luck with bandits who only have one arm instead of two.”
“Uh huh. What about my stuff?”
“It’s fine. Moai, too. I left your car and the trailer with my sister. I told Moai she was a friend, too. Just remote control it back to you if you’re worried about it.”
I glanced around me. The city of New Orleans was significantly safer than before my captivity. Most of the monsters had been cleaned up either by the police, Faustus, or the newly-arrived National Guard. I hadn’t heard who won the little fight that broke out there between Faustus and Hephaestus, but things were still tense between the groups that I saw in the streets. They were moving out of the streets, though, and back behind the scenes. Everything was slowly going back to normal, with fights moving out of the public eye. Now that the city was opened up again, nobody wanted to risk causing too big a catastrophe.
So it was a pretty good idea for me to skedaddle.
“You know what, I think I’ll head up there and get it.’
“Do you need some directions?”
“Nah, I have a GPS lock on the car, remember?”
“Yeah, right, I remember now. Are you ok?”
“I’m ok. It takes more than a little bit of inhumane treatment to break me. Speaking of breaks, how’s Holly?”
“Better than she was. I heard what happened. Thanks. Don’t ever do that again or I’ll cut you. But thanks.”
“Nothing to thank me for. I’m always happy to break someone’s arm for no reason.”
“No reason? I thought you broke it because you didn’t want her killed.”
“Oh come on, like I don’t want someone hurt.”
“You like her. She’s your friend.”
He got all sing-song then. “You liiiike her. You wanna make baaabies with her!”
“Don’t make me wreck Vegas.”
“Maybe you two can get a quickie wedding here.”
“I’ve always wanted to crucify people outside Caesar’s Palace.”
“Ow!” he said.
“That’s how I roll, bitch. I can kill you with my mind.”
“Not you, Gecko. Sam’s been listening in and just slapped me on the ear.”
“Serves you right. Hit him again, Sam?”
“She said ‘no’.”
“You hit him for her, now hit him for me, Sam.”
“I think we’re going to hang up now. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
“Of all the conversations on all the phones in the world, she had to walk into mine.”
“You’re getting weird again, Gecko. Call me back if you need something.”
I hung up from my helmet and continued my inconspicuous trek through the city, taking on various guises when I figured no one would notice the change. I did need one thing, but not from Max. I still needed a car. I knew of someone I could take one from that nobody would mind. Good thing I had a pretty good idea of where this guy would be on a certain day.
That day was the Fourth of July. Independence Day. The day the Declaration of Independence went to the printers after having been signed a couple days earlier. The national day of fireworks, grilling, flags, and hot wings. Want to know an easy way to rile up a Canadian? Wish them a happy Fourth of July.
Anyway, I walked into the AllWays Lounge to the sound of a collective buttclench of epic proportions. They didn’t have anything special going on, but there were still plenty of people in there with red, white, and blue on. I was surprised to find out how patriotic criminals are on this version of the planet, but then I was the guy who wanted to blow up my old planet at one point. Heck, people in the Cosa Nostra, what y’all know as the Sicilian mafia, even joined the military back in the old World War II days. Even guys who liked to buy their enemies a new pair of cement shoes hated Nazis.
Case in point, the Hitler clone was surrounded by empty tables. The only people helping him down the set of frothing pitchers in front of him were a pair of neo-Nazis in brown uniforms. At least Hitler made an effort of sorts. He had on a Confederate flag shirt that said “Heritage, Not Hate” on the back.
I walked right over, giving Belle a good view of my middle finger as I passed her table. People stayed out of my way as much for the smell coming off my armor as all the other good reasons.
Hitler grabbed the handle of one pitcher. I raised a foot up onto the table, my crotch right there next to his hand. We may have even touched. His hand left that pitcher like it was on fire. “Good lord!” he yelled in surprise and a Southern accent.
“I thought you’d sound more like the movies.” I said.
“I had tutors in German, but I was cloned here,” he said, pointing down at the shirt.
“Huh. What about these two assistant assholes-in-chief?” I waved to the guys seated on either side of him. “What are they, the Third Reich out of Kansas?”
“This is Jeremy, this is Christopher,” he motioned to the two brownshirts with him.
I brought my other foot up and dropped to a crouch on Cloned Hitler’s table. “Hey, I saw a fancy black polished Beetle outside. Has a bumper sticker on it that says, ‘Hitler is the Shit-ler.’ Is that yours by any chance?”
“Ja,” he said, adopting his German accent again.
“Well then, Cloney Boy, it looks like you should have brought brown pants instead of brownshirts.”
“Why?” he asked. The question was moot a moment later as I grabbed his buddies by their necks and lifted them into the air. I tossed them up above me to give me time to grab the pitchers. Those I used to nail them in the balls, shattering them. The pitchers, I mean. Well, the balls too. I assume. I didn’t exactly give them a prostate exam before I pulled Hitler up and slammed him on the table.
“Keys.” I said. Out of my peripheral vision, I noticed muscular men in black shirts come to stiff attention. Not that way, pervs. No one bothered to approach. Good for them. They just helped the two brownshirts who crawled away and left the copy of their idol to his fate.
“What are you doing?!” screamed Hitler.
“I’m jacking your ride. Ain’t you ever heard how bad New Orleans is about crime?”
“I expected this from the negros, but not from-“ Ladies and gentlemen, that’s when I gave him das boot. Right up in his asshole. I used his boot this time. I’d been in my armor since before getting incarcerated in a magic egg. I did Nazi any reason to get Adolf Jr.’s shit on my boots.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” is how the story went for a couple minutes, but I decided to go easy on the crowd and I stuck the boot in his mouth to shut him up. Then I held him down in his chair so we could talk like two civilized mass murderers.
“You done crying, or are you still not used to getting the shaft?” I said as I sat down across from him. Then I held out my hand. “Right, keys, that’s one of the things I came here for.” It was listed on a little checklist on the side of my HUD, along with “Chimichangas,” “Hephaestus,” and “Leah.”
Fumbling around and teary eyed, he finally fished the keys out of his pockets and slid them across to me. “Was that so hard?”
“Ja. It was real hard. I’m not going to shit right for a week.” He reached back to rub at his butt. Hopefully he didn’t reach too far. Just sliding along skin until, surprise!, you’re touching colon. It was probably easier on the sphincter than a normal colonoscopy camera, save for the part where a boot was shoved up his there.
Then again, I’m sure modern medicine would often work better if doctors were allowed to take boots to asses.
As I said, though, that was only one of the reasons I went there. I waved over a waitress. “We’re going to need another pitcher here. A last drink for Adolf here.”
“What?” Cloned Hitler asked. He tried to get his feet under him but got tripped up in his chair and fell over. I got up, grabbed him and his chair, and set him firmly back in it.
“You know, Hitler, old chap, there are some people who everyone hates. Universally. Maybe they fear them too, but in the end, they hate them. They hate them so very much that if they are killed, it’s celebrated. To be fair, in one of those bizarre examples of the crowd being a genius where individuals are morons, they tend to pick people who actually do deserve it.”
“What are you doing this for? Why is no one helping? Help!” cried the artificial Adolph.
“They aren’t helping because you are one of those people. Don’t worry, if it was me about to die, they wouldn’t me help me either. Ah, here’s your drink.” The waitress stopped by and left a pitcher on the table for us. I let him drink as much as he wanted while I explained, “I’m doing this as a gag. Something a little like Andy Kaufman, you might say.”
“This isn’t funny. This is just because I’m a clone of Hitler? I was born this way. I didn’t get a say in how I was brought into the world or who they took the genetic material from. Are you saying it’s right to kill me just for how I look and, and, and because of what the people who raised me taught me to say? Is that any better than my father?”
“Ooooh, sure, throw Godwin’s Law at me why don’t you? You know who else compared people to Hitler? Hitler, that’s who!” He jumped in his seat as I thrust a finger at his nose.
“For Gott’s sake, man, I’m the forgotten vanity project of a Nazi scientist, not the dictator himself! I’m ceremonial, like the Queen of England.” He sweated profusely. It matted his bangs down and left big, dark blotches at his armpits.
“Come on, let’s take a walk. Get you some air and leave all these nice, happy folks a little more ignorant about what’s going to happen. What do you say?”
My hand clamped down on his shoulder was all the answer I needed. I led him outside to a bicycle. A bicycle that had a rocket launcher strapped to the handlebars just above the basket. I stopped the clone in front of it. “Junior, can you tell me what that is?”
He stuttered as he said, “A-an R-R-RPG?”
If I took into consideration the moogles, chocobos, and cactaurs painted on the bike, I could see where he got that idea. ”No, not unless you mean rocket-propelled grenade, and that’s not what this is either. That’s a rocket launcher. Inside is a rocket, but there’s no grenade in sight.”
“What is it for?”
“It’s for America, Adolph. It’s for patriotism. Freedom. The smell of hot wings and hot dogs on a warm summer’s day. The worry over watering a lawn enough and taunting the Middle East about there being water every-fucking-where over here. It’s blood, oil, and fake tits. This July Fourth, I’m giving America a present. I’m going to kill Adolph Hitler, again, with that fucking rocket launcher right there.”
I took my hand off his shoulder. He looked at his shoulder, then up at my helmeted face, then down the street. He looked both ways, then hightailed it across St. Claude Avenue.
“Oooh, it’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood, a wonderful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” I sang to myself as I casually strode over and hefted the launcher. I sighted the clone through the scope, but then I was all like fuck that. I waved my arms in the air like I just didn’t care, arms in this case referring to weaponry. When I fired, the blowback dirtied up my armor a bit, made it slightly hot under the collar, but I had more important things to worry about. I had a rocket to direct.
You didn’t think you saw the last of my remote control rockets, did you? I swerved this puppy around quickly so I could bring it parallel to the street. Hitler was still trying to run for his life down Marigny Street.
I know, you’ve seen it in movies and wondered why they don’t do that. It’s animal instinct. Run directly away from a pursuer. Then again, Marigny was lined with a bunch of cheap little houses all crammed up against one another, so he didn’t have many options
Anyway, Hitler was maced and this night just wasn’t going his way. Maybe he’d get lucky?
Nah. Seeing through a camera mounted on the rocket itself, I directed it right where I wanted it to go. A handy little target area I created earlier. If you think back, you can probably identify when I created the perfect target on him earlier. A nice, wide open hole.
I doubt it helped the rocket glide on in. My view through the camera wasn’t too pleasant either. So Cloned Hitler became a rocket-propelled Nazi. Don’t worry, it only lasted up until he got far enough into the air, a distance my computer said was 500 feet. Then I detonated it, blowing him apart in a patriotic display of red, white, and blue strobing peony.
It was just one of many bright bursts in the sky. Looking up at that lit sky with its fireworks and the death of a resurrected specter of racial hatred, I was aware that some people could read something symbolic into all that. Because instead of anything grand, those events were merely the result of a pissed-off and increasingly pissed-on supervillain stealing a car from a clone. But in the end, maybe that revisionist grandiosity which transforms a murderer with prosthetic parts into the father of a nation is what Independence Day is about. Sure as hell explains celebrating the delivery to the printer.
That’s how I handled the Big Easy. Now take it easy, folks, and don’t go choking on any weenies. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. In that case, when life gives you wieners, find some buns to stick them in.