Tag Archives: Mr. Basford

Gecko’s Sucky Sucky Good Time 2

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Believe it or not, Master Academy didn’t go off half-cocked. They went off fully-cocked, loading up a pair of vans. Disappointed me they didn’t have a jet hidden away somewhere, but that’s probably a good thing given the inevitable future conflicts I’ll get into with them. Besides, they made it pretty clear in all the talking back and forth that the place was only about four hours away.

This time, they took a lot more people, including Venus, Psychsaur, and the minotaur guy. They left Leah behind, though. Mainly, they sent along older, more experienced folks. I tried to climb into one already-crowded van with a bunch of them. Looked nice, though I knew it’d be tricky finding a comfy seat with all the stakes strapped to me in lieu of armor.

“Hi there, how ya doin’, make way,” I said, climbing in the door.

One of the ones in a custom costume nodded toward me. “Who are you supposed to be?”

I looked down at my costume, which literally was just the clothes they got me, wood stakes tied onto my chest, upper arms, thighs, and waist, then reached up and scratched my cat ears as if they were real. “Should be obvious, really. Pussy cat covered with pointy things… you can call me Vagina Dentata.”

The men in the van all cringed and brought their knees together while I fought an instinctive urge to do the same.

I went to go in further, but then I got pulled out and floated to the ground.

“Nope!” said someone behind me. I could guess who, but I turned around anyway to confirm that ol’ Boobzilla had spotted me. “You’re still not going.”

“But come ooooon! At the very least, I’d make a good decoy. Draw fire from the people who can fight, even if you don’t let me fight.”

She shook her head. “We don’t operate like that.”

Venus set down a bundle of stakes and walked over. “Thanks, we could use these.” She started to strip me of my own wooden weapons. Which is a lot less painful than it would have been if I sported a boner.

“You need me out there. Who else is going to miraculously save the day and defeat the forces of darkness when y’all fail?”

“Don’t you mean ‘if’ we fail?” called someone from back in the van.

I turned and yelled back, “I know what I said!” Then, back to Venus, “I can draw heat from the rest of y’all. I have a very puncheable face, an abrasive personality, and a funny name. With those qualifications, it’s either fight, or become a politician.”

Venus’s eyebrow rose. “Compared to some I’ve heard about lately, you wouldn’t be any less moral. It’s good that you’re enthusiastic about helping us, but this is a time when we don’t need help.”

“Maybe I do! I gotta kill something, or at least be involved in its killing. Do you know what I did earlier?” I talked right over her starting to shake her head. “I stalked a roach. I followed it through a couple of rooms, then into a wall. By the way, y’all have some secret passages built into the place. Anyway, I followed that roach back to a huge nest of roaches in the walls and… couldn’t even kill them. It literally made me angry with rage! If there’s anything I hate, it’s redundancy, you know. That’s why I like to remove a lung from people.”

“You’d make a good exterminator,” Venus responded.

“Leave off the ex, and just watch me go after Sarah Connor. Though I do hear you’ve got a vampire infestation on your hands somewhere…”

She shook her head. “No. We’ve got you where we want you right now. It’s too dangerous for everyone to have you on this, so you stay here.”

“Fine, accursed heroes, but you don’t know how high the stakes are… I’ll show you. I’ll show everyone!” I raised my fist to the sky and let out an evil laugh.

“That’s nice,” said Venus, patting me between the cat ears. Suddenly, I decided I didn’t actually owe her my life anymore, whenever I manage to get free of this place.

Trying to stow away didn’t work either. I just rolled off. Not much of a metaphor there. I tried to hide on top of a van and rolled off when I got to the gate. Even going after them on foot didn’t work. I just couldn’t. It may have counted as escaping… which I kinda sorta maybe thought it was an escape, but it also could have been something else they put in my head. In the end, it left me looking longingly as other people went off to have a dandy Halloween time while I sat around getting babysat. And not even the fun kind of babysitting, where a killer calls from inside the house.

But there were other things I could do that didn’t count as escaping. Like leaving and calling up an individual who would greatly prefer if I was dead. That’s not really a good way to describe someone these days, though. I mean I pretended to be some anonymous magical book dealer who heard Ethan Basford, of the famed Basford family, was still around.

Ethan and I became acquainted when I did some work for him and his twin brother in California. They’re part of a family tasked to bring about the apocalypse in order to gain tremendous magical power and live as rulers in that post-apocalyptic world. Thing is, since everyone in the family’s got that deal going on, they’re all trying to both end the world as we know it and end each other as they all know each other so they don’t have to share. I wound up offing Ethan’s twin brother.

It was bittersweet for Ethan, as he paid me back with a very small amount of magical truth potion that, predictably, worked against me. I held it against him, which is why he agreed to bring some magical reinforcements to Empyreal City during the whole alien fiasco. Vampires, actually. He had some magic box full of the things, and he used to like to hang out with them in Los Angeles. I was a bit surprised he decided to stay in Empyreal City, but at least the number I had for him was still good, as was the alias.

I found him sitting in a cafe, sipping some sort of pumpkin spice espresso. I expected him to have to fight down a spit take when he saw me, but apparently I’m still fairly unrecognizable. As if a little lipstick and makeup around the eyes mattered. And having more hair in a certain do, come to think of it. The explosion, and then subsequent surgery, took a little off the top. “Are you Mr. Alias?” asked the smiling, genteel older balding man with a strong, pointed nose. He stood and shook my hand, then gestured to a seat at his table.

“You could say Mr. Alias was something of an alias for me,” I said, settling into the chair. “And I’m not here about books, especially not some magical book that traps and releases monsters. Sorry, it was all a lie.”

Ethan’s smile faded. “Then what are you wasting my time for, you punk?”

I smiled.”A certain mutual friend of ours, someone who doesn’t like telling the truth and had to do so because of you, informed me as a matter of payment that you could answer some questions about vampires for me.”

Ethan stood up. “I don’t like where this is going and I don’t have to stay for it. Good day!”

I grabbed him by the arm. “I need to know why a bunch of them would take up with Spinetingler.”

He scoffed. “They wouldn’t. I know them better than just about any other human, and they hate that guy. All creatures of the night do.”

“Please, sit, tell me why. It could mean life and death for people I know. No need to rush off and not finish that pumpkin thing just yet, right?”

He looked at me, and I swear he drew a symbol on his coffee cup. “If you really got my number from who you said you did, you know there’s a superhuman underbelly to the world. It’s like this banana stand my family used to own. No matter how down on our luck we got, there was always money in the banana stand… because we hid several hundred thousand dollars in secret compartments inside it.You have your layer of the world, we have ours, and sometimes the two meet, but usually the supernatural and the superhuman like to stay separate.”

“Aww, the vamps don’t want to be famous supers? They’d really fit in as intimidating nighttime prowlers.”

Basford shook his head and reached into his coat. He pulled out a flask and began unscrewing the top. “Mages and monsters were ostracized for much of history. Mankind, jealous and afraid of mystical power, shunned or even executed people like me. The myths are full of superpowered heroes slaying monsters. Superheroes and villains want to be noticed, but we just want to be left alone.” He popped open the lid of his coffee to dump something alcoholic in, secured the flask, and had himself a nice sip before going on. “Spinetingler is the antithesis of the supernatural world. He can’t make true vampires, either, so the only ones he would have with him are very young and very stupid. And it would get out if too many were unaccounted for.”

“Huh… interesting. I’ve got reports of people tracking him that say he does have them.” I leaned back to ponder on this. “Is there any other way he’d have some flying humanoids with fangs and claws with him?”

Basford spread his hands. “How should I know? You’re the one who knows everything. I tell you what, if you really had that book you mentioned over the phone, that might do it.”

“Oh really?” I cocked my head to the side. “The unassuming book said to have trapped ancient monsters? You know, that does sound about right.”

“Don’t joke around with anybody else about that. That book is serious business.” He pointed at me to emphasize the last two words.

I raised an eyebrow. “Let’s just say, purely hypothetically, if that book had been seen in this city previously, before the past year or so’s widespread destruction, would it likely have any older vampires in it?”

Another sip of his adulterated espresso, or at least adult coffee, and Ethan graced me with an answer. “Lots of monsters have claws and fangs and can fly in history. Vampires come in a wide variety of forms, too. There are ancient vampire legends, but too many different types. Every culture has vampiric monsters in their history. Call my if you uncover any lil-la-ke, or lilu. The females are infertile. They eat babies, though.”

I lightly slapped the tabletop. “Sound like my kind of women. Listen, thanks. Sorry for getting you riled up for nothing, but I really need to go. Gotta make sure that book wasn’t uncovered, so I guess we’ll consider that my good deed of the day for you and yours. You just stay here and have fun exorcising your coffee of spirits, eh?” I shot him finger guns. He shot me one back while taking another sip. Good guy. Maybe I’ll consider our little issue square now, with the truth serum, even if he doesn’t know it.

He could be wrong, or lying, of course, but he had a good point. I’ve pointed it out before that supers are generally flamboyant. Whether we’re causing crime or stopping it, flying around with bright colors in the day or glaring down from a rooftop at night to intimidate people, we like being noticed. Spinetingler and his creations tend to follow that line a lot more. They want victims, so they want to draw them in, whereas Basford gave me the sense vampires just want to get by while unliving their unlives in a bit more privacy than all that. You know, like living off in the middle of the Romanian mountains and trying to kill any tourists dumb enough to hike the Romanian mountains.

Another good point came when I visited the old Double Cross Headquarters building, under which I had built a bunker. Below that, I’d buried that book that trapped monsters. It didn’t look particularly threatening, with a gray cover and leather cords binding it. Easier to hide than more exotic materials, like human leather or tendons. Even easier to hide if you stick it beneath a bunker under a skyscraper.

Except the building was gone. The bunker, too. Just a crater. I stood there, examining it, figuring up the distances by eyesight. I’d have gone down there to check, but didn’t see much point in scrabbling and slipping down broken concrete, rebar, lead, and drywall to try and fail to lift a section of floor that probably weighs more than your momma. Plus, my ride home had arrived in the form of a hovering power armor of the thick, rectangular variety. Very 1980s. I held my arms up to him. “Take me, you magnificent metal man!”

“Uh, I’m… I’m just here to bring you back to the house. Mr. Mender wants me to tell you to stop running off,” came a voice over speakers.

As soon as he set me down at the campus, I headed on up to see Mender. “They’re doomed! Doomed I say! The end is nigh!”

“The town is retaken,” he said. “Your enthusiasm is appreciated, but I will not need you for Spinetingler after all.”

I rolled my eyes. “You will. Those vamps are likely not the standard European type we’re used to. This isn’t Dracula versus Superman, with Frankenstein in Drac’s corner. There’s going to be freaky vamps. Detached upper bodies, or vampire bat skulls with intestine around them. Maybe floaters with backward feet, who knows? And on top of that, Spinetingler’s got very special book with him, a magical tome that can do some nasty stuff to people.”

I know, I know. I didn’t have proof of any of that. Didn’t need it, either. All I needed was a trip to have some horror fun. It’s a thriller! Thriller night. And I’m gonna punch a being with forty eyes right in the nuts, if there are any forty-eyed bloodsuckers with male genitalia.

“Nice try,” is all Mender said to me, before rolling out to attend his other duties.

So I had nothing to do but sit around researching old myths and occasionally trying to escape, which usually amounted to me running and stopping suddenly before going back to my preparations. Holy water, garlic, a flamethrower, and I found a workable sword in one of the weapon training areas off to the side of their gym. It slowed down work on my newest armor iteration, though I didn’t entirely mind that as I had almost nothing to work with to make the armor at this time.

Leah stopped by to see me in my isolated corner of the library, surrounded by my mess. She smiled, her hair forming a rainbow with red at the base. “Hey there.”

I winked at her. “Howdy, young’un. I’ve been expecting to see you around this place. And to have to explain the story so far to you.”

“I picked up on some of it.” She nodded. “You still found a way to leave.”

I shrugged. “Temporarily. Only to a short distance. I don’t consider a trip to go fight the vampires quite the same, I think because I might not come back. I’m a bit handicapable at the moment.”

“I might know a group of troublemakers who want to go watch what’s going on and jump in if needed. Maybe we can stick you in the trunk,” she said. She snickered.

I sat up. “That’s… actually, yeah, that should work. I mean, because then, I’d have to stay with y’all. No escaping… yes, my devious Leah is truly growing into a thinking villain…”

“I’m thinking of staying a hero,” she said.

“A delusional villain, but one readying to take down the heroes from the inside…”

“They’re my friends, Gecko.”

I grabbed the sword I’d found, a thin longsword. I didn’t put a lot of weight on it, but I did cut into the carpet helping myself up. “And boyfriends. Still with Derrick?”

She scrunched up her face in puzzlement and crossed her arms, as well as one foot in front of the other. “Have you been digging up gossip about me? I’m not with him anymore. He got weird. Or I guess he was weird the whole time, like he, like, didn’t seem to realize we were as close as we were. Then he got dismissed. Mr. Mender didn’t trust the nanites, so he gave everyone an ultimatum if they had used any or if someone they knew used any. I didn’t want to get purged either. I trusted you not to hurt me.”

I swung the sword forward, just missing her chin. “Right you were! But enough about love lives for now. After all, the car ride’s a few hours. Assemble the Gecko Cats!”

“Gecko cats?” she asked.

I swung the blade round a few more times, then pointed it straight into the air as I yelled, “Gecko! Gecko! Gecko! Gecko Cats, hooooooooooooo!”

The librarian’s “Shh!” cut me off before I could play “Thunderstruck” as a theme song.

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Mad Gex: Fury Rode 4

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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.”

“Dumber, too.”

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.

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Mad Gex: Fury Rode 1

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Come Thursday, my merry cross country trip met with a bit of resistance when our lovely caravan made its way through a ghost town. Not an expression, either. There are still a few old Wild West towns out there with some restless spirits. They’re nice enough folks, if a bit backwards. This one guy kept wanting to feel me up outside the ruins of his old shop. I had to threaten to burn it down to get him to give up the ghost. I guess it wouldn’t be much of a threat in most of those old places, but they’re a bit of a tourist attraction, so they used some of the money to renovate. So he went from skulking around the ruins of his old, deteriorated ice cream shop to trying to grope me outside his fancy Howard Johnson’s.

Could have just grabbed my armor and energy-punched him to undeath, what with the way the energy can affect ghosts, but whatever. It got solved and we got enough gas. Like most tourist traps, it’s really becoming commercialized. It’s only a matter of time before someone puts a call center there or something.

The gas and the groping weren’t the problem, though. It was when someone shot the bottom half of the beer bottle while I was downing it. I looked over and found some rickety black bag of bones. Which sounds like a special operations skeleton instead of the old, goo-covered bones that had shot me. Somehow. Half the gun was lumpy rust, so I didn’t know how he managed that, though I figured out the hat with the hole in it had more to do with hiding the core.

The aliens’ latest attack really pissed me off. It’s not because I’m an alcoholic, or because they’re getting to me. No, what really pissed me off was that, of all the times for me to fight an undead gunfighter in a Wild West ghost town, it had to be this idiotic stopover. Not even a whole stay, with a horde of skeletons coming after me! Just some random alien-controlled undead gunslinger. How dare they steal that really cool experience from me?

So I lowered that broken beer bottle and spat out some of the glass and beer in my mouth. “Well, cowpoke, I hope you’re feelin’ frisky. ‘Cause I’m the quick, and you are so very much the dead.”

It ground its teeth, a molar falling out, then raised that old revolver again. It cocked the hammer back, at which point I saw some of that black goo slide down into the mechanism. When it fired, the goo shot out as fast as a bullet and winged my cheek.

While it reloaded and tried to go off fully-cocked, I ran to the side and threw the remaining bottle piece at its gun. It really didn’t do much, since it wasn’t all that heavy. The alien skeleton cowboy decided to move its nonexistent ass, trying to dodge to the side, but I was a bit faster. It’s a matter of stability and durability.

Most people in my situation would run directly at a gun-wielding assailant, but of the many differences between myself and most people, two were relevant in this situation. First, I’m smart enough not to charge in. I mean, I know some people try to claim that trained gunmen couldn’t effectively draw and fire on someone charging within twenty feet, but I’ve never known a trained gunman who didn’t appreciate the target sticking their face against the barrel. It makes aiming easier.

I even saw Lone Gunman pull that off. Some nut, maybe a grieving family member, ran at him and pulled a knife when he got close. The same amount of time it took him to pull a knife, Gunman had his pistol out and was firing into him point blank. Probably didn’t help that Gunman had a LOT more experience and muscle memory drawing a gun than the other guy had with a knife.

Oh, I got so into all that ranting that I never mentioned the second different thing about me. That would be the laser eye. Which I made use, sweeping it across the thing’s body while the skeleton stopped any pretense of needing to reload and starting putting holes in my holes. And I don’t mean I was shot in the vagina. That I still have due to my critical nanite shortage. But I gotta give the skeleton a hand for its courage under firing at me. Someone needed to, after I carved off its gun hand.

I expected it to fight to its death some more, but then a glowing forcefield covered the cowboy hat’s holes. Every bit of black goop pulled up into the hat, leaving the skeleton to fall the rest of the way apart while the hat hovered there, then began to fly off. Trying to zap it revealed the forcefield could deflect anything my eye could dish out without burning most of my face off.

I’ll admit, it was really cool, in a stupid and cheesy way. As much as I wanted to nab that hat, I also had a lot of blood to try and keep in my body. Standing there with my enemy fleeing in a far too intact state, I knew I was going to feel those shots in the morning. And with a pinky, given the size of the hole in my arm, my hip, my gut, and my chest. Luckily, it completely missed my boobs, and almost missed one of my lungs. Funny how you lose track of all those in the middle of a fight when the adrenaline kicks in.

See? Stupid aliens totally ruined my chance to have an epic fight with undead gunslingers all on their on. And I had to grab something from Max that he assured me would likely heal me. Given how he’s normally pretty good at throwing concoctions together, I could only assume it became iffy because healing wasn’t the primary goal of the bubbling liquid I poured into my gullet. If anyone’s wondering, it tasted like carbonated grape soda foam mixed with codeine.

Shortly after drinking it, I awoke to find myself being driven by Moai, with everyone else’s cars far to the rear. Sam was tracking Moai and I with binoculars, they were so far back. I think I saw her hand something to Holly, too. Either way, whatever Max gave me fixed what ailed me. At first, I thought it filled the holes in with some weird purple scabs that felt remarkably smooth, until I spotted them on my hands as well.

Yep, I’d been polka-dotted.

To get the bad taste out of my mouth, I screwed around with the radio until an appropriate song came on. In this case, “California Love,” by Tupac.

Not that it mattered to those our little trek had picked up. We aren’t exactly alone anymore. There’s this biker gang for starters, Satan’s Poolboys. Maybe all the good biker names were taken, though I suspect it has more to do with the message I saw on a pair of their jackets. The first, worn by a man whose handlebar mustache was big enough to have its own handlebar mustache, said,“I love to ride my Harley.”

The second, worn on a burly biker with covered in enough tattoos to shame a Yakuza, had on a jacket that read, “I’m Harley.”

Some of those flyers who had been following us from Los Angeles were hanging back still, but within sight. Probably still on the fence about joining up with us.

Then there were the Moonies. The Moonbats. It’s not an official name, but their bus had their website’s URL on the side, and I figured they deserved the name once I read it. I guess it’s not completely crazy for there to be a militant abductee support group, but no extraterrestrials Earth has ever encountered were as focused on the human anus as the ones they claimed to have met. The fact that real aliens are out there means people can’t completely dismiss those types, however.

They sped up to wave hello to me, many not practicing proper gun etiquette vis a vis where they pointed the things in relation to other people. They had a couple of supers with them, though. One guy had blades all on his skin. You know how there’s a generic spiny super in a lot of shows, movies, and comics? Like he’s just got spikes or quills sticking out? Imagine that, except with half-saucer blades that orient themselves along the skin. He was bound to be more useful than the lady holding onto the outside with her suction cup hands and feet. Not all powers can be winners, folks.

Even with all that help, something was missing. Parts of my body, for one thing. As easy as the skeleton was to take down, and as much as any of these folks could have done to it, I realized I needed more on hand. I didn’t have any explosives to speak of, no trusty laser potato peeler even.

Seeing an off road to a town coming up, called back to Max to lead the group while I made a pit stop for something more befitting my trip. It wouldn’t take long. I just needed two stores, and a hardware store was one of them.

When we caught back up to them half an hour later, Moai still drove. I stood on the rear of the car, past the back seats, with bungee cords holding me to the car by my belt loops. Our car blasted out “Careless Whisper” with me pretending to play along on my new saxophone until I got a break and angled the mouth of the sax up and to the side. With the press of a button, a gout of flame spewed into the air. It nearly hit one of the flyers who had been following us, making him regret catching up for a moment.

Got me nice applause from the Moonies, at least. I made sure to wave at them as I passed by, and called out, “May you ride eternal, shiny and chrome!”

The flyers were not to be the last of our recruits on this leg of the journey, either. I’d picked up one in that little town. All black skin, weird legs that curled under him like a clawed frog. He had little glowing teal spines sticking off his back and some points on his arms. They complemented his slitted red eyes and the trace amounts of luminescent teal on his curved horns and straight tail. Shadowcrawler, he called himself. Apparently a big fan of mine, or at least he had become one when I decided to fight the aliens.

But he wasn’t the only one to join up. The next day, after I forced Ethan Basford to give him a ride, we got a still more welcome sight.

Coming from an angle, a cargo plane adjusted course to match us, then came lower and lower, showing off the pilot’s impressive gonads and the golden claw symbol on the side. The rear of the plane opened as it dropped still lower and moved in front of us along the road, turning that highway into one hell of a no passing lane. One by one, three buggies dropped out of the back of the plane, moving aside with uncanny precision to not only stay up there ahead of us, but also to move aside in time so the next could exit. Then a car dropped out and the plane climbed.

They dropped back to us as a group, each of the buggies carrying six masked men in yellow, loose-fitting shirts with a black claw insignia on the front. Their masks had built in goggles that reflected the sunlight and hid their eyes. They looked ungainly at first, until someone in the lead car made a circle gesture in the air and they pulled off a part that revealed nose, mouth, and ear holes. Credit where credit is due; the Claw may be a vaguely racist stereotype Asian Pacific island supervillain dictator, but at least he cared about his minions’ comfort.

As I pulled up beside the lead car, I saw he sent more than just minions. A woman with metal teeth and segmented metal tail waved the scythe-like metal claw that replaced her right hand at me. She must have been a newer underling, or the Claw’s internet agents are just that damn good at censoring outside information.

She slapped the driver, another of the regular Claw minions, on the arm. He waved at me politely, but concentrated on his driving. In the backseat, though, were more. I recognized Podling, that being the nickname of this round stone carved with symbols and runes. Don’t let that fool y’all, though. When it comes time to fight, that thing floats around and does all kind of magic shit. And it sat right beside a Japanese mercenary named Senpai who had a fondness for knives and bondage that mixed interestingly with a voice capably of compelling people to do what he said. He blew me a kiss through the gag strapped to his face.

“Oh what a day,” I told Moai as I tuned up my new rocket sax before me and my allies had a chance to make the sweet music of battle. “What a glorious day!”

Meanwhile, in a diner a few miles outside of Kingscrow, Forcelight sat humming to herself with The Good Doctor and Lone Gunman eating dinner beside her. Doc focused on the TV, then on a tablet in front of him.

“Plotting something?” asked Gunman, gripping his fork a little tighter. Forcelight reached over and broke off the head of the fork, though that still didn’t solve the problem. It just left him with one jagged piece of metal instead of four smoother ones.

Doc looked up, eyes flicking briefly over the broken utensil before looking at the others. “In one definition of the word, I am. I am attempting to ascertain why these cities were picked and why only these cities. Surely they could accomplish their perceived goal better by dousing the entire planet at once, correct?”

Forcelight nodded at my command. “Sounds right.”

“Maybe they only have so much,” Gunman suggested. “They have to spread it out.”

Doc ran his hand through his hair, gripping a short-trimmed mane that had many more grays in it since he went to prison. Then again, the Earth currently has more grays on it than when he went to prison, too. “That is one idea. Infect a wider range of countries and in so doing make it impossible to isolate anyone. Note that Madagascar has already closed their borders, however. I don’t feel that is the full picture, but neither is my original theory that they must have limited supplies. If that was the case, why these targets? Political capitals are understandable, right? Empyreal City is a populous city as well, noteworthy for its superhumans. But Johannesburg? That is not a large city.”

“That still could support the containment theory,” I said through Forcelight, still controlling her like a puppet. I didn’t even have to stick my hand up her ass to work her mouth. Unfortunately. “Although…hey, has anyone actually seen ships passing by any of the other cities?”

“Other than Empyreal City,dear?” It was weird seeing Doc looking at me like that, though at least I knew it was because I was controlling his daughter’s nanite-enslaved body from afar. “No, as a matter of fact, they have not.”

Gunman sat up straighter as he thought through this little riddle. “They could be using airplanes instead, but someone should have noticed if they were.”

I, by which I mean Forcelight, frowned. “I think we have a mystery to solve before we meet up with the villains.”

“We should have plenty of time.” Gunman nodded.

Doc raised one finger before politely correcting him, “I checked, and it is technically only forty hours of straight driving time to get from Los Angeles to Empyreal City. If Psycho Gecko has enough people to drive constantly, it won’t take long at all.”

Huh. He was right, too. Might have to slow up a bit, both to help gather people along the way, and to give this group time to figure out the cloud thing. It’s an intriguing question, and suggestive of either weakness….or strength. Yes, dramatic dots, it’s that intriguing.

“We’ll have to hope he gets distracted,” Forcelight said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll decide to touch up Mt. Rushmore before fighting the aliens?”

Goal one: reach the city full of an alien army where they conveniently removed their shield in order to meet my challenge. Goal two: figure out why they haven’t yet gassed the entire planet into being their puppets. Before we get the fat lady warmed up to sing, I better look into how my Admiral Ackbar sense is acting up, because my mind can’t repel tingling of that magnitude.

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Star Gex: Fist Contact 8

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“Busy bees, Gecko. Beijing, Empyreal City, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and almost Washington D.C. Captain Lightning earned his pardon.” Max punctuated each of the cities that suffered the alien chemical control rain by passing around drinks that had purple, blue, and green yellows with floating pineapples on top. I had no clue what they were, like much of what Max throws together, but I was willing to risk these. All things considered, what’s the worst they could do? The aliens are the ones supposed to kill me, so I’ll just worry about accepting fruity colored drinks from them. So Sam, Holly, Max, and I enjoyed our drinks toasting the loss of some fairly big cities, while Moai finished his almost-Washington drink. It wasn’t the same as the others. For one thing, it was on the rocks.

“Anybody else giving a damn and fighting back?” I asked, sipping on my fruity drink. I suppose I tend to focus on my own problems to the exclusion of the rest of the world, but I’m hardly unique there.

Max settled in across the table, between Holly and Sam, then nodded to me. “Yes, my dear.”

I raised an eyebrow, as did Holly and Sam. And Max, too, who said, “You wouldn’t react that way if I said it to a man Gecko.”

“He has a point,” I responded, shrugging. “And it’s good that I’m not the only sane person on earth.”

Max grinned. “The rioters in Russia would disagree with you taking that title for yourself.”

“Everyone would disagree with you calling yourself the only sane person,” muttered Holly.

She had a point. “It’s not my fault they keep handing it to me. But, as I’ve often thought, I’m not insane so much as just reacting to an insane world. Now, bottoms up. We’ve got some more reacting to do.” I took a big sip before setting my glass down on the table, right next to five signal interceptors.

I had a message I wanted heard, and for that I needed a lot of help all over the place. Like Forcelight. She hasn’t been taking her captivity well, though you’d never know it to look at her. It’s very distracting having to control her, too, but at least her company’s access to nanites kept her from breaking away. All I had to do was keep administering them to her while the old ones’ orders superseded the general reparative programming they’d been given to work on anyone. It all comes down to reading the DNA, which is likely going to cause a hell of a lot of trouble with some folks.

I know, I know. Tiny machines that read DNA? How is that even possible? What’s next, tiny machines that can take half a strand of DNA and use chemicals to create the complementary opposite side? Madness! Madness, sorcery, and biology.

Imperfect analogy aside, I’ve had to fly a fine line as Forcelight to keep The Good Doctor from suspecting I had taken over his daughter’s body. Well, ok, it was pretty easy to keep him from thinking that. All I had to do was not suggest that to him. Even if I acted strange, I could blame it on any number of things but that. Like when Forcelight flew back in after visiting a couple of local TV stations, then immediately turned on the TV in her living room. Good Doctor thought it odd, but he had enough to deal with between getting caught up on news, asking old friends for help, and riposting Lone Gunman’s barbs.

That trio in Kingscrow saw the same thing that could have been seen anywhere else in the country, from L.A. to D.C., from Empyreal City to Paradise City, from Kingscrow to Memphis, though those last two aren’t as far away as the others I mentioned.

And what they all saw was, apparently, a cheap motel bathroom as viewed from a small, round camera balanced on a towel rack. At least until I dropped the invisibility. “Hello out there, TV land. It’s time for Uncle Gecko’s Molestation Minute again. Ah, but that’s the sort of attitude that makes y’all try to turn the channels. Go ahead. Aha! See? Still here.”

Yeah, I kinda didn’t want anyone covering anything else.

“Now, right about now there’s a bunch of buildings spontaneously combusting all over the country because those Fluidic aliens up above are trying to take me out. They’re kinda scared of me like that, probably because I’m one of the few people who is actually doing anything about them. Though that probably explains any other mysterious explosions y’all might have noticed that got rid of xenophobic elements. Don’t try too hard, Fluidics.” I showed them why. The bathroom shifted and transformed into a view in front of Mt. Rushmore. Then in front of the White House. Then in front of a bunch of rampaging movie Indians from a Western, a stripping cop, Colin Mochrie of Whos Line Is It Anyway making funny faces, and finally settling on Times Square in Empyreal City.

They could attack wherever they wanted, but they’d destroy an awful lot of places before getting me.

“Listen, everybody knows what the aliens are doing. It’s mind control. Forget the crazy chemtrail stuff some people have been preaching, this is actual mind control. They stimulate the growth of an organ in the neck that gives them control over the human body. And they did that to the entirety of Empyreal City, which I know because I had been there. I got out of there, but I had been there. Saw it happen with my own two eyes.”

A familiar voice interrupted my feed, which I could see since I was both recording and watching at the same time. “Where’d they dig this copy up?” asked another Psycho Gecko, this one standing in front of a black and white atom bomb test. The world may not revolve around me, but I was starting to wish the Fluidics knew that. “I don’t know much about all this alien mess, but I know I wasn’t anywhere near Empyreal City after those jackass Starfleet wannabes almost tossed me in a hole and threw away the hole. Now stop cramping my style, copy.”

With that, my doppelganger pulled a screaming woman close, put one arm around her shoulders, and tore her head off with the other.

I let him keep broadcasting, instead doing a sort of side-by-side editing job that put us both on the air at once. “See? They’ve even been trying to copy me. Just ask the Master Academy about that one. But they used a suit full of one of the slimy black aliens to do so. Hey, fake Psycho Gecko, let’s see you do this!” I pulled off my helmet, revealing the face of Norma Mortenson, my secret identity, to the world.

“…you win this round,” grumbled the copy, before walking offscreen to the side. I cut off his interruption, all while reaching over and grabbing my camera off the towel rack. The view shifted as I set my cybernetic eye back in my socket.

“Here’s the rundown, folks: aliens are bad. I’m bad, too, but at least I don’t want to enslave everyone and destroy the Earth. And since all the heroes, all the alleged ‘good guys,’” and here I used finger quotes, “Aren’t doing shit, that just leaves me. And anyone who will help me. I may be a monster, but I’m a monster pointed in their direction. And someone’s got to do the right thing. Since everyone else on the list has shirked their responsibilities, it falls to me. So I’m announcing now that I’m about to leave the City of Angels and head straight for Empyreal City. When I get there, I’m taking back that city, the ship, everyone they’ve captured, and I’m going to destroy their fleet. I’m going to do it whether you’re on my side or not, but somebody’s got to do it. Now on to the announcement I have to direct at the aliens themselves: I’m coming for you.”

I cut it off there and donned my helmet again, strolling out of the motel where everyone waited. Max and his girls were taking their own car. Ethan Basford had brought along a vintage green Jaguar he would be riding in. Moai and I had a bright yellow convertible, the better for Moai to feel the wind on his face.

It was not exactly an impressive caravan.

It must have impressed someone, though. After a day on the road in which I’d swear we were being followed by human-sized flyers from afar, we stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and saw my little message had gotten a response. The barrier came down. A figure approached suddenly to look into the cameras.

She’d changed quite a bit. Seemed like her cheeks were a bit thinner. Oh, and there was the way her eyes glowed through her visor and a metal implant showed through her cheek. It was Venus in her power armor, but it was her new overlords who spoke. “We will bring you peace, starting with this threat from the supervillain Psycho Gecko. Everyone, you are safe with our friends from the stars. They have done wonderful things here in Empyreal City. No crime, no pollution. It is the beginnings of a paradise.”

They forced her to smile. Those assholes. Made me so mad, even Forcelight frowned where she and her group were packing their things to head out to Empyreal City. The Kingscrow group got the idea from my broadcast and decided it would be better to head there first and see what they could do to take down the barrier. It was better than letting me get there and start deploying weapons of mass destruction. Or so Good Doctor and Lone Gunman thought.

“If Psycho Gecko hates us, it must be for good reason. We welcome his hatred. Let him come,” Venus finished before leaving the startled news team behind and leaping back over to the city.

“Shit’s crazy, right?” asked a man of indeterminate brownness who spent most of our time in the store eyeing the screen instead of us. Too bad for him we robbed the shit out of it. We even sent Basford around to suck the gas out of the clerk’s car with a hose. We could have paid for anything, but…why?

I brushed aside a Slim Jim that slightly obstructed the view on the tiny TV set, glaring at the screen as the station replayed images of Venus and long-distance shots of Empyreal City as it looked now. The people and cars didn’t move right. It was too organized.

I reached out and touched the flat image of Venus as she talked. I thought back to the odd bodies of the extraterrestrials: black goo surrounding a brittle core. I didn’t know much about them, even the basics of how they sense things or eat. “Do they defecate, Venus?”

I narrowed my eyes as she leaped away in replay, then growled, “They will.”

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Star Gex: Fist Contact 5

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“What puzzles me is that if their dispersal technique is that effective, why is the barrier still up?” asked The Good Doctor. Lone Gunman eyed him suspiciously, but by this point that was pretty much his default assumption around my villainous friend. The fact that Doc turned himself in out of some bizarre desire for penance didn’t seem to matter to him. He still acts like Doc is just a criminal. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Doc is a confused criminal. A very confused criminal.

Then again, he had a point about the barrier thing. It crossed my mind from time to time as well. These…fuck it, I’m just calling them Fluidics from now on…these Fluidics pretty much won in there. Most, if not all, the city were converted. The heroes were going to get their asses stomped in that last battle I ran out on, too. I think the Buzzkills I ordered to hide would also be dead by now if they’d been found and besieged.

As Forcelight, I chowed down on some cereal, looking between the two. The old Good Doctor would be more than capable of stopping Lone Gunman if he tried something. This version…I have my doubts. For one thing, he didn’t like his costume anymore. What kind of a person doesn’t like a black leather coat semi-reminiscent of plague doctors? Though I heard their stuff was more like oilcloth. He even had this nifty helmet that matched. It was nice, a costume any murderer would be proud to stalk people in.

Compare that to the rampant use of tights on women as stacked as Forcelight and her glorious rack. There’s a different sort of pride being shown off there. I very much enjoyed having her assets, though. The contact information for the superheroes, too. Every member of that old super group Shieldwall who wasn’t dead or retired, for example. It saved me a lot of time, because I’d been considering stopping by Memphis to collect Honky Tonk Hero and Gorilla Awesome.

I wanted to gather as many heroes and villains as I could, but the problem was just as bad as when I tried it just in Empyreal City, except this time I didn’t have a pair of social networks making it easier on me. Forcelight’s got some pull, and even Max could walk into a place and get someone on his side, but I’m usually just tolerated until someone needs something from me.

That’s why no one is returning my calls. I don’t have a lot of contacts in the supervillain community these days anyway, and even that fox guy from Empyreal City hasn’t bothered getting back with me. If I could spare the nanites, I’d just grab the whole lot of them. I might have Max come up with something to influence people instead.

Or, better yet, I’m headed to Los Angeles. I figure The Trust still owes me. The Trust is this group, an extended family or bunch of families, who pretty much sold their souls for great magical power under the regime of whatever supernatural overlords they’ll eventually be able to unleash on Earth, except they’re more like the family from Arrested Development than the one from The Godfather. I worked with them some. This guy, Ethan Basford, is one of their patriarchs. As payment for saving his ass, he sent me a magic truth potion. He owes me for that one, too, since Venus turned it around and used it to learn some things from me that I’d rather not have told anyone. Whether he thinks he owes me for that happening doesn’t matter. I’m the one with the mean attitude and the knowledge of exactly how to choke a man with his own testicles.

The secret is tearing them at the base, so they don’t deform.

Much as I hate to say it, I should also stop by the Master Academy. If anyone over there had been let in on me taking refuge with the Eastern Campus, maybe I’ll find allies there. Or at least let them know that their friends are all caught in Empyreal City. I don’t have high hopes for them.

So while I’m heading to L.A., and while Forcelight is calling up her old friends, I’ve found I do have a few people looking to contact me. CIA, FBI, DIA, NGA, MSS, GRU, DIH, MOIS, the other DIA, BND, DGSE, DPSD, MI6, MI5, MI-Done yet?, and Mossad. See what happens? You give one or two spies your card, and soon everybody has your number.

It makes a certain amount of sense, actually. Who wants to spy on a regular person on the street? All you’ll find on their computer is some porn and maybe the occasional web serial. But if you manage to look at a spy’s computer, you’ll get all kinds of juicy information. And the good porn, too. The stuff the Slavic countries keep to themselves instead of exporting to the United States.

At least all those agencies gave me a place to start as far as recommending that the aliens be taken as major threats, but I ignored them in favor of checking on a message from one of the few groups that hasn’t treated me like a child or tried to screw me over. Both of which, I believe, are intrinsically linked. Of course, I mean the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF. They’re not even the Vatican’s intelligence agency, either. Yeah, the Vatican has their own intelligence agency. But as the office originally created as the Inquisition, they have occasionally made use of my talents. Father Poffo, my handler there, was itching to know about the extraterrestrial.

See, that’s really bad news for the Christianity in general. Not because of the idea that life on other worlds could prove their religion wrong. That’s not much of a concern except for some of the crazier sects. But it probably really pisses off any of them that holds to that Original Sin business, since aliens were never in the Garden of Eden and seduced by a serpent into eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Long story short, aliens get to go to heaven without Jesus, because they aren’t born sinners.

Like I said, pisses theologians right the fuck off, so I naturally assumed that Father Poffo wanted some dirt on the Fluidics. He’ll run to the Pope and the Pope can tattle to Yahweh.

So here’s how things broke down: Forcelight made her calls, inviting heroes like Black Raptor and Raggedy Man to either come up and help with Empyreal City, or maybe send some friends who could help out. Moai took a car of his own to go crash The Trust and bring Ethan Basford to me for a chat. Moai’s a really good choice for that considering Ethan’s preference for hanging out with vampires. I sat with Max while Holly and Sam went shopping along Rodeo drive. It was more Holly’s suggestion, but Sam sacrificed her time and energy like many a good friend would. And I waited on hold as I tried to get through the Vatican’s phone lines to contact Father Poffo. Their hold music is some excellent Gregorian chanting, by the way.

“Ya know,” I said to Max while trying to pass the time, him sitting across both backseats and me hanging out in the front. “I kinda miss my dong.” A pair of guys passing by immediately turned away and hurried faster.

“You don’t like being a woman? It seems like a stunt you would enjoy to mess with people.” He laid back, looking into the sky with eyes safely shielded by shades.

I shrugged. “Some parts of it are fun, but it’s not really a stunt. My body…well, that’s not really me, no matter what. I am the armor. This,” and here I gestured to my body, despite him not looking, “Is just what I look like when I don’t want people to realize I’m me. It only stands to reason that if I can be a bunch of different-looking men, I can also be women.”

Max looked over, “You like being a lesbian, don’t you?”

“Actually, that’s the part where I wish I had my boner back. And I like some of the curves, too. The hips, the boobs, the painted nails. That’s the problem, too. I had to make some adjustments to my armor to account for some body shape differences, and I can’t fix that as easily.” Meanwhile, over at the Vatican, I had left the Gregorian chanting behind when I got transferred from International Collections to the Complaints Department. I think I got some of my Latin wrong and they misunderstood, but I got to listen to an organ-only version of O Fortuna, so that was awesome.

“Have you tried keeping your boobs and growing a dick?” asked Max.

I brought my hands together, fingers steepling like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, “That’s certainly an interesting idea. Yes, maybe…hmm. Ok, maybe I’ll just grow a dick.” I turned to a pair of people who had walked beside us awfully slowly, “Ya hear that?! I’m gonna have my own penis!”

They hurried away, but a man across the street yelled out, “You preach it, sister!” before sauntering off with the guy he was with.

Complaints transferred me to the Heresy Hotline, so I was getting close. Once again, the hold music changed. The Heresy Hotline must not get a lot of callers. That’s the easiest way to explain why their music was AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”. Fitting, I’ll give them that. After a second, it wrung through. “Oooh, yeah, this is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Father Poffo speaking.”

“Hold all thoughts, I have to take this call,” I told Max. To Poffo, I said, “Greetings, padre. Been awhile. It’s God, but you can call me Psycho Gecko for the purposes of this call.”

“I must ask that you do not take the lord’s name in vain, my son.”

“Jesus Christ, will you lighten up? Besides, his name is Yahweh. And this is the Heresy Hotline. It’s your cover to hear this.”

“Uh huh. We don’t normally communicate this way and it’s justifiably putting me in a position I don’t want to be in.”

“Aww, but you wanted to hear from me about the aliens.”

“Oh yeah, my son. Let’s talk.”

I filled him in on the key points of our extraterrestrial visitors: hostile aliens who are using advanced technology to grow mind controlling organs so they can use all of Earth as their own army in some galactic civil war taking place far, far away. Do not accept their medical treatment, and stay away from rain and fog. Most damningly, I informed him, they had some major issues with the concept of transubstantiation, so he better send some missionaries.

“I will keep that in mind, my son. Have you uncovered any physical weaknesses to go along with the spiritual?”

“They’re fluid, but seem to have some sort of solid core that floats around in the fluid. I don’t know if they need some sort of suit to maintain a useful form. In fact, I had one try to choke me out after I tore a hole in its suit. But breaking that core seems to kill them. And I’d really appreciate it if you’re able to send any Catholic supers to help me deal with these guys if I put out the call.”

“Father Church will always remain vigilant against the forces of the Great Adversary, my son. Have faith.”

“Why Father, of course I have faith. She’s tied up in the trunk. I’m thinking about nabbing Grace and Charity while I’m at it. Not sure about Chastity, though. I hear she doesn’t put out.”

“Is there anything else you need, my son?”

“I’m a little hungry. Got a van of candy around?”

And suddenly I’d been hung up on. How rude. The arrival of Holly and Sam was most convenient, though, especially as I got a text from Moai inviting me down to a spot called The Vampire Club. While I’d likely fit in with my fangs, I decided to go in my armor, and without my escort. I didn’t want to stick around just because Max and Sam liked the atmosphere.

Well the sun was high and the color of piss when I chose to visit a spot with a name like this. A lot of them were clearing out under wide brim hats, umbrellas, and so on. I guess fangs had been flying, capes were torn, and a lot of vampires were left scorned. I could see wigs were pulled and top hats were crushed; those pointy boots were in a rush. As I stepped in, a scruffy put-upon bartender slid a beer over to a bald-headed nosferatu who smiled and said, “Thanks for the Bud.”

It wasn’t beer, either. Not that color and thickness. I guess somewhere out there is a bottling plant that hires a lot of people named Bud as blood donors.

In the middle of the room, Moai stood guard over Ethan Basford. An older, thicker, balding man, Ethan managed to look out of place even in the rather diverse crowd I’d spotted around this club so far. Maybe it was the lack of pallor, but you could just tell he wasn’t one of the other undead around. Plus, he had a broken leg. That set him apart.

“Well hello there, Ethan. Nice to meet you. No, no, don’t stand up. I’ll sit.” I helped myself to a chair across from him. He kept wincing and held onto his leg where part of the bone strained against his skin. I pointed to it, “You’ll want to put a bandaid on that, ya know. So, since you don’t even have an option of running away, I suppose I’ll get around to what I want to talk to you about.”

“You know you could have set up a meeting. We parted on good terms, right?” he asked, hissing through the pain.

I shrugged. “Eh, think of it as a little bit of payback for how your little ‘gift’ got used against me.”

He leaned away from me. Maybe he didn’t know for sure, but I figured he had a pretty good guess that sending “three drops of truth” to a supervillain like me would inevitably be used against me.

“Now, Ethan, I don’t want to kill you if I can help it, but I’m in a little bit of trouble right now. I’ve got these guys who don’t like me. Maybe you’ve heard of them; they’re an entire fucking alien fleet parked in Earth orbit. They are obviously quite advanced scientifically in comparison. Now, any sufficiently advanced technology is pretty much just magic to the ignorant, but not everyone realizes how sufficiently advanced magic is a pain in the ass to the scientifically literate. You follow me?”

“You want magic help against the aliens or you’ll kill me,” he reached out and grabbed a glass of some amber liquid, downing it quickly. I’m surprised he held off that long, actually. Alcohol’s use as anesthetic is well known, just like alcohol’s use as a social lubricant, incendiary device, and as the lead writer of numerous reality shows, including Cops.

“Yeah. And you know there are others in your Trust that’d give me what I want for that. The aliens aren’t going to let any of you bring about Hell on their Earth, but I’m sure they’d love to get their hands on your friends from the other side. If you need to know one thing, know this: I am going to annihilate them. This planet ain’t big enough for me and the aliens. So you can help me try and wipe them out…or you can help me go commit suicide. Or I kill you and someone else in your Trust helps me out.”

He held out his hand.

I looked at it, “You’re willing to shake on it?”

“No. I mean, I’ll do it, but could you get me another beer?” he squeezed the air with his hand as if hoping for a glass to fill it.

I smiled under my helmet and raised a hand up. “You heard the man, barkeep! Let’s get some human alcohol over here, and make it strong. The guy’s got a bum leg, so he needs something that could send a bum to bed.”

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High Crass Criminal 3

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“Sorry, sir, but we need you to remove all your weapons.”

A couple walking just ahead of me hurried up as the guards stopped me. I slumped and lolled my tongue out of my mouth as I let out a “Blegh.” The guys at the entrance had been easily duped. They all looked normal enough in their suits with their earbuds. Somehow, these guys could tell I was packing.

One of them stepped right in front of me. “I’m afraid we have to insist.”

I wanted to jam my knee into his mouth and choke him with his own teeth, then shove his leg up his buddy’s ass. However, the invitation to a fundraiser with a politician fascinated me. People whose family I’ve killed generally don’t react in such a way.

Plus, I’d have Moai backing me up. As independent-minded as I am, which here means that my mind takes long walks on the beach while I kill people and some people accuse me of losing it, I trusted that he’d face down anything to help me. He’s a loyal Moai statue. Not like those lazy ones that just stand around all day gawking at tourists.

The smartly-dressed guard held a plastic tub with a piece of paper wrapped around the handle. The paper had a tear-away tab with a number, like a valet receipt. “We’ll have everything checked and ready for when you leave. It’s more of a precaution to keep armed civilians from causing trouble,” the guard said.

I stuck my nose in the air and gave a harrumph! Then, I reached inside my jacket and began pulling things out. “Let’s see…ballistic knife, exploding throwing knife, non-exploding non-throwing knife, blinding powder egg, stiletto wrapped with LSD tabs, stiletto not wrapped with LSD tabs, stiletto heel ground to a point, chattering teeth, real teeth, and a pair of fireball capsules, and a pokéball.” I dropped the last of it on there. The guard tore the tab off the handle and gave it to me.

I stepped forward, but another guard, one with sunglasses on, said, “Stop.” His buddy with the tub got in my way.

“Hammer time?” I asked.

He set the bin down on the small table next to us and instructed me, “Sir, please hold up your arms while I check you over once again. My colleague there believes you to be carrying more concealed weapons.”

I glanced at the colleague. He tipped his glasses low so I could see his glowing blue eyes. I asked, “You got family in Empyreal City by any chance?” He just smiled and covered his eyes again.

This time, I let the guy frisking me call out what he found. “One combat knife. Another combat knife. One Swiss army knife. One marine entrenching tool. One rubber chicken. Another rubber chicken. A third rubber chicken. May I ask what the rubber chickens were for, sir?”

I shrugged. “I was going to take them out to a bar later on. I was curious what would happen and hadn’t heard that one before.”

“I asked for it, didn’t I? One fake mustache. One box of condoms, unopened. Is that all?” He addressed the last question to his partner, who undressed me with his eyes.

I smirked as I looked at the guy eyeballing me. “The thing between my legs may be concealed, but it makes a poor weapon. The only thing it did to your mother was make her walk funny today.”

He just grinned and said to his handsy buddy, “He’s got something stuck between his legs. Remove it.”

I rolled my eyes as the frisker knelt and reached between my legs to what I’d taped between them. He pulled off the fake patch of material that hid it from view and added it to the list. “One potato peeler. Should we let him keep this?” He looked up to his partner again.

The partner stared at me a few seconds, then shook his head. “No. I don’t think so.” So they took my laser potato peeler as well. Those bastards.

Disarmed but for the check receipt for my weapons, I waited for them to clear Moai for entry too. He was dressed in a tux and looked rather dashing for a stone monument. I figured it was the chin. Let’s face it, when the guy wore a tux, his sculpted features rocked many a woman. Even if Carl wasn’t traveling to Empyreal City to see his kids again, I’d have likely brought Moai.

The only thing they took from Moai was a pair of metal truck nuts he’d squirreled away in his inseam.

“Really?” I asked him as we walked toward the door to the ballroom. “Your nuts.” I gave the solid door a heave and held it open for him to walk through. “Why would you need your nuts when this place has a big enough ball for all of us?”

It wasn’t a ball per se. Chandeliers lit the room well enough to show that people preferred to mill about and talk rather than dance. Those that weren’t milling sat at tables with placards on them, eating extremely small portions of extremely shitty food prepared by extremely underpaid cooks to seem extremely expensive. The crowd didn’t resemble that of the conventional trap, either. Too many old people.

Also, it was white. That crowd had more Caucasians in it than the Caucasus. It was a veritable swarm of Stay Puft Marshmallow people.

I pulled out my invitation. “I don’t see a seating chart or a seat number here. Let’s go check those names. I know it looks like half the city’s geriatric population broke out of the nursing home here, but there’s still a chance that one of these Alzheimer’s-ridden black holes of life support will think it’s the Great War all over again and try to gut me with a bayonet. And I may need you to help me clear out the restroom line so I can occupy the Southern front. Now then, act cool and blend in.”

I smiled and maneuvered my way through the crowd. There was little reaction to my eyes or even to Moai. Daddy’s girl was right about the importance of knowing the right people. That, or I walked into a trap. I snaked between bodies and tables until I found one larger table set apart from the others. This one had my name on a sign in front of a pair of seats.

A small crowd had gathered nearby. One of the men seated at the table was standing to address the others. Next to him, a much younger woman stayed seated. She had been watching me as I got closer, I realized. She smiled, looking more genuine than I expected. “Hello. Our special guest has arrived.” Looking up to the older man standing next to her, she brushed a hand over the side of his coat. He glanced down at her. “Honey, why don’t you introduce me to your last-minute guest?”

The man turned toward me then and extended a hand. “Nice to meet you, Psychopomp Gecko. I’m Ethan Basford.” I shook the proffered hand. The woman stood and held out her hand as well. “This is my wife, Virginia.” I gave her a sloppy kiss on the back of her hand, with tongue and everything.

“Enchanté, madam.” I then put my hand on Moai’s stony shoulder. “Since you already know me, this fellow here is Moai. He will, he will, rock you.” Moai and I stomped the floor a couple of times and I clapped, mimicking the song. The amused expressions on the faces of our hosts didn’t falter, nor did they offer hands.

It would have been rude, but Moai hasn’t ever been one for handshakes.

“Please sit,” Mr. Basford said, indicating our chairs. As Moai and I parked our high end hind ends, he turned to the small group he had been addressing before. They had waited quietly on us as we were introduced, judging us behind neutral expressions.

A couple of them frowned ever so slightly as Basford told them, “I have much to discuss and not all of it completely on the up and up. It’s for the best if you’re not around for all this.” He clapped the man who hadn’t frowned on the shoulder.

The man dismissed his apology with a wave of his hand. “You don’t need to explain that to me. I should be milking this crowd for donations anyway. Take care, and don’t forget: vote early, vote often.”

They shared a laugh before the trio walked off. Basford took his seat as well now. “That was my Senator. He’s a good man if his wallet is heavy. I’m curious if you’re the same way.” Though he narrowed his eyes, the jovial grin never left his face.

I grabbed the fork in front of me and twirled it through my fingers, wondering who I’d have to fork in the ass that night. “Well, if the situation is bad enough that I’ve become the good guy, money’s not worth very much.”

Mr. Basford shot his wife a look. She giggled at some private joke and leaned forward, though not in a way that showed off the extra real estate her husband had added to her chest. “Please,” she said to Moai and I, “relax and enjoy the food. We don’t intend to hurt you, and that food shouldn’t go to waste. A plate at this fling costs $1,500.”

Without saying a word, I took hold of the empty glass in front of me. A waiter dutifully stepped forward. I held it up and he filled it with a red wine. I brought the glass close to my nose, smelling it, taking in the fruity flavor of the alcohol derived from fruit. I sipped it, swirled it around my mouth, then turned and did a spit take, getting it all over the hapless waiter. Disgusted, he ran off to get a towel. Turning to my hostess again, I said, “$1,500? What’s the matter, you can’t spring that much for a grill and an assload of hot dogs?”

Really, that money didn’t pay for the food. It paid for a chance to talk to a politician who could afford a new grill and hotdogs for a year because of you. To be fair, though, the fettuccine alfredo with veal medallions in front of me tasted delicious. I tried it after checking it thoroughly for explosive devices with a knife they provided. It was a dull butter knife, best suited for punching through the skin into the carotid artery.

Mr. Basford spoke up, no longer so amused by my antics. “Mr. Gecko, when I first heard about my daughter’s death, the first thing that came to mind was ‘who does this person think they are?’ So I called the Pinkerton detectives. They had enough information on you for a pair of novels. You fascinated me. You even made me laugh a few times. What I saw convinced me you would be more valuable as an asset instead. You killed one member of my family for free. How would you like to be paid to kill more of my relations?”

I shrugged, then jumped over the table and held the knife to Mrs. Basford’s throat. “How much?”

Startled, Mr. Basford reacted slowly. When he spoke after a couple of seconds, he said to me, “Not her. Not my wife or my other children.” Then, speaking more loudly, he addressed the crowd and security guards, “It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong here. It was just part of a joke.” He laughed and even slapped his knee.

I eased back into my seat and my meal. “Considering your family has access to money and magical artifacts, I’d like more info before I agree. Plus, now I’m interested. Do y’all have a pooled trust or some sort of big inheritance from a parent who is about to croak?”

The eyes of Mrs. Basford burned as they bore into me. I didn’t notice their color before, but now it looked as though black irises lined her pupils. “You could say either one, or even both. This isn’t a matter of money for us. It’s about the power our family will inherit. The power to rip your skin apart and peel the muscles from your bones is insignificant compared to what we stand to gain. Dear, Mr. Gecko, please excuse me while I refresh myself.”

Mrs. Basford stood, kissed her husband’s cheek, and departed through the crowd.

Mr. Basford watched her go, looking a million miles away from my table. While he watched her go, I waved over the waiter who had the misfortune to serve me wine earlier.

“More, sir?”

“Nope. You get to keep your tips?” I ignored my wine this time in favor of drinking from the complimentary water that came with the $1,500 meal.

“Sir?”

“You keep them or do you pool them with the others?”

“We pool them, sir.”

I pulled out a wallet and counted out $1,000 in hundred dollar bills. “Then this is for the pool.” I tossed the wallet aside, pulled out another one, and counted out $500. “And this fell off the back of a truck.” I shoved the second wad of cash into his pockets.

He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no sound came out. I helped him along. “You’re welcome,” I said.

“Thank you,” he finally responded, then left, glancing back at me once as he approached the main cluster of tables to see to his duties.

“That was generous of you,” noted Mr. Basford.

I shrugged and tossed the second wallet away. “Awful generous of somebody here. So, you want me to narrow the field down for when y’all inherit some sort of power? Does that just mean they’ll all have magic wands, or is someone going to do something crazy like try to cut me?”

Basford nodded. “It means magic. My line is heir to a great power. It’s part of a deal made long ago with beings that some would see as devils. We, the entire family, only command a fraction of it currently. The circumstances under which it is fully released to us are more banal than you would probably care to hear at this time. Help me out and you’ll be able to live on $1,500 dinners. And it always pays to have powerful friends. What do you say?”

What could I say? A guy had the potential to obtain obscene amounts of some vague power that could strip my shy skeleton of its protective layers of organs, meat, and skin. And he’d pay well. If not me, he’d probably find someone else who could help him with it. Possibly Lone Gunman, if the Pinkerton Detective Agency gathered intel better than they fought. Where would I be if Gunman was sitting in my place and, like me, he got the idea to steal it?

Of course, he could just be a jackass with too much money getting lied to by a wand maker somewhere. Or this might be an overly-elaborate plan to kill me.

Fully intending to find out a lot more about the situation, I raised my wine glass. “I say we toast our new and mutually-beneficial partnership.”

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