Shit’s gone slightly apocalyptic. But just slightly. The heart of the whole thing is Empyreal City, of course.
People are getting sick all over that place. The boils and vomiting is cruel, but Epidemic’s just being mean with the anal leakage. I suppose I might find it funny if I was behind it, but they think my kid’s there. As far as he’s concerned, he’s inflicting that shit on my family.
While he’s doing that, animals all over the fucking continent are freaking the fuck out. They’re all acting more aggressive, even the prey. Herbivorous or not, most people don’t do well going head to head with a mad bull. Sheep and goats are devouring the crap out of stuff, too, feeding themselves to bursting in places.
Next to all that, Machine Man’s little army of followers is almost quaint. I guess Venus still has plenty of cred worth trading in on. The robot disguised as her has gathered her own gang, even including some supers. They don’t have the Master Academy supers, though. That place is sealed up tight, with heroes heading in and out with some sort of secret entrance.
A lot of other heroes are staying away, or trying to face threats around the country, like the animals gone wild. Or the plague. Or the roaming groups of people with guns. From what I understand, the government’s Freedom Legion doesn’t have as much manpower as it used to, what with Omega and I killing a bunch of them.
You know, with a better idea of the bigger picture, I can understand why Captain Lightning decided not to continue the fight against me. He and his apprentice have their hands full enough without dying.
Thing was, they could tear Empyreal City apart and they weren’t going to find my people. I don’t know if I gave myself some sort of subconscious programming or if Omega’s ignorance of technology was really that big a hindrance while we were mentally merged. Either way, when I was working with him, I didn’t think to hunt down any concentrations of my nanites outside of Ricca. There’s Belgium, North Korea, and some Cape Diem bases. And then there was a small concentration in Las Vegas.
Vegas doesn’t like me, but it seems to like Mix N’Max well enough. He spent a lot of time there. I think he invited all of them there.
It’s a smart idea. Las Vegas has its own protectors, who don’t like me. I’m pretty sure they don’t like any cyborgs hanging around there without getting into all the trouble I cause. And I haven’t had much reason to go to Vegas. I can eat buffets anywhere. Or I could. I can’t even pick my own nose at the moment, let alone my friends’ noses.
As felt appropriate for a city that far west, the Dudebot I sent to Vegas rode in on an automaton horse. It’s like a real horse, but it can run indefinitely, doesn’t need to eat or shit, and is less of an asshole. I stopped short of the sign welcoming visitors to Las Vegas and waited. This is not the time for me to be stepping on these folks’ toes. It also gave me more time to get things in position in Empyreal City.
I had a few Dudebots in that area already. Knowing they were heading there, I set some to make their way. That gives me some backups, or a chance to double team one of these Omega Minions. I’m tracking them, too. Epidemic and Stampede still have to sleep sometime. It’s easier to track with Stampede, because animals calm down whenever she’s out. Best of all, none of the three are working together. I don’t have to beat three supers remotely. I just have to beat one three times over.
The Dudebots are heavier than me, not so good at being stealthy. They were based on a bulkier design of my armor that emphasized durability over stealth. I managed to keep up with her, staying at a distance and maintaining invisibility. She liked to run with the animals. In the city, that mostly meant rats, raccoons, and pigeons. She’d taken up a grudge against the Greens, circling their territory, nibbling away at it with pests.
Whatever the Greens are on that’s giving some of them animal features and powers, it hasn’t made them susceptible to Stampede’s power. Which is a weird one. Animal control should work on humans, too, but it doesn’t. I’m interested to see how much it works on other primates, or other intelligent animals like dolphins and octopi. Could be she’d get pissed when trying to boss around an octopus and the cephalopod does nothing but gives her the tentacle. For that matter, raccoons are pretty smart, too.
After a night of pestering the Greens, Stampede and her flock of furry and feathered friends flooded into an old apartment building. A lot of people came screaming out, some with rats biting at them to encourage their flight. After a half hour, when she didn’t come back out, I headed in after Stampede.
Critters were everywhere. Roaches and raccoons and rats, oh my! If any of the people who lived there saw it like that, they probably wouldn’t want to move back in. Without the ability to levitate, making it through there without some crunching sounds was impossible. There were plenty of heat signatures all over the place, but the source big enough to be her was just a couple floors up. I could jump to the landing, minimizing the amount of bones and exoskeletons I broke.
I detached a power collar from the Dudebot’s belt and readied it. I was sure she’d already come down with that little illness being here. Then I proceeded into the one-bedroom apartment.
I crunched up to the bed as quietly as I could. With an elephant’s trumpet, Stampede opened her eyes, shot to a sitting position, and punched me through the wall and living room/kitchen. All these little pests swarmed the Dudebot, crawling all over it, trying to bite.
Stampede walked over, beating at her chest, her body bulging with muscles. “You smell wrong.”
I generated the sound of a raspberry through the Dudebot’s speakers. Outside, a second Dudebot got into position, invisible as well, and jumped. It crashed through the bedroom window, jumped through the hole in the wall, and snapped the collar around Stampede’s neck.
Snapping her neck would have been easier, but she’s a kid.
Immediately, the noise level increased as animals went nuts and tried to flee or eat the roaches. The two Dudebots stood up, secured a deflated little Stampede, and tossed her over one’s shoulder to secure elsewhere.
Epidemic, meanwhile, had been targeted by the Reds and was retaliating in turn. The Reds are trying to fight disease with fire and gas masks, to mixed results. They’re also using the situation to distribute medicine and supplies, making themselves look better.
Epidemic preferred to keep to the shadows, even the sewers at times. The guy still came up to eat, and people still called him into the cops. He offered to spare people who made him a good meal, so he didn’t keep it that secret he was behind all the outbreaks.
I showed up while he was eating at a barbecue joint. This being Empyreal City, it looked like they only got as far as some sort of light sampler, but that could just be the entree around here.
The Dudebot was invisible again, but he called out to me as soon as I entered. “This is a private function!” When I kept approaching, he turned, didn’t see anyone, then snapped his fingers. “Another boring super cop.”
He frowned then, and snapped his fingers again. I lifted him up out of his chair, turning visible, and snapped a power collar around his neck. “You’re not even human, are you?” he asked.
“More than I thought. Less than you’d think,” I said to be all cryptic.
Behind me, the waitress came back into the room, then ducked down. Epidemic snapped his fingers again and her body jerked. She began to scream. “Let me go, or I kill her,” he said.
“I don’t care about that,” I said. I checked over the collar. All functional. “You can’t convince me to leave you alone, and you can’t infect me.”
He laughed. “I am the Master of Disease. The Emperor of Illness. The Lord of Fungus. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Ah, right. He probably stopped his own self from becoming infected by the same disease that allows the power collars to work. Behind me, the waitress stood back up, her head swollen with something green and black. Her eyes looked weird, glass and black-veined, as she walked toward me. Some sort of zombie plague, then.
I casually grabbed Epidemic’s chair. Still holding him up, I smashed the crap out of the waitress, beating her head in. Black ichor dripped out as a toadstool poked out. I stomped it and ground it out. Then I slammed Epidemic on the table, took a broken piece of wood, and slowly pushed it through his chest. Guy looked like a vampire, so I figured I’d stake his ass.
He screamed and cursed as I forced the chunk of wood into his chest. He kept at it briefly because I didn’t get the heart, though it quickly turned to squeaking. I grabbed another chair, broke off the leg, and used that one to pin his head to the table, right through his brain. I pulled off the power collar and gave him an answer as I walked away. “I am death, and hell to pay.”
Compared to them, it wasn’t nearly so difficult to find Machine Man, and I was confident such an outdated piece of machinery would be easy pickings.
But, finally, a delegation from Las Vegas came out to meet me. They pulled up in humvees and technicals, with a wide variety of firearms and energy weapons aimed at me.
“I come in peace!” the Vegas Dudebot said, raising its arms in a gesture of surrender.
“You mean you come in piece,” Medusa said, hopping out of the back of a humvee. “That’s a robot double. Why shouldn’t we destroy it now?”
“Because Omega and I aren’t really working together anymore. Listen, I got upset and I made a mistake. A big one. I’m trying to make it better, but he decided to lock me away. As far as Omega knows, I can only watch. It’s… not fun. Seriously.”
Back in Ricca, Omega laughed as he binge watched Friends as a way to become acclimated to this new world.
“In fact, it’s downright torturous,” I told Medusa. “But I’m serious. The people he sent after you in Empyreal City? They’re being handled. All I have left is the one pretending to be you.” The Dudebot projected clips of my confrontations with Stampede and Epidemic.
“Face-stealing son of a…” she drifted off. She pulled out her phone and started checking in on things, texting some friends, trying to get the low down. I didn’t spy this time. I let her do it. The fact that animals were calming down and staying that way were easy to come across, but we ended up waiting several minutes while she got outside confirmation. “Where’s the kid?”
“Locked up somewhere she can’t hurt anyone or herself. I didn’t want to kill a kid. Tried to give Epidemic a chance, but turns out he kept that thing from infecting him.”
Medusa nodded to me. “Let’s say we trust you to help again… what’s your plan?”
In Empyreal City, a crowd of Machine Man’s gang, hunting down some of the Q group, came across one of my Dudebots standing there. It raised its hands as well. “I come in peace! Take me to your leader.”
It didn’t take long before the False Medusa stepped up, her movements more smooth now, but almost seductive. Still nothing like how Medusa herself walks. “Who are you and what do you want?” she asked.
“Let’s just say I plan to give Omega what he’s asked for,” I told both of them at once. “But I can’t do it alone.”
“We already have our own plan,” Medusa told me.
Machine Man cocked its head to the side. “That is an unusual way to phrase it. What is your plan?”
“…anyway, they figure since birds are the traditional vector for the spread of chili pepper seeds, it’s useful to start the seeds with it. Just get some seeds, maybe wash them down with a tiny bit of bleach in there, then stick them in a mixture of bird poop and water. It’s supposed to be pretty good, and chilis need slightly more acidic soil anyway.”
The world passed by underneath my body as Omega checked the Empyreal City. The being that controlled my body hadn’t blown the whole city to hell. Mr. Omega figured out he would have to confirm a kill for it to mean anything to me. It would be difficult enough for him to search the entire world, but I’ve made it even tougher for him.
“Would that I could sew your mouth shut with a scorpion trapped within,” Omega muttered.
“You trapped me in your head, buddy. You don’t want me yakking away, feel free to let me out and give up this body,” I said. “If not, we can move on to another fun subject. Tell me, what do you know about snail husbandry? Because, let me tell you, it’s a slow fucking process.”
“Quiet down. I am hunting your daughter,” Omega said.
“You’re doing a shitty job of it,” I said. I know where I would have looked first, or the things I could have done to try and find Qiang. Evidently, our recent schism keeps him from accessing my brain, which is a handy thing to know. Omega’s got plenty of power, but he’s not tech savvy in the least.
Case in point, he asked me, “Why is there a twelve and two zeroes appearing and disappearing in my vision?”
I reset the HUD clock to screw with him. I wasn’t sure he’d still see it, but that confirms it. I’m a little worried he might be altering my body. Not in the good way, either, like when I planned to use his powers to zap myself pregnant by Medusa the next time I saw her.
While I mused how to take advantage of this and continued to try talking his head off, he decided to try using my technology. He stopped in Colorado, which is 99% composed of the middle of nowhere, and clenched his fist. An orb appeared in front of us in the sky and expanded out. My Omega power armor was inside. We floated toward it and passed right on through it, either us or the armor becoming intangible in the process.
“You know, if clocks are too complex for you, I’m not sure power armor is going to work as well as you’d like,” I teased.
“Armor is beneath me,” Omega answered. He raised my lower limbs, showing off the gauntlets that were equipped with portahole technology. It was similar to the Telechamber, but less powerful. “I have acknowledged your machinery can achieve that which I cannot. Now, it will.”
There wasn’t a lot of fancy programming work put into the portahole gauntlets on this end. Most of it is a matter of location and size. The difficult stuff was handled by Chu, also missing these days, who handled power management that was delivered using more portals. Omega didn’t have to worry about delivering power remotely. Omega had all the power these things could want. They still won’t do him any good getting through. They can deliver something person-sized, like me, but the power required to bring through someone the size of Omega’s ego would damage their hardware. “Can’t get through with those, Mr. Impatient.”
“I do not intend to,” he informed me. Omega lowered us to the ground. There, he created a portal and expanded it, but to about people-size. Out of that one stepped a robot, with limbs that looked like girders and a conical head flanked by radar dish ears. The head had a facsimile of a human face carved into it.
The robot swiveled slowly, taking in the scenery. Mr. Omega conjured an image of Medusa in what he’d seen of her costume without her power armor. He explained to the robot, “This is who I want you to find. She already has reason to want to find me first, but I want you to take her appearance.”
The robot’s body pulled in close and the radar dishes raised to the sky. The center of them lit up with blue light that shot out and expanded into a halo. The halo then fell over the robot’s body, stopped at its cupped feet, and rose again. The sequence repeated itself, growing faster and faster, until the Medusa faded into existence where the robot had been. It didn’t seem like a hologram, but I didn’t know what it was. Something as old as that automaton shouldn’t have been able to do that.
Fake Medusa nodded stiffly and said in a voice that sounded nothing like her, “As you wish, Moloch.”
“You will need allies,” Mr. Omega added. He created another portahole. Out of that one stepped a man in an all black coat, black pants, dark red shirt, and a wide-brimmed black hat. His eyes glowed red in the shade of his hat and he had wrangled his facial hair into a messy goatee.
“You rang?” he asked, smiling yellowed teeth. With the 360 cameras once again connected, I had a better range of vision and could see that that grass died off, radiating outward from where his shoes touched the ground.
Mr. Omega didn’t address him just yet. Instead, he opened one last portahole. From that emerged a little blonde girl with pigtails, dressed in yellow and green superhero tights.
The man in black looked her over. “I better not be here for child’s play.”
The girl stuck her tongue out at him and blew a raspberry.
“Silence!” Mr. Omega said. He conjured the image of Medusa again, and one of Qiang. “Epidemic and Stampede. I summoned you from the void to this Earth to aid me. I require you to bring me this woman and child. I believe them to be within this nation-state, in a city known as Empyreal City. Machine Man has taken the appearance of the woman to wreak havoc in her image. You will assist Machine Man and bring them to me.”
“That’s it, we’re hunting down this woman? This has to be the easiest payment either,” said the guy I took to be Epidemic.
The girl raised her head and howled like a wolf, her jaw and ears briefly elongating as she did so. Howls answered her from the distance.
Mr. Omega nodded once. “There are many on this Earth with powers beyond mere man, and your debt, those that owe it, will be wiped clean by this act.” He created a new portahole, then waved them through. “Go. Call for me when you have them.”
Machine Man, as Medusa, tromped through the portahole. I don’t know what that one could do to anyone it wanted to hurt, and I have no clue if Mr. Omega’s ignorance of technology extends to 1940s-looking robots. I’m completely ignorant of the other two, too. From the way he talked, Omega didn’t think they were used to the concept of supers, so it’s unlikely they’re from this Earth.
Still, I couldn’t just let the guy trapping me in my own head just run around with the ability to summon his minions into the world. I adjusted a few of the parameters and fired off a pair of portals while Mr. Omega was zipping back into the air. They were designed to be way too big for the portaholes to handle. I could have initiated a safety shutoff, but I didn’t want to. Instead, I watched as the subtle wrinkles in the air started to form, then the gauntlets sparked and blew out when the portals got big enough. The portals vanished while the gauntlets caught fire.
Mr. Omega looked down at them, my face pulling into a frown. Neither of us felt the heat, nor did he bother to put it out before he started heading back toward Ricca. “That was foolish, Gecko. You lash out when you should be thankful toward me.”
“You stole my body, so don’t expect me to thank you anytime soon.”
“You came through and made a life you feel is worth living. To deny me the same out of fear shows you have not changed,” he said.
“Oh fuck off, grandpa.” Wow, we got over Mu pretty quick. Mr. Omega finally got the idea to look over our various colonies on the lost and restored continent. Most didn’t give him any trouble, though the Bronze City sounded an alarm. The arrows fired by the guards didn’t reach anywhere near us.
Mr. Omega stopped and descended to where some of those same men bowed apologetically. “Forgive us, Empress-King. We did not realize it was you.”
Omega glanced down at my armor, quickly grasping the benefits of co-opting my identity around the last group of people who still considered me their sovereign. “Tell the soldiers to gather,” Omega ordered.
It didn’t take long before Omega floated in front of the city’s army, all clad in the bronze armor the city was famous for.
“You will do nicely,” he said in my voice, looking around. His view lingered on one particular shield that had been polished to a mirror finish. The reflection’s fists pounded the shield, much like I wanted to do and might have if I wasn’t thinking. I experimented by giving Mr. Omega the finger with my upper hands. The reflection did the same.
This time, Mr. Omega thought to himself, his mental voice thankfully not a copy of my own. I think it would have really pissed me off if he had my mental voice, too. “I see you. Maybe I should simplify this by putting you in another body. What is the name of that girl whose body you envy? The blonde one, belonging to the tribe of god-pretenders.”
I didn’t respond because I was tempted. I think he picked up on that. If he knew me any, he’d know I’d resist on principle alone. If I’m lucky, he doesn’t realize I have more ideas on how to sabotage him. “I think if it were so simple for you to just possess a body without a mind, you’d have done it. There are plenty of mindless bodies around.”
“I think if you knew anything about magic, you would not have built your power on machines,” Omega responded.
Out loud, Omega announced, “What do they say now? You should get an upgrade.” Omega waved my hand, not that asshole’s hand, and the soldiers’ armor changed color to the same red as mine. Their swords, spears, and arrowheads changed as well.
Omega rose into the air as a sphere appeared around the whole of the assembled men and my body. Everything pulled inward and then spread out again, and the soldiers were now assembled around the Telechamber site.
Shockley had taken cover behind a low wall, zapping the occasional brick that came close to hitting him. He smiled in relief at the site of Omega and the army. Omega pointed to the crowd. “Go home, or go to the grave.”
The army let out a roar that scared off most of the people protesting the Telechamber. The rest ran away when some of the soldiers rushed to take up positions at the street.
Mr. Omega examined the Telechamber and could tell the exterior was done. The interior had to be close as well, but he didn’t have my skill with tiny little robots. “Soon,” he murmured to me. “Soon, a new day begins. A new palace is in order for the new ruler. Don’t you agree?”
The ground rumbled and wood cracked. Off in the distance, a ruby spire sloughed off the palace it had arisen from underneath and stabbed into the sky, the center of a crystalline keep that took over the palace courtyard and former Directory building.
Now he’s in trouble. The bastard destroyed the best toilet I ever owned. And he doesn’t even realize I have plenty of spare bodies I can use to help thwart him, including a few Dudebots in Empyreal City.
For all my power, I feel I’m losing control of the situation. Ricca, for instance. I don’t care for the throne so much as I wanted my daughter and I wanted to finish the Telechamber to be whole. To be fully here, fully empowered. The goal from there is simple: rule as god-queen. Or maybe I won’t rule. Ruling is troublesome. But being a god? That I can do.
The Riccans had to learn that lesson. Some of them, emboldened by recent events, decided to throw water bottles at me while I oversaw construction of the Telechamber. I raised a hand in their general direction and fired off a blast that scattered them. They didn’t really come close after that. Even the Deep Ones hung back. Really, it was only Shockley who approached. He wasn’t having fun, either. I think. Being my follower isn’t too popular at the moment, especially in a place where I ran off the beloved child Empress.
Did she run from me? Was it Medusa’s plan? Is my daughter now a hostage?
It occurred to me, as I stood my unceasing vigil over the Telechamber’s assembly, that I’d undone a lot of work I’d done to keep her safe. It was really distracting me, making me more a pair of beings in one body than one body and one mind. I could feel Omega’s mind reassuring me that no one would dare harm the daughter of a god. Which is bullshit. People are brainless dick monkeys. Of course some asswipe would come up with the idea of attacking a god’s daughter just to see if they could get away with it. They might even thing it’d give them some perverse form of street cred before I’d dissolve them, slowly, so that they feel every atom in their body pulling away from every other atom.
Thinking about Qiang made me realize I needed to have a heart to heart with myself, though. Because Omega’s answer didn’t satisfy me. I needed to look inward. I started to turn toward Shockley and ask if he could hit me with some more of that dust, but I ended up looking at a black void with Omega standing there instead. “Good. Maybe I’ll get some real answers now. What are your actual plans, dude?”
Omega, as a separate entity, looked like a guy now. “My goal is to be here. I have that right. To be here, to remain free and unharmed. It is the dream I’ve had for so long.”
The void around us shifted and he disappeared. I seemed to be running then, down a darkened corridor with stone walls. I heard someone next to me yell. I turned to look and it was a man in robes, with an arrow sticking out of his back. More flew out of the darkness, missing him, but at least a half dozen sank into the man’s flesh and he fell. I heard a yell of triumph behind me.
Suddenly, I came out into an opening. More people in robes were there. One of them pulled me to the side while others rolled a boulder in front of the door way and barricaded it. The chamber we were in looked like a cave, but with a hole in the top that allowed light to touch the center of a design carved over the floor, which was red. I could even smell the blood that had flowed through all the engravings of that design, courtesy of the dead goats piled up on the edges of the chamber.
The scene paused as Omega appeared. “You know what it’s like to be nothing but a pawn in the games of the powerful. You were a prized weapon. We were far less valuable. You were trained, fed, allowed to rest, given equipment; but I was far less.” He paced, looking around. “All I wanted was the power to resist and live free. I was scarecely empowered when I was banished, and the brethren who aided me put to the sword. They were mere servants. Their defiance made it so their value lay in being a lesson for others with hope to follow our path. I didn’t have further plans beyond that all-consuming drive.”
He stopped pacing and looked down. “They banished me and killed everyone I knew and cared about. The world moved on and changed completely. My only plan is to be, and to make sure nobody can trap me or kill me for the perceived crime of existing freely.” I felt the anger running through me from our bond as the scene disappeared, leaving us in the void again.
“I understand a lot of what that’s like. Just being allowed to live was a big part of what I was about when I got here. But I see more similarities, too. The way you just casually blast a bunch of people in a heavily-populated city, for instance. You don’t care. It’s hard to tell because of us being merged, but how much of the killing and violence over the past few days was me being a depressed asshole, and how much of it was you?”
He smiled. “Even if it were all you, I would not care to stop you. These people are nothing to me. They are scared as you were scared. If given the choice, they wouldn’t have allowed you to their world. You, who slaughters them by the dozen. You, who looks down on them with contempt. You, who thinks you are better and special and deserve to be immune from their punishments because you can break their bones. I, too, see that similarity. I am tired of submitting to the laws of corrupt man. Any who try to stop me shall fall to my power.”
Another scene shifted around us. We were in the air over Ricca, looking down on the city. A red hand, my hand, raised itself. Parts of the city erupted in explosions at random. “What the fuck, these are my people! That’s my body!”
Omega grabbed me and held me in place. “It is our body, and those are people who sided against you. They deposed you when you seemed to support me, or they failed to resist the ones who did.”
I grabbed him. “Listen, I see a lot of myself in you. A lot of myself as I was for a long time after I got here. I get it, ya know? People not being valuable to you unless they’re valuable to you? It’s the exact same thinking as the people who used to own us. So what? That’s what you’re thinking. It’s your turn. You get to be the one with the power of life and death over people like those who didn’t care about yours. The people who thought you were the bad guy for wanting to be free, or who are just like those ones.”
I looked at the images around us, tried to will my hand down. It reluctantly obeyed. “All this power, and our first thoughts were to just kill and destroy. There’s someone out there who spent a long time trying to say I could have been better, and I thought it was a bunch of bullshit. But while I haven’t been perfect, I’ve helped build a country back up. You come to Ricca and the waters heal you. We’re saving immigrants from concentration camps, and accepting Deep One refugees that other people would have labeled monsters. Any one of them could have turned up on the shore of any other country on Earth, except the landlocked ones, and been the same kind of killer. You have power, but you don’t have to exert it by hurting people. It’s so mindless and petty, too. You work to get all this power, just to kill people you don’t even know.”
Omega stared into me, then laughed. “You have no right to counsel me in such a way, maniac.”
I grit my teeth. “I’m trying to get you to stop making the mistakes I made.”
“You are trying to protect your daughter. Because you fear me,” he said. “Remember when you did not fear? The world was your plaything, for you to blow up while laughing. You wanted to deny me the same privilege.” He peered more closely at me. “You have been working against me.”
“I hit a low point, with my anger and paranoia convincing me to open myself up to you. But you can be better than I was. You don’t have to be a loser with a shitload of power who doesn’t know what to do with it other than cuss a lot and kill people,” I explained. I mean, I saw what Omega’s history was, and I’m sympathetic to it. But his plan is seriously to just appear and blow shit up because he has power. That’s no real plan. That’s just boring and being a loser, the same way any of those dumpster-licking assclowns in the United States thinks the way to have power is to grab a gun and shoot up a kindergarten or something. The easiest way to exert power is to hurt someone else, but it really is petty.
I really was petty. But I was also suicidal. I didn’t have it in me to kill myself, because it felt like a waste of all the people I had to kill to survive. I wanted someone else to do it for me. I was a monster who couldn’t imagine happiness anymore. I thought I could find it in the humor of tearing apart people’s lives. I suppose it’s a testament to all the medication and the stuff Psychsaur did to my head that I’m not like that anymore. And then there’s Qiang. Somehow, I can love that girl. I want to be there for her and take care of her. I want to live for her.
At the same time, I can’t exactly ask Omega to pop out a kid so he has something to live for, too. That’s also pretty terrible. But compared to the me that wanted to lay dead in the ruins of the Empyre State Building, the me that exists today is better. And not just better for the world, Medusa, or Qiang. I’m better for me.
“Touching,” Omega said, as if he’d read all of that as clearly as anybody else could. “But why should I take advice from a traitor? I can see it now. You have been undermining me, somehow. There are things you have done to fight me even as we lived as one.” He raised a finger and tapped my forehead. “Something is missing here. You removed knowledge from yourself. Why, if not that it would have aided me? And why remove this if you wanted to help me? Yes, you took the coward’s way out and invited me in to save your own life, but you attacked your own brain to save those others. What living being would willingly make an idiot of itself?”
Around me, I saw simulacra of my family. Qiang, Max, Holly, Sam, Citra, Silver Shark, and even Medusa. That last one gave me some mixed feelings still, especially after having to pretty much admit she was right about me. I hope she never finds out about that. Well, little chance of that. Not like anyone from this universe can read this.
Omega stepped toward the false Qiang, taking on a shape I can see in the mirror every day. “I will not give you up, Gecko. This is my body now. That is the cost of your cowardice and insistence in saving your own life with a lie.” Omega patted the unflinching face of the mental image of my daughter. “Whatever else you’ve done, though I know not what, shall cost you dearly.”
Omega disappeared, though the blackness disappeared as well. I was back to myself, floating above Ricca. But then I looked down at my hands without meaning to, or feeling my arms move. I realized that while I could see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste, I couldn’t do anything.
I floated lower and Omega, in control of my body, spoke to Shockley. “Finish overseeing this. I must punish the traitor Gecko.”
“As you wish, my god,” Shockley said, laying it on a bit thick for my taste.
Then I got to watch as I took off for a flight across the Pacific, Omega muttering to me, “I will find her.”
Over my dead body, bucko.
The house I arrived at which supposedly held the last of the Dusk Club was an ageing one-story. The cast-iron rail on the green porch looked out of odds with the uneven slope of it and the discolored vinyl siding on the outside. The walkway was partially overgrown with some sort of floppy grass plant different than the rest of the lawn. It wasn’t some mansion or decaying haunted house. It was just an old and neglected house in a bad neighborhood. In California, Pennsylvania.
I mean, at least I didn’t have to go back to California, California.
I just expected something with more gravitas. Something that would fit a narrative. Unfortunately, real life so rarely does. That would make an excellent cop-out for a bad writer. For me, it’s part of why I expected a trap. The other part is that I always expect a trap. It’s a handy mindset. Kept me from breaking some fingers this one time when I found some cheese just laying around. Even kept me wary of Medusa.
…yeah. Of course she paints herself as being in the right, but that still stings. Pissed me off initially, sure. Still has me pissed off. It’s really like an underlying layer of pissed-offedness. But it still hurts to know I was right about her and why she’d ever be with me. Her and me never made sense either.
Whew… anyway, all the coke I did to keep from sleeping helped me make amazing time from Montana to Pennsylvania. Kept me awake, energized, helped me ignore the pain in my chest, and I could drive all night. I still had enough sense to stop outside of town and sober up with a good night’s rest before I went in there. Invading a mage’s domain on a three-day drug coke binge is a bit like molesting a belligerent baboon: you can try, but you’ll probably end up the wrong kind of fucked.
I got going a bit later in the day than I intended as far as hunting down the Dusk guys. Just felt like shit all over, especially in my back. Darn extra limbs. I just felt so old and stupid, sitting up in bed and looking down at myself. Wondering if I was a person who dreamt I was a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreamt I was a person. Wondering if Mr. Omega had given my daughter an ultimatum anyway.
The fury in me rose again as I thought of my sweet Qiang being used as a puppet by others who claimed to be on her side. That gave me the jolt of energy I needed to rise out of bed and don my armor. And from there, I drove a stolen car to a shitty little house in a worn, old neighborhood in California, Pennsylvania.
I approached it invisible to the human eye, but probably not a third eye. My softer and lighter boots didn’t grind on the walkway as much as the heavier version would have. Aw, crap. In my cocaine binge, I forgot to bring along a Dudebot. I can’t even reach the ones on Ricca anymore, but I have others scattered around the world.
Ah, fuck it. Doesn’t matter what hole, just fuck it. I dropped my cloak and stomped the rest of the way up the walkway. The leaves of the stringy grass blew from the wind, then wrapped around my ankles. I tore through them. The porch’s cast iron rail shifted as well, and spiky spades poked out at me like snake’s heads. I raised a finger and looked between the two nearest. “You don’t want to fuck with me today, so if you things have any minds of your own, you will not try me.”
They tried me. I grabbed the first one and bent. The second went for my neck. I caught that one as well with my extra hands. They were stretching way longer than needed to get to me. I tied them up together and limboed underneath.
The screen door opened easily enough, but the door inside didn’t budge. I tried to knock the knob off, but the thing stayed where it was, with an odd light flaring up along the outside of the door. I tried it again, paying more attention this time, and saw runes all around the door. “Magically protected, are we?”
I let the door go and took a few steps to the side. I ran right through the vinyl siding and wall to step into a living room. “I’m magically malicious!”
It looked like a normal living room, connecting to a really small guest room to my left, and a kitchen right in front of me. I heard groaning coming from the kitchen as a figure in dark robe and hood approached. His legs didn’t move as he glided along the floor, face obscured under the heavy fabric. Then he fell forward and caught himself just, tugging the bottom of his robe out from under one of those little hoverboard scooters. He turned to me. “Who in damnation are you?”
“I am Psycho Gecko. I’m here to find the Dusk Club.”
The man tossed his hood back. He was just an old, skinny guy with thinning hair that he brushed over his scalp as best as possible. He peered back at me through a pair of glasses. “It’s not much of a club anymore. Just myself. What do you want that’s so important you couldn’t knock?” he gestured toward the hole in the wall.
“I’ve been in contact with an entity called Mr. Omega. Big guy, red skin, trapped outside our dimension and says you guys had something to do with that,” I said.
His eyes widened. “I wasn’t sure… he hasn’t resurfaced in my lifetime. I always thought ‘Mr. Omega’ was a silly name.”
In my HUD, Omega’s face appeared again. “See what he will give up on the methods of his sect. I would learn how to weaken the spell before I must tear it asunder.”
“He mentioned your group,” I continued. “He wants to come back. The dimensional barrier is weakening and he’s trying to push through. Is there something special he’s doing to destroy whatever was done to keep him out? And how do we stop him from doing so?”
He looked me up and down. “I don’t know if I can trust you. You broke into my home.”
“I’m angry. It’s my time of the month to kill a bitch who doesn’t give me the answers I want,” I said. I realized I was gritting my teeth and tried to relax my jaw. I was just so damn tense. I needed answers from this guy, but I also wanted to take out my anger and other feelings on something fleshy with lots of blood inside.
“We’ll see,” he said, thrusting his hands forward. They were nowhere near connecting, but that wasn’t his intention. He threw a powder into the air and spoke words in some unidentified language. The powder obscured the air, filling the entirety of my vision. Even the rear cameras looked more like I was in a mess of dust. The words he spoke hung heavy in the air.
Sometimes, I hate my body’s natural disinclination toward magic. I can’t use it well, except Mr. Omega’s powers, but it’d be nice if it provided more protection against hostile magics. Just like it’d be nice if most people’s skin was bulletproof, I guess.
A light flared up and everything was black. I lost my 360-degree vision, and apparently my armor. I looked down and was basically a Barbie doll with four arms and a serious red blotch over a large part of the skin on my belly. A faded Omega symbol curved down over my tits. Right-angled circuitry jutted out from the edges of my body, standing out against my skin.
In front of me stood the old man, luckily looking like a Ken doll so I didn’t have to see his old danglies. On his chest was an Omega symbol, coming in much more solid than mine. I pointed to it, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I am the last of the Dusk Club. I was taught all my life that the connections between us were important. We severed those connections to thrust Omega out and keep him out. My parents raised me to be part of a group to protect the world from a god that could give us whatever we wanted. I never had a Christmas because they were too poor, too dedicated to their watch. I didn’t have my own friends because they might find out about magic and Omega. I couldn’t go to college because the only schooling I had was what they taught me in magic. All I had were others in the Club, shallow connections, until the day he contacted me. I gave each of the remaining members a test to see their inner selves, and made myself the last of the Dusk Club. But I lacked the power he needed.”
“So why’d Omega send me to you?” I asked.
A voice reverberated in the darkness. I turned to see where a line of red light connected me to misshapen cloud of red that lit up with electricity. “To test you and to show you that I am merciful. Like you. I could feel your doubts and fears. I feel your sadness now. You ache to be with your daughter again. Like me, you are tired of betrayal by those who claim to love you. You want to be protected from those who hurt your heart and your daughter. I can give you that power, and the payment is simple. Let me in.”
The cloud compacted itself into the form of a person that reached its hand out toward me.
“You’ve left me powerless before,” I said. “I still don’t trust you.”
“You trusted so many unworthy of it. I seek to trust you. To gift you my power. All I ask is to return. That is it. I need your power, and you need mine.”
Even on such unfamiliar and turf, I could feel the Dusk Priest approach from behind, awaiting my answer.
Shit, meet fan.
I blame myself, and lots of other people, but mostly the other people. It’s a burden of being better than everyone else that I have to take the blame for their failings. Forgive them, me, they know not what they do.
Some of the problem was that Medusa wanted me to work on making the government more democratic again. And it wasn’t just her idea. She’d been getting to know Riccans, and the people who had been cowed into taking me as their Empress in the past had begun to get ideas about organizing for themselves again. I’d agreed that we could see about transferring several of my closest top guys to a more traditional cabinet position and open the Directory back up to being a legislative body that shares power with me.
It wasn’t going to take too long. I could make the change in a snap, but I wanted to let any furor, and there was some, die down a bit. Let people get the excitement out of their system. When their enthusiasm has dampened a bit and they have time to think things over, they probably won’t be manipulated as easily by the sorts of people who argued over street names last time.
Eh, I’m probably wrong. I’m really just winging this.
It’s part of Medusa’s pretty good idea to give them more of a say instead of being so much of an asshole, leading to stuff like establishing a ministry to handle the day to day running of the country. That way, I have time to do all the fun stuff I like. And Medusa gets to make me less of a dictator. She didn’t say as much, but I think I worry a lot of people being in charge of so many people’s lives.
But that’s just housekeeping.
That group of Japanese superheroes I still hadn’t personally encountered came forward about their experiments about the recent dimensional shenanigans. They’d lost their lab, but they had backups of their data.The guy running the United States thinks you can nuke hurricanes to make them go away, but a lot of the rest of the world is paying attention. I could have covered for it. You pay the right people and you can have an enormous network of Right-wing misinformation mercenaries saying anything you want. I’d hardly be the first dictator they cozied up to.
A spokesman from the Institute of Science initially denied the allegations with some technobabble. The public doesn’t really know what these things are and how they work. All you have to do is put the lie out there and they’ll believe it, no matter how many doctors point out vaccines don’t cause autism. It’s one of the things I hate about people until it becomes convenient for me. We pinned all of this on resurgent Japanese imperialism in the Pacific power vacuum.
That got China on our side, and they were more than happy to release documents about Japan’s greed. Before too long, we had the Mao apologists talking about how Japan was trying to steal land away from the natives of Mu, who were being protected and watched over by my Ricca.
They still figured that Mr. Omega smashing spaceships with his hands was the same person as me flying around, blowing shit up until the footage was released from the end of the fight. When Omega abandoned me suddenly, there was a split second when my armor was visible. It was red with an Omega symbol. Even then, the design was fairly new. Maybe it was an impostor, right? Not so much when plenty of video and photos get out showing me around here in the same armor.
I knew when Medusa found out because she called me up and we had a screaming match briefly. She heard about those attacks by Omega’s avatar, and I hadn’t told her it was me. She disagreed with me killing for him. But I think she mostly disliked that I didn’t tell her about it.
We would hang up on each other, then on of us would call the other back. It got ugly, but not as bad as us physically attacking each other. She was off talking with some regular people, offering them a chance to have their opinions heard by the Imperial Consort, so I bet lots of those folks heard some of that dirty laundry. Besides, my kicking in my sleep is no big deal compared to her drooling. They probably heard all about that, and in the aftermath, I heard we finally located someone of interest.
One of my people in Intelligence got back to us with some information gained from an informant who decided to look into the government’s deal with Hephaestus. He was actually a Treasure agent, and he found out the guy was being hidden by the Secret Service. First guess, I’d have thought he was hiding himself, but the Secret Service is especially weird. That’s more the job of the federal marshals, and he has to know I can handle the Secret Service. I just assassinated a President, after all. So, they seem to think they’ve got an ace up their sleeves, and it’s hidden in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Ugh, nature. I mean, I have no problem with it if it stays away, but I don’t care for it in general. Too much sunlight, too little air conditioning, and everything’s part of that raw food movement. Us sapient apes were not meant to exist without refrigerators and internet porn.
Speaking of internet, it really is tough staying connected to the world out there. Too many mountains and not enough cell towers. Satellite coverage can be spotty. That probably explains why the guy hid out there from me.
Rather than forget about how I can just waltz through portals like in Tokyo, I remembered this time. Yay, me. I finished fixing a nice dinner for Qiang for when she gets done playing with her friends, slid into my armor, and created a portable hole to the mean lakes of Montana. I appeared in the air above the shallows of Lake McDonald and splashed down near the shore. I don’t entirely know what happens if I were to appear partially inside a tree, but that’s a question I hope to let someone else test first.
Two things stood out to me immediately. First, the view off in the distance looked a lot like a work of art. Second, something had taken a truly massive shit on the shore nearby. I was glad for my air filtration system.
GPS put me less than a mile away. I finished tromping out of the water and faded into holographic invisibility. I stopped walking so heavily before too long. The forest is absolutely full of things that make noise on trees you pass by and things you step on. There are plenty in the canopies, too. Birds are an indicator, one I doubted the Hephaestus guy would know. But maybe those guarding him know better. I took it nice and slow on my approach.
He turned out to be hiding in a cabin. Weird. I thought a guy with his money would spring for a whole big house. Not sure how much they let people do that on Federal land, but he has money. If you have the money, laws and prices are both negotiable.
Coverage was absolutely shitty here. I couldn’t get a good look via satellite because of all the trees in the way. No cell service, no internet. I stopped to check it out with my eyes instead. Let’s see… a trio of ATVs, a pair of jeeps, and a pair of men in suits walking around in suits. That seemed incredibly impractical. And either these guys really look this generic, or they were twins.
I was going to wait until one got close, but instead I opened a hole right underneath one of them that dumped him into Antarctic. For the other one, I reached a hand through another hole that let me grab a tree branch high over his head. I snapped it and pulled my hand back, then thrust it through again this time to crush his throat. I pulled him through the hole, leaving him behind in the bushes as I stepped out where he had been.
It seemed all clear from there on out. Just a little cabin in a little clearing. I headed up to the cabin, apparently avoiding any creaking boards on the steps or deck. That’s one way that wood is a handy flooring for security purposes. The door was locked, which was simple enough to carve through with a laser, and in I went.
My target was walking in from a hallway, wet and dressed only in a towel, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. “Oh shit,” he said, having evidently seen the door open and close of its own accord. “I guess it’s today, huh?”
I became visible. “Yeah, your time’s up.”
He raised the bottle and took a sip, then sat down on a metal bar stool next to a small island at the point where the living room became a kitchen. “My time’s been up since the Feds caught me.” He looked at me, then laughed, shaking his head as he enjoyed a private joke.
“They’re not exactly giving you their best protection,” I said, stepping closer.
“Yeah, but they know how full of yourself you are,” he said.
My paranoia sense tingled. I turned back to the door and pulled it open to reveal a thick metal door. A hole appeared in it as big as my fist, punching me in the stomach. I stumbled. I heard gunshots as more of the walls disappeared. My HUD warned me of damage as the shots that it broke bones and burst organs behind the armor it pounded and weakened. Both myself and my target dropped, me to take cover and him because most of his chest was missing. I set the nanites in my armor to myself and the armor, then opened a hole and came out next to where I thought I stashed a dead body in the bushes.
The cabin was ringed with more of these expressionless men, many in camo or gillie suits, but a few in suits. I saw the one I thought I killed, somehow still standing and firing his handgun despite his throat being punched in. It was odd. They were all firing from the hip, no matter the guns they used, all emotionless and stiff. When they finished a few minutes later, one of them held up a remote and pushed a button. The cabin exploded. The shooters didn’t respond, even when I saw on take a chunk of wood through the thigh.
A sudden power failure caused the portaholes to go out. Damn, right when I want to kill a shitload of people. As awesome as these things are, their reliability is a pretty damn big issue. I didn’t have time to worry about it, though, as I had a crowd of thirty or so of these weird, robot-seeming men to kill.
Still invisible, I came up behind one and yanked his head off. The body fell. The rest of this bunch turned toward me, but I was already jumping, landing with my feet on the head and chest of another guy. When we came down to the ground, his head went sploosh. My Surprise whips shot out as I ran forward to dodge the tracking of these things. I wrapped one around the neck of a guy, squeezing it off as I used him to change my velocity. Another took a whip to the head, revealing metal under the skin.
More fell to a laser to the face, and I picked up a nearby sentry to club one of his friends to mush with. The secret was to stay moving as those with ammo used it up and those without tried to reload quickly. There was one gaggle of them that got fresh magazines in when a headless rubber chicken wandered over to them and exploded. I grabbed a second of the guys and spun like a whirlwind, sending guys flying.
It got a bit messy, but a few more rubber chicken grenades left me the only one standing. Any other that tried were easy enough to stomp back down. The last one, stopped while he was on one knee and tried to use the portaholes. I was going to pull his skull out and use it to beat his body with, but then I remembered it wasn’t working. I settled for squeezing his head with my hands until it exploded in a gooey mess of blood, scalp, metal, and circuit boards.
I jumped to the conclusion that my old enemy the Technolutionary might be working with the Secret Service. He’d been obsessed with me in a creepy way, feeling that I was humanity’s future and that he should be able to make humans like me. We did manage that process, but he got away. Before I met him, his favorite pastime seemed to be replacing people’s brains with computers that made them is servants. These looked like more sophisticated versions, with way better weaponry than he’d had. A lot of my older armors wouldn’t have stood up to being shot like this, and I’d have been in little shape to fight without armor being able to release regenerative nanites out in the field.
So, this whole thing had been a trap. Lovely. That still left me in the middle of nowhere without a ride, my personal conveyance not working, and unable to call in for help. That might have been part of the trap as well, and a part I wouldn’t have thought about given the location.
I didn’t take a hike so much as take long leaps through the forest until I could get enough of a signal to call back to Chu, the head of my portahole project. He picked up on the first ring. “Chu, buddy, what’s wrong with these things? I need a way back, ya know.”
“Chu is otherwise detained,” Medusa said. My paranoia sense didn’t like that.
“What’d you do?” I asked.
“It wasn’t me, or just me,” she said. “I know you’re going to be pissed, but let me explain.”
“How about you explain it to me in person?” I asked, wanting to beat her to death with her own foot.
“I can’t do that. We received a message while you were gone. A lot of people want war with you, and your own people want to disavow your actions. The ultimatum is that you leave power,” she explained.
“We have the shield and all. We can hold out,” I said.
“That wasn’t just the ultimatum the UN gave us. A lot of people seem to agree with them, and I didn’t want to cause a riot.”
“They never would have tried this if I was there, but how’d they know I was gone?” I asked.
“Your government isn’t as private as you’d think. That’s partially my doing,” she said. I could feel the tension in her words.
“Have you been a spy this whole time?” I asked, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.
“No. I love you, I really love you. I wanted to help free you and reform things, so I tried to keep things transparent with some leaks. They told me and others you were gone. Then the UN contacted us.”
“Where’s my daughter? What have y’all done with her?!” I felt the rage course through me, hurting my jaw as hard as it clenched.
“She’s fine. The people who flooded the Directory forced them to vote your abdication and her ascendancy to the throne. We’re pretty sure the UN isn’t going to declare war on a little girl,” she tried to reassure me.
“Little girls are the only group the UN will go after because they’re too scared of dictators!” I yelled. I tried getting through to Shield Command. Nothing. My command codes were no good anymore. Same for the base, or even Intel. They all ghosted me when I called, too.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll take care of Qiang. She’ll be fine. If there’s a silver lining, Mr. Omega will give up on you soon, right? It’s no fault of your own. Well, I mean, that’s not really true, but it’s not like you knew this would happen.”
I hung up on her and punched a tree. It fell in the woods. I stood there, not making any sound for awhile. Then a message got through on what I recognized as Intel Chief Pagan’s accounts. “Empress, I remain ever loyal. I will act to protect your daughter from your enemies and do what I can to aid your return. Attached is a dump of useful information we compiled on the incident as it happened, as well as other information you have requested. We found an outpost of the Dusk Club if you feel you are in a mood for violence and would like to channel it to your ends. Yours forever, Pagan.”
Another voice broke in, courtesy of the icon of a white face on my HUD of Mr. Omega. “Such ungrateful people.”
“Damn straight,” I said.
“We will take your island back for you,” he said.
“You’d help me with that?” I asked.
“I prefer you to your daughter. I would think you would, too,” he said.
He didn’t need to. He had the power I need right now. Might as well get rid of that Dusk Club first before I go back and prove why I’m the one who deserves to rule.
“I find it hard to believe you’re this powerful, able to keep an eye on me and check messages from me, but you don’t know where these guys are,” I said, perched upon a neon-lit skyscraper in Tokyo. Always Tokyo with Japan. I had Mr. Omega in my HUD.
“You procrastinated and they escaped,” he said. “I am searching. When they do, you will find the power you need to destroy them.”
“Uh huh,” I said, though it did interest me to learn a little more about how long it took him to find things. Anything that gives me an idea about his powers is helpful, including the fact that he sometimes needs an avatar on Earth to focus his power through. Why he does is a mystery to me at this point, but maybe the Dusk Club will clear that up. Awfully convenient of Omega to ask me to hunt down people who can help keep stop him. But if some group of do-gooder superheroes are going to confirm that I helped cause all these problems and am working with Omega, even temporarily, I won’t mind wrecking them.
The thought also occurred to me, as I watched some people leave a nightclub for a nearby themed love hotel, that I could also bring Medusa here and go on a public date while we claim to be cosplayers. It’d be a whole lot easier without the extra arms, but I could pull it off.
Even with cloaking activated, I kept an eye out for any Justice Rangers. The ones from my home dimension had kept a close eye on me but I don’t have any more trust for the ones from this Earth. Their enemies may also complicate matters. Most Justice Ranger teams tend to mop up whatever threat they were activated for within a year before standing down. And since they tend to keep to themselves, nobody’s got them on VillaiNet. I’d prefer if they didn’t butt in on my attack with one of their own. Plus, ya know, it being THE main city where superheroics happen in Japan means I have to watch for random superheroes or giant monsters. If it happens in Japan, it happens in Tokyo.
“I found it,” Omega said. “There.”
He didn’t make an arrow appear or anything, nor did he bring a hand up into his image to show me. He just said, “There.”
“There where?” I asked, looking around.
“That way. Left. Left!” he instructed.
“Do they have left in your direction? I’m turning left,” I said, turning and leaning out over the side of the building.
His face didn’t betray any frustration. “I know. I will show you, but you must open yourself up to my power.”
“If you’re suggesting you need to get into my pants, and skin, and give me some of that raw power of yours… well, I might be open to that,” I said with a grin.
I felt like I jammed all my pointy bits into separate electrical sockets. I lit up with power. My armor became a blinding flash of red and held steady. My fleshy bits jolted with energy, and it was at that point I realized I’d fallen from the building in my preoccupation with the power.
I decided I didn’t feel like hitting the ground that evening, so I stopped falling. “Ok, where we goin’?”
I began to fly down a street, but it wasn’t really me doing the moving. It wasn’t like I was being forced to do it, but almost like that’s what my body decided to do when I didn’t tell it to do anything. I landed in the middle of the street near an odd structure.
It was a tower of sorts, with a garage door in the middle of the base. It looked like a tower of blocks, three blocks wide and one block deep. I realized what it was when someone walked up to a screen and keypad outside. They typed in a code, swiped a card, and the tower let out a little rumble. Then the garage door opened and there was a car. “Hey, Omega, this is a parking garage. A little smaller than I thought they had. Are they in one of the blocks?” I looked it up and down. Twenty-three stories. Not hard to take apart.
“They have hidden their lair within the top floor of this parking tower,” he answered.
I heard a roar behind me, which is when I realized all the glowing made it harder to see through the 360 cameras. I turned and saw a Tyrannosaurus rex standing on the sidewalk at a table by a 24 hour ramen shop. It set aside its tiny bowl, grabbed a book off the table, and tugged on the chain of its monocle to adjust it. “What devilish dispute dares disrupt dinner?” it asked in a British accent. Under its breath, I heard it lament, “Why must these occurrences plague my every holiday to Tokyo? Always whilst in Tokyo!”
“Oh wow, it’s The Saurus!” I said.
“Is this being a threat to our plans?” Omega asked.
“I mean, he’s a hero. He’s lost us the element of surprise,” I answered.
“No,” Omega informed me, “the lair is empty. You may deal with this foe if necessary.”
“Go back to eating, King Tyrant Lizard. You don’t want any of this,” I ordered The Saurus. I turned, ignoring the honkings of annoyed drivers, and raised a hand to the building. I aimed for the base, and imagined another lovely explosion. The tower rumbled as the middle square blew outward, followed soon afterward by the block to its right muffling a secondary explosion. The tower began to sway, then fall.
The Saurus was up and by it faster than you’d think a T. rex could move. He braced against the side of it, calling out in Japanese for people to move out of the way. I believe the exact phrase was “Save yourself, mammals!”
It was going to topple no matter what, but he eased it down as best as he was able by sidestepping with as much weight as he could hold on his back until, at least, he had to race out from underneath it and let it fall the last weigh. The lab might have been destroyed if it had fallen unimpeded, but I doubted I wiped it out this time.
“All you had to do, was nothing,” I said. Then I looked down at myself. That was difficult as well. I was one bright motherfucker. “Let’s see if I can find someone your own size to play with.” I was scrambling for an animal for the theme as I felt myself growing larger and warping, slightly. My hands on either side came together and my armor kinda spread out like a membrane between them, forming wings. The hands were covered over by a fists. The membrane extended up and down to join at my head and at a spiny tail growing from my ass.
I was now a giant red sea ray. I shouldn’t have tried to think of animals. I’m lucky I didn’t turn into a sea pig. Hell, with my track record, I’d have probably become a giant penguin. There’s a reason you don’t see penguin kaiju. I looked down at myself, then up at The Saurus and tried to sound as menacing as possible when I pointed at myself and said, “It’s Do Ray Me, motherfucker.”
“I observe your ponderous transformation and raise you a swift beatdown!” the eloquent British cloned T. rex said. He hoped over the downed tower and came ran at me. I… put a hand on his head and held him back. He swiped his little claws and tried biting, but I held him at bay. This was ridiculously more simple than I expected, so I uppercutted him under the chin with my free hand. I grabbed his head then with both hands, one above and one below, and swung him over me to smack into a car. He lay there stunned as I grabbed another car and slammed that on top of him.
“Look at that, a prehistoric chicken sandwich!” I said.
He started to squirm to get out, so I decided to see if Omega’s powers included anything with some heat to them. I put my hands on the cars, concentrated, and watched as they glowed and melted together where metal touched metal. With The Saurus sealed between them, I turned and hopped onto the tower, approaching what had been the top floors. “Now, let’s see what all the hub bub was about…”
Before I could do that, a beam of energy erupted from my head and tore into them. My hed moved side to side, again in the same way I recognized from Omega flying me around. On top of that, my perspective shifted as I shrunk back into my on form.
In the end, the only thing left was a runny puddle of melted cement and metal in a trench carved through the Tokyo sidewalk. I at least wanted to see what all they were doing. “Dammit,” I wrote in a text message for Omega to read. “If I got a good look at whatever they were doing, I could have maybe guarded against it. Without the heroes here who did it, they can always warn others and lead them toward the same observations.”
“Then we should hunt them down, one by one. I think you find the though fun,” he suggested.
I did, but I also promised to look over some proposals from Medusa. I thought maybe I’d be legalizing some polygamy, but when I brightened up, she stopped to tell me she meant policies and reform. But I figured I’d look at them, and not just in the sense of trying to get her into my pants. I intend to take a good faith look at this “Badass Plan” of hers.
“Your miscalculation, Omega. I don’t have time to hunt them down right now. Check in with me later,” I told him.
In response, I felt the heat and the electricity abandon me. I was there, standing on the tower, in full view for just a moment before I disappeared as well and made sure to get away from the angry dinosaur trying to escape his melted containment.
I had to call in a Psycho Flyer for pickup, but I made it in time for some policy planning with Medusa. The things we do for the ones we love.
My destruction of the Hephaestus labs serving the Feds caused some shockwaves. Enough news went out about the exposed project in the government that some of the informants I have sent reports on to my agents. They considered it worse than a clusterfuck that they were warned about me coming and still couldn’t handle the situation. That was some lovely information. Then, of all things, the Hephaestus offices told me the dude I talked to went on a sudden vacation out of town.
Of all the… yeah, I knew the guy wasn’t trustworthy. That’s why I offered him a bribe. But I didn’t think he’d be so untrustworthy as to not honor the bribe. I mean, that was a deal between the two of us. Someone working for Hephaestus should know better than to violate a deal with me. I have some of my guys looking into where he may have hidden so I can deal with him personally. I was hoping it would be a quick job, so I could use him for weapons testing.
I had to make due with a fellow Pagan was more than happy to deliver. He called me out yesterday, said my presence was necessary at the proving ground range, a section of the island reserved for blowing things up to see how well they blow up. I don’t like that we waste our limited land area on such things, but they’ve been doing it for a long time. The Interior Director, with my approval, is trying to have the land surveyed to see how much work it would need to be safe for other use, but there’s something of a pissing match going on. Something about artillery running tests every time the surveyors go to do their job. Sometimes while the surveyors are out there.
I took a rocket, missing the effortless flight I had with Omega’s power running through me. Next to that, an oversized firework was a little bit of a letdown. I came with my armor, too, which still had the red color scheme and the Omega on it. Works like a charm, though the little wormhole gloves needed a going over and recalibrating. Chu told me the stack overflow wasn’t the whole problem, and wasn’t even most of the problem. The power surge was related to the portable holes themselves. That got the physicists hornier than a big bang, and while they set up a system to better regulate the power, they’re still studying the effects.
As I approached the proving grounds, I saw Pagan’s group. He stood flanked by a trio of other agents who kept their guns trained on a man in a suit. The man in question had been roughed up a bit. He had blood on his shirt and in his mess of hair. His hands were bound in front of him with a zip tie, and he had no shoes or socks on. I liked those last touches. While it’s more difficult to do things with your hands tied behind you, it’s easier for someone with a knife to cut them without being noticed. Leaving his feet bare also makes it tougher for him to run for it. They even had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He could still palm something, but it’d take some serious legerdemain. That’s a fancy word for all that palming and other hand work that prestidigitators do. And that’s a fancy word for a stage magician. But don’t defenestrate yourself just yet, dear reader. That means throwing yourself out of a window, and if you did that, you wouldn’t find out this man was a leaker.
Hell, so much for keeping that secret. Now, I don’t mean the man had a bladder problem, though he had certainly wet himself at some point in their handling of him. I landed near Pagan and remotely directed the rocket to continue on, curve up, then plunge into the ground a safe distance away. “Howdy,” I told my Intel Chief.
“Empress,” he said with a bow. The other agents staggered theirs so someone was up and capable fo dealing with the guy in the zip tie.
“What did you need me here for?” I asked.
“After the Fluidic alien infiltrator attacked the power plant and Telechamber to bring through the remains of his fleet, I knew someone helped him. He knew too much to have worked alone, and knew to avoid the water. These men I trusted to find how,” Pagan explained. He motioned to the prisoner.
“After extensive investigation, we discovered this man had provided details of the Telechamber problems and the layout of the nuclear plant to a third party via TOR browser. We believe the third party was the Midnight Man or a group he was part of, though they claimed to be a collective dedicated to aiding whistleblowers and exposing the secrets of corrupt governments. Per further checks, we found that the leaked information has not been released to the public by any such group. It was merely a front for infiltrators to further their own imperialist agenda.”
“Tsk, tsk… whistleblowing state secrets? For what, for morality?” I turned to the man.
“You stole the nuclear plant and kidnapped those men. Your experiments threatened the world,” the man said with a shaking voice. The agents started toward him, but I held a hand up and they stopped.
I shrugged. “Yeah, I am indeed a bitch, like any other leader. Nobody’s hands are clean, and maybe it’s wrong to think that’s the only way. But something you should have remembered is that information like that is never free. It’s always got a value, and if you’re not getting paid, you’re getting duped. You got duped, big time. So, tell me now, is what Pagan said here true? I don’t like scapegoats either, so I’m willing to hear your story, too.”
“I thought Ricca was changing, that if my mother lived, she would have been able to return to her people. You are just as bad as The Claw. Your insanity threatens to destroy the world. You are as bad as any Soviet or American with Mutually Assured Destruction,” the analyst said.
I sighed. “Sorry to hear you feel that, and sorry you felt it was more important to hurt me than to help yourself.” Turning to the agents and Pagan, I said, “You’ll want to stand clear of this one.”
Pagan nodded and the four of them began to walk away.
“You will kill me,” the analyst said, no doubt in his voice.
“Yep,” I told him. “No matter how merciful I might want to be, it’s what I have to do. You helped someone attack us. People are dead. Other people’s kids and mothers are dead because of what you did. For all you think I’m just like the evil alien conqueror, you unleashed a whole ‘nother band of evil alien conquerors on the planet to destroy people just like yourself. So you die here today.”
I activated the portable holes. I need a shorter name for them. Portaholes is the obvious portmanteau, but it makes me think of portapotties. I’ve talked about all kinds of portals and breaches. Wormhole just feels inappropriate to me, but it might be the best option.
I suppose I could have given the guy an easy death with some dignity. Or I could have done something really brutal to make sure people knew not to fuck with me. Vlad the Impaler came to mind, except I now had the ability to impale this fellow on anything in the world. The Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Sputnik on top of Joe’s Liquor’s sign in Memphis: the world was my boner.
Instead, I reached out with my mind, looked up a few things, and used some GPS info. I created a pair of wormholes and punched the man, once from above, another from behind. The next thing to hit him through a wormhole was a gloved fist from a boxing match, then a footballer’s cleated foot caught him in the balls, followed by a portal above him dropping an anvil on his head. It was significantly less survivable for him than it is for Daffy Duck. You couldn’t much hear the bones break because of all the squelching.
For the final cleanup, I tried double the holes, and much bigger than I’d done before. Chu’s not monitoring them all the time, but we’ve still got a full-time staff with a direct line to me if anything goes wrong. That they didn’t speak up when the train appeared, plowed into the anvil and the remains, and then went back through a portal almost as quickly as it appeared says good things.
I had a lovely dinner with Medusa, Qiang, and Citra. Citra had been on a break between semesters, but finally stopped here for a little bit. She did some important schmoozing in Belgium and she’s not really into the whole lesbian thing, so that all explains her absence lately. Perfectly reasonable stuff. I’m certainly not disappointed with the fact that I partnered for political reasons and not for amazing, clothes-tearing lust. Or love.
I woke up early thanks to a voice whispering in my ear. “Psychopomp… wake up. You’re missing the fun,” Mr. Omega said.
“What fun?” I asked groggily. I’m a morning person like Elton John’s a ladies man.
“You have done amazing, but our enemies gather.”
That woke me right up, though I stopped talking out loud so as not to wake up- nevermind, Medusa was already up. Huh. I thought I did a better job tiring her out. Should I be worried? Anyway, enough about sexy times. I talked in my head. “What’s going on? Someone about to attack the island?”
“Yes. Gifted humans in the Empire of Japan have studied the breaches in the dimension and the weakening of the barrier. They suspect a connection between this and your island. They drew my attention when I observed their testing. They are not the only enemies. I feel the Dusk Club has reunited.”
“That’s that group you pretended to be a part of. They’re real?” I asked.
The face in my HUD nodded. “They are the successors of the ancient tradition that banished me to the void. They have been in decline since the conflicts of the last century. They sense the veil is weakening and will rebuild.”
“What’s that mean for us?” I sent off a text to Apollo of the Hares to check on some group called the Dusk Club. If I still had the number for The Trust over in Los Angeles, I’d have asked them. That family is supremely fucked-up, but they’re involved in the magic world. And the magic bar on Beale Street in Memphis might get me where I need to go.
“It means I will soon have need of you to serve as my avatar again, channeling my power to further our goals,” Mr. Omega said.
Bingpot. Ok, Gecko, play it cool… “Yeah, sure, I suppose I could if you think I’ll need all that extra power.”
Mr. Omega smiled. “Those without power, risk. Those with power, rule. All we have to do is but find them. Then, we crush them.”
I mean, yeah, he’s vicious, but so am I. And I like the idea of flying like that again, with all that power. “I guess we’re hunting the Dusk then.”
“I could destroy them for you. It would require minimal effort,” said the featureless white face of Mr. Omega in my HUD. I was suited up and checking over elaborate gauntlets on my lower arms. They had been built to attach to my usual gloves on the lower limbs. Because of that, those arms now lacked the redundant energy sheaths, or the Nasty Surprises that I liked to hide there. They can punch without damaging the devices, so I’m not completely disarmed. Times like these make me wish I had a cybernetic tail, though. With a sharp blade, shooting lasers out of it… Fuck yeah.
Rather than focus on building my perfect body, I had to respond to Mr. Omega. The extradimensional deity had popped in to offer his services. It wasn’t a bad idea. I don’t trust the guy still, even if he did help save my daughter. Part of me doesn’t like the idea of being so mean to a guy who saved her, but so it goes. The Evil Overlord’s List doesn’t say anything about giving someone a free pass for saving your daughter’s life, after all. So I might have him do some of the destruction for me in a very flashy way. He’ll look like a big oncoming threat and make people more worried about him than me.
I did inform the VillaiNet that I might be going after some of those Freedom Legion dweebs and would likely kill a few. The villains are usually ok with it being open season on cops. The other way around, cops have gotten away with countless abuses by claiming they felt threatened and thought the person they were stomping on had powers. But they didn’t like the idea of me bumping off supers as often without good reason. The Legion being a more formalized version of a supercop complicates that set-up, or so I thought. Turns out, the Legion’s been a bunch of asswads to villains around the States, so most of them are pretty fond of the idea of me thinning the herd a bit.
I took a Psycho Flyer all alone this time to help facilitate my plan to blame it on Omega. One good thing about this plan to trick him is that I’ll really enjoy using the Telechamber again. When I eventually build it, and if I eventually kill him, it’ll be really nifty to have that mode of travel available when it comes time to kill people.
I set the cloaked Flyer down outside some small town in Maryland. Probably a bit close to D.C. For the government’s taste when they found out about it, but they might have already known. That asshat with Hephaestus made it sound like a partnership, but he’s probably saying the same about the deal I worked out with him.
I double parked the Flyer off in a wooded area outside of town and left it camouflaged as a cottage standing on a pair of chicken legs so as to scare people off. I camouflaged myself as The lab looked like any another unnamed office building in a commercial district. Nothing too special, as far as most people are concerned, until I noticed the food truck was hanging around late in the afternoon, and the guy at the order window looked really attentive. I didn’t see the cook, but I figured he was in there, too. They also had a guy acting like he was picking weeds in a flowerbed out front.
I walked past and headed down another street. “Okily dokily. Chu, you ready?”
“Empress, I must reiterate my sincere concern that we have not adequately-”
“Yeah, I heard you. Let’s get this party started,” I told him.
“As you wish. We are making the initial stellar connection… now.” I could practically hear the wince in his voice as he waited for it to all blow up in his face. After a couple of seconds, he reported back, “Power is holding steady so far. This might actually work. I knew it would, but I wasn’t ready to do this for real yet.”
“Ok, let me know when it’s time to get my suit powered up,” I said. I walked a bit and turned a corner, swapping holographic disguises so I could walk back the other way as an old man. That gave me an excuse to take my time. I felt the connection being made before he reported back to me. The new stream of power was a huge boost. I activated the telegloves… no, they needed a better name. I was throwing “tele-” on everything now. I dubbed it… the Portahole.
Damn. I decided to hold off on giving the gloves themselves an official name until I learn to name things better. Instead, I used them to create a portable hole off in the food truck. It looked like a line in the air. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like if you had a surface-level scratch on the surface of a piece of glass. I shoved my hand through. My helmet agreed with what the cameras on my glove showed; my hand now stretched out inside the food truck near the stove. I grabbed a nearby pot and smashed it hard over the head of the observant cashier. He went down next to a sack of potatoes. Through microcameras on the armor, I caught a glimpse of someone else grabbing for the hand with one hand while holding a gun in the other.
I felt resistance, but pulled my hand through easily. Over at the food truck, I could see the guy standing over the stove with his back to the window. The other guard’s hand joined mine, coming through the air in front of me. Then his head came through. The guy gritted his teeth and shoved a gun in my face. “You’re under arrest!”
I smirked under my armor and created a second hole while snatching his gun away. I had hands to spare, and while one disarmed him, the other shoved his head through the hole. Over at the food truck, his body jumped and jerked. His pants strained and tore. I stopped the holes, leaving me with a bloody chunk of flesh on my side, and the guard with his head up his ass in the food truck. I saw his body flop to the floor.
Over near the flowerbed, the guard there had heard something and was looking around. He looked toward where I was, but only saw an old guy and something on the ground near me. I created another pair of portable holes and reached through with two arms. I wrapped one hand around the guard’s mouth and used the other to break his neck. I tossed him as far behind a bush as I could and pulled myself together.
The first test went ok, but it was time to really put this new weapons system through its paces. I showed myself through the door and up to the desk next to the metal detector and security door. I looked like a homeless man at the time thanks to the power of holograms. I came up to the desk as he asked, “Can I help you, sir?”
With the power of portable holes, I reached for the gun holstered on his hip. “Yes, you can help me… by dying!” I said, releasing a cackle from my armor’s speakers. He reached for his gun with his right hand and found me there, holding it down. I uppercutted him from below and pulled my arms back as he tumbled down onto his chair. I hopped the desk and kicked him in the head as he stood up. Hs face disappeared into a hole and reappeared over his back. I grabbed his hand and twisted it around to slap his own face. I pulled up on the back of his shirt and tugged him out of the hole while I repositioned it, then shoved it back through. It was cold up there in the Arctic circle. It’d be handy if I could dump the whole guy there, but Chu had advised me not to crank up the settings too high on the first go. I don’t want to push my luck too much.
I left the bombs in the Flyer this time until I needed to pluck one out of midair, noting, “I need to carry a top hat around with me.” I set it up behind the monitor on the guy’s desk before heading deeper. Even the door behind the guard’s desk was locked, so I just opened it from the other side. Breaking and entering made easy.
I disappeared from view, though I needn’t have bothered. People seemed to prefer staying in their offices. It was better this way, as the halls were narrow, but I did want more of a fight for a better idea how the results worked. I could already envision some neat tricks, putting one hole in front of me and the other behind someone’s head so that shooting me became suicide. Oh, and it’d be awesome if I kept a tank of hungry piranhas around to send someone’s head to. Maybe a shark tank, even.
I set a couple more around, including in the stairwell I took up to the second floor. Remember, always take the stairwell in case of emergency. I came out and found a hallway loaded with a dozen soldiers in full-on tactical gear, all aimed at the elevator nearby. They turned and opened fire at chest height in front of the door. I let myself become visible and held up one hand, because while I am badass enough to dodge bullets, I no longer have to. I quietly guided the other portable hole around the room as they opened up. As they dropped, I got a frantic call from Chu.
“Empress, we saw a spike in power output.”
“It’s fine. I had to expand one of the portals a bit to catch a hail of gunfire. How we holding up?”
He took a second to answer. “I think… No, something’s wrong. The power drain is continuing to grow. What are the portals doing?”
“I’d rather not call them that. They’re portable holes, like Wile E. Coyote used,” I said, but checked on it. I thought I’d turned the portable holes off, but they were there and growing. I switched them off but they didn’t turn off. “Yeah, we got an issue.” From a side door came a man in a gown. “But it might be good to have it anyway. I think I got a super here. Psycho Gecko vs. Gown Man!”
The scratches in the air disappeared. The devices still had power. No sparking or anything, no smoke. Internal diagnostics had some sort of error in the processing. A stack overflow that wouldn’t resolve, something like that. “Uh, Chu, you didn’t do anything remotely, did you?”
“No. Shit, I will get on this immediately. Please don’t kill me for my failure!”
“Fix it and we’ll be cool,” I told him. Then, nodding to Gown Man, I said, “Looks like I’ll have to kill you the old fashioned way… with power armor.”
He opened his mouth and his hands. Metal flowed through the air from all around, including the guns of the downed soldiers and my armor. Sensors reported loss of armor integrity all over the side facing him as specks of it flew off toward him. I tried to hit my helmet lasers but they did spark and catch fire as parts of the mechanism also fled. I ran forward and popped a Nasty Surprise whip. It fell to the floor. I punched him in the side of the head, not knocking him down, and came away with the metallic portions of my gauntlet stripped away, flowing over the area where I punched to form a second skin on him. I saw it when he turned back to me and smiled.
I reached for his throat but I flew back. It was like magnets, if magnets included non-ferrous parts of my body all pulling backwards. Ever had your eyes force themselves back into your skull? It’s a good thing he tossed all of me backward. And just think about my brain. It’s hard to feel what your brain is doing, but I have plenty of metal in there.
A fucking… metallokine? Fuck if I know the term. A guy who can move metal. Someone draws that fucking card in the game of life and gets enough of a drop on me that they dismantled my armor. I tried to lunge for him again, but my eyes and other cybernetic organs protested by holding me back.
My HUD was screwing up too. I tried not to think about what he was doing to my insides. I wondered briefly if he could control the iron in my blood along with the steel in my chest. But Mr. Omega’s face appeared for sure. “I offer my aid again.”
“Yes. I need it,” I said.
Instantly, my body lit on fire, but only in the metaphorical sense. I was hot, and painfully so at first, but I got used to it. The pressure on my metal parts lifted. I laughed in relief as I stood, noticing my body wreathed in the same shade of red from Omega’s body. On my chest, where I’d had four tendrils arcing downward had been eaten away along with my armor until you could barely see it. Now, the design formed a glowing white omega symbol. I looked to the metal manipulator, whose gown was apparently backless based on the load he dropped directly on the floor behind him. I was on him in a second, his throat in my hand. I lifted him up as if he was weightless. You always still feel some resistance when you use your muscles, but this wasn’t like this. He might as well have been a balloon.
I focused on him, almost like seeing him in a different way. That freakish nose and those weird lips and skin. Humans are disgusting-looking if you really look at them, and I mean even the ones with what they’d consider normal features. This guy wouldn’t have been too bad looking, but in my eyes he was gross. I wanted to annihilate him.
He blew apart in my hands, leaving a few motes of red light behind. “Ok, awesome,” I said to no one in particular. I wanted my armor back. I knew it intimately. I wondered if wanting it back worked anything like wanting that guy gone had been.
“Allow me to help,” I felt my own lips move on their own. Little glowing lights, like fireflies, appeared around me, then pressed close to me. When they faded, I wore my armor again, but with the omega symbol on the chest and most of it blood red in color.
I laughed as I waved all four hands, envisioning the same effect as my bombs. I blew that building apart, watching from the inside as explosion after explosion tore the place apart. And none of it touched me. Nothing could touch me. Forget punching above my weight class. I was so far beyond anyone’s weight class. I flew out of there, a streak of red. Actually flying, with no resistance, no friction. Like a balloon with a will and speed. Ok, so it sounds slightly less awesome when compared to a balloon, but I haven’t felt my body tell physics to go fuck itself that hard even when I had control of Forcelight’s body.
There’s a thought… a bit late to take her body. I really like having Dame, though.
Lost in thought, I didn’t realize I’d swerved and curved through the air back to the Psycho Flyer until I saw the chicken-footed cottage in the woods below me. I set down in front of it and felt myself drain. Gravity took hold of me again, which was annoying more than anything. Seriously, gravity, go fuck off.
The omega symbol and I both stopped glowing. Mr. Omega’s face appeared on my fully functional HUD though. “Is that all?”
“I don’t suppose you can take care of the other two buildings, can you?” I asked.
Mr. Omega smiled. I received alerts from my watchers of the laboratories being smashed flat by large red hands. Could have been my hands, too. Might be again. I wonder if I can grab some of that power again. Stretch goals.
This thing is going to be awesome while it lasts.
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.