“I deserve to go after these bozos. They killed my friends,” Gavel demanded when I was headed out of the casino.
He wore a costume that was two different shades of purple, with an oversized metal gauntlet on his right hand, carrying a huge hammer with him. Warhammers don’t have to be as oversized as people think, but this one’s head was the size of a cinderblock, with a handle as thick as someone’s forearm. Gavel’s hands couldn’t wrap around it, but the large gauntlet he had on could. He had a buckler shield on his left forearm as a nod to defense, but he still looked like he hadn’t had much sleep.
“And I’ll kill them. You’ll just have to make peace with that being the only justice you’re capable of.”
“I-!” he started to yell, raising his hammer overhead to swing down on me. My nanites surrounded his neck with three jagged shards of metal before he could even let gravity drop the hammer.
I turned my back on him and walked out of the casino, past O-sec. Gavel sheepishly lowered his hammer.
“They were ICE inside. We fought with them, but they held us off maybe five minutes. Then, more ICE were on us. We were in the middle of nowhere. They came up on four-wheelers and jetpacks.”
That’s what he’d said when Ouroboros and I paid him off. They were off in rural Alabama, between Mobile and Paradise City. Five minutes into the heist and Icers were on the scene. They were able to get away with armored truck they were using. Makes sense to me, sure. ATVs aren’t the fastest thing around and most people really don’t want to try and keep up with a speeding truck on the land equivalent of a jet ski. The main problem with jetpacks is their lack of range. So ICE was close and that seemed to be their shipment of gold, not Mobile’s. I did a little bit of cross-checking with satellites and nearby roads.
The guys jumped the gold shipment at what was just about the halfway point to Mobile. Usually a pretty solid strategy, they just happened to do so right near some weird compound that seems to be right where the ICE agents would have come from if they traveled through the woods to reach the road. Gavel and his friends just got unlucky. And look at that, a string of helipads. For a agency tasked with handling immigration, that’s a hell of a lot of firepower to have in rural Alabama.
If it was up to me, I’d have handed over the info to the Exemplars, but Ouroboros made a good point. “Think of all the gold in it for us,” he said. Which was somewhat persuasive, but the thing that really gained my sympathy was him saying, “Besides, they attacked and killed three villains. Our community has the right to avenge itself upon them before you call in the heroes.”
I told him to be ready to go for whenever I’m dealing with the fake. And so, after leaving the casino, I spent days with my robot armor pretending to be Gavel doing a shitty job laying low in Paradise City. Ouroboros even put out the word through some of his guys about how Gavel had been expelled for causing so much destruction to the casino. The young villain instead got comped one of bunker rooms under the casino
I was a couple days into it when I got a call from Ouroboros himself. “We have contact. My men saw ICE performing recon on the Pea Ridge safehouse. Head there and they’ll know where to send your double.”
“Weird that they’re looking there,” I mentioned.
“Heh. I was curious how it got out that the villains were staying at the casino. I told men I thought I could trust. This time, I told them I was secretly hosting him at a safehouse, but I told each one a different address.”
“Looks like whoever was told about the Pea Ridge house is about to take a long swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Some surprisingly strong currents out there,” I noted.
“He swore on his life he was loyal to me. I’ll collect this one myself. You worry about your well-dressed friend.”
The armor pulled up outside the Pea Ridge safehouse, in a neighborhood behind a movie theater. Depending on the city, it can be cheaper to rent a place to lay low, even if it’s just paying to use someone’s garage or back room. This area, the real estate’s so cheap Ouroboros can buy multiple neighborhoods for employees or to subsidize housing for the poor. That last one helps him look good and distracts from when he buys random homes that only ever seem to get used when someone needs to lie lower than the casino can manage.
I went into the house as Gavel and turned invisible once I passed into a hall where they couldn’t see in from the outside. I waited for anything to happen while going through the motions, like turning on a bedroom and bathroom light, and starting to run a shower.
A text from Ouroboros alerted me: “They’re bringing in a few vans. They really want Gavel gone. We’re ready to move on base on contact.”
I’d have smiled if I wasn’t inhabiting the body of a robotic suit of power armor. The head didn’t have eyes, a nose, or a mouth, just the suggestion of them.
“Contact,” Ouroboros said. It was a minute later the bathroom door swung open and that fake fucking Gecko walked in. He walked up to the shower curtain and pulled it aside. Seeing nothing in there, he stepped back. His reflection in the mirror turned toward him and shrugged. Fake Gecko smashed the mirror with his fist, returning it to normal.
I fell on him from above, cracking the tile floor beneath him. Looking down him, though, I pondered what I’d learned in recent days and recent years. “You know you don’t have to fight for these dipshits, right? Let them spill the blood themselves. You can step back from it. Maybe be a better person than I am.”
An invisible force pulled me through the wall and out onto the front lawn. Out there were a squad of those henchmen in the orange and grey, along with another costumed group.
“I detect no mental activity. I don’t think it’s alive,” said a woman with a top knot hairdo in a green and black robe.
A mechanical orb the size of a beach ball floated up next to her, unfolding a set of small arms with saws, blades, and an arc welder from underneath where a human face stared out. “I call dibs on the pieces!”
I jumped up to meet another shape heading right for me, a man with a war club. I caught the club and kicked him in the chest. He flew back and unfurled a pair of bat wings from behind him. Next came a woman in Venus’s costume, but not her power armor. I just stared at her after the punch. “Another fake.”
“Real, just from one planet over,” she said. Sounded like my Venus, who now went by Medusa. Even grunted like my Medusa when I smacked her away with the club that then flew out of my hand to meet the diving bat guy. I went to punch him, but top knot’s head glowed and suddenly my arm wouldn’t move forward. I took a club to the gut, but the armor didn’t have anything important there. The bat guy landed and turned for another strike. My nanite armor rose up off my back and formed into a humanoid form of its own, then ran for him. He raised the club to strike when the nanites turned into a liquid flow that went through him, leaving a hole eaten in through his chest and reforming on the other side.
“What is this thing?!” yelled one of the henchmen.
“Death. And hell follows after,” the armor said. I charged Top Knot with the liquid metal self. The pressure on my arm failed as she mashed the nanites down and encased them into a spherical shape. That let my swap back into the armor and toss a flash bang into her eyes. She dropped the nanites then, but they didn’t even land before the orb lit them up with a flamethrower. I think it got all of them.
I tossed a regular old grenade his way and cloaked. Venus cartwheeled and kicked it back toward where I’d thrown it from, but I had run to the kneeling bat guy. Went to grab his club away from him, but he looked up, the hole in his chest closing. Regeneration’s a really unfair power when people other than myself have it. He pulled me in close and wrapped me in a bear hug, calling out, “Here!”
Behind me materialized Fake Gecko, with a glowing fist that punched through my helmet. They all stared at the space where it was, then the robot armor’s joints reversed themselves. I grabbed the Fake by the leg and elbowed Bat Guy in the face. I tossed my double into the air, where he went invisible, sure, but I just swapped vision modes. I settled in, charging up my own armor’s gauntlet for a punch. Even Bat Guy still being wrapped around me wasn’t enough to keep me from adjusting to get underneath Fake Gecko.
He stopped in midair, fifteen feet up. Top Knot’s head was glowing again. I pulled free of Bat Guy’s grasp and kicked him backwards, throwing up a line of dust. The orb tried to shock me, giving me a boost of charge that I used on the next person rushing me. Fake Venus’s chest, mushed and goopy, sprayed over the ground behind her. She gasped, squeaked, dropping some gadget she held in her hand. She still sounded like my Medusa. I grabbed her by the neck and slid her mask off.
She looked like my Medusa, too. I faded into invisibility, wanting to take a moment to examine her face despite the whole situation. I dropped her when my right arm wrenched right. My left leg went left. Top Knot held me in midair telekinetically by the two opposing limbs. Bat Guy walked up, checking on the dead Alternate Venus The orb flew in, spraying some foam onto the robot armor. Without my cameras, it was difficult to see or project, but I knew I looked like a poofy mushroom person. Like a headless Gozar the Gozarian. “Easy, Zotz, this thing’s a work of art!”
“I don’t care, Lister, we’re destroying it,” Fake Gecko said, uncloaking.
“Nooooo,” the orb guy wailed.
“Give me a clear line of sight,” Top Knot said. “I’m tearing this thing apart.”
I went for a grenade with my free left hand. Fake Gecko pulled it free and tossed it to the orb, who caught it in tiny robot arms hanging out of the bottom of his orb. I checked around for anything else to use and didn’t see a lot of options after they burned the nanite cape.
Well, almost all of it. There was a tiny bit of it that I realized I could direct. Considering distance and personal dislike, I directed a droplet of it toward Top Knot. The metal on the robot armor’s body strained. I kicked the bat guy away and reversed my joints again, punching Fake Gecko in the throat. He knelt, gasping I went for my belt again, setting off a flashbang. She didn’t drop me. Instead, all four limbs were now being pulled in different directions. Things started to come undone. Screws, bolts; it was nuts. It was like every separate piece of the robot armor telekinetically disassembled itself, leaving behind a power core that was beginning to go unstable.
“Wait! We must be careful with this!” Orb said. It swung in close, opening a black cube with those tiny arms and snatching up a power core that now refused to respond to any signals whatsoever.
“Is that going to work?” Bat Guy asked. Then he looked to Fake Gecko and knelt to check on him.
I had sources in the area, still. The nanites couldn’t hear or see any of that in the same way. They were almost useless at that point, I figured, until I got a different idea that could save face for me. Because I could have just struck the whole spot with a missile, sure. I had plenty of bombs. But now, after I dared give Fake Gecko a chance and had to watch someone I still actually care about die, they were rood enough to tear one of my bodies apart. And they’re trying to do a bunch of sneaky shit.
The nanite droplet slipped onto the robed, top knotted woman’s shoe and began looking for a nice, subtle opening. A cut, a sore, something like that.
But I figured I’d give Ouroboros a heads-up. “Turns out Fake Gecko has a team. I’m going to find out where the next hole they hide in is and kill them there. Sorry about the bathroom wall.”
After a few minutes, Ouroboros got back to me. “Most people die when their heads get torn off.”
“Most people aren’t me.” And the only other me isn’t getting a second chance twice.
Then it was up out of my comfy long-distance chair to vacuum and cook dinner, like a supervillain homemaker does in between murders.
Wow. Hell of a past few days. Way to go, 2021. You’re doing terrific.
Since the last update, a group of right-wing fanatics tried to overthrow the government of the United States and I had nothing to do with any of it. The Capitol Police just let them on through. It was the Exemplars who showed up and stopped people from taking hostages and setting off bombs. So now the President, that same lackluster appointee who came out after all the recent soft civil war shenanigans, has to sit there and enjoy his political black eye. He hates the Exemplars and Medusa, but now they saved Congress while he refused to call in the National Guard and, some suggest, might have had a hand in the insurrection itself. Now he’s being investigated, the chief of the Capitol Police has been forced to resign, and the Exemplars are pardoned in every way but a signed piece of paper. The President would have to do that himself.
But none of that concerns me. They don’t pay me to be a hero. I’m just keeping an eye out for Fake Gecko. It’s my time to relax and unwind. Take it easy. Use a small underground factory to churn out power armor for fake superpowered clone bodies and roboticization.
And a couple of heat rays so I could lay out and sun myself. I know it’s the middle of winter, but that’s what heat rays are for. I laid there in the catgirl body, enjoying the heat and sun while purring. And then something with a reverberating voice said, “That’s hot.”
I opened my eyes and blinked as a ghostly Mix N’Max, my super chemist friend, floated in the air nearby. I grabbed an icecube out of my drink and tossed it at him. He looked down at it, then back up at me. “Don’t worry, it’s me.”
“You got some sort of projector nearby? It’s crap quality, bud,” I said, looking around. I eyed the streetlight. Some people had been working on it last month and part of me wants to be paranoid someone’s watching me. Other parts of me know that the shrunken Sheriff’s department and the neighbor’s teen boy were more subtle setting up their cameras.
“No, you’re seeing me now because of hallucinogens,” Max explained to me.
I eyed my drink. “Damn, the Irish know their whisky.”
“No, I took the hallucinogens,” Max gestured to himself. “They’re really strong.”
Must be if they’re able to make other people see things. “What you been up to, dude?”
“The usual, but did you know you have an imposter?”
I pulled myself up to a sitting position, my paws rubbing over the strips of rubber of the lawn lounger under me. “Yeah, I’m looking for him. I’d love to give him some firsthand experience in what the real deal’s like.”
Max shrugged. “Well, he’s causing trouble.”
“What happened and where is he?” I asked, fur standing up all poofy. I tried to relax and comb it back down with the claws that popped out on my hands.
“I’ve been spending time near Paradise City. A few of us more senior villains invested in a gang of newbs who wanted to rob a Federal gold transfer they found out about. They got away, but they said it was guarded by a bunch of ICE. Then, your double and his henchmen showed up in Paradise City and started hunting down the newbs.”
Huh. I hadn’t sent some robot armor there, both out of professional courtesy and just not expecting the Fake would have the gall to show up there. Ouroboros, the villain who runs that town, would probably tolerate me showing up unexpectedly even if he knew I was me but it would be better to inform him if I stationed a robot there. What he lacks in superpowers, he makes up for with power and respect in the community. I’ll have to redirect the one from Miami northward.
“Federal gold transfer’s not a bad haul,” I mused. “Adds to the hypothesis I have that this fake is working for the President as a deniable hired goon. ICE is a new connection. Wonder why they’re even bothering to go after the newbs.”
Max shrugged. “They say they didn’t get anything. Maybe they did and it’s enough the Feds think it’s worth more to get it back. They’re staying at the main casino in Paradise City, so we’ll find out if they start gambling with money they owe us. More important, he’s got enough security to keep out the imposter. The Feds aren’t the only ones upgrading. But that complicates things if you want to sneak in.”
Oh, I have ideas. Got robots hollowing out a whole cavern for me underneath my store and building transdimensional communications devices. Ideas aplenty, just not so many of them ready to be put into action. “You think he’d be understanding if I come clean about still being alive?”
Max waggled his hand. “Annoyed, but understanding. You’ve been thought dead before. You might suggest helping him win the pool on when you’ll return to ease the revelation.”
“I’ll think about it,” I told my friend. I raised a drink, “You want something to wet your whistle?”
He shook his head and held up a hand to stop me, “No, I shouldn’t under the effects of these shrooms. I think I’ll go visit some other planes until these wear off. If anyone asks, they can find me at the Mountains of Madness.”
“Cool, see you around,” I said, reaching out for a fist bump. My fist went through his, but it’s the thought that counts.
“Bye now,” he said, waving as he faded away. Ah, Max. Hell of a supervillain. Could have made billions selling dick pills if he wanted, but he chose to do his own thing.
Most people aren’t aware just how big Florida is, so it took a little more than eight hours to roll into Paradise City in a stolen car with my robot armor. I need a better nickname for these things, but I’m no longer feeling Dudebot. They aren’t really robots, which is a term I’m beginning to dislike. I hear it’s starting to filter into my home Earth as a slur toward my people. Maybe Corpses and Caskets for the two different sorts of bodies I inhabit. Sounds like a neat tabletop game as well.
I decided to run it by Medusa via text. “What do you think about Corpses and Caskets?”
“Dark. Hey, u in Cali?” she asked.
“Trying to intercept Fake Gecko. Diverted to save some of your Master Academy kids,” I sent back.
“Makes sense. U talk 2 them?”
“No. Saw that the camp was an Academy replacement and saved them from attacking an army base instead of catching the fake at the other.”
She called me up, “Hey, let’s just speak then.”
“Ok,” I said while my Casket passed by central Florida orange stops. They have these stations you can stop at to get free orange juice samples while they try to sell oranges and other stuff. Best OJ you’ll ever have, but I just now realized this sounds like I’m making it up to mock the state.
“So you saw some of what went on there?” Medusa asked.
I sighed, thinking of that delicious orange juice I couldn’t partake in. “Just the tail end, when the fake escaped and something exploded. Saw the bunny person and someone dressed like a wizard.”
“Yeah, ok,” she said. “And you’re still hunting that other Gecko, right?”
“That camp wasn’t just a replacement for the Master Academy that Omega destroyed while possessing you. I worked out an arrangement with the Academy. We were housing some refugees from other Earths there. Someone tried an experiment with stolen tech from Ricca and accidentally brought a town from another Earth to this one, along with doubles of some heroes and villains.”
I growled. “Were any of those doubles me?”
“The folks I talked to think I’m an evil version of their Venus, so they don’t like to talk to me, but they haven’t said so. I thought you better know, though.”
I took a deep breath, then let it out. “Ok, thanks for letting me know. Still on for dinner Tuesday?”
“You got it,” she said.
Despite those intellectual and moral complications, I thought I was all set to deal with Fake Gecko. That assessment changed when the Casket rolled that stolen car up to the front of the unnamed building Ouroboros’s casino operated out of. Everyone knew it what it was and who owned it, so you’d have to be desperate actually do something about it. You’d need military-grade weapons to stand a chance.
The taller portion of the building that housed the guest rooms was smoking. It looked like a war had taken place there. Holes gaped in it and every single window seemed to be missing. The casino’s security, or O-sec, were waiting in the parking lot, which was still packed.
They had five guys waiting when I stepped out of the car, one of them lowering a tablet while the others held shotguns at a very tense ease. As in, they weren’t pointed at me, but they were ready to point. Things were thicc, too. Looked like the barrel could be used to milk a stallion. Lower tech than I’d think of from Ouroboros. But, and this might sound odd for a guy who runs things out of a casino, he’s always loved reliability more than flashiness.
“Excuse me… entity,” the man with the tablet addressed me. He and his buddies were suits, but tailored and with vests underneath that disguised bulletproof plates. “Screenings are a security precaution. We’re afraid our guest accommodations are unavailable at this time. Are you here to gamble or for other business?”
“I see that, yeah. I’m here for business. A friend of mine made an investment that went sour and seems to have led to an uncomfortable situation. They reached out to me as a fixer.”
The man’s tablet beeped. He glanced down at it, then looked to me. “Who did you speak with, if I may ask?”
“Mix N’Max,” I answered. No use volunteering more than I needed to.
The tablet beeped again. Ah, someone’s listening. The guy in charge turned to one of the others in his squad. “Take over for me, boss needs me to escort this fixer to a meeting.” He turned back to me. “You’ve interested someone.”
“Good, I try to be interesting.” My costume could be more interesting in this case. The armor resembled my own, as if it fit a feminine form. This wasn’t something where it had big metal boobs sticking out, but it still had some. While usually I can get away with that due to advanced plating and padding, this time there’s no bones to break or boob to injure. And trust me, those bad girls are sensitive to impact.
I felt the signal weaken as I entered the bustling house of chance. That would be the thick building materials that make it unreliable to rely on the internet for cheating. All around me were the lights and the mess of noises that tickled that excitement button in the human mind. No matter where you were on the casino floor, you could hear the machines egging you on while dark carpet hid stains in between nightly cleanings. The power of transdimensional communications devices compelled the Casket (is it working as a term? I’m not sure yet) to follow my guide to a room on the side with a few guards stationed outside the door. “What’s all that ruckus with the guest rooms about anyway? Anything I need to know?” I asked the guy leading me.
“I can’t say,” he said. He pressed something on the tablet as he approached and the door before us swung open. “Please, through here.”
He didn’t follow me in. He left me alone, in a small conference room where Ouroboros sat. He stood up when he saw me, smiling through the open part of his mask that resembled the mouth of a snake. His costume looked like a rough, black close-fitting material and a pair of curved bone knives stuck through his belt. “Well, hello. It has been awhile, if you’re who I think you are.”
“I dunno, the person you’re thinking of is probably dead,” I said, wondering if he’d actually figured me out or if this was some weird wordplay.
“Well, your craftsmanship resembles a dearly departed friend of Mix N’Max whose rest I don’t wish to disturb. So, what psychopomp are you?” Yeah, he knows who I am.
“Just a Psychopomp,” I said. “What gave it away?”
He pointed to my chest. “You use a unique power source, but not unique enough. You’re here for your double, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s the kind of thing that can drag me out of my grave and back into action.”
“He’s been here,” Ouroboros said. He nodded upward with his chin. “He’s got your audacity, and your cloaking technology. He tried to sneak in. We detected him, ran him off. He called in a trio of cloaking gunships. Shot up my guest rooms while he escaped into the city.”
“After those new villains, I take it? Did he get them?” I asked.
Ouroboros held up a finger. “All but the one who was passed out drunk in the club.”
“Good. We can find out what this is all about and we have some bait to dangle for him,” I told the other villain. “We need a place other than here to lure them to.”
Ouroboros crossed his arms. “He’s hungover and he just lost his friends. Maybe let’s take it easy on the kid right now.”
I shrugged. “If he tells us what we want to know, sure. Might be he doesn’t need to be there in person if he’s proven himself valuable in other ways.”
“Retired, but still vicious,” Ouroboros noted.
“Not as retired as you’d think, but if you want, we can make this an easier transaction. I’ll just pay him to talk and lay low for a few days. You’d be surprised how long people will stay inside somewhere if you offer money.”
Ouroboros cleared his throat, then pretended to look toward the door back out to the casino floor. I made a show of following his gaze, then turned back and shrugged. “Or maybe you wouldn’t.”
Sometimes, I spend too much time in front of a mirror. It’s not vanity, not exactly. I used to really avoid it. I used to avoid the mirror for a long time. I wasn’t happy with what I saw there unless I wore my armor. Sometimes, people need masks to be who they really are, and sometimes people need them to keep from seeing what they are without one. I used to see someone I wanted to kill, interspersed with who I could be. A flicker of imagining what a bit of makeup would do, or thinking of what a lack of hair in the right place would do. Or worse changes. Ideas that burrowed into me because of a teacher once, and again thanks to Venus’s tenacity.
This time, I was waiting while she ran and got my medicine. Maybe being off kilter like I am helps deal with some pretty fucked-up situations. I’ve tended to think of it as an advantage, but the danger sense kicked in at Qiang’s birthday party. I was trying an appetizer and everything just became more focused and… there. It’s like when the bullets start flying but you know where everything is, but I only felt like someone was after me. Qiang came running up to me and lunged to meet her, but I was able to recognize her enough to turn it into a hug. She loved the clowns I got. Good girl. This world discriminates against clowns too much as-is.
And they’re sexy as hell.
But at that moment, I was looking around, tense. “I want to learn to juggle and do balloon animals like he did!” she insisted. I patted Qiang on the back and kissed her head. Venus came up and patted her as well.
“That sounds great! I’m sure your mom will teach you all she knows, but I need to speak to her, alright?”
Qiang wiggled free of my hug and jumped up and down, clapping. Then she saw one of her school friends and ran off to that part of the palace courtyard to go play or something. I dunno, we had bouncy things all around.
Venus held her hands up, looking at me. “Hey, what’s wrong?”
I checked around. “I just need my medicine.” I said, looking around. “It’s like they want to kill me, but no one is.” I laughed and added, “At the moment.”
Venus put her arm around me and guided me to a bathroom, then went to go get my meds from Max. And just me, looking in the mirror at a pretty face with runny eyeshadow, wondering if that’s even me. If this is just me playing pretend. If I’m too fucked up to know what I am. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m just a warped, sick man who hates the sight of himself.
I smashed the mirror. It didn’t even have the decency to cut my skin. Be a hero? No, never. I’ve made sure of that. I shouldn’t be saving the world. It’d be so much better if I molded it. Wash clean the corruption and all the people who aren’t the madmen. Because a madman’s a loner. If it’s a group of them, a government of them, then they aren’t madmen. Mass delusions are perfectly acceptable. I could use all this chaos to my advantage. Let this invader wreck the powers that be for me, so I can swoop in and set a new order.
Nice sentiment. It disappeared when the door swung open and my nemesis stood there. The woman I thought would kill me. My perfect hero, who let me down again and again. The grin fell off my face. When did it get there?
I hugged onto her. She hugged me back. She stroked my hair. “You’re ok. You’re safe. I will not hurt you.”
Even though I’ve lost a damn limb to this woman before, I believed her. She held up a glass of water and a couple of caplets. “I’m not sure I want to take them now,” I said. “I can do so much. They’re so corrupt out there and I can fix it. You can too. You were going to save political prisoners. You have to hate what they did to your country.”
She nodded. “I do. I didn’t want to defend that anymore. I want to make the world a better place.” She looked me deep in my eyes. She set the water and caplets down on the counter by the sink, then grabbed a towel to dab at my eyes. I let her clean me up. “Your head is not in a good place to do that right.”
“No, it’s cool. There are so many possibilities I hadn’t thought about. I could fake evidence of traitors. Let them bomb the biggest threats to the stone age. All it takes to improve the world is to remove the bad ones from it.”
She shook her head. “You would leave the good ones to die. You’d kill them too, to get the bad ones. Look at you. Look what can happen to good people having a bad life.” She picked up my pills again and held them up for me. “This is what you asked me to get you. You know you need them.”
I closed my eyes and sighed, then held open my mouth for them. It’s a good thing Max’s stuff kicks in really quick. That left me in considerably better mental state to give my daughter more presents, like a beautiful Damascus steel shortsword. I went with more of a straight, thin jian design. It works better with what I’ve taught her, though I plan on having her tutored by people a lot better than me. She needs to know more than 1,001 ways to aim for the crotch. Way 322: turn your back to the enemy and stab between your legs so as to miss your own junk.
I was going to give her a large birdasaur, but it died.
The party was a welcome distraction. It helped ease tensions on the island, which was especially good for the refugees. A lot of free nations are taking in people. As much effort as boats are for people, Riccan waters are known to be safe. Deep Ones make awesome marines.
I have no problem giving them bread and circuses. Keep them fed, and keep reminding them their life hasn’t become fight, flight, or freeze.
Even the villains are feeling it. Ouroboros has the drinks and shows flowing at his casino in for the villains who are having difficulties with everything. It’s something of a safe zone. He’s announced on VillainNet that he’s using the weather control devices around the city defensively. He’s not that theatrical of a guy, but you’d never know that from the video of him holding a fucking hammer while it zaps the bastard child of a triceratops and a hedgehog. If it were me, I’d add a fake beard.
The day after Qiang’s birthday party, Ouroboros dropped me a message about needing some help. Someone showed up at the casino, a villain from Tallahassee named Carnivore. “Tallahassee is occupied. They have separated out everyone with powers. They’re being held separately and experimented on.” He attached an aerial image of the place, a hospital, with scribbled annotations. Guards here, a fence around the whole thing. Carnivore’s typed-out notes said they were being drugged. His heroic rival, a man named Snakecharmer, resisted whatever they gave him enough to grab Carnivore and try to escape.
“He dragged me through half the hospital until I could move on my own. At the last gate, he drew off the guards so I could get away and tell everyone. Said I was in no shape to fight. He took a sword to the back so I could get away. Why would he do that?”
A lot harder for a hero to run away and get help. Who would he get? Ouroboros arranges for the guy to get medical treatment and as many joints as he wants to clear his head, but he can’t go see to anyone.
This looks like a job for Psychopomp Gecko. I suppose it’s a decent enough reason to waive my “no breaking you out” rule.
Security matched what Carnivore had to say. The remote-controlled cameras of the closest Dudebot around took it all from behind a projection of the environment around it. A fence around the place, with eight-person patrols marching along it. Raiders, the guys with a facial hair fetish and pale, segmented armor, handled the perimeter. A foursome of robotmen stood in the parking lot relatively near the entrance of the hospital. There were more over by the parking garage that I could see. I headed off after one of the patrols in that direction.
I stalked up behind the rear two, wishing I could move faster. The heavier armor isn’t optimal for moving as stealthily. I tapped the one on the right on his right shoulder. When he turned to look, I punched through the left one’s throat. When the other turned toward me, I put my fist through his mouth.
The rest of the unit turned around at the sound of dropping bodies. They drew their swords all together. I grabbed the heads of the ones who had just been in front before that turn and smashed them together hard enough to send bits flying. The remaining four turned to that, which is when I grabbed the arms of the ones in back and pulled their swords into the backs of their friends. I took the wounded mens’ swords then, one in each hand, and lopped off their heads. The ones behind them pulled their swords out and might have raised a cry of alarm if I hadn’t tipped over the headless guys so that the blood sprayed into their faces.
I impaled one of them on a sword. Right up through the taint. I picked up the other and beat him down onto his friend until the impaled one’s back was bent back at a broken angle and left my unwilling weapon impaled on the same sword still embedded in his friend. Then came the boring work of carrying them all off to dump behind some bushes before the next patrol arrived.
I did a pretty good job thinning things out before I headed inside, looking for the fifth floor. It was quiet. Not too quiet. The fluorescents and air vents made plenty on their own without people there to hide it with coughing and talking. I didn’t see anyone though. I wouldn’t until I made it to floor five, when I heard the sound of loud pumping. The door to the pump noise was left open, so I let myself in.
It had been several rooms until someone knocked the walls down. Now, it held tum a bunch of people in tubes, clear tubes with people squeezed in with pale green fluid. Some wore regular, everyday clothes while others had costumes on . I’d say it was two dozen, easy, and probably way more than should have been in a place like Tallahassee.
Standing in front of them was a man in a white suit. Next to him and slightly behind, a woman in a black lab coat scribbled notes as the man dictated. I got closer, enough to hear him finish, “You got that last part, Cupernia? The measurements are precise. If you have a question, ask now.”
“Are they did?” I asked, a hologram of myself appearing behind them. The man turned and reached into the white jacket he wore over a sky blue turtleneck and pulled out a ray gun with a bulging body and a thin barrel with a large fin on the end as a sight. He fired it through the hologram. I grabbed the gun away from him with one hand and lifted him aloft with the other. “More importantly, why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here?”
“C- Cupernia,” he said.
The woman next to me flexed and grew larger, punching me through a wall. Considering how far she had to hit me to make that happen, that was a hell of a punch. Good thing the Dudebot can’t feel it. When I recovered, I looked at the man in my hands. He went through a wall without armor. He was missing the top half of his head.
Cupernia came walking in, a bulging muscle woman. She glared at her dead boss, then picked up a piece of the wall I’d gone through. She raised it over head. I launched the Dudebot toward her and rolled beneath her legs a she slammed the wall down on the floor. I turned and raised the ray gun I’d taken, squeezing the trigger. The bent device sparked once, that’s it. Cupernia smirked, then fell when the floor opened up from her careful attempt to smoosh me.
I tossed aside the dead body and the broken ray gun to see what other weapons I could harness when the big bad assistant came back for me. Oh look, a room full of supers. I began to smash open tubes. “Bring out your dead! Up and at’em, Atom Ant!”
They were lethargic, slow to stand up. I didn’t know how long I had until Cupernia got back up there. I had to think of something. Luckily I had plenty of sleeves to pull tricks out of. When Cupernia peeked in the room, she saw me standing in the middle of a good dozen supers all standing and eyeing her. I held out my hand and gave her the “bring it” gesture. “Still want to stay and play?”
She ducked out of the door. I heard a crash that sounded like an external wall. I had to let the holograms that hid the recovering, blinking supers who couldn’t stand on their own yet. That changed by the time the robotmen stomped their way out of the elevator and were promptly sprayed with lava from a vengeful captive villain.
Snakecharmer wasn’t with them, though. Carnivore seemed to figure that out fairly soon after we all arrived at Ouroboros’s casino. The others, heroes included, had a pint in celebration. Carnivore had one in mourning for the hero that saved his life.
Ugh, terrible. See how horrible war is? Heroes saving villains, villains saving heroes. It’s like cats and dogs living together. It’s just not right.
“I’m trying to tell you this is real!” shouted a red-faced fat man on a TV screen. “It’s the god-damned Illuminati! It’s the demons that are getting in because of the fluoride in the water supply that’s turning all the frogs gay. This is how the apocalypse starts, people! So I’ve heard from a credible source that all the world’s supervillains teamed up and formed a secret society. They invaded an alien planet, folks! The same aliens who came to this planet a long time ago and built the pyramids. They built the pyramids and, and, and, they genetically engineered humans into evil fish monsters. They made the soy that’s turning men into women. It was the Greys and Bigfoot teaming up together! Now they’re pissed because the Super Illuminati, the Black Knights Templar, stole the Roswell UFO and flew there. It was that fucking Psycho Gecko over there in the Pacific. He did it when he stole the nuke! The nuke, people! Wake up and smell the mushroom clouds!”
The red-faced man tore his shirt open and reached down. He came back up with one of his shoes, which he banged on his desk over and over until they cut over to where a gay guy with a swastika armband started talking up some sort of herbal supplement meant to help people think better, the camera moving quickly to avoid lingering too long on the part of the label that mentioned soy as one of its ingredients.
Satisfied that Infowars ran with the info I leaked them, I got away from there. I’ve had most alcoholic beverages known to man and a few unknown to man, and that website was killing more of my brain cells faster than any seashine the Deep Ones cook up in their stills. But that was kinda the point. After the debacle of electing that one moron in 2016, nobody with any sense is trusting the sort of people who believe that fucking channel. So glad I killed that fucker. I’ve probably been nominated for a peace prize or something.
With all the loot we took from the alien planet, people were eager to spend. And spend they did. I took from them most of what they took from the aliens. But, hey, they got free t-shirts. I even threw in the sleeves, complementary. Those are high quality sleeves; I coulda charged them $50 a sleeve.
I’m not all take and no give, though. The villains who attended this little shindig got themselves some nice door prizes. For instance, the Patches. High tech, low maintenance, these thin little computers utilize the latest and greatest super science has to offer allowing villains to stay Patched into things like the internet, bluetooth capable devices, and VillaiNet. That’s what they settled on for the name. It’s got a social media function, including the ability to post videos, but there are also forums, live chat, an auction-site setup, and a site for those of us who produce things for sale. Instead of each needing a different place, they’re all connected in one spot for ease of browsing and ordering. There are some pretty nifty augmented reality functions inspired by Ricca’s use of it.
But it’s not like a wrist computer or eyeglasses or anything. Both of those can be pretty clunky in combat and mess with a person’s costume. They can be slapped onto the skin of a user to access its functions with an incredibly thin monitor that doubles as a keyboard. And only works on the skin of a villainous user. It reads the DNA of the skin it’s attached to as a biometric security measure, with a database kept up to date and stored here on Ricca. Extras have been sent out in case people need them, but also to bring more people into it. They can slap them onto their skin, have their DNA scanned, and have a registration process start up to make sure they’re actually a villain. They don’t even have to stay on; there’s a sequence to detach it. They can be reattached anytime, no problem.
I think this went well. As I said before, this wasn’t about a Legion of Doom and some big plan to defeat the Super Friends, though not for lack of planning. If they were real, I’d start things off with a canon aimed at Apache Chief’s junk. Timber! Well, it’d be pretty hard for him to have any timber after getting shot there, but y’all get my meaning.
See, it’s like I said at the last big meeting of all of us, where the Patches were being shown off and distributed. I could have just described the inventors talking up all the features and getting things synced up, but those guys love to hear themselves talk. Not like me. I’m great at talking, so everyone loves when I talk, not just me. Completely different.
Ouroboros, as the guy really in charge of all this as far as organizing, was once again in the middle of the whole tent, shushing people down. They’d gotten all excited about the Patches. Everyone was eagerly anticipating theirs. I already had access to the network, because this is me we’re talking about and I helped get the whole thing set up. I’d get one in due time but I was much more interested in what was coming next, which involved Ouroboros hogging the spotlight with an address of his own.
“My fellow villains, I know we generally disregard the rules.” That drew chuckles from the audience. “Despite that, I believe in what we’re doing here. Psycho Gecko is right. The heroes are organizing. The world we grew up in is becoming less certain. This gives us a chance to survive and even thrive in the coming chaos.” He poked a tablet on the table before picking it up. “These aren’t much more than a code of the rules most of us followed. Don’t murder a fellow super. Don’t put them in a coma. Those are capital offenses punishable by execution.” He gestured to me.
I waved at everyone, “Hey everyone. I just got a new necklace made of ears!”
Ouroboros continued. “Exposing another’s identity, attacking or outing another villain’s family, permanent disabling, near-murder, or sexually assaulting another super are to be judged by the community. There are a range of non-capital punishments they may decide on, including beating, theft, and shunning. We’ve left open the possibility that the community can vote for capital punishment.”
Well, not exactly what I was hoping for there. I mean, it’s nice for them to codify that, but I figured a bit of rape might be worth a visit from me. I heard some booing, but for all I know they disagreed with the idea of that being punished at all. Someone else called out an important question as well. “Who’s going to judge us?”
Ouroboros’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “I would eagerly take the job if not for the vote you evidently missed. The allegation and evidence will be posted for everyone to see. We all get a vote in it, except the accused and the victim or victims.” Huh. I’m sure some people were looking forward to being some sort of judges or capos or something. Easy way to make lots of bribe money and get a lot of power over people. Ouroboros looked disappointed to me, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
As someone who regularly hates and uses masses of people getting caught up in stupidity, I can see this system going badly just as easily. Hell, at least with Ouroboros, you know it’d take a big bribe. Some of these guys knifed their own mothers for a nickel. I’ve seen their records, that’s not an exaggeration. It’s not off the table now either. But while I’m excellent at seeing the flaws in things and plans that take advantage of that, fixing things is generally out of my wheelhouse. But I’m trying. And one of the best things you can do when confronted with a nigh-insurmountable problem is to keep trying different things. If cyanide doesn’t work, try a spiked mace. If they shrug off the mace, unleash the killer mutant sea pigs. And on and on.
But I left several outs, like all good plans. Gotta have room for improvisation. Areas where I can show a little trust. They disappointed me with the lower sentencing for sexual assault rules, but there was something in there I’m sure was a canny decision by Ouroboros. The rules said supers, not villains. We’ll see how that language plays with the heroes when they find out about this. I mean, we’re talking villains here. Someone’s going to yap about it. In the meantime, as Ouroboros was saying, “These rules apply to all supers. If heroes violate them, they will be subject to the same punishments to be executed by our fellow villains.”
I caught some glances sent my way at the word executed. He gave an “ahem” to get people’s attention again. “We won’t officially help you with civilians who break these rules, but you can always obtain help through VillaiNet. However, these rules will also be applied to members of law enforcement going forward. These rules will not be retroactive to save us from a lot of finger pointing and retaliation as soon as we get out of here. Any change to the rules of our new legion of rogues.” Ok, now he’s just fucking with me, “are to be adopted only after receiving 90% of the vote in polling.
You know how hard it is to get 90% of a group to agree on something? That’s like “nine out of ten dentists agree that brushing your teeth is good for you” territory. And there’s still the one fucking dentist.
With all that adopted, there wasn’t much left to do except help kick everyone out. As much as people seemed to enjoy their vacation, I’m sure they were ready to get back to robbing people and trying out their new souvenirs. I made sure to find Spinetingler before he could depart, and not just to oggle his daughter. Though he was talking to her when I ran across them. They were in the middle of the fountain at the villain village, having some sort of discussion about the water.
“A baptism ritual would work, I know!” she said, stomping a heel against the ground.
Spinetingler, in his black leather outfit with a hood obscuring his head, nodded. “Yes, I envision a twisted cult mass. We need to find the proper cult leader to empower and prey upon the latent fears of… hello Gecko.” He turned, taking me in with glowing red eyes in the darkness.
“Hello, Tingles,” I said. I don’t think he cared for the nickname, though his daughter giggled in a way that made me wonder just what her mental age was. “I just came to say thanks for stopping in.”
He clenched his fist. “It provided an adequate vacation for my daughter. Otherwise, the meetings wasted my time.”
I shrugged. “Sometimes, just being around is enough. But I just wanted to let you know I don’t consider our agreement superseded by the new rules or anything. Let’s just say if you happen to cross those lines, I might be in the middle of a bath when they call. Or have difficulty finding you. All I ask is you don’t make it look obvious if you can help it.” I held out my hand for a shake.
He took it and squeezed, leaning in quickly as if to try and make me jump. Joke’s on him, I had to stop myself headbutting him. “Agreed,” he said, then abruptly turned and walked away. “Come darling!”
His daughter eyed me as she passed by before her heels disappeared into flats and she jogged to catch up to her father.
Whew. It was good to get that out of the way. I was looking forward to getting into some trouble myself, though. Maybe see about some new shit to steal. Kidnap some more staff for the labs. Ooh, and work on a custom VTOL stealth vehicle for transporting small squads of people. I had so many things that needed doing when electricity crackled out of nowhere. Suddenly, a glowing orb of white light appeared, lightning arcing off it. With a boom, it was replaced by a larger glowing orb settled on the ground. An outline of a door appeared in the side of the orb, which was about the size of a tall shack. The black outline soon filled in and out walked an old man in a brown coat, vest, slacks, and a scarf. “Psycho Gecko, I need your assistance.”
“Oh you do, do you?” I asked, looking over the old man and the vessel that registered on my HUD as The Mobian’s vessel. “Who are you and what are you doing with this thing?”
“He’s the Mobian,” said a middle-aged bottle blonde. “And if you have trouble believin’ that, you’re not our guy, guv.”
“I need your help,” the Mobian said. I would have sworn the guy was younger. I still haven’t seen him since I set off that Dimensional bomb really close to him and a fleet of fluid-based aliens intent on enslaving everyone on Earth to use as soldiers in an alien civil war.
“The only thing I don’t believe is that you’d ever come to me for help,” I said, setting my helmeted chin in one hand and using the other three to prop it up.
“If we had any other choice, we’d have taken it,” came a familiar voice. I looked over to see who else would be joining us from out of the time ship. I was rewarded with the sight of a tired, weathered Venus with grey streaking her hair. A scar split her brow and the skin of her cheek underneath the crimson glow of her prosthetic right eye. She raised her left hand, spinning some blocky gun of a make I’d never seen before along a lever on its underside.
I jumped up and clapped four of my hands. “Oooh, does this mean I get to take my daughter along on a trip to the future?”
“Daughter?” asked the blonde woman. “Where we’re going, we don’t need your daughter.”
Mobian set his hand on my shoulder. “I need you, to go back with me… to the past!”
I bounded across the face of a pyramid under a green sky. Behind me, an orb the size of a beach ball approached. It was hard enough running along the smooth, angled side of the thing, though much easier than the side of a skyscraper. It’s much harder when a floating piece of glass rides your ass and tries to blast it off with a laser beam the diameter of a beach ball. I dropped and slid down the side of the pyramid to keep from being pegged by excited photons.
The beam followed, trailing molten whatever. I was invisible, but that didn’t matter to that thing. I’m guessing the natives of this world see some different stuff than most people from Earth do. I considered using my gauntlets, either to deflect the beam or to absorb part of it, then deflect it. They were built to handle Justice Ranger small arms, but it has an upper limit. I was never capable of deflecting the sorts of attacks their giant mecha could produce. I’d rather not test them against this energy weapon unless I have no other option. Still, I began to charge up my lower pair of arms and I had the projectors stop trying to render me invisible if it wasn’t going to work.
I banked on it only being able to maintain that beam for so long, then come back and smack it with my dick. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I’d blow it away with my cock, but I don’t know what my rubber chicken grenades are going to do around this place. Without roads to cross to the other side of, they might run around like chicken with their heads cut off. But dodging I can do. Some might call it “running away” but I argue that facing unknown energy beams capable of disappearing a torso is not the time to argue over valor. I really need a reliable method of defending myself from a distance. Or, as is more accurate in my life, preemptively defending myself. I have to defend myself from people’s attempts to kill me for trying to murder them.
Then again, all the eye lasers in the world are pretty useless if you can’t use them because the thing is a giant laser orb behind you that you can’t take the time to try and shoot because of the big-ass laser beam. I think it’s just really easy to complain when you’re close to involuntary ass hair removal via big-ass laser.
Having founded my guess on the idea that most weapons can’t attack continuously for very long without running into power, cooling, or ammunition problems, I was rewarded with the thing stopping. Unfortunately, the sliding thing was tougher to stop. I had to put my fist into the side of the pyramid. It didn’t go too far. Just far enough to break some fingers on my upper left hand. When you’re as punchable as myself, you get used to a lot of pain. I leveraged myself up and jumped for the orb. The first punch with my upper right knocked it back, but didn’t shatter it or anything. Then I gave it the ol’ one-two with the bottom pair and they put cracks all through the bottom. The orb dropped and began to roll down the side of the pyramid.
I’d been heading out a little further to see what I could see of this place. Wherever we’d entered this world, it didn’t seem to be the same spot they’d sent people through before. There had been no sign of the big tentacle thing that tried to get me before, and no other real defenses. Based on how there had been a drop of a few feet, I think moving the crystal on our end affected where we came out. One of the first villains through, Powder, used her super strength to put together a mound made out of what I assume are the local personal transportation. Some of the villains were swarming all over triangular things and I’m sure some of have already been tossed through whole.
“Hide your kids, hide your wife, we’re takin’ everything ’round here!” I called down to crowds of fleeing aliens. That’s what I’m going with, anyway. I know what dimensional travel is like, so I’m guessing this is mere interplanetary stuff. And not a racially homogenous one, either. I saw all sorts running around. Pale things with long, thin limbs and big heads walked around like greys in denim. No, seriously, whatever they were wearing looked a lot like denim. Denim overalls, denim jeans, denim jackets. I saw a big ape-like furry thing in a toga and sandals, so even alien fashion isn’t so horrible as to include socks with sandals. That was reassuring, actually. Some of these things were reptilian, some had green skin, some blue. They had aliens every color of the rainbow around here, fleeing as we wreaked havoc and stole whatever we could.
“I can’t be the only one noticing it’s hard to breathe here, for sure?” asked someone. I had the comms lines in my helmet turned down low so they wouldn’t interrupt anything.
“No, you’re just a fatass,” someone else responded.
“No, he’s right,” another voice jumped in. “It’s the atmosphere.”
“Anyone know how to read gibberish?” someone else broke in. “I don’t know what I’m robbing. Is this a Whole Foods or an electronic store?”
Yet another person broke in, which just goes to show why I didn’t want to pay a lot of attention to all this. “Shove it up your ass. If it doesn’t vibrate, it’s food.”
A voice with an accent I couldn’t place broke in. “That is how I know you are an American. You would fry it first.”
“Guys, not to interrupt this wonderful attempt at recreating Reddit with real noises, but I’m getting shot at over here,” someone said.
“Walk it off.”
“Shoot them back!”
I broke in. “Cooperation is a part of this. Let’s get some people over there before we find out they have guns that turn people’s crotches into poisonous snakes or something.”
“Woah, I saw that on TV before. There’s this big purple snake thing in another country-”
I cut them off. “That’s nice and we can discuss the penis snake once we’re back on Earth. Look at it this way, you get to steal gear from this place’s version of cops or soldiers or whatever.”
I think that did the trick. There wasn’t a good way to get a sense of where people were outside of whatever they discussed over the comms, and I didn’t like paying attention to all that. Still, those sorts of weapons and equipment were high on the list of goods to take, just like on Earth. They’re valuable, easy to carry, and easy to sell. It wouldn’t be Earth’s first encounter with alien technology, but I’d try to make sure my country gets whatever insights they have to offer first. Until then, I had to do a little robbing of my own.
I landed on what I took to be a sidewalk, right in front of a fleeing thing. I’d say feminine in appearance, but I didn’t have a basis for comparison with this thing’s species. Thin, with blue skin that took on an iridescent glimmer at the curves, and some folds of loose skin where the hair would be. “Stand and deliver,” I said, pulling a rubber chicken out of my belt and pointing it at the alien ominously.
It babbled something in a language my translator program began to work furiously on figuring out. “Your money or your life!” I said again, poking at the alien with the rubber chicken. I looked it over for valuables and found it had a number of bracelets on. I grabbed for those and slipped them off, the alien giving little resistance.
I was admiring them when a pair of those triangular vehicles came humming up the street nearby. The bodies of the vehicles turned as whatever they had instead of wheels moved them from side to side in order to deftly dodge fleeing civilians. The alien tried to pull one of the bracelets away from me and, when I refused, began waving its arms at the vehicles. They came to a sudden stop next to us and these domes on top retracted to reveal three beings in each one.
They got out, another mixture of various aliens. At least one of them looked more like the one I’d just mugged, but red-skinned instead of blue. One of them held the palm of his glove-covered hand toward me and shot some little disk thing. I caught it out of the air and looked at it, at which point it began to shock me. If it had hit and attached, that would have sucked. Unfortunately for them, it clenched my hand and I crushed the darn thing. Still made me stumble back, but it also helped charge up the energy sheaths on my gauntlets thanks to how I’d redesigned them. Three of the others pulled out extending sticks, not narrowed like batons, while the last brought out a staff. I went ahead and tucked my stolen bracelets away.
The three with the sticks came at me all at once. The things looked like wood, but clanged off my armor. A punch each put the three down, but not dead. For most people, they’d be gooey salsa on the sidewalk after one of those. These guys were still intact and holding themselves, though only the sasquatch-looking guy seemed anywhere near close to getting up for another go. It was staff guy’s time for a go while the one who tried to tase me checked on the others. He gave my leg a half-hearted poke that I didn’t think anything of until a metal clamp extended out and wrapped around my thigh. Then a yellow light on the middle part of the staff lit up. He picked me up and smacked me into the street a few times before smacking me onto the armored battery pack I wore on my back.
I didn’t have to worry about the charge in my last hand anymore. I raised all four of my hands for a moment before I got my feet under me a little. I fired my suit’s elbow rockets at the same time I jumped, pulling the staff clear of the alien’s grip. My suit was at least a match for the clamp, able to tear it off, and the alien peace officer himself was less resilient to a flying person in power armor gut-checking him.
The last one fired off another pair of his shocking little gadgets at me as I approached. Once again, a ranged attack would be nice. A laser shot out from the side, severing the thing’s hand and ending the pain and involuntary muscle contractions. And, I might add, leaving the red-skinned alien standing in front of me while I had four charged gauntlets ready. Yeah, no need for the laser now. The others survived a punch each with no problems. Turns out, a couple such hits at the same time will salsafy these guys anyway.
I turned to the person who had helped me. Escorpio Encantador stood on the back of a gleaming gold and black scorpion that went along perfectly with his scorpion-motif armor. “I am sure you would have killed him without my assistance, Emperatriz Gecko. I merely hurried his death along so you have more time to do what you love.” He gave me a bow.
“Yeah, yeah. Now help me get these guys’ pants off!” I said, perfectly happy to have less attention on him helping me out. He politely refused to help me rob the downed cops blind, claiming he had to get over and help with the tentacle monster. I just made sure to gather up as much of the armor and equipment I could, including that taser-launching glove, a couple of sticks, and what may have been an advanced alien jockstrap. That’s a question for the scientists to answer, though.
I was broken away from my robbery reverie by the increasing panic from the various voices on the comms. “Tentacles everywhere!” someone called. Another person was like, “It touched my mouth, ew, fuck it! Fuck all of it!” And that last statement was not good fuck it.
Grabbing my loot, I made for the portal. I found that the fleeing crowds in that area were supervillains who were trying to get away from a large, flesh-shaped slug covered with tentacles. If it was the same one from the other portal, it would be the remnants of one last mercenary. Yeah, they did that to a human. Giant tentacle slug.
Suddenly, a large crowd of the aliens ran for the portal as well, from the other direction. What I thought would turn into a counter attack instead became a massive surge of aliens all throwing themselves at the thing, trying to beat, claw, and bite it to death. It wasn’t until I was jumping my way closer that I saw someone moving more slowly in the midst of them without being trampled. A woman with a face I’d seen plenty of times, though she now wore a form-fitting black dress. Spinetingler’s daughter.
Spinetingler himself soon appeared, though he appeared unconcerned with the writhing, wriggling mess of tentacles. When tendrils came close to slapping him, he swiped them clear with a quartet of blades on the fingers of one glove. He approached the thing and laid a hand on it. By now, I’d landed relatively close by and nodded to the guy’s daughter. I felt her telepathic abilities claw away at my mind, protected as it was by the unique neurophysiology of homo machina. Something about the way our minds interface with computers screws up conventional psionic abilities. My understanding is that it takes a hellaciously strong psychic to break in. “Everything ok here?” I asked.
She nodded. Her voice had a deep echo to it. “My father has this handled. I think everyone should go.”
I nodded again and cut into the comms. “Okily dokily, folks. I hear we better get a move on. Spinetingler’s doing something to the squirming mass over here and I think we’d better skedaddle.”
“Roger, skedaddling commencing,” someone with a mechanical-sounding voice said.
“Keep an eye out for anyone lagging behind. Anyone get caught? Anyone injured?” I asked. I was interrupted by Dr. Creeper stomping by back to the portal in a barebones robot that was more a pair of large chicken-legs with a small tank cannon on top. From his cackling, he was having the time of his life.
Meanwhile, Spinetingler finished whatever he was doing and flew past through the portal as a bunch of bats. Short as he was a few in his belfry, if he was hightailing it, that was a sign. Kinda like when you notice the bomb disposal guy running with a line of pee trailing after. But I stuck around. I got to see as the thing that had once been a man and was now a giant flesh slug began to grow and take something like a humanoid shape. It didn’t get all the formal body parts. It stayed all lumpy and flesh-colored, but it had a pair of legs, a torso, and arms, all with little arms and legs twitching out of its skin. And whatever led it to come after us villains didn’t seem to be in control anymore. It took a swipe at a nearby obelisk, sending it crashing onto more of the extraterrestrial cops.
“Sound off if you are still past the portal!” called Ouroboros over the comms.
“Gecko here. I’m still on alien soil, watching aliens soil themselves,” I answered.
After a few more seconds of comms silence, Ouroboros replied, “We’re waiting on you.”
A bolt of red energy missed my head and zapped a piece of the mound underneath the portal. I turned to see a group of four beings in multi-colored outfits walking toward the scene with short capes on the back of their outfits. They had black and silver running throughout the costumes, but each wore a different color primarily. It was the lead one in red, way too big and wide to be a human, who was aiming a sort of cross between staff and rifle at me. I got the feeling I met his gaze, despite the helmets we both wore.
“Yeah, time to go I think,” I said to myself, as well as the rest of them all. I turned and jumped through to see everyone else milling around the military base. No one had been allowed to leave just yet, as enforced by all the guys and drones with guns around.
There was just no way to handle the raid from within the Institute of Science. Sure, it had the computers and the nuclear-powered toasters, which are always handy to have in a conflict. It was too crowded. Hard to get people in and out, or get booty out. Getting a lot of people in and handling booty is as important for a raid as it is for running a train on someone. I also hated being cut off the way the Institute does to me as a consquence of being built for information security.
It turns out the crystal can be handled and moved. I had it brought out to the military base. It had plenty of room for everyone. Plus, this time all the guns would be pointed at my enemies. That includes if any of these assholes got the idea to strand me over there. Which is why they were keeping a close eye on everyone until I gave the order. “Guns down and power off. At ease.”
The soldiers relaxed. Even the surface-to-air launcher wound down and pointed its payload at the sky instead.
“Trust issues, Gecko?” asked Ouroboros, twirling his knives around.
“What? Me? Naw… just didn’t want anyone leaving before we got ourselves a group photo,” I said, pointing over to the nearby bleachers where a pair of photographers were all set up. “Come on, let’s finish comemmorating the new world order. Say ‘stolen cheese’!”
“The ayes have it. We’ll keep on developing our own social website instead of turning over development to Zuckerberg,” Ouroboros said from the middle of the tent.
A man in a white and light blue costume with a giant lower-case f on the chest stood up and pointed to another villain. “Not fair, Beholder was counted more than once!” A glance at the man in question, who had multiple arms with eyes on their palms lowered them sheepishly.
“That’s enough, Facebook the Villain, TM,” Ouroboros said, pronouncing the trademark symbol of that bozo’s name. Facebook the Villain is actually sponsored as a supervillain. That’s technically illegal, just like Facebook technically claims the villain was meant to be a superhero who went rogue instead. Nobody’s buying it, but Facebook is buying enough Senators to keep the heat off. I’m still leery of the guy. He keeps trying to take selfies with everyone and post them online. He didn’t do himself any favors trying to give his boss control over this thing we were building for ourselves.
“Besides, the vote was almost unanimous in opposition to your proposal,” Ouroboros added. “There are no more proposals in need of discussing or voting on today. Per the last vote yesterday, we are taking proposals for the device you decided on. Our host is willing to donate time at his manufactory’s for the fabrication of prototypes if we need it. Let’s dismiss until tomorrow.”
Facebook the Villain walked to the center of the tent where Ouroboros was to object, but Ouroboros rapped him on the head with the flat of one of his curved claw daggers and declared, “Dismissed!”
Facebook turned to me, “You’re going to let him do that?”
I shrugged. “I’m only making assumptions about extreme offenses until you vote a tap on the head into a capital offense. Come back once the rules people make that happen.”
Facebook the Villain stormed off in a huff. He’ll probably get over it once he understands why it’s probably a good thing I’m not killing everybody who hits another person on an island full of supervillains with access to drugs and liquor. Just the other day, Captain Zombie got high on Bath Salts and tried to force someone to eat a bunch of vegetarian tacos with him. With vegetables in them, not vegetarians. He was aghast at what he did when he snapped out of it.
Luckily, Ricca is on the forefront of brain cloning technology to help handle his appetite. They’re just empty, data-less brains, though, so the only people lining up for transplants are from a website that believes pizza places are secret child sex dungeons. I went through all the trouble of making my own actual conspiracy and they pull shit like this. Anybody who’s anybody knows pizza places are the secret cremation sites,. The gossip spreads like wildfire, with all sorts knowing that deep dish. Damn conspiracy theorists are too thin-crusted to admit they’re wrong though.
Back to the matter at hand, my refusal to do anything about Ouroboro’s assault is not my usual hypocrisy. I said I’d be the executioner who handles the very worst punishments. I’m not going to be the hall monitor who tells a bunch of other villains to stop making out in the hallways. I enjoy watching too much, and that’s way too stupid a thing for me to do. Let them do councils or juries or whatever to figure that shit out. I have to go see a man about a Nazi.
Ok, ok, so I was just meeting Dr. Creeper instead. He’s related to a Nazi. One of his mothers was the Baroness von Kampf, a German noble who took up their cause and traveled the United States as a saboteur. For her trouble, somebody branded a swastika on her forehead and her son was taken to be adopted by a heroine who fought her. Dr. Creeper’s lived a fairly quiet life, but he’s finally getting a chance to live his long-time dream of being a supervillain. Except just as soon as he starts building old-fashioned giant Nazi robots, the United States decided to have itself a little civil war with American Nazis killing people.
I put on my armor to meet him formally at the airport. I had wanted to bring him over by submarine for added flavor, but I don’t have those anymore. Kinda wish I knew where those nuclear submarines with missiles got to. They’re probably sold off to some other dictator by now, or sitting in the hidden subpen of one of the masterminds out there that I didn’t bother to invite. It’s like Al Capone said, “You can get more with a kind word and a nuclear submarine than you can with just a kind word.” Classy guy, that Al.
I met him myself, but just myself. He stepped out, loaded down with all sorts of luggage and dressed in labcoat and goggles. “Psychopomp Gecko!” he called. I waved. He dropped a suitcase as he waved back. It was caught by a woman in a dark green dress and white hair. Despite the color of her locks, she was no old lady. She’d be his daughter, the second Baroness von Kampf. She smiled as she looked around behind mirrored sunglasses.
“Hell again, Creeper. And you must be the new Baroness von Kampf.”
“Kampf,” she said, trying to correct my pronunciation despite me totally getting it right. Like I’d mispronounce a word in a language I don’t naturally speak.
“Gesundheit,” I responded. Ok, so maybe I did purely for the sake of a joke. Creeper laughed, though it only got a polite smile from the Baroness herself. “Welcome to Ricca, Creeper and Baroness. I’m glad I remembered y’all, actually. I’ve been holding something of a convention here to determine important social matters for villains going forward. Something to help us organize. It was just an oversight that led to me not contacting y’all.”
The Baroness gave a playful, smiling wince. “No, it wasn’t. The message you left my father was garbled and slurred. The only thing he got from it was you asking for my number. The message you left me wasn’t much better.”
I shrugged. “I was degreasing a Soviet tank and ended up drunk as a result. A couple years later, the tank tracked me down with a little technical alongside it and insisted I take responsibility.”
They didn’t burst out laughing. No, that would be too much to ask. But at least they smiled. Their expressions weren’t quite so joyful upon seeing where Creeper was to work.
“It has a nice… personality,” the Baroness said, trying to maintain her smile.
“Does anyone else smell bacon?” asked Dr. Creeper.
My armor remained sealed, so I didn’t, but I realized what he was referring to. “Oh, that’d be from the corpse disposal.” When they started to blanch, I added, “Don’t worry, they weren’t human.”
“Oh. I will try not to let it dampen my appetite for this meal you have left us,” Creeper said, walking over to a table with slabs of pork chops covered with a mushroom sauce.
I stepped over and guided him away. “Those are some of the remains from the fungal men and mutant pigs.”
“Even the buffalo wings?” he asked, glancing at them.
“Pig wings,” I corrected.
I left Creeper to his new duties overseeing the place while I went about grabbing a pair of the Alternate Reality glasses to alter with a translation program similar to mine. I’m fairly certain the Riccans know enough English to get by in their interactions with most people, but I expect him to work more closely with them. They had plenty of home-grown scientists, unless those got snatched up by other countries in all the chaos. I got my eyes on you, Peru and Argentina.
I was still working over the issue when Ouroboros visited my box in the next session of our little parliament of rogues. Hey, that’s catchy. Ouroboros got right up in front of me and began snapping his fingers to get my attention. “Ahem.”
I turned my helmet away from where I’d just happened to have been looking while I did other things in my head. “What’s up?”
Ouroboros glanced back at where I happened to have been looking, which turned out to be at the dark-haired woman in the harlequin outfit sitting in an area designated for Spinetingler. “Never mind. That’s not my business.”
“What isn’t?” I asked.
“Whatever is going on there,” he said, looking at me but nodding at her. “Every time I look up, you’re looking at her.”
I pointed at my helmet. “Just so happens to be where my head’s pointed. I can see a lot of different things in here.”
“Like I said, this is none of my business. I thought we should talk about something I’ve heard through the grapevine,” he said. He pulled his own chair over to sit down at my table. “I’ve heard a rumor going around that people I trust confirm, and we need to get ahead of it before it gets out of control. They haven’t brought it up here, but a sizable proportion of the people here are expecting us to inaugurate this entire thing, this legion of doom, with some score we can only accomplish together.”
I leaned forward. “You think this is an issue?”
He nodded once. “They have their hopes up. They expect this. Some of them think we’re hitting Fort Knox.”
I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “That’s ridiculous. So many people have robbed it by now, there might only be a single real gold bar left in the place. But yeah, I can see how this could bite us in the ass. If they think something awesome might happen where they get to do cool shit and make a lot of money, and nothing does, we could see rioting.”
“So you see the problem. Good. I hope you have ideas, because I doubt there is anything on this planet big and important enough for us to steal to live up to the hype.”
I steepled my hands in the traditional evil mastermind thinking gesture. “Yeah… especially after I got rid of the Kremlin and the White House, and that time with the Eiffel Tower, and Big Ben… Any money we stole would have to be enough to fuck up the world economy. We could hold another country hostage, maybe?”
Ouroboros shook his head, also just the once. “We’re stuck with a country if no one pays, and then it looks like you’re doing what Claw tried.”
“Yeah, you’re right, that’s so been done. Guess that’s something for us to work on here. Let’s keep this in the back of our minds, work on this, see if we know anyone else who has a good idea on the down-low. I’ve got a couple thoughts, but I need to do some calculations to see if they’ll work.”
“These sorts of team-ups are much more difficult with villains who don’t want to destroy the world,” Ouroboros said with a chuckle, casually standing up.
I nodded and stood as well. “Yeah, and that’s not what any of us want nowadays.” I didn’t point out we now had access to other worlds via the portal in Canada and my dimensional breach technology. “Just like we’d all tear each other apart if we tried to take over and be a ruling body. Doom isn’t our business. We, sir, are the Parliament of Rogues. Hang together or hang separately.”
I made a minor miscalculation on the timeline of getting all this shit done. I didn’t think as much about showmanship among villains as I could have. To be fair, this is probably the biggest single gathering of evil people since that Nazi rally in Virginia. As far as supervillains go, only Ricca pulled off having this many together in one place, and that was because they were all under the effect of a memory erasing drug that affected them. Pretty sure there were battles in World War II that didn’t feature as many supers as I packed into one gigantic tent.
When people started to enter, all the smaller potatoes entered first. A strut here, a saunter there, maybe someone’s motto or a rude hand gesture thrown up for good measure. As time went on and the villains became better known, they slowed down their entrances and tried to make them showy. I don’t even know when they had time to set up the pyro a few guys used, and one idiotic woman almost set the tent on fire with a flaming dragon.
I actually had to hold Max back from walking in with a fog that’d have everyone tripping balls. After some insistence, he opted instead for fog that made everyone see various mythical monsters all bowing to him as he entered. That’s what I heard people saying. I was in my armor and left my box to try and expedite the whole mess.
At least Ouroboros wasn’t flashy. I can respect that about him. He’s a businessman. I think he knows what he wants, and I expect he’ll be more amenable to this. I’m less sure about Spinetingler, whose entrance more closely resembled an evil circus with him as a ringleader with glow in the dark makeup on. His daughter accompanied him, dressed as a harlequin in a very nice outfit that showed off a body no longer starved to skin and bones. Like many homicidal madmen who suffer from uncontrollable bouts of laughter, I have a thing for harlequin women. That said, I’m glad to not have a dick to stick in that crazy.
Not to be outdone, and intending to put an end to this whole entrance thing, I sent in the troops. My soldiers marched in with full body armor, forming a cordon. Drones flitted about, training rockets and lasers on people. Then began the movie theater countdown that preceded The Nearly Deads’ “My Evil Ways”. And yes, I wore the ridiculous coat with the peacocks. Tossed it off to someone in the audience before leaping up to my box.
Once everything settled down and the soldiers left, I raised all four hands. “Now are we done with the pagentry or do we have to crown a heavyweight champion of the world first?!”
That got some laughs and, at last, everyone was ready to stop. “As your host, I think I’ve figured out the first order of business: let’s just walk in and grab some seats, people. We can’t do this shit every single time. We’ll run out of tent first.” I pointed over to the scorch marks on one section. “Seriously though, get it out of your system now. I know we all like a bit of fun with this shit, but we’re here for some serious business, too. I know, I know, boo. Do try to save the drug and alcohol use for the after hours.”
It got a bit of chuckling. The laughter took on a more nervous tone around Max’s entourage and Spinetingler’s table. He and his daughter were being given wide berth by most of them there.
“So let’s get to why I called all y’all together here today. I’m sure I’ve annoyed many of y’all with a question lately. What do you want? Most of you have tolerated the questioning well enough, helped no doubt by the need for a vacation from pursuit. All the cool shit you can buy here doesn’t hurt.”
As if waiting on my cue, a couple of carts rolled in. One vendor called out, “Hot dogs! Fresh hot dogs for sale! Have mutt and mustard! Have Collie and ketchup!”
The other was quieter, instead having drawn up prices on the side for bowls of rice, soup, sushi, and skewer food. Well, that’s what one side advertised. The other had prices for surplus Chinese firearms. Might be handy for henchmen. Personally, I aim to invest in banned goods. I’m working on a 3D printer that can whip up some ivory and sealskin.
But I had some speechifying to do first. “Most of y’all want money, freedom, and infamy. Nice stuff, sure, but what’s money without something to spend it on? Being free tends to attract more and more people who want to toss you in jail. And infamy can be lonely.”
My thoughts started to wander to Carl, Moai, Qiang, Beetrice and even Citra. “Ok, so I’ve been around heroes. Some of them even woke up in the middle of the night and saw me. I’m here to tell you they’re grouping up. They’re better at cooperation than we are. They have a school. They hold giant parties with heroes from across the nation and even other dimensions.”
“We all have parties!” someone yelled.
“Yes, but the heroes get along. We all distrust each other. There are people in this room who have tried to kill me, and some I have tried to kill. We’re not friends, but we’re facing a new world. The heroes are organizing and a lot of supers killed my predecessor, the supervillain known as The Claw. Heroes and villains killed.”
“Is this meeting just about hearing yourself speak?” called out someone. That one I saw, and I held myself back from killing her as much as I wanted to. Fucking trust building. I’d settle this with a bunch of trust falls, but then we’d have plenty of head injuries to treat when almost everyone lets their partner fall.
“This meeting is to give us a chance to figure this out. We don’t need our own mafia, but we need a community. We need a structure of some sort, a way to keep in contact with people. Rules, even. If the heroes bring a team, you should be able to get your own team together easily. Easy access to the markets of Ricca from across the world. Conflict resolution with some sort of representative meant to handle that, if you’re into that sort of thing. You could set up a panel of judges for all I care, so long as they handle the less important rules.”
I got several boos. Boos? How dare they? I will crush them beneath my fashionable high heels! I will scatter their ashes to the solar winds! I just need to see who’s first…
One of the hecklers, a guy, stood up to toss a piece of paper at me. I suddenly felt like making littering a capital offense. “Why the fuck do we need rules? We’re criminals!”
I folded my top hands. “What if some super fucker rapes you, eh?! Or cuts your arms and legs off? The only solution you have right now is hoping you win and attacking them, going back and forth with escalations. He tries to kill you, you murder his family, he murders yours and fucks your mother’s corpse, and so on. Where does it end? Oh, that’s right, with one of you eventually trying to kill the other. And if he kills you, don’t you want to know some badass is going to come along and enforce the punishment for that?” I then noticed my lower hands hadn’t been quite so controlled. They were waving a pair of middle fingers toward the people.
That put an end to the heckling, but someone had a reasonable enough question. “Who the hell would we trust to go around killing- oh, nevermind. It’s you, isn’t it? You’re going to make yourself executioner.”
“Steal my fucking thunder why don’t you?” I asked. “There’s not a lot of trust you can put in me, but you know my reputation as a conniving expert in the art of murder. You make the laws, and any of them y’all decide is worth a good killin’ gets the services for yours truly.”
I wish I could say I got rousing applause, but that simply didn’t happen. Instead, I opened the floor to everyone. In theory, any of them could have started proposing stuff and figuring it out. In theory, I’d left this whole thing with so little structure, it could have devolved into a mess right then and there. In practice one of the villains I’d jumped through hoops to get had some familiarity with imposing structure on a criminal underworld. While babbling spread throughout the ginormous tent, Ouroboros stood up and easily made himself heard. “This sounds like an idea long in the making. We get our very own Legion of Doom, but we’re the founding fathers this time. It will be messy and you don’t have the head for this stuff. Let the ones who want to organize get together and figure out how we want to take things. We will put it to a vote to everyone. That way gives us all exactly as much say as we want. Who is agreed?”
And we got ourselves a majority on that one through the tried and true method of people raising hands. A lot of those gathered there left to go party or do whatever they wanted. We’ve had some people raiding other countries with the aid of enterprising boat owners.
I stayed too. Yeah, it was boring. It was about setting up rules and boundaries that even I was technically supposed to adhere to. It’s the last thing you expect from a self-described agent of chaos. But I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for my loved ones. I toughed it out for them, even as Ouroboros started figuring out teams for rules, communications, shared services, and representation.
I watched with one eye. With the other, I held a video conference with Qiang. She was in the kitchen with a steak and a knife, listening to me teach her in her ear about cutting with the cleavage. Once she’s old enough to start going through puberty, I’ll give her a bra with a switchblade built into it and expand on the lesson.
I’d realized Spinetingler left, but it wasn’t until I’d finished my lesson with my daughter that I noticed he’d returned. He pulled up a chair beside me. “I expect to be exempt from these rules,” he said.
I nodded. “You likely will be if anyone’s smart about it. I’d hope you don’t go flaunting that or this whole mess might just fall apart. I remember our truce though.”
“As do I. This is all boring to me. Perhaps I shall go drum up terror from the depths,” he said.
I waved my hand away. “That’s fine. I didn’t know how much you’d care about the fine details, but your name has weight.” And with me hosting the thing, I can only exert so much influence before it looks like all of this looks like a plot of mine. “The people of Ricca are mine, but your daughter and all these other fine, upstanding members of society are guests. Feel free to go terrorize places that don’t belong to me. Take a crack at Australia if you want. With fauna like theirs, it’d be interesting to see if you can terrorize them. Giant spiders are just a regular thing down there.”
“There is always darkness inside a man’s soul and terrors to be stoked,” he whispered back, his voice growing quieter to be ominous.
“Sounds great. I’m stoked,” I said.
His grunting “Heh,” turned into ominous laughter that didn’t feel as forced as I figured it was. The man knows his theatrics, that’s for sure. He faded into a shadow with far too many limbs that crawled its way out along the floor and walls.
Naturally, with things going so well, I decided to put the Intercept team on high alert. Why? I’ll tell y’all what I told my wife Citra when she asked why I got her a strap-on and a gallon drum of lube. “Because nothing ever goes smoothly for long with me, and it seems like the world wants to fuck me in the ass.”
We’re still working on our marriage, and I think it’s going well. Getting fucked in the ass is a thousand times easier than restraining myself from killing these morons.
The island of Ricca welcomed all kinds of new guests here, and I think it’s time to get this musical rolling. For once, there actually will be a meeting of a bunch of evil people to plot against the world. The best part is, all the conspiracy theorists will say it’s fake news as soon as we all inevitably leak it.
I remember when I heard Ouroboros was on approach in a jet. Sam, she of little hair, saw me throw on my formal armor coat and said, “You sure he doesn’t expect a red carpet? He’s probably got a jet with its own grill.”
I adjusted the tasteful giant red and gold coat with peacock feathers sticking out of the rear collar and put my helmet on. “Psh. Some of us have both dignity and exquisite taste.”
It turned out to be a regular jet with some boring company name on it. A fake company. Easy enough to make: take a noun or a verb and add Solutions, Management, or Global to the end. Throw them all together and you get Global Management Solutions, as generic and fake a name as they come. I’m not even going to check, but that’s still probably a real company.
I was going to make fun of it probably selling mercenaries to third world dictators, but I’m now a third world dictator and the mercenaries I’d been using up and left the island. Apparently they throw a tantrum and leave whenever they suffer lots of casualties for little pay. Bunch of spoiled brats with rifles if you ask me. At least there’s plenty of resale value on their guns. And on their organs, actually.
In fact, and this is brilliant, I’m sending an email right this minute to the hospital to start cloning valuable human organs using nanites and whatever spare meat they can get. Ooh, and maybe we can sneak in tracking devices. Or some sort of robots that separate after implantation and attach to the optic nerves and ears in order to let us spy. Perhaps some sort of nanite killswitch…
I couldn’t stand around thinking all day though. I had to get out there and meet this guy. Plus, that’s kinda what we sell prosthetic organs for anyway. We could always capture the market that doesn’t want prosthetic, though…
The airport had been plenty busy with people coming and going. We had some air traffic coming in through South Korea, Japan, China, and Australia. Russia threatened to send me a plane full of Polonium right to my front door once. I politely informed them that they don’t want to mess with me, because I know where their bodies will be buried. The radiation detectors didn’t find anything unusual in a scan of Ouroboros’s jet.
I stepped out there with Mix N’Max standing a ways behind me, and Sam and Holly behind him. At the last minute before the door opened, I turned and motioned Sam over. “I need a hand with something real quick.” She looked to Max, puzzled, but stepped over. I slid the heavy jacket off and tossed it into her arms. She almost dropped it. “Here, hold that for me.”
“Motherfucker!” she started, then walked back to behind Max, who smiled at her. He leaned in to whisper something and Sam went to find a place to dump it out of view of any important people. Yeah, I did it just to fuck with her. That was my plan the whole time, or at least I expected someone would say something I felt deserved it.
Soon after she walked off to see to my coat check, Ouroboros graced us with his presence. The man himself left the jet in a suit with a version of his mask on to protect his identity. He brought with him a few aides, including an older, wide, and thick fellow with white hair. I held my hands apart, all four. “Welcome to the island of Ricca, home of the Empire Ricca, and its lovely capital.”
“The city of Ricca?” he asked, a slight smile coming to his face. He setepped down the stairs and walked over to me for the official handshake that would have been photo-op worthy if we weren’t both wanted people.
I called up the latest Director Speaker guy to confirm. “Yes, the city of Ricca. As you can probably tell, the last administration lacked creativity. That’s why it took me to gather up a bunch of us for this meeting. We’ve had an increased trickle at the end here, but I think we’re about ready to start.”
He nodded. “I saw you had a problem with the navy.” He leaned in. “You did all of it, didn’t you?”
“I would have to be some kind of evil mastermind to pull that off. Thank you for the compliment.”
He smirked. “You impressed a lot of people on the fence about this meeting by stopping that nuclear bomb and protecting everyone else. My people thought it was surprising and devious. I felt it was serious. You’ve seen my city and I would love to see yours after my people have had time to bring my things to where I’m staying.”
Sounds like he wanted to make sure he had a nice place that wasn’t going to blow up. I don’t blame him. It also gave me time to pick a tour guide from the Directors. I’m too important as the leader of an entire nation to go around showing some glorified criminal mayor around. Notice I didn’t even give him a lei or throw him a luau. Leave that for greeters or the assistant to the greeters or the intern to the assistant to the greeters. I assume there’s protocol in place for all the little people. I wouldn’t know. I first showed up in Ricca as a hired consultant to build weapons of mass destruction.
As a person with plenty of lackeys, little things like saying “Hello” or showing supervillains to an Ikea mansion are beneath me. If I want, I could hire someone just to wipe my ass. I could pay them nothing but I wouldn’t. Because I’m classy and because you don’t want to screw over someone whose job is putting their fist near your pucker.
There was one last major attendee to grab. I gathered some of those lackeys of mine in a clearing on the edge of the city. Amid chanting, we started a massive bonfire. I had a table brought out, as well as a large pig. I hefted the pig onto the table and reached over to one of my black-robed lackeys. He held out a knife.
Suddenly the chanting grew quieter. I looked over to see Holly standing by a wireless speaker, her finger just leaving the volume down button. “Is this really necessary to get this guy here?” said Holly. She, Sam, and Max were all waiting at the edge of the clearing, along with Silver Shark, Citra, and Qiang.
I pulled my hood back. “No, that part’s easy. We have a mirror for that.” I pointed to where a few of the lackeys were standing up a mirror next to a cooler full of beer. “But I figured it might be rude to summon him here without something to eat. So then I got to thinking about it and figured I’d bring us all out here for a barbecue.” I turned back to the pig and stabbed the knife down. One spurt of blood later, the oinking stopped.
“You know how to do that thing where you cut it into pieces to cook it?” Sam asked while I set to work. Qiang rushed over to watch me.
“Butcher,” Silver Shark said.
“Thank you,” Sam said.
“It wasn’t a correction,” Shark responded. Still sore I cheated on her back when I was handling her meat, I see.
A couple of lackeys finished driving supports into the ground on either side of the bonfire. Then they hefted a grill into place. “Bring me the sacred herbs! And spices.” Another robed lackey stepped over with a bowl full of seasonings for me to toss on the meat.
Max clapped for me. “Excellent job. Was that a new record?”
“I know I was watching it, but how did you clean and butcher it so fast?” asked Silver Shark.
“I have a lot of experience cutting animals apart,” I said and tossed some loin and chops onto the grill. I headed back to work on more cutting.
Sam walked over, “Do they all come apart the same way?”
I shrugged and saw how Qiang was watching me cut. I handed her the knife and let her give it a try. “Generally less, though there are some specifics that depend on who you’re butchering.”
“Who?” Sam asked.
“Who who?” I asked back.
Holly pointed at me. “You said ‘who’ you’re butchering?’”
I pointed at myself too. “I did?” I looked to Max, who nodded.
“Don’t you consider humans animals?” asked Holly.
I looked down to see Qiang’s rough hackjob on some of the meat. Eh, there are always some spare pieces to throw away. I glared back at Holly and mouthed a silent, “Yes.” Ok, so I love the girl. I might even have feelings for some of these damn, dirty apes all over this planet due to a form of Stockholm Syndrome I haven’t had formally diagnosed.
Regardless, I should cut back on some of the outright, if deserved, bigotry against homo sapiens. She’s still half human, and that kind of thing could send a pretty fucked up message if she ever starts to think about it. No heir of mine is going to go through life a brainless bimbo. Plus, she’ll probably have to marry one of these backward chimps they call people in this universe. None of them are good enough for her anyway, which is yet another knock against this sad excuse for a species. I want her to be happy though. Coincidentally, I’ve already put out feelers online for used shotguns, the dirtier the better. I have to have that thing ready to clean the night she first starts dating.
“Can I change the music?” asked Citra.
I nodded. “Fine.” I can’t expect everyone to enjoy Sunn O))) or even to pronounce it correctly. It’s the parentheses. Very difficult for human tongues. She grabbed the mp3 player I’d used because I wasn’t about to let people hook a speaker up to my brain. That way lies madness and comments they don’t need to hear about themselves. The next song was less droning, but still quite My Imperial Majesty’s jam.
Holly leaned over. “Is this song seriously called ‘Rock N Roll Nig-‘.”
I cut her off, “Hush, we’re getting to the good part.”
After a few seconds of the song continuing on as normal, she asked, “I don’t hear anything special.”
“The whole song’s the good part,” I said. I tossed some ribs on the barbecue. “I think we’re doing well enough to bring them over.” I turned to the mirror and, with no ceremony whatsoever, said, “Spinetingler, Spinetingler, Spinetingler.”
The flickering flames of the bonfire disappeared from the mirror. The reflective surface went entirely black. Some of the blackness moved and grew out, a nub of darkness. Some of it then fell to the grass as strands of hair hanging down from a head. An arm poked out of the mirror as well. A woman crawled out in a white dress. She crawled over to me, then pulled herself up on my robe.
It was Spinetingler’s daughter. I don’t recall if I ever learned her name, but I do remember her face. Big nose and big brown eyes. Or they were before turning all icey white. Her hair used to be blonde too, but there’s not a lot of good horror from being stalked by a blonde. “Hey, you’re looking better. You eating better?”
She stared at my face for a long few seconds. “I heard you were a man.”
“I often am. Where’s your dad?” I looked past her to the mirror. I heard cawing, then a swarm of some sort of black bird flew out of the mirror and moved as one gigantic flock until they dove at the ground near the bonfire.
The birds disappeared into a dark puff of feathers that resolved into a black-clad figure with red trim. Black boots, black gloves, all looking like leather. I couldn’t pin down the pants and shirt, but it had kind of a leather creak going on. His face was hidden under a black hood of his own with red eyes glowing from within. He leaned over the grill. “Smells good. Do you have any beverages for myself and my daughter?”
“Lackeys, beer the man!” I called to some of the minions, a few of which were here from scenic Missouri. “Feel free to take the robes off if you don’t mind getting smoke and all in your clothes. I, however, will stay dressed in the formal evil barbecue robes as mine are light and airy, and I’m not wearing anything under them. Come on, folks, let’s get this party started!”
As might be surmised by all the skywriting, I wasn’t really hiding. Hell, anyone could find us by the weed smoke alone. This man is not human. If anyone should have overdosed on THC, it’d be Willie Nelson.
Despite that, the fellow’s surprisingly active. Found that out after an unexpected swing of his with a fireplace poker. Willie had gotten a bit stir crazy, or at least that’s the excuse he gave when trying to build a parachute out of bedsheets. Never underestimate the ingenuity of an experienced stoner. If you’ve seen the things they can make bongs out of, you realize how crafty they are. So I politely gave him an opportunity to fence with me a bit if he was feeling so antsy to get his exercise. He chose the fireplace poker as his weapon. I considered being a dick about it and picking his guitar for mine, but I settled on a loaf of cuban bread from the kitchen. The fact that I’ve bonked him several times on his braided noggin with my wheaty blade while his efforts to hit me have been both legitimate and futile just adds to the fun.
We clashed, bread on iron. Willie gritted his teeth, looking down at the bread incredulously. “What the hell is in that stuff?”
I leaned in close. “This bread was hard enough to be the equal of that poker fresh. Stale, its strength is beyond mortal ability to chew or bend.” I effortless pushed him away. He backed up to the couch, then hopped onto the cushion and brought his poker down in an overhead stroke that I sidestepped easily. I casually flicked the bread at his legs. He jumped over it and spun around, bringing his poker around. I ducked it, then advanced, deflecting his backhand. He ran up the back of the couch just as I started to step onto it, tipping it over. It might have thrown me off, but I managed to step on it and bring myself over even as something twanged and strained in it. “Your powers are weak, old man.”
“You can’t win, Psycho. If you strike me down, my estate shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine!” He spun the poker in his right hand, then swapped it to his left. He tried to speed up, but dropped it on his toe. Then he hopped on over to a bar stool and pulled off his boot. “Time!”
I just shook the Dudebot’s head.”That fancy stuff just has no place in a good fight.”
“They do it in all the movies,” he said, groaning and rubbing his toe.
I tossed the Cuban bread up into the air and caught it. “Yeah, and in movies there’s sound in space, too. If you know what to look for, you can tell the difference between good swordfighting in a movie and the fancy stuff made to look good.”
“How’s that?” He asked. He hopped up and over to the refrigerator to grab himself a beer, then back to the stool. He held the cold beer to his aching foot, then popped it open and helped himself to a drink.
“The serious ones are still elegant, but they look like they’re trying to hit each other and trusting in the other guy’s skill to save them. The jokey ones are trying to hit the other person’s sword.”
“My pappy always warned me about guys trying hit swords in the locker room,” he said, releasing a pained chuckle. “A lot of jokes don’t age well.”
“Eh, I think it’s a sign of progress that you eventually improve yourself to the point that you think your past self was a dumbass. There was a time I wanted to destroy the planet I lived on.”
He whistled and shook his head. “That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a long and healthy life.”
“Dilly dilly,” I said by way of agreement. Suddenly, the Dudebot fell to the side, the system blaring in my head about sudden penetrative damage. I looked down to see a hole in the side of the Dudebot’s thigh. A few things jingled in there. I stood it back up to see if it still supported the weight of the Bot. I knew that wasn’t necessarily the smartest thing if this was an attempted assassination and if I was there in person, but it was still a robot. It’d be a shame to blow the thing up and take Willie with it, but I’ve always been jealous of these jumped-up chimpanzees copying my toys. I got a good view of where the shot came from the hole in the glass, too. A building, taller than this one. I reached down and pulled out the bullet, getting a sense of its likely drop, then fired off the triple eye lasers. They burned through this building’s window and stabbing into an open one on that building. That helps too. Snipers really don’t like stuff getting in the way if they can help it.
With my assailant disposed of, I turned to see what Willie was up to. He was being thrown over the shoulder of a large man dressed all in black tactical gear. The big guy ran for the open balcony door, opposite the direction I’d been shot from. I pulled out a banana and threw it ahead of him. It squished under his boots and he skidded a short distance before having to catch his balance. It took little time, but it was enough for me to catch up to him and pull the screaming country star off his shoulders with one hand. He turned to me, but I went ahead and pushed him off the balcony. He was headed there anyway.
I carried him back inside, and that’s when the third part of this encounter kicked off. Ouroboros walked in, wearing his black costume. It was form fitting, because we supers tend to be a vain lot, and textured to look scaled. It looked like all one bodysuit, the mask covering the upper half of his head and extending down with a portion that resembled a pair of fangs before leaving his mouth exposed. In his hands, he held a pair of curved daggers. When I’d last seen him, they looked like bone. These were black, with a blue glow
“Sup,” I said, nodding toward him. “You’re probably wondering why I called you here tonight?”
“Yeah,” he said with a nod of his head, twirling a knife handle in his grip. “Something like that.” I couldn’t track his eyes behind lenses on his mask, but he probably got a good look at the gaping wound in my leg caused by, if I had to guess, a .50 cal.
Meanwhile, Willie Nelson clutched his stomach and stumbled off. “Where do you think you’re goin, highwayman?” I asked.
Ouroboros pointed after him with a knife. “He’s going to the bathroom.”
“How can you tell?” I asked.
He waved his hand in front of his face. “How can you not?”
I held my hands behind my back. “I think it’s apparent that I have improved myself a bit since we last met. I’m in an improving mood. That’s why, despite how we left things, I didn’t come here to be hostile. I came here to play nice. Sometimes that means grabbing another man’s Willie.”
“You must really like that joke,” he said.
“I do. My sense of humor’s pretty juvenile at times,” from the direction Nelson hobbled off came a long, thunderous fart. I chuckled to myself, some of which wound up transmitted.
After a moment of looking serious, Ouroboros put his hand in front of his mouth and made a show of yawning. “It’s late,” I caught the tiniest bit of his voice trying to crack with laughter, especially as the singer grunted in the other room.
“No,” I said, pointed after Willie. “That skunk in his pants is late. We are both very much alive.”
“Yeah. So, is this a talk or a fight?” Ouroboros asked.
I crossed my legs and sat right there on the floor. “I’ve got this thing I’m doing. A conference right now, but I want to build something from it. A social structure for villains.”
“A crime family,” he said.
I shook my head. “It’s not about control. I’ve got a rough idea that there might be some sort of council that represents everybody. Like, if someone has a problem that needs addressing on a larger scale, they take it to them.”
“Sounds like leadership,” he said. “I’m not in the market for a boss.”
“Neither am I. But I had an idea for being able to agree on boundaries or rules if need be. Two guys both try to carve out some territory and have a dispute, it might be handy to have some sort of mediation. Something better than a big mass vote. I mean, democracy? After these past couple of years?”
He almost smiled. “How many on this council? What kind of rules can they make?”
I shrugged. “That’s for people to hash out, but I suspect there aren’t going to be too many rules. But I’m thinking we have a couple firm ones set in stone. Murder and rape of supers, no matter the side.”
He idly spun his blades. “You’re going to live under these rules too?”
“Kinda, sorta, no. I’ll avoid all that to the extent I can, but I’ll be enforcing the rules and I think you know how that’ll play out. A villain kills another villain, I take them out. A hero kills a villain, ditto. Law enforcement, too, if they get too trigger happy. Not sure if a regular mundane bumps one of us off… now that’d be interesting. Maybe something for your council.”
“My council?” he asked.
“You’ve got power and influence. You show to this thing, you’ll convince more to come along. I scare people. Super people. They don’t like me. You’re respectable. You’re someone they can look up to. Stands to reason you’re a shoe-in for it, probably to head it up. But I’m the enforcer no matter what. The only person who can be.” The shot leg tried to lock up, but I banged on it and managed to get myself back to standing. “Meanwhile, we can both get a cut providing safe haven to other villains with weapons and ammo for sale. Have a social network. Help people work together. Hold fucking dances or holiday parties.”
“A lot of villains do that already,” Ouroboros said. He looked back over as Willie Nelson stepped back out of the bathroom wearing a towel as a makeshift kilt.
“They don’t invite me,” I said. “But I saw what the heroes have. They’re working together and stay in contact. They’re even working with those Rangers from the other dimension, and you guys don’t need two Earths worth of heroes on your hands. Anyway, Willie, have fun. I’ll send you some more weed for you to smoke or weave into pants or something.”
Ouroboros put a knife away and ushered Nelson out. Before he left completely, he turned to me. “Give me a few weeks, but I’ll be there. Feel free to let people know, but I expect a fast jet on standby in case someone tries something.”
I thought about it a minute, a smile forming across my face all the way over in Ricca, where my wife Citra and my daughter Qiang were braiding my hair. The smile was on me, but the Dudebot’s the one that thought back to my recovering agent on the plane, and to Escorpio Encantador flying off to Ricca on a different craft. “I bet I can get everyone to agree to a nice little ceasefire. I’m the enforcer, after all.” An enforcer who is NOT explaining this stuff to every Tom, Dick, and Harry from here on out. Repeating myself so much is giving me the worst case of lockjaw since that night Citra bet me I couldn’t find the clit. Joke’s on her, turns out it’s a myth. That, or I did manage to find it and she just pretended otherwise so I’d keep looking for some reason.
You know, when they talk about how to make friends and influence people, I don’t think they meant having one friend owe you for breaking him out of prison, or having bait for a team of super teenagers with attitude.
Which just proves my point about why I’m not the one who gets elected. I am the one who knocks… people’s skulls out through their anuses.
There’s a phrase that’s been attributed to Al Capone, a rather famous gangster, that is incredibly illustrative about how easily villains like myself can do things. “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.”
I was also surprised to find out the man possessed a wonderful sense of humor like when he said, in reference to the suburbs of Chicago, “This is virgin territory out here for whorehouses.”
But back to the kind word and a gun, and I didn’t bring this up to knock guns yet again. Guns were an example. Force. Fists with sheaths of energy, knives, extortion, blackmail, political influence, huge wads of cash, gritty cigar-smoking llamas with katanas strapped to their hooves; all of it makes your goals happen more easily.
I think by now you’ve seen that I don’t like Hephaestus and I’ve been working against them. I’ve built up an arsenal of dirty tricks, some of which can be wielded with all the power and authority of a man with a shotgun informing a younger man that he will be doing right by a knocked up daughter. Like the virus. I meant a virus was a dirty trick, not that daughters are viruses. Well, maybe Rhea from King Lear, but only because she was such a goner.
Joking aside, it was more like a Trojan in that it left me a backdoor into the communications network. I dived in with a computer that wasn’t part of my brain and pinged the whole thing. It took a bit of time, but I expected they will eventually catch on to how their businesses got exposed.
The chatter was interesting as well once I spent some time listening. After that, I set up a program to identify various words of interest in different languages, including my name. The computer archives a transcript for me to review later.
“Comms unit” has been established as a catch all term for various methods of wireless communications, but I lucked out stealing this thing from Gorilla Badass. The radios I ran across had too short a range to be useful for this, and the computers sent stuff via the internet. I never would have been able to handle a check of the entire world wide web including the deep and dark webs. Hell, even cell phones were too widespread to be useful, but their network and encryption has been cracked before. This lovely little belt-mounted receiver and earbud setup made things much easier.
If I’d thought about it, I could have done all this sooner and much more effectively.
Monday provided an opportunity to put my speaking and threatening skills to work. Monday, I gave Ouroboros a call. For those who don’t remember, Ouroboros was the guy I briefly worked for back in Paradise City, a party and tourism city on the gulf coast of northwest Florida. Everything went fairly well until a hero I attacked dropped hints about the Wishing Stick. It was a stick that granted wishes, a fairly easy concept to grasp, and Ouroboros kept it in the vault under his casino with other valuable prizes.
Bullshit. After a pitiful attempt to ignite a gang war between the others vying for a piece of Paradise City, I was captured by Ouroboros to be handed over to a super group of heroes called Shieldwall who were up my ass like a condom full of cocaine. A big fight broke out and I escaped, but I broke the Wishing Stick when it turned out that it refused to grant wishes for morally reprehensible people. For his efforts, Ouroboros got an F-bomb dropped on his city in one of the last jobs before those illegal flyers got arrested and convicted of their general flight hooliganry.
Ouroboros and I didn’t have much to talk about, but Hephaestus got on both of our bad sides. I thought that was enough. One problem: I lacked a giant screen. It has been awhile, so I’ll remind y’all that a giant screen is a big monitor that allows two-way visual and audio communication in an impressive and intimidating way. Handy for making demands. Many established villains have been known to make use of them. I heard the UN keeps a few handy as well. I haven’t nailed down whether they have them to just receive demands or if it’s because some of their members like to make the demands. Except North Korea. It was well established, after the latest Kim took power and he tried to threaten the South Koreans, that they don’t let North Korea access their screen. On the plus side, I heard that the Starcraft II multiplayer map the South Koreans painstakingly crafted in his likeness was real popular for a couple of months.
I was too far away to steal a screen from the United Nations in Empyreal City, so I had to improvise. I had to use the tiny little television set set into the wall cabinets of the trailer. I gave it a camera and a receiver to make it useable for my purposes.
I dressed in my armor to actually make the call. It was a formal thing. People like Ouroboros were way too into protocols for my taste, but I wanted him to do what I wanted him to do. Ouroboros didn’t pick up when I called. Instead, there was a woman of Asian ancestry in a black dress that covered her cleavage filing her nails. She didn’t seem to notice the screen at first. She gave her nails a few more good rakes of the file while calling out to someone in Japanese.
“Yo, Tokyo Rose. Yoo hoo. Hi there.” I waved. Her lack of response had me worried that something was up with the camera. My concerns were allayed by a response, finally, as the woman set her file down, crossed her arms, and looked squarely at me.
In English touched by boredom and a hint of an accent, she asked, “How can I help you?”
“I’m calling for Ouroboros if he’s still alive. Tell him it’s Psycho Gecko and we have something to discuss.”
That got a little bit of urgency out of her. Muttering something with the vitriol of a cuss word under her breath, she stood and walked out of view. I didn’t see her again, but it wasn’t long before Ouroboros appeared. His black-scaled bodysuit looked untouched by the brawl that occurred last time I was in his city. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the portion that covered them and much of his face before curving down into two large fang portions on either side of his mouth. He had his curved ivory knives looped through his belt on either side of his hips. He didn’t bother taking them out as he sat in front of the screen.
“Oury! How good to see you again. New secretary?”
“My organization had room for growth and advancement. She dislikes you enough without you calling her a secretary. You didn’t call to discuss my job openings. We left each other on too bad of terms to go into that again. Does this call pertain to recent news of you going to war with the people who made me what I am today?”
I couldn’t read much emotion off him with only the mouth to go by, and he kept that stoic. I thought he was amused, but he could have been annoyed at the same time.
“It does, in fact. I’m sure you’re aware that I’ve done more than kick them out of just one city. It’s their own fault, really. Even with you trying to turn me over to a gang of heroes that probably would have stuck me in a hole deep underground, you still paid me for my work. As well you should have, considering how Black Raptor, your errant do-gooder, flew off to go help my enemies. Well, Hephaestus didn’t pay, so now they’re gonna pay.”
Ouroboros held up a finger on one hand. “Well said. What does this have to do with me and my business ventures?”
I clasped my hands together under my chin. “Weeeeeeeeeell, I don’t know how much it affects your business at this point, but it may affect your diet if the presence of Hephaestus facilities in Paradise City leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth.”
He leaned forward, lip twitching. “You can confirm this?”
“Hey, Anaconda Part Infinite, I’m nowhere near your city. I can’t go up and do the recon, but what is it going to cost you to have some people check into a couple of businesses?”
He leaned back. “I’m not chasing wild geese because you want to be a jackass.”
“You will, my good man, you certainly will. I know that they have something on the grounds of the Paradise City Aviation Airport, which appears to be a private airfield. I would guess they were testing planes there or teaching some flying, but oddly enough that appears to be it as far as bases go. What’s stranger are the transmissions off a number of buoys in the water that get routed through some sort of local weather station. Aside from that, it’s mostly just individual chatter from a few well-placed individuals, including some pain in the ass called Shryer who has been monitoring you.”
Ouroboros steepled his fingers. “That is a lot of specific information that can be checked. If they are here, they are mine to deal with.”
I maintained a jovial tone as I spoke. “They’d better be, or I’ll pay you a visit and wipe them out. It’ll be a surgical strike, like when someone removes an entire limb to get rid of gangrene. Really, all I want is Hephaestus to get their teeth kicked in wherever possible. I think we’re of like mind about that.”
That was the gun to my “kind word and a gun” approach. Ouroboros definitely didn’t want me visiting again.
He nodded slowly. “For now, at this time, yes. I will have my people look into this. You stay away and do whatever else you do. Go bother them elsewhere?”
“Any recommendations?” I asked, projecting eyelashes and torn-out puppydog eyes over my visor. I blinked them a few times.
“You are so good at tracking them, I doubt you need my help. Make sure you visit Three Mile Island soon, though I hear they’ve gone Hollywood to bilk celebrities out of their money. I can not imagine what they do out there unless they found a way to provide inconspicuous abilities to people with more money than sense. It suits the style of the head of Hephaestus, anyway. He had a lot of ambition and a desire to know important people.”
I shot finger guns his way. “Bang bang! That’s what happened to the old boss, I hear. Don’t know if that’s who you meant, but they have some new guy in charge who likes to pick on poor, defenseless supervillains like myself. Oh well, think of me as karma’s bitch-whippin’ stick on this one.”
“Hmm,” was all Ouroboros said about that.
“Anyway, y’all have your fun down there and I’ll find my own fun up here. And remember: put your boot on, then insert it into a rectum. Unless you like having dirty feet. Not my fetish.”
I cut the feed. That went surprisingly well. I needed to inform Moai of our new destination. It, though I often think of it as a he, was outside, trying to rustle up some grub and grilling. I kicked the door open to find him by the cheap grill that Holly had picked up for the trailer way back near the beginning of this roguish road trip. He grabbed a plate and threw it at me like a frisbee. The burger on it flew apart but I caught the patty. Slipping off my helmet with my other hand, I began to chow down on the cheese-covered meat disk. “Thanks, Moai. So, how’s the grilling going?”
He turned back toward the grill, over which an Indian man was tied to a rotating spit. No one was likely to complain about the sight as we were parked inside this old building that had never been completed. It was a solid, imposing edifice of concrete and rebar. It was also mostly private, save for kids and the occasional graffiti artist.
The man on the spit mumbled for attention through the whoopee cushion covering his mouth. I stepped over to him and looked him over. He was a new arrival to the city that had been transferred to work at the urinalysis clinic’s lab at a bad time. Upon arriving in Memphis and driving by his new place of work, he found it cordoned off by the police. It was his call in to ask for further instructions that tipped me off to him. Nobody else could have known he was around.
Now, he spun around, picking up a nice tan as the heat from the flames streamed over his body. I set my helmet down and pulled a cooler over. I took a bottle of water from it and poured it out over the prisoner’s face to help keep him awake, then sat back on the cooler. “Well, look at you. You’re certainly a rare find in captives. Don’t worry, you’ll be well done before long. Maybe even buffalo style. Moai, remove the gag.”
Moai shuffled by between me and the unfortunate scientist. When I next saw the other man’s face, his mouth was free of the whoopee cushion. “What do you want?” he groaned.
“My own pet Tyrannosaurus Rex and world peace. I’ll settle for information about Hephaestus.”
“I don’t…” he started to say, then trailed off. “Fuck. You-you already know. I’m just a research technician, but I’ll tell you as much as I can.”
“They have a base in California?”
He dropped his head as if to nod, but he was at the lower part of his rotation and didn’t bother to raise it again. “Yeah, they have a huge operation in Hollywood providing powers on the down low. Things that won’t be noticed like great bodies or high drug tolerances. They even stopped some movie stars from aging.”
I had been enjoying the hot beef in my hand, but I stopped to question him. “Got an address for me?”
His head dipped from side to side. “No. Never worked there.”
I splashed some more water on him in thanks.“How about this Three Mile Island place I heard about?”
He closed his eyes as he was turned with his face toward the sky. “You’re good. The complex under that nuclear plant is secret, with some of the highest protocols to keep people from finding out. People stay away on their own after the meltdown in Generator Two back in ‘79, but the other is still functional. It provides energy and a spot where nobody wants to wander around.”
I walked over to the grill and turned the heat down. “What’s the place studying? If I walk in there, what will try and bite my head off?”
“Radiation and how it’s used in combination with catalysts to create mutations and superpowers in people and animals. I don’t know about security. They have the test subjects, I guess, but they’re inconsistent. Sometimes they turn out bad. Real bad. I can’t get you in. I’m not cleared for it anymore and they change passwords all the time!”
I patted him on the head, then lifted up the spit and set him on the ground. “I believe you. Moai, help our friend here out of those handcuffs and help him stand up.”
“Thank you, thank you, oh thank you. I won’t tell anyone about this. God bless you.” He was real chatty as Moai released him, but then he stood there, eyeing both of us and rubbing at his wrists. “Can I go?”
I waved him off. “Yeah, go ahead. Enjoy the rest of your life.”
His eyes grew wide and he almost skipped as he ran away.
“Alright, Moai, let’s get this stuff packed up. We’re heading to the site of a nuclear meltdown.”
He helped me toss the ice and water from the cooler out onto the grill to put it out, then we picked it into the trailer. He took the back as I slid into the driver’s seat. With a flick of a switch and the selection of a program, the car shifted in appearance thanks to the its own adaptive camouflage.
Before, it looked like a black ‘51 Hudson Hornet with orange trim. Now, I appeared to be driving my own pimptastic, gold 1967 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a single deep purple stripe down the center of the vehicle. The trailer looked the same, but that couldn’t be helped.
I drove out of there, checked around, and found what I was looking for. The released technician, running to freedom. I turned and sped for him. He never even knew what hit him. Just made a thumping noise, rolled along the hood and up the windshield. Then he smacked against the trailer, fell under it, and acted as a minor speed bump for the trailer’s right side tires.
I turned to Moai and shrugged. “That didn’t take long. He probably enjoyed it.”
Three Mile Island, here we come; out of the grill and into the nuclear reactor.