With most of my spies tied up undermining the United States, we’ve had to transfer a lot of valuable people away from China, Hong Kong, and Japan. We can’t just fly people in to hunt for whatever supers are experimenting with the dimensional veil. Other villains on VillaiNet can only tell us so much.
Took a bit of work to get Apollo on the horn, too. “Yo, god-dude. I had some questions. You ever hear of something called the Dusk Club? Or some group like that?”
I couldn’t see his expression as he paused because we were on a standard phone call instead of a video call or smell-o-vision. “I will have to check? What are they?”
“I think they’re mages, unless they also somehow have advanced technology. They were active during the 20th century, but I’m not sure what they really do. Supposedly stop threats that cross the dimensional barrier, but they disbanded or died off before I ever showed up. I’m honestly surprised so many groups keep managing to sneak around for so long with nobody finding out about them. Like you guys, somehow managing to avoid detection for hundreds of years.”
“We use magic,” Apollo said. “There are spells that can prevent people from speaking about secrets and spells that can alter memory. The latter are fearsome if mishandled and wipe the mind of the sorcerer foolish enough to have tried them.”
Hmm. Interesting. I mean, yeah, it makes sense that the Hares used literal magic to avoid their conspiracy getting out. That’s an option NASA wouldn’t have if they filmed the moon landing on a sound stage. But more than that, Mr. Omega claims the people who evicted him from this dimension used that kind of magic. I wonder how much the successors of that group made use of that magic, if they had access to it. As was figured out by The Claw, being able to screw with people’s memories can open up all kinds of fucked manipulations.
“If you can ask around for me, it would be appreciated,” I told Apollo.
“How appreciated?” he asked.
“You like diamonds?” I asked. “I got a diamond here the size of your head.”
“That exaggeration is so common,” he said.
I looked to a stand in my study holding a small part of our mining operation on Uranus in the other universe. The diamond there could have been cut into a basketball. We can’t access anymore until the Telechamber is rebuilt, but it’s coming along. If it wasn’t for Omega, that thing would be such an awesome source of power and riches for us. Just look at Elvis. The old redneck’s sold out a new tour.
So despite all the power at my fingertips with Omega on my side, I have nothing to aim it at, a concern I expressed aloud in the hopes he or it was paying attention.
I had an easy day, with nothing to do but wait for everyone to get back to me. I was a few drinks into waiting when I got a report from the military base that Medusa was spotted sneaking around. So I figured I better go see what that’s about. She’s got the run of the place pretty well anyway, so sneaking means she’s doing something she doesn’t think I’d approve of.
I threw on my armor real quick and pointed an arm at my study wall. I holographically projected a tunnel on the wall and set a portahole in it so that I could walk through. Because when I get the chance to pull that shit, I do it. I stepped out near the outside of the base, looking up at the wall nearest to the base. If this was a movie or tv show, I’d have arrived just in time to catch her in the act. But this isn’t fiction. It’s dirty, wild reality, far stranger than any fiction.
I had to wait a few minutes before a rope latter came tumbling down the wall off in the distance. By the time Medusa shimmied down, she found me leaning on the wall next to her. “Hey there, beautiful. Who’s your friend?” I pointed up the shaking ladder at the prisoner climbing down after her.
She sighed and crossed her arms. Looking me right in the eye, she said, “A spy.”
“Why, my dear, are you breaking spies out of my prisons?” I asked.
I reached over as the spy in question came down and hopped the last few feet. He was a fairly round man despite not being fat, with wispy hair that lifted off his head easily in the breeze. His eyes seemed just a little too small. If this man was an international superspy who went around seducing beautiful women, he must have a hell of a talking game to make up for the handicap his body and faced gave him. He held a hand out toward me. I took it and he bowed, giving my armored hand a kiss on the back. “’Ello. Carter Brendleton. A pleasure to meet you. You a friend of ol’ Venus?”
Not a smooth talker. I pulled up his file from my guys. He’d been caught snooping around one of our “fishing” warehouses. An awful lot of interesting things get swallowed by fish. USB drives, gemstones, even some misplaced treasury printing plates. You never know what my guys will turn up when searching the fish. And you never know what spies will turn up when searching fish.
“You could say that,” I told him in regards to his question about being a friend of Medusa. “Psychopomp Gecko. I’m kind of a big deal.”
“Oh, Empress Gecko. You run the place. Very good. I don’t mean to be a bother,” he leaned in close. “But could I persuade you to not throw me in prison for inspecting fish?”
I put an arm around his shoulders. “Buddy, you’re accused of being a spy.”
Medusa walked up and put her arm around my other shoulder. “Babe, he’s actually a British fish inspector.”
“That’s what they all say,” I told her. “It’s clearly a cover story.”
“I am. Her Majesty has authorized me to investigate unusual fish imports that could endanger the British Isles. The Crown takes reckless fishmongery as a serious threat. First, the Krauts came for our fish. Then, our chips.” He held up a fist, getting a far off look in his eye as he locked his jaw defiantly.
Medusa nodded toward the Brit. “Why don’t you tell us about your favorite fish?”
“That is a complex question, of course, because most people think of osteichtyes, what are commonly referred to as bony fishes, but there is so much to love about chondrichtyes, or cartilaginous fish. And the amount of diversity between bony fishes is an added complication…”
Thirty goddamn minutes later, I had to put a stop before he could go into extinct species. I felt the distinct need to install a liquor dispenser in my power armor to make up for situations like this. I’m pretty sure the grass around us died of boredom. But Medusa’s point was made. She was fairly certain this guy was nothing but some sort of fish inspector, and now I was too. Problem was, we actually are smuggling things using fish. Forget coffee, there’s nothing that throws off anyone’s ability to smell like fish. And if you’re lucky, they don’t smell worse when they’re dead.
As an island nation, Ricca naturally has a long tradition of fishing. As a nation run by a supervillain, it also has a long tradition of smuggling drugs and other illegal goods either within fish they export, or in fish canned for export.
I left Brendleton to wax nostalgic about the good old days of giant bottom feeders to pull Medusa aside and quietly tell her, “This guy’s still dangerous to our business.”
“He’s a fish inspector. How dangerous is fish inspection?” she asked.
“It depends on if they find something fishy,” I said. I holographically projected secret film of a wild shootout at a dock that looked like an action movie, up until the amphibious tank tried coming to shore to fight guerrillas in yellow uniforms and white facepaint. It was blown apart by multiple anti-tank missiles and doused with flamethrowers to make sure. “That’s what happened the last time someone tried to figure out how McDonald’s sources the McFish. You don’t even want to know about the McRib.”
I started to show her the video of the Ghurkas heading into a deep jungle ambush but she waved me off. “You know you don’t have any reason to worry about a fish inspector. Stop wasting time on him and expel him from the island.”
“It’s the principle of the thing!” I said, holding up four pointer fingers.
She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the helmet. “Gecko, I know you can be better than this. You know you’re better than this. It’s time to be better, in the way only a badass can. Is it that you’re scared?”
I covered her mouth. “Not in front of the spy, honey.”
“I am barely a spy!” Carter said. “I do not even have my license to kill. I have a fishing license, however.”
Medusa moved my hand. “There’s no need to be afraid. I believe in you. And you have me by your side.” She winked and smiled, which felt awesome. But I didn’t like all this talk of me being afraid. That’s not what it was. I just had people to look after, and a family. A little girl counted on me to survive. Sure, I’ve hidden away millions of dollars worth of money to take care of her if something happens to me, but money can’t buy a p- you know, money can buy you a parent, but she’s too young for that kind of roleplay. She wouldn’t want to go back into the diapers.
More to stop from having this particular discussion, I relented and let Medusa officially deport the fish spy, with a warning that Ricca would prefer if the United Kingdom kept its grubby fish watchers to itself, lest they sleep with the fishes.
At that, Carter Brendleton stood up just a bit straighter. “I would never! I don’t know what rumors you have heard, but I do not shag that way.”
I left a message written on my HUD where Mr. Omega normally pops in at when he contacts me, letting him know that if he can show me roughly where those experiments in Japan took place, I’m more than happy to engage in a bit of widespread destruction. Me, afraid, hah!
I’ll show her. I’ll show them all!
I also need to tell Medusa to get her head off that arm. It’s starting to fall asleep.
The investigation didn’t take long to conclude. Dr. Creeper sent over some of the xenobiologists specializing in multiversal specimens. They didn’t bother to tell me until they got over here that they haven’t figured out a way to tell if a being has crossed the universe divide and traveled to another universe. Creeper wasted my time there, but I know why he did it. I’ll have to have a talk with him about honesty and trust later. Maybe while dangling him off the side of a building.
Not having a good relationship with the Elders, and having reaffirmed my leadership by murdering people, the Elders didn’t want to talk to me. I had Toyotomi handle that for me as well, with the idea that he could threaten th em with talking to me if they were difficult or if he thought they were lying. Officially, I was inclined to be merciful so long as my subjects stayed in line. So he handled the investigation.
I have my people looking out for any similar phenomena around the world, either with people returning from the dead or new people appearing fully-grown. Either one could turn into a hell of a problem considering some of the folks I’ve fought and killed. A sample size of one doesn’t give me an idea if I’m being targeted or just lucky.
I don’t like having nothing to do. I think that’s why it took me so long to really delegate things. Being a badass makes it hard to sit a threat out, but this is something better left to others. I’ve done incredible things based on the work of others, but I’m really no scientist. I don’t have Toyotomi’s rapport with the locals and I just scared the crap out of some of the people he thinks would know if this Eld guy was some lost sibling or undead prince. What I could do is exhaust myself by spying on the world. I have lots of people who can do that instead.
Good people. I got a report back from my Intel Chief that showed that in a report he sent to me. It’s a dark report, one we can destroy after I’ve dealt with it. A few of my guys in the States are sympathetic to folks in the camps and got the idea to form a cell to intervene. They wanted to help. Pagan dressed up the language a bit so it didn’t come across too altruistically, but they’ve already taken a few steps.
The ones that have appropriate contacts are using them for cover, but it amounts to them having people removed from camps or convoys heading to the camps. They don’t have any real documentation other than what they can forge, and it could compromise our infiltration of the government. On top of that, my Foreign Service is talking with some Acting Secretary of State or maybe whatever intern is left working for that department to try and get us a consulate or an embassy. This could screw that up.
I sent in my orders and looked into anything else I could do in the meantime. Then I was like “What the hell, let’s continue my tour of the Mu colonies,” and gathered up my personal guard for a flight to New Paradise.
From above, it looked like a fun little mess. The Hares had laid out an outer wall that enclosed part of a forest, a bit of farm land, and a grid pattern of streets with the beginnings of a city. They had streets going out further than they had buildings, which were in all sorts of different styles. I saw a log cabin across the street from an adobe house. A villa with Greek columns was neighbors to a cottage that stood on two tall legs resembling chickens. They had styles from all over the world thrown together like it was nobody’s business. In the middle of it all was a building that looked more utilitarian and even brutalist. It was a thick, concrete thing, like a Soviet version of a medieval keep, except for where it flowed into a smaller, lighter section that could have been a normal government building in Europe or North America.
I heard the chatter as ground control contacted our pilot. I didn’t even think they had an airfield, but we flew around and came down at a small area that had been cleared northwest of the keep area. It was a mostly empty section of city except for a couple of sheds and a small hangar.
Since I didn’t coordinate this visit with the Hares, they didn’t roll out the marching band or the welcome wagon. Instead, an apologetic alien with purple skin called ahead about us and stayed to show us what little amenities there were in the hangar and air traffic shack. She seemed nervous to have us there, but then I was a well-known villain in powerful power armor flanked by a squad of trained, genetically- and cybernetically-modified soldiers in power armor of their own. And all she had for us was a TV, a DVD player, and a single pot of coffee.
“We don’t keep enough on hand for large crowds,” she said while my guys swarmed the coffee machine.
I waved it off. “Understandable. Please relax, this is merely a visit to check up on the place under my banner. No big trouble, no fights, none of that. No need to worry, miss…?”
She held a hand to her own chest. “My name is Iza.”
“What?!” I said, taking a step forward. She meeped and shrunk back, shoulders hunching to make herself look smaller. “How dare you say that about my mother?!”
My guards all looked up as soon as they heard me first raise my voice, but quickly continued raiding the coffee when I chuckled. “Relax, it’s just a stupid joke. You’re fine. Just chill. And breath, I think you’re turning a deeper shade of purple.”
Iza let out a deep breath. After a couple of seconds, she laughed too, but I don’t think she enjoyed the joke so much. Left her alone and waited outside after that to give her a break, prompting a couple of my guys to rush after, little styrofoam cups in hand.
Apollo arrived twenty minutes after we landed, driving a yellow and white Cadillac convertible that Elvis would have called gaudy. That’s the Hare’s Apollo, too. The other Apollo I know is a guy who looks like a sculpture due to some powers of controlling stone and other materials. This guy took the name of the Greek deity, and did his best to emulate the guy with a bow and arrow, teleportation, and doing things to people’s bodies. “Hello, Empress Gecko. What brings you to New Paradise?”
“Just checking on the colonies. Seeing how they’re doing, if there are any strange problems going on. This continent’s kind of odd from what I’ve noticed.”
He nodded. “I know what you mean. We didn’t mean to worry you, but we have been fighting an unusual threat. When we arrived in this area, we found ruins and bodies belonging to a snake cult. We buried them, leader and all. Now, for the past few nights, the town has been besieged by the snake cult, lead by their fanged leader.”
“So, it’s Return of the Living Dead up in this beast?” I asked. Sounds like another example of what went on back at the Bronze City.
Apollo shook his head. “We checked. Their bodies are still buried.”
“Huh. So it’s either time travel or invaders from another dimension,” I said. “I want to see this.”
That evening, my guys and I got to see it. We were waiting up on the wall along with a few of their aliens with high-tech beat-up guns, a few guys with rifles, and a small detachment of folks with mail, crossbows, swords, and spears. Between the bunch of them, they were prepared for very small numbers of everything from Greek Hoplites to white-tailed deer.
We were waiting since around sunset, but nothing really happened until dark finally set. When it got too dark to see normally, Apollo fired an arrow into the air that lit up the night like a beacon and showed the ground outside the wall crawling with snakes. Among them moved people with curved swords wearing armor resembling snake’s scales. Off in the distance was a snakeman with a lower half like a snake and a staff in his hand.
“Seems easy enough to deal with,” I said. I pointed at that guy. “Men, target and kill.”
My guards raised their microguns and opened fire. The targeting assist program in their armors’ HUDs helped them find their mark, the shots bounced off a writhing barrier that only became visible when hit. The snakeman seemed to say something, then laughed. I noticed that a few of the shots went wide and the same barrier appeared to block them from striking the cultists that otherwise would have ended up quite holy through the power of 5.56.
“Huh,” I said.
Apollo shook his head, “Yeah. I tried just killing him. It goes all the way around, too. I tried to teleport behind him and get him in the head, but it stopped the shot. I can’t get inside the barrier, either.”
“Hmm… I have an idea…” I called up Telechamber Command. “Hey guys. This is the Empress. I have a special request I need taken care of. I’m sending you a set of coordinates now. I need you guys to target the coordinates and teleport it to this other set of coordinates. Yes, I know that’s a heck of a distance, but it shouldn’t really matter.”
A minute after our conversation, the snakeman was engulfed in a bright white aura, then he and his protective orb disappeared. My guards began to fire on the approaching snakes and cultists, who were getting a little closer for comfort now. The Hares went at it too, and Apollo fired off a few shots in between walking over toward me to ask, “What happened to their leader?”
“I stuck him where the sun doesn’t shine,” I responded, then pointed up into the night sky, and the moon that hung in it. “That’s one small slither for snakeman, one giant leap for snakemankind.”
Apollo laughed. “That’s one enemy you sent to the sun, another to the moon.”
“The dark side of the moon,” I said. “He’s the moon Nazis’ problem now.”
“Is that a reference to something?” Apollo asked.
“If you don’t already know, then I’m now allowed to tell you,” I said to him, waving off his questions. There aren’t moon Nazis, but I still owe the Hares a lot of fucking with, even if they are technically a colony of mine now. “You got these snakes handled?” I asked.
Apollo raised his bow and pantomimed pulling back an arrow. A yellow glow filled the entire interior of the bow between the string and the body. When he let it go, the yellow bolt flew off and burst into the ground, exploding and sweeping out in a corona that burned everything caught in its radius. He grinned and looked to me. “They die easily enough without the Snake King to save them.”
“Ooh, I call dibs on the title,” I said, the Great and Devious Empress Psychomp Gecko, Snake King and King of the Bronze City.
I know, I had to do it. I passed out, of course, but don’t believe the hype. I wasn’t out long enough long, just long enough to wake up in the arms of a man with the body of a Greek god. I don’t know when Apollo circled back around, I just know he was carrying me.
I got the sense Titan had been shielding us with his wings. He stopped to look back, but Apollo yelled something back. I don’t know if I hit my head again, but I know I passed out. When I woke up, I was propped against the door of a really hot building. The smoke was making me cough, but a Venus ran out with a baby in her arms. I fell down, hacking and vomiting.
Next thing I knew, I woke up strapped with my belly to the front of a cart that rolled down a street. I couldn’t see where I was going, but there were gunshots and impacts against the back and ass of my armor. I tried to turn, but then I hit some sort of barricade and the cart flipped.
Not good times for me, and the didn’t get better until I awoke coughing to a Riccan medic applying nanites via aerosol spray up my nose. “Easy, Empress. You’ve suffered a lot of brain trauma.”
I nodded and sat back, working on breathing. Not the best way to apply nanites, but it does get to the lungs a lot quicker, and I remembered something about smoke at the time. After a moment, I had time to ask, “Anything permanent?”
“Not now that we’ve applied the nanos. You were out of your own, Empress,” he pointed out. He pulled out a flashlight. “I need to check pupillary response.”
I let him go through checking me real quick, but once he seemed sure I was ok, I shooed him off. I looked around as I made sure to signal the nanites to emphasize my brain and essential organs over my lost arms and any skin-deep injuries. The carrier bay of the Psycho Flyer was loaded down with the injured, my soldiers doing their best to see to them. They hadn’t been sent out for a rescue mission.
I didn’t see the heroes, Hares, or Titan in there. They’d stayed behind to help with the evacuation. Even the Hares. The news showed Apollo trying to whisk people out of ground zero as Mot stalked the city, then left for greener pastures. And they get a lot greener around there.
And once I got back in control, I was able to contact Titan’s people to coordinate getting the wounded to Cape Diem bases for medical treatment and evac via portal to better places, including some who went with me to Ricca. I had other things to prepare. I couldn’t run myself ragged trying to get more than a billion Indians out of the way of a being that devours people, or the next billion next door in China.
It had been an emotional whiplash. Rage at Barkiel trying to kill my daughter. Tension. And then all kinds of shit from the actual fight with Barkiel that hadn’t even been processed. Sympathy. Humiliation. Indignation, which isn’t quite the same as anger. I can tell, because there’s still plenty of rage from knowing he played me like a harp from hell. And I know it’s boring to mention I spent time processing this kinda shit, but not doing so got me into this mess. For all I know, I had plenty of other enemies who would send a bomb to kill my daughter. My first assumption was to think it was the Hares, and that’s exactly what Barkiel wanted me to think to make his plan work. I can’t be going up against Mot with that kind of handicap.
So I And, let’s face it, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. If Barkiel was telling the truth, it sounds like pretty much everything I’ve done since that whole time travel mess has played into this. And I didn’t even go anywhere good, like to go back in time and become Genghis Khan’s father, or kill slavers during the American Civil War, or punch Hitler in his face while wearing Puerto Rico’s flag on my chest. But no, I had to go, leave behind a broken time machine, and not save myself as a kid.
Barkiel really hammers home how important it is not to get too wrapped up in all that. For all his manipulations, he let loose a super with who-knows-what powers that promptly devoured him. It was that, or face the god of war. The same asshole wannabe deity stayed behind to fight something he had to know he couldn’t beat, and then Apollo carried me out. Going to subtract points for using me as a door stop and a battering ram, though.
All that stuff and more went through my mind as I laid in a nanite bath in full armor, healing and repairing. I sent a great many of the nanites out to build more and steal materials. That involved a raid of the refrigerator, for instance, where I made absolutely sure they didn’t touch anything with Max’s name written on it. The guy’s full of so many substances that eating after him or stealing his food could mean all sorts of nastiness. Only guy on earth who could start a zombie plague with an STD.
If it seems that I was basically sulking in a tub, yeah, a little. But I was rebuilding myself. And, more importantly, I was building a little something to deal with Mot. It would take a lot to kill him, and the future-that-won’t-be used armies and supers had plenty at their disposal. But they didn’t have my brain. Which sounds a lot more braggy than intended. I don’t know exactly what’s going on with my other Earth of origin and the portal to it in Canada, but I have to imagine there was some reason they didn’t step in to help in the other timeline.
Why bring up that delightful place? Because of the technology required to breach the dimensional barriers of the universe and cross into a new dimension. That’s right, that simple little weapon is the answer. Because when ever problem’s a nail, then stop, because it’s hammer time.
Qiang sought me out in my little tub. “Mommy? Are you ok? They said you were hurt.”
I had to connect to a music speaker around the house. “I’m ok, sweetheart. I got hurt, but unless I’m destroyed completely, I can come back better than ever.”
She hugged the side of my tank. “You broke the kitchen.”
I laughed through the speaker. “I was mad and did something stupid.”
“Why’d you do that?” she asked. The pouty and accusing way she asked that made me laugh again.
“Honey bear, someone made me so mad I couldn’t think straight and I did dumb things.”
“I don’t want to be so mad that I, that I, that I don’t, um,” she went on.
“Sweety,” I interrupted her, “Everyone gets mad. Even people who go around all snobby saying, ‘I don’t get mad or sad, everything I do is because of my brain being smart’, but it’s their brain that gets mad, too. Because they don’t think they are being that way, they don’t realize it and don’t know how to deal with it. There are good ways to deal with anger.”
“Like when you and Uncle Max drink that stuff?” she asked.
Huh. She got me there. “Yes, but that’s a special drink for adults that can also make people act stupid if you don’t use it right. I’ll teach you more once I’m done beating someone who is very, very bad.”
“Some people say you’re bad,” she said.
“This person’s way worse and bad things are going to happen if he’s allowed to do what he wants.”
“What kind of things?” she asked.
I didn’t tell her, but I’d been keeping track of that. At first, he seemed to be moving at just a walking pace. They could try to move folks out of the path. Try. It’s hard to hundreds of thousands of folks to up and move in so little time, and those are the ones capable of moving under their own power. Then he teleported straight to another city. The noises coming out of Allahabad don’t sound good. One guy on the Indian military lines just kept repeating “They’re killing each other. They’re killing each other. They’re killing each other,” over and over until I found a way to disrupt his signal. It went out on its own soon afterward.
Morale’s important right now, and this is the time to manage it. That’s part of why I’m taking my time. The other part has to do with a pair of D-Bombs. They’ll be a bit on the crude side rushing this through. Less precise, and I won’t have enough to teleport them in using another bomb as a sort of wormhole. That means hand delivery, and this HAS to go right. I don’t know if I can trust Dudebots. I think this has to be me. Or maybe I still think I have to personally do all this.
There’s basically a hurricane moving across India. There are random earthquakes. Gotta give the Hares credit for however they sealed this guy up if it was able to stop this sort of thing. California’s even on fire again, but that might just be how that state works now for eleven months out of the year. Ricca’s shield has had to go up because of all the tsunamis.
Oh great, superspeed. He’s got superspeed too. I had a top, down satellite view and he just zipped right the fuck out of Allahabad and crashed into Lahore, Pakistan, population 5 million while heroes are still playing catch up trying to calm people down and get them out of Allahabad in India. He dragged the hurricane with him. If it was almost anybody else, that’d be awesome. A superspeed hurricane. That’d be a good name for a band.
Suddenly, a bright orb flew through Earth’s atmosphere and began to fly into the hurricane clockwise to the hurricane’s counterclockwise spin. “People of Earth!” a voice said, taking over all frequencies and channels. “I am the Mobian, and I promise you that Earth will not fall while I live. This being is Mot, and he has powers beyond that of any superhuman to walk the face of the planet, but he can be stopped” He spoke with such conviction, I gotta say I got goosebumps.
As usual, someone had to fuck it up. “General Mayhew here. We are monitoring the situation and the world wonders: how? What is Mot after?”
Mobian sighed. “Your life. I know that Mot will only rest when the world is ashes. I’ve seen it in a future that cannot come to pass. You can’t debate him, you can’t buy him off with money or a fiefdom. It is at the core of his being that every human is inferior and must be purged.”
“Mobian, if this is meant to inspire hope, you’re doing it wrong,” chimed in Titan’s voice.
“I’m Psychopomp Gecko,” I said. “This is my home, and I’ve never met anyone too powerful to die.” There in my palace, I rose out of the solution of the nanite tank. Taller than I had been, and ripped. I looked so good, I could have done an infomercial, or even porn.
“You have a plan?” asked this General. I pulled my armor out from the solution and slid it on, nanites melding it to my skin.
“I need Mot held in one place and I need to get close to him. Then I’ll need everyone to run,” I told them just before I slipped on my helmet and the nanites built up a final seal meant to be permanent.
I gave Qiang a long hug before I grabbed the D-Bomb cluster by a pair of straps I’d built onto it.
To that same channel Mobian had opened up, I said, “I looked and saw a pale horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and Hell was coming after him.”
This field trip with the Tuatha de Danann seemed like a great way to learn, but they were probably regretting the decision to bring me along when Conner showed up at my door in armor. My grand costume for battle involved a saree.
“Is that what you’re wearing?”
I shrugged. “I suppose. I think they give me leftovers and lost and found, because I have no idea where my clothes come from.”
“You fight like that?” He asked, looking me over.
“Why not? I fuck wearing less.” And out the door I went, to be led to the cafeteria where the Tuatha de Danann were readying their equipment and drinking a few last beers. Cleaning swords and armor. Polishing spears. Posing with shields and spears, taking photos with cell phones.
The photographer gave a thumbs up. “Awesome. That’s going to be my new wallpaper.”
“My man, you’re not even in it,” said one of the guys in the picture. He winked at the one with the phone. “Get one of me on my own, flexin’ my guns.”
Some of the Tuatha walked around in armor, breaking it in, and moved with a clear grace that showed lots of practice. They walked with the kind of smooth practice of those who had done a lot of sweaty stuff in armor. Except Conner. Poor fellow was a jingly mess.
A fellow with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail stepped forward. “The lady who broke Lugh’s jaw. You need armor or axe?”
“I’ll wing it,” I told him.
“This is your crew?” asked a voice behind us. I turned to see Apollo, whose eyes drifted down. “Tripura, what a surprise.”
“Good Apollo, I’m burning to do something with myself besides walk around bored without knowing or learning or doing anything.”
“We’re busy, but I’ll send someone around tomorrow. I’m sorry. There is so much to do and our leadership focuses on bigger issues, like the mission for these fine people,” He pointed to the Tuatha.
“And this fine lady,” said Finn. “We’re short one. Lugh broke his face on her fist. Iff she could do that to Lugh in a wee brawl, she could handle taking his place.”
“She’s tougher than she looks,” Apollo said, looking into my eyes. “Here, there’s one last part of us reclaiming you I hadn’t gotten to yet.” He raised his hand and I felt my skin crawl. That’s all there was to it, too, and a look down revealed it had changed color. I had dark brown skin.
“Am I black now?” I asked, wondering if we were going to the United States. This could be a threat against my life.
“You look Indian,” said Conner. Ah, right. I’m supposed to be some sort of Indian goddess. Plus, Apollo wouldn’t want me being recognized as Gecko if we’re going to encounter any of my own guys. It’s not proof that he suspects me, though.
“Oh, ok. Then I guess I’m ready to go beat some people up. Now who are they and where are they?”
“We don’t know who they are,” Apollo said. “Until recently, the forces of Ricca were aimed against us. We have dealt with that issue.” He scratched at his nose. “We believe there were more working with Psychopomp Gecko. We are too busy moving everyone and covering the havens. Thank you for meeting the call. We need help in North America.”
For fuck’s sake, and after he gave me brown skin.
“What kind of help do you need from the Tuatha de Danann?” asked Finn. “We’re not a moving crew.”
Apollo looked him in the eyes specifically. “No, you’re the old gods of Ireland, strong protectors. Our brothers in North America need your aid. Communes have disappeared from the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Shephard them to safety.”
So we got put on escort duty. I can only assume from my inherent dislike of the assignment that I hated it with such a passion before my memory loss that the loathing remained after everything else was taken from me.
Which kinda faded when we all walked through a magic doorway opened by Baron Samedi and I found myself looking at the smiling face of a dark-skinned beauty with feathers tied in her hair. We were at a dusty old gas station. The GPS put me in Arizona. And wow, some shit was going down in Ricca. So much was happening everywhere, in fact. It was a mess. Even just expanding my consciousness that far created so much angry buzzing in my head. It had been so much more peaceful back underground.
That caused a bit of puzzlement, even as I looked out at a set of buses. Three of ’em, and nice ones. Tour buses. I think the one in the rear had a pool. Son of a bitch, they stuck me in and a bunch of other people in a hole to get drunk, but these guys are riding around in style.
“This is a step up from the hole we were just in, isn’t it?” I asked, elbowing Conner in his chainmail-clad gut.
“Volunteering has its benefits,” he told me, then nodded to tanned beauty in front of us who was speaking with Finn.
I turned to him, “Please tell me you know how to pronounce some of those Aztec and Incan names. I’ve seen those things.”
Finn turned to us. “Men, and woman, this is Rachel, the second in command of this convoy. She wants to distribute us among the buses so none of them could be isolated, and so some wouldn’t be left unprotected.”
Easy for him to say. If I even have eggs. I’m not saying I do. In fact, I almost certainly don’t, no matter what that god said.
Finn continued, “Everyone, stow your arms quickly. Do your best to blend and look like regular people. Remember, this land is under civil war. There may be threats all around us as we speak.”
He’s right, we were in the middle of the Arizona desert. Days past, wannabe-soldiers with Punisher skulls would come out to shoot at women fleeing domestic violence. Just like the Punisher does in those comic books. With all the local violence and economic woes due to trade wars, it’s possible some of them have been stuck at home, having to abuse their own wives and then threaten them with guns instead. Just one of the many ways the United States has changed lately.
Luckily, I was perfectly situated to be discrete. As a brown-skinned woman in clothing associated with the Middle East, I was guaranteed to fly under the radar in the American southwest. Especially with the extra pair of arms. Dresses that hid my arms were easy enough to come by, at least. Add on a jacket, and I’m uncomfortable, but not flapping my arms everywhere. I’m starting to wonder why I even bothered with these things.
They stuck me on the third bus, looking after a bunch of people who didn’t seem all that threatening. I still couldn’t figure out how me from before the Unity missed all thee people, all these hiding spots. All the resources. These are just regular people. I had a pretty low opinion of regular people, but the point I used to emphasize about the difficulty of keeping them quiet still stands. It seemed futile to theorize on it without my memories and expertise.
I had a nice collection of things to read and watch, but I noticed this older, dark-skinned guy sitting across the aisle from me. He spent a lot of time staring into a mirror. It was a smaller one on a stand, set on a table in front of his seat because these are some nice fucking buses. From some of the knocking I’ve heard, calling it a fucking bus is entirely appropriate. Conner noticed it too and, red-faced, move more toward the front. No clue why they brought him along, unless they thought it’d be a good assignment to start him on. The other one with us sat looking at photos of the group picture, and then on the one who posed just for him.
So that left just myself to notice the guy with the mirror. Then he pulled out a handful of dice and tossed them around. One kept going over the edge of his table, bounced off the seat on the other side, and rolled over toward me. I reached over to pick it up. He held up his hands to catch it, so I tossed it over. “Pardon me, young lady. I should have known better than to try this in a moving vehicle,” he said.
I nodded toward the mirror. “What are you doing, anyway?”
“Scrying and divination,” came the answer.
I’ve read that my HUD is supposed to give me a warning over magical phenomena, but I don’t believe anything showed. So I asked, “Any luck?”
He frowned at that. “No, and that’s the problem.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Maybe not. Isn’t that stuff a lot of bullshit anyway?”
He clamped his mouth in a soft smile. “This isn’t the divination used by charlatans who rip off the gullible humans.” He spoke like he wanted to spit on someone. “The visitors believe my powers operate on the quantum level, perhaps relating to string theory. Do you understand quantum mechanics?”
I shook my head.
“Me neither,” he said, then coughed. “I can feel certain particles that shouldn’t be felt. It’s like… what did she tell me? She said that on the plane of time, everything is fixed from the perspective of a normal traveler. The future must happen, and that means that something already exists where I am in a place, and others are in that place with me. There already exists a point in time when I am dead. My powers learn this and warn me.”
I leaned forward. “That’s confusing. And if you can’t alter it, what good is a warning?”
“That’s why I don’t believe the visitor doctor who tried to explain it. My warnings have changed things. I think because I know the future, I can alter what is in my influence to change. If I’m going hiking and I feel like a tree is going to fall on me, I can decide not to go. The tree will still fall. The visitors tried to pass on some babble about quantum temporal distortions, but it’s a ruse. They’re brilliant, but I know they aren’t as brilliant as they want us to believe. But we have our secrets from them as well.”
“That’s nifty stuff to know… so no luck… that mean bad luck, or does that mean something’s interfering with you sensing anything?”
“Bad luck. I’ve had a bad feeling growing for almost two weeks.”
It was six hours later that I awoke from a hazy, passed-out sleep because of a screaming explosion. The bus screeched, but so did metal in a different tone as something ahead of us collided. Then our bus turned so suddenly, it felt like it would tip on its right side. I threw myself at the opposite wall on instinct. It probably didn’t help, but I’m calling that one a win because we didn’t overturn. Unfortunately, we did stop.
My ally, the smiling man in denim, appeared to me. “So good to see you unharmed.” I heard whirring noises from outside, but the denim dude seemed unconcerned. “Don’t worry. You are going to be fine. Just let this play out.”
From further back, the Tuatha de Danann warrior with the gay crush ran for the front of the bus in gleaming plate, a spear in hand. He roared his battle cry until it ended amid more whirring and a wet “Hork!” sound.
Conner came running back and found me. “Tripura, it’s time to fight.”
I shook my head. “They’ve already won. It’s time to get these folks out through the back and get out of here before they can surround us.” I pointed to the rear of the bus.
“But if we don’t fight…” he said.
I stood up and slapped him across the face. “Wake up, dammit! This is a trap. The others are already dead. You can’t win here, so focus on surviving.”
That got through to him. “Everyone, to the emergency escape!” He began herding everyone on there. Women, children, and men who had some weird connection to a group and were being slaughtered for it. Sure, a group that opposed me. I mean, I know it opposed me, but I couldn’t feel that then. I just knew someone wanted to shoot that mother with her kid, or kill that young couple in love, or murder that awkward fat Irish guy who jingled in his chainmail. What the fuck, man?
“Does anyone have wine or rum? Any alcohol?” asked Conner as he ran along. He picked up half a bottle of something off a table and started shoving folks aside to get to the rear ahead of them. “Let me through. Don’t open that exit!”
He’d be trying to call up Baron Samedi to make it a doorway to another site. It flickered across my mind how much they use him for stuff, plus whatever he does on his own time. It was the middle of the night, too, and the guy might just be sleeping. No wonder they tried to have other ways of moving people.
I stopped, looking at them all, and got a really dumb idea. And I knew it. My entire way back to the front of the bus, I kept thinking about how supremely stupid it was. Grabbing the empty bottle of tequila off the bus’s bar didn’t make me feel any smarter. But then, when does an empty bottle of tequila ever mean anyone made a good decision?
The door ripped open before I got there and a hulking black robot pushed its way inside, climbing the stairs and looking at me. It pointed an arm with some sort of energy cannon on it at me, then raised it over my head to aim at the people in the back. My swing shattered the bottle and knocked its aim high enough that the blue burst of light melted the ceiling of the bus along the mid-section. It looked down at me, then froze like that as the denim guy appeared again.
“What are you doing?! They’re with me. Let it happen and let’s get you out of here,” he said.
“No,” I said.
His face shifted to pink as shook his head and did a doubletake. “What?”
“These aren’t like Apollo or that wolf or any of the others who fought me. They probably don’t know anything about any of the virus or the collars. Shoot Apollo or whoever’s in charge instead.”
“I can’t, and I can’t believe you, of all people… the Unity must have done a lot more to you than I thought. They did this to your baby girl.” Behind the one robot, another pushed in as far as it could and adjusted its aim over the top of the seats on the my right, but held its fire.
That one had a bit of an impact on me. I’ve seen pictures video, but it was like watching someone else’s home movies. As far as I was concerned after the Unity hit me, I had never met Qiang. I had no reason to think any more of her than the kids behind me now. I know I loved her. The real me, that I wanted back with all my memories. I felt like shit that I didn’t care about her, but that’s what the Unity did. “The leaders who are nowhere on this bus did that. They’re the ones you and I need to kill.”
He just looked at me, but the robot raised its arm. I grabbed the lip of its cannon and jerked it upward again.
The good news is the wound was cauterized instantly, and I have more fingers to spare than I used to. The bad news is I have fewer than when I went on that trip. I stumbled back from the pain, screaming myself out of breath, then heard someone call my name from the back.
I turned and saw Conner ushering in the last of the refugees through the door and calling for me. “Tripura!”
“Get the fuck out of here, tosser!” I yelled.
His face instantly fell, and that was before the blue burst caught him right on the belly. He fell through the door and into the darkness beyond. A boney, black-skinned hand reached in and grabbed the emergency exit and slammed it shut.
I looked up to see the Denim dude tsking and the robots backing out the doorway. “You need to get right in the head. You’re free. Follow the road you were headed along and you’ll find a small town, but try not to let the cops see you. And Gecko? Get some fucking nanites in you. You’ll come around once you get your memories back.”
Mischief! Treason! Exclamation points!
These things greeted me as I awoke one night during our siege. We’d spent the day blasting music at the chateau. In particular, a song well known to the people of Empyreal City called “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom”. The commander approached me at one point to express his confidence in his men to take the chateau given the power of the inhabitants they faced so far. I figured we’d just wait it out to be cruel, but he’d recommended caution with the new soldiers and the unusual opponents. I might need to put in for someone more bold, but that he showed plenty of boldness when he stated that one reason to attack was that, “The men are tiring of the siege. They believe we are engaging in torture at this point.” Then he pointed to where the speakers were stacked up to play music.
I had myself a chortle at that one. Soldiers for a dictator being squeamish about torture? See, this is why it’s important to have a chief interrogator. “Heh. Go ahead then.”
He bowed. “Thank you, Empress. We will attack at night. I will have you informed so that you may ready for the assault as well.”
So when I woke to the sounds of gunfire, I thought maybe we’d been overheard. They had a big wolf, with big eyes the better to see us with and big ears the better to hear us with, up until some red, blood splattered woman took his head off.
I jumped up and caught a burst from a microgun. The person holding the other end was one of my Riccan Dragon soldiers. He wore bulky power armor and held a rotating, fully automatic 5.56mm miniature minigun plugged into the suit’s power supply. A mini minigun, hence the name microgun.
The bullets didn’t do jack shit, but that’s really beside the point when it comes to me being shot at. So long as I’m in my armor, the most important part of being shot at is who’s doing the shooting. In this case, my own guy. I was just about to kick him in the figgin when another soldier turned and shot him. And then another soldier shot that one. And on and on. They just kept shooting away at themselves. I got up and looked around and the whole camp was firing away, like the world’s most hardcore game of paintball.
“Empress almighty,” said a voice over the comms that I recognized as my commander. I’ll admit, I was flattered. I couldn’t see him in all the commotion. The muzzle flashes and scattered fires made it hard to keep track of everything.
I cracked my knuckles and looked around, knowing I’d have to quiet this shit down to get anything done.
It wasn’t five minutes after I finished laying them out next to each other that the welcome committee showed. A flash of light lit up the sky and revealed a circle of all sorts of weird looking folks surrounding me. There was the guy with the bow, now sporting a tanned line. An Asian fellow twirled a guan dao and ran a hand down a magnificent straight black beard. The iron-pierced man was there too. I could spend way too long talking about the menagerie in front of me, though the old bearded man with long hair and a tie dye shirt stood out for sheer hippieness alone. Socks and sandals? Clearly a man of great cruelty.
It wasn’t just them, though. All around me, blue-clad men stepped out of the woods, like a special operations team. From the numbers they brought, they clearly saw me as extra special.
“See, dudes, I told you, uhhh, yeah,” said the sandal-socked hippie, turning to the folks and waving his hand around at all the people. “Yeah, man, told you I still got it.” He looked to me and flashed the peace sign. “Make war, not peace.”
“Dammit, Ares,” said the bowman. He stepped up and shoved hippie back. Then he turned and pointed at me with the bow. “You are our prisoner, Psychopomp. I have a bottle with your name on it,” He pulled out a glass snifter.
“Offering me a drink?” I asked. “Hemlock or something with the ancient Greek name?” I pointed to the hippie.
Ares stepped forward again, “My man, hey, I had this amazing acid trip back in the Summer of Love. Mind,” He pantomimed his head blowing open. “Blown. Changed my entire outlook on life. I hear you could seriously use some, man. You gotta mellow out.”
“Shut the fuck up, Ares,” said the archer, who glared at Ares, then turned and walked to me. He held the snifter out for me.
I looked down at it. “Brandy? Gin? Bourbon, maybe?”
“Touch it,” he insisted.
I projected a raised eyebrow on the outside of my helmet. The archer was not amused and held his bow hand toward me. I doubled over as something felt all freaky and twisted around in my lower abdomen. I had to pee really bad all of a sudden. Plus the weird ache and tightening there and in my lower back. While I was incapacitated, I saw him approach, press the snifter to my head, and-
I saw a bright light at the end of a long tunnel. But there’s no way I could be dead. Even if I granted the light at the end of the tunnel, we all know there’d be crackling flames and the eternal screams of the damned instead. Of course, when I looked down, I could see I was in a weird room with sharp angles and weird lights off in the distance. My view from the drones outside showed the guy with the bottle still standing there. Only I was gone. My armor was left there for some reason. Of course I wouldn’t get my nanites in here to figure out what that one guy did to me. Last time it was cancer. This time, it’s a smaller bladder or something.
They left the bodies of my men laying there, but a woman in a skintight black outfit stepped out of the darkness. Dame. Fucking Dame. She got quite the friendly welcome for someone supposedly on my side.
She said something to my captor. He said something to her and slung his bow into a holster on his back before raising the free hand to work his weird cancer powers. She doubled over, then screamed like a little bitch. Her body bulged and slimmed in places. Blackness shot through her hair. Whatever he was doing, I was glad it hurt her. I was significantly less happy when she stood up as a copy of myself. Down to the arms, which flailed around as Dame tried to figure out how to work them.
By now, one of the spec ops guys had popped a flair and called down several choppers. Some were helping the gathered Hares up into them. I got photos and video of as many faces as possible, but none popped up in an initial quick scan of my database. I got distracted watching Dame wiggle my beautiful body into my armor. Ya know, taking turns looking down, comparing. The areola were too wide, and I’m more of an inny between the legs. Where I was bleeding. Internal bleeding.
Dame, in disguise as me, left with them all. Likely going to hitch a ride to Ricca, just not on that chopper. Not enough fuel capacity. It gave me time to send out a warning to certain parties, including Venus and Titan. Didn’t have time to edit all the video evidence down, so I hope Venus enjoys the view of my boobs.
I jumped up and down a bit while looking at them, and sent it as a supplemental video to her. The hell with it, I sent it to Psychsaur as well.
The only one left was the guy who held onto my bottle. He turned and walked back to the chateau, and the propped up doors. He burnt and image into it and knocked. I don’t know what he said, but the door glowed and then swung open good as new, pushed by a man in a black coat and top hat, wearing shades. The man’s face seemed to glow white from underneath the skin in contrast to the orange glow of the cigar in his mouth. This one I knew even without the facial recognition database. Baron Samedi had, among other things, been the gatekeeper for the Back Alley Voodoo Bar in Memphis for decades. I always figured he did other things than let people into the villain bar.
Before I was carried over the threshold into wherever my captor was taking me, I sent another order and video message. This one went to my men, all laid out.
My soldiers get first priority on nanites over prisoners. They help them recover from injury in the middle of a fight, and can restore stamina after a hard day of exercise. They can even be used to cut off blood flow to the brain exactly enough to put someone to sleep without harming them, and then maintain that sleep. And from the calm manner in which they awoke, the bellicosity Ares imparted upon them had ended. That means they didn’t want to fight anymore. Not each other. They really wanted to shoot the Hares, and I included the last vectors of the non-Dame choppers. I gave them orders: open season on the rest of the Hares, but leave my cuntdouble alone.
It’s a good thing I did that. I lost consciousness after my captor passed through the door.
I awoke in a dark room, sitting at a bare wooden table. It was cold, despite the robe now covering my body.
A man sat across from me. A bald black man with weathered skin and a soul patch. No iron or chainmail here, just a business suit. “Good morning, Tripura.”
“Is that supposed to be a name, or are you just trippin’?”
“Your confusion will pass,” he said. “I have been asked to debrief you.”
I looked down and motioned toward my crotch. “Clearly already done. I need to have a word with someone about my crotch, by the way. What’d he do this time? More cancer?”
He smiled. “Please allow me to conduct my psychiatric evaluation. Give me the first answer that comes to your mind, please. If your house was on fire and you only had time to take one thing out, what would it be?”
I shrugged. “The target.”
He furrowed his brow. “Second question. While walking along in desert sand, you suddenly look down and see a tortoise crawling toward you. You reach down and flip it over onto its back. The tortoise lies there, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying to turn itself over, but it cannot do so without your help. You are not helping. Why?”
He disappeared as soon as I threw the table at him. They had left my legs and all of my arms unbound. The man appeared again from the darkness behind me. “You must calm down, Tripura. You have been undercover for far longer than we expected.”
“I’m not your Yama, and I wasn’t undercover,” I said, turning toward him.
“You are and you were. You are Tripura Sundari, a member of our order.”
“That’s a Hindu goddess. Kinda. Sorta. It’s a little confusing,” I said.
“We disguised you as Pyschopomp Gecko, the notorious killer who tried to rule the world. He died two years ago when he fought with a giant robot in Empyreal City. You were given much surgery and placed in the wreckage to be found. Your healing scars were excused as injuries. But in order that you may serve as a part of our apparatus, we had to strip your memory from you. It is time to come back to us, Tribura Sundari.”
Well that’s just bullshit, plain and simple. “Yeah, right. Good luck getting me to believe that.”
The man smiled and raised a hand full of yellow powder that he blew into my face. I coughed and swiped my hands. Blinded and hacking, I needed a moment to get my bearings. Someone pressed a glass of water to my lips and I drank. Then I was helped up and the water was poured over my face. I shook my head off and looked to the man standing there. “The fuck was that?”
“Tripura Sundari,” said the man in front of me, whoever he was.
“No, that’s that thing you were saying was my name,” I said. I tried to think back. He’d just said something about two years ago… and I KNEW he was lying, but I was thinking back and I couldn’t remember why I was sure. The more I thought about it, the more he seemed right. I was found in the wreckage, a little hurt.
The man kept talking. “Welcome back to your home, Tripura.”
“I don’t remember you or this place. I showed up here all of a sudden and I hated you from the instant I saw you,” I said.
His grin stretched wide, “These feelings will linger, but the facts do not care. Let me show you to your home, Tripura.”
I still felt defensive, so I did not take his offered arm. Perhaps he’s right, this guy… “What was your name again?”
“I am Mbeku,” he answered as he led me into the darkness around the light. My sight changed to allow me sight in the dark, and I saw the hallway we were headed to, marked with three rabits chasing each other in a circle over it.
I felt so tense, with lingering paranoia when I saw others dressed in all sorts of costumes around. One man kept staring at me while adjusting something. The word wouldn’t come to mind, but the name appeared in my vision. A bow. It’s a weapon of some sort.
“Greetings,” he said, catching me looking. “Do you remember me?”
I shook my head.
He smiled and held out his hand. “I am Phoebus Apollo, the true Apollo.”
I took it, allowing him to kiss my hand. “And I am Tripura Sundari. Pardon my memory.”
Ya know, they almost got away with it, too. Problem is, my brain’s like one of those things they call a computer. I can search stuff, and I even found where I keep this file open, doing running commentary or reports after my adventures. And do I ever have adventures, stretching back further than when I suffered extensive injury two years ago. These files document all of that, and more recent ones. Like Apollo capturing me. Or my discovery of a drug called Unity that affects memories. And a cure.
I can read about them, but they still aren’t my memories again. Not yet. But these folks were kind enough to invite me into their organization, thinking they have me fooled. It’d be a shame to waste the opportunity.
Unless I run across regenerative nanites first. Then I can stop being Tripura and go back to being Gecko. They named me after a Hindu goddess or something, with a name that means stuff about being really beautiful.
Stuck with a name about being really pretty when I’ve beaten up other people named Apollo and killed alien conquerors. I’m gonna have to crush someone’s skull with my kegels for this.