I know what everyone’s wondering. I know it because I keep getting asked over and over again. I’ve been asked it by Sam. “Can’t you just make your own nuke?” And by Holly, “Don’t you have any nukes around here?” Even Silver Shark weighed in, “Aren’t you smart enough to build your own?”
I am indeed capable of throwing one together. There are probably plenty of villains on this island who can help with that. My answer was simple. “It’s not about making a nuke. It’s about taking one.”
The crowd of people who have all taken to camping in my palace didn’t find that satisfactory. “I bet Maxxy could even build you a nuke!” Sam said, gesturing toward Max.
I looked over to Max, who stood in my kitchen, pouring cereal into a pint of yogurt before taking a spoon to it. “Gecko knows what she’s doing. Leave me out of this,” he said, chomping on fruit loops and congealed dairy.
“Thank you, Max, you are a scholar and a gentleman.” I nodded toward him and crossed all my arms. I looked down to see Qiang mimicking my pose and reached down to hold her against me with my two lefties. “As I was saying, I am easily capable of making a nuclear weapon. I’ll even teach my little psycho bunny here if she wants to learn when she’s older.” I turned and kissed the top of Qiang’s head, then pretended to bite her hair. She giggled at that and hugged onto me.
I will, but only when she’s old enough to handle nuclear weapons, so at least fifteen or sixteen. I don’t want to pressure her into it, though. After all, she might prefer for her first WMD to be a chemical or even biological weapon. I can help with the chemical part, but I’ll have to impart on her that a biological weapon is a huge responsibility. I don’t want to help her build one of those for her to just forget about it and leave me to take it out and clean up after it.
“Making a nuclear bomb also does some weird stuff as far as international treaties. Now, even though people don’t invade countries who develop the bomb precisely because they now have that bomb to use against invading countries, it still creates some international tensions. More importantly, I don’t want to make one because it’s more important for it to be stolen. I have a lot of old files stored away, hogging valuable gigabytes I could use for more important stuff, like porn. Some of those files include the location of places where a certain large nation of imperialist pigs.”
Holly held up her hand. “Question! Do you have to call us pigs like that?”
“Yes,” I answered bluntly. Then I held up a booklet. “It says so in the manual.” I handed it over to her. The cover featured a row of grinning prisoners standing in front of a happy firing squad. “So You’ve Become A Dictator,” read the title above it. She took it and started reading through as I continued.
“There’s a group of these guys around, they’re spying on Ricca, and some of them have almost certainly come ashore without us detecting them. In retaliation, I’m going to steal one of their bombs. Just a bit of harmless tit for tat.” I pulled out another booklet and threw it at Sam just before she started to stifle a laugh at the thought of anything tit-related with me now. She caught some more of my educational reading, “The Dictator’s Guide To Preemptive Strikes”.
“Now, this next part will require all of you to practice the important skill of shutting the fuck up… but I’ll leak that we have it in some hidden site and wait for whoever they’ve got on the island to make a move for it. Then I snap the trap before Admiral Akbar can so much as perform vocal warm-up exercises.”
The joke landed a bit flat, in part because Max was busy with his cereal and Holly had become engrossed in the dictator manual. And that was the only reason nobody liked such an obviously phenomenal reference. “Wow, this is really mysoginist,” Holly said, never taking her eyes off the booklet.
I shrugged. “High turnover from purges, civil war, and regular war. They pretty much all turn women into baby factories.”
“Even the women dictators?” she asked.
“Check out the roster on Page 78,” I said.
She flipped to it. “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”
“That’s why they’re not called vagtators,” I said. “So, we have any questions about the plan?”
I got a rousing chorus of mildly disinterested “No”s and one question from Qiang on if I was going to fix hamburgers. I told her yes and set her down, then realized she was wearing the same dress as me. “Who got you this? You’re almost as pretty in that dress as your dad.”
“I didn’t used to hear these kinds of sentences until I met you people,” said Silver Shark, shaking her mechanically augmented head from where it sat on a neck that could adjust to let her shift it to face directly up when in the water.
“Miss Shark got me this!” Qiang answered, pointing at Silver.
“Aww, did you tell her thank you?”
Silver Shark spoke up. “I told her about Valentine’s and helped her get a dress in case she got a Valentine of her own.”
“Huh,” I said, thinking about it. “That’s right, Valentine’s. Completely slipped my mind. I didn’t even notice if they celebrate it here.”
“They celebrate it,” Max spoke up. “The women give chocolates to men in this part of the world.” He looked at me, then down at his pint of yogurt and began to sidle off to the side.
“That’s remarkably astute. What an amazing thing for you to know, Max. Mind if I ask how you know this and, come to think of it, why my wife didn’t get me anything? Where is she, anyway?”
Sam crossed her arms. “She’s probably sleeping off the sedative Max gave her after she caught him eating all the chocolate you were supposed to get.” She stuck her tongue out at Max. “Happy VD, Maxxy.”
I turned to find a Max-shaped hole in the wall. That would be this one chemical that weakens most forms of wood only in spots with pressure put on it. Useful for making personalized doorways, but not so much preventing someone from following. Still, I was more concerned about checking on Citra. She was indeed still asleep and loopy. I figured I better get her something to make up for missing Valentine’s. With the aid of Qiang, I worked on a pink, heart-shaped cake.
“Oh god, the attention to detail. That’s so gross,” said Sam as she watched me finishing the icing.
“Don’t look so grossed out,” I told her. Qiang passed me a more red shade of icing that we’d whipped up. “Everyone has them.”
“I can’t believe you think that’s a romantic gift,” she countered.
I rolled my eyes. “You’d whine the same way if I pulled out my actual heart and gave it to her. Some people just aren’t happy, and you’re one of them.” I stuck out my tongue at her, then returned to careful decoration of the large muscular blood pump, all while thinking about stage two of the nuclear plan. A gal’s gotta have secrets, even when she’s a dude. Especially when she’s a dude, some might argue.
I had plenty of time to finish before it was time to send Hexadecibel on his way. We had to wait for an appropriate time due to time zones, but I soon strapped on my armor and gave him a set of Riccan augmented reality glasses to wear. We launched from the villain village. One moment he was there, muttering incantations in a circle, the next he was gone and in a bunker somewhere. I lost him there for a few seconds until a smaller portal opened in the circle that let the signal through.
“I got shunted, man. I’m nearby the room.” he said as soon as I could see and hear the situation. Teleporting in like that set off alarms. The glasses overlaid a path for Hexadecibel to follow to the storage area. I saw through is eyes as a squad of guards tried to accost him. Arms grew out of the concrete around them and pulled them against it. He stopped to rifle through one of their pockets before I urged him to forget about mugging them and get the big stuff. It took a bit of maneuvering until he found himself coming out into a two-story room. The floor gently sloped up in a ramp to a door on the second story. Underneath it was the opening of a bunker. “Back!” I yelled just as the opened fire. Good reflexes on those soldiers.
Hexadecibel didn’t go back. He magicked up a concrete wall. A big, beautiful wall, the best wall, nobody builds better walls than Ricca. “Shit,” he said.
“You got this?” I asked.
The view moved from side to side. “I don’t know. Maybe I can. Let me try something.” He jumped up and threw a fireball at them. The rate of fire sounded like it picked up dramatically as he landed, but so did the screaming. After a couple of seconds, the shooting stopped while the screaming continued. Hex dropped the wall cautiously, but no fire picked up. He headed up the ramp and stopped in front of the door’s keypad. “Do you know the code?”
“Give me something big enough to bring my hand through,” I told him.
He put his hands together, made a few hand gestures that created glowing runes in the air, then pulled them apart. A small portal opened, about as big around as a softball. I pulled my gauntlet off and pushed an arm through the portal and against the pad. Soon, my body connected with the wiring and allowed me to interface with it. I had it open for him, then pulled myself free and back to my own location as soon as I could. “You’re good to go.”
When he opened the door, it led to row after row, rack after rack of warheads. He stood there for a moment. When it looked like he wasn’t moving, I ahemed and said, “Hey, there may be soldiers coming up behind you. Get in and shut that door.”
He hurried in. “Sorry, I think I peed a little. There are so many.”
“The country’s had the ability to annihilate all life on Earth for more than half a century. That’s a lot of spares left laying around.”
“I guess I didn’t think about how many that means. How many do you need?”
“I said just one and I meant it. Preferably one of these near the door. They’ll be a bit more fresh.”
“Ok, you should back up.”
I moved further away from his little circle. Meanwhile, the connection showed him pulling out some mixture of a powdery substance and spreading it in a circle around one of the racks that only had a single warhead. There was some chanting, some more runes, even a bit of a red glow then… pop! The air made a little popping noise as Hexadecibel and the nuclear warhead just appeared in his little circle on this side.
“Whew!” he shouted and clapped his hands. “That was intense, man. Hey, I still hear the alarm though.”
I heard it too, then I realized. “That’s not so much an alarm as it is a loud squee.” Too late, I looked up to find myself tackled by an enthusiastic giant bee woman. Queen Beetrice, ruler of the insectoid-humanoid Buzzkills and the nation of North Korea as part of the Riccan Empire.
“I thought you were watching the Olympics,” I told her.
She just hugged me tight. “I heard you were getting me a nuclear bomb!” she said, attempting to squeeze me out of my armor like Popeye opening a can of spinach.
“Let’s talk this over elsewhere,” I said to her. I had to give the military guys the orders on where to hide our bit of ill-gotten goods. They’ll see to it.
I, on the other hand, had to go make another cake, and bees have really weird-looking hearts compared to humans. Meanwhile, at the rocket plant, custom orders began to trickle in every few hours, spread across different shifts, meant to match different sorts of rockets than the we use on Ricca. With the nuke secured, I was ready to prepare stage two.
The diver we detained sang like a bird. After he finished tweeting, Mix N’Max tweaked the formula a bit and got him to talk instead. I know, we didn’t handle things the way the civilized countries do, with waterboarding and torture. All we did was treat him ok to gain his trust then subject him to drugs that loosen his tongue, like savages.
“Who are you?” Max asked after giving the guy a hell of a dose.
“I’m a lance corporal with the United States Marine Corps,” the man answered, groggily.
“Yes, but who are you?” Max asked.
I stood outside the room, watching through a one-way wall. Basically, we had this thin fabric on the wall, something they derived from cuttlefish skin. A camera fed us a view that was put on a wallpaper-thick monitor. As far as the person inside was concerned, there weren’t mirrors for us to watch him through. You know, because we’re trustworthy here. And speaking of trust, Sam and Holly were standing on either side of me. Sam took a moment to tell me, “If anything happens to Max, I will choke a bitch.”
I waved off her concerns, but she added, “And you’re the bitch.”
“Yes, yes, sure, sure. You’re talking as if I haven’t choked more bitches than a big-dicked zoophile.” Come to think of it, I have slept with humans while male, so that’s an accurate description of me. No, wait. Huge-dicked. Megaladong, leviathan of the watery, moist depths.
I turned my attention back to Max and our captured Lance Corporal. “Enough with who he is. I want to know what he wants and why he’s here.” From my lips to Max’s ears courtesy of a thing in his ear.
It’s entirely possible that we have some folks around here who aren’t supposed to be. We’ve seen lots of naval activity in the area because of the island of Mu. They’re looking at the place. A whole new age of colonialism may well begin, but I’ve got first dibs because I married into the royal family of the Bronze City. With my own guys in place scouting around there, I think I’ve found some options for advancing them a little further along the tech tree and conquering the place. Truth is, it’s my ambassador who came up with that idea. Mine tend to involve turning them into super soldiers with enhanced muscles and armor embedded in their skin.
The guy we’d captured was nothing like that. Plain ol’ human. If he had any powers, he hadn’t used them. What he did have was a tongue he could use to tell us what was going on. “We were briefed that villains had gathered on Ricca. We are supposed to monitor the situation.”
“You would think they’d be glad to be rid of them for a time. Why do they care?” Max asked.
The marine shook his head, but also nodded. “Marco heard from his boyfriend who works the radio. He overheard one of the brass saying they think this is the same thing the last guy did.”
I realized he was talking about the Claw and the Unity drug. His people gave it to supers, blocking access to their long term memories so they could convince them they worked for him. So, I guess I hadn’t realized what this might look like to outside groups.
“Why are you here?” Max asked.
“I’m supposed to scout the island for infiltration,” he answered.
“Him and what army?” I asked Max through the earpiece. In my experience, recon marines don’t send in just one person to take a look. They typically operate in squads.
“Was anyone with you?” Max asked.
“My squad. You captured me, but they got the job done. We always do. Oorah!” He sat up straighter.
“I think we got all we needed out of this, Max. Hey, by the way, that stuff you gave him isn’t fatal, is it? Especially knowing you gave some to me.”
Max shook his head as he left the room. He waited until he was out of there to answer. “No, you’ll both be fine. Did you want to kill him yourself now he’s talked?” Max gestured toward the door.
I shook my head. “I have a better idea. I’m going to make an example of him.”
The next day, after he’d sobered up, I marched him right up to the docks. He stood there, hands tied behind his back. “Care for a final smoke?” I asked him as he faced the water.
“No. Let’s just get this over with,” the Lance Corporal responded.
Soon, a boat arrived with a group of pissed-looking marines aboard. Before they got too close, I offered again. “Seriously, man, you know this is good shit.” I held up a joint for the marine.
“I’ll be lucky if they don’t discharge me after this. They’ll probably stick me in Antarctica.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. I bet they’ll reassign you even harder if you’re high. Hey there, fellas!” I waved at the incoming marines. “It’s not the halls of Montezuma nor the shores of Tripoli, but welcome to Ricca.”
They really wanted to use those pretty guns of theirs, but instead made sure not to point them anywhere near me. That’s the sort of thing that causes international incidents.
I pushed the Lance Corporal toward them. “As the leader of this fine nation, I gladly and publicly return your soldier and ask that the United States refrain from trespassing again.”
Drones with cameras hovered into view, recording and broadcasting for posterity and international viewership. It’s not a good day for the States’ military or its State department. Then again, what State department? They still haven’t rebuilt it after all the damage caused by the one Moron President last year.
The marines got their man back, the marine got to go back, I got information, and it looked like everything was one big happy, stupid deal. Thing is, I’ve been the devil in the deal before. I tracked them back to their ship and I put the drone guys on alert to check the entirety of the island. We’ve had visitors.
I mean that in two senses of the words. First, we’ve had these recon guys here. We’ve also had all these villains around. The two are linked, and not just because the latter caused the former to come out here. Having a bunch of unfamiliar people around makes it easy to sneak someone in to get a look.
I know, why bother? Not like we’re doing anything wrong here. But as a serial killer, I’m used to being misunderstood by people. They never want to see the good side of me. The caring philanthropist fighting overpopulation, for instance.
More than that, this is an opportunity. Lots of things are. Mistakes are opportunities to learn, for instance.
I took myself a walk out to the villain village. I saw that one guy again, the rocker dude with the occult tattoos. He had his glowing hands up as he directed these magical rock guys walking around, picking up litter. It looked so much cleaner around. Still had a guy sleeping on the fountain, but he hadn’t wet himself, and there wasn’t technically a pollution law in place to deal with the wet farts the guy kept ripping.
“Interesting powers. Magic, right?” I asked him.
He smirked and waved his hands around, shooting a burst of flame from his wrists. Then he returned to directing the little stone men. “I know what you’re wondering. Where did the lighter fluid come from?”
I chuckled under my helmet as I approached. “I’ve had a certain question on my mind lately, and I was curious how some other folks might answer it. A simple question with a complex answer, which is how you know it’s a real son of a bitch. Unfortunately, you can’t look in the back of the book for the answer this time around. What do you want?”
“I want to get this shit cleaned up because it stinks and I hate stepping on it. People were afraid to wear flip flops. Oh, was that the question?” When I nodded, he paused and looked off into space. After several seconds. “I want money and I want to have fun.”
“But why?” I asked, aware that question is far more annoying to most people.
“So see, I actually wanted to be the lead guitarist in a band. My friend and I called ourselves the Sex Change Psychopaths.” Dammit, they stole my band name. “It was just us two, so we weren’t a real band and we didn’t have instruments. We thought we could attract some real rockers if we made a kick-ass music video and then they’d teach us how to play, my man. My buddy, Robert, he said that wouldn’t work because we’d need to know how to play to make a kick-ass music video in the first place. And I’m all ‘Uh uh, man. We just need to go to a crossroads.’ He’s got this annoying little brother who wants to be part of the band and we didn’t want to let him, but we need him to drive us.”
I pulled a bag of popcorn out of my utility belt. “Sorry to interrupt, but can you warm this up for me?” I held it out to him.
“Sure, no probs.” He took the bag in his hands. They glowed red and the bag expanded amid a chorus of pops.
I took it back when he finished. “Thanks. Now please continue. You needed Robert’s little brother to drive you.” I moved my helmet up just enough to expose my mouth for eating the popcorn.
“Yeah, see I had a problem with this cop in town, Derek the Dickwad, and I got my license revoked. Rob kept failing the test, so that meant we had to go with Ralphy, Rob’s brother. We go out to this crossroads at night and do some stuff we read about online. Nothing happens, so we pack up and go to leave, but Rob’s pissed and makes Ralphy give him the keys. Rob’s leaving when he hits this guy’s goat. There’s some people out there who raise goats. We get out to check and see what Ralphy’s gonna have to get fixed and I notice the goat landed in the pentagram we drew. Then things get freaky as fuuuck. The car dies and we hear laughing and shit everywhere. We left some candles out there and they flare up, and Rob was too close. He’s on fire and gets too close to the circle and this hand just grabs him. I don’t remember anything until the next morning.”
He finished with his little stone men. With a gesture, they all marched over in front of one of the buildings and settled into place as little statues. “We realized we had these powers. We could do things, make shit happen. Ralphy, too, and he threatened us with going to the cops if he didn’t get in the band. We kicked ass for awhile, but Rob, man, it screwed with his head. He started murdering people, and I wasn’t into that. Ralphy wasn’t either. He and Rob got in a fight. Ralphy got hurt and Rob got away. Last I heard, he’s trying to find some way to end the world. Ralphy’s hunting him down and he’d sometimes come after me. I tried the band thing, but it started making me try to be like Rob and kill shit. So I became a supervillain to make money and be famous instead. It’s been wild.”
“So that’s it. Just money and fun. What about if you’re caught or killed?”
He pointed to his chest. “That’s what Hexadecibel’s about, my man! I’m Hexadecibel, by the way.” He didn’t bother with a handshake.
“Nice to meetcha. Say, I have a way you can earn some scratch. Depending on how your skills are, it might even be real easy.” I tossed the bag of popcorn away to the side.
“Hey, I just cleaned that. And I’m good. I can make these stone guys, I do stuff with sound. I’m not cleaning there again, but I’m the right guy.” Eh, not so much. The best guy for the job would have asked what it was before talking themselves up for it.
That became apparent to him when I put my arm around his shoulder and said, “Hexadecibel, I need you to get me a bomb. But not just any bomb. I need you to steal me a nuke, and I know just the American installation with a few to spare.”
It’ll be purely for hunting purposes, of course.
Today, the great nation of Ricca welcomed a most esteemed visitor. He stepped off a boat, pale of skin, velvet of jacket, and frilled of shirt; Mix N’Max at last arrived on the island. He stepped down the gangplank right toward me. I met him in friendly hug, the both of us exclaiming the other’s name. “Gecko!”
“Gecko?” asked a feminine voice from behind him. It came from one half of his assistants, Sam Hain, who I barely recognized without her purple hair. She’d gone for something of a punk cancer look, except for this tiny puff of it at the front that was bright green. She also looked pale, but I never remembered that as an affectation she liked to share with her boss. I figured it had more to do with her shaky walk down to the ground that ended with her bending over with her hands on her knees for a few seconds. She had the sea sickness, that Sam Hain. And yes, it’s Sam like Samantha, not pronounced like Samhain. She had on her boots, her fishnet stockings, a lacy black skirt. Excellent seafaring gear, of course. Takes a brave woman to think a corset is appropriate gear for seasickness, but maybe she was trying her hand at formality.
Her friend did not have same issues. Holly Wayne ran down in a flowery dress that didn’t quite match up with the purple highlights in her bleach blonde hair. Even tugging along some of the luggage, she seemed no worse for wear. “Oh my god, Gecko? You look… pretty.” People can be a bit unsure of how to refer to psychopaths having sex changes. Ooh, that’s a nice band name: Sex Change Psychopaths.
“How do we even know that’s Gecko?” asked Holly, standing up. She held her back ramrod straight as she walked toward me.
“You can’t tell?” asked Max, turning toward her with his arm around my shoulders. He held up a hand toward me face.
I did likewise. “Yeah, it’s totally obvious.” I sent Max an email with my picture on it. The rest was the same teamwork that once made us part of a deadly trio of villains. The Dark Triad had been comprised of the three villains known for so many years as the only few to survive breaking one of the unwritten rules of superpowers by murdering other supers. Mix N’Max, Psycho Gecko, and the Good Doctor.
Doc had been a good guy, and I don’t just say that because he’s dead. He had been a good guy blackmailed into villany, but I know he had a taste for it. Once his blackmailer had been dealt with and he had a chance to live with his daughter, he took it. I never did accept it, but our difference of opinion didn’t become truly problematic until I killed his superhero daughter. It was for a good cause, but that didn’t matter. Once I started to accumulate my own family, he showed up to try and deprive me of it. I had to kill him.
“How have you been, dude?” I asked Max. “It’s been too long.”
“I had this great setup in Vegas. It was awesome!”
We spent the evening getting caught up. I showed him my palace, and my daughter, and my wife. Well, technically Citra’s just pretending to be my wife, but close enough. They took it pretty well.
“Who would give you a wife?” asked Holly.
“Who would give you a child?” asked Sam.
“Is this all the alcohol you have?” asked Max.
I answered in order of importance, starting with pointing Max toward the vault where I hide the seashine.
After quite a bit of drinking, we wandered off into the most somber hours of the night toward the big state cemetary. I say somber hours, but they’re the same early hours that super criminals like us often do our best work. This wasn’t about robbing, not even graverobbing. That business isn’t as lucrative as it used to be in the days of undisturbed Egyptian pyramids and medical colleges needing cadavers.
There was more drinking, some alleged crying, and some strange substances were ingested. I won’t specifiy too many of the actions, except to note that I smoked something and then took a trip away from the graveyard. I was being sucked away from the Earth I was living on and toward the Earth I came from. Screw that. I wanted my Earth, not that old one. My Earth, with my daughter, my obsessed bee woman, my old magical Moai statue, my former minions, my current friends, and even that poor woman who decided to be my wife. I wanted to grip the ground and hold tight no matter what forces tried to tear me away.
Then I found myself back at the tree. This pissed me off because I hate extended dream sequences. I would torture a damn tree if I needed to. I figured I was safe once it grew the face of Good Doctor. That kind of cheesy symbolism was a better indication of my own mind playing tricks than having never left the tree. It didn’t make me feel any better toward it. Its branches grew at me like claws. I grabbed it by the trunk and squeezed like I could choke it off. “What do you want?” I asked it.
The words echoed. The tone changed and the tree moved its mouth in sync with them. I really gotta cut out… whatever the hell it is I smoked. The damn echoing felt like it wouldn’t stop. Felt like it reverberated deep inside me, so I tried to yell things to stop it.
“I want Qiang to be safe! I want to get rid of the worst people!” That didn’t work. It surprised me, because I thought those were pretty good answers. Revelatory stuff that went a little deeper into my core and how I’d changed than most people would expect. While true, the answers didn’t stop the echoing question, so I kept throwing out answers. “Truth, justice, freedom, reasonably priced love, and a hard-boiled egg. I wanna be free. I wanna be free to do what I wanna do. And I wanna get loaded. And I wanna have a good time!”
It just wouldn’t end, so I sat there, punching the face of a tree monster, trying to figure out what I could say or do to make it shut up. I tried kicking it in the balls, for instance. No balls. Poked it in the eye, but it was just wood. I even tried thinking really, really hard. After what felt like hours of dealing with antagonistic plantlife, I was tired. I hung there, slowly thunking my head against Good Doctor’s face in ineffectual headbutts. I finally stopped, sighed, and said, “I just want to live and make this place better.”
I paused. “Wait, how long have I wanted to live?” I looked at Good Doctor’s face. “And don’t you get any ideas about that other part. I said make it better, I didn’t say saving kittens out of trees and flying around with my underwear showing. Those types have sat around letting bad people do plenty of bad things because it’s easier than rocking the boat.”
I awoke the next morning to find myself laying on top of a mausoleum. I crawled to the edge and tumbled off, startling Max awake from where he slept curled up on a grave. “The fuck did you give me last night?” I asked my friend, grabbing his neck and lightly swinging his head side to side.
He coughed and pulled away. “Drugs. I made this strong stuff that’s like LSD on steroids and Beta blockers.” I couldn’t easily process this statement at the time due to the LSD on steroids and Beta blockers in my system.
“I made it to get in people’s brains and mess them up for questioning.” He groaned and rolled over to me, his face really close to mine.
I slapped him. “Dick move, dude. Why would you give me that?”
He held his hand to his cheek. “Sorry, I think it happened while we were drunk. I think the seashine melted my fillings. I didn’t realize you might have smoked it until you were yelling things at the sky!”
“What things?” I asked, grabbing onto his lapels. Then a massive, nasty burp came up and I just let it go in his face. He winced and tried to keep his mouth shut, then turned his head and coughed a few times.
“It was all gibberish. A lot of things were messing with its intended purpose, but I didn’t hear anything private and nobody else could either.” He patted my ands and I reluctantly released him.
“Fine… gah, let’s get back to the palace. My mouth feels like I had a hobo-eating contest.”
It was Sam who opened the door to the palace, which looked to have had quite a party on it sown. I saw Silver Shark sprawled over a couch and Queen Beetrice hanging over the counter. Sam yawned and looked at me with my hair resembling the starship Enterprise. Then she looked to her boss, Max, whose clothes were all frumpy and wrinkled. “You two have yourselves some private fun?”
In deference to her being Max’s minion, I didn’t try as hard as I could have to hit her.
Later, after being rested, showered, and enjoying some hair of the dog that bit me, an idea crept into my brain. My brain was recovering from a lot, including my admission to myself that not only do I truly have some altruism of a sort inside me, but I don’t really want to die anymore. That wasn’t as important as recognizing a problem that Max’s drugs provided a solution to.
Armoring up again for appearance’s sake, I dragged Max along with me to the military base where they held our unknown diver. “The guy’s spoken in English before, and his gear matches up with U.S. Military, but it only tells us so much. We don’t know what they’re doing here, what he was sneaking in to do, even if he was the only one sneaking in here. For all we know, they could have a whole base set up in those old ruins off in the western part of the island.” I stopped and smiled to myself at that one. “Ok, that’d be pretty funny if they did that. Problem solved if that’s the case. But until we know, I figured you could give our friend in there a sample of what you gave me last night. I want him talkin’ like a Furby.”
Max smiled and pulled out his syringe gun. He swapped out a few parts right there in front of me until it more closely resembled a bong crossed with a super soaker. “I’ll smoke him out.”
“What do you want with us here on Ricca?” asked one of our friendlier interrogators. I’d honestly expected the people here to be total dicks and rely on torture, but I’d been pleasantly surprised there. A lot of people think torture is interrogation these days. They’re too used to movies playing it up, probably because the truth is boring. People want to see someone get beaten up and have their ear cut off, like Reservoir Dogs or The Dark Knight. Except that got the interrogator murdered in one, while the other one was given bad information that played right into the villains’ hands. Plus, ya know, one of the characters doing it was a psychopath and the other was supposed to be the hero.
I don’t have to worry about being seen as the villain. Them’s the breaks.
So, between a reversal of the island’s brain drain and the good sense of remaining soldiers, it looked like they were making headway on our prisoner. As a plus, the pot made him not just sedate but downright enthusiastic about the cavity search. Hu informed me later that it almost irritated the soldier who does those searches. He takes pride in rough cavity searches. His superior made sure to remind him he was to search the tooth cavities first.
It’s nice having something handled without my constant supervision, though I’m glad the report mentioned the cavity search. I think Hu realized by now what kind of person I am. I need more people like him. Loyal and competent. I mean, there used to be Moai. He was good as a bodyguard, but as a magically-animated Moai statue, that was his main skill. Carl wasn’t even as good with that, though my former minion made a decent face for the company so long as he had the right people working under him. Now Crash was good at lightening my load. My personal assistant from my brief stint in the corporate world wasn’t too bad at that. Good getaway driver, too.
I need more people like that. I’ve done a poor job managing this as-is, but running an entire nation? I’m going to need more people to execute my will in the executive branch. And not just that. I need a branch to overlap with the Directory. That’s why I wasted a little bit of my valuable time figuring out a list of the sort of people I need under me. Despite what the Directory’s Foreign Affairs Committee insists on, none of them are Angelina Jolie. Qiang’s been practicing her sneaking around them when she came running back to me one day talking about how they wanted some American actress to date me and adopt her.
Nobody needs to hear about the minutiae there. They need to hear about other minutia. Like how that scientist I kidnapped, Dr. Quincy, came banging on the door of the residential palace. Which was odd. I’d left him with the food cult on the island. Just dropped him off there after the kidnapping and told Old Man Hoodless to give him as much seed as he needs. That provided some context for when he banged on the door and yelled, “Those crazy cultists are trying to do unspeakable things to me… to death!”
I pulled the door open, letting him fall over onto his face. I nudged his head with a pink-nailed big toe. “Now, you haven’t been making a mess of things and getting your seed everywhere, have you?” Despite the angle, he could only see so much when he looked up, as I’d stuck myself in some shorts. I couldn’t help but laugh at his expression when it came to the bulge between my legs. When I realized who was knocking, I decided to have a little fun using some wadded-up socks. “You hearing me, or are you thinking about you and I doing some unspeakable things together?”
He skittered to his feet, doing his best imitation of that fish. The red one that likes to snap its mouth a lot. Oh, that’s right, the Red Snapper. “I’m terribly sorry, but is Psycho Gecko in? The Emperor?”
“You’re talkin’ to her.” I asked, spreading my upper arms. The lower ones were hidden inside my loose-fitting shirt as much as they could be.
“You’re a woman?” he asked, incredulous.
I raised an eyebrow, spread my legs, and put my upper pair of hands on my hips. “Sugar, when you’re as awesome as me, you can be whatever you wanna be. Hey, who has four thumbs and doesn’t give a damn?” I slipped the lower arms out from under my shirt and together all arms pointed back at me with thumbs. “This gal!”
The extra arms made him jump as well. I ignored it and pulled him in with three arms while the last closed the door off. “So what can I do for you?”
“I need space!” he said. “Space of my own.” I pushed him over toward the sofa, tossing one of Qiang’s toys off of it. I sat him down and took a seat nearby.
“If you’d like, we can launch on the next rocket into space,” I suggested. “Probably be safer than the Institute of Science.”
“You have an institute? What is going on there?” he sat forward, taking intense interest in all I had to say. I couldn’t tell if it was because I mentioned science or because of my legs.
“I fought a few monsters there. Sent in mercenaries the other day. They haven’t returned. I’m afraid after my little coup and the resulting loss of power to the island, some of the experiments created a dangerous work environment there.
“I’ll clear it out! I don’t care, I’ll do whatever is necessary to leave those cultists behind. You know they tried to seduce me into joining with beautiful girls?” He complained for some reason.
I shrugged. “I’m familiar with the technique. I know a thing or two about cults. Truth is, it’s the leader who has the most sex, but it’s a lot easier to hijack the agenda as a follower. You leave a couple of bombs behind and suddenly everyone’s convinced the leader told them to do it. It’s kinda like that COINTELPRO thing.
“Be that as it may, I really must insist on lab space. I will grow you an army and lead it myself if I have to!” He tried to slam his hand down for emphasis, but all it did was make a toy go squeak.
“Do you have to?” I asked. “Lead it yourself, I mean. I’d rather you not be at risk.” I laid a hand on his shoulder, using more my feminine charms. And by that, I mean being a woman touching him. It’s not a high bar. Just hoping to take advantage of a little goodwill and compromised decision-making. It’s not my fault the Americans get like that if you so much as wink in their direction. I’m certainly not helping it, but everybody made it quite clear they don’t want me fixing their politics.
“I have to. The plants won’t listen to anybody else,” he said, looking at me, eyes moving from my face to my arm to where my hand rested. “I must go in there personally.”
Elsewhere, in the villain village, the PA system started up. “Ahem, this is Psycho Gecko speaking. As an added rule, I want to inform everyone that the Institute of Science is off-limits. A power outage left us unable to track whatever happens in there, and I don’t want anyone getting in and stealing any of the valuable equipment or data, especially not the experimental weapons! Gecko out.”
“Well, if you must, allow me to see you to the Institute myself,” I told Dr. Quincy.
He huffed and he puffed as we arrived at the Institute, and not from trying to blow it down. I let him carry his bag of seeds. We arrived just in time to see a small horde of supervillains rush into the Institute. “Well, that settles it,” I said. “Way too dangerous in there for you now.” And, now that I think about it, a pretty good place to do business. Set up some food stalls, beer sellers, maybe people to sell weapons, armor, and gear. I could get a lot of tourist money out of the Institute of Science. I quietly sent off a message to the Directory about getting some merchants out here. This place is a gold mine.
Visions of recovered equipment being bought back cheap by a Directory liaison danced through my head. The supers would find something valuable, drag it back up, and sell it off when they got greedy thinking about other stuff in there. It may not always go that way, but it sounded like an opportunity.
“Well… how about the military base?” I offered to Quincy with a smile. Then I pointed my finger awfully close to his face. “Just watch it with the Triffids. You want to be the next Norman Borlaug, I can make it happen, but you gotta let me set you up to save the world.”
He rolled his eyes. “As if you care…”
“Let’s just say I’m seeing opportunities all around…” I swept my hand out. “About time all my occasional pessimism came in hands. The world as you knew it is changing. The United States is no longer the world’s arbiter of peace. It’s too busy handling its own internal conflicts from groups that were already the most numerous source of domestic terrorism. Its people don’t want international deals anymore. Good.”
I felt a monologue coming on, but this wasn’t a place for any heroes to call home, so I wasn’t worried about interruptions. “The American farmer produces a huge portion of the world’s food supply. Or they did. They skipped out on that deal here in the Pacific, so now it’s countries like Japan and Ricca making the money they could have made. We’re about to that point with Canada and Mexico. I want Ricca and Mu to be the world’s breadbasket. When countries want those exotic foods, they come to us with their wallets open. When people need aid for a famine, I want them buying from us. When someone threatens Ricca, I want a bunch of nations to sit up and say ‘Wait a damn minute, they grow the coffee and beef everyone from our leaders to our commoners eat.’ I’m going to quite literally raise the steaks.”
I projected a hologram in front of Quincy of a grand, growing Ricca, full of gleaming skyscrapers and a new United Nations. “I want to topple the United States of America without firing a shot. All because they let me. All because of your vision for a better world backed by my own selfish motives.” I turned to him, letting the hologram drop. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, I’ve heard. Can’t the road to heaven be paved with bad ones? Won’t you trust in my desire for revenge?”
He pulled me close, getting a bit hands on my loose shirt. “Cara mia!” he exclaimed, then tried to kiss me.
I pushed him away. All hands on deck, not all hands on dick here. “Ew, no. You are not my type. I’m flattered, but no. Come on, champ, let’s go hit up a titty bar instead. That’s what a gal like me calls a win-win.” Plus, I needed a drink. Being hooked up to the world’s internet can be tiring. The things I see: the useless arguments, victims of all sorts of crime reaching out in vain for help, children with cancer and parasites, starving parents having to decide which children lives. Total buzzkill, so I opted to go for more than a buzz. If I can’t take out my anger on those responsible and share my amazing ability to murder with those in need, I can at least use them. I’ll make them pay and I’ll make them who their emperor truly is.
I’ll also have some vodka.
One of the bad things about being the law is laying down the law. Having to lay it down while not being the law isn’t exactly fun either, but then people expect entirely different things when you bring out the handcuffs. Not an image I wanted to go with here, either, and yet another reason why I showed up in my armor. The new armor. It took a lot of work to get it wearable. The shoulders were tricky. No wonder most people put extra arms lower on the torso.
I made an appearance at our new village to find it a little on the dirty side. Sure, you had some new shacks thrown up by some of the villains. A guy in welder’s gear hung off the side of a building, having affixed an entire new room that hung right off without any other support. I suppose I should be worried, but he did it. It hadn’t fallen down in the installation. At this point, it all depends on how much stuff he put in there.
I had to step over bottles and some trash that had just been left around. An empty keg rolled by like tumbleweed. Someone had erected a small fountain in the center of the village, impressive work for such a rush job. Also impressively, someone was laying on the raised edge of the fountain, his left arm and leg danging in the water, with a drying wet stain beginning at his crotch and running down the side of the concrete.
“What do we have here?” I asked to no one in particular.
Someone stepped over, a fellow in black tank top, black leather pants with strings of long platinum blonde hair dangling behind him and a tattoo sleeve featuring pentagrams and Baphomet and such. “Oh man, he passed out from drinking earlier so we thought it’d be funny, see, to stick his hand in the water. He totes pissed himself.”
“Did he drink all this?” I asked, gesturing toward the abundance of bottles and cans strewn about.
“No. It was pretty epic,” said the tattooed guy. “Hey, when are you going to send people around to clean all this up? It’s starting to stink.”
I shrugged. “Dumpster and recycling bin’s by the road. They actually have a pretty decent recycling setup here. A little more efficient, and they’re working on using 3D printer-based machines and nanites to really make it happen.”
“What about picking up the trash?” the guy asked.
I waved him away. “I’m sure y’all know how to do it without being told. That’s just one of those common sense things.”
“And if we don’t?” he asked. I heard cracking noises from him clenching his fists.
I looked down at them and laughed. “Yeah, that’s the sound of some bones you want to bang against hard metal. You really don’t want to attack me. If you must know, though, what happens is… you sit here in your beer bottles. The exact same thing as if you lived in a house and left all this trash laying around it. I think you’re mistaking natural consequences for coercion. Do what you want with the trash. Make a damn fort out of it for all I care. I’m not your daddy.”
Not really anything to be done about the noise complaints unless I want to implement some sort of beer shortage. Ooh, or maybe I should get Mix N’ Max to dose them all with something that prevents them from getting drunk.
My citizens have voiced concerns to both our Security patrols and their Directors about these villains. Robberies, threats, some minor scuffles with locals. This all got passed up to me. Imagine my happiness at realizing what side of the villain-law equation this time around. My pure, unadulterated joy.
I passed someone leaving an apartment building with an unusual necklace in hand. “It doesn’t matter how many times I clean this, that fish smell, ugh!” She threw it away. I hijacked one of the Drone Division drones to retrieve the thing, with orders for the operator to drop it off with Security and have them return it to its owner.
“Hey, the robot stole my necklace!” the woman who tossed it away said. She wore thick coveralls, bots, and had a gas mask hanging around her neck. I didn’t know if it counted as a costume or not.
“Looks like a Deep One necklace, so it’s going to be returned.” I said.
She pouted, giving me another unwelcome “adult telling off kids” feeling. I might have found myself living in a shotgun shack, or in another part of the world, or behind the wheel of a large automobile. Instead, I found myself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and asking myself, well, how did I get here?
I turned and hopped up on the fountain’s edge and cranked up the volume from my helmet. “Greetings y’all, and welcome all you dang foreigners from other nations. For those feeling a bit hungover, or blind, or deaf… well, I don’t have accommodations for the deaf people currently, but you’re not listening anyway. If you’re wondering who died and made me king, the answer is The Claw. I’m Psycho Gecko, leader of this nation of Ricca. Which also means I’m the one responsible for protecting this place.”
“What does that mean?” someone asked from behind me. People were coming out to look.
“It means that y’all are guests here, and acts of foreign aggression will be answered by the leader of the Riccan military, who is me. If y’all attempt to become citizens, it would then mean answering to Ricca’s law enforcement for committing crimes. That is also me. Cause trouble, and your asses are molasses. In other words, I’ll reduce you to a sticky brown fluid.”
“You and what army?!” asked someone. Ah, that contrarian nature I know so well from my own self.
I pulled out a horn with my lower left arm. I squeezed the red, squooshy end of it, causing the horn to blow out an “Aoooga!” Drones flew in from all around the village, armed with visible weapons. Helicopters swooped in and hovered at the edge of the scene, gun-toting soldiers within. From the ground walked out more of my Dudebots. “Now, I don’t know how many of y’all it would take to kick my ass, but I know how many y’all are gonna use. I’m not worried.”
I hopped down and walked over to where the coverall woman was standing. I put an arm around her, photo op style but without grabbing her ass. “I know how to kill, and I know how to be merciful. Think of it as me barely containing my homicidal urges around y’all and just looking for an excuse. An excuse like stealing from MY people.” I grabbed the woman, lifted her overhead, and threw her face-first into the edge of the concrete fountain. She landed with a wet crack, her head gushing. I put my boot on the back of her neck and pushed her down, scraping her mess of a face against the side until her face was nestled where the fountain met the ground. Then I lined up the shot and punted her ass against it, breaking her spine at least in two as she doubled up on herself.
I knelt then and picked her up over my shoulder. “Now y’all have had yourselves a warning. Spread it among yourselves. I just have to take this body somewhere for a private, uh, coroner’s report. Yep, that’s all it is. Got to examine why she appears to have been violated in several holes, including the new ones. If anyone needs me to come back out here for any reason, just know I’ll be upset at the interruption, ok?”
I’m not sure if that was the right way to handle that. I was caught in a dilemma. Either kill her and appear to be hostile to villains, or don’t kill her and appear soft. It was while pondering if this was truly a time with two sides that I realized something else I could pull. I stopped dragging my victim off toward the palace and instead pulled out a pair of nanite syringes. Within minutes, I was running back to the village square, holding a slightly-less broken body in my hands. I laid her down on the ground there in front of everyone, my armor piping out the sounds of thunder.
“She’s alive!” I shouted over the thunder as the body twitched. I paused it quickly as she shuddered and went still again so I could press my hands to her body and feel around for a pulse. When she gasped again and continued mending, the thunder abruptly continued. “Aliiiiive!”
It got less dramatic when, upon opening her eyes, the woman screamed nonstop for like two minutes and crab walked away from me. It was only partially because her body wasn’t completely right, and the physical scars were fixed relatively quickly. The mental scars from her ordeal will likely last some time.
Amusing as it was to part of me, I realized it was more something the original Gecko would do. The one I killed when I took the name, sadistic bastard. I expect our discipline problems aren’t finished, though. I might talk to the Directors, see if any of them can get these guys some entertainment. Prostitutes, gambling, Cards Against Humanity or other board games.
With that handled, including a word with the cemetery drug growers to see about pushing some weed in the village, I was all set to handle the day’s lessons with Qiang. Before I could, I found my intelligence chief, Hu, outside the palace.
“Empress,” he said, bowing his head before continuing, “Someone infiltrated the island.”
“Oh?” I crossed my arms. Freaks people out when you’ve got extra.
“Yes, we caught a frogman. We believe he is an agent of a foreign military.”
Great, we we got SEALs roaming around. “Let’s go see him, then.”
Hu showed me to the detention center at the base. I was shown into a room where I came face to face with a Deep One. I turned to Hu. “They prefer to be called Deep Ones, not frog men. Actually, hold up.” I turned to the Deep One. “Do y’all have a preferred name for the species, or is Deep One ok?”
He let out some sort of guttural croak singing that you had to be an aquatic man-creature to pull off. I shook my head. “Sorry. I’m sure your girlfriend already tells you this, but our throats just can’t handle that.”
The Deep One stepped aside to show me to a prisoner stripped down to a thermal layer, wet and bloody, tied to a chair.
My mind went first to what I’d pulled off on the woman in the village, but then it went further, to the Gecko who tormented me as a youth in the Psychopomp program. The one I had to kill way back when, or he’d have been the one they let loose on the world. “Well, well. I see we’re going to get our kicks finding out who’s paying us a house call and why.” I turned and headed out of the room with Hu before instructing the intelligence chief, “We’re gonna need a lot more weed. And some Cheetoes.”
I think I’ve stated before that I really hate it in video games when you need something for a quest, only to be told that I have to do a sidequest for another party to get the thing I need. It’s annoying. I mean, you’re saving the world, and these bozos decide they can’t let you have the thing you need to stop some soul-sucking fiend from hell until you go back to their old apartment and retrieve their +1 couch of chilling. Protagonists shouldn’t be bothered with that.
It’s a good thing I’m practicing playing nice with others. The secret, I find, is anger management. I’ve gone through several hundred stress relief toys. Squeezed to death, the poor dildoes. Silver Shark was nice enough to take Qiang out to see the new schools being built for kids on the island. Good thing, too. Citra was suddenly too tired and unable to walk after all the anger management.
Escorpio and Cuerno helped too. Not that way, though Escorpio’s look with the scorpions and the gold… Anyway, they’re both important to the Paradise City Cartel, and they respect that I’ve worked with them and upheld their end of the bargain. I’ve still got my eyes on them, though. It’d be advantageous for them to have more power with what I’m throwing together than helping facilitate Ouroboros’s attendance, so I’m watching them closely. Especially Escorpio, since he’s here on the island.
My big problem turned out to be the Yakuza, the other major gang presence in Paradise City. I did my homework and found that Yakuza shell companies are part owners of a lot of expensive real estate around the place, mostly hotels. Hotels with massage services and shopping arcades. What that tells me is there’s likely prostitution and whatever it’s called when they make fake versions of fancy clothing and purses.
The government here knows it too, given some of the archives I checked through. The feds have bigger problems than that these days. Some uninsured survivalist type decided to get around not paying by getting a couple dozen friends together to take over a Veterans’ Hospital in Idaho or something. They talked a big game about being patriots, then dumped some of the bodies of patients they had to kill when they fought back. The government has bigger things to worry about than the Yakuza bringing over Japanese women to give tourists a happy ending.
I stopped by the Yakuza’s crowning jewel, the Gulf Majesty Hotel, built with a reinforced foundation on an island across a short bridge from Paradise City that is still considered part of the area. It sat on a six foot rise due to that solid foundation, with a cast iron fence to dissuade non-guests from loitering. They had a valet and everything, though I waved him off from taking the cabby’s keys. “Here you go, buy your wife something nice,” I said.
He took the cash, but grumbled. “That bitch is divorcing me.”
I shrugged and tossed in another $50. “Buy a new wife then. A better one.”
“Like hell I’m going through that again!” He declared as he peeled out, “Fuck it, I’m learning to suck dicks!”
I turned to the valet who avoided reacting to the scene and put my arm around his shoulders to draw him close. “There goes a man and a dream. A dream of sucking cock. Love is a beautiful thing, eh?” I turned the Dudebot’s head toward the valet. They were real close when I asked, “Say, I don’t suppose you’ve been through a divorce, have you?” He rapidly shook his head, so I let him go and headed inside.
In the lobby, I nodded toward the front clerk, who looked at me and walked briskly toward a back room. Five minutes later, a man with a name tag reading “Manager” approached me as I waited, checking on the brochures for local attractions. Gun ranges, parasailing, shooting guns while parasailing…
“How may I help you, sir?” asked the manager.
“I am quite lonely and looking for some companionship,” I said.
“Perhaps you are looking for our massage parlor?” he suggested.
I shook the Dudebot’s head. “I’m more of a conversationalist. I was looking for someone educated, perhaps even important, to sit down and have a bit of back and forth with.”
The euphemisms really didn’t matter in so openly corrupt a city as Paradise, but a lot of criminals are still use to the affectation. Plus, it feels cooler. This manager went from having a potentially crappy day to feeling like he’s in a spy novel or something. Little did he suspect that what looks like an everyday rubber chicken is actually an ambulatory grenade. And hidden within my shoes is a device that, when moved at high velocity toward an opponent’s posterior, kicks their ass.
The manager scurried away. When he returned, I was ushered toward a special elevator in the back for more important guests who are goin’ straight to the top. Literally, it skipped most floors of the hotel. The manager hit a button only marked “Business”. The elevator door shot, but the elevator didn’t go up. The rear of the elevator, which appeared to be just another wall, slid open to reveal a smiling Japanese man flanked by a pair of guards. He bowed to me. “Psychopomp Gecko. At last, I have the honor to meet you myself.”
I returned the bow. “Japanese dude. Hey, what’s up?”
“My name is Mitchell Mori, and your timing is most auspicious.” He turned. His guards both parted to the side instantly, like water. Nah, water’s not that instant. They parted like instant soup. I went to walk along the corridor and Mori locked step with me, the two guards following after. The manager quickly pressed a button and closed off the elevator to me.
“My timing is not a coincidence. Where there are no problems, I create them, but where there are problems, I solve them. It is my contrarian nature,” I said.
He led me into a small office, sparsely decorated, but warm nonetheless. I think it was all the thick, dark brown wood. Something about being a woman makes thick wood more appealing to me for some reason.
The guards stayed outside, and he circled around to his side, waiting on me to sit down. Then it was time for pleasantries. Lip service at least. How am I enjoying the city, where am I staying, that sort of thing. Then he got into the good stuff. “I expect you are here because of our recent superhero problem?”
I leaned forward. “Superhero problem, you say? Tell me more!”
It seems a group of teenaged do-gooders arrived in Paradise City recently. They’re looking for someone, and in the process have found their way into visiting some shopping arcades, massage parlors, and hotels in the area. Being both superheroes and essentially children, their resulting attempts to find whoever they’re looking for have caused a few problems. And fires.
“Your presence brings with it an opportunity to stop these heroes with as little difficulty as possible. What do you propose as your price?” He folded his hands in front of him and looked onto two of my robot’s helmet’s eyes.
“Oh, I have just the thing, and it won’t even cost you any money,” I said to him before making my offer.
The thing about an extortion racket is that it’s so easy to put two and two together. A guy comes around and threatens you if you don’t pay protection. If you don’t pay, bad things happen to you. Nobody’s fooled. Reverse the order a bit and it gets easier to hide. Some group clearly unconnected to me goes around, making trouble and causing property damage. I’m already known to be in town, already known to help with just that sort of thing, and suddenly the victims are eager to be extorted. Of course, using the heroes means I only have a certain sort of control over them, but my qualifications speak for themselves. And I speak for them, too. Hell, it’s hard to get me to shut up about my qualifications. Have I mentioned I kill people today?
Across town, our five teenagers were just heading into an Italian restaurant. They were out of costume, though the Asian kid didn’t have one of his own. I’d tracked them there with something of a rough plan in mind. They went in to be seated and I sent my guy into the restaurant’s restroom. Despite the damage done to its leg, my Dudebot’s hologram systems were good enough to keep me unnoticed in there. It would have been serendipitous if the kid had noticed his own dad, but is this just real life, or is this just fantasy?
Real life, obviously.
The dad texted his son from inside the bathroom. The son raced off to go see him, not telling his friends anything more than “I need to use the john.” I didn’t follow him in. I’ve already seen how this movie ends. Something about not having the cash to pay for the pizza, so what other method of payment can he give his father?
With the son out of the way, it was my time to rough up the others a bit. Not a lot. Just enough. I walked on over to their table where I think the guy in the letterman jacket realized something was up. He squinted at me a moment before I slammed the table up against him. He bent back, the table rolling over him and out the window. It got one of the girls too, the black one. Always a good way to phrase things. “Hey, which person was it? The black one!” She had her headphones on and held her nose after the table had passed over them and out the window. The other one, the white girl who I’d last seen in ballet-themed spandex, she had ducked low. I gave her an easy kick in the face to bring up some tears and break her nose.
The Dudebot was knocked off its leg before I could put the other one down by a white and blue blur that knocked it into a wall. I pulled it out and turned it into a storm of fists courtesy the speedster of the group, Step. I threw a few to his midsection to get him to back off as I sped up the cybernetic portion of my brain and the Dudebot. Metal fists missed him by an every narrowing margin while he ducked and laid down his own punches, up until I caught one of his. His eyes bugged out in this “Oh crap” look before I squeezed down hard. I fired the eye lasers but he punched the Dudebot’s view to the side so it could just carve out part of the ceiling instead. A light fixture fell and hit a waitress who looked like she was just one day away from retirement.
If he wouldn’t let me blast him, I’d just have to give him a big ol’ hug. I pulled him in close and squeezed real tight. It felt like it lasted a long time, but that was the overclocking. In real time, it didn’t take that long at all until I was disappointed by having one of the robot’s arms pulled away. Step slipped out and returned to the side of his friends, who were recovering a bit. Plus, for my brain’s sake, I couldn’t keep running it that fast.
Hussle, the super strong guy with the football letter, threw the table I’d already thrown at me. Ugh, so derivative. I rolled under it and popped up beside a nearby table to grab a large bowl of salad I hurled at him. I also hurled a person on the floor tripped up by a chair who had previously been eating the salad. Lock, the ballet girl, tried to throw off my aim but did her little voodoo that she do too late. Made me look like I was doing a Sieg Heil and the person still went flying into a wall. Gotta wonder about a white girl whose first instincts are to throw up a Nazi salute when she’s in trouble. I had to fight it with my other hand, but my nosejob had worked on her after all. She had to stop and wipe her eyes.
My hands down, that’s when Step sped into me for another couple of hits, then zoomed off. Pop tried to knock me off-kilter with her sound shenanigans, but I turned the volume down and thus was not distracted when Hussle came barreling at me. He tried to get me low in a tackle, but I grabbed him around his waist from behind, picked him up, spun him around and around, then threw him down through a nearby table. He knocked down a running eater as he flew through the air. Breadsticks went everywhere. I grabbed an errant meatball out of air and threw it right at Lock as she readied another sound blast, but Step caught it in midair. He did the same to the breadsticks, the brea knife, a fork, a toddler, and a cheese grater, distracting him while I kicked a bottle of olive oil onto the floor.
He went skidding off, allowing me to successfully fill Lock’s mouth with my breadstick. Grabbing some linguine from a nearby plate, I walked over, kicked Pop away, and tied Lock’s hands around her back. Then I did one of those ballet lifts and tossed her onto a wine rack. She went from a dry white to wet and red in a hurry. Pop tried again to give me intense snapping and crackling sounds to hurt me ears, but I just smooshed a plate of chicken parmesan into her face. Hussle jumped and even though I turned, he managed to catch me in a bear hug. I projected a bright light into his face. “Go into the light!”
Now, in the middle of all this, one might be curious what the goal was. Why hadn’t I killed anyone yet? And what were those two guys doing in that bathroom?
While I elbowed Hussle in the gut and drove the air out of his lungs, my guy was hugging his son, sobbing like a baby and telling him how much he loved him and how proud he was of him. Yeah, I had the guy bugged in case he wasn’t loyal. It happens. “I want you to know that I can’t stay here anymore, but it’s not because I hate you. I would never hurt you. My fate is fixed, but your destiny is yet to be seized. But whatever you do, do not follow us. If you come after us, the Emperor will kill you. If you stay here, he will kill you. Go back to Abnormal and never forget that I love you.”
Meanwhile, I had Hussle upside down, giving him a wedgie and dunking his head in minestrone. I dropped him as things began to rattle and vibrate in the Dudebot. Pop was behind me, hands to her headphones, trying anything she can to help. She looked to be straining herself. I turned and flung a pizza pan, pizza slices flying off it, right at her neck. It doubled her over in time for me to hop over and gently toss her out through the already-broken window and onto the hood of somebody’s unfortunately-placed car.
The speedster, desperate and slick with olive oil, made one last try for me. I ducked under his reach and grabbed him by the back of his tights. I picked him up, smashed his head through another window, and just carried him along the whole wall like that, right through the few wall barriers between. I ended it by leaving him there, holding his legs apart, and kicking him right there in his little super testes.
When father and son left the bathroom, the son ran to see to his wounded but living friends. The father hurried out to disappear into the city and meet back up with me. A medical chopper was there in minutes to see to the injured teens. It wasn’t until they were halfway back to Abnormal that any of them thought to wonder why the pilot was taking them there instead of a hospital in Paradise City. In the end, they got the message. They’ve been sticking around there, likely nursing their first real injuries since becoming supers.
Mori was satisfied. Ouroboros was satisfied. As for me, I sent them each a cake in the shape and coloring of their butts. The video footage I had allowed ass-tonishing precision. And with each cake came a message written in frosting. “I hereby present you with your ass to commemorate the time I handed you yours. Love and snuggles, PG.”
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 big it 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.
A lot of people say there’s no such thing as bad PR. I might have even said it once or twice. Those people are morons, whereas I was just making an offhand remark that in no way reflects on my intelligence. See my rule on hypocrisy for more clarification.
I didn’t intend to talk about hypocrisy, though. I wanted to talk about PR. Bad PR, for example, is not good. I recall a pair of conventions that say otherwise. Something about a Lord of the Rings scam artist leaving actors stranded, and then a ball pit on Tumblr. They were one-time things. I don’t want to be a one-time thing. I want to return, again and again, like a plague upon humanity. And that means having proper finger foods at big villain conference. That means clearing up some RSVPs. A lot of them are doing that themselves now that people are flocking in. Flocking, I say!
But I want to try again on one big potential flocker. A motherflocker, if you will.
I decided the best way to entice Ouroboros into an audience with me would be to stay in Paradise City and snob up the place. Just be as obnoxious as I could be. I’m there with my Dudebot, making a big show of attending all the local events. Paradise City isn’t exactly known for its theatre and musical events, but being a casino town has been good for it. It is technically an illegal casino, so it’s not like they can just bring headliners in there. That said, they had an excellent production of Cats, a decent Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the Amazing Johnathan. That’s his assessment. He put it in his damn name to preempt criticism, I’m sure. If I call him “The crappy Amazing Johnathan” it just confuses matters. Kinda like how Alexander the Great added onto his name to make sure he’d keep getting laid. Putz.
So I, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, went all around this place in robot form.
In my actual body, I was running around trying to arrange living space for our guests. It was hectic, since the best construction Ricca has had since I’ve taken over is a building for the legislature that’s still tent enough you expect tigers to jump through hoops in it. Given how much of politics is a circus anyway, I find it oddly appropriate.
The Directory was worried, too. Some of them were thinking about kicking people out of their houses, but I nixed that idea. Instead, I hit upon repurposing the Institute of Science. I really thought it’d work since Mix N’ Max was due on the island any day. To that end, I scrounged up a group of mercenaries in town plying their trade. Oh, I’m sorry, “Private Military Contractors”. Apparently the term’s gotten bad PR so they just changed names. Same for the company they work for. Shooting unarmed civilians instead of enemies can indeed be bad PR.
Mercenaries, you might ask? I’m fond of my own people by now. Plus, I’ve gotten reports that they’ve been restless and stirring up trouble. This is a win-win. Either I get it confirmed that the Institute’s safe and recover a lot of valuable equipment and lab space, or I rid the island of minor nuisance. It cost me a little, though. Darn private businesses, always trying to jack up profits while doing as little work as possible. And before anyone calls me a communist, just step back and try to prove me wrong.
That’s what I thought.
I did at least warn these guys that elevators would likely be out of order. They loaded up on scout drones, flashlights, and rappelling gear, then disappeared into the Institute of Science. It has been a few days with no word from them. Their company refuses to give me back my deposit. Filthy vultures. That’s their company motto, too. Vulture Company: filthy vultures.
On the plus side, we’ve been gouging them on ammunition.
With that plan gone horribly right in the way less advantageous to me, the day was saved by one of the Directors from the delegation handling foreign affairs. They failed to get me a date with European models or American actresses, but one of them remembered that time he tried to get a Swedish businesswoman to drop by my palace for a drink. That didn’t happen either, but she did have a friend at Ikea who is into some pretty freaky stuff. That fellow was able to ship over some of the new Ikea apartments.
Then things got really heated. It wasn’t cost. Turns out we aren’t doing too shabbily in terms of finances. Thanks to the Deep One immigrants, we have treasures from the sunken depths and exotic foods seen nowhere else. The Island of Ricca; the world’s only source of giant calamari, authentic Japanese World War II paraphernalia, and currently auctioning off Amelia Earhart’s plane.
No, money wasn’t the issue. The damn Swedes just forgot to ship us any Allen wrenches, and my guys say they skimped on nuts. There was one fellow who was pretty sure they gave us more sides than anything else, but it turned out he’d been from a part of the island with weird ruins on it and had… difficulties… with Euclidean geometry. The Director overseeing the whole thing was nervous about seeing me about the issue, what with the perception of how supervillains handle failure. Dude was super relieved when I asked if there was any way I could help the whole thing along.
He let out a relieved sigh as he stood up from his bow. “Empress, it would honor me if I could have your assistance, but I do not know how you will take the suggestion.” He looked me over.
“What?” I asked, putting my upper, public pair of arms on my waist and controlling the urge to do so with my newer arms. “I’m not going to choke a bitch just for chatting with me. Spit it out!”
“Perhaps if you were to speak with them as the sovereign of our great nation… and threaten them,” he suggested.
“Like, with trade embargoes, or the usual threats?” I asked, standing up off the recliner on my Directory dais. Threats sound like fun.
“I believe you would be effective if you threatened them as a supervillain. Then my requests would look more reasonable in comparison.”
“Sold!” I said, jumping up. “Let me get the armor on.”
“Do you need it on?” he asked.
I gave him a patronizing pat on the head before stepping down from the dais. “Of course not, but it’s either the armor or cocaine. There’s a method to this.”
That brings me to the phone call with the Ikeans. I had my new armor on. Yes, I said new. I’d kept the old, two-armed version I’d been using, made sure it was getting proper cleaning. I had the nanites build me a similar copy that better reflected my current body shape. Ya know, boobs, lack of Mr. Dangles, extra pair of arms. That’s what the Directory got to see as I stepped up to the monitor of their own personal communications screen. The Ikeans had one of their own, it turned out. They sold some now.
“Alright, let me tell you… whatever your name is,” I started off.
The guy I was helping whose name I didn’t catch whispered, “Her name is Sjoberg. Mrs.-.”
I held up a hand toward him. “Enough of your idle pratter, minion number 4479! And no covering for little miss snowberg here or however the pronounce names up there in Christmas Town. If you think you’re going to doublecross me, the Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, then I have news for ya. You aren’t safe in your little ice castle up there, Elsa, so any fantasy you have of surviving my wrath, just let it go. I am the end times in human form. I will unleash upon you and yours a plague of endless suffering. I will swallow the moon and piss the sun out of existence if it means having my revenge upon you. If I have to beat every last pasty son of a bitch to death in your albino paradise of a country just to get my hands on you, I will, and nothing can stop me. Not an atom bomb, not a power bomb, not even a D-bomb. So you drink your milk and say your prayers, because if you don’t give me what I want, I’ll make meatballs out of you. I’ll take a fistful of those meatballs and I’ll shove them right into your mouth through your anal cavity. I will make that happen, no matter how much I have to break physics to do it, you hear me?!”
I saw part of the monitor on their end actually fall apart before the picture went black. I let the Director handle it from there. He managed to get ahold of her and, from the snippets I heard as I headed back to my recliner, she was much more inclined to listen to him at that point.
Now, with my imperialistic desire for living space quenched, I had time to throw my consciousness back to Paradise City.
Willie Nelson was flying into town. A guy like him doesn’t necessarily mind taking criminal money, especially in a state that’s becoming friendlier toward legal weed. Aurelio Cuerno’s sources heard he was in town for a private show for Ouroboros himself. Well, suddenly there was reason for me to show up at that airport and see if I might meet Mr. Nelson himself.
I almost broke my cover. According to the holograms, I was a baggage handler, but I nearly jumped up to try and save the plane when I saw the way it smoked on its descent. Just trailing smoke like you wouldn’t believe. Thing is, no one was putting out any emergency radio transmissions and the plane was flown perfectly. Well, then the plane taxied over close by and the door opened with a huge puff of smoke. Soon, Willie Nelson helped himself down the steps, smiling. He turned to an aide with him and said, “And that’s how you make a mile-high hotbox. Now, who’s hungry?”
The three others with him all raised their hands. As for me, I wheeled on up to the base of the stairs. I had a cart in front of me with a large, hard case on it.
“Nice to meet you son,” Willie said, holding out a hand for a shake. I grabbed it, threw him in the bag, zipped it shut, and started running. Somebody from that plane took a shot at me, but I didn’t get a good look. From the magnitude of their miss, neither did I, and probably for the same reason: there was a shitload of smoke drifting out of that plane.
Well, I haven’t harmed Ol’ Willie. He and I are sitting around here in a nice penthouse Cuerno let me borrow. I had the drones fly in some of what the growers in the cemetery are calling Riccan Royal for the fellow to enjoy in between shooting the shit and feeding him more food than his skinny frame can possibly hold. Sure, he wasn’t happy at first. Once he figured out I didn’t intend any harm to him and would be letting him loose, he mellowed out in a hurry. That, and he confessed he’d had himself a special lollipop or two on the ride over as well.
Just to make sure Ouroboros got the message, I hired one of the freelance pilots to send him a message. A little skywriting, just to make sure he’d know who to contact. Big message in the sky read, “I got your Willie!”
You know, I love train heists. So exciting. Too bad Florida doesn’t have passenger train lines headed toward Central and South Florida. You’d think making it easier for more people to get to the major tourist destinations would be an easy win, but you’d be wrong. Oh so wrong.
It’s the fruit lobby that put an end to that. The orange growers have that racket going on, see. They need people stopping by at the rest stops to try pure orange juice, eat candy made from oranges, buy preserves, and head out with a bag of Florida oranges.The orange racket will do whatever they can to keep the citrus flowing. They’ve given more than their fair share of bodies a pair of alligator-skin shoes. And by that, I mean they let a pair of gators chomp onto them, then toss them in the water. Those aren’t just regular navel oranges, dear readers. Those are blood oranges.
But enough about the Vitamin C pushers. That’s all mere background fluff to attacking a prison transport convoy headed down south from Paradise City. For the sake of at least pretending to cover my tracks, I let it get some distance away from Paradise City. I actually aimed to go after it somewhere in the Big Bend. That’s what they call that corner with the peninsula.
Florida is fairly flat country. Not particularly hilly, and most of the buildings are extremely limited in height due to the hurricanes. There’s still a lot of woodland. The convoy was headed down the highway with trees all over the place. One prisoner transport, two SWAT vans. The one in rear had a machine gun mounted up top, but I wasn’t too interested in learning absolutely everything about it. I didn’t intend for it to be an issue.
But I was in the mood for an old-fashioned train heist, and old fashioned heistery I was going to have!
I jumped the guard rail from the woods on a steel horse. A robotic horse. Not that hard to throw together back in Ricca and launch on a missile over here. Horses are already fairly fast creatures before you start making improvements on evolution’s design, but most horses would not want to hold a Dudebot. It’s not some silly thing like detecting evil or hating robots. Horses are living creatures that don’t necessarily like heavy shit sitting on their back. Sparks flew every time its metal hooves pounded the highway.
I came up on the SWAT van with the roof turret first. The person on it finished calling down to everyone and turned it to aim at me. I pulled out a cable and lasso with one hand. With the other, I unslung a jar of moonshine. I lassoed the gun and stood up as I approached, moving my grip up on the rope. I swung off, pulling the turret around as I landed on the front left side of the van. The gunner pulled his sidearm, but I threw the moonshine jar onto his head. He fell as it shattered, the liquor causing a hell of a thump. Then I pulled a cigar, lit it, and tossed it in. A blue flame accompanied screams of those inside. One machine gun, but only a single shot taken. A flaming shot.
The van stopped suddenly, sending the Dudebot flying forward to land on the ass of the robo-horse that gleamed in the sunshine. Ah, but doing things Western style means the occasional use of dynamite, like what I had in my saddle bag. I tossed it behind as a present for the SWAT van driver. I’m sure he thought it was nice and safe, me apparently forgetting to light it. You know, up until the fuse suddenly lit itself.
By now, the two other vehicles were trying to contact their superiors and inform them of the unconventional attack. Sure would be a shame if someone jammed it. Meanwhile, the GPS map devices in their cabs rerouted them. “In 1,000 feet,” said a helpful electronic voice, “go fuck yourselves.”
I like to think that even if I wasn’t there in person, I was there in spirit. In fact, further up the road, a line of rubber chickens were marching along to get to the other side. The prisoner transport skidded to a stop. The front SWAT van didn’t, and ended up the size of chicken nuggets. I hopped down off my horse and pulled the door off the front of the transport. The driver held his hands up. “Please don’t kill me!”
I pulled him out. “Give me the keys and I’ll think about it.” He reached down and handed me the keys to the truck. I grabbed the keys in one hand and his hair in the other, then snapped his neck straight back at a good 100 degree angle. “I thought about it.”
When I opened the door, I found that some of the six prisoners within were working on their chains. “Howdy, everyone. Someone call for the cavalry?” I looked around and spotted the face matching the picture Aurelio Cuerno gave me. “Hey you, one moment. I got something for you.” I grabbed something off the horse and came back, then slid him the cake box.
“What is this?” asked the well-muscled latino.
“Just a cake. Surely there’s nothing hidden inside to help you get out of jail.”
He started digging through it as I hopped up and began unlocking everyone’s cuffs. Escorpio Encantador found the bag hidden within the cake in no time, and pulled from it a scorpion medallion. He slipped it over his head and then snapped the chains holding him. Ensconced by a golden glow, the other prisoners all ran out.
I hopped out too. “Before y’all all go anywhere, I merely ask for a moment or two of y’all’s time.”
“Screw that,” said one pointed teeth tattooed coming from his eyes. “We need to run, now.”
“I can get you out of here quite quickly,” I said. “And even out of the country, to a nice place that doesn’t extradite.”
“Who are you supposed to be?” asked one of them with smooth metallic eyes.
“He is Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca,” said Escorpio. He stepped out of the back of the van, throwing his shredded prisoner jumpsuit to the side. He now wore gleaming armor, obsidian black and gold. It was segmented along his chest, thighs, and upper arms, but showed a lot of skin almost everywhere else. He had a loincloth just to make sure the dangly bits weren’t exposed, and part of the armor tapered off into a curling scorpion’s tail on his upper chest. His face looked out from what seemed to be an obsidian scorpion’s mouth, the ruby eyes of the scorpion set above his own. “And I am interested in his offer.”
“I have recently reached out to many other villains. I am having a meeting with as many of our powered criminal brethren as I can gather. Try to get a bit of solidarity going on. Work together a bit, or at least not working against each other. Plus, easy to find extra firepower next time a hero comes knocking and wants to put you in these lovely getups.” I motioned to the jumpsuits all but Escorpio wore.
Escorpio nodded. “I will hear you out.” Between the two of us and the lack of other options, the other five agreed. Not really big names, but quantity has a quality all its own. Truth is, I’m beginning to think I should have gone about this country by country. The States would be a poor choice for that one to start with, though. Big place.
The Dudebot nodded and headed to the horse to retrieve a bunch of augmented reality glasses. I started handing them out. “Here, put these on and just follow the yellow brick road to freedom. I have a pilot who will take care of you. Already paid off. See y’all on Ricca.”
With them out of the way, I headed back to the prisoner transport, closed it up, and hopped into the driver’s seat. The distortion to the map device stopped, showing me just where to drive to the place where they were hiding prisoners. I also called in news of an assault, even explosions.
It didn’t take long to reach Grove Penitentiary. For having such an old-fashioned name, they were clearly working off a more modern prison design. Electric fences with barbed wire ringed the place.
I stopped at the gate and handed over the deceased driver’s identification. The guard looked at the transport. “Where’s your escort?”
I shook my head. “No clue. This guy showed up on a robot horse and blew one of them up. I got the hell out of there. The front escort stopped to deal with him and I haven’t heard anything since. Didn’t you hear?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Sounds crazy. No one blames you for not stopping. Now come on through, get them to the helipad.”
Open space for a headcount? Well, I knew I’d have to make things loud again sometime. I guided the transport over to a flat space of tarmac meant for helicopter landings. Might be a good spot to have a pilot come in after I bust the door down and dig up wherever they hide the supers. I’m figuring underground, as usual. From the old files I still have archived on Grove from my brief reign as world emperor, this place isn’t set up to hold supervillains anyway. Must have been some fast digging.
I soon found out it had nothing to do with putting villains six feet under. A chunky flying block with a pair of rotors on top descended out of nowhere, landing on the helipad in front of me. The doors to it opened wide enough to admit the whole damn transport along two pair of rails like you’d see at a car wash. Once I drove in, the rails locked the wheels into position and the doors closed. Then we took off.
The ascent took several minutes like that. It gave me enough time to zoom out on satellite view and figure out what’s going on.
The answer was a giant airship. That’s where this little retrieval can was headed. Forget giant helicopter aircraft carriers or huge planes meant to stay in the air for hours at a time. This thing had a balloon to keep it up. Not a bad idea. Generally speaking, airships can stay up for a long time on minimal fuel. Crashing can still be a problem, but I suspect that’s part of the appeal. If anyone does too good a job breaking out or breaking in, they might wreck the whole thing. The guards might even have a way to scuttle it.
This thing looked to be roughly the size of the Hindenberg, which said good things to me about its possible load of prisoners.
When the big chopper block carrying me docked, the rear opened. That’s when I noticed the doors didn’t open enough for the drive or any passenger to get out.
“Stay in the vehicle while we see to the prisoners!” a voice boomed. A glance in the mirror showed people dressed in bulky gear, maybe even some exoskeletons.
I didn’t like this, so I used the eye lasers on the Dudebot to carve out a hole in the windshield as quietly as I could. See, all through my life I’ve had this strange, unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister. Of course, that’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe has that. I just listen to mine more. Good thing I did. When those guys threw the doors open, I heard one of them say, “There’s nobody in here.”
I was pulling my surrogate body through the hole when the other one ordered. “Something’s wrong. Drop it.” I felt everything give way in that distinctive feeling you get when all support fails and you’re subject to the whims of gravity. Luckily, the Dudebot could also charge up its gauntlets with energy. It burst out the top of the plummeting box, getting a little nicked by a rotor on its way up, and accelerated back up to the prison with the help of the arm rockets. They wouldn’t last long, so I shot up into the same loading bay that had dropped me before and was still in the process of closing. I still had the lasso with me from my earlier old-fashioned romp on the highway and roped a fixture on the wall to pull myself away from the doors and toward the two unfortunate guards who had dumped me like a crazy ex.
I landed right next to one and grabbed him by his thigh. I turned him upside down and drove him down onto his head. The other raised his rifle and fired at me. The shots bounced off as I stepped closer, grabbed it from him, and flipped it around while ducking. I brought the smoking muzzle up between his legs, tearing through clothing and sphincter alike. He screamed, so I brought my fist overhead and shut him up while pushing him even further along the barrel. Then I picked him up, aimed at nothing in particular, and took a shot. That silenced him, and the shot as well. Not many people realize the human body makes an excellent suppressor. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Yo COBRA!
“What’s happening?” Came a voice from an intercom off to the side. It was near a desktop computer hardwired into the ship itself. I couldn’t find anything going to or from the ship, so it must be operating entirely on an internal, wired network. I pushed the intercom to answer while I fiddled around some with the Dudebot, tearing into one of the more easily accessed redundant wireless interfaces.
“Uh, everything’s under control. Situation normal.”
The voice on the other side didn’t let it go. “What happened?”
“We had a slight weapons malfunction, but everything’s perfectly alright now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you.” I popped open the case of the computer until I could find just what I needed and started splicing the wires together. “How are you?”
He didn’t reply, but I figured he was alerting the authorities. And, a moment later, I saw just that happen as the systems of the ship began to register on my consciousness. I actually sat back and let the Dudebot idle as I worked my way in. Digital stuff is always so much quicker than working in meatspace. I had plenty of time to snuff out the emergency alert and change the access codes. From there, it was just a matter of locking down the guards’ barracks, the guards’ break room, the guards’ kitchen, the armory, and the cockpit. That left a few of them roaming through the halls, but they were easy enough to deal with. I mean, the windows on the thing could only be so thick.
When the cockpit cabin door opened for the Dudebot, the crew up front were still desperately trying to retake control or get a call out to the outside world. “This is your new captain speaking,” the Dudebot relayed to them at the same time as the the intercom system announces it to every cell. “We are now flying the smooth skies of Gecko Air. Now, who wants to get off this ship alive?”
Between what gravity would do to them and threats of letting the prisoners loose on them, the crew decided to sit quiet and let me do what I liked. In the end, I got a cool 68 of 71 prisoners who agreed to come with me. I figured getting an actual helicopter or plane up there would be an issue, so I fell back on something I’d always intended to be used more by villains. I fired off a missile from Ricca and guided in drones loaded with crates of rideable rockets. Just strap on and let Wernher von Braun do the rest.
Once I’d gotten off all those friendly people who decided to attend my little conference after everything I did for them, I initiated an order to leak helium and had the Dudebot disconnect me from the airship. The crew and remaining villains would probably be ok, unfortunately. It was a slow enough leak to drop the thing without so much of the fun crashing involved in it, but it’ll put the damn blimp out of commission for a little bit.
And so my new team’s rockets blasted off again.
It’s not just Alabama and Florida getting my special attention. Dudebots are going out all over the place, as well as Drone Division teams and some of Ricca’s new Navy Deep Ones. They’re a hell of a lot better than SEALs in the water. Whatever Hu did with the old version of the Intelligence Service, he’s not doing too badly with the new one. He’s keeping me updated regularly on the process, which mostly consists of him having scattered groups link up, meet with a nearby interested supervillain, and bring all of them in at once.
Good coordination there, helped quite a bit by a recovering economy. We’re even taking in refugees from all over the place now that the United States can’t or won’t. Haitians, Puerto Ricans, Middle Easterners. And not crappy people, either. Plenty of doctors and engineers who would have been taxi drivers in the United States are finding I don’t care so much about certificates if they’re capable of doing the work. In some cases, we have some handy people for the military. Anywhere the United States coordinated with locals, Hu is looking over files to see who can be of use to the Intelligence Service and who might be a potential threat.
I don’t know when he sleeps, especially now that I ordered him a fancy coffeemaker that could keep an entire army marching for days. I had it sent to one of the hidden detention areas that used to belong to the New Direction before we rounded them up and dealt with them.
It’s not all bad. They’ve been split up and mixed in with some of our new colonists. Yep, the Directory has decided to offer people a chance to start colonies on Mu. They’re predominantly locals, with more cooperative New Direction thugs mixed in, and even some refugees. My ambassador over in the Bronze City already sent over maps, so surveyors with drone backup are off figuring out where to put people, with emphasis on resource rich areas. Some of the New Direction guys might even be useful as guards there, but I passed a message to the Directory that I want oversight.
Meanwhile, in America, I had a couple interesting opportunities at hand. The biggest involved the Cartel’s branch in Paradise City. They invited me to see one of their lovely happening night spots, full of groovy cats and bangin’ hotties. Word. Adjective. Pronoun. But enough about me and my antiquated sense of how to fit in. I wore armor to a nightclub. The doorman actually commented as he looked me over, “Gonna be hard to dance in that.”
I turned the Dudebot’s head to look at a line of scantily clad women at the front of the line. “What can I say? I’m a firm believer in using protection.” I nodded at them as the doorman let me through on orders from the higher ups. “Ladies.”
This place wasn’t built to completely blackout every signal imaginable. The Cartel were relying on a different method of securing their communications. The place was so full of music and people, you’d have to get a bug in there. That’s harder to do inconspicuously with so many people in there and, as I soon found, plenty of guards keeping important people out of the manager’s office. They let me pass with nods of their own, but kept an eye out to make sure no one got any thoughts. The size of some of the glasses at the bar, I’m pretty sure some people are lucky to still have brain cells, let alone thoughts. You don’t often see martinis big enough to drown a man in.
I entered at what might have seemed a bad time. I walked in on one man in a suit with the jacket off slamming the head of a woman into the desk. She held a gushing and broken nose as she raised her head up again. She turned to me, silently pleading behind the flow of tears down her face. So I gave her some advice, “Crying is not a helpful thing to do with your nose like that at the moment. Buck up, sunshine, it’ll get better.”
The manager looked to me. “It is so good to make your acquaintance at last. First, though, let me clear the air,” He was a thin guy. Little. Wiry. Black slick hair, dark eyes, and a straight nose showing he hadn’t mixed it up enough to get his broken so far. He walked around to his desk and opened a box of cigars. He grabbed one for himself that he used to poke something inside the box. Instantly, I felt a jamming signal cutting off cell phone access. I have other ways of staying in contact with this thing that are stronger than a cell phone jammer, though. My host extended a hand across his desk. “You are Psycho Gecko. When I heard a man of your standing had arrived to meet with Ouroboros and he insulted you so, I thought I would have my people reach out to you.”
I shook it, and looked down at the two chairs in front. One was occupied by the bleeding person.
“Don’t mind her. Merely a waitress who thought I would give my life for her, or at least twenty years if she had succeeded with her deception.” He slammed the palm of his hand flat on the desk, making her jump. “I know how much you enjoy the feeling of taking a life. Please, be my guest,” the manager smiled.
I nodded and held up my pointer finger. “Sure thing.” Then I turned and walked out of the room. Despite making good time on my trip, he was on a landline by the time I walked back into the room. “Nevermind, he is here again,” he said before hanging up.
I sat down the giant martini glass on the edge of his desk in front of the underling he wanted to be rid of. She had stopped crying, but didn’t look any prettier for it. She looked up at me as I sat on the desk. “Care for a drink, my dear?” I asked. I didn’t wait for an answer before I grabbed her head and held it under the surface of the cocktail. She put her hands on the edge of the glass, which was indeed larger around than her face, and pushed. Slick with blood and tears, and facing the unforgiving metal of my robot surrogate, her hands slipped off and she tried with the desk. It didn’t work either.
Only once she weakened did I let her up, pulling her face out of it, then rapidly bringing it down to smash through the glass itself. Sharp glass scattered under her where it didn’t tear into her skin. I kept going, though. Her face and very top of her neck hit the desk. The rest of her I forced to the floor with a loud snap from her vertebra.
I threw her body to the side and sat down in the other chair offered. I saw the manager smiling a grin not often seen on adult outside of a windowless van. He motioned to the corpse. “To think, some of my own people doubted your identity. Who can doubt such art as this?” He kissed the tips of his fingers, then sat down.
“Whew, I don’t know about you, but I feel like a drink after that. I’ll have a White Russian,” I informed him. The Dudebot abides.
He sent off for the drink and made some small talk about the unseasonably cold weather., introducing himself as “Aurelio Cuerno.” It has snowed three times in Paradise City this winter. Prior to the first time, it hadn’t truly snowed here since the 70s. Even now, there were areas with puddles that had been frozen for days. In Florida. “What I find fascinating is that Ouroboros does not use his system to change it,” Cuerno said.
“Perhaps problems with it caused this weather. Maybe it’s part of some plan he has in mind,” I mused.
It wasn’t until we received our drinks that he asked the question of the hour. “I have heard of your conference. I am most interested in hearing your plans and whether they still include Ouroboros.”
I swirled glass and the liquor within “My plans are simple. I want a big family of supervillains. One network where we can all communicate. Coordinate amongst ourselves in groups. Join together if need be.”
“Mmm, that is an ambitious project.” He leaned back in his chair, then nodded his head to where the fellows who brought us our drinks were picking up the body off to the side. “What is your plan for dealing with informants and undercover law enforcement?”
“Who has two thumbs and is absolutely trusted to not be an informant by anyone on Earth?” I asked, pointing back to myself with both thumbs. “There’s a lot to figure out as far as structure. Leadership council, for example. However, I think I am more than qualified to execute any enforcement of penalties, which by necessity would be concerned with limited offenses. Murder of a villain, or betrayal of this organization. We can fill in gaps as needed, though I think a promise to have me curb vigilante murders of villains will be a powerful incentive.”
“Fascinating… and I see a way in which we may help each other in our projects.” He reached down and messed around with a drawer before setting a velvet bag on the desk between us. “I owe my life and my loyalty to the man this belongs to. He is like you, a man of exceptional abilities. Unlike you, he was captured and lost his armor. I have done everything I can to find out where they are holding him, and I have failed in this, but I have many resources. I have people who owe me debts, and those who need what I have to sell them. It was in this way I found out my own boss, Escorpio Encantador, will be transferred from where he is being kept to a facility in central Florida along with other superhumans the police have corralled. I would be honored if you would do me the favor of rescuing him, and I believe he would be amenable to your offer if you did. Indeed, there may be a few such villains on the transport grateful for a rescue.”
I nodded along to the last few words. “I like this offer. No fuss. No making me wait. I have a country to lead, after all.”
“I see no reason to make a powerful enemy when I could have powerful friends,” he said. He raised his own glass, some form of whiskey. “Come, let us drink. To fulfilling our ambitions,” he said, raising his glass for a toast.