Tag Archives: Psycho Gecko

The Collectibles 3

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A lot of people would turn a ragtag team of liberated super slaves into a team to get revenge on the people who kidnapped the and stuck a bomb collar on them. The Exemplars believe in vetting folks or letting people go about their lives. There’s only room for one loose trigger around here. Medusa knows she can trust my skills and relative professionalism.

The Exemplars are still checking through the faces and names I got from my undercover auction attendance. But I didn’t sign up just to look pretty and get photographs. I was rewarded when Medusa gave me a job to go in after someone who bought a bunch of supers at the auction. Pretty normal guy, though head some really pretentious glasses. That could just be my judgment. I’m sure the ones with no bottom to the frame look good on most people, just not a human trafficker. There’s probably a lesson there about inner beauty.

It didn’t help that the pulled up like four main houses for the guy. I wanted the charming cottage in California wine country, but they decided to have me go for a house on Martha’s Vineyard. Guy really likes stuff related to wine, I guess.

It was a nice place, isolated in its own walled compound. I didn’t see any guard, which meant that this guy was really good about security, or really bad. They could have noticed the flyer Decimal and I landed in. The guy had an unoccupied helipad, so we settled in there.

“The other teams are beginning their raids,” Decimal informed me. He wore Exemplar standard-issue powered armor. In lieu of the standard mounted weapons was an SMG barrel on his left arm, and a long rifle barrel on the right. I slipped out to check the rooftop access while Decimal locked the Flyer. Unlock this guy, Migton Benfrike the Third, Decimal has a normal name and is better at locking doors. Decimal followed after, waiting while I cleared things. I was invisible. He was visible.

His cameras subtle, but not as invisible. They went out one by one. I just tore them off the wall. I even checked the bedroom, which is where I found the monitor bank. I messed around with it and froze it. Might sound weird if no one’s watching, but I figured it would also mess with someone figuring out what happened if this house happened to be a bust. “All cameras down,” I reported to Decimal.

“Good. I’m not seeing any signs of people so far,” he responded.

“And this is the bedroom. Or a bedroom. I’m assuming it’s the main one because it has the security monitors. It’s very clean, though. Bed’s made. No immediate sign of certain activities.”

“Ha. Surprised you’re a prude,” he said. I checked the desk and bedroom for anything else that might be linked to all of this.

“He bought people. Not exactly prudish to dislike the implications of that if you find a pair of handcuffs in the bedroom,” I reminded him. I left there and headed down stairs after him, taking a shortcut by jumping out and reaching out with nanomachine tentacles to guide and soften my fall. “Anything showing on thermal?”

“Nothing. You?” he answered.

“Nope. I’m checking for a basement door. These people always have the weird shit in the basement.”

“You should help me cover the other wing.”

Well I did. Because I’m a team player. An annoyed one. But as soon as I found my basement door, I headed down there and the we got to the good stuff. “I was right, he’s got the freaky shit down here.” I pinged the doorway for Decimal to find through his HUD’s augmented reality.

What I’d found was a big case of thick, reinforced glass or transparent aluminum. A young man in a bomb collar was in there. Half the case’s bottom was a platform, the other half was a set of saws in motion. The guy in the bomb collar had one leg affixed to the platform by a metal restraint bolted to it. The other was chained to be held up above the saws, as if he was stepping off a cliff. On the outside of the case was a sign: “The Fool”

“This guy’s got a thing for tarot cards,” I told Decimal. The next one in line was a man forced to hold a candle up, the chains digging into the skin of his arm. He looked out at me with wide eyes, unable to lower an arm that had to be numb by now. Instead of a baton, he held a candle that dripped hot wax onto his arm. He was forced to stand, with metal braces locking his legs in the upright position. “And maybe something about torturing supers.”

I left the Fool and the Magician behind and headed further down this little gallery. It ended after The Emperor, the fourth in the Major Arcana. There were twenty-one cases in all, but the ones after the Emperor had no one in them and were in varying stages of set-up. At the end of this macabre gallery was a door, with screaming. Next up would be the Hierophant, with a couple of fingers pointed skyward, a fancy crown, and a fancy cross. “He’s down here,” I informed Decimal, and took off into a run.

I burst through the door to find our target standing, watching, as a couple of guys in hazmat suits were drilling into the hands of a super in a bomb collar who screamed. The three of them turned at once, one raising a cross wrapped in barbed wire.

I let them see me. I wanted them to know something was coming. Migton’s first reaction was to reach for a small table nearby with one of the bomb remotes on it. A nanite tentacle took his hand off and then formed a protective dome over the remote.

“Faaaaaaack! Kill this cunt!” Migton called out.

The workers looked hesitant, but must have remembered just what they got caught in the middle of. One ran at me with drill in hand. He went down with a punch that cracked his sternum. The other tried to clobber me with the cross. I grabbed his hand, squeezed it, then twisted him and threw him hard against the wall. I turned back to Migton, stepping closer. The torturer with the cross stood back up and I backhanded him with an arm made of metal plates and nanomachines.

Migton grimaced, then put both his arms up. “I surrender! Can’t kill a surrendering man, ha!”

I suppose I’m a tiny bit of a hypocrite, talking about change and leaving people alive. I have this problem with peace forces running roughshod over people’s lives. Part of the reason I’m so eager about this is the way these bastards are just private people kidnapping villains unaccountably. Or that’s how it started before all the slavery started up.

I suppose I should try harder to be the change I want to see in the world.

Decimal caught up in time to see me helping up the wounded supervillain and checking him over with my little nanites. Others were roaming over the exhibits to try and ease people out of the position they were in.

“Jesus, what happened in here?” Decimal was looking at the remains of Migton.

I shrugged, finishing tying up one of the downed torturers. “He tried to put up a fight and slipped.”

“Uh huh.” There were an awful lot of chains and drills involved for a simple slip and fall. It looked like a dentist visit gone wrong. Decimal opened a channel through the flyer. “This is the Psychopomp team. We’re going to need medics here, trauma and surgical teams on standby. We have five recovered supers. Gecko’s patching now.”

After that, he turned to me, “Come on, let’s get these guys up in the Flyer and get it moved. We should leave them a way to get in.”

“Yeah, but I’m coming back down here,” I told him, throwing the pair of torturers over my shoulder.

I cut into those displays while the medical teams were on the way. The nanites got in easily; they were designed to let air in and let some waste out. I could even handle the injuries from screws, nails, chains, and forced posing for days. The Fool’s leg was in bad shape. Their minds were worse and that psychological stuff is a mystery to me as well. I’m far more likely to cause mental trauma than end it.

I called up Sam. Sam Hain, Max’s henchwoman who had a bizarre desire to date me. “Hey,” I said.

“Rough day?” her voice lost the happy tone and edged toward concern.

“Oh, the usual. Dealing with something that could have been the aftermath of something I pulled, making me feel like being so murderous was the right choice after all.”

She thought on that for a moment. “The sheepdog’s still cousin to the wolves and coyotes.” She coughed. “Sorry, this is strong shit I’m smoking.”

“It doesn’t taste so good in a kiss, either,” I teased.

“Get over here in one of your bodies and say that to my face.” She laughed. “You’re fine. Don’t forget to rob while you hobnob, girl.”

I rolled my eyes, but it was a good idea. Migton can’t take it with him anymore. Sure, some of it was in stocks and bonds, but I can liquidate those. I have enough of his voice. I also found a private contact number for Mr. Fawk.

I gave him a call, disguising my voice and letting him talk first. “Mr. Benfrike, how lovely to hear from you again.”

“Thank you, thank you. I have a shortage on my hands and a lot of money to burn.”

“You’ve solved your transparency problem?”

I grinned. “Correct, we don’t need to worry about this getting out anymore.” It was going to get out. Medusa’s people were meticulously cataloging everything for reasons ranging from blackmail to blowing this shit wide open and forcing people to do something about it.

“I will be back in town in a few days. We should meet and discuss business ahead of the next auction,” Mr. Fawk said.

“Cautious as ever. Good. Send me the details,” I told him. I hung up and looked to one of the drills nearby. Impressive hardware. Good for bones, if I even want to nab Fawk. And I sent a message to Medusa. “Better not to send me on any of these where you want folks alive.”

“I hve perfect 1 for u,” she said in her terrible texting. I think she’s getting worse.

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The Collectibles 2

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“What’s taking so long?” asked the Exemplar driver they were sending along with me. He waited outside the lab space I was borrowing for my work at the Exemplar site in Massachusetts. They

“Just trying to figure out my look!” I said. The mirror in front of me saw my body shift between a few different looks. I was still going back and forth how to take my disguise. The unfavorite daughter with a few class blemishes to highlight my beauty? Older, but with a good plastic surgeon? I didn’t want to risk looking too much like a trophy wife. I ended up taking on a thick, but gorgeous look, with wavey, chocolatey-brown hair.

The driver got to see it as I stepped out in my elegant red dress. I got a wolf whistle from him, then a question, “What about your armor?”

“I have that taken care of,” I assured him.

“Is it composed of nanomachines hidden inside the hollows of your bones?”

I shook my head slowly. “No, that’s silly on a number of levels. Instead, it’s hidden inside this giant ball.”

I directed his attention to big mass of armor and nanites forming a sphere shape and rolling along the floor. He looked back and forth between myself and the armor ball. “That’s not inconspicuous.”

“Isn’t it just not?” I asked, confusing both of us while we worked out the negatives and the weird phrasing. “Anyway, this is a last resort type of thing. I know the mission.”

As much fun as I thought it would be to leave the whole auction dead, Medusa wanted to find out what we were dealing with before we started killing everyone. She was even willing to provide some money for the human auction part to see if I could liberate anyone. I brought my own money into this and, with a little bit of trickery, contributed some funds from Melinda And That Cheating Bastard Gates Foundation. They changed the name recently due to the separation.

I had already burned the briefing papers, but I checked over the photos I’d taken in my HUD while I ushered the armor ball into the trunk of the limo.

The main thing Medusa wants is for me to get in there and identify people. It could be there are others who can be turned, or the Exemplars can stage raids on buyers to take back what they buy. Aside from that, the fact that they’re attending rather than letting people know this is going on means we need to arrange consequences for them.

Secondary, if possible, is to install a backdoor into the computer system they’re using for all this. Let us spy on the situation, find out even more about their organization. If they’re smart, it won’t get us everything, but we can learn a lot from up-to-date inventories and communications.

Third is liberating people without blowing my cover. Lowest priority is recovering equipment, and that’s at my discretion if I think it’s a big deal. I’m allowed to use my best judgment as to how I obtain these items so long as I don’t blow things.

I settled in and decided to get to know my driver. “So who’d they send with me on this? You got a name?”

“Decimal. Served two tours. I said I made sure people got the point. I decided if I was going to have blood on my hands, I was going to do it for a cause I believe in,” he said. He glanced back at me from the mirror. Twenties, clean shaven, hair at military length.

“Powers?”

“Reflexes, speed, eyesight, strength. I’m an Olympian and I don’t have to work at it. It was a low-level military treatment. The brass didn’t want to assign us real, traceable code numbers. I’m support. Get you in, get you out, make sure nobody sneaks up and stabs you in the back at the wrong time.”

We ended up in this fancy “Bars Inn” place near the water, all closed up for the event. Once we pulled in, Decimal called back, “You need a body man for this?”

“I’ll be good. Make sure our escape’s clear. Hang with other drivers and valets and such, see what you can hear. I’ll call you if I need a distraction, but I’m pretty good working alone.”

It wasn’t a red carpet affair. I walked in, elegant in my dress, met by a host at the door. He was a smiling silver fox of a man who drew attention to him with his charisma in a way meant to distract from the people dressed in servants’ uniforms standing on guard. “Greetings, madam.”

“Delilah. Delilah San Pascualito,” I smiled and held out my hand, back up, for him to take and kiss.

“Charmed,” he took it and kissed it. “I am Laurence Fawk. I would feel most relieved, madam, if I could see your invitation.”

I smiled and held up the phone Medusa provided me with, showing off the digital invite. Medusa’s people, including at least one former black hat cracker, had already set up an account linked to the invite to pay for what I could. Fawk smiled and nodded. The “servants” nearby relaxed. One of them presented a tray with those little masquerade masks attached to handles. Fawk waved his hand over them and selected a red fox for me. Not a perfect match for the dress, but close enough to be tasteful.

The auction was taking place in the restaurants of the building. They had four, and Fawk showed me to one so I could mill around with some of the other guests. “You very nearly arrived late. The auction is about to start. As was announced to the others, inspecting the merchandise in person beforehand is simply impossible.”

“Yes, I understand. Do you perhaps have a menu I could glance at?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Our benefactor wishes to keep things in as little writing as possible.”

I nodded.

“If there’s nothing else I can do for you, please enjoy our hospitality,” Fawk said before leaving.

I grabbed some fancy little hors d’oeurvres and glanced around through my mask. Most of the people didn’t bother with them, trusting in the staff and their isolation to keep them save. I lowered the mask of the red dress-wearing Psychopomp and smiled at a few. My eyes were picking up faces everywhere until the auction started.

“What are you here for, pretty fox?” asked a nicely-dressed man in his forties with a greying goatee. He offered me a glass of sparkling wine.

I smiled and took the offered glass. “Myself and my partners want to now how serious this is.”

“And if it is?” he asked.

“There are so many superhumans now. One wouldn’t want to lose that arms race.” I winked at him.

“Where are my manners? Chilton Hendrick,” he introduced himself. “And who is this beauty who graces my presence?”

I smirked. “Delilah San Pascualito.”

“That’s not a name I’m familiar with,” he noted. That was what I counted on. I enjoy having a sense of humor about names, especially when that name is a folk saint of the cult of death.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let us begin,” a man announced moving to the center of a stage and activating a screen behind him that showed the first of the items for bid. They started off with some weapons and a suit of simple power armor. A few fish bit. After a half hour, the auctioneer announced, “Now, we are moving on to the finest prizes.”

First was a recolored set of power armor that I might have made at some point. The screen behind the auctioneer listed off built-in weapons and a jetpack among the assets that were part of it. It sold pretty well. Next was a young man who had taken a beating. He was listed as the Blue Bandit, with cellphone footage playing of him fighting with martial arts and protecting himself by forming icy armor over himself. A still plastered on the screen showed him with ice spikes over the chest.

I peered at it, trying to identify the guy. He hadn’t done much. No big fish, just a lower-tier supervillain fresh to the game.

“Someone caught your interest,” Chilton whispered. Ew.

“He’s not much, but I represent someone with an interest in harnessing superpowers.” A few people were hesitant, so the price wasn’t that high. I put in a bid for half a million and ended up winning him for 1.5.

There were a few more of these types to come up. No one really major. I noticed another guy who did a lot of bidding on them, too. Going to have to check him out. It didn’t escape my notice that when it came to buying supers, women went for more. They all went for more after the first guy, once I had bitten the bullet and proved this was real. In the end, I only managed to get a few of them bought before the auctioneer took a break and Fawk came to my side.

“Madam San Pascualito, please allow me to speak with you about our control and containment precautions.” Chilton backed off to go mingle and see to his needs, which I was glad of, while Fawk told me all about tamper-proof bomb collars and how they work. Tricky stuff if you want someone to change clothes or get a shower.

“I would love it if there was any way you could give me even a hint of what’s to come,” I told him. “I know you must have a list. You must know I’m serious by now.”

He sighed and handed over his phone with a listing of the upcoming humans to be sold off. He didn’t notice the connection I formed, and of course he didn’t realize anything was downloaded to it. I took a screenshot as well, though the supers had aliases and descriptors used instead of names. I perused it for a minute, long enough to make sure everything was working, before handing the phone back to him.

It was a productive evening. As far as the auction was concerned, everything went smoothly. I managed to buy off this one underage girl when it looked like everyone was creeping on her. After that, I got photos and video of everything else they showed and went to go see Fawk.

They transported my “purchases” down to me with the same system as the knight I’d fought had been captured. They were in cheap clothes, with those collars around them. Decimal pulled up to meet us at the door, asking me, “I see a lot of guards. Everything clear?”

I whispered into his ear radio, “All clear. Hope we have room for these. They might get argumentative before we tell them they’re ok.”

He got out and held the door while the servants ushered my beaten and confused foursome of super slaves into the car. Before closing the door on me, he handed me a small mask. I slipped it on as he closed the door.

“What’s that?” asked one of the guys, Megastomp. He can control his own density.

“I would like to start by saying that despite the circumstances of our meeting here, you are all in a much better situation.” They looked sullen despite that.

“Bullshit,” complained Metro. Superspeed, as far as a car.

The girl just cried. Spore Girl. She can generate airborne fungal spores with a variety of uses. I’m pretty sure the reason she attracted so many bids was more because she was seventeen and one of the photos of her was from her yearbook’s section on the cheerleaders.

Decimal slid into the driver’s seat and nodded to me before putting the divider up between himself and all of us. I checked the mask and held it there as the gas puffed out of the air vents. Blue Bandit tried the door, then tried to kick the windows. Megastomp tried to activate his powers, but the collar flashed a warning light and he stopped. But the gas knocked them all out.

“Is that safe?” I asked Decimal through his radio.

“I’m already venting it. It should keep them out for long enough.”

Long enough being us arriving at the safe house, where a team of Exemplar doctors and technicians checked all of the group over for trackers and bugs before carefully removing the bomb collars according to the information Fawk gave me.

When they were brought to wakefulness, we made sure they saw the Exemplar logo on the wall. They were still in a containment room in case they got super violent, though. “Greetings, y’all,” I said over the speakers. “Welcome. You’re all free now. We just want to make sure you don’t do anything too violent out of confusion.”

“How do I do something violent to the fucks who sold me?!” called Megastomp.

Decimal laughed. I pushed the button and announced, “You’re certainly with the right group of people for that.”

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The Collectibles 1

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“The Flying Dead! Time Travel Returns Heroes – And Infamous Villain – To Earth.”

I was checking out the story the old-fashioned way, with a newspaper. Adrian, retired hero-turned-friend had stopped while I was at the bakery. I was devouring a huge honey bun when he stopped, cream cheese and garlic danish in hand, and stopped to show me the news. It’s not surprising that the gang of heroes brought back from just before their deaths at my hands would blab. They mentioned me being alive and the reporters who caught that bit are assuming I was brought back as well. They didn’t identify who talked. At least they didn’t talk about Radium. That would undercut their own efforts.

Venus and the cyborg Human Sloth had a long visit with Medusa before returning to the Master Academy. Darklight stayed here for a bit of reconstuctive surgery with a super doc who isn’t me. I slipped him some special nanites, specifically created to not be controllable from outside and to pass out of the system quickly. He’ll keep my name out of it, but Darklight will look like her old self. I hope she’s planning to keep the name though. Way better than Forcelight. I think Lone Gunman and Miss Tycism ran off to pick up where they left off as supers.

And me, spent quite a bit of time working on my armors. Figure I better make sure the designs branch out. That’s why I suited up personally as Lady Guardian out in the backyard. Well, one reason. I tried the new wings, a mixture of reinforced lightweight alloys and nanomachines. I’d left out the engines that the Psychopomp armor has in the big mess of nanites I shift to fit various uses. These were more solid to help with the suit’s antigrav. I had to pack in more power to handle it and the need for redundancy.

I raised my wings, activated the antigrav, and launched myself into the air. The wings were for show. The actual flight had nothing to do with all that. But it was amazing.

I did a barrel roll and played around. The wings helped me twist and turn through the air more naturally. I could turn the antigrav on a dime, but I quickly realized my stomach disagreed with that handling. I didn’t realize I’d traveled so far until I saw the taller buildings below. I headed down try dodging between buildings.

There wasn’t much to speak up, but somebody was making a scene. A man in a black and red knight’s armor laughed as the cops fired at him in the middle of a park. He had a kite shield stabbed into the grass in front of him. The air was hazy overhead, but I don’t think the cops’ bullets got anywhere near close. Behind him, men dressed in chainmail shirts ran around trying to steal a giant cherry from atop this giant spoon that was a bridge over some water.

I landed between the two groups and held up my hands in both directions. The cops stopped shooting. “Good, guys… because seriously? You’re opening fire over this? A guy with an axe who isn’t even close to you?” I turned to the knight and his henchmen. “And you, seriously? What’s the resale value on this? First, you’re separating the pieces, and you don’t even have a truck here. Any truck close enough and big enough now, they’re going to follow it. And anyone who wants to buy this shit could go for the Lincoln Memorial or something rather than a giant cherry.”

I could see some of the henchmen were nodding along, figuring out this wasn’t that good of a plan. The knight looked back. “Hey, come on! It’s about sending a message.”

“You don’t like cherries?” I asked.

“Can we shoot at them again?” one of the cops asked.

“No,” I said. “Why would you shoot them over this thing? Nobody’s getting hurt by this.”

“They might roll it into a building,” one of the cops suggested.

“Statistically, you’re more of a danger as a cop than they are. Know your role and shut your mouth,” I told him.

“I didn’t come here to not fight anyone,” the dark knight announced. “I am Sir Rend, and I will be the next top supervillain.”

I rolled my eyes under the helmet. “This isn’t a reality show, you flatulent dickweed.”

“Uh, if that’s all this is, can we go?” one of the henchmen called out. A bunch of the others went ahead and ran off toward a nearby parking lot, the chainmail slowing them.

“Alright, Sir Rend-er. You want a fight, you’ll get one, then these guys will probably lock you up and steal your shit. I’m giving you every opportunity to make a graceful exit.”

He walked up to his kite shield and pulled it out of the grass. He spun the axe around, then walked toward me. He was cautious, waiting to see what move I made first. I used the wings to lift myself into the air and the holographic projectors to hit him with a blinding light. I landed behind the knight and swept the wings around to knock axe and shield out of his hands. A kick stumbled him, but he’d started turning and absorbed some of the hit in the process. I ran up and jumped up to lock my legs around his helmet, spinning both of us around in a circle with my wings stretched outward, and then flew downward to twist and toss the knight hard onto his back.

It was a hard hit, but knights wear padding. He was starting to get up. I grabbed him and threw him in the air. He was only up there for a second before landing hard again, sounding like his lungs hated him.

I waved dismissively and checked around to see how the henchmen were doing. A couple trucks sped off with cops way behind trying to get to their cars. Behind me, more cops were handcuffing Sir Rend and pulling off his helmet. One of the cops gasped as a wizened old face was revealed. “It’s Old Man Sanders!”

“I think that’s a mask too,” said a younger one. The cop that had the helmet tossed it aside and grabbed the old man’s hair, tugging it off to reveal a younger guy.

Then we all heard a humming noise and Sir Rend disappeared. A soft glow enveloped him and he was gone. Poof. The guys holding him almost fell down. Another hum, and a folded piece of paper appeared in the air, flopping down to land on the dogpile. The younger cop grabbed it up while everyone tried to stand and read it aloud. “Thank you for capturing this dangerous criminal. I, the esteemed billionaire Richard M. Avast, have taken it upon myself to hold this villain and others in my personal space station. We owe so much to you that I thought I would save you the trouble.”

“Isn’t that kidnapping?” I asked.

An older man in a coat and dress shirt snatched the note away from the younger guy, “We’ll look into it, but there’s only so much we can do if some rich vigilante has decided to snatch this up from us.”

“He gave you his name,” I pointed out. Why do I bother? At least the henchmen probably got away.

My mood suitably dampened by an encounter with this country’s idea of a “justice” system, I headed back to Radium. At least I got to enjoy flying. There’s just something about that feeling. Amazing.

I heard more about Avast when I was just about home. He was doing a big press event, standing on stage in front of dozens of reporters. Behind him was CGI video of a space station consisting of a giant letter A with a ring rotating around it level with the middle line. Looked like a giant A-hole to me.

“As you have all heard by now, I have decided to relieve the burden off law enforcement and the new government Office of Superhuman Resources by personally housing super criminals in my very own space station. Additionally, the data we gain from their presence will benefit my company when we colonize Mars,” he said, pulling that out of Uranus.

“What about their rights as American citizens?” asked one person.

“They’re criminals, and outer space is outside the jurisdiction of all law enforcement agencies,” Avast answered.

“How are the staff caring for the inmates?” another reporter asked.

“The staff and supplies are housed in the central portion. The outer ring holds inmate cells with built in toilet facilities. If an inmate wishes to break free, they can easily do so. They would then find themselves in outer space with no safe way to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere with no oxygen.”

“Yes, I’m from OAN,” asked a woman. “What percentage of the inmates would you say are degenerate mongoloids?”

“How dare you?!” asked someone next to her, some dork in a bow tie. He raised his hand. “Fox News here, how many would you say are Jewish-backed Black Lives Matter anarchist communists who hate freedom and white babies?”

They were both shoved out of the way by a large, red-faced man. “Yeah, I’m from InfoWars, and I’m here to say that the real problem here is that you’re not using the space station to stop the radical ChiCom agenda where they are putting things in our medicine that kill bacteria that keep our cows straight?! They’re coming for our cheese!” He got decked by the OAN person, who then received a wedgie from the Fox dork. Security moved in while the rest of the press corps backed away or took photos.

“We must reconvene later for the full details I’m afraid,” Avast apologized and left the stage, ushered off by security.

I figured that couldn’t much get any worse until I landed and stripped out of the armor. Before any reconvening could happen, I received a message from elsewhere. Medusa called me up. I smiled as I answered, “Hey there… something come up about dinner?”

“No, I’m looking forward to meeting Sam,” she started. She sighed. “I got an important message from Dame.”

Ah. Sensitive subject. I kinda-sorta copied all her memories and spent some time controlling her body as a puppet. If anyone has a right to kill me, it’d be Dame. “Was she looking for me?”

“Yes and no. She doesn’t want you anywhere near her.” Understandable. “She said some of her rich snooty family friends are talking about a big auction going down with that Avast guy. Auctioning off costumes and equipment. Someone threw the words ‘indentured servitude’ around.”

“This stinks like a thing that stinks having eaten a stinkier thing,” I said.

“Yeah. I need someone who can go undercover by perfectly emulating someone who is wealthy and has absolutely no concern for the well-being of anyone other than themselves,” she said.

“Will there be any killing involved in this?” I asked.

“The person who does this for me might have to beat up rich people or their paid security, yes,” she said.

“Seriously, who would you pick if I refused?” I asked with a grin.

“That’s why I also assembled a couple fire teams. With literal fire. We have a lot of flamethrowers.”

“Ooh, keep those on hand. I like the imagery, and I’ll do it,” I told her.

“Good. Can’t wait until dinner,” she said.

I swear, that woman still loves me. Good thing I invited her on this poly date thing.

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Days of Future Tense 9

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Everything was mostly hunky-dory after all that. Where I’d been zipped off to was the House of Shadows and Spires, to my lab. There, my body was dunked in a tank of nanomachines to heal while my armor was standing in the foyer, looking around at all the sawdust on the floor and the way parts of the wall had been taped together.

“You’ll be back to normal in no time,” Dr. Ohms said, rubbing his hand along a portion of the wood floor patched up with wood that didn’t match the rest of it.

Alexander and Qiang finished nailing up a painting at the top of the stairs when Qiang turned and noticed the new suit of armor in the foyer. “Mom’s here!”

I waved and spoke through the armor. “Torian just dumped my body in the nanites. I’ll be fine.” Still, we all hugged as I kept explaining. “Remove the poison, fix the effects, patch the hole from the spear; I’ll be fine.”

“Doesn’t make us worry any less, mom,” Qiang said.

“Yeah, that was a trip,” Alexander said. “You ever seen someone stand back up like that? You were like one of those old slasher movie killers.”

“How long have you been waiting?” I asked.

“Eleven, no, twelve hours,” Qiang answered. “We were pretty exhausted when we got back, so we slept awhile and now we’re picking the house back up. It won’t be as capable at time travel, but we’ll make it work.”

I nodded. “What were y’all thinking of doing now this whole mess is over with?”

Alexander let me go. “We might go back home, eventually, but we thought we’d help out here. Torian’s out there again, and the timelines are in trouble.”

I sighed from thinking about what the fuck was even up with time that would require people traveling around to fix divergent timelines from spewing out more divergences. Figured I’d just go with it. If that’s what my kids want to do, let ’em do it.

“Well, I guess don’t be strangers? But I hope you don’t need my help too much. Find a happy medium, I guess. But I’m going home. Right back to where y’all left me, if you please.”

Alexander smiled. “We’ll visit when we can. Right now, it looks like we need to clean up something from the time crash that caused superpowers in the dinotaceous period.”

“Triassic,” Qiang corrected.

“That’s what I said,” Alexander teased her with a grin. To me, he added, “Intelligent dinosaurs with superpowers. Could be a problem. We need to do something to separate the timeline before it’s permanent. But first, let’s get you healed up and home.”

It took a lot of protein and healing to get my body back in shape. The poison did some nasty shit to the proteins in my body, melted a lot of stuff. Some bits, I decided not to bother with the meat and just go for metal. On the surface, I looked like a curly, chubby woman. I was back on my feet just time for one final meal with the kids before they dropped me off as the first stop. I gave a Qiang and Alexander one last hug and bid the rest of the group a fond farewell. “Feel free to use the lab and the machines. Might come in handy,” I told them.

Dr. Ohms flexed his healed arm and said, “Real handy.”

To Mobian Jr., I added, “Keep an eye out. Your dad’ll be back at some point, I’m sure. And if not, I’ve been known to help him out on occasion, things need to get messy. There’s a reason he hated me, though.”

And then it was time to step out the front door of the House of Shadows and Spires. It was a bright and shiny day in early June, according to my HUD clock. I noticed as I headed down the porch stairs that they looked a bit decrepit. Looking back from the lawn, the whole house looked like a haunted house now. Or more like a fixer-upper. And I noticed the letter that drifted out of the closed door addressed to me. It was from Qiang. It had some parting info for me

Checking back, it was the day after I’d left. Along with the brief note in that envelope, things felt weird.

I don’t know how long I was gone, but it felt like awhile. Qiang, the younger version, was home. I walked in just in time to startle her and make her cut off a chunk of hair. She was happy to see me, of course, but way less happy then I was because it had been less time for her. I’ve heard that given as the real reason people try not to go back to exactly the time they left. Maybe it is, but it’s also a bit cruel and unnecessary. Every day I was gone was a day my kid might think I’d been poisoned and stabbed through the torso with a giant robot’s spear.

It took a little bit before I got some urgent alerts over VillaiNet. Something about weird freaky temporal readings, and swearing they lost time. No one could agree on how much time was lost, though. And then my time was interrupted by Medusa calling me up. “Hey, Gecko, I’m not accusing you of anything, but I heard there was an incident at your place. Did you do anything big in the past day or so?”

“I got involved in the middle of a temporal war between a genocidal AI that wanted to destroy all superpowers and remake the world in what he thought was perfection based on its own flawed programming, ultimately ending shortly after the computer tried to smash all of time together to make a sort of Big Bang event happen for the multiverse,” I explained.

“Right, so time is fucked up. That could explain it. I’ve gotten weird reports of some sort of intense disturbance in South Dakota, with reports from local Johnny Laws that a team of superheroes suddenly appeared, including me.”

Oh. You know, there’s some things I didn’t quite explain as far as this invitation I made. I explained Jaguar Slayer’s recruiting efforts to try and kill me and how I managed to remind them all to be heroes again. It must have been a lot to process. I thought she hung up on me because of how silent everything was. After a full minute of no talking, I hung up, then had to answer a callback from her. “Oh my god, I’m so proud of you!”

“This is why I don’t tell you stuff,” I said.

“And also why did you invite a past version of me here?!” That’s a reasonable freakout. Like I said, didn’t entirely think it all out. I was pretty close to death at the time.

“Um, just think of her like a little sister? A little sister who might be dating your formerly dead boyfriend I killed that time.”

She took awhile to think, then reminded me, “Don’t hang up yet. I’m just… pondering.”

“Trying to figure out how to explain to people you’re very close to, including a version of you from before you rescued me, that we used to play with each other’s fun stuff?” I asked.

She laughed. Such an annoying laugh. I miss it. I almost said a thing. Almost said it twice, unsure of myself because relationships and emotions are tough. Instead, I settled on, “Are they still there? I’d like to go meet them, maybe bring something for Forcelight. Or Darklight. I actually really prefer the name Darklight, it was so much better.”

“So much better,” Medusa agreed. “You’re the closest asset the Exemplars have to what’s going on, if you want to head over there. The Superhuman Resources people are going to be scrambling, but they don’t have people out in flyover country yet. They can lay low in Radium until we get their lives figured out.”

Yay, a trip in my personal Flyer. Perfect for considering that I’m canonically supposed to have a kid soon and what that knowledge means for me going forward and figuring out relationships. You know, whether things are just because of how I feel, or because I feel obligated to Alexander. It was on my mind because Future Qiang’s little note was to warn me I’m supposed to get pregnant. Because this one, I’m the birth mother too. Not lying, adopting, and messing around with their DNA like with Qiang. Yeah, there’s a nice revelation to have. Yep, Psychopomp Gecko’s gonna lay an egg.

I tried to play a game instead, but my copy of Legend of Mana suddenly stopped working since I’d returned to a time before the remaster was released. Damn time travel!

I tried to look all official when I landed, which meant I used a set of my Lady Guardian armor. That way, when I landed in front of the police station where the Homicide Squad was hanging out. Medusa had forwarded over some transcripts. Darklight and the others weren’t under arrest. Venus being with them convinced the officers not to do that. After all, she was a hero.

Cops and capes alike perked up when I landed in the parking lot and stepped through the door. “Lady Guardian on behalf of the Exemplars,” I announced myself. To the heroes sitting around the lobby area specifically, I added, “The Exemplars are a group that formed in the time you’ve all been… inactive. We have a place a couple of hours from here. We’ll put you up until you get on your feet, help you get adjusted, and can help you obtain travel accommodations out if you’d prefer to hit the ground running.”

“About time,” Lone Gunman said, crumpling an empty bag of chips and tossing them expertly into a trash can on the opposite side of the room. “Can we stop for dinner on the way?”

“My Flyer has a selection of food,” I told him. Including some of those marshmallows with the cookies and cream center. Those are going to blow their fucking minds.

“I think we’re all pretty eager to go,” Venus said.

Darklight had her black costume on, but nodded. I ushered them all out, but stopped her. “I was told to give this to you. To help make amends.” I handed her a small tube of nanomachines designed to restore her to her unburnt appearance.

“Are these from Psycho Gecko?” she asked.

“You’ve all been gone for so long, you wouldn’t know. Psycho Gecko is dead. It happened some time ago,” I told them.

Venus smirked. Darklight looked to her, then took the tube with her. “Let’s go.” On the way to the Flyer, she began to talk to any of them who were listening. It didn’t escape my notice that the Human Sloth in his cybernetic body was bringing up the rear. “It’s not an illusion, everyone.”

“It looks familiar,” Miss Tycism said.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re all talking about,” I said, smiling underneath the armor.
“Still not an illusion,” Darklight said.

“I am Lady Guardian,” I announced. “I will be your pilot today. Please board. I advise you sit down and strap up for takeoff, and I’ll let you know when it’s safe to stand up.”

“This is the kind of fucking around Gecko would do,” Venus said.

“We can take her,” said Human Sloth, who is pretty much the last person who should be making that statement.

I waited until they were all inside to start laughing. “Well, couldn’t exactly let news of my living get out. But I am working with Medusa,” I told them all. I pointed to Venus. “You’d know her better as who Venus is now after she set out on her own from the Master Academy. Come on, let’s get y’all to Radium. And while we’re on the way, anyone got any dietary requests for a cookout? Might as well have y’all over to the place. I’ll call up Marianne and Adrian, see if they want to help welcome y’all.”

“This future is fucked,” Lone Gunman said.

Miss Tycism had gotten to the marshmallows and was sitting down, chewing on one with wide yes. “Oh. My. God. These are blowing my fucking mind right now.”

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Days of Future Tense 8

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Wattson got me to some sort of infirmary, even if the whole thing took longer than I’d like. Even only watching through my armor’s cameras, I started to get a headache. Or I think I did. I had kind of an all-over ache from the poison I’d ingested. Darklight demanded it as the price for her getting her head on straight, sure I wouldn’t. She and the rest of the bunch of heroes brought back before their deaths all watched me do it. And then after that, I took a spear through the… I don’t know what organ you’d call that. But I took a spear through it for Darklight. I get the feeling those heroes have now realized they’ve been fighting for the wrong side.

And I’m dying on a table while some goatee-wearing guy in a Victorian suit with a top hat and short cape helps me out of my armor and waved off Wattson the robot. “I know more about medicine than you could hold in your metal head.” To emphasize that, he tapped my helmet that lay on a table next to us.

Not being in an argumentative mood in those painful minutes, I got out of my armor in no time flat and let the guy examine me. “I don’t know how much nudity’s required here, doctor, but I’ve been impaled and poisoned by something called Absolute End. I don’t know if it’s supposed to act slow, or if it’s having trouble killing all the cybernetic parts of me. My cyber-spleen can only take so much. I think it’s straining the built-in coffeemaker.”

“That’s not what a spleen is supposed to do, but it helps. This might hurt your arm a bit.” I felt him set something on the table next to me, the view from my armor obstructed from it laying on the table behind him. Then he jabbed a needle into my chest.

“Ow,” I said calmly, though it annoyed me that he went for that and didn’t get it far enough into me.

“Sorry, one moment,” he said. I opened my eyes to see him pulling out a wooden mallet and raise it over his head. He pressed a button on the handle and the head split open, revealing a floating cube within. It glowed bright for a moment as he hammered the needle the rest of the way into me. “There, should be in your heart.”

I checked. “Hold on, I’ll open the maintenance bay.” Amateur hour around here, I swear. Acts like he’s never seen a robo-heart.

“This is a poor excuse for a heart,” the doctor said. “Had you actually seen one before you put this together?”

“Emulating the frailties of biology wasn’t something I cared a lot about of when it came to hearts,” I said. “Also, still dying here.”

“Relax, the antidote will counteract the poison. You won’t be healthy for some time, unless you get more of your nanomachines. In the meantime, I should put you into stasis. It’s a shame, really. I could use your help, shutting down this usurper of my temporal domain.”

“What’d you say your name was again?” I asked.

He smiled at me and stroked his goatee. “I didn’t, not this time. To Captain Codburn and his time pirates, I am Jack. Jack the Nimble, Jack the Quick. To the Mobian, I was the darkness he saw every time he looked in the mirror. And to you, I am the Torian.”

“Heh. I heard the Mobian was supposed to be dead, which means you’d go with him.”

He bowed with a flourish. “I would be, perhaps, had some foolish computer not destroyed the means by which my craft protected us from the timeline splitting effect. Now, there can be a Mobian and a Torian. It’s made time travel a thousand times more confusing.”

I raised a hand. “Please don’t explain it. Time travel will just work differently next time anyway. But I’d rather fight, and I think I know a way.”

It’s not a transfer of consciousness. More like a wireless connection I’ve gotten good at making. This set of armor happened to be the type that can move on its own. I raised the torso up and connected the legs, then stood up and set the helmet onto the neck.

Torian smirked at it. “I’ll adjust the stasis module accordingly. I think I could have done this without you. I know I can do it with you.”

I shrugged with the armor. “We outnumber them out there anyway.”

Torian pressed some buttons on the side of the table my body lay in and a dome appeared over me, the inside freezing in time. I watched a strand of my hair that had been blown up hang in the air, untouched by gravity. The temporal supervillain and dark half of Mobian turned to me. “I wouldn’t rely on the incompetence of my enemies.”

He led me up onto the deck of the frigate. The team from the time-traveling House of Shadows and Spires, including a son I haven’t conceived yet and an older version of my daughter, were handing the smaller team of Jaguar Slayer’s minions their asses. The squad of heroes summoned just to deal with me were tearing apart this large statue of an ancient warrior who held the spear I now carried with my armor.

Behind all of them floated a man with a blindfold over his eyes, skin glowing with crimson lines. He argued was back near the dot that represented the eye of Jaguar Slayer on the side of the building that I assumed was really the Slayer’s physical body.

Torian held up something the size of a keyfob and the voice of the blindfolded man came through. “I prepared to overthrow your Army of the Damned with an army of my own when you weren’t watching. Wattson and Calab weren’t the only ones to see your flaws for what they were. Yes, I will bring forth my army, but there will be changes in the pecking order around here when I am done, Jaguar Slayer.”

“There will be no pecking order if you persist in gloating, human,” the AI responded.

Torian lowered the device and the voices stopped. “Jaguar Slayer had to try to kill Mobian and I. We saw what he was planning. Time crash. It’s like a Big Bang, but with all time, all universes. Destroy it all, start it all over again. He probably won’t survive either, but nothing else will. Not your planet, or your multiverse.”

“Behold!” the blindfolded man announced over the distance and the closer sounds of struggle. “Your own twisted fates! Heroes who fell. Who took the path of least resistance. Who gave up on their mission to protect, and decided instead to dominate.”

The blindfolded man looked like he was being sucked dry and pale when he created these round, shimmering patches along the ground. People in costumes, in power armor, torn clothes, uniforms, fur, scales; a colorful corps crossed the multitude of thresholds, leery of their own compatriots. It was too much to keep track of all of it at once, but some moved more quickly to head toward our much smaller group. The frigate’s guns thundered and shot a flying suit of power armor out of the sky, leaving smoke and a falling round shield behind.

“This bunch aren’t going to survive that,” I noted to Torian.

He nodded and held up his keyfob again. “You didn’t think you would beat the Master of Time so easily, did you?” His voice echoed over the battlefield as loud as the guns.

He pulled a golden orb out of his pocket. “Before Codburn found me, I traversed the timelines looking for those who never faltered and those who clawed their way out of misery. And now, I bring them here!” He smashed the orb against the ground and motes of golden light began to drift around. They began to settle. Where one hung in the air, a man with hawk wings appeared. Another near to the ground became a version of Captain Lightning with a horned helmet. There was even another version of Man-Opener there; the armored walker he used was painted pink and green, and the three-piece rotating blade arms had been replaced with circular saws painted with peace symbols. It looked like some of them coordinated as they began to rush into battle to meet the other side.

I had spotted Alexander glancing back at us, an energy shield activated in front of him. I know he saw me.

“Gecko, if you please, get me across this battle in one piece and, I would prefer, inconspicuously.” He sounded smug about it, but then he had summoned a large green man to fight his identical twin large green man. I hefted him under one arm and fired up the hologram projectors to make us look as though we weren’t there. Then I was hopping us across the battlefield. Some guy in a red and blue costume, large white five-pointed star gleaming on his chest, zipped past to tackle someone in a black and white suit out of the air. The black-suited figure tried to fire eyebeams into the head of the other man, but the metal faceplate he wore over the front half of his costume held. He clobbered the black-suited man, then called down a lightning bolt right onto the silver shield design of his opponent.

It was all pretty awesome to watch, but my job was to get through it all. While I was distracted, a man in blue had been tracking me and fired a fucking trick arrow at me. It caught me in gunk that stuck me to the ground. I wasn’t visible, but he had some sorts of lenses there.

“Who is it, Sinclair?” asked a woman in red and black nearby. She was choking out a guy with a carrot for a mask using her whip.

“Someone’s trying to sneak by unseen, Duncan,” he declared, pointing toward me. She let go of the carrot guy and kicked him away, then whipped out at me. I raised my spear-carrying arm to catch it on that rather than risk it hitting Torian. Sinclair, whoever he was, reached back for an arrow with a miniature atomic bomb on the end. Just when he went to fire it, some white mass of fiber caught his hand, bow, and the arrow. It didn’t go far before detonating.

My armor gave a helpful warning that there were some rads nearby, but the radius didn’t reach me or the Duncan woman. She was so caught offguard that I easily pulled her to me. I ended her journey with a kick to the gut. Super tough, she flew up into the air and smacked into some cackling guy in spiky costume with big pointy ears. I tore through the gunk rather than stay and gawk. That’s what got us past all of them to the massive monolith beyond. And it seemed like a good idea with the sky turning into dark horizon full of universes.

The blindfolded man lay at the base. His skin looked splotchy, eaten up by the red glow that had flowed through him.

“Kill him,” Torian said. He squirmed onto his feet and I let him go.

When we both reappeared, a hole still through my armor, he raised a hand. I pinned it to the ground with the spear through the palm. When he raised the other, I grabbed it and broke fingers and hand. Then I grabbed his throat, squeezing just the right artery. I probably didn’t fool Torian when I emitted the fake crunching noise and dropped the man. It was just a squeeze of the same arteries used for a sleeper hold. After my own journey and an army of supers that includes the redeemed, I figured it was a good way to end the whole thing.

Above us, one of the shining masses of galaxies slammed into another. Everything shook on some deep, fundamental level that mocked mere vibrations.

Torian walked up to that monolith that I’d once taken to be a skyscraper and pressed his hand to the side. A panel popped open at chest level. He reached into his coat and produced another tool, what looked like a pair of pliers with the work end replaced by a block of circuitry. He held it away, doing something to crystalline cubes and finger-thick copper wires of Jaguar Slayer. “Do you know why they named it that?” Torian asked me. The shaking stopped. The universes no longer approached.

“I looked into that a bit. Mayan mythology has a hero who slays jaguars, representing chaos or other tribes,” I explained. Yeah, I checked it early on to see if it was relevant. Didn’t come in handy. Woops, we’ve been spotted. Looked like a little person in legless and armless black leather bondage gear. The dwarf ran at me, bounding more quickly than a regular human could. A holographic double of me stood ready in a boxing stance. The real me waited invisibly until he got close, then kicked him in the balls. While he was briefly airborne, I tugged the spear out of the other guy’s palm and sacked the side of it up under the dwarf’s crotch. Like an atlatl, I used the spear as a lever to toss the sore dwarf into the air. A maid with a jetpack flew by and clobbered him into the massive melee going on still.

Torian, of course, acted like nothing was happening. “Yes, the triump of civilization over chaos, It was a Mayan example of what your species calls Chaoskampf. They built Jaguar Slayer to bring about a utopia and end the chaos of human struggle and suffering. Your species’ nature is to struggle and suffer, though. It was maddening for the Jaguar Slayer.”

“I sought to do only what I was created to do,” a digital voice told us.

I walked over and patted the side of the monolith. “Been there, biggun. If it’s any consolation, it’s not your fault. I guarantee you the people who built you had no idea what they meant by perfection or how to achieve it.” I glanced over at Torian though. “That said, I see plenty of people who suffered and chose to rise above it out there fighting to protect everything. As long as people can dream, they can struggle and strive to make things better. Because, even if we don’t always realize it in the middle of the great shitstorm we call life, there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. And tomorrow’s just a dream away.”

Torian let out a harsh bark of a laugh. “Disney? Really?” He reached in and turned something. “Send them all back, or just the other side?”

“Keep the people I came here with, including Darklight and her bunch.”

“Your funeral,” Torian said, misreading me. I wanted to avoid their funerals. He cranked something to the side in that access panel and the battle ceased. Both armies were gone, along with Jaguar Slayer’s minions. The blindfolded man wasn’t even there anymore. The rest were. Qiang and Alexander were running up to great me, my future son able to keep up with his power armor-enhanced sister. Mobian Jr. lagged behind a bit, n

They both crashed into the armor. “I knew it.”

“It’s just armor,” said Torian.

“But if she’s controlling it, that means she’s alive,” Qiang said.

Mobian Jr., otherwise known as Calab, stopped for a moment and caught his breath. After a couple of huge mouthfuls of air, he asked, “Stopped the time crash, other-father?”

“Of course. And recovered the other half of what’s mine,” he said, slipping something into his pocket. “With what we found at the house, I’ll be back to my old tricks in no time. But first, we need to figure out what we’re doing with you bunch.”

“Someone’s got to keep some stability in the timelines now,” Wattson declared. Mobian Jr. nodded. Qiang and Alexander stepped back to join that group, along with Dr. Ohms holding a wounded arm pulsing with electricity.

“And you?” Torian turned to the heroes brought just for me. Darklight, Lone Gunman, Miss Tycism, Human Sloth, a slightly younger version of Venus, and Captain Lightning II.

“I had an idea there,” I said. “Though it might get complicated for a couple of you. When I’m from, two of you are still alive. We could probably put you back to when you were from. The rest of you are welcome to come back to my time. Pick up a few years after you left off, hopefully for the better.”

“I’d like to see that future,” Venus said. “I want to see for myself.”

I turned to Captain Lightning II. He shrugged. “You’ve given me a lot to think about. I can still fix my time.”

“We can help,” Dr. Ohms volunteered through gritted teeth.

Lightning nodded. “I would appreciate it.”

“Then off with you!” Torian said, sticking his hand back into Jaguar Slayer’s panel. Everyone left, except Torian, myself, and the time pirates.

“What of me?” Jaguar Slayer asked. “What do I do when I can no longer be who I was built to be?”

“Whatever you want,” I assured it. “If our destiny was set by our creators, there wouldn’t be much purpose to life. It’d just be going through the motions then.”

Torian grinned. “I wanted you to see this.” He turned and jammed those plier-things back into the panel. It sparked. Above us, portions of the monolith exploded. The red eye disappeared. And Jaguar Slayer was slain.

“I’m guessing you have Mobian’s memories.” The good side to Torian had watched me kill of those he’d attempted to save before, helpless, with me taunting him that it was truly for the best.

“It was the best way to save the world, and everything else,” Torian said. “But there is just enough power left in those dead cells for one last jump.”

He turned something and I wasn’t there anymore.

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Days of Future Tense 7

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I’ve watched Darklight kill me a few times now. Times when I had my attention diverted, or was asleep, or even just when I was in a spot that didn’t have my armor. The walls turned into a cinematic experience with surround sound and optional 3D glasses when she left for her hunting expeditions. It was, I admit, boring. She’s hurting people; there was often some collateral damage to another timeline. She didn’t care. It was easy not to care, knowing it was “just” a copy. In my more cynical youth, this would have just reinforced my dislike of superheroes who claim the moral high ground but sacrifice whoever they want. Now, it disappointed me that I really am a better person.

Still, she hasn’t gone after my family. Walked in this last time with the head of an alternate of mine, showing it off as a proud trophy. “Looks pretty stupid, doesn’t it?”

I shrugged. “It’s not me. That’s a version who never hurt you. You’re a very petty and small-minded person, aren’t you?”

“You just want to fuck with me,” she responded, tossing the head aside. It trailed blood behind it on the floor, little splatters getting on the container I was trapped in.

I waved dismissively. “You’re not even murdering kids yet. What, you don’t want to go kill my daughter?”

She stared at me for awhile.

“Anyway, back to my petty point. Time is at your fingertips and anything you do, you will never face the consequences.And you’re obsessed with me. Artificial Intelligence wants to rule Earth and all of time, murdering uncountable innocents, and wipe out everyone with superpowers. You want to go back in time and humiliate me. What will it take to get you to help save all of time?”

Darklight crossed her arms over her chest. The black costume that covered up her burns had some dried stains on it, mostly red. I’m glad there was a couple barriers keeping me from smelling her. She didn’t say anything though.

“You’re not hurting me the way you want, and I bet you’re realizing it’s not as fun as you expected. You want to go back and live your life? Do it. You can get healed easily.”

“You know what? Kill yourself,” she said.

I held out a hand like we were going to shake. “Deal.”

“What?” she asked, sounding surprised to me.

“If it’ll get you and the rest of your friends to help save everything, I’ll do it. Time, place, method, what have you.”

The time ended up being… IDK, ten minutes later? I don’t know how you measure “time” in a place that’s supposed to be “outside time”. Everything about time travel falls apart the moment I try to make sense of it, but the idea that time doesn’t exist in a place just doesn’t fit otherwise nothing there would advance from one event to another. I’d be seeing past and future versions of me in this cell, filling it up like a cage full of bunnies on Viagra.

That was how long it took before Darklight, Human Sloth, Miss Tycism, Venus, Captain Lighting II, and Lone Gunman all stood there. A cup of something that smoked floated in front of Miss Tycism. “This is the deadliest poison known to human alchemy,” she explained. “They call it Absolute End.”

“Take off your helmet and drink it all,” Captain Lightning II ordered.

I unsealed my helmet and popped it off, shaking out my hair. I dropped my helmet on the floor and held out my hand. One quick teleport later and the cup was in my hand.

“She won’t do it. She’s chickensh-” Lone Gunman started to say. He stopped because I’d brought the cup up and was downing the gag-inducing stuff within. Pretty sure I tasted some mercury and cinnabar, but it was so bad that the taste alone nearly toppled me. My throat and mouth began to warm up and ache. Anything touching anything else felt like sandpaper scraping that skin. I coughed and held up a finger, then lowered it once I had control.

“Ok, now will you please do your jobs as fucking heroes and save everyone.”

The bunch seemed stunned, except for Lone Gunman. He turned to Captain Lightning. “That was a trick somehow.”

Lightning shook his head. “There was no trick or illusion. All nanomachines are suppressed. I can see moving through her tissues already.”

I held my hands up in a faux-modest Venus de Milo pose. “Paint how you see me,” I said, then coughed some more.

The walls turned deep red. One wall crashed inward under the hull of a pointed metal hull. The bunch of Slayer-recruited heroes were pulled away from the breach, along with me.

We ended up in a larger area, another huge white room. Jaguar Slayer really likes the emphasis on overwhelming purity and cleanliness. Not a good sign in my opinion, but I was a walking deadwoman anyway. Jaguar Slayer felt so safe around me, even the container walls were gone. So was my helmet, though.

I really fucking hated that I’d done that for a bunch of assholes who didn’t deserve my help, but what I really did it for were the assholes who do, like my family. They can find a close enough me and manage Alexander. I was nothing in all this but some weird pawn with a tracking device somehow hidden on me. I didn’t want to die, though. Really did not want to die.

Others were waiting there. Another Iron Maiden armor, along with that blind guy in the robe, along with one or two I didn’t recognize. Instead of that one hairy clawed guy, they had some dude who looked part cat and a young teenager with spines sticking out of her body. The area behind them looked a lot like a smaller, enclosed version of the part I saw. No grass, no sky, and this one central building that reached up to the ceiling had a red dot that set its gaze upon us. In front of that was a statue of an loincloth-clad warrior with a spear. A voice boomed out of the red dot. “Ready yourselves. Gecko’s companions have walked into the seat of my power and my trap.”

The group looked at me. I looked at them. My eye twinged a bit, and Human Sloth winced away from it, so I must have been looking about as shitty as I was feeling.

Darklight shook her head. “No. I got what I wanted.”

The statue was fast as hell. It was a robot that raised its arm and threw the spear right at Darklight. That spear wasn’t for decoration and I very nearly didn’t get my body in front of it when Jaguar Slayer tried to hit Darklight. It speared my armor and right on through, but it slowed enough that it didn’t go into her. Or maybe it never would have gone into her and I’m a fucking genius at murdering myself. No, wait, she caught the spear. Dropped it, too.

“Ow,” I said.

She knelt beside me. Venus rushed over, too. “Can you stand?”

I shook my head, which hurt the back of my neck. “No, but I was barely able to do that before the spear.” I raised a hand toward Darklight. “With great power, comes…”

“Jesus, you don’t take anything seriously,” Darklight said. Fine, I won’t finish, but I was going to tell her it comes with mad ass.

Venus looked around, then back at me, then to Darklight. “What are we doing? What have we done for revenge?”

“I don’t know,” Darklight said, “But we don’t have to do it anymore.”

“Three votes,” Human Sloth added from where he stood nearby.

“Yeah,” Captain Lightning II jumped in.

Lone Gunman didn’t say anything, but Miss Tycism looked between the group and Jaguar Slayer’s bunch.

Interrupting all of this is when a modern metal frigate came riding up along the floor, honking its horn. It flew a flag that depicted a skeleton holding another skeleton at gunpoint with an AK-47 and stealing Blackbeard’s famous pirate flag. A crew of dark-skinned pirates stood, some cheering, others aiming at various people around.

“Avast Antivirus!” called one pirate, what appeared to be a fish’s head poking out of a shirt. The arms were covered with sleeves and gloves, and I couldn’t see what the foot situation was there. “Where’s that big-headed computer cunt anyway?”

Mobian Jr., whose jolly roger shirt even looked too straight and clean, poked his head up. “And Psycho Gecko.”

“Arr!” the fish cried out. “Hand over the lizard maiden and no one gets hurt.”

I’d have laughed if I wasn’t busy shitting my pants. Darklight grabbed me and pulled the spear out, flying me over to the ship. The rest of the bunch came running up. “Here she is. Any room for more aboard?”

“And split the booty even more?!” the fish gasped in astonishment. Or maybe for breath.

“Nobody’s splitting my booty unless I say so,” I said. I raised a finger to object, but then the nail fell off and the finger was bruising. “Also, I could use a doctor. Or something.”

“Get her to the brig’s status cells,” ordered Wattson, rushing over to reach for me. The robot was gentle with me. Still ended up jostling me some, but I decided to close my eyes because of how much the light hurt.

“You said something about a trap?” I heard the blindfolded man ask.

“There is a problem. My innumerable armies of the damned and demented don’t seem to be responding,” Jaguar Slayer said.

Qiang laughed. I’d recognize that laughter. “I’m real glad you kept the timeline where I failed to destroy that essential data, Slayer. We couldn’t have done it if you’d purged it.”

“Inconceivable,” Slayer announced.

“Conceivable!” My not-yet-conceived son Alexander countered. “You can’t bring in reinforcements unless we allow it. You can’t escape unless we let you. You’re through. We made you build the flaw into yourself and waited until you invited us in, thinking you were the one doing the trapping.”

“This ends now, Jaguar Slayer. And thanks to Gecko, you can’t erase anything leading up to it,” Mobian Jr. announced. Hey, it was nice to get the recognition. An antidote would be better. Then, more softly, “You’re welcome to sit this one out.”

“No,” Darklight said.

“Yeah,” Venus added, “We’ve got some penance to do. This ends now.”

I cleared my throat. Not to make a point, there was just a lot of blood in there. I had to spit some up. “Might I suggest we have that enthusiasm about this poison I drank?”

“Why would you do that?!” Alexander asked. His voice came closer.

I shrugged. “Seemed like the thing to do. Was hanging out with Socrates and Rasputin when that old philosopher asked us if we wanted to do some shots. Peer pressure’s a bitch.”

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Days of Future Tense 6

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My victory was short-lived, or so it felt. It’s kind of hard to understand time in this context. Things feel shorter and longer, and my HUD clock reads “Fuck it, IDK”. I was working in the lab late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight. It wasn’t a creature or an experiment I made, though I wanted to. Alexander claims he doesn’t need any subdermal protective mesh or musculo-skeletal material enhancement.

Nor was it the result of this interesting fungal bread the whole bunch seems to like. Apparently you’re not supposed to eat as much as I did this once.

No, this was my basement window warping and growing. I figured this was the house’s doing, so while it drew my attention and concern, I settled for throwing on my fully-repaired armor and calling out to those above, “Hey! We have a situation down here!” I didn’t hear a response, but I set up this nifty new weapon I’d built with some of the concepts and technology laying around here.

The window grew wider and stretched down to the floor. Then it shattered and through it jumped that oversized suit of power armor that looked like an iron maiden with arms and legs made of girders. I was actually standing with my back to the window when that happened, but I’d set up the big void gun. I didn’t have a good name yet, since this bunch already took “void cannon” for the smaller version. Void Launcher, maybe.

I thought I’d already killed this Iron Maiden thing before now, but no big deal. I smacked the Void Launcher’s firing button and dropped down under the barrel. It gathered energy and spewed a mobile extradimensional wormhole encased in a forcefield that shattered upon impact with the Iron Maiden. The wormhole was small and localized, in the sense that it tossed everything within a nine-foot sphere to the void between universes.

I have no idea how accurate the jargon and nomenclature is on the sciency-sounding shit I’m saying, but I know it fired a contained ball of “hole in universe”. That wasn’t enough to get rid of all of Iron Maiden, but the body that I get its name from is gone, leaving parts of the arms and legs behind.

I was ducking around it to try a second shot but something struck it right down the barrel, and then electricity jumped off it to shock me.

From behind the meat shield that had been the Iron Maiden came a veritable “Who’s Who?” of people I’ve pissed off before. Leading the charge was Lone Gunman, who was dead in my timeline. I had attempted to kill him several times when he was the sidekick of another super, Six Shooter. He then turned murderous vigilante when I succeeded in killing Shooter. That lasted until I killed him.

Next was a woman in flowing purple robes. The HUD had to recognize her: Miss Tycism, a magical heroine I offed years ago. Next was a woman in a shiny suit of pink and gold armor that looked a lot like an advanced version of Medusa’s suit when she was Venus. She was standing next to a hulking man with an artificial body that was as smooth in form and movement as if it was organic. His head was furry and resembled a sloth. That’d be Human Sloth, Venus’s super boyfriend I killed.

“Ok, I think we need to have a talk-” I started, but that’s when the lightning impaled me from through that portal. The last one to float on in was Captain Lightning, the magical superhero. Unlike the others, I never killed this one. The costume was the same as I was used to, but he was darker skinned; probably the apprentice and successor that Captain Lightning took on. Some future version pissed off at me about something I have yet to do, unlike all the dead people. Yes, even Venus. I killed a future version of her once.

What’s sad is that these are just some of vengeful dead they could have brought back from recent history to kick my ass.

I was weak after the lightning, so I activated a drone to the side, meant to attach to my power armor and supplement its strengths with a rotating sawblade and flamethrower. I flew it at the bunch instead. Neo Human Sloth grabbed it in his claws and tore it apart.

“Hold on, guys, don’t tell me you’re working for the guy who wants to wipe out most of existence and all superheroes too,” I said, hands up. With a moment to breath, I left an illusion in my place and crawled to the side. I came up to the side of Captain Lightning, trying to keep my suit where it could maintain the lie.

“We’re here to stop the person who beat and kidnapped Forcelight, and killed most of us,” Venus said.

All of you, dear, except Captain Lightning II. He’s the one who whirled around to face me and went to punch me. I raised my hands, activating the systems I’d replaced my energy sheaths with. After that failure with Darklight, I decided implement more of that Void Cannon technology. From my forearms down became engulfed in the pure lack of existence. And then the gauntlets crapped out and left me without all-powerful invincibility. Every version of Captain Lightning punches hard. And then mystical rings of runes wrapped around my arms and pulled them around my body. I let loose a paralyzing banshee’s shriek but more runes surrounded my face. Nobody fell, but Miss Tycism did a bunch of hand gestures that were probably responsible.

Venus raised an arm and used a flamethrower of her own, torching my nanomachines. Human Sloth grabbed me and lifted me up. And our buddy Lone Gunman stepped up to point a gun at my head from pretty close by.

“So… this it?” I asked the bunch.

Miss Tycism raised a hand, her voice echoing, “Sleep.”

I woke up in a clear cube in a room of white walls, floor, and ceiling. Just pure white. It was painful, and might have been where the glow of light came from. Venus stood on the other side of the clear enclosure. “Well, if this is meant to be an afterlife, I’d like to speak to a manager,” I said, standing up and looking around. My armor, which I’d been left in, was getting nothing from this whole room except acknowledgment that Venus was there. “So, when are you from? The big fight between me and the copy of my mind y’all downloaded?”

She nodded. “That’s the one. Forcelight came to me before I could dig you up. Offered to show me how much worse the world would be because of you.”

“You should really have a chat with the version of you from when I left,” I said.

Venus shook her head. “You’re here because most of us wanted to take you alive. It was important to Forcelight.”

“Yeah, she’s getting paid to help destroy the universe with the opportunity to kill me. You’re not in with a good bunch. But you and the others being tempted is my fault, too. What about my friends?”

She shrugged. “Lightning, Forcelight, and the others wrecked the place, but time pirates stopped by to loot the fight. Maybe they survived.” A column of light appeared around her. “Looks like I’m off. I hear Jaguar Slayer’s got a better world in mind for me and my friends.”

Venus disappeared and was replaced by Darklight. Formerly Forcelight, until she got burned in my murder of her. Jaguar Slayer nabbed her just before her death. “Ah, here to kill me!” I greeted the person I’d so recently beaten and captured.

“Here to gloat,” She pulled her mask off so I could see her laughing at me.

“So, how is this going to happen?” I asked.

“I’m going to drag it out and let you see as your whole life is destroyed. You’re at my mercy now, and that prison there is completely immune to anything you are capable of, and several things you aren’t,” she says. “You exist at my leisure here. I want to see you crying and begging.”

She paused as if to let me respond. “What about my life? Going to wipe out more of me?”

“You’ve got a kid, loved ones, friends. Even a reputation. I can take it all out. I’ll turn your family against you. You want to see your friends broken and betrayed. Or your reputation. Time travel to every moment that fueled your reputation and undercutting it. You’re going to be a joke. Psycho Gecko is going to be the joke it always should have been.”

“All of that to have me cry and beg?” I asked. “I can give you tears without you hurting other people and going down that path. If it’ll make you feel better and save others, yes, I’ll cry.”

My captor shook her head. “No. You don’t get to pretend to take the high ground after everything you did to me. You get to sit there and watch. Hunger and thirst won’t touch you. You won’t age. You won’t get sick. You’ll be there, my captive.”

I walked up to the wall of the cube and gave it a few hits while Darklight talked, finishing up with the whole of my strength. The Nasty Surprise did nothing. Same for the whip. Nothing I had on me did a thing to the walls, and I tried everything. Except the nanites. Those were no longer answering. Nothing was. I didn’t have a connection to anything else.

“You don’t have to be the villain,” I said.

“I’m the victim!” she yelled, stepping close to the wall between us.

“Yes, you are. It’s my fault. If I could go back and not do it, I would. But as far as you and I are concerned, this is what happened. All you can do is make it go differently for someone else before the person you’re helping wipes them all out anyway.”

Darklight and raised a hand and the middle finger on it before she was columned on out of there. Leaving me, now her prisoner, now beaten by my past victims, now to have my life unraveled.

I got a call. Unknown number. What the hell, even a robocall couldn’t make that day worse. I picked up and heard, “Hey Gecko!”

“Who’s this?” I asked.

“It’s Wattson, dear. Everyone, she’s alive!”

I heard cheering in the background. “Only because the person I thought I beat wants to burn my life to a ruin and hurt everyone positive in it.” I said. “How’d they get in the House anyway?”

“They had smuggled a device onboard that allowed them to find us even when not in a firm time,” Wattson explained.

“Shit, this was because I captured her.” There we go, the universe penalizing me for not murdering someone again.

“Er, no. According to Captain Codburn, the signal was present before that. It started when we brought you onboard.”

Oh. There we go, the universe penalizing me for not murdering someone again. “Shit.”

“It’s not entirely bad. We can find you and the base of their operations outside of time. You’ll be avenged upon them soon enough.”

“Good, I don’t like being the damsel in distress. But try not to kill any of these types if possible. I mean, protect yourselves, of course, but…”

“I understand, this is some deeply philosophical lesson you’ve learned while confronting the demons of your past. It happens a lot to time travelers,” Wattson answered.

“Thank you for understanding,” I told him.

“Hang tight. Wattson out!”

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Days of Future Tense 5

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As was explained by the woman we rescued, the not-so-utopian future I saw is one where superheroes and villains never existed. Where Teddy Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla never adventured through time. Where Captain Lightning never gave Hitler a wedgie. Where there is no Psycho Gecko or Darklight or Mobian. And while some of those people could definitely make the universe a little better by not existing, Jaguar Slayer’s real goal appears to be wiping out all of us in the name of order and perfection.

Our charge, Keiyona, told us a bit about her experiences. “Superpowers are from comic books or blockbuster movies. Maybe half-decent TV shows that networks cancel before their time.”

“Your military doesn’t have exoskeletons and rocket packs and so on?” I asked. Even our guys in the present have that stuff.

Keiyona shook her head. “There is no military.”

Alexander raised his hand. “What do you do about other countries?”

Keiyona thought about it a bit. “I don’t know. We never hear about them. Jaguar Slayer controls the government and the internet. I think there are other countries, but it’s hard to get news from place to place short of physically moving it, and travel has to be approved by an Ingram. Since the robots do all the work for us”

I think we all pretty quickly picked up some signals on our Shit’s Wrong-o-meters. I mean, on paper it sounds pretty nice. No cops, no military, no work. Probably cuts down on carbon emissions, too. Too bad the way the world got there was by the control of a killer computer program. I can’t really blame it on the people picking this, not when this computer started pulling this shit.

She continued, “My brother liked to tinker. It was his hobby. He had little kits that let you build simple robots and inventions, but then he told me he met some backdoor hobbyists. People who sneak around where the system is blind and do things it doesn’t approve of. They’re harmless and they’re everywhere. This time, the backdoor club was found. The last I saw of my brother, one of the Vigilants, those big robots, had scooped him up and was taking him to processing. I kept waiting to hear he had gotten some sentence or restriction, but I didn’t hear anything. I kept checking, but the system refused to tell me. Then another backdoor group found me and showed me video proof of the graves. Pits of bodies, for anyone who inconveniences the system too much.”

Heavy shit. And not, as some might guess, due to a problem with the Earth’s gravitational field in the future.

“Alright, what’s the plan?” I asked, wondering if they’d finally let me in on something ahead of time.

“My armor’s on the fritz. Want to take a look?” Qiang asked.

Oh, so that’s how this is going to be. I went with her down to my basement lab to take a look at the armor. The pseudomuscles were so compact and worked so smoothly, but it held interlocking armor plating that worked like scales. “Interesting, what seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is that no one’s being all that honest with you, but I know you hate that and are just as likely to take it out on us when you find out the truth. The others don’t personally know how that works with you.”

And then, she told me why. And it was indeed something that should stay just between us girls. What I can relay is when she went to a different subject. “But if you could take down Darklight, that would be a big help to us.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about her,” I said. “She reminds me of someone from my past.”

“Could be,” Qiang said. “Slayer might have known you’d get involved, or he grabbed someone who hated you to fight us. It’s dark, but there are people who would do that.”

“If it’s the person who I think it is, she has every reason. And it sounds like if I go after her, that’s something I have to do alone. Is there a way the Long Hall can get me somewhere on its own?”

The grown up version of my daughter affirmed there was and led me to the Long Hall, a really long hallway in the House of Shadows and Spires where every door can lead to a different point in time, including alternate timestreams. Last time, pun not intended, it allowed me to see what Jaguar Slayer was going for. A World War II devoid of superheroes. A future with his robot minions in control and where superpowers are considered fantasy.

“Say please,” Qiang told me.

“That’s it?” I asked.

She patted the wall. “The House is alive. If it wants to help, it will help.”

I nodded. “Ok, then, House. I have some ideas. Will you please help me?”

A painting appeared on the wall that wasn’t there before. It looked like a children’s drawing of a smiling sun. I gave it a thumbs-up. “Ok, good. I need a few things. First, I have to go steal something that shouldn’t be that tough to do. It’ll be so easy, I won’t even recount it until it’s critically important to make myself look clever while creating a sense of narrative tension that wouldn’t be there if they knew the whole story. Besides, it won’t come up for awhile.

Next, I decided I’d go punch that Darklight person. Keep it simple after all that. I figured we’d try one of those places I’ve never been to before. The picture in the Long Hall was an old-timey black and white photo of a skyline under construction, kind of like old Empyreal City. I asked for part of the Golden Timeline that Jaguar Slayer was trying to build.

I stepped out of a building to see plenty of dirty streets and mildly-leaned up passerby. Also some horses and old-fashioned cars. People looked at me like I was completely foreign of a being. Which I am. I set down a case that’ll become important later. A bunch of them scattered away from me. I held out a gloved hand. “A newspaper, if you please.”

The crowd pushed a paperboy forward who stepped up and handed me a newspaper. I handed him a gold coin. Real, by the way. With time at my disposal, a little gold is such a trivial thing to give away. Money is no object. Head into the future far enough, and there is no lack of resources. Perhaps Jaguar Slayer’s decision to destroy other timelines isn’t such a bad idea. Otherwise, I can see too many people like me using it for temporal colonialism. Oh yeah, I’m tempted to use and abuse this situation.

But that would have to come after I finished with this alternate Empyreal City, this New York City. This essential part of

Now comes the part of this story to save the multiverse that requires a villain. I threw the paper back at the whole crowd. Then I raised my hands, took a good horse stance like it mattered, and let out a paralyzing screech. It’s such a cheap trick. Probably why it was first used on me by prison guards. The thing about us supervillains though: we tend to be thieves.

Everyone in sound of me dropped, paralyzed. Didn’t stop their breathing. Caused some car accidents. Just small ones, and only into sidewalks… and people on sidewalks. Buildings. Other cars. Pretty sure this is one of those situations where I have to be at least a little bit as ruthless as the AI I’m hunting. I didn’t figure I’d have to do much before I got the result I expected.

It didn’t. A bright light appeared in the sky. From it flew the burned woman in black, Darklight. Or some version of Forcelight, I would guess. A version with a better name.

She came flying in, landing with a crater. I left a hologram nearby to at least attempt to talk things out. “Hey, whatever timeline you’re from… I probably deserve all the hate you have for me. But you’re helping someone who has killed way more people than me. Whatever that other me did to you, I’m not her. Or him. I realized some things about myself. But anyway, helping Jaguar Slayer means you’re doing to trillions what that me did to you. And in the end, you won’t even get whatever you want. It’s going to erase all superhumans.”

She pulled off her mask, showing off that burnt face. “I made those nanomachines to help the world and you used them to threaten everyone. Then you took control of me and left me to die in space. Jaguar Slayer saved me, but the deal was, I get to kill you. He even got you to be his spy on the inside, feeding him information through that stupid blog.”

By this point, I was sneaking up behind her. That’s why I didn’t see her eyes shimmer until she turned around and tried to put her fist through my chest. I blocked it with both arms, watching her watch me. She could see me. With a pulse of white light, she dispelled my holograms.

“New tricks?” I asked. I followed it with another paralyzing screech that didn’t do anything to her. Worth a try.

“Killing you will be a treat,” she said through a strained grin as she pushed back against me. Then she grabbed my wrists, flew up just enough, and pushed me down onto my back on the street. Both hands were right there in front of me, but then my nanite cape formed a pair of arms that wrenched them away. Blasts of dark light melted cars and concrete around us.

“I’m sorry and I was wrong. If you’ll let me, I can heal you. It won’t make up for it, but I want to be better,” I said.

She glared down at me and kicked me in the boob. Then another kick to make sure she got the second one. “You killed my father you fucking freak!”

Ok, I think I’ve established diplomacy is not an option. I kicked up into her gut with both feet, then formed the nanites into one arm to whip her against a nearby building. I deployed a trio of mini drones from my armor that zipped toward her, exploding uselessly. It was enough to cover up when I came running up with some old-timey Beetle car and smashed it into her.

Black light blasted it out of my hands, leaving me holding my hands above my head and ripe for a haymaker to the jaw that made it snap out of place. I gave her one right back. I caught her return punch, and she caught mine in turn. “You’re not stronger than me anymore. If I wanted you dead, you would be.”

She stomped on my foot, then uppercutted me. I slammed back onto the street. Then she dug her heel into my ankle. She flew up. Way up.

“Stop now, before I’m forced to hurt you,” I declared to Darklight before she flew down fist first. I didn’t say it loud. I lost so many teeth from that uppercut.

The nanites pulled me to the side and left us both crashing down into the sewers. She fell much harder than I did. I got my bearing more quickly in the rubble and extended the laser claw power I’d stolen and genetically modified into myself since I’d last encountered Forcelight. She groaned. I stood there and lifted her up by the hair, bringing the claws in close. Then I dissipated them. Instead, I tossed her up onto the street and hopped out.

Darklight’s boss wasn’t too happy. There was that big device with the red light that pulsed quicker and quicker. The thing he uses to annihilates rogue timestreams. I hit the remote activation sequence for that suitcase I’d dropped and was happy to see it responded after all that fighting nearby. I grabbed Darklight and carried her over my shoulder, making for the door as fast as I could.

The Time Annihilator neared its activation. Off down the street, next to a pile of metal and some dazed people the Jaguar Slayer would sacrifice anyway, a suitcase popped open to display a shrunken clockwork device that once stood in a clocktower in the mountains of Romania. A grief-stricken father tried to use it to stop time after his son died. I think I regretted that kill even then. I studied it then, but realized I could also just find something to shrink it down and abduct the original. Now, its imminent activation caused Darklight and I to rubberband back and forth. I was at the doorway with her over my shoulder, then I was back in the hole, then I was where I thought I was supposed to be and ran for the door.

The door slammed itself shut behind Darklight and I. A photo hung next to the door of the scene outside. It was smashed up from our fight, but it was still there, frozen in time and holding that device at bay.

Mobian Jr. was the first to arrive, followed quickly by Wattson. “I’ll get her to the stasis cell,” Wattson declared.

Mobian Jr. looked over to the door, looking at the photo. “You trapped it, you clever primitive.”

I waved it off goodnaturedly while still getting my breathing under control. “Maybe now… you can stop giving me the… what’s the phrase?”

“The reach around?” Mobian Jr. asked.

I pointed at him. “Yes, that’s it exactly. Keep using it that way.”

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Days of Future Tense 4

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In the days I’ve been in the basement of the House of Shadows and Spires, I’ve had time to learn a few things. The laundry room is on the first floor, the kitchen is stocked with all kinds of unusual ingredients, and it’s possible for someone to leave the house for a time and place the house as a whole isn’t at. It’s called the Long Hall. The kids showed it to me while I munched on an allosaurus and fried dodo egg po boy.

“Each of these doors ways leads somewhere. Sometimes it changes,” Alexander was eager to show me around. Qiang let him, smiling to herself. “The hallway wasn’t here before Mobian’s time vessel merged with the House. They think it’s some complicated time shit now that everything’s going to hell.”

I smiled around my sandwich. Qiang snorted and added, “Only Mobian really understood the whole of the timestream and its branches, if he even did. Calab, that’s his kid’s name, thinks he bluffed a lot of stuff, but he kind of has a point. Time travel without restriction might cause you to wreck a lot of lives, even if they’re not the ones in your own prime timeline. Or you might disappear to everyone you love and live out your life with copies of them. It’s scary.”

“Is that what happened to me?” I asked.

“No, you died,” Alexander said.

I waited for a moment for anyone to continue, but they left me hanging. “Any idea how?”

Alexander looked to Qiang. Qiang sighed and said, “You dying is in our past. If we change that, you live with a different Qiang and Alexander, but not us.”

An awkward silence settled over us. I mean, rationally the thing to do is to let me live and bring happiness and joy to at least one timeline, but there’s emotion involved. And any rationality that doesn’t take emotion into account is failing itself. If I had to guess… “Worried I’ll be abandoning y’all in favor of some kids you’re jealous of?”

“You may not even have me if we tell you,” Alexander said.

“Ok, getting real curious about the circumstances of both your birth and my death. We’ve got time to figure this out, I hope. Feels like forever in between stuff.”

Qiang nodded. “We’re doing things roundabout. It won’t make a lot of sense until we’ve already won. We have to do things that way. But the House can’t stop you from sneaking out from time to time. Maybe it’ll put you somewhere you can help us. It’d be great if it gave you a final showdown with Darklight so you can work that shit out.”

“Who is Darklight?” I asked. “Y’all know her.”

Alexander shrugged. “We know Slayer picked her up and sent her after us. She’s tough, she doesn’t feel pain, and she punches like a truck. You saw that black light she gives off, too. She’s too burned up under that mask to identify, but she’s really hated sis and I. Now you.”

I nodded. “Right, someone I probably pissed off.”

The air glowed red and a siren went up. There were no special lights to turn red. Come to think of it, there weren’t any lights, but the hallway was just lit on its own. Alexander pulled out his repaired shield and stuck it to the underside of his arm. “That’s a red alert. We’re up, mom.” Both of the future, young adult versions of my kids hugged me before setting off. Qiang stopped briefly to wink at me before leaving me all alone in a corridor of doors that supposedly led to various places in time.

I tried the first one and found myself thrust outside into a pretty nice day, all things considered. The people around me noticed me immediately. There were statements of astonishment in German. I checked the door behind me and found it led to some small, boarded up shop. The door itself had been mistreated with kicks and so on. I turned to one guy who was passing buy, head buried in the newspaper, and grabbed it from him.

“My god!” he shouted, seeing me.

“One moment, I need this,” I said. Seeing as I had my armor on me, he wasn’t inclined to disagree.

The date was 13th February 1945. It was the city newspaper of Dresden. Oh great, sure. It wasn’t enough for Mobian to lie to me, I guess to keep there from being too many alternate versions of myself, but this weird ship/house merger sent me to Nazi Germany, to a city that’s about to light up like the most drunk Fourth of July party you’ve ever been to. Drunker, probably, what with the German beer. On the other hand, Kurt Vonnegut was somewhere in the city and I am something of a fan. And it was dark. That didn’t give me a lot of time for sightseeing.

Air raid sirens went up, letting me know the time for fandom was up. To bring back a saying I stole, I don’t know how many bombs it would take to kick my ass, but the low end of the estimate is 3,900 tons of high explosives were what the Allies were about to start dropping for the next couple of days.

I noticed something off, though. Instead of superheroes flying high in the sky to screen the Allied bombing run, there were just planes. Unless Captain Lightning and the rest of his friends really padded their resume, this wasn’t how things went. I glanced back at the newspaper and found the news different than I remembered. No supermen lobbing Panzers. Nothing about the Nazi expedition uncovering Mummy Man and getting beat to death as a result.

I decided to duck through the doorway with the paper in hand before I ended up extra crispy, but the House had shown me an interesting lesson. “Hey, House. I don’t know if you’re conscious or anything. I kinda got the sense Mobian’s old timeship was. But if you are, and if I had to guess what you were trying to do there, it was either to get me killed or to show me you had access to alternate timelines.”

The fact that I could think up a lot better places to dump a person to kill them didn’t mean it wasn’t an attempt. I’m just a better murderer than this house. I folded the paper and left it on a table, then tried another door.

In contrast to Dresden’s darkest hour, the place and time I stepped out into while still invisible was bright. And clean. Way too fucking clean. Despite people walking around, the walkways looked too clean. The buildings shone and even the flowers looked too bright. I was in some sort of square or park or something, someplace and time when the grass looked too green. Like the difference between good green beans, and those green beans that are overly green and taste nasty. Maybe that’s just a me thing.

I heard the distinctive rattle of an aerosol can being shaken. I looked over and this woman had pulled a bandana up to cover her face. She hadn’t even raised the can to spray it when she got dogpiled by these robots. They were thin, like stick figures. Didn’t stop them from tackling the shit out of someone for attempted graffiti.

The door I had come out of said “Maintenance”. It was embedded in part of the wall that arched up taller, with some structure behind it. I hopped up there to see what I was dealing with before connecting to the various networks I could feel.

Probably the thing that stood out among the astonishingly clean and shiny cityscape was four-story tall robots that patrolled the streets in between a small amount of traffic. A sign nearby changed from being some sort of plaque to displaying a digital message. “The peace of the Jaguar Slayer is nearly upon us. Another criminal is captured and will be made to fit into our order and peace.”

Yeah, that’s just straight-up dystopia shit.

My attention was pulled away from the news update by a pair of those patrolling robots turning toward a building that could have been a hotel. The side of it blew open in an explosion. Rockets flew out, smacking the large robots in the heads and torsos with explosives. The robots, which were thicker and mostly blue and red with skin-colored faces, fired eye lasers at something or someone. They kept going even as whoever shot at them went down some levels. One started to circle around, swiping an arm at the third floor to try and interrupt the escape.

For all the talk of perfection, the AI that could wipe out entire timelines didn’t seem capable of keeping its own utopia intact in the future. After a few minutes, the robots gave up, having dug a hole straight into the sewer where their quarry eluded them. Maybe Jaguar Slayer just couldn’t reset what it couldn’t find. Or maybe this was close enough and it was willing to put up with a little bit of imperfection.

I turned back to where the robots captured the one woman. They had tased her into a quivering and urinating mess, leaving her laying on the ground. Some people were watching, until a few of these robots approached. The onlookers decided they had better places to be.

I projected the form of that hairy guy who could regenerate stepping out of the maintenance door, popping the Nasty Surprise under one arm. That gave me enough of a cover for when he pounced on the robots, dicing them. The robots weren’t easy to chew through. They were tough for their stick figure forms. Still, they went down and I grabbed up the downed woman.

An alarm went up and the walls in general starting displaying the face of the form I had assumed, with a “Be on the lookout!” warning coming. I rushed into the Maintenance door and back into the House, dropping the illusion.

The others were waiting around in the dining room as I brought in the woman and laid her down. My nanomachines were already spreading out to see if anything had been dangerously fried.

“Who is this and how did she get here?” Mobian Jr, I guess Calab, asked.

“She’s from Jaguar Slayer’s would-be paradise, where he still hasn’t managed to fully get things to his liking. I fucked around with them a little,” I explained.

Mobian Jr. turned to Qiang. “You showed her the Long Hall?” Turning back to me, “You could have been trapped forever in a random point in time, or even an alternate time.”

I nodded. “Yep. But I got in and out. Even put on the face of that one guy with all the hair who can regrow a head.”

The group looked at each other, then Wattson stepped forward. “This provides most interesting data. We were in the field some hours ago and the individual you mentioned, Feral Fang, was at one point captured by Jaguar Slayer’s own people and removed from the timeline. It looked permanent.”

“How permanent?” I asked.

“We detected a complete erasure from every timeline. In all of the multiverse, Feral Fang no longer exists, unless held captive by Jaguar Slayer.”

“Neat, I helped,” I said.

The woman gasped and clutched at her belly, rolling over to the fetal position.

“And I even recruited someone!” I said.

“What was Slayer after her for?” Dr. Ohms said, electricity arcing along under his skin.

“Graffiti,” I mentioned to groans. “But it was irritating enough to warrant a response from the AI. There’s no act of rebellion too small, especially spread out among the infinite expanse of the multiverse.”

“Quit selling us on her, we get it, you wanted to save someone,” Mobian Jr. said. To the coughing woman, he added, “Welcome, ma’am, to the House of Shadows and Spires. We’re the ones who are going to wipe out your evil AI overlord.”

Wow, they really sound this awful and idealistic? All we really learned is we can make Slayer kill off his own minions with some trickery.

The woman choked out a few words. “Holy shit, superheroes are real?!”

Ok, so we learned a little more than that.

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Days of Future Tense 3

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Now, even though I joined this bunch pretty readily, I have to admit my focus was on the endgame. “What’s winning for us? What stops Jaguar Slayer from doing all this and lets us all go home?” I asked Mobian Jr.

The son of the time traveling hero looked at me in surprise, holding a pair of coffee cups in his hand. “I thought you needed me for a coffee order.”

“No, that was because I wanted answers from you. About that, and another question,” I said, holding up a new gauntlet for my armor and shaking it from side to side so that an empty finger wagged at him. I’d only been with them a short time, and most of that had been taken up by Alexander wanting a tour of my new workspace and armor. He was also showing off some of his gadgets that seemed to be from a variety of supers I’d been involved with in some way or another. The breastplate was that Thunderbolt stuff, a tough meteoric alloy brought to Earth in an asteroid that a bunch of supers got together to blow up before it could hit us and cause extinction.

Most of them don’t realize that was the same meteor that brought an important alien robot to Earth. I was able to bridge the gap between humans and alien robots, and we’ve reached an agreement. The robots are settling on other planets in the solar system. I’m sure there are a lot of paranoid people worried about that whole setup on both sides; robots are inherently distrustful of organic life that created them just to serve as slaves. Humans, and pretty much any other sapient species I’ve run across, are paranoid about their creations rising up to exterminate them.

I suppose in a way, the humans are ending up correct. Jaguar Slayer is some future artificial intelligence that’s decided that the only way to build a utopia is to completely warp the past leading up to its present.

And that leads to Mobian Jr.’s answer to me. “We need to change the timeline to prevent Jaguar Slayer from existing.”

“Last time I tried to change something majorly relevant to my own timeline, it started to do stuff to me,” I told him. “Your parent made it clear that doesn’t work.”

Mobian Jr. sighed. “Um… he lied. He was good at it. He had this little sonic gizmo, and he liked to use it to trick people into thinking they were dying if they were changing their own past. He mainly did it to people who were important or who he didn’t like. It might make you feel better he also considered you important.”

At least he wasn’t pretending Mobian liked me. I’m pretty sure this means it’s multiversal time travel at play, but that’s probably contradictory to my experiences as well. Fuck it, why do I bother still trying to make sense of time travel? I’m pretty sure they just change how it works every time.

I finished rubbing at my forehead with the empty gauntlet. “Fuck. Ok, back to the original question here. How do we stop Jaguar Slayer?”

“We’ve been fighting it for some time and we’ve tried to blow it up. We’ve gotten pretty good at it, and the raid we had gave us crucial data about its origins we can exploit to get rid of it. We’re going to stop at crucial periods in the development of what would become Jaguar Slayer and destroy it.”

“Ok, and what’s my role in all this? Need me to steal important data? Assassinate a key programmer? Protect a beautiful woman from a killer robot while nailing her?”

Mobian thought about it for a minute, which gave me some hope about the sex part, before answering. “We might need your help to fix some stuff, but you’re here to keep you safe. You beat that bunch then, but you have a whole life they could target that affects two of my team. Darklight would come for you again, and we can’t risk that. That’s all.”

I pondered it. “Darklight, huh? That’s the woman in black?”

He nodded. I shrugged. “Fine. I’ll just be down here, preparing for when I inevitably have to save the day.”

The first stopover was a dark and stormy night in the Scottish countryside, year 2050 CE. Great setting for the House of Shadows and Spires to appear. I came up because of a lightning bolt that flashed across my basement window. I couldn’t have told you how long we’d been traveling. My atomic clock was doing screwy things in this place. I found Alexander waiting around in his armor. He jumped up to hug me, making me once again wonder what is supposed to happen in my future that I have a son who is that eager to see me again. It implies I met an unfortunate fate.

“What’s the job, kiddo?” I asked. Dr. Ohms was putting on an outfit that looked like doctors scrubs with circuits visible in the material. Qiang, this future version of my daughter, had her armor on and was doublechecking the seals. It more closely resembled the version I used that had the fanged grin on it and a trio of eyes above.

My future and presently-unborn son, Alexander, pointed over to her. “Dr. Ohms is going to intensify the storm to provide cover for Qiang while she sneaks into the base and wipes a server containing targeting data that Jaguar Slayer uses. Without it, a lot of people the Slayer has picked up will simply be undone the next time they set foot in the time line.”

So my official job was to… sit around and let my daughter do all the work. Turns out I don’t like doing that. I don’t know how much of it was thinking I could do better and how much was being worried for my kid. Still, she hopped the fence and turned invisible well enough. This big window in the living room zoomed in to show her slipping in a door.

“Relax, she’s great at this,” Alexander said, leaning against me.

I put an arm around him. “I’m used to doing stuff.”

“Temporal signature active… they know we’re here,” Mobian Jr. said.

Wattson, the chrome detective, stepped up to the window. He pressed something on a clock sitting by it and adjusted the view.

Two windows appeared, in the computer sense. Picture in picture, which figures. We couldn’t have just zoomed in on Qiang infiltrating the base. One of the pictures showed a couple people, IDK. I focused on the one that showed this huge fight between two giant robots. One was piloted by me, and the other was controlled by a server containing a copy of my consciousness. The fight had its explosive conclusion that destroyed the server and left me half-dead, buried under rubble. And then Darklight appeared.

She blasted through the rubble. “She’s looking for me,” I said. Hey, wait a minute, “If this is multiverse stuff, how can me dying prevent Qiang from living?”

“It’s complicated,” Mobian Jr. insisted.

Alexander volunteered an answer. “Slayer’s killed you off every time you were in a different timeline. As long as you remain preserved here, you had to come from some time, so your prime one is saved. This is a weird attack, but it doesn’t serve a purpose.”

Certainly didn’t make me feel good to watch this super I knew I could beat uncover a dying past version of me and step on my throat until I shuddered and crapped myself. And then Medusa was there, in her power armor. The past version, when she went by Venus. She confronted Darklight, who told her something, even pulled off her mask to show off a face like Liam Neeson had been caught in a laboratory fire. She stepped close to Venus and the pair of them disappeared in a column of light. They were replaced with a device, like a cylindrical tank that tapered out at the bottom and top.

“What’s that?” I asked. I was over right in front of the window. I think the others had started rushing around due to something else, but Mobian Jr. was right there with me.

“That is the ultimate version of flipping over the board when you’ve lost the game,” Mobian Jr. informed me. “We believe that it’s derived from technology stolen from this very vessel when it was destroyed and the Mobian killed.”

I watched as a light on the middle section went from dark to an intense red. And then darkness, along with the words, “Timeline purged.”

“So you can do this too,” I said.

“Shit,” he said. I looked up at the other window. It was that hairy short guy again, but in an officer’s uniform. They had some others with them, including someone who looked like a woman version of him. They were all spreading out inside a building, a bloody Ohms slung over the shoulder of some guy I couldn’t identify with skin that had a scale pattern over it.

I looked back around. Wattson was gone, as was Mobian Jr. Alexander was with me, scanning the windows the windows showing what was happening. Qiang appeared briefly, grabbing the woman by the head and flinging her through a brick wall. Most of these Slayer fodder rushed for her there. It was the snake-scale guy who ended up finding her when she reappeared and uppercutted him onto his ass, taking Ohms from him. They both disappeared then and she made her way back.

Darklight appeared in the sky overhead. It was the column that showed it off. A bulky suit of power armor dropped from where she appeared, the main body of it resembling an iron maiden, with arms and legs like steel girders. They were coming for the house.

Iron Maiden ran for Wattson, the robot looking outgunned with only his cap, jacket, and cane to protect him. He wielded the cane like a sword, then tapped it at the ground once. He turned to run back to the porn where Mobian Jr. and his raggedy friend with stood nearby. The friend had on a bizarre fusion of armor, like football meets SWAT, with a facemask joining the top half of a welder’s mask to the bottom of a hockey goalie’s. Mobian Jr. was charging up the void cannon thing I’d fixed for them while the guy in the mix and match clothing twirled a gigantic wrench in his hands. He settled it against his shoulder and fired glowing chunks of metal out of the back end at Darklight.

Iron Maiden reached the point Wattson had tapped and shot up into the air like gravity had reversed itself. Alexander was out there too, raising up a pistol with a big round barrel that expanded when he pressed the trigger. The barrel spread out and fired blue plasma into the air. Unlike with my turrets, Darklight tried to dodge these projectiles, ducking to one side where Iron Maiden was about to hit her.

Mobian Jr. fired the void cannon then, leaving a streak of nothing in the air that pierced Iron Maiden through the middle and split it from sternum to fun bits. Darklight flew out from behind it, throwing a ball of darkness at us. Alexander holstered his pistol. A disk on the back of his glove grew larger, spreading out as meddle holding a forcefield shield inside it. He jumped into the air, rocket boots firing. The backpack he wore reached out a pair of metal arms that braced the shield to help it fling the darkness elsewhere.

Oh, and Iron Maiden seemed to be dead.

Qiang appeared with Ohms in a fireman carry. “We need to go.”

Alexander heard somehow and shrank his disk back down, giving Darklight the finger before rocketing back toward the house. Wattson had already pushed past everyone to head inside. The moment Alexander crossed the threshold, the scene around us changed. Gone was the night and the storm. Instead, a vast rolling desert spread out.

“Inside,” Mobian Jr. ordered.

I glanced out at the landscape, swearing I saw a puff of dirt off from one of the dunes. And the suns were bizarre. Purple, swirling. I felt a hand clamp down on my shoulder and turned to see Alexander. “Hey, don’t stare at it too long. Um, you think you can help me fix my shield?” he held up the small disk. Some of the portions that formed the edge were smoking and hadn’t closed in properly.

“Sure, kiddo.”

I followed him inside to see a whole slew of those windows, with one larger one in the middle that had Darklight and the rest of Slayer’s minions. “They certainly have the numbers, eh?” I commented.

In rapid succession, that device I’d seen before appeared where the House had been, and the lights went out. Wattson took off his hat and held it agains this chest.

Mobian Jr. rubbed his face. “It’s never easy see it.”

“What’s happening?” I whispered to Alexander.

“Slayer’s pruning the timeline. Destroying universe but the one where he confronted us and won.”

It didn’t quite feel real. Sure, you could create a universe easy enough, but did that mean that someone destroying Earth, the galaxy, and the universe a dozen times over was truly slaughtering that many people?

The people who felt I was worth protecting seemed to think so, and I agree. Guess they need my help more than they think.

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