“Jesus Herbinowitz Christ,” I muttered. “Either this thing’s a lot smarter than we expected, or we’re in a Mediacom market.”
I was referring to how, despite being in the suburbs, we were in such a dead zone that it might as well be the mountains. It wasn’t even an abandoned one. Just a town on our way to the Super Turkey. It had seemingly settled in somewhere, doing a little moving around but generally staying within an area a few hundred yards across. Nice to know if I ever want to destroy internet service for half the country, I just have to nick one cable with a shovel somewhere. I tried a comedy podcast called Big Data that came up with a ridiculous way to shut down the internet and even their version wasn’t as stupid and simple as cutting one wire.
The replacement Psycho Flyer was closing in and would meet us there, but I diverted it. One of my turkey company rivals was about to have one hell of an industrial accident after refusing to sell out to me.
Even our route through this little town helped our goal. Every excuse for civilization we passed through, it didn’t take long to swing by the local supermarket and drop a grenade into the frozen turkey section. It’s not as effective as keeping them from arriving, but every little bit helps. Even here, as we tried to escape, my guys made good use of it for training purposes. As cop cars followed us, some of the guys tossed turkey they’d stolen onto the hoods of the cruisers. Others practiced their aims. If it happened to penetrate the glass of the cop cars, all the better.
On the plus side, the lack of internet and communications service in the area helped us paint the town lead without attracting nationwide attention.
That’s not to say all my plans were so crude. Hell, my radios still worked. I’d managed to talk turkey with other companies, convince them to sell us their stock. And we’d even managed to cut a deal with Wal-Mart. I talked them into withholding their generic birds until the last minute so they could charge exorbitant prices with no one around to challenge them. It’s technically illegal, but that only matters if anyone tries to hold anyone accountable for it. Kinda like how, in the United States, a cop murdering a black man is technically illegal, but they’re so rarely punished for it that it’s effectively legal. Or if someone commits perjury in front of Congress. You can prove they’re lying all you want, but it doesn’t matter if nothing gets done about it. It’s called decriminalization.
Right now, drop someone in a suit enough money, and I can decide what’s decriminalized for me and mine. It’s illegal for them to take a bribe like that, but pretty much only if I hand it to them in a cartoon bag with the word “Bribe” written on it.
Ugh, riding around in some gun nut’s mudding truck hasn’t been good for my attitude. Or maybe it’s because the shoddy cell service is screwing with the signal from Super Star’s phone. The trip’s treating me better than it is him, though. He’s been strapped to the hood of one and kept warm by so many thick coats wrapped around him, he could be mistaken for a small bear. They’ll prevent him from losing anything too important, and I enjoy the finishing touch someone added. One soldier found a cap with a pair of moose antlers on it and stuck it onto the guy’s head. It feels like the cherry on top of our little hunting party.
We knew we were getting close when we started running into turkeys on the road. Just plowing through them. Gobble, smack! Feathers and blood everywhere. The really bizarre thing happened when another truck pulled up beside us, flying the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It weaved around crazily, which didn’t seem out of character for them until we were overtaking it and found people with long beards, flannel shirts, and feathers growing out of their faces in the driver’s and passenger seats. They’d been bitten, but were not yet fully turkeyfied.
The Turk-Man at the steering wheel fumbled to prop up a pump action shotgun. The passenger over there leveled a Glock as best as he could without all the fingers on one hand. I raised a middle finger toward them, then swept the hand down. At once, four Riccan soldiers opened up with microguns that carved through the cabin with a stream of 5.56 mm bullets. The truck swerved toward us, then off the right side of the road where it hit a tree.
One of our gunners opened up on the other side of us. While we’d been distracted with that poultry threat, more had come around us on ATVs that jumped a crest. The Turk-Men yipped and gobbled. Except for one waving a katana around, they were taking potshots at us with handguns. One got right beside my truck, the middle one, and shot into the rear tire a bunch of times. We jerked to the side, and I grabbed a couple soldiers to keep them from going off the back end. They hung off the left side when one of them poked his microgun’s ring of barrel’s right in the tire-flattener’s face. Gobble, roar. Feathers and blood everywhere.
I pulled them both back in and set them down in the bed of the truck just as the one with the sword tried to swing at them. I doubted it would have done anything; I just really wanted more hands free to kill that one. I reached down and grabbed his neck, slapping the sword away with free hands. I tenderized him with a few choice punches, then really dove in. I shoved my hands in and came out with some sweet meats I used to pelt the other ATVs with. “Remember, always remove the giblets,” I said, laughing. I changed my grip to hold him by a leg and dangled the other out for one of my soldiers. “Grab a leg!”
He did so. I cackled into the rushing air as I yelled, “Ok, make a wish!” We both pulled, splitting more than just the wishbone as we tore the man in half. One half went over the right of the truck. The other half, I tossed into one of the ATV riders.
“Barricade ahead!” called someone from the front truck. Ahead of us, just past a bend, someone had erected a blockade out of cars, sheet metal, and plywood. If I had to guess, it was the half-human, half-turkeys standing there taking aim at us.
“I am having difficulty controlling our vehicle,” my driver mentioned. Tossing the two in the bed onto the rear truck bed for their comrades to catch, got an idea.
“Lead truck, veer out of my truck’s way and slow down.” I hopped onto the cab of the truck, tore out the windshield, and tossed driver and passenger off into slowing former lead truck’s bed.
This next part was going to require a lot of math, a lot of luck, or rockets in my armor and a whole lot of not giving a fuck. Guess which option I was banking on?
I rode my armor’s arm rockets into the air thirty feet, then cut them. I made sure the pseudomuscles in my leg armor were prepared to put a lot of force into a jump as I started coming down. My feet hit and I jumped, forcing the front end down suddenly enough to bring the back end upward. It flipped, but not on me. I was in the air again, having jumped. I had to hit the rockets to bring myself back down enough to grab the tail of the truck, and then came the delicate part. Holding on tight, I threw the truck up higher with a flip of my own in the process. I rocketed after it and grabbed on enough to give it one last change in velocity, chucking the spinning truck at the barricade ahead of us. I stayed in the air myself this time though.
The people manning the barricade did what comes natural and got their asses out of the way of a spinning, flying tuck that had just been thrown at them. Any of them expecting a big explosion had to settle for the force of the impact throwing shrapnel every which way and starting a fire.
My lead truck took the scenic route over the sharp shoulder. They had to go slow and would have been lit up by gunfire if the barricade’s defenders weren’t too busy pissing and running. The rear truck, that crazy SOB took advantage of the truck’s raised frame and the way the metal and plywood bent inward. He ramped it, crushing one hobbling Turk-Man under the wheels as he landed. Gobble, thud. Blood and feathers everywhere.
I landed on the slower one that had been in the lead before. They were still slowed down from going around, and now from having to clean the windows after our hood ornament had himself an accident. Super Star ruined some perfectly good coats, all because he couldn’t control his bladder while being strapped to the front of a truck in a shoot out.
After that, it was smooth sailing. What ATV riders we hadn’t killed didn’t like their chances anymore, or maybe they wanted to help their fallen brethren.
From there, it was clear sailing into what we soon found to be a no man’s land. Instead, as we approached some small mountains, we found flocks of turkeys threatening to blow out the sky. They were all flying toward a mountain right ahead of us.
We stopped for gas soon afterward at a small rest area along the way. Just a Waffle House and gas station setup, with no people around but signs of a struggle. More damn feathers, too. The rate we’re going, the trucks are going to look tarred and feathered before we get close.
Most of the unit took a break to eat and relax a little. We even let Super Star down for a bathroom break. One of the guys even got him new clothes. With my nanomachines in his system, I was much more comfortable with him having those explosive palms free, so I even let him cook himself up a meal at the Waffle House. Meanwhile, myself and the unit’s comms specialist worked on trying to boost the signal of a radio and my own internal system to triangulate. The closer we get, the more precise we have to be, though what we found didn’t surprise me. The part that did was when I received a forwarded news alert from my envoys where turkeys nationwide had suddenly started a mass migration to the very same area we were now in, the same mountain.
“It’s like we thought men, and Super Star,” I announced to the diner. “That mountain is our target, and it’s going to be an uphill battle. Make sure you’ve all got plenty of ammo and sharp knives, because the Super Turkey’s calling in reinforcements from around the nation. And someone remind me to hunt down whoever’s bright idea it was to make that thing so I can lose a boot up his sphincter. On the plus side, this gives us an excellent opportunity to use the skills of our guest.” I motioned to Super Star.
He looked up, letting eggs drop off his fork. “No. I’m not part of this.”
I nodded. “Oh yes you are. You helped set it loose. You’re going to go in there and help me smoke that turkey and all his little friends, too. In exchange, I won’t press charges for all the crimes you’ve committed.”
“You’re a-! Shit!” he said, realizing the situation in which he found himself. He raised a palm toward me, but nothing happened except he went paralyzed.
“Now let’s not blow this out of proportion,” I said to the hero. I motioned downward and he lowered his hand. “I have a stick to go along with the carrot if you don’t want to help, so just make this easy on everybody and let’s go blow up some birds. You’d think a superhero would want to save the United States from an evil turkey uprising.”
“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth.
Somehow, my personal security detail didn’t manage to track the super turkey on its way out. I could go out and find a bunch of camo-clad rednecks capable of hunting the damn thing down now. A dozen soldiers with some of the most advanced technology on the planet though? Not a one of them knew which way it went. The best we got was a direction from the Psycho Flyer’s radar before it flew too low. It’ll have to be enough, unless I put out a call for hunters. I’d need a six pack of Milwaukee’s Best. It’s that or use deer urine, and the deer urine’s slightly more drinkable.
It took me a little bit of time to get the armor back in working order. Time, materials, tools, and some nanites we’d smuggled in. Customs is nice, but there’s only so much it can do to detect machinery that small. Whatever gunk they’d used to hold the super turkey in its sarcophagus, it didn’t like certain compounds. The metals and nanoweave on the armor held up, but a few minor touches were eaten off, like some finish, rubber, etc. Most of it wasn’t anything necessitating an immediate repair. Lack of finish can be detrimental over time when weather and dirt build up, but this is a short-term situation. That said, I absolutely needed to be able to jump and run reliably. Skipping and moonwalking are optional, but recommended.
While I worked on that, I sent the Psycho Flyer out with my personal guard. They were to check along the route we did manage to spy the super turkey heading along. See if they can find anything. The Flyer was our best bet at covering any ground with speed, and I wanted to minimize the risk to my guys being separated and picked off one by one. It’s what I’d do. It’s what I’ve done.
My accountants and diplomats would have to see to their own transportation. They’ll get reimbursed. My lawer can go to hell, because he lives there, but he’ll be going with them to see to some other stuff. We have lots of turkey shipments to buy up before they reach distributors. And we need a couple more companies. We want a monopoly, but the Foreign Minister came up with a scheme to hire people to claim our monopolistic control and ability to keep anyone from getting food unless they jump through my hoops is actually the best thing for America. He called them Libertarians.
My guys saw some trees knocked over after a certain point and dropped low to check it out. Also helped avoid all those annoying requests from the air force to identify themselves. I’m quickly making them regret that diplomatic immunity. I went out too. I couldn’t cover as much ground as the Flyer, but I figured my ground-based perspective would help.
After a couple hours of that, I was about ready to break out the Milawaukee’s Best and leave it to them. I’d checked on a few false leads, and all I got from it was scaring the crap out of a guy wandering around in a Big Foot costume.
Right when I hoped something exciting would happen, something exciting happened. A tree in front of me blew up. I bounced off one that spun me around, but still activated my suit’s invisibility projection. I fought to keep from dropping a projected duplicate of myself, but I didn’t have the range to put one outside of the blast radius.
Another tree exploded further back where I was headed before the tree got in my way. I ignored it and headed back to the clearing created by the first of the arbor-trary destruction. I looked up to find Super Star flying there. The hero floated there, pointing misshapen palms around. Feathers poked through the fabric of his costume above his butt and along one of his arms. Something was wrong with him.
I maneuvered until I was underneath him and ran the numbers. I jumped and hit him across the head volleyball-style, knocking him down and into the branches below us. When I came down, it was planting my boots in his belly and pushing us both the rest of the way through the tree. He squawked as he hit the ground. I tore off his mask. I didn’t care about his identity, but I had questions about his plumage.
I used his own costume to truss him up with his hands on the ground just below him. I don’t think he’s overly tough compared to baseline humans. I had to call the Butterball lab back. “This is Empress Gecko of Ricca. Have y’all found the scientists responsible for this thing? I need to talk turkey.”
They put me through to the Gob Hobbler. “I’m the only one left from back then.”
“Not even a lab tech?” I asked.
“I was a lab tech! They needed someone to scapegoat for the Super Turkey accident, so they demoted me and put me in charge of being a janitor and a jailer of it. The others left.”
“Seems wasteful and inconsiderate,” I said. Below me, I heard Super Star groan. I reached down to a pouch and pulled out a nanite syringe. I sent them special orders via my magical wifi ability. Anyone in range would have detected a private, encrypted wifi hotspot called “Secret Alien Invasion Force”. The nanites went in to check what was going on with him and to knock him out. The guy’s got a face where his mouth is stretched open unnaturally and a beak is growing out of it. His hair fell out while he lay there with little quills poking out of his skin. His internal organs didn’t look much better.
“It’s pretty important I get someone with more knowledge of that on the phone,” I told him. “Somehow, this guy I have here is turning into a turkey. It’s not genetic or anything, so it’s fixable. I just need to know how.”
“Is there a bite?” Gob asked.
“Let me check. Already stripped him nude. He’s pretty fucked-up looking from the avian parts. Plus, a lot of human parts look pretty dumb, but that’s normal. Silly little humans.” I began going over the guy, looking closely.
“That’s really weirding me out, Empress boss lady. Do I call you Empress or boss?” Hob asked.
“Boss is fine for now. But yeah, you know anything about this or know anyone who does?” I asked.
“They’re all gone. Dead from accidents that weren’t really accidents. You should know what happened. Don’t you have all the old files?”
I checked the documents we’d received. Normally a company would cover that up, but I guess my demon lawyer really is that good. Yep. Series of convenient accidents eliminated the five-person science team who left. That left the Gob Hobbler as the sole survivor. “I see. What I don’t see are is any documentation. They destroy those?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’m the only remaining loose end. Whoever you have should have a bite mark. There was a budget cut that forced the team to consolidate experiments. One group was working on a meatier turkey. The other was working on a way to make more turkeys quickly, by bite. They were supposed to have failed.”
“Well, somehow they didn’t. Is it possible, somehow, maybe it was that gas that shot out?” I asked.
“It numbed and pushed back when he tried to move. It shouldn’t have that effect.”
“Was it supposed to try and dissolve my armor too? And this is a friggin’ turkey. What would its bite look like?” I was rather irritable considering I just checked the taint when I said that. I wasn’t expecting anything, but I know enough about humans to figure I can’t rule out anything like super bestiality.
“It had fangs.”
I blinked. Checked the neck. Nope. I had a bad feeling about this and made damn sure the nanites had him out. Then I rolled him over. It took more effort, but I found it on the hand that had bulged out so much under his gloves. He had star marks on his palms, and a pair of fang marks on the wrist. “Look at that. It succeeded after all.”
“Empress!” came a call over my radio frequency with my personal team.
“Gotta go!” I told Gob. I hung up on him and focused on my guys. “I’m on the line. Report?”
“We found a small village with a turkey in it. Upon landing, we’ve been swarmed with them. Turkeys with fangs attempting to bite us. Before we could call you or retreat, a giant turkey flew in and destroyed the Flyer. The pilot is gone. We have fallen back to a defensive position in a nearby gas station. We believe we killed the majority of the animals, but the big one may be present.”
“I’m on it. Anyone get bit by the betoothed feast foul?” I said, then looked down at the naked super. I shrugged, tossed him over my shoulder, and bounded off.
“Negative, Empress. The pilot is the sole casualty. It is, as the Americans say, a turkey shoot.”
I had the position still pinged, even though it took me a few hours to get there, hopping like I was. I kept in contact though. Made sure the men were there, pulled up satellite feeds to try and track it. The domestic United States is some of the most-watched real estate on Earth. Just pick a country with satellites and you’ll bet someone’s got an eye on things. It took a bit of time to flip around and see if any of them were focused on a tiny little town in Virginia.
I also put a call out for Ricca to send over another Flyer, more supplies and men, and tried to order pizzas delivered to the town. Too far out of any distances nearby, those monsters. By the time I got there, the men had voted on a sacrificial lamb to send out and test the waters. He checked in on the wreckage of the Flyer, bagged the pilot’s body, and brought back ammo for the microguns on the soldiers’ armor.
When they called in, the orders were simple. “Get us some fast vehicles. Trucks. The kind that can handle rough terrain.”
What I found when I got there was a trio of technicals with lifts painted cammo with dried mud smeared on them. The soldiers were sighting in the light machine guns. “Geez, guys, where were those in the Flyer?” I asked, landing near the bunch and checking out the hardware.
Another nearby stepped forward, bowed, and answered, “This is what we gathered here, at a house with many obese turkeys. We believe they were hoarded by a terrorist cell. We only lack the target to aim at.”
I dropped Super Star, then bent down. I put my knee on him to make sure his hands palms were up agains this back. Then I woke him up. I was very gentle. “Wake up, dammit!” I said, slapping him on the ear.
“Fuuuuck!” he said, then tested his mouth. “My mouth! I’m not a bird!”
“That’s the word,” I said. “Now, I don’t have much incentive to help you out here. You turned into Harvey Birdman, attorney outlaw, and tried to kill me. So you tell me what you know about the bird, or I’ll dress you.”
He looked down at himself and squirmed. “I’d like getting dressed,” he said.
I leaned my helmet in to his face. “Not the way I mean.”
“Shit. After I left the Butterball place, I saw a big turkey. Too big. I thought you had something to do with it so I followed it to get it on camera. I found where it started to dig in and got it on camera, but it noticed me. It bit me and ate my phone. I didn’t know what was happening to me after that. My body began to change. I grew feathers! My mouth was torn open. I couldn’t think straight. That’s all I know.”
I thought it over. “Do you know your phone number?”
We have a way to track it.
A few days ago, I was lounging around on my throne, seeing to important matters of state when a quandary crossed my mind. “You know, I thought having the Pacific Ocean between me and the United States would cut down on all the Christmas stuff on TV,” I said to no one in particular. “So why the hell are there so many American channels and Christmas movies on our TV?”
My latest Intel person, who introduced herself as my attache, stepped forward in an instant and bowed low, holding it out of respect. “Empress, if I may explain to your most glorious eminence…?”
I shrugged, scratched an its on my side, checked by belly button for lint, then told her, “As you wish.”
She stood up from the bow. “The Ricca Broadcasting Service steals cable from the United States.”
That explains a lot about how little I had to deal with the Ricca Broadcasting Service. It leaves me with plenty of other questions, though. Questions about how we’re an island on the other side of the Pacific tapping into American cable.
I was interrupted before I could get to it by a question from my attache. “Empress, do you bear animosity toward Christmas? We anticipate celebrants. By your will, we can have them imprisoned for offending you.”
I waved it off. “Nah, I don’t actually hate Christmas, so no need to do all that.” I have every reason to hate Christmas though. Had to help save it a few years back. Ever since then, all sorts of holiday spirits try to get my attention this time of year. “Savior of Christmas” and “Evil Empress” don’t go well together as titles. Well, unless I’m Pope again.
But as I pondered the weird obsession some people have with it and the advertisement about Hallmark Channel being halfway through its “120 Days of Christmas” event, I had a funny thought. I looked up to see the attache frantically typing on her augmented reality keyboard in the air above her wrist. “Something wrong?” I asked.
She looked up to me, then glanced back down. “I was told to note when you get ideas.”
I ran my hand over the arms of my throne where I’d inconspicuously installed a giant red button that read, “Trap Door Button For People Who Lie To Me”. Glad I don’t have to use it now. “I won’t say I’m not a little disappointed that my own people are doing that to me. On the other hand, I have to say I’m impressed you were able to tell.”
“The Intelligence Service prides itself on recruiting and training only the best spies on Earth,” she told me.
“What was my tell?” I asked.
When she didn’t immediately speak up, I pressed on. “Come on, was it a weird twitch? Some unusual inhalation of breath? Did I do something with my tongue?”
She pointed down, at my chest.
I looked down at my bare chest. I had trouble deciding what to wear today, so I went with nothing. It’s only a short walk between the palace and the Directory building, in which barely anyone works anymore. Plus, I put a lot of effort into this body. It’d be a downright shame if nobody saw it. I could probably get a doctorate for my work in butt curvature alone.
I didn’t see what she meant, so I looked up and shrugged. “Your nipples,” she said. I glanced back down. Oh yeah, they were hard.
“Hmm. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time I play strip poker or hatch schemes in the nude. Anyway, yes I have an idea. An idea so devious and, more to the point, distracting. I’m going to force those decadent Americans to cut back on their incessant Christmas carols and songs and bells.”
“Are you going to steal Christmas?” the attache asked.
“No, already. I’m not stealing Christmas. Any idea how hard that’d be? And they’d probably just end up coming together and pretend to believe in togetherness while singing a sappy song. No, we’re going to make people value something they take for granted by taking it from their granted.”
“That is a confusing sentence,” she told me.
I waved it off, then hopped up and threw my fists into the air. “I will make them cut back on Christmas by… stealing Thanksgiving!”
“I am at your disposal as always, Empress. May I begin by fetching your clothes?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes and sat back. “Sure. We’ll have to find some excuse to head to the States for it anyway, so I’ve got time.”
“I’ll alert Chief Pagan that you have acknowledge his email about the United States relenting and recognizing you with diplomatic immunity,” she said without looking up.
“Aww, that takes some of the fun out of it,” I said.
“And I’ll get a mop,” she said, looking down between my legs. Turns out I have another tell.
Indeed it did. In the days after the declaration of my plan, Intel brought my Director of Diplomacy in on things. The guy did a phenomenal job with our alliance with Belgium that sees us helping them with medical advances and technology. Yeah, he’s got his own staff, all paid for by bribes. As near as I can tell, it’s very lucrative pretending I might want a lot of horrible stuff and then taking money to talk me out of it. Accountants tell me I made a lot of money almost releasing super lice on Laos.
No one will tell me if I meant over-sized lice, or just really good suckers. I feel it’s an important difference.
Instead of flying in under the cover of darkness, we landed, snuck our stuff in through diplomatic means, and then took off in a diplomatic Psycho Flyer to North Carolina. There, we began the first stages of my master plan. My plan to steal all the turkey in North America and deny the Americans their Thanksgiving.
I’ve already set up a special email address for all the thanks and congratulations I’ll get from grateful family members not wanting to have dinner with people one bumper sticker away from shooting up a synagogue.
So our first step began with the hostile takeover of Butterball. I burst through the door of their offices in my armor and swinging a morning star from my lower hands. “All your ass are belong to me!” I yelled to the people who hit the deck all around.
A group of accountants and members of my foreign service walked past, ignoring me, so they could go about meeting with Butterball’s people. Despite the hype, my bureaucrats decided to handle this the boring way of just buying up the company. There are a couple smaller producers my guys are talking to about just buying their full stock, wholesale. Wal-Mart’s being difficult, so I’ll probably have to blow stuff up there, but it’s otherwise a lot more boring than when I first thought of this. I waited around in the lobby instead, practicing with the morning stars. Like all swinging weapons, including a certain body part I now lack, it takes practice to use them correctly, and far more expertise to use them incorrectly. And if I wanted to use them incorrectly and somehow shove one up my ass, that takes no knowledge whatsoever.
I was trying some neat tricks as far as tossing the handles from one arm to the next when a dark shape appeared in the doorway, followed by an earth-shattering kaboom. Before I could contemplate whether I’d just had an encounter with Marvin the Martian, I had to finish crashing though several walls, explode again, go through a tree with a bird’s nest in it, and another wall. That’s the point when I briefly blacked out and came to with tinnitus. My stomach didn’t agree with standing up, but I did anyway. A man in a striped costume covering every inch of his skin floated in, arms crossed. It was blue in between stripes of black with white dots on it. There was a yellow star on the face, knees, and on the palm of the hand he held out toward me.
I left a hologram behind and dove for it, coming up underneath him. I had a pretty good shot at his nuts when he shot a star-shaped beam of light from his palm that impacted the big metal thingy I’d landed against. The resulting explosion blew us both away and filled whatever weird, white linoleum room we were in with gas.
I couldn’t see real well, but I could make out something moving through the gas, then the sound of smashing, and a flapping sound.
I was more concerned with this star man here and ended up slipping from condensation or something. I didn’t get a real good look around until air began to clear from the ventilation system and the hole in the wall. That’s when, while holding the star guy in my arms, I looked up and saw the big thing he’d blasted open was a metal sarcophagus. And there, standing on the other side of the room, was an old man with a cattlepunch in one hand.
“My god… it’s loose!”
“What’s loose?” I asked.
“What the hell’s going on here?!” bellowed a tall man with pink skin and a pair of short horns in the midst of accountants and my foreign service.
“Rocky?” groaned the star guy in my arms. He looked up, then raised a hand to me. My hand went to his throat. My HUD finally got an ID on him, Super Star.
“Get your hands off my client, you damn, dirty hero!” yelled the pink guy. We both turned and looked at him.
He approached and held out some papers. “This is a restraining order. You must vacate my clients’ land and leave her alone.”
“W-what?” asked the guy. “She’s a supervillain!”
“Diplomatic immunity, bitch,” I told him.
The demon lawyer kept going though. “The woman you attacked is legally allowed to be here, on her own land, in her own buildings, with her own property. I’ve called the police and reported you for assault, battery, breaking and entering, and destruction of property. When I’m through taking you to court, they’ll need a plastic surgeon at court to give us your ass, Super Star”
Instead of choking the hero, I figured I’d hold onto him. It’s note very day a supervillain gets a hero arrested for attacking her, but the slipper bastard tore the his suit to get away and flew out of there like a shooting star.
I readied to jump, but lost my footing on the floor again. “OK, what is this gunk?”
“It was the only thing keeping Chester weak enough to be contained,” said the old man in the gask mask. He approached, pulling off his mask with one hand and offering the other for me to shake. “I’m the official Gobble Hobbler for Butterball Labs. Chester is, or was, an experiment in creating super turkeys. The scientists went too far. What they created is mutant the size of a man with wings so strong they can create tornadoes and legs that’ll kick a man’s skull out his anus!”
“Cool. How many do we have? Can I ride one?” I asked.
“Chester’s the only one, and now he’s loose in the wild,” the Gob Hobbler said.
I rolled my eyes in my helmet. “Yeah, but I don’t care about ethics, especially because soon I’ll owner a controlling stake in turkey.”
The demon lawyer stepped close to me. “As your counsel, I advise you not to dismiss this. I’ve heard your plan and I like it, I really do. I only question how you’re going to make people miss turkey for Thanksgiving when there’s a mutant super turkey loose killing folks and giving the entire species a bad name.”
Damn. He had a point. I patted him on the shoulder. “Thanks for the advice. You’re a real Beelze-bud.”
And so my plan has hit a speed bump. Ladies and gentlemen, it is up to me and me alone, plus my small army and air force, to hunt down and destroy the super turkey.
I went to jump and again slipped. When I stood back up, cursing, I again ignored the explosion-related warnings on my HUD and checked my boots to find the soles were gone. “Huh. Guess I better to do some repairs first.” I said, then I pointed a finger at the demon lawyer. “I don’t suppose you’re interested in buying these worn old things off me?”
He shook his head. “I’m not interested in you selling your sole.”
“I think I’ve become a lot more comfortable with myself over the past year or so, but I can’t say I’m not questioning it. Is it because I’ve been a woman, or is that just incidental? And isn’t that just really stupid and cliché if I’m suddenly a better person because I’ve become a woman? It’s certainly not how I viewed everything that’s happened lately.” I leaned in, laying my head on the shoulder of the slight man I danced with.
“You’re a man?” he asked.
I rolled my eyes, currently using their camouflage to appear to be normal brown human eyes, and gave his earlobe a tug with my nails. “You’re not a good listener. I’m not sure what I am, I’m just not trying to say it aloud because people get bored by introspection.”
“So between your legs you have a…?” he asked.
“Case in point…” I muttered. “Nope, no penis. I even have a period, which is something most trans women don’t get. If I am one.”
He opened his mouth to say something else, but I pressed a finger to his lips. “Shhh… you don’t have to say anything at all.” I knew what he was going to ask and I didn’t care to hear it. I didn’t pick the guy for any good reasons. He was ok looking, but the real reason I picked him is I stand out all by my lonesome. I’m a stranger in a strange land.
It was Gangnam. Just a few years ago, the district had been the subject of a popular song about wealth inequality and the dangers of trying to live up to that as a standard. It drove people to debt and bankruptcy.
I’m one to talk. I went from apartment to palace. From stolen bank accounts to GDP of a nation. From being the dark mirror image of humanity to a nanite-surgical standard of beauty just as naturally unattainable as the skyscraper we danced around in.
Oh well. At least they had a kickass ice swan. It’s not a fancy party without an ice swan, y’all.
I’d gone in undercover once again, and with the benefit of gloves hiding those little extra arms of mine. Pickpocketing is so much easier like this. I didn’t come here to rob everyone blind or confuse some guy by talking about my particular gender issues. I honestly hope not to talk to anyone about my gender confusion. Everyone’s got a dog in that fight, and you’d think if I was a woman, I wouldn’t have gone THIS long-
Nope, not talking about it. For now, I follow the example of the great Western philosopher Popeye: I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam. I had, in fact, smuggled in yams in case I needed them. I may need the extra weapons.
The Great and Devious one has been called upon to render judgment. The target: Koko Kokokofa. Yeah, I’d wondered if it was a typo too.
One of the supervillains I’d personally furloughed from the Chinese Hell prisons worked South Korea for a time after he’d gotten free. Alpine, he called himself. Could grow to about fifteen feet tall with a relative increase in strength and density, along with the ability to generate snow. He’d landed in a Chinese prison recently and had a long life ahead of him. Then I got the referral from VillainNet and found myself looking a photos and video of a man in his 80s with Alpine’s costume hanging off his bony frame.
He’d been out trashing a night club to impress people and make his mark. It’s not uncommon for villains to use acts of public destruction as a job application, especially if they’re muscle. It’s not the way I do things, where public destruction is a side perk, but people do different things with their lives.
The hero who responded was… well, hardly a hero, I guess. Koko there is some sort of K-pop diva with telekinetic powers who fights crime sometimes. I looked her up and it’s all so coordinated and PR-heavy, with her in delicate dresses and her hair done just right, that a lot of her stuff could be set up to make her look good. Junk food companies did something similar in the United States decades ago, hiring someone to rob them and tipping off a hero, all to advertise their pastries or candy bars or what-have-you.
Koko had been at the club according to Alpine. They got into a fight, and then she lifted him up with her mind and pulled him toward her. She touched his face and drained something from him. He felt his strength pulled away and saw in a window that he went from his twenties to an old man. When he asked her what she did, he said she looked different. He said she had bags under her eyes beforehand. She laughed at him. When he heard police approach, he turned tail and escaped as fast as his hammering heart would let him. He had his powers still and that helped.
The judges appointed by the other super villains on VillainNet counted this one as mutilation with prejudice. That might sound weird, but even the lawless and anarchic get offended over things. Everyone gets offended over something. Supers tend to hate anything that takes their powers away or gives them to someone else. Identity theft can be bad too when people start messing around with others’ crushes and girlfriends. Going from 20 to 80 years old because of a laughing pop music star? You better believe that’s a paddlin’.
I advised Alpine to visit someone dealing in nanites. Nothing a bit of surgery and some organ replacements can’t fix. I’d see that Koko didn’t get to enjoy those stolen years. Lucky for me, singers are the sorts of people who leave a schedule. The party here was private, but some people don’t think wealth is worth having unless you show it off by telling the little people what they’ll be missing. Koko’s set to perform here this very evening.
I didn’t bring the armor along. It’s just the way I’m doing things this time. Since I’ve got all this money, it’s nice to be able to get an alias on guest lists.
And that should catch everyone up. I came here, checked around for her, and found a guy to latch onto so I didn’t look too out of place. I made a bit of idle chatter while I looked for Koko and thought up ways to improve this sort of thing for the future. The image that sprung to mind was one of my eyes floating. I could put together a simpler version with a good power source. From there I could try to recreate the floating orbs from my home dimension or pick a smaller, more conventional method of flying it up and around.
“Is there someone you’re looking for?” asked the guy I was with, breaking into my thoughts and cluing in on that.
“I heard the singer Koko would be here. I’m a huge fan. Meeting her is a once-in-a-lifetime event.” I smiled up at him.
He scoffed. “She won’t mingle until she performs. She always does that.”
“How long do we have?” I asked.
“Not long,” he answered. “Would you care to get a drink?”
“Sure, lead the way,” I said. At least I got to try some of the finger food before he arrived with a glass of wine. “What, no Manischewitz?”
He furrowed his brows. “Is that a problem?”
“Not really. L’chaim!” I said as I shook my head before sipping on the dry white he brought me. I guess I’m just not much of a wine person.
The guy leaned against the wall next to me. “I feel like you opened up to me because of a real connection-”
“Hold this,” I handed him my wine glass and shushed him as the lights dimmed and security people cleared out a portion of the dance floor. Out came Koko with a pair of backup girls in identical outfits, with identical hair. They were even right about the same height. She looked young, but that’s pop music pretty much anywhere. I scanned the backups for anything unusual real quick as they all went into a song.
I left the guy alone as I walked back over to the food table and that bitchin’ ice swan they had. A shame they had no knives for me to cut into it. Good thing I snuck my own in. I pulled them out, got behind the swan, and stabbed them in. The rockets in the knives shot off and flung the swan against the ceiling over the pop dancers. The festivities all stopped as the swan broke up and started to fall on them. Koko held her hands up from in the lead and stopped them all from coming down on her.
By that time, I was running at her from the front. I pulled another knife and set it off aimed right for her. One of the backup dancers saw me though and stepped in front. She took the knife to the heart and fell down. The other moved in front too, but she started to turn red and grow larger. When that one charged, I turned sharply and headed for the windows on the edges of the floor. I heard her follow with pounding footsteps.
“You have nowhere to go! You’ll pay for hurting Momo!” yelled the behemoth behind me.
Nowhere to go was the point. I grinned and fired my laser eye again, cutting into the window three times. I turned to look back and saw the red K-pop singer looked more like Lou Ferrigno. Unfortunately for her, she interrupted me while I was hungry. She wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.
I slowed enough so she could catch up, then jumped and landed with a split. Momentum took my torso forward to the floor. It took Lo Lo Ferrigno over me and against the broken glass, smashing it out. She teetered on the edge there until I hopped up, grabbed a nearby table, and smacked it into her backside, sending her plummeting down from 40 stories up.
I got away from the hole in a hurry though. I ran to the side, around columns and interior walls, so I could loop back around to the main area. Best not leave yourself exposed in front of a hole near a telekine.
At this point, much of the crowd decided this wasn’t an evening where everything would be in control and decided to leave. A pair of security guys tried to pull Koko along like they guided the guests, but she shook them off and tossed one into one of the cheese plates. Nearby, an overweight lady in shrieked before I pulled her skirt up and scrambled to my feet. Koko turned fast and knocked me to the side with her mind. I rolled, grabbed a waiter’s tray, and tossed it at her. She stopped it in the air. Same for another rocket knife. I kept pitching and she kept catching, but I took out the yams and smashed them into the floor when I thought she couldn’t see. I looked up to find she sent everything back at me all at once. I stayed ducked to let it fly overhead, but I felt her pull my legs and bare arms out like Vitruvian man.
She walked up, smirking, up until she stepped on the yams and slipped. She nearly fell, and clearly had other things to concentrate on, but I didn’t feel Koko’s mental grip fail. Instead, she grabbed onto me to steady herself, then looked me in the eyes. “Did you think that was a good trick?” she asked.
My camouflaged arms, unfolded from around my belly. One hand held onto lower jaw, fingers in her mouth except for the thumb under her chin. The other grabbed her throat and tore it out. “Not as good as that one!” I yelled as the blood spray coated my lower arms along with the rest of me. That dropped her concentration.
I lunged forward and bent her head back, then snapped it off her neck. I rolled and stood up, opening my legs wide and reaching for my cock. With a twist, I pulled the rubber chicken grenade out from between my legs except for the pin in the head. I shoved it into Koko’s mouth, kissed her panicked features goodbye, and tossed the head away to explode.
Slowly, the shocked guy I’d been chatting up walked over, the only living person besides myself still in the place. He held our glasses, both empty. Eyes wide, he stuttered, “That… w-was.. wha? I-I-I-.”
I grabbed him and pressed my bloody lips to his for a kiss. I broke the lip lock with a grin and told him, “Come with me if you want to live,” before turning away to escape.
It was a dark and stormy day. There’s a category 5 typhoon raging on the surface. My island, Ricca, has its shield up to stay safe from waves, wind, and debris. It has to let small stuff through, like light and air. Gasses can get through. The water and tossed boats will be stopped, but the real challenge to such a shield is making sure it can let air in but not 180 MPH wind. It’s the kinetic energy that’s the tricky point. But I trust in the shield, and in the scientists who helped put it together.
It’s everyone on the Calamitous II that’s in more danger now. The typhoon can’t touch us down below, but all manner of gigantic sea life is out and about. So long as the typhoon’s there keeping the Riccan shield up. Harpoon’s driven the boat lower and lower, Sword Fish pointing the way. He’d probably yell at me if I said he was driving. Navy people get real touchy about their terminology. Just look at how they still refuse to use left and right or forward and backward. So between him being obsessed with obsolete boat words and the giant stuff outside fleeing the direction we’re headed, we have to be careful.
Adding to that, we’re dragging a corpse. While I could look up how to tell a prawn from a shrimp if they were small enough, I do not know how to evaluate those differences when the critter in question has eyes bigger than a person. Either way, it bit off more than it could chew when it killed the cute sea pig. We figured it could make good bait for the Kraken, but Harpoon has launched torpedoes to scare something off the free meal. I could hear the reports and distant explosions where I worked in the machine shop.
The armor I’d made was sturdy, but it could use improving. I altered the energy sheath to have more directed settings. That would make it stronger and useful. As it was before, it simply expended itself too much on the water. But that’s why we have field tests, whether it’s armor or shields. Things seem good on paper until you try it out a lot of times. Another addition is the rather large weapon I built for myself. A long shaft with handles suitable for the water armor’s pincers, with a blade on top and a laser on the bottom. It’s quite possibly my biggest laser potato peeler yet.
That, at least, I could build and calibrate without testing it in water. And
“Battle stations! We’re nearly to the lair of the beast. If you’re fightin’, be at the airlock in two minutes.”
“There’s an airlock?” I wondered aloud, then replayed the tour we took. Oh yeah. Hell of a lot easier than the top hatch. Slipping into my armor took seconds. I don’t like using armor that opens up like this, but it was the best way of putting together something like this with its own internal pressure. You don’t just go from surface-level pressure to the lightless depths without dealing with some major pressure changes.
I caught up with everyone in the airlock. It was a bit crowded between Harpoon and the Ricca divers. The squad leaders gurgled to their men and the Deep Ones bowed before their Empress. “No Sword Fish?” I asked.
“He’d rather stay in the ship and hug his Teddy Bear,” Harpoon said. He wore the same outfit as always. I’m not his momma. I figure a guy with that much nautical experience knows about pressure. He stepped over to the wall, opened a cabinet built into it, and pulled out his namesake, unattached to any line. “Everyone ready?”
I looked to the Deep Ones, who saluted, then said, “Looks like it.”
“Captain Harpoon, this looks like it,” said a voice over the loudspeaker.
“Good. Today, I dine on sweet revenge or choke on it.” He walked over to a lever next to the outer door. He flipped it, causing vents to begin filling the room with water. Behind us, a yellow light began to flash.
“Oh fish dicks. Captain, we need you out there as soon as possible!”
Harpoon turned to us, “Prepare for a hasty exit from the ship, and a fast entrance to the briny deep.” He gave us a second, then punched a button beside the lever. The light behind us turned red and the outer door opened. Water pushed us all back. I zoomed out to take stock of the situation. I had the opening of Dethklok’s “Go Into The Water” playing in my ears as I did just that.
It was dark. There was nothing to see but water and blackness. I felt very much out of place in that void. And holy crap, just think if someone forgot which way gravity worked down there. I turned to look over the ship. It seemed like there was some sort of movement, maybe. Or my imagination. It can be hard to tell with water. Suddenly the Calamitous II turned on its exterior lights. They didn’t light up nearly everything, but they did show truly massive tentacles reaching and even wrapping around the ship. The Calamitous II fired on it, and one torpedo hit an underwater cliff nearby, highlighting a bulbous body at least fifty feet away from the ends of those tentacles.
“We need to go in through the eye, spear the brain,” Harpoon said on my radio channel. He floated easily, then brought his arms in close. He moved through the water without swimming, but without a clear propulsion method. That’s superpower for you. “Someone needs to distract it.”
“Looks like the ship’s doing that,” I said.
“The boat,” he emphasized the second word, “is our way out of this. We need him really distracted, then I’ll harpoon it in the brain.” He turned and did his non-swimming swimming toward the Kraken, leaving me and my guys behind as de facto distractions.
“Ok, dudes,” I said to my entourage of armed and armored fishy divers. “Unless anyone’s got some sevens, let’s go fish.”
The squads spread out like a net of armed fish people. They moved pretty quick, but this was an area where science proved better than anything natural. My turbines pushed me through the water and straight for the nearest tentacle. As I approached, I activated the energy sheath. It began to glow only in front of my fists and head as I approached what resembled a fallen tree with suckers on it. The black skin and brown spots helped the comparison in my mind. My top two fists tore into the soft, slick flesh of the tentacle, tearing it asunder. The bottom two took me deeper. A headbutt bled through the last of the gathered energy and left me about halfway through the thing.
In my defense, punching in water is hard. Rocky Balboa would punch a frozen cow all night long, but didn’t go punching things underwater. I was knocked into the useless part of the tentacle as it pulled back from the Calamitous II and waved around. It shook me free and I had to use my arms to try and orient myself.
“XO, fire flares!” I heard over the radio. Behind me, the Calamitous fired lights into the water, the red glow approaching me from behind. When it got close enough, it illuminated a bulbous head the size of a pyramid with a pair of black eyes on the side. On my armor, I designated the eyes as weak points in the HUD and sent the information over to the helmets of the Deep Ones. A few broke off to get close enough for shots, but I lost track of that when the tentacle smacked me from above.
That was probably the closest I’ve ever come to being thrown around like Dragon Ball Z. I hurtled toward the ocean floor and burst through some sort of old wood. I landed on more wood, next to bioluminescent sea plants with bones tangled in them. One had grown right through a skull and out the eye.
I was in some sort of ship. I checked my armor’s seals. Still holding. I did my best to design the thing so that it locked in such a way as to seal shut if it took damage, not burst open. It hadn’t done the latter yet, so I got that going for me.
Before I could rest too long, the blocking of the flares’ light brought my attention back to the hole in the ceiling. One moment later, my attention was drawn to the lack of a ceiling because a tentacle had swiped it away. I reached behind me and pulled free the Mega Potato Peeler, holding it at the ready. From the dark came a tentacle, thrusting at me. Pincers locked firmly on the peeler as I brought the blade up and began peeling. The tentacle split to either side. I could try to dig in, but I was still in water, standing on slick undersea mold or plants or other gunk. I halved the limb, but it pushed me back until my back was against the wall. But the assault didn’t try and fill up the cabin we were in. Instead, it stopped and withdrew the tentacle. I have to assume it didn’t like stuff being chopped in half.
I briefly saw red light again. A fleshy umbrella replaced it with a hole in the middle with a serrated beak in the middle. It snapped eagerly.
I flipped the potato peeler around and grabbed hold again. “Bigger fish than you have tried to kill me, you cephalopod piece of shit. You wanna try, then let’s have a fish fry!” I activated the laser. A green laser as big around as a human arm stabbed through the water, flash boiling it around me. It lanced through a part of the beak and deep into that hole. The skin that was basically my sky at this point shifted colors, from a dark brown and black to pale white.
I felt like Aquaman, if the only thing I had to sea life was “Fuck you!” Which, I realized a moment later, is what I was yelling in between laughter at the thing over the sound of boiling water. It trembled and plummeted toward me, gravity attempting to give it the last laugh.
When the shield went down on Ricca, the agitators against foreign Empress gathered themselves a crowd. Some legitimately disliked the situation, others were paid to be there, and some just thought it looked like a good time. They were a minority despite that. The ones in charge were all the more thrilled when the Psycho Flyers took to the air. They had lagged behind… far behind. “Out of the main line of fire” behind. They figured a massacre of protesters would look awesome for them.
They were quite a bit more surprised when the Flyers came back hauling the body of an enormous octopus on cables. And sitting right on top of it, one of the few folks protected from the dead fish smell? Me, in my armor, smiling to myself as I saw the crowd of protesters turn into a bunch of adoring fans. It sure beat trying to make the gal who killed the Kraken angry.
“I’m Harpoon,” said a man in a teal and gold tights, his voice echoing through the helmet that covered his whole face. He saw out through a 180 degree wrap-around bubble visor that glowed blue. He needed it; the helmet didn’t seem to turn except maybe up and down because of its connections to a metal gorget. That’s like a chest and neckpiece. That one gleamed like silver, but didn’t have the normal ostentatious patterning of a Riccan super. That has more to do with Harpoon needing some plausible deniability.
“I’ve read your file. You’re another one of our state-supers,” I said.
He bowed. “I have no official connections to Ricca or the Claw. I’m a simple privateer with a Letter of Marque. And you are our new Emperor. Or is it Empress now? I heard you were in yellowface.”
I wagged my hand. “It’s Empress. I figured the people were used to me enough by now that they wouldn’t mind me being a little more authentic. That, and I’ve seen things that’ll turn you white.”
The truth was a little more complicated. My Intel guys came before me about the mutterings of a plot by disenfranchised Directors, some of whom had been chosen from prominent groups of citizens, including some from gangs. Pagan, my head of Intelligence, has people keeping an ear out. Some Directors decided to make it clear I was an outsider pretending to be one of them as a way to drive discontent. As part of that, they decided to go around and push a lot of Halloween stuff. They got decorations up, have people trying on costumes, and encouraged street food vendors to sell Halloween versions. The dalgona with the pumpkin shapes inside are particularly popular.
I decided to get out ahead of it by changing skin color back and making a big deal about how accepted the people have made me feel after their last ruler was an alien. I gave a little, sure. In my defense, they managed to get all sorts of innocuous decorations placed all over my city. That’s a level of organization to keep an eye on.
That long explanation for my current appearance out of the way, we return to our regularly-scheduled encounter with a privateer.
Harpoon looked me up and down in his helmet, which might actually have more to do with the limitations of his helmet than my cute dress. “Please pardon my tardiness. A lot of people I know in the navy weren’t sure what to do or where to go when everything happened.”
“That’s what I have an anmnesty for. Though I thought I had a submarine, too.” I looked around the underwater military dock. Many people dream of having a cave with minions and submarines in it. I actually possess one. I know I have Harpoon’s ship, which looks like a World War II-era submarine, but gleaming. The prow rose out of the water in that wedge shape with a flat top to it, as opposed to the more rounded or even cigar-shaped modern ones. It had a figurehead in the form of an angry woman holding a trident in front of her. Some ships cut the water; this one threatened to stab it.
One of the nearby seamen stopped whatever he was wiggling about and doing to answer me, “It is a long story, Empress.” I looked over at the submarine in question. It had several dents in its rounded hull and a mural on the side of a bunch of women lounging around naked. Somebody had written “Welcome aboard, sailor,” above the scene in Japanese. A naked seaman was being carried off the boat.
I turned to the one who had spoken to me, “I don’t suppose the captain’s available to tell me that long story?”
The seaman pointed to the naked man being carried. “The captain is currently incapacitated.”
“When he wakes up, which will be soon,” I said, staring the man in the eye. My eyes glowed red to make a point. “then let him know someone’s ass is in a sling.”
That was an innovative concept I created to help with military morale. It’s a giant sling that’s cranked back depending on the severity of the offense. There’s a target on the inner wall of the military base, as well as a healthy betting pool. The survivor pool is less healthy.
I turned back to Harpoon. I couldn’t help but imagine he was laughing his ass off under that helmet, but of course I couldn’t see it. “Would you care to inspect my vessel, the Calamitous II?” he asked.
“That’s probably a good idea,” I said. “Way too many people in this room have welcome mats tattooed to their colons for these nice shoes I’m wearing.”
Harpoon’s ship ran on a skeleton crew of people who didn’t look enthused to see any authority figure around. They didn’t really have uniforms either.
Harpoon gathered them all up in the bridge, where they lined up. I can’t exactly insult their discipline after what my own guys pulled.
“Ladies!” Harpoon said, stepping close to the guys. When he got to the women, he added, “And gentlemen. We have a job. We’re hunting the Kraken.”
“Why in god’s name? After what happened last time?” asked a big guy with a mermaid tattooed on the forearm on my side.
Harpoon walked down the line to the big man, grabbed his hair, and pulled him lower so he could slap him across the face. “We didn’t make any money last time,” said a skinny guy with a cute little button nose who held onto the big guy.
Harpoon paced. “This isn’t about money. This isn’t even about Ricca, begging your pardon.” He turned to me and bowed briefly. “This is about showing that seven-legged freak it should have killed me the first time. It took my jaw. It left me a disfigured freak!” He turned and shoved his helmeted face close to the big guy’s. “It took my life and the only way I can get it back is taking it from the beast.”
“That explains why my people put me us in contact,” I told him. “I hope you’re not going to do anything like jump in to stop me anyone else from finishing it off if we get the chance.” I told him.
“I’ll see it dead. I don’t care about the fine details,” he said. “But I don’t want dead weight. If you’re coming with us, I have to know you can fight in the water. I’ve seen your armor. It looks heavy.”
“Don’t you worry about my armor. I’ll bring the pain and the cool whip. You bring the octo-pie,” I said.
“Sir!” yelled a woman with a buzz cut who stood at attention. “Permission to groan, sir!”
“Permission granted, Seadog!” said Harpoon. As one, the entire lineup facepalmed at my pun.
We set out the next day after I’d brought on plenty of supplies and fuel for our voyage. I was given a special VIP bunk reserved for kidnap victims and people who pay for transport. I stayed there and took a shot of the beer Mix N’Max sent along to help keep me level-headed. He sent along a flask of something grape-smelling he told me could either combat seasickness or blow a hole in the hull if I needed a quick escape. The Calamitous II set out from the sub pen, though, so I wasn’t concerned about the secondary feature just yet.
We spent the next couple of days on the lookout for unusually large bio-signatures. And, yesterday, we found them. It started with a single contact. It was the skinny fellow who heard it at the sonar station. “Contact!”
“What do we have, Casimir?” asked Harpoon, hopping the mid-afternoon cart of tea and scones to get closer.
“It’s not as big as I expected… no, there’s multiple ones.”
“My god…” trailed off the big guy who sat next to him. He reached over and took Casimir’s hands.
“There’s nought but one that we know of,” said Harpoon.
“They’re surfacing. This doesn’t sound right,” Casimir said.
“Helm, surface!” ordered Harpoon.
He pushed the tea cart aside where I caught it and looked around for any more of those puff pastries I liked. They’re bland, but oddly satisfying.
When we surfaced, the blank wall of bridge that showed a visual representation of the forward area instead gave us a camera visual. We found a bunch of balloon-like, pink, translucent bodies. I could vaguely make out something the color of fish-silver floating inside it. They were about the size of busses, with reaching pink legs and a ring of tentacles around each of their mouths.
“Gargantuan Scotoplanes,” Harpoon said.
“Awww!” I said, hopping the tea cart to get a closer look. “Sea piggies!”
Seadog spoke up from the doorway, “Ugh, you find them cute? They eat shit.”
“Something you have in common. I wanna keep one as a pet.” I reached up and pretended to pet one with my finger. “Cute wittle sea pig.”
“Oh Empress Psychopomp Gecko, great scourge of the gods and hunter of Kraken,” Harpoon said, interrupting my enjoyment of the giant moving sea cucumber thingies. “If you aren’t too busy wanting to hug a shit-eating sea cow, we should follow the path they took to get here and perhaps we shall find the Kraken.”
It wasn’t a bad idea, but before I could agree, a massive shrimp burst through the surface, dragging one of the sea pigs into its maw and scattering the others. “Ram the fucker! Full speed ahead! There shall be… prawnsequences!” I called out and ran out the door while everyone groaned. Seadog dodged me, which is why I ran back and pushed her over anyway, then continued on to my cabin.
It was even heavier, a solid, rounded chunk of metal that looked like a submarine in power armor form. A lot less jagged than my normal armor. I kept mentally comparing it to a medicine capsule. The only thing resembling eyes was a painted design on the top of the helmet that went along with the shark’s mouth. It resembled one of those old WW2 planes in that one regard. The whole thing was bright orange with dark grey lines running along it that did little hide the impression the pieces were one solid chunk of metal. That included the boots, though the soles also hid flippers that would extend if they were underwater. The belly had a large bump, pregnant with a turbine to help propel the suit underwater. Smaller copies were attached to the suit’s forearms. The arms themselves ended not in hands, but in pincers.
I’d had it brought on board with some of my regular Riccan sailors who had adapted some of the improvements of materials into their diving suits. They were still frog men, but they were frog men who could take a hit and dish it out with automatic harpoon guns. They took a lot longer to get ready than I did. Shoot, I had time to run, jump up the latter, and get out the door of the Calamitous II before it dove. The Shrimpzilla had already begun to sink down.
The turbines on my arms and belly muscled me through the water. It became even easier as the suit in its entirely began to glow orange from a larger energy sheathe. It didn’t collect as well due to constantly being used on the water, but it helped me make good progress as I headed right between the eye stalks of the giant shrimp. The glow disappeared as I burst through the exoskeleton and into the shrimp’s head.
It shook with pain, which sent me bouncing like a pinball in the gooey organ I assumed it called a brain. Writhing in pain didn’t help from the opening soon left it a proper mess, until it stopped.
“Gecko, this is Harpoon, do you read me?” said my radio.
“Harpoon, ten four, roger roger good buddy. This is Empress Gecko and I got a cat on a hot tin roof here, over and out. Haulin’ a load of guacamole out of New Mexico and wishin’ I had some tacos from Old Mexico, if you know what I mean.”
“Easy, underwater trucker,” Harpoon responded. “Somewhere in all that eating and lobotomizing, something person-sized got knocked loose. It has a heartbeat. You might see if it’s someone worth saving before meeting us on the surface.”
As crazy as it sounded, I did indeed find someone alive down there after my fight with the monstrous prawn that just devoured the bus-sized sea pig. He was trying to swim away with a broken arm. It was a man in an outfit that seamlessly faded from teal to blue. He had a dark-colored belt, and something stuck in it. I couldn’t see due to all the gunk coating my armor by the time I found my way back to freedom from the crustacean’s crusty brain. “Hey!” I called through my suit’s speakers. “Halt in the name of breakin’ the law!”
The man spun around and pulled free from his belt what a zoom showed to be a coral sword. “Accost me not, surface dweller. I, the mighty Sword Fish, have little patience now that I have been freed from the belly of that accursed shrimp.”
Sword Fish rings a bell. A regular man in a special suit and a love of swordplay with exotic weapons. He was officially labeled a villain after one too many run-ins with the U.S. Coast Guard. “Where are you going?” I asked.
“Anywhere that’s away from these things, but I thank you for your concern and aid. If there is any way I can repay you in the future…”
He trailed off, leaving me to clap all four hands in a clanging sound. “Oooh, I know! Any idea where the Kraken lives or even sleeps?”
He clenched his lips. Yeah, his tights showed off his mouth. It covered his nose at least. “Why on Earth would you want to find that lair?” he asked.
“I’m gonna kill it!” I said. Then I pointed back to the giant prawn with one hand. “And I think I just found us some bait for the fishing line.”
It’s cooler now. Hell, it’s most of the way through Halloween. And, as sometimes happens, Ricca has itself a bogeyman.
“I saw it with muh own eye!” said a rather smelly man who had been brought before me by one of the guys working in Intel. He dragged the guy before my throne and told him to speak. After the guy with the beer stink on him said that, the Intel guy leaned in close to whisper to him, prompting the drunkard to add, “The Kraken!”
I looked to the Intel guy. He stepped forward. “The Kraken once again stalks our waters.”
I waved my hand and slouched up on my throne with my back on one side and my legs hanging off the other side. My armor stood on a stand next to me, along with one of my Dudebots on the other side to act as a sort of robot doppelganger bodyguard. “I’m aware of the legend of the Kraken, but this is like a thing here?” I asked.
“We call it Akkorokamui, but to outsiders it is the Kraken. We have sightings. On occasion, small ships are lost. Fishermen’s boats fail and wreckless yacht owners with no sense run out of gas far from land. Then, there are boats whose crew signal for help but the boats are never found, or we find only pieces.”
“I haven’t heard about this before,” I said.
He shrugged. “It happens infrequently, but this man has an important tale for you.”
He reached out as if to push the drunk forward but stopped himself before he touched him. Instead, he gestured for him. “Tell the Empress what you saw.”
“Of course, begging your pardon Empress. I wanted to let the important people speak. I sailed in on the Agamemnon, originally a Greek ship. Like most Greeks, they’re willing to take in a man on ’em from anywhere in the world. We had a load out of China headed for the United States, and expected to make good money after stopping over in Ricca. Well in the middle of both, we found another cargo ship drifting and unresponsive.”
He paused here to take a deep breath and steady his hands. “I thought the Captain had rocks for brains when he called for a few guys to go check on it. It could have been pirates or a disease or a bunch of guys getting drunk and fighting, but it didn’t have to be our business. For criticizing the whole thing, the Captain put me in charge of the boarding party and told the rest of the men that if I just pretend to look they can leave me there. I equipped myself with a little Dutch courage and we went across.”
He looked past me and the throne, back into his memory. “The winds seemed so calm. The water was so rough, but the wind was still. Gave me the heebie-jeebies so bad I was first up the ladder. I ordered them to spread out so nobody would see me pretend to look around. I checked the containers to see if there was anything worth taking. Got a few things worth having, a new laptop and so forth. As I walked, I thought I noticed something from the opposite side of the ship as we boarded from. If it was pirates, I could justify hauling ass back to the ship. I walked around a cargo container to see what it was.” He shook his head.
I shifted to a seated position and leaned forward. “Was it some indescribable, squamous, eldritch thing that caused insanity at the mere sight of it?”
“No,” he looked up and focused on me. “It was the tip of a tentacle. A tentacle with suckers as big as my head. And I heard things from below that I hadn’t noticed until then. I ran for the boat and I must have been screaming, because I had all the men back with me. The first ones wondered what happened. The ones who showed last had been inside. A couple of them didn’t say anything. The last one coulda passed for an albino, but was born in Ghana. I didn’t care if I got fired. I started drinking the second I touched land. He and I were left behind when our ship left and I don’t give a crap. I don’t think he did either. I remember the way he smiled when he lifted that revolver to his head. I think he knew where the bullet was in the cylinder. I had locked eyes with him, and he smiles real wide but with no teeth. Then he says, ‘It chewed through the bottom,’ and pulled the trigger.”
The man stood there, hands clasped hard on each other. The Intel guy stepped up and patted him on the shoulder, then handed him a wad of cash. The sailor left turned and quietly walked away.
“That was a hell of a story,” I said to my Intel guy.
“Any other sightings?” I asked.
He tapped his dark sunglasses, then answered, “We tried to raise the Agamemnon. When we received no answer, I asked a Psycho Flyer to check after it along its course. Nothing. It appears it disappeared. I asked another pilot to take their Flyer over and check around where the other ship had been spotted. I didn’t expect much from that man’s imprecise knowledge, however. We failed to find it. We failed to find a lot of ships along that lane.”
“Do you believe him?” I asked. “The man’s an admitted deserter and drunk.” Now, I thought it was a neat story. I also think I’ve fought plenty of impossible things. A good chunk of my citizenry are Deep One refugees. Did I ever figure out how H.P. Lovecraft heard about them? Some family history of fish fucking, perhaps?
My Intel guy had his own idea. “I believe something is happening. I think the Akkorokamui is real, but another plausible theory states that someone is attacking the shipping in the Pacific. The man could be a delusional drunk whose ship was destroyed by a United States submarine blockade. It really could be anything…” he trailed off, lowering his face and tapped something on his glasses.
I patched in, Intel having no secrets from me, so we both saw and heard the distress call. “This is Riccan Privateer designation Fairy Godmother. A Riccan sailor stood on the deck of a small yacht. Water splashed over the thing. Others fired guns nonstop at something in the water. Suddenly, a tentacle stretched up a good twenty feet, with some bigass suckers on it and came crashing down on the man and his camera.
I instantly directed an order for Psycho Flyers to scramble with a couple of squads in light armor to try and recover anybody. They were warned to fly high and watch for calamari with an attitude. As soon as I sent the orders, I looked at the Intel guy. “I’ve got people going. I think we can safely assume we’re dealing with a killer giant squid.” That’s what these things always turn out to be anyway. Big squids. Well, not to be confused with Big Squid. I hear that guy’s lost a lot of weight dieting though. Good for him.
He shook his head. “This is said to be an octopus.”
“Get me a crew, a boat, and lots of things that go boom. Then you can say it was an octopus.”
He just stood there. I clapped my hands and called over a servant and whispered to him, “Would you be so kind as to walk over and slap this man for me?”
The servant bowed respectfully, stepped down to stand in front of my Intel guy who was doing more stuff with his glasses like inform Pagan what I’d just said. The servant bowed to him as well, then open-hand slapped him across the face. It was probably the most polite bitchslap I’d ever seen, and I’ve met Canadian pimps. We’re actually extending lines of credit for some pimps now in a pilot program up there. Money here or there to fix a crooked tooth, get a boob job, maybe secure a proper boning venue. It’s setting me up for a real Robin Hood vibe around there, I think.
Away from boning venues and back to boning knives, the Intel guy looked up at me, then bowed. “I beg your forgiveness, but superiors have asked me to confirm you wish to be personally involved with hunting the Kraken.”
“Yep. I want to be personally involved with killing it.”
He opened his mouth to ask, but I hopped off my throne and pointed into the sky. “This is no ordinary threat to my nation. This is a giant threat. This is the Kraken. This is a big fucking deal and I, the biggest fucking deal of a killer, shall be the one to slay it. Most people see a massive octopus capable of sinking ships, and do you know what they think?”
The Intel guy’s holding in what he thinks, so I walk over to him and hold his head against me, stroking his hair. “Tell me what they think. Come on, you know you want to, or else I’ll have to hold you like this until it becomes really awkward.”
“They think they’d rather not run toward an octopus so big it sinks ships!” he blurted out. I let him go and he bowed while moving back. I really don’t get why. Am I ugly now? Do my boobs smell funny?
“Glad to hear the sass. Considering your job, I thought you’d be more prepared for speaking with me plainly. Save the obfuscation for all the rubes we charge to eat pieces of the Kraken.”
“I’m surprised your first reaction to learning about the existence of a giant monster is a desire to go kill it.” He looked around, then began to back off.
I waved it off. “Eh, it seems like a fun way to pass the time. Think I got room to have it mounted?”
He managed to keep a straight face, as hard as he must have been. I mean, as hard as that must have been. “I don’t believe I can answer what you do in private, Empress.”
“I was speaking of taxidermy. It’s like graverobbing, but if you killed the person and stuffed them so you could keep their dead body around your house as an object of value. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go shopping.”
“For an outfit?” He asked.
“I’mma get a harpoon!” I declared.
Perhaps I’ve neglected my self-imposed duties to VillaiNet too long. Perhaps I feel the need to reassure them I’m still down with the agreement we all made despite killing a lot of superhumans lately. Perhaps I just get bored ruling easily. I was called upon to judge people. And I can get very judgy. I sent the White House to another dimension, after all. Still a good call, I believe.
In full armor, I saw a child custody case between a villain and her hero husband. Vertigal had the power to reverse the effects of gravity, temporarily. Her husband, on the other hand… “What, exactly do you do?” I asked him.
“I have a sticky sprayer and sticky grenades. They use a special adhesive that’s almost impossible to remove,” the man said. He wore a crimson and yellow outfit with thick red boots and yellow gloves. He had a big black “R” across his chest. “I’m Resolve, by the way. When my-my wife said we were visiting a Pacific paradise, I thought this would be more about pleasure than coming before a killer supervillain.”
“Pe- Resolve, take a breath. If this was about hurting you, there are better ways to do it.” Vertigal had a costume made up of black and white swirls that swept up from her legs. She resembled a spiral if you saw her from above. The effect didn’t work so well from ground level, but she sought my judgment in relation to child custody, not fashion. A little heavy on the hips, but she is a mother. Her mask had the same black and white spiral pattern over it, with a black-colored eye area over white spiral and a white one over black spiral.
They’d both come before my throne. Sure, I was bored, but I also just got back to my daughter and family. Even my wife had been welcoming despite the political nature of our marriage and her spending all her time on online courses now. So when the whole dispute was sent through to me for whatever reason, I offered to fly them both out here. We’re getting a lot more normal commercial service these days. Unlike some countries, my regime isn’t known for torturing journalists to death or inciting street fighters to attack my political opponents. I murder those myself, then I tell the witnesses I’ll kill them if they talk to the press. Makes me look better in comparison, which has really been the key to my success.
“You didn’t think to warn me you were bringing me here?” he asked.
“You didn’t warn me you were going to tell the cops who I was to keep Sara to yourself,” she said.
Resolve threw up his hands. “You were going to get full custody. She’s my daughter too.”
“You play around with chemicals and make superglue. You don’t have the time or money to take care of her, but I do,” Vertigal responded.
“Stolen money!” he said.
“Your mother didn’t mind my stolen money paying for her new boobs, did she?” Vertigal sniped back.
Resolve didn’t like that one. “Can we get off my mom’s boobs?!”
“About time you wanted to,” Vertigal said.
With them arguing and barely paying me any attention, I waved over one of the Directory servants. There aren’t really too many Directors left aside from those I ask to continue handling their particular duties, so the servants pretty much solely cater to my whims. That meant bringing over a snack for me of some dumplings. “Just leave that there, thank you,” I said to the servant. I picked up chopsticks and began tossing them to see if I could bounce one off the top of someone’s head. One smacked Vertigal’s cheek, getting a laugh from Resolve. Then he tried to catch a dumpling that hit him in the side of the leg. It ended up falling into his boot.
While he pulled it off to dump the dumpling out, I took my turn to speak. “If I wanted to hear all this, I’d put on a daytime talk show. You, Vertigal, you thought he shouldn’t have custody?”
“I’m fine with visits and letting her stay with him some. Resolve goes out every night and has trouble holding down a job because of his crimefighting. That’s no environment for my baby girl. Then he outed me to the cops,” she sounded bitter through that full face mask.
“Who wants their daughter growing up in a house with a career criminal? I found out your friend Fred was another villain. Is that the crowd you want around Sara?” Resolve said.
I raised four hands. “Address me from now on or I’ll find bigger things to throw at you both. So, Vertigal, you’re concerned about Resolve being able to adequately care for your child because of his heroic duties, and him providing monetarily for her needs. Resolve, you’re concerned about your daughter being raised by a supervillain. Going to be honest here, not an argument I’m amenable too.” I stapled both sets of hands. “It’s not helped by the fact that now she’s on the run because you told people her identity. I can see now why this scenario was referred to me. That was a shitty move, Resolve. How would you like it if I put your real name out there for everyone to see, including the villains?”
“I was doing what’s right. I didn’t intend to hurt anybody,” he said.
I stood up. “But you did, didn’t you? If you’d only intended to hurt her, this might have been even easier on you. You two get into a fight, like heroes and villains do. But in the name of doing what’s right without thinking of the consequences, you outed your daughter’s mother to the police. They’ll be after her. She might go on the run, keeping Sara from having a stable life. You might win custody, but the only way she gets to see her daughter is if she keeps her out of your hands or those of the Justice system. Or she gets arrested, and your daughter grows up with a parent in prison.”
He looked to Vertigal, then looked down.
I clapped my hands together. “I got it! An idea to make this nice and fair, Wisdom of Solomon- style.” I beckoned a servant over. “Bring me butcher knife.”
“No!” both supers yelled, rushing toward me. I held my open palms toward them and they stopped. It wasn’t nanites so much as authority.
“I assure you, I have no intentions of cutting your daughter in half.” I let that rest for a moment before adding. “I’m a hero killer after all. I’ll cut her father in half.”
Guards I’d silently summoned marched forth from behind Resolve, holding their microguns to his back. He reached down for his belt before remembering he was disarmed.
“Stop!” Vertigal put herself between myself and Resolve. “Please. Yes, he’s a prick, but he’s still my baby’s daddy. I don’t hate him, I suppose.”
I stepped down the steps toward her. “You would stand in the way of my decision to half him?”
She swallowed. “Please. A-and besides, killing him means the state can take Sara if I’m put in jail.”
I waved off the guards. They bowed, turned, and left. I circled around hero and villain like a shark. “Under an agreement your ex-wife has joined, she has every right to call for your death, Resolve. So you two are going to work this out. Vertigal’s on the run, so I’ll fix her up with disguises. Maybe a wig. Officially you’ve got custody because of your stunt, but she can at least be your babysitter. You can even claim it’s your ex paying for the sitter from on the run. Now shake on it.”
They turned and shook, at which point I came up and clapped them on their nearest shoulders. “Good. Now it’s time for the punishment.”
Resolve was aghast. “I thought you weren’t going to kill me?!”
I shrugged my shoulders even as I held him in place with a lower arm. “I’m not, no, but I was called upon to enact justice. And I will do so… for great justice!” I pointed a finger to the sky.
“You’re a villain! What do you care about justice?” Resolve asked. Vertigal looked at him and rolled her eyes.
I informed him that, “I’ll have you know I have quite the highly-developed sense of justice. That’s precisely why I’m a villain.”
Resolve shared a wordless look with Vertigal, who told him. “I’m in it for the money.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “Personally, the joy of hurting people was also a major part of it for me. You wouldn’t believe it. But yeah. You can’t just expose people’s identities, dude. If I let you get away with it, it sends a signal that it’s ok to do that. We can’t have that.”
That’s how we found ourselves out on the water in a small yacht that fell off the back of a truck somewhere. My wife joined us, bringing along tea and speaking with Vertigal. Citra’s a hell of a lot more diplomatic than myself. And nice to stare at in her two-piece. Vertigal’s not so bad herself, if a bit paler than I expected. Always fun to realize in the middle of eyeing someone’s ass that they’re admiring mine as well. Yep, I too changed into something better for the ocean, though I’ve been favoring one-pieces lately. So while Vertigal hopefully broached the subject of a threesome with my wife, I saw to making sure her husband wouldn’t be unmasking anyone else if he was in a position to do so. I got it on video as well, just so VillainNet could see the consequences.
They’ll probably watch it with sound off, considering I was singing as I rode a robo-shark. “Butterfly in the sky!” I said, arms spread wide. I squeezed the robo-shark’s saddle with my legs, feet hooked in stirrups. The whole shiver of sharks, as a group of such are called, circled Resolve, who tried to balance himself on a teeny-tiny inner tube that would sink if he put all his wait on top of it. Occasionally, one of the other sharks would come and give him a little nip. Just enough to tear some of his costume away. And my mount would leap out of the water, with me singing.
“I can go twice as high!” Chomp. “Take a look!” Chomp. “It’s in a book!” Chomp. “A reading rainbow!”
“…and after we finish pulling your arms off, we pull the remaining bone out and insert rods of jagged crystal salt into the stumps,” someone said. The walls of my containment cube were still opaque.
I just sat back and spoke aloud. “What the prison lacks in personal accommodations, it more than makes up for in efficiency. Beds? Toilets? Masseuse’s? They’ve done away with all of that in favor of a hard, level floor. The color of black marble behind a thin layer of glass, it provides both a firm, supportive structure for sleep, and a versatile shit surface. While circumstances often vary by stool to stool… viscosity, color, length, firmness… I could go on and on. And have, in the bestseller I’m writing, ‘Everybody’s Poop’. It’s a children’s book. I’ve gotten sidetracked though. The floor holds the shit well, and cleanup is as easy as hitting the floor really hard.”
I smacked my fist against the floor near the shit corner, prompting its anti-kinetic properties to activate and causing my fist and the nearby feces to bounce. The surface underneath it looked good enough to not even think about eating off of. “The unique properties of the material used in the construction of this prison is fascinating. The fact that they don’t use it more often implies some weakness.”
Another voice joined in, different from the outside. “I hear you’re a woman now. Guess it was too hard being a man. Now you need your proper place. You’ve degenerated.”
I continued on with my involuntary hotel review. “The food service appears to be implemented using superspeed, or perhaps some form of teleportation related to whatever force brought me here as opposed to ground zero of my D-Bomb, this Fort Memorial. When it comes to the guards, I’ve had more intelligent. Most prison guards are more polite to genocidal dictators they know will be released.”
They started talking over me before I even finished. I think it was something like, “You’re not going nowhere no time.”
They abruptly shut up as more voices approached. I stopped hearing anything, suggesting some sound canceling barrier to go along with the impediment to my sight. The walls went clear a moment later, showing me two horrified looking guys standing side by side just in front of the cube. Another sat behind the guard desk near me. Standing next to that guy now was the general who was so happy to have me here, along with Titan, Venus, and a short-haired woman in a red uniform of a sort.
“Do you have those restraints?” asked the general in accented English.
Titan nodded. He held up a foursome of shackles. “These will disable her powers.”
“Fine,” said the woman in red, looking like she’s swallowed something that disagreed with her.
The general patted the sitting guard’s shoulder. The gun emplacements stopped following my eveyr move and stayed in place. Three of the walls of the cube swung down like a skirt while the last held up the ceiling. I slid down the slope in front of me to land right in front of the two guards. “Evenin’, fellas. You had something to say about what you were going to do to me? Salt rods and showing me my proper place?”
One was thicker, fatter, but clearly muscular underneath that. He pissed himself.
Titan stepped around in front of me. “Stop playing with them.”
“Nice to see ya, big guy.” I said, projecting a wink. “Not that the stay hasn’t been refreshing, but it’ll be good to get home.”
He held up the cuffs. “Someone had to come rescue you,” he said.
I rolled my eyes under my armor, then started violently coughing. I held up a hand and turned away. As I hacked the last two times, my helmet’s lasers fired scarlet beams that carved through the wall that remained standing, toppling it and the ceiling of the cube. I shook my head and turned back to Titan, where I now saw the remaining heckler being helped down, passed out in the arms of his colleague in the wet pants. I held my arms out for Titan. “Yeah, not like I could have gotten out of here anytime.”
The secret, if y’all are wondering, is light. It passed right on through instead of pouncing off, which suggested lasers could handle this. Possibly nanites and chemical weapons. The former because I use them for everything, the latter because they got air in their somehow.
I let Titan put the shackles on over my gauntlets. I was pleasantly surprised they did nothing to me, but that makes more sense than the things working through my armor. He grabbed one of my elbows and led me around the desk to where Venus and the person in red were chatting quietly. “We’d be happy to have the new team visit while they train,” Venus told her. She nodded to me, “We will try to keep them away from Ricca.”
“Our leaders must be flat-out retarded letting you take her,” Red said to Venus.
Venus’s smile got a little sharper as she looked Red in the eyes. “If someone saved your world and everyone you loved, would you let them be locked away in a cage and then executed?”
“You may lose us all our best chance ever to kill this psycho and be done with it.” Red nodded over her shoulder at me.
Venus didn’t have anything really to say to that, but she has a mean glare on her. She grabbed my arm to escort me out of there with Titan. We passed side doors every now and then as we headed down a straight corridor. One looked to be nothing more than a storage closet for machine parts and ammo. If there was any other reason for the building’s existence than myself, I saw no evidence of it.
The infonet of my homeworld opened up to me along with the door that allowed us to exit. Outside, we saw a trench with metal laid over it for us to cross over. Then it was around the barricade, past more disarmed guns, and out a wall. There waited for us a six-wheeled small armored car. Two seats up front, a small truck-style bed behind it. The kind officers over here like for personal conveyance in an official capacity. Capable of a diverse set of roles with room for a gun in the back. The driver looked like he’d just shat a pine cone when he saw who he was driving back. Titan took up most of the back and tried to hunch down to keep from slowing us with his wings’ wind resistance. Despite that, there was a little bit of room up front for me while Venus sat in the cab.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so universally hated,” Titan yelled over the rushing air as we got going.
“I’m sure they’ll warm up to Venus before they get to know her!” I called back to him. I pinpointed the highest-traffic area of data in the area and looked over to the nearby metropolis. Buildings reached into the sky, with ribbons of suspended roads and walkways after about the midway point, painting the lower parts of the city with shadows. The rust and dirt added to the image. Half the city in the sun, the other in shadow.
I had so much new stuff downloading, but some things hadn’t changed. I turned out to have more than enough time. Our half hour ride shouldn’t have been possible. We ended up in an area with a gentle, shallow crater and a few walls. I didn’t realize until we’d driven down into the cleared space that this was the place where my memorial had been. Aww. They’ll never give me another one, either.
Everything around suggested they’d fortified the area the memorial. My repeated trips across the divide had left it a bridge to our world, which further justified the defenses. They were gone, but there was a part in the middle where you could see through to Canada.
“I hope there isn’t a vigorous customs process. I carry a lot of baggage. ‘Do you have anything dangerous to declare?’” I shared a laugh with Titan.
“I know we have every reason, for everyone’s good, to see you locked away,” he said. “You did right by us. What’s it say if we leave your feet in the fire after what you did? Mot was a tough mother.”
“He didn’t appear again or anything, did he?” I asked. We rolled to a stop.
Titan shook his head. “Not since you disappeared.”
I smiled under my armor and let them pick me up. No big ceremony, just being muscled through the portal while anyone around helping rebuild the place tried to kill me with their eyes. We emerged to a smal checkpoint with Canadian customs agents. “Ha!” I said.
Venus nudged me with her elbow. “You might shut up. We pulled a lot of strings to get you back.”
One customs agent waved us forward with a clipboard in hand. “We just sent you two in, didnt’t we?” He asked of Titan and Venus.
“Told you it was a short visit,” Titan said.
“I see you brought back someone in cuffs,” he said, looking me over from atop his light brown mustache.
“Extradition,” Venus said.
“This looks like that Psychopomp Gecko fellow. Do you have citizenship here?” He asked me.
“Probably no-” Venus went to answer for me.
I holographically projected several forms of ID into the air. “American, Argentinian, Peruvian, Brazil, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Irish, Ukrainian, Holy See, Belgian, North Korean, South Korean thanks to some talks that are going on, Riccan, Russian if you don’t look too closely. Oh, and Molossian.” One last, more crude ID popped up, over top of me shaking hands with an older white man in a fake general’s outfit.
“Molossia?” The Customs agent asked.
I shrugged. “Small country, best known for its tourism industry and burgeoning salt mines.”
Venus pointed to the Vatican one. “How in the world do you have citizenship with the Vatican?”
“That’s between me and the Pope,” I told her.
“There are a lot of passports there I don’t want the full story about,” Titan said.
“I’m sorry, but I see here you’re listed as one of our exceptions. You’re not allowed,” the agent said while looking down at his clipboard.
“Really? Don’t even have to look that up on computer?” I asked.
He shook his head and held up the clipboard. It had a list of guidelines and questions, with a column titled Absolute Exceptions: Do Not Let In at the bottom. “I’m not the Black Plague, nuclear weapons, or maple syrup,” I said. “Also, maple syrup?”
“We’re protecting our citizens from inferior syrups that have stabbed other nations. Non-Canadian maple syrups are the reason all the banks are working against us, and they started all the wars. Also, your name’s second to last.”
I looked down. Yep, Psychopomp Gecko, then Jordan B. Peterson. “Huh. Can’t argue with that. Quick question, though, Customs dude. How, exactly, are you going to enforce it?”
He smiled at me. “I’m going to ask you nicely to please leave through the portal.”
I reached out and pushed his chest, knocking him over. I went to step past him and found my head ringing from three gunshots. All to the head. From different directions. One of them from right where Titan stood. He looked at the flattened bullet on the ground, the mark of the helmet, and then down at his chest, feeling for holes or anything.
I sighed as a missile headed down right for me. “Stand back, everyone.”
Titan grabbed Venus and took off. I just stepped aside as the missile’s pointed tip rammed into the walk and stuck there. I popped a hatch open that bore the seal of the Empire of Ricca. Inside, I strapped myself into a seat. The rear thruster nozzle of the missile popped off to allow the second, internal missile to fire, carrying me up into the air. The snipers tried, but still couldn’t penetrate my missile-carried escape missile, specially designed to carry me out of hostile situations. Like myself, it had been armored to resist all small arms, even the really big ones.
I smiled as I dropped the visual shades on my helmet’s camera feed, allowing me to get a clear look at the bright sun as I once again made my escape. The fact that my path to escape left a contrail in the form of the words, “Deal With It” is just icing on the cake.
“Before we go, Gecko, I want you to know something,” Mobian said after we’d finished all our farewells at the Hinge. That had mostly involved Mobian gladhanding folks, and I was going to stop him, but the guy took the gifts showered on him by some folks and dropped them off in less well-maintained parts of the station that didn’t look meant for habitation.
They didn’t know much what to make of me. I noticed that, despite all the advanced technology, nobody who wore any sort of armor went with something quite so extensive and different from their usual appearance. Perhaps they thought I was also a machine.
But finally the time came to come, and I’ll note the people throwing themselves romantically at anyone were aiming at Mobian or Cheretha, and Mobian closed the door, pushed a button on the control panel of his ship, and said that earlier sentence of his to me. I looked up from checking on the bomb. Despite the 360 display, it makes people feel they’re being listened to and it helps me focus.
Mobian stepped down from his dais to look at me, putting his hands behind his back. “I believe this trip touched a nerve with you.” He waited for a moment. When I didn’t say anything, he added, “You felt I was using you.”
“Yep,” I said. “Also, it felt like most of that was really stupid. We could have taken that thing from her at any time.”
“It wasn’t that difficult a task…” He started.
“And if something had happened to us on some pointless side errand, that’s it. Earth gets eaten until some hostile alien species shows up and blows the fuck out of it,” I checked over the cables housing wiring. Nothing lose, nothing chewed through in any way. “The security forces were handling the machines, who were mainly there looking for a kidnapped machine that was allowed to be legally treated like a slave on that station. In all likelihood, the machines would have gotten in there and broken it out anyway. All we did was save a few lives on the way to the same thing being accomplished.”
“I thought you might enjoy saving lives. Being a hero,” he said. He looked at his shoes. “You clearly view me as naive, but I know what it’s like to fight and kill. To be valued not by your worth as a person, but by your ability to end lives.” He looked up. “Do you think back there, they know you as an evil person?”
I shrugged. “They seemed scared enough.”
He smiled. “Yes, but you can be scared of a lot of things and recognize they’re not evil. Back there, now, with no other knowledge about you… you’re a hero.”
I made a mock gagging noise as I finished up and closed the D-Bomb up and stood. “Well, they’re mistaken.”
He tapped his nose with one finger. “I’m trying to make you feel good about yourself. I know you think I’m naive, but I understand you. I know I stopped here long enough to help save lives and help you. What about the breach in their security? What about the anti-AI laws? What about the income inequality? I could go back and I could destroy civilization as they know it to fix it. I would be a tyrant to them. A well-meaning tyrant, yes, but a tyrant. And if I failed!” He kissed his fingers. “An unsuccessful revolution for people’s benefit looks very much like a successful defeat of an autocrat. You know why. You know why it’s so hard to do more for people than fix all but the most immediate problems.”
“Because people are assholes,” I answered.
“Right! No. Because people are people. Short-sighted, biased, and easy to fool. Even the ones who claim to be perfectly rational, especially if you claim they’re superior for being so ‘rational’.” He made air quotes. “Tell anyone doing well about the broken system they live in and they’ll think you’re attacking them because the system works well for them. I save the day because it’s easier. And I let them think they’re moving themselves in the right direction because they’re arseholes. I could have gone to any time and place to intercept that message. Why then and there? Why with you?”
“Because you knew I’m at least not on board with that sort of treatment of people just because they’re artificial,” I said. “Kinda makes you wonder how the machines got there in the first place.”
“I am sure that is a fascinating tale, but Cheretha will have to find that one out. The Machine Collective, though, they make for interesting reading if you could see what they’ll do,” he smiled at me. “You helped. Just one incident out of many that helps the universe become a little brighter.”
I hefted the D-Bomb by its straps. “Why are you trying to be so nice to me? You think I’m an asshole, too.”
“I thought you’d like to hear it. This is an important fight you’re going into, and I thought I’d distract you from knowing you can die now,” he said, turning to walk back over to his control panel.
“Wait, what do you mean by that?” I asked. “I could die lots of times before this!”
He turned to wince at me. “You had to live in order to go back in time and make things happened. You even had to warn me not to destroy the message as I’d have been tempted to do when I found out about it from heroes of Earth. The universe wouldn’t have let you died before that.”
“I died originally,” I pointed out.
He cocked his head to the side. “Yeah, but only after the loop had happened. Right after it, in fact. Venus killed you.”
“Can we stop saying Venus killed me?” I asked. “It didn’t happen to me. Doesn’t seem like it would have happened at all.”
“Oh, she did. It was brutal. Hurt her to do it, but she got harder trying to deal with Mot. The damning thing is she couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been involved and she couldn’t have changed it if I hadn’t been involved. You tried to kill her even though she’d fatally wounded you.”
“Why don’t you describe in vivid detail how I shat myself upon dying?” I asked.
“That would be gross. She put her faith in you, and you caused everything to happen again. I think I was always going to stop that message in this iteration of the timeline and risk Earth, but you stopped that. Not it’s all solved, and you can die. Sorry I was the first to tell you, but at least now you know everything in your life was part of some plan involving universal laws of time. I hope that makes you feel less guilty.” He shrugged and shot me a wry grin.
“Bullshit,” I said. “I get you’re suggesting I can’t really be guilty because I was living up to that plan, but you’re also saying I had no choice. That every awesome thing I did, every glorious kill, every prison break, that none of those mattered just because I did one or two things that supposedly had to happen.Uh uh. I could have been a good person and done those things. I could have been the most depraved maniac on Earth. I could have killed Qiang or raped Venus. There were so many choices in my life that didn’t have to go the way they went where I could have done the same things. That ‘plan’ business is no excuse for the bad, and deserves none of the credit for how great I’ve been.”
I pointed at myself with four thumbs. “Get me back to Earth and I’ll show you how much the universe, or multiverse or time or whatver-fucking-thing, was piggybacking on me, not the other way around.”
His smile looked sad at that. “Alright. Back to Earth we go. I hope you survive longer than you did the last time you did all you needed to do for this sequence of events to occur.”
He pressed a button and an entire side of his ship went clear, showing us go from whizzing through a blue and black tunnel to the atmosphere of Earth, pushing through swirling winds to close in on a city. Below me, I saw people fighting among themselves. In front of me, I saw buildings being leveled and flattened, leaving behind a lone man standing at the end of a trail of dirt, as if the city simply had never been developed where he walked. Up in the sky, I saw a flash as a glowing orb vanished into a hole filled with blue and black.
“I hate time travel,” I muttered.
“I hope you never experience it again!” called Mobian down cheerfully. “Hold on, what’s this?”
The rear of the timecraft cleared up to show drones and a cloud of haze floating through the air toward us.
I projected a holographic wink at Mobian. “You see, Mobian, Mot isn’t dealing with the average human warrior here.”
“Didn’t Barkiel beat you up?” he asked.
“Let’s see Barkiel stop me when I bring everything to the table. But if you’d rather they not all follow your ship like they were ordered, you better let me out soon.”
The craft jerked to the side as a lightning bolt ran down the outside of a nearby skyscraper. “Good idea. We make a bright target. Can you get to him?” Mobian asked.
I nodded to him and made sure I had the D-Bomb strapped on. The door to the timecraft slid open and I ran for it. And bounced off. “That’s for being a dick!” Mobian called while I stood up.
“Go fuck yourself!” I yelled back to him before jumping out the door.
Thunder cracked and rolled. Mobian got out of there. The skyscrapers crumbled, but were good enough rods to keep me from riding the lightning. I fell until I ignited the rockets and caught onto drones flying in behind me. I’d been able to take control of them as soon as I left Mobian’s ship, which looked to be dodging and weaving between lightning blasts. Cars exploded and rioting crowds fell still. Most of the drones smacked into buildings or each other and rained down. The winds weren’t kind to them. There were simply too many nanites to be rid of them, however. The ones carrying my added weight, with the aid of my rockets, did well enough.
When I landed in the middle of the maelstrom, it was with a vast cape of nanites stretching into the sky. Mot, long-haired and bearded, but in cleaner clothes, unhinged his jaw and flesh-colored flies flew out at me. Nanites flew to intercept as a wave that captured and broke down the flesh while I made a call. “Hey, we got that unified line thing going on again?”
“What’s she mean again?” asked someone. The nanites move to the side as the flesh flies stopped.
“Good,” I said. “Mobian, can you do that translator thingy again? I want to speak to Mot.”
“I think the time for words has passed,” he said. “I’ll try to recalibrate here. I could use a lot of words you wouldn’t understand, or I could just do this!”
A beam from outside the eye of the storm shot through the sky, then bounced off a satellite dish and reflected down to split into two that hit my head and Mot’s. I looked to the supposedly insane superhuman that everyone’s spent a lot of time telling me just needs to die and waved. “Hello?”
He didn’t say anything, just began to shake. His skin turned into stone, then was pierced by bones that jutted out as spikes.
I continued on, making sure I had everything close at hand. Lasers and firearms alike were trained on Mot. The nanites were ready to close in and block any of those annoying tentacles or flies or whatever else. “For a long time, I was the one they feared. Too dangerous to trust. Governments wanted me dead, and I even got the heroes in on the act. First they wanted to kill, then I got them to kill. Now here we are. You just got out of what I’m guessing is a thousand or more years of solitary confinement. You’re probably a bit fucked up. So I’m offering you a choice here. You can stand down and I’ll take you to my land, under my protection.You can have clothes, regular food, even one of those newfangled baths those people in the boot peninsula keep saying are awesome. We’ll even give you some medicine to make the nightmares stop. How’s that sound?”
He roared and ran at me, rocky body glowing orange. I instinctively sprinted right back at him. When we closed, he swung knuckles with a solid knuckle duster bone blade on them. I dropped to my knees and skidded when I saw him going for a punch. Instead, all he got was a face full of nanites that started trying to take his eyes apart piece by piece.
I popped a pair of molecule-thin whips from my upper forearms and watched them glow red along most of their lengths. I swung them to try and capture Mot’s arms. He turned and yanked me closer by them, which is when the nasty surprises, those small chainsaw blades, shot out from under my bottom forearms and I closed them on his neck.
They weren’t very effective. Threw up a lot of sparks, but didn’t cut into his now-rocky skin. He pulled me close and growled, mouth open wide and dripping spittle. The three false eyes on my helmet lit up and unleashed a triple grouping of lasers down his throat. Mot roared in pain and pulled the whips forward to throw me into that maw.
Tsk, tsk, those darn whips and their engineering. All I had to do was give a command and they detached. Same nifty trick I have for my cape, as a matter of fact. Mot got a mouthful of razor whip instead of razor wit, and I kicked off him to land after backflipping. I opened up on his ass, literally, with the few drones who had gotten through to try and shove grenades and .50 caliber rounds up his poop chute.
“Look-!” someone yelled over the line. The sky grew bright, and suddenly I was about a mile away, hugged in the big, blue arms of Titan. Together, we laid in a combination crater and skid mark within the winds of Mot’s localized hurricane. I’d lost my sight and hearing temporarily. From the smell, it’s possible I lost all my body hair. He didn’t hit me head on, either thanks to Titan or so many taller metal things being around. Even if you’re just winged by lightning, you still know it hit you.
I tried to speak but got nothing but a cough from it. Titan stood up then and roared. He picked up someone’s empty car and threw it back the way we came. After a moment of every muscle in my body being soar, icewater hit my veins. I pulled the bomb around to check it. The fake-detonator was blinking 12:00. I popped it open to check the thing over, making sure nothing was damaged. I found cables burned through. “Guys, I’m going to need a minute to fix the D-Bomb.”
“No shit, Sherlock!” yelled someone. “I thought you were supposed to be a killer.”
“Leave him alone,” Mobian said, but not enthusiastically.
“Hey, your trip, your fucking aesops,” I stood up and stumbled over to a nearby abandoned car. I pulled the door off and set to work smashing in the dash to get some replacement wires. A second later, a brick hit me. Not such a big deal, except for the mob surrounding me that had a lot more bricks. And pipes. And, yes, someone brought tomatoes. It’s not a proper angry mob unless someone has tomatoes.
Before that crowd could run for me, they were cut down by a pair of warriors. One was a large Chinese man with a lush beard and a spear with a blade curved like a scimitar. The formal name for that one is a Guan Dao, said to have first been used by the legendary warrior Guan Yu who would be worshiped as a war god after his death.
Rumors of Guan Yu’s death weren’t true.
The other warrior cutting down those who would distract me was an African man with metal plates pierced into his body and a machete of dark iron that cut through people in such a way as to make Jason Voorhees envious.
I tried to reach out to my nanites and pull them close, but I couldn’t reach them. Whatever had hit me, maybe the mother of all lightning strikes from the way I swear I smelled burnt flesh, shorted them out. The drones too. There’s a reason talking is something best done after someone’s dead, at least according to the Evil Overlord list. This is why I shouldn’t try to be good. You give one guy a chance and he puts your tits in a bug zapper.
It felt like it took forever to swap out the damaged components with a good enough match, huddled low against the car to avoid the winds. I just had to deal with the rain. The nanites could have patched it on the go. It was ready for a test, until the car disappeared under Titan’s ass as he created another crater like he had with me. Mot ran forward, the wall of the hurricane pushing toward me. I stood my ground, something lighter people would have found difficult.
“Come on, you son of a bitch. If you think you can blow me away, then you don’t know how fat this suit makes my ass look,” I growled.
He ran at me with an incoherent yowl of rage. I dropped the D-Bomb and started running the opposite direction, waving my hands for everyone to leave. Guan Yu and the other Hare were way ahead of me. I think they started running the moment Titan pancaked an Audi. Titan was slow getting up, too. I tried giving him a hand. He started to run back toward Mot, but managed to get the incredibly subtle signal I sent by pointing past him and yelling, “Get the fuck out of here!”
I just had to hope-
I was sucked backwards into a hole in reality that closed behind me. The journey was shorter this time, taking both myself and the bellowing Mot behind me to one Earth linked to the one we came from. Even more unusual, I was pulled away in a series of blue rings and found myself crashing into a clear cube.
Alarms wailed. Automated guns like nothing on Earth swiveled around to point directly at me. Some woman spilled a coffee cup sitting up. She pressed a finger to a patch on her neck, but I didn’t pay attention. I was waiting on the second detonation. I felt nothing like it. I turned to the woman. “There’s a monster on the loose, and it’s very important you let me out of this, because that bomb’s totally not sending him anywhere either of us wants to go.”
She looked at me like I’d suggested shitting on her mother’s chest, but in a bad way. Her eyes shot down then. When she spoke, I realized I’d forgotten to speak to her in my original language. Wherever I was, I was on my home Earth, where they didn’t speak English. I still heard her as she said, “He’s still here. The trap worked.”
Then she stood up and walked around a lazy U of a desk to spit on the clear container that held me. “I would sooner scalp the hair from your body than leave you alive. Even trapped, your bomb destroyed Fort Memorial.”
“Please,” I said in my tongue, putting my hands together in pleading. “I must know: did a Dimension Bomb detonate here?”
She pounded what I’d taken for glass with her fist and stumbled back. “Yes, you bastard, at Fort Memorial! I’ll see you burn forever for what you’ve done to my love!”
I relaxed and breathed in. It sounded like they had reports of the second one going off, and Mot’s not very subtle. They’d have spotted him, which meant he was now working on quite a tan. I don’t care how strong a super is, good luck walking on the sun.
I broke out into laughter again. The weight was just gone. And it made a good excuse for experimentally banging on the container I was in. After the EMP hit, I was in less of a good mood. I turned away from the woman as if examining the container, my lower right arm charging energy. If any defense knew what I was trying, they didn’t let on. Except when I unleashed what should have been a punch that could spank a tank, the EMP again went off as I bounced off the walls. Those same transparent walls lit up briefly before the glow moved down below the cube where I couldn’t see.
“Don’t try that again,” said a man’s voice. He wore our equivalent to a General’s rank. “After all these years, you’re back in our hands. You should have stayed dead. We will bury you all the same.” He smirked past his salt and pepper mustache at me.
“I doubt that,” I told him. I flipped myself around so I was sitting, not laying in a mess on the floor. “I’ve become much more resourceful since I left.”
“I doubt that,” he said. He stepped up to the sentry’s desk and reached for a button on it.
“Mhm,” I said, just as he pushed it. The cube began to darken. Before it did completely, just in case it messed with sound, I called out, “You’ll never figure it out on your own!”
I hope they heard that. Because as happy as I am that I probably killed Mot after dumping him in the sun, what I really have as a resource right now are a bunch of people who should be grateful. Some of them might even be friends. And I do so hope these folks share the good news of my capture with them.
And at the same time, I wonder if I failed. If the bomb was too messed up, if the coordinates were reset somehow, if he actually survived being sent to the core of a damn star.
So that’s where I waited, imprisoned, over more than a week since the confrontation took place in most people’s view. Schroedinger’s Gecko. They ended up gassing me, checking to make sure I was actually out, and then cutting my helmet off to allow me to sleep. They disabled the energy sheathes as well. But at least it allowed me to eat.
Eating so I can survive.
Surviving so I can wait.
Waiting to see if my adoptive home gives a shit. And pretty sure Mot’s ass is eating hot thermonuclear fusion on a level way beyond a mere nuclear weapon. This universe isn’t big enough for TWO gods of death.
…that would have been much more badass if I wasn’t the one now imprisoned.