We set up base back at my shop in Radium. If Medusa and Lulios got out, I doubt they’re working with the rangers. It’d be rough on them even if they escaped. The call was coming from this side of the portal, but it’s way up there in year-round pointy nipple territory. The frozen north. Nunuvat. Google Earth doesn’t have any photos of that particular spot on the mountain, but some borrowed satellites show a military base there with huge hangers where they’re housing something big. Knowing the Rangers, it’s a giant robot. There are so many giant robots with those guys. I don’t even know what they do with the ones they stop using. I thought back to the uniforms of the Blue and Yellow I’d seen so far. There’s always a theme, but the main thing that stands out to me is all the circles on Blue’s uniform. Yellow had some distinctive marks on their outfit, but it was more like greater than or less than signs. I hope the theme isn’t math.
I’m avoiding my house so far in case they go on the offensive. Max thought some time away from Vegas would do him some good, too. Give him a chance to regroup. Sam and Holly were happy not to be cooped up anymore.
“Who needs killing this time?” Max asked me while I wiped down the interior of my armor. He was grabbing some of the merchandise off the shelf to supplement the lab equipment he had with him.
“General Lulios, as always,” I said.
“Not forgiving him, then?” Max asked. I felt less humor in the question.
“Some things can’t be forgiven, and that goes for me, too. What he did to me and what I did in turn, none of that just washes away. The dead deserve better.” I finished with the armor and let it hang up to dry. Then, I decided to check out the bombmaker’s bin over in the corner. You know, for budding interior decorators.
Max patted me on the shoulder as he passed by, uncharacteristic even for him. “You could have changed it, that time you and the Mobian were in your past. There’s still something valuable about this life.”
I stopped rifling around for timers and tried to think how best to word a response. I was not happy at him bringing this up. “I was a coward and the best thing for everyone would have been for me to stop it right then. I won’t chicken out of justice again.”
“Are you going to kill yourself?” he asked bluntly.
“No,” I said.
“Then this is about revenge, not justice,” he said. “You can recognize there’s value in your life. He hurt you and wronged you. I’m not saying it’s wrong to pursue revenge against him. It’s just… well, killing is always more fun if you don’t consider the ethical quandaries.”
“Ha! Yeah. Besides, if he was as sorry as he claimed to be, he’d have fessed up on the other Earth,” I added. “Now can we stop talking about all this? You’re reminding me of Medusa. And no, I’m not forgiving her either.”
It was his turn to laugh. “I won’t comment then.”
Without any more to go on than the coordinates of the base the Rangers were at, I figured that would be a good place to hit. Clear that annoying third party out of the way and allow Lulios and I to settle things mano a womano. At least Lulios seems to recognize the need for us to finish things between us, even if he knows the general details of how that story goes.
That’s why I built such a lovely bomb. It could level a small building, so it might come in handy against some of the base’s defenses. The bio-force grid the Rangers use tends to bleed off excess energy too efficiently to hope this would disable the robot they’ve got there, but I feel like I can take it in my armor. I really have grown a lot since I came to this other Earth.
Speaking of growing things, Firecat doesn’t seem to have any health issues whatsoever. Neither does the basement body. I need a name for that one. I can’t call it the Ultimate Form just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. I practiced using it while I was here. Speeding along, exoskeleton protecting all my sensitive bits. Yeah, I made the thing fully functional. Slightly more than fully functional, one might say. What’s the whole point of being able to exceed the limits of the human form if a woman can’t have a couple of girldicks ribbed for a partner’s pleasure?
Throw in some kidneys so efficient I’ll never get hungover, perfect 360 degree vision, and all the space I saved on intestines, and we’re looking at a pretty awesome body. That just happens to look like an H.R. Giger painting. Oooh! I’ll call it Li after one of those. There was a Li II, and that can be what the perfected version is.
Li was fun to take on a run. Faster, stronger, with muscles that don’t tire and nostrils that make sure I’m never gasping for air. Max even liked it! He just put it in polite terms to hide his enthusiasm. Things like “Not have any visible eyes is freaky-looking.”
I, in Li, shrugged. “I was going to bring back the human nictitating membrane, but then I figured I should make the eyes even more secure. So now I have ten, all with amazing vision, all hidden and protected.”
Max cupped his chin in his hand, thinking. “Do you have a way to expel fluids?”
“Oh boy, do I!” I said, standing up and sliding the armored crotch plate down. Behind me, Holly and Sam walked in and stopped.
Holly cocked her head to the side. “What am I looking at here?”
“A dream I’ve had before,” Sam said.
“Nonetheless, I meant something different,” Max went on. “For chemical weapons. Perhaps we should focus on the task at hand.”
Sigh. “Fine, fine,” I shifted the plate back into place.
The raid began at dawn. Not that dawn, fuck you, that was too soon. The next one, though, I bounded across the snow up the mountain. The Li form didn’t mind the cold and interior insulation protected the nanites flowing through its veins from being negatively affected. From my veins. This is my body, and my skin flowed with the terrain, mimicking the snow. I stopped at the edge of the rise to reassess the situation. I was going to come in from the north. Max, Sam, and Holly were in the Psycho Flyer to the east of the base, with Holly flying and Sam smoking something Max made her to keep herself steady while flying. I shifted the pouch on me and the EMP spikes, because I didn’t build that into this body. I’ll need a way to protect my perfect from that weakness in the future. Maybe I should just implant my brain?
Questions for later. I put on some mood music, a band called Brighter Than A Thousand Suns covering the song Monster. I raced out onto the relatively flat, open area on the top of the mountain, trying to see just how far I could go. Blew my normal body away even though it was enhanced. I might count as having low level superspeed like this. Something noticed me, though. I saw the towers rise from the corners of the wall before I heard the alarm. The square tops opened up to reveal cannons that fired plasma at me. One missed, throwing up steam as it melted the snow.
The other winged me, giving me a chance to see how this body held up to the shot. The insulation protected my organs. I felt the heat, but not the pain you’d normally get. Nerves patterned after my armor’s energy sheathes redirected much of the energy to an internal battery made possible by improving on the design of the intestine. I flipped my tail up to aim at the turret. The tail opened with a three-way split and a crimson laser shot out. The beam cut into the protective shield on the left side of the turret barrel, but lasted long enough for me to sweep it over and get a little lick on the weapon itself.
Note to self: Li II needs built-in aim assist on the tail. Just a little dot, telling me where the tail is aiming when I ready the laser.
The whole thing was a success in resilience and firepower. Now I just had survive the barrage of deadly superheated plasma that, thankfully, got less and less accurate the closer I got to the wall where they couldn’t aim so easily. And that took hardly any time at all. One second, the cannon that tagged me lost track of me against the base of the wall. The next, I was up there, clawing its barrel off and leaping to the other tower to toss in the bomb I’d built. It was a star patterned fortress, with a turret at each angle. It took a minute to work my way through those turrets, but I didn’t have to get as many when Holly came in with the Flyer and blasted the eastern and southern ones to smithereens.
The Flyer laid down some more cover for me. Max dropped some fog from the back that engulfed the area inside the base’s walls. He’d immunized me to it so I, unlike everyone else, wouldn’t get disoriented and lose track of which direction I’m going. I saw more of those black-clad guards with their pseudo-Ranger armor, the ones I’d taken to thinking of as the Blackguard, stumble their way around. It was too easy. After sending the first few flying, it didn’t even seem like a challenge. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but these guys might as well have been rent-a-cops with nothing more than a heavy flashlight to defend themselves. Their rifles, more plasma-based weaponry, were nothing next to the light, healed burns of the turrets.
All at once, the fog was pulled in one direction. I turned toward it and saw the field clear up and four Justice Rangers walking out of a building marked “Command”. The mist disappeared into a funnel-barreled gun held by a white-clad ranger whose armor had a cloud pattern. He posed as he finished. “You’re through, monster!”
“Did Psycho Gecko send you?” called the Blue Ranger.
I laughed. “I am that merry traveler of the night.”
“You are creeping me out,” Yellow said.
The last of the four was in a shiny silver outfit that was blinding in even the dying light. That one, whose costume had a skirt, chipped in with, “Hope you don’t mind a cold reception!” She held a gun that looked like the White Ranger’s, but she used it to fire cold wind and small spears of ice at me. I knocked aside some, but rushed forward regardless of the ones that hit me. They weren’t stronger than the turrets.
I was among them in no time, concentrating on the Silver Ranger. A swipe drew sparks from her costume as it sent her flying. Behind me, Yellow pulled a wand or pinwheel or something. It had a handle and a guard, but there were a lot of metal sunflowers placed along a backing that came up from the handle. When they started to rotate, it looked more like a chainsaw sword. When I turned to her, that’s when the Blue Ranger circled around behind me. White Ranger checked on Silver.
Yellow swung at me. I tried to grab the sword, but instead she raked it over my chest, the exoskeleton protecting me from the pain of a boob punch. I whipped my tongue out, the prehensile muscle wrapping around where the top sunflower connected to the back and pulling it out of her hand. Blue charged from behind and my tail wrapped around his neck. I gave it a little squeeze, as a treat, before slamming him over my head onto Yellow.
“I’ve got to use it!” I heard Silver Ranger declare. She was running for the hangar building my Flyer was shooting up.
“It’s not ready!” White Ranger called after her.
I heard Sam laughing over the radio as she called “Yeah, get some!” in time to the bursts of fire from the Flyer’s guns.
Suddenly, a whole lot more Flyers materialized in the air surrounding the base. Sam’s fire petered out as she noticed them, too. “Uh, should we engage?” asked Holly
“This is the Exemplars! Everyone, stand down. There’s no more need for violence!” Medusa’s voice boomed out of the Exemplar’s Flyers.
Privately, I got a text message. “Is that u?” It was Medusa.
I waved up at them the same time I texted back. “Yep.”
“Gecko,” Medusa announced out loud. “I can honestly say that’s an amazing thing you’ve done. But you can stop now. You don’t have to be the monster they’re convinced you are. You’re better than that. You’re better than them.”
“You’re a freak and now you look it,” the Blue Ranger said. I still had my tail around his neck, so I picked him up and pulled him closer.
“Plz, ther’s nuthin left 2 prove,” Medusa texted. It would be so much more dramatic if she spelled everything out.
I grinned. It must have scared Blue to see me happy. He started grabbing at the tail more, trying to slip out. I pulled an EMP spike out of pouch I strapped on and gave him a stab, but just in the boot. It probably didn’t even touch skin, but his armor jolted and disappeared, leaving a frightened young man in my grasp. I dropped him.
Then the hangar exploded. The robot within looked like a robot version of a yeti. It pounded its own chest as if it needed any more announcement of its presence, then fired a much larger version of Silver’s ice blast at my Flyer. I heard the crew in there scream as Holly took it hard to the side then fought for control.
That left me and the robot. “Hey, Max, you think you can dump my armor out for me?”
“I’ve been thinking,” he answered. “Did you include a hole for your tail?”
“Looks like I’m doing this the hard way,” I told him and started loping for the Yeti Bot on all fours.
“Stand down, stand down!” Medusa tried to call. Neither myself nor the Silver Ranger listened. Instead, the Yeti jumped and landed in front of me, shaking the ground and causing me to stumble slightly. With me slowed down, it tried to stomp me. I was quicker and jumped onto the side of its leg, claws and tail giving me the purchase necessary to start shoving EMP spikes into weakpoints, like the joints. The Yeti swiped and missed, knocking frost and icicles off. Soon, it couldn’t walk, or twist its hips. A couple spikes to the armpits and it couldn’t even swing its arms. Finally, I mounted the head and drove two final spikes into the crown of the giant robot, freezing it in place.
“Lay down your arms!” ordered Medusa. “You are all under arrest.”
“You and what army?!” called Blue Ranger.
Right on time, transport choppers flew in. Men on horseback jumped their mounts out and deployed giant parachutes of the Canadian flag, submachine guns trained on any of the Rangers and Blackguard who moved. The mounties were here. I blended in and helped my Flyer to do the same, bringing it in low enough for me to jump right into it and start easing us out of there in the confusion.
“Do you think this will stop them?” Max asked.
“Nah,” I answered. “They’ll be out on some sort of immunity, but it means this base and that robot aren’t a problem. No matter where Lulios is, we don’t have to worry about those Rangers interfering with my revenge.”
A text came in from Medusa. “U got away. So did Lulios. Sent him home thru portal.”
Fuck me. With two dicks.
Qiang’s fine. I look after her as Firecat. Still haven’t gotten the hang of cooking scrambled eggs by hand. Power control issues. But the most important thing of keeping her there is that Qiang’s looked after. She gets that I’m doing it through Firecat, accepting that body as just another one belonging to her mother. It helps that if she gets startled and pulls a knife on me, I can still disarm her pretty easily. I’ve taught her a lot, but I haven’t held back just to keep winning. Some counters are just too advanced or require more strength from her.
Firecat’s not just there to look pretty and keep house. I’m closely monitoring the grown body for signs of problems. I don’t know what kind of issues occur when you mash too many people’s DNA together in one body and hope it all takes. I doubt I got all the issues worked out on this already. It’s the same reason I didn’t shove all the powers into my real, main body. Just my luck I’d do that and somehow melt into a pile of goo.
I have other experiments going as well. Seeing how far I can push biology in anticipation of doing likewise with technology. The one in the basement is one of my experiments in extreme biology. Black exoskeleton, hidden nostrils with filters, amphibious lungs capable of breathing air and water, a prehensile tail and tongue. A black, shiny, hard mess without any apparent eyes to even look into. If I can handle it and it holds up, the next step is to marrying it to technology. Like, nanites in it systems that can help aid in the digestive process and can replicate if I chomp on the right stuff. Instead of just having a freaky body, the body could have the same ability to shift armor plates around, add new limbs, fly. Or even growing flesh in battle. Wings. Then think if I can add powers to it. Super speed, super strength
One of many lovely distractions from the greater crisis. Ha! And my personal crisis is a distraction from all the other crises going on. A mess wrapped in a disaster wrapped in a flaming dumpster. Take all that and stick it inside a paper bag full of shit, set that on fire, and you might approach whatever the fuck’s going on with the year 2020.
But, hey, my daughter’s fed and looked after. So am I. I just had to put on a skimpy dress and pretend to be another woman working for Max. It’s a tiny bit of cover, the best I can do to keep my identity secret again, for now. Besides, Psycho Gecko wears armor, after all. The face underneath changes. Only the armor remains, protecting me from the outside world. Aggressively protecting.
That doesn’t mean I hated the nice Italian dinner at the casino. It was genuinely nice to catch up with Max and learn the story of his recent power play. “They stacked the deck against me because the knew I was a threat,” he said.
“What did you have to do?” I asked.
“They wanted me to create water from the desert,” Max said. “I was close.” He nodded.
“Water’s a bring problem here. Sometimes they go on water robberies,” Holly volunteered.
I raised an eyebrow. Sam patted me on the shoulder and told me, “Holly flirts information out of some of the low levels.”
“So they steal water, and they wanted y’all to somehow create water out of the desert?” I asked.
“The person who could do that has the right to own Vegas,” Max said. “It’s a good thing they didn’t know who you were when you challenged for us.”
“Well, hopefully what comes up won’t require turning a desert into a sea… whatever it is,” I said. “Whatever nasty tricks you have up your sleeve, you can whip them up a lot faster than what I’m trying to pull.”
“You’re on the defensive, reacting,” Max said. He shrugged. “Why haven’t you hunted them down yet?”
I shook my head. “All this shook me. It was a pretty big betrayal, against competent enemies who know how to hurt me.” I could try to justify it with other things, like these guys being good at digital security or having Venus and the Justice Rangers on their side. Wasn’t even thinking that. I needed to escape, I needed a friend, and I need to figure out how to handle a very raw situation.
I hit the alcohol a little hard, but I was so full of noodle and sauce that I handled myself well. I was able to crawl back into my armor. Max insisted Vegas honored the results of games and challenges. I wanted my armor. That way, it wouldn’t get all over the room or bed if I pissed myself.
Woke up in the wrong body. All the more confusing, it was the one in the basement. I had to process a tail and very weird visuals. The unique eye situation required a moment to get used to before I zipped over to Firecat instead. I didn’t mean to jump into either of these bodies. Then I got the buzz of a text message, but that was back in my main body. I jumped back there and had to deal with both a text communication and my own full bladder. And since the text was from Medusa, my bladder was least full of shit. Plus, shit goes through the intestines. But does Gecko ever get credit for free anatomy lessons? No! I just get molested by my girlfriend while I’m trying to murder people and I don’t think I slept off that alcohol that much.
Unlike the usual messages from Medusa, this one was as grammatically correct as a time could be and the phrase “Watch The News.” A little before noon. That gave me a little time to be hungover first before going serious. At least I couldn’t get any more miserable. And I didn’t when the time came around. Instead, all the news channels and Fox ran a brief announcement about the diplomat from another Earth, that fuckface, holding a press junket of sorts at a Toronto hotel. He wanted to allow reporters to have time to ask all of their questions after he made his announcement earlier that day.
An announcement of an announcement. Looks like I know when and where they want to meet me. The junket format is a decent way to get me one on one without risking me killing a whole crowd while going after Lulios. He could truthfully claim it has to do with security concerns. I groggily went and found someone to wake up in Max’s bunch and found Holly having a bowl of cereal. “We need to get to Toronto and pretend to be the press for a junket. If Max wants less bloodshed, he can come up with something to knock folks out. Otherwise, we need to get a move on. I got transport for us already.”
Between all of this, it hardly feels like I have a body. Once we had everything loaded up, I set the Psycho Flyer to autopilot to get us to Toronto pronto. I was fine, so I left my body in the armor and jumped over to Firecat to see to Qiang. We had some time to watch a movie together and for me to just be with her. Can’t fault her for wanting to go hang out with friends. I should get her a new knife.
Up in Toronto, we found the place easily enough. All the major news networks of the Americas were there, as well as the pretenders. We had stowed the Psycho Flyer and rented a van for this, with Max and the girls lying in wait. My armor flickered into invisibility and the deception of a normal woman when I stepped out toward one group of the pretenders with OANN marked on their stuff.
“Hi, oh my god, you’re One America News Network!” I said as if I knew them.
They nodded politely, except for the reporter who was having his makeup done. I leaned in close and whispered, “Hey, y’all wanna hear how the Jews are behind this whole thing?”
Well, that set the reporter’s undies on fire. That’s a metaphor, means he got moving. He led the whole crew over to the open rear doors of my van. As soon as they got over to it, Max sprayed them with puffs of red smoke that caused them all to start coughing, then followed it up with another watergun that sprayed a white smoke at them. They collapsed, and I made sure to grab the cameraman’s camera before it hit the ground. When we all left the van minutes later, the four of us blended in.
“Conspiracy theorists,” Sam said, shaking her head.
“How’d you know they’d fall for that?” asked Holly
I laughed. “Some people are so brainwashed by the people running things that if you tell them Jewish folks are to blame, they’ll believe anything you tell them. They’re so scrambled, they can’t see who’s really pulling the strings.”
“Who?” Holly asked
Sam, real quick, let out an “Oh god,” hearing her question.
“Assholes,” I said. “We’re surrounded by ’em.”
“Perhaps they’ll be more appreciative after their nap,” Max said.
“In that sleep of Max, what dreams may come when they haven’t yet shuffled off that mortal coil?” I asked Max in a roundabout butchering of Shakespeare.
“Near Death Experiences often feature visions as a a traumatized and anesthetized brain tries to cope with the chemicals running through its body. I found a way to tap into that and tweak it in a negative direction.”
“Dude!” Sam said, “You gave them a Near Death Experience of Hell?”
“Only while they’re asleep,” Max said. “If they were awake, it would be a vivid hallucination. I’m eager to see people react to that part.”
We were pretty low on the pecking order when they let us through with our press credentials. They immediately brought us to a room with Lulios sitting in a comfy padded chair with refreshment nearby. My own chair had a folder on the table in front of it. “Hello. You are?”
“One American News,” I informed him.
General Lulios nodded. “If you’ll have a seat, the folder in front of you has details about an initiative whereby my government offers support to your world in this trying time.”
I picked it up and glanced at it. Just a system to provide enough nanites to function as a stopgap measure until a vaccine for the virus is produced. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Lulios said, “That’s my folder from earlier. Please set it aside and check the next primer beneath it.”
I did so and found a file with the same information, but in English. As opposed to the language from my world that the other one had been in and I’d been caught reading.
Lulios shifted in his chair. “I wanted to give your people a chance to ask questions, because this is a matter of importance and you have been terrorized by someone using these medical nanomachines before. I hold some guilt for that. For many years, I held onto a hate that did nothing for me but give me someone to treat as less than human. It’s freeing, in a way. It freed the worst aspects of myself. I didn’t have to apologize for my temper or restrain negative thoughts. So long as I targeted the homo machina, I could indulge myself without feeling bad. They weren’t human, after all.” He almost looked happy at that. Despite that, he didn’t feel right. Maybe it was all the time spent as a kid being terrorized by this guy, but he didn’t have the same presence.
He went on. “I was wrong, and it took the enormity of my mistake to make me see it. To see that by treating these people as if they were monsters and a threat to everything, I made a monster. I tortured a poor soul until it became the monster I thought it always had been. I realized after he almost destroyed the world that his people weren’t monsters. Where we demonized them, they defended each other selflessly. Where I taught someone how to destroy a world, they stopped him. They stopped someone who learned hatred and terror from me. I can’t absolve myself of that. But I wanted to meet with you and tell you that I was wrong to do what I did.”
Y’all might think I was boiling with anger, but this was one of those times where I felt like ice. I was beyond simple anger. One coiling mass of nanites formed a tendril with a spike on the end and plunged through Lulios’s chest. It went right through as if punching a hole in air, but it obstructed the image of Lulios seated in his chair. The hologram appeared to be coming from below.
“I’m sorry for the deception as well, but I thought you would kill me before I could ever speak to you, and I needed to talk to you. For your sake and mine,” the illusion of Lulios went on. “I hope you can find a way to let go of the hate toward humanity and the world. I don’t expect you to let go of it toward me.”
I dropped my own hologram and swept the floor. There was no chair in the room over there, just a pentagonal box. I shifted the tendril and stuck the spike into it, piercing the casing. Cables flowed out of the tendril now, carried by questing nanites looking to fuse them into the wiring of the device. It was a way to recreate my natural homo machina abilities while staying armored.
“Gecko…” Max warned. There were noises outside. “I have to step out for a moment.” He took the camera and the squirt gun full of his Hell hallucinogen with him out the door. Meanwhile, I traced back the signal coming from the device.
Above it, Lulios looked on, sizing me up. “I twisted you into this. It must feel like a knife to the gut to find out I’m still alive. Those on my staff who know the truth wanted desperately to keep you from finding out I’m alive, but I knew it was impossible. You were always going to find me. Please be merciful if you can find it in you to be. They are clouded by hate and throwing themselves into a duty to protect me.”
“I’m tired of your perfidious charcuterie, old man,” I growled.
He was shut up by a blast from an energy weapon that soared over his head. “Shut up, for your own good.” The Blue Justice Ranger walked over and held Lulios at gunpoint. He turned toward me. “No one is being released. You are the key to ending this threat-” The Justice Ranger gasped suddenly as arms wrapped around his neck from behind. The hands hit the external release on his helmet and pulled it off, but kept up the pressure on his throat. He turned his gun toward his attacker, but a familiar leg wrapped around it and squeezed, keeping it aimed away.
I’d gotten the trace done by now, but I kept watching as the Blue Ranger fell back and Medusa stepped into frame, in costume but not in armor. She helped up Lulios and turned to me. “They’re going to use him as bait now they know you will come for him no matter what. I did wrong by you, but listen to me now and stay away.” Then, turning to Lulios, she said, “Come on, let’s go.”
It occurred to me once they were done that I had heard a little bit of the sounds of struggle from outside. Holly and Sam must have gone out to help Max at some point. I followed after, finding Canadian police, Mounties, and Lulios’s Blackguard. They hadn’t been knocked out first like the others. The red gas that still lingered in the air had them scratching at walls and the floor, crying, even fighting each other. I liked it. It felt fitting with the mood I was in.
I caught up to Max, Sam, and Holly in the lobby. There were a pair of police helicopters out there, snipers keeping my friends at bay with shots that tore head-sized chunks of the flooring out. “Not enough range on your squirt guns?” I asked Max.
Max gave me a friendly middle finger, then called out, “They’re loaded up for shooting through armor!”
I gave him a thumbs up, then turned and ran for the lobby doors. A nanite and armor tendril tore the front of the lobby open, the nanomachines taking some of the metal to digest and replicate. The one metal tendril split into two tentacles that pushed me off the ground, then became a single limb with a pair of jet engines inside. The engines pulled me through the air toward the first helicopter and wrapped around the landing struts. It grew shorter as I grew another arm that formed a blade to cur through the base of rotor. The rotor went up for a moment as the chopper’s body fell. I threw that off and launched myself toward the other helicopter that was maneuvering for distance. The nanites encased me, reinforcing armor plates moving over my body to form a wedge while two short arms with jet engines threw me through the cockpit and into the hold with the sniper. He tried to smack me with the butt of the gun but the nanomachines caught it and ate the gun. The man dove for it. I let him and decided to escape the falling copter too.
Seeing police vans around, I threw that wreck of a chopper at them with nanite tentacles. Gunfire rang out, and proved to be useless. The cops saw what I’d done so far and wisely ran for it, driving toward escape. The rest of my group walked out behind me, Sam whistling. Holly walked right up to me and asked, “Why did you need us again?”
“I needed my friends,” I said.
Max gave me a hug before Sam elbowed him. “Excuse me, battleground full of dead bodies and terrified people. Can we hug later?”
It’s been some time since I was in a big casino. Some of the nicer underground gambling spots approach the look and feel of a smaller casino, but a big, proper one has a certain life all its own. They cultivate an atmosphere of excitement, a tension that you could be on the edge of a big win. It’s a lie, of course. For every lucky $300 or $5000 win, the casino made more than that off other people. That’s nothing new, of course, but it explains why they really don’t like it when someone wins almost every single time. Like, if someone can neurologically sync up with nearby computer-run slot machines or digital blackjack. Someone with part of their brain replaced by a computer and prosthetic eyes with a HUD that can count and track cards. I’m not very good at poker, but I’m also not welcome in Vegas.
Well, Psycho Gecko isn’t welcome in Vegas, but Gecko is officially dead. So, from my base in a lovely suite, I had free rein to search the town for my friend, Mix N’Max. Last I’d heard, he’d taken a liking to Vegas and did well here with his improbable concoctions. He was a purveyor of pharmaceutical enjoyment and could craft a custom brew to better one’s abilities. Giving people luck potions and super speed pills put him at odds with the local casinos, but also built him enough money and influence to maintain some peace. Except people haven’t been hearing much from Max lately, nor from his assistants Holly and Sam.
Now, the dirty open secret of Vegas, and the whole of the world, is that having enough money means you’re exempt from laws and can do anything you want. Spending a night dropping thousands of dollars at High Roller slots showed I had that money. A friendly concierge stopped by to let me know every so often that if I needed anything at all, just to let them know. Sadly, one thing they couldn’t get me was one of Max’s unique creations, so after awhile I could try a different casino and repeat.
On the fourth iteration of this cycle, I was stopped shortly after entering the Olympus Casino by a concierge wearing a laurel on his head. It was his nod to the Greco-Roman theme of the place, with white imitation marble support columns, rubber plants, and classical statues. Nearby, a lightning bolt lit up over a slot machine to indicate someone hit a jackpot. A sign nearby pointed the way to nearby bathrooms and the Elysium Eatery. With lighter colors and strategic lighting, the place had a thin illusion of being bright and well-lit to it. Just not so bright and well-lit that they couldn’t hide cigarette smoke stains or annoy drunk, high, hungover, and exhausted customers.
Sadly, this concierge blocked my view of a lovely waitress walking around in a skimpy version of a toga and sandals while he was at it. He followed my gaze briefly and laughed. “If it’s the companionship of a beautiful woman you’re looking for, we would be happy to assist. Even her, if you’d like. Hello, I’m Richard Mendelson, concierge here at the Olympus. As I understand and hear, you’re looking for a specific fun. Have I heard right?”
I smiled at him. “You have indeed, Mr. Mendelson.”
“Madame, if you please, I would show you to the Underworld.” He led me to a pair of locked doors off to the side that had their own couple of open guards. I suspected some of the folks in the area were secret guards as well, but at least he didn’t bring any security just to escort me. That would have been a sign of distrust, maybe even hostility.
We took a short elevator ride down to a lower level and stepped out into an area with a different aesthetic. Whereas the upper floor pretended at being bright, this bottom area worked hard at being darker. The walls were a dark brown or red color with the occasional fake torch hung on them looked like it flickered, but the light itself never wavered. A trio of beautiful young with with identical hair, makeup, and black togas stood behind another fake Greek column that served as a podium. Arching over the whole entrance was a large wrought iron gate with some Latin lettering up at the top that read, “Welcome to the Underworld, all ye who enter here.”
Look at that. Took no time at all for a Psychopomp to end up in the Underworld. The concierge next to me held his arm out, welcoming me to go first. I nodded at him and stepped out toward the three smiling faces greeting me at the gates of the Underworld.
I smiled and crossed my arms over my chest. “I hope this isn’t going to be too repetitive of an introduction.”
“Not at all,” One of them said.
“Do you have any cash you want us to deposit for you? A line of credit?” asked the Second.
The Third nodded toward my concierge. “I would be happy to be your guide and show you what we can provide.”
I handed Second a couple hundred thousand dollars in cash and let myself be shown around by the Third, who linked her arm with mine and left the concierge behind. “I’ve been told you are looking for something to enhance your mood and state of mind.”
“Yes, drugs,” I told her.
She giggled like it was the funniest joke in the world. “Not just any drug.”
“Hedonism Squared,” I said. It was something Max has been doing for years. It’s a drug that pretty much erases or reverses all pain. Messes with receives in your brain so they interpret all signals of pain, distress, or discomfort as intense pleasure. Someone could cum from cutting a hand off, which has the potential for danger. The military even tried to buy a bunch, until they ran into the part that makes it so lucrative for Max. See, supposedly there are some really expensive chemicals involved in the process of making it. Selling it wasn’t the moneymaker. Unless a person keeps taking it, they’ll come down to find that everything, every single sensation from before, now registers as pain. It might not be much, but imagine if the wind felt like it was burning you. If laying sick on a bed brought no relief because the sheets felt like a knife’s edge on your skin. So they either keep buying more, or they pay a huge amount for a purgative that stops the whole cycle then and there.
An elegant extortion racket for the wealthy, celebrities, and professional athletes. And not just to use against them. Some of those posh old money families would buy some to keep affluenza-prone kids in line. “Do as I say and you won’t get your next fix. Marry who I tell you or you won’t get the purgative.”
They showed me through a much more sparse casino area. Most of the machines and tables looked the same as upstairs, but with higher stakes. Some few isolated cases didn’t seem to use money as stakes, and I even passed by a couple of old guys glancing between their cards and each other while the dealer sharpened a cleaver. I checked the sign and cooed to my guide, “I’ve always wanted to try chop poker.”
“Every grudge can be settle with a game here. Are you any good at Seven Card Stud?” she asked.
“I’m afraid not,” I answered.
She laughed. “Unless you can grow back body parts, I would advise you to stay away, ma’am.” There came a scream and a thud of metal on fabric behind us.
Second or Two or whatever led me to a more private, smaller alcove with a padded couch and a table. “Please wait here.”
She barely finished speaking when a young woman stopped by in one of the same skimpy togas. “May I get you any refreshment while you wait?”
“It will only be a few minutes,” Second told me. And that’s all it was, just a few minutes before she brought me back a small, clear glass bottle with a dropper top that came down into a clear liquid. I took it in hand and held it up to the light.
“Does it satisfy?” Second asked.
“Hmm…” I pretended to regard it. “It looks milky. Have you diluted it?”
“I assure you…” she trailed off when she saw me unscrew the top. I stayed away from it a bit, sniffing. “Ma’am, you shouldn’t!” she rushed forward. I moved it away from her, but kept track of it.
“H-Squared requires enough of it to form at least a droplet to have an effect on the human body,” I said. “Smelling it is harmless and can help tell if it has been tampered with. Your reaction doesn’t satisfy me. Bring me something fresh.” I closed up the bottle and held it out for her. When she hesitated, I pulled out another stack of cash. “I want to go with you, to ensure quality.”
“I can’t…” she started to say. She shut up once I pulled out another bundle of cash. “I guess I can.” That bundle disappeared into her cleavage. She led me into an area that wasn’t for guests. The walls were painted, unappealing cinderblock. She led me down corridors until we reached a larger room, an underground arena with three tiers. Stairs sloped down to the bottom floor with a large, electrified cage in the middle. The slope had seats, though most of them were empty. There was the floor we were on, and then a balcony floor overlooking everything from its ring. My hostess led me along our floor around to a concession stand of sorts, only they had it separated by a thick window. She pressed an intercom to speak to the inhabitant. “Wake up. We need something fresh.”
The lights inside brightened slowly, revealing Max, with a black eye and a nasty gash on my friend’s pale head. He heaved himself up with a grunt, looking over at us with resentment. It’s rare I’ve ever seen him without his Cheshire grin, but I also didn’t expect to see him in this state. “He’s your prisoner?” I asked. “You trust him to cook for you despite that?”
“He challenged the ruler of Olympus and he lost. We hold leverage over him to ensure he doesn’t try anything,” she said. I could hear the smugness. They must have Sam and Holly somewhere, as hostages.
“You weren’t kidding about solving anything with a game,” I said.
Second reached for the intercom. I laid my hand on hers to stop her. “What’s the game to win him?”
“Excuse me?” she asked. She took her hand away and backed off. “You don’t want to do that.”
“I do,” I said. “So, what’s it going to be? Care for a game of chop poker?” I turned toward what crowd there was, as well as the man and gorilla facing off in the middle of the cage. “We are at an impasse! They have a lucrative asset I want! I challenge for Mix N’Max!”
A loud blare cut off all other sounds. Above everything, a walkway extended out over the arena. A man walked out, turned into shadow by lights backing him. He turned sharply to look at me. Or away from me, but I’m guessing toward. When he spoke, the acoustics let me hear it easily. “You challenge me within my own casino? You are an audacious one. What is your name?”
“I’ve been called Trouble,” I called out to him. “But my name is unimportant. More important is if you shy away from a challenge… surely, I don’t scare you, do I? I want Max and the two companions you use for leverage.”
I heard a few in the crowd “Oooh”ing.
“Tell you what,” he said. “You’re asking for three. I’ll make this easy on you. We were just about to have a match. I would ask you to participate.” He motioned toward me. Second took hold of my arm from behind and began to lead me down the stairs. “Come on. There’s a good lass.”
I didn’t want to seem too eager, helped by my own disappointment. The thrill-seeking part of me hoped for a game of chance or something different than a mere fight. I can cage fight a gorilla in my sleep. Really, the secret to most mammals is to go for the groin. Well, we got on down to the stage level, but I didn’t see an opening to the cage. I looked up at the mysterious shadow owner who said, “Last chance to back out.”
“Last chance to grow a pair!”
The floor fell away underneath me. It was fun, actually. There was a slide that just kept going. How big was this fucking place? An image appeared overhead, a shadowed head with a tophat backed by bright lights. “Round one, for Samantha Hain, you face my deadly giant Brown Recluse… sorry, I’m being told he’s lost weight and prefers the term ‘Persian hermit.’ But tonight, he is the deadliest of your enemies in the slide race.” I got used to the lights, or maybe the lighting improved. Either way I saw another slide zip on overhead and come up beside mine. In the other lane was a skinny young guy in a t-shirt. He waved at me happily.
I stopped paying attention to him when something smacked me in the face. I grabbed at a small squirt gun, full of water.
“Your goal, to reach the exit which will close after the first person passes through, trapping the other in a bottomless pit. Yes, bottomless. Don’t think about it or you’ll lose. You’ve each been provided with a squirt gun full of lubricant to help speed you on your way. Good luck!” The floating image disappeared.
Ah, so not water. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as the Persian Hermit sped up, yelling “To infinity and beyond!” He had a huge soaker, dwarfing the tiny pistol I’d been given. Oh, right, that’s why I should have preferred a cagefight. I gave my gun a squirt at the slide ahead of me so I went over it. I sped up shortly after hitting the patch of lube, but a sudden turn almost threw me over the edge. I found I’d caught up to the Hermit, who had slowed down in anticipation. So I had an idea how to win. I tried to keep up with him without running out of that KY goodness. He managed to pull ahead by the time we reached another curve. I had to aim carefully to deal with the drop of liquid. And I knew, I only had a dozen shots at this. Squirt!
Like Icarus, the Hermit flew too close to the sun. It happened when the extra lubricant helped him maintain too much speed and he flew over the curve and down into the darkness below. After that, the ride got kinda boring until the slide dropped me into a ballpit in a small room. I crawled forward to escape the net enclosure of the pit and felt something below. I pulled it up to find a bloody femur.
The image of the shadowman appeared on the wall next to me. “Congratulations, you won the race. Fuck you. Anyway, your next challenge will be against an even deadlier opponent. An evil clown known only as… Giggles.”
“Is this a race or tug of war or what?” I asked. The wall slid open in front of me and an overweight clown walked in, his face an intense stare right into the very depths of where my soul would be if I had one.
“This is Russian Roulette! One of you lives. The other takes a bullet to the brain,” the shadowman said, laughing. The laughter cut off when the video did.
The clown pulled a revolver out of his pants and loaded a single bullet into the cylinder. He spun it, then raised the barrel to his temple. Click! Nothing happened. He tossed the gun to the floor in front of the ballpit. I pulled myself out of the ballpit and bent down to take the gun, then looked around. Huh, no guards. I cocked the hammer back part of the way so I could freely spin the cylinder so the round would be next in the chamber. I finished cocking it, rotating that round into place, and pointed it at the clown’s head. His eyes widened a little too late I splattered his brains against the wall.
The shadowman appeared on the wall. “That… was not how that was supposed to go.”
“One of us is dead and the other’s alive. What are you going to do, have him move on to the next challenge?” I asked, kicking the oversized shoes of the dead man on the floor in front of me.
“…moving on then. Please make your way through the door and leave the gun!”
I shrugged and dropped it before heading out the door, stepping out… into the cage? See, I was beginning to think this place made no sense before, and this just confirmed it. I turned back the way I came and saw the room I was in had disappeared. Even the door frame around me seemed to just be an empty frame, with no way to stand up.
Across from me in the cage stood Second or Two. I never bothered figuring out her name. Shadowman’s voice boomed out over the arena. “You keep killing everyone you compete against, so I’m not going to feel sorry for you this time. Bitch against bitch, you versus one of my Cerberus girls. Go at it until one of you can’t stand up anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” Second said.
“Um, why? You’re going to die,” I said.
Second balled up her fists and concentrated, then her skin seemed to split and stretch, closing back up over a growing form that spouted fur from it. She looked like a nine-foot tall pit bull. It was kinda cute, actually, especially with the large boobs. Sexy, even. They were just really nice boobs. And the abs on her. Tits that big with a cut belly like that? Oooh, and those thighs.
I twirled my fingers through my hair. “So… hiya.”
“What are you doing?” asked shadowman.
I stepped forward, running fingers through my own hair to straighten it out and tried giving a flirty twirl through my hair at the end. “So… I can’t help but notice you’re naked now. It would be a shame to waste all this lubricant from the slide.”
Second cocked her head to the side in confusion as I pressed up against her and ran a finger over her rock hard abs. Then I reached up and put my hand around her head, guiding her fanged, drooling mouth down to mine.
An hour later, I kicked the side of the fence down. Behind me lay Second, weak-kneed, and unable to stand, slipping in… juices. Long story short, she was a little too weak to stand. Secret to beating pretty much any mammal: go for the groin.
I ignored the now-packed arena and called up to the balcony level. “You done up there? Give me Max!”
Shadowman cleared his throat and spoke between pants. “Yeah, I’m finished. Oh my god. Give her Max and the girls. Can you come back and do a show for us sometime?”
I ignored his questions as I walked up the steps. Behind me, I heard the mutated voice of Second call out, “My number is-!” but the applause stopped me hearing the rest.
At the top waited Max, Sam, and Holly, all hugging. They turned to me, curious, but then Max hugged me as well. “Gecko! It’s been awhile.”
“Hey Max. Looks like we both got in some trouble,” I said.
“How did you know that was Gecko?” asked Holly. She had gone back to brown hair with blonde highlights, setting her apart from Sam, who looked a lot different without all the makeup to compliment hair that was dyed silver.
“I’d know that foot thing anywhere,” Max said, sly grin returned to his face.
“Come on, I’m starving,” Sam said, grabbing Holly and pulling us toward the exit.
I shrugged. “Sounds good, but you know I’ve already eaten.”
They all groaned.
Can’t sleep. Won’t sleep. If I sleep, they’ll break in. Sounds like a zombie movie, but I’m sure Medusa, the Exemplars, and probably the Justice Rangers are all trying to bust down my door. It’s only Medusa I hear from.
I’ve been working down here since then. I mean, first I cried against the door, but then I figured they were coming for me and got to work. It beat thinking too long about what happened. Not just my failure, but Medusa working against me and how she did. It’s not just- nope. Gotta concentrate on my preparations.
The spare body I had up there in the hotel got out, along with the guns and other equipment I’d smuggled up there. They moved him now. They’ll keep his next location secret, but I managed to get the body to a smaller hotel and put him up there. But why even bother with that?
I told her to stop! I didn’t want that. I didn’t want it at all.
It’s weird, but I have been sleeping. I didn’t think I’d be able to, but I had my body in the armor while some things were being readjusted. I grew another body to help me out. I just… I’m scattered. I’ve been flying around in my lair from this to that, barely able to keep anything straight. Pushing my consciousness into another body felt like it helped. Probably just a placebo effect of some sort. So I had my body in my armor and was directing things through the spare when I noticed my original’s vitals had fallen asleep. I thought that would just knock me out as well if I did that.
“I promise, I’m alone out here. I wasn’t thinking and I fucked up big time. Please talk to me,” Medusa called from the doorway. It’s a trap through. It has to be. She was supposed to distract me from the very beginning. How much has she distracted me from? How much of what we had was her way of playing along to control me? I didn’t answer her. The only other person I need to answer to now is my daughter.
This town is so tiny, there’s nowhere here I can hide Qiang from Medusa. I don’t know if she’ll hurt her, but Medusa already hurt me for the sake of defending that monster. It would have been less painful if she punched me.
I’d never used the nanites for this kind of excavation before. They cleared an entire passageway for me through the ground, packing it in to reinforce the walls. I had to wait for my body to wake up before I could crawl to safety. That gave me time for other things.
The Psycho Flyer is repaired, fueled, and capable of unobstructed flight. No one’s stormed my store. My useless fucking store opened just in time for a pandemic. Probably another distraction by Medusa. Maybe General Lulios even made more trips. How many times? How many lies when I finally opened myself up to someone?
I never should have bought into it. If I’d been more cynical, I wouldn’t have this pain like someone ripped open a hole in my chest with their fingers. It hurts because I trusted her. If only she would stop yelling through the door. I want to scream right back at her what she did. I want to force her to understand why what she did was wrong, not just to my body. I deserve my revenge. That is an absolute fact. Lulios is the one person more deserving of death than myself.
Finally, finally, I realized I needed a plan. Another benefit of the detachment of this other body, this other Firecat, this detachment numbed the pain enough to work on that. I had to abandon killing Lulios for now. I don’t know where he is, and the current scramble is to extricate myself and important assets from Medusa and her whole setup. My ties to the community are minimal, but my daughter’s made friends here. I can’t stay, but I don’t want to leave her. I don’t want to take her away, but I can’t stay.
At least I can take some comfort in knowing I wasn’t the fuck-up this time. I feel like a huge one, emotionally, but it wasn’t my fault this time.
For her part, with all the screaming, at least Medusa seems to have realized she messed up with her excuses of “I misread the signs,” and “I thought it would be better than hitting you,” and all that. So at least she realizes doing sex stuff to me over my objections is part of my major malfunction. Finally, she asked, “Is there anyone I can you’d rather talk to?”
Whereas I’d usually seen not having anyone as a matter of self-sufficiency and independence, this time I didn’t. I wanted to talk to someone and let my frustrations out. Medusa was the wrong person for that. She was the enemy. Her question helped give me some idea what to do and where to go.
When after hours of my body resting, I swapped back into it. The nanites on the wall leading to my escape tunnel rapidly pulled dirt out of the way to give me access and sealed it back once I’d passed through. I didn’t close the whole tunnel up behind me as I made my way out to emerge from under my greenhouse. Shame I won’t be here to pick more pecks of unpickled peppers, but the watering system would be automated to at least keep them alive.
The house wasn’t surrounded. Or guarded. It looked, near as I could tell, like Medusa was the only other person there. I shrugged and headed for my Flyer. I flipped a sign at my store, letting everyone know we’re closed indefinitely, and then strapped in. Destination: Vegas. Because I’d rather deal with that place than risk Beetrice being too touchy and feely after what Medusa did to me.
I was still en route when I got some feedback from Firecat. I’d left her behind in case I needed to get in contact with someone. She rested in a chair in my lair, until the door was disintegrated. Medusa tried to block the doorway. “I should see her first, something is really wrong.”
“Yes, it is. Out of the way,” said a digitized voice.
Medusa walked in first, wearing her armor so they couldn’t just jostle her out of the way, and found just Firecat there, with no sign of me or my armor. “Gecko, are you in here?”
A Blue and Yellow Justice Ranger came in after Medusa, with some soldiers backing them up who wore armor inspired by the rangers, but in black. “Sweep the corners,” Blue said to the others. “He’s a master of stealth.”
“She,” Medusa said. While the others messed around with the room, she approached Firecat. “Are you in there?”
I didn’t give her anything, but she still smiled and hugged the body, whispering, “I saw your eye move. I’m sorry. Please come back when they’re gone.”
“What is this?” asked Yellow, moving in to point some sort of pistol at Firecat. Yellow held a hand to the side of their helmet. “Lulios identified her as the woman who attacked him.”
“It’s a surrogate she created. She’s had this idea lately to grow bodies and pilot them remotely. That isn’t her. She’s gone,” Medusa seemed genuinely distraught that I’d snuck out.
“Can he hear us through this thing?” Blue asked.
Medusa shrugged, though I think she knew the answer. She had her hand on my chest and had to have heard Firecat’s heart speed up at the mention of Lulios.
Yellow walked over and looked down at Firecat’s eyes. “Lulios wants to speak with you. He says you have things to work out.”
I laughed through Firecat. “Give me an address. I’ll gladly pay him a visit.”
“To ensure the safety of the General, your compliance will be guaranteed by a hostage.”
“You are not taking her daughter,” Medusa spoke with steel in her voice, raising her firsts and taking in the group packed into my basement lair. For whatever else is wrong with her, at least she still cares about Qiang. I almost wondered then if I should have given her the benefit of the doubt. Whatever loop she’s in, it’s not the most important one. I don’t have to take her back, but I can at least tell her why Lulios must die.
The soldiers and Rangers turned their weapons on her. Yellow said, “You are an acceptable hostage.”
“If you leave Qiang alone, then I’ll come with you,” Medusa said. It’s a bold move, because she has to know how much she’s hurt me. I wonder if she’d do it if she knew my grudge against Lulios? As much as I hate her right now, I think she actually would. I can’t see her ever sending my daughter to be a hostage even knowing that she would likely die to take her place.
“I affirm this compromise,” Blue said, Medusa lowered her guard then and let them lead her out.
Yellow lagged behind as they led Medusa out. “I hope you try us,” they said. “The General will let you know when you can meet him. Watch your new information programs.”
That was where the situation laid when I arrived in Vegas. I still wasn’t heading back to that house. Folks knew where it was and were probably watching it. I don’t trust this “talk” with Lulios. Just one of those ambushes to get me out of the way and pretend to be the hero. Killing the infamous Psychopomp Gecko, who he secretly created, would boost his reputation.
That was the situation when I walked into the High Stakes, one of the bright and shining casinos on the Vegas strip, a gold sequined dress hugging my body, and perused the games of chance. The carpet was a bright red, with support pillars made to resemble large wooden stakes sticking up from the ground. I walked on over to the cashier cage with a bundle of cash.
“You look like you’re here to get lucky,” said the man behind the counter.
I winked at him. “Just looking to even some odds.”
Whatever this is about, my window’s… fucking dammit… my window’s shrinking. I need more words. There aren’t words for this kind of angry. Sounds, aaaargh!
They did a thing. With people asking questions and shit. Shit.
Ok, now that I’ve got some rum in me, and I detest rum, I think I can force this out. Fuck it, I’m leaving in the first attempt. He did a thing with the Canadians, talking about a scientific partnership with the other dimension. They’re saving face. This world doesn’t have a lot to offer the people of my Earth outside of vastly different media. I enjoy good porn like anybody else, but it’s not “future technology bargaining chip” good here, alright?
The thing that pissed me the fuck off initially was the way both my world and the Canadians talked about General Lulios as a respected and beloved statesman. It nearly fucked up me walking one of my bodies down to install a holodisc on the wall opposite the door, capable of letting me tap in and see if someone’s going in or out. Hearing that introduction on the news, I nearly lashed out at the door with a body that didn’t even have good powers for that sort of thing. I walked him back to his room next to Firecat’s, the occasional raven outside being unusually aggressive.
That fucking monster, beloved? Yeah, so I went and checked. It… I… It meant a lot to me to know this. This guy ruined my life. There was innocent little Gecko before, a kid with parents, a birthday, and a name. I didn’t have to be what I became. This guy might be the only living person left I hate more than myself, and I thought I killed him. I thought my world of origin knew what he was. He had just been a general I killed back when it happened.
I had to alter a drone on short notice, give it a holodisc and a stronger transceiver, one with a transdimensional broadcast capability as a backup, similar to the technology I use for this blog. Flew that baby right through the portal. They don’t have a way to shut the portal down just yet, which is part of the reason this has forced either cooperation or conflict. I delivered the drone most of the way by rocket, low to the ground but off the radar. This time, I noticed more emergency measures that could be put in place to block access, but the place was still relatively open. I think it was meant to foster that cooperation, trust, and a degree of transparency. Made it easier for me to violate that trust and sneak through in the interest of murdering someone important to their cooperation.
The other side was more militarized. Like on the Canadian side, they had it mostly open except for an awning overhead, but the area was walled off instead of fenced off, with several round blisters on the wall that housed discreet gun emplacements. The memorial had been cleared away. That made sense. On this ground had sat a memorial to the defeat of their world’s worst villain, to remember the victims and make sure people knew what the original looked like in case the fiend ever returned. They never liked that I actually did return, and the tear in reality that stayed in place probably left them paranoid about infiltration by me. Or maybe I’m giving myself too much credit just because they were so happy to see me gone that they built a monument to my defeat.
I flew the drone out to clearer ground, careful of potential lag. There’s already some reason I can’t access their infonet from this end normally. I brought the drone out and hovered it on up to the top of the wall, settling it there while I concentrated on the more overwhelming task of immersing myself once again in an entire other world’s interconnected information network. It wouldn’t tell me anything, but it could tell me a lot, unless they were going for a Great Firewall situation. That kind of separation is tricky and relies on collaboration from those who provide such a service.
General Lulios. He reappeared shortly after my defeat, at first hesitant to trust homo machina. He was seen with the folks speaking out against leniency and amnesty toward my followers, most of whom had been left in the dark about my attempt to destroy the world. They turned on me and helped stop it, which argued in favor of reconciliation. Along with that, the sheer number of them who had been an abused minority fighting for equality made it a delicate situation. Maybe don’t remind people who were capable of threatening the entire world that you don’t want to treat them like people. Better leaders emerged in the aftermath of my apparent death. Not much of a challenge if you compare them to me. I wasn’t so much a leader as an opportunist. Finally, the Justice Ranger team at the time came out publicly in favor of reconciliation, with General Lulios in the background of the Red Justice Ranger’s speech. After that, he spoke publicly in favor of the idea.
Articles about him make it sound like it was a journey for the General. They didn’t seem to know about what he’d really been doing in the military with the Psychopomp Project. Geez, I don’t think they really know about it outside of stuff I said. And that kind of stuff gets lumped together with some conspiracy theorist nonsense, trotted out by the kind of asshats who believe a shadowy cabal of a certain ethnic group rules the world in secret.
Lulios didn’t reveal his part in my origin. Instead, biographies painted a picture of a guy who has learned he was wrong about past prejudices and who was learning to be better. Naturally, they propped him up as one of the good oppressors, especially since he brought a lot of institutional legitimacy to reconciliation efforts.
I still didn’t see signs of what his grift was at this point. There’s always something. People like him don’t become public figures unless there’s some motivation, usually money. It’s true in both of these worlds. Maybe he was getting donations. Maybe sex was involved. All I know is, he got a lot of people very interested in him and his injuries, all the more so when it was revealed I caused it. The anti-me bias was so strong, nobody stopped to think about if he deserved it.
It all seems pretty simple. The whole time I was here, he was there, being held up as some icon of changing one’s mind. Someone who moved past prejudice, he claims. A humanitarian. A hero who cares about homo machina. Bullshit. Pure bullshit, with little bits of corn floating around in it. Yeah, they were right. The guy’s reputation is great. It’s a lie, but it’s great.
I lifted the drone off and spun it around to find some sort of cover. There was a little bit of a wooded area to the east. Nothing so big as a forest, but something that can provide cover. I rested it on some branches on top of a tree and had the holodisc stay on to mask its presence while the drone itself went into hibernation. I left a timer on to remind me when I needed to do something before pulling back to the real world. The world where General Lulios, the man who tortured and abused me, turned me into a murderer, is beloved by everyone who hated me for what he made me.
I “woke up” to find my arm had gone numb because I was laying on it on my sofa. Medusa brushed my hair. “Hey, sleepy.”
I sat up, rubbing my arm and moving it around. “You’re back early.”
“Yeah,” she said, looking a little sad. “We need to talk.”
I decided to treat this like a traffic stop. “About what?”
“Have you watched the news today?” she asked.
“Should I have?”
She sighed. “Ok, so you know. That makes this easier in some ways, harder in others. Listen, I was informed that general was going to visit as part of negotiations. His staff wasn’t specific, but they had concerns about you. I’m going to be clear here, I can’t let you attack him.”
I laughed and laid my head on her shoulder. “What are you going to do, fight me?”
She kissed the top of my head and put her arm around me. “I’d rather not. I want to cuddle you.” She reached over and took my hand in hers. I think she felt the same thing in those muscles as I saw in the hotel clerk’s face: control. Which meant I was only pretending to be fine. “He’s just some general, right?”
I forced a smile she saw through. “Yeah, sure.”
“Where’s Qiang?” she asked.
“Spending the night with a friend.”
My opportunity came a short while later. While I remained in Medusa’s arms, with her silently reassuring me, I saw confirmation of Lulios returning and a trio of bodyguards taking up stations outside his room. My body went limp as I shot out to more firmly inhabit Firecat.
I blinked, finding myself in bed in a pitch black room. I clicked on the light to the side and let my eyes get adjusted while standing up and stretching. The body, nice as it was, might be an acceptable loss, but it’d be unacceptable to lose it before I kill that fucker. I walked it over closer to the hallway and looked up at the ceiling. Right up there was his room. I set up a chair, which is all I needed to comfortably reach the ceiling. I grinned and extended her glowing energy claws. It was like a burning pressure in my fingers, begging to be released. And I released them, swiping through the orange peel texture and drywall. I paused to listen for movement, signs of awareness. I heard quick shuffling, heading toward the door. Fuck subtlety then.
Flames burst through the floor, stopping escape through the door. The floor of the General’s room crumbled against my claws as I rose, fire alarms wailing, propelled up by a pillar of flame under my feet. Such a grand entrance, I could have smirked any other time. But it was General Lulios. It was the man who made the monster. The man who made me. I don’t even know how the room caught on fire. It was like the heat and anger radiated out from me without my control.
“Gecko sent you,” he said to me. I don’t know when the last time was I heard that voice.
I was distracted a spank. Who the fuck’s spanking me when I’m trying to take my revenge?! It came again, along with the feeling of my skirt being pulled down. Except Firecat was in pants. I blinked and felt my consciousness pulled back to my house in Radium.
“What?” I asked, looking at Medusa.
“Where’d you go?” she asked. “And why did my phone start blowing up with an alarm saying Lulios is being attacked.”
It was difficult to concentrate on the question, or my assassination attempt, with her fingers running along my the front of my panties. “What are you doing?” I whined and wiggled.
“I’m not going to fight you,” she said with a mischievous smile on her face. Something pushed me to the side. No, that was Firecat, up in Canada. I whirled her around toward General Lulios, growling and trying not to pay attention what Medusa was groping with her hands. I swiped with a claw, but stumbled off balance when, back at home, Medusa decided to fold my legs up against my torso. The door burst open. One of the guards grabbed Lulios and pulled him to safety while the others opened up with pistols that burned holes through my chest. The pain didn’t last long, which meant I fucking failed.
I pushed Medusa away and stomped off to my basement lair, panties and skirt left behind on the couch.
So fucked up!
“Babe, what are all these hatchets for?” Medusa asked me the other night. She’s been guarding Lulios, but she had to come back for her phone and then I did the distracting. And then she woke up in the night because she still had to get back to work, and found me throwing hatchets in my lair. I printed off photos of some authority figures for target practice. Cops, politicians, even military bigwigs. Ya know, like generals. It was a bit of foreshadowing on my part, along with seeing if there’s anything she wants to tell me.
She still hasn’t let on about the General’s visit, and I don’t know what she knows. It’s plausible she wouldn’t know who he is and what he means to me. The other side of the portal knows I’m over here and it’d be normal for them to not want me around. I haven’t bugged her or broken into that phone of hers. Some of it’s a matter of trust, but I also don’t want them realizing I’m onto them. A shift in a person’s actions likely means they’ve acquired new information. One of the downsides of Medusa imploring me to build some form of mass entertainment for the town is that it caused a change in how I act that can be used to cover for what I now know.
It’s all Headology, as a character in a beloved fantasy series says. Don’t need to use much magic if you know Headology. Note to self: robotic killer animals I can control remotely? No, too risky with the enemy having homo machina of their own.
I’ve been the big fish in a little pond with those abilities. Lulios has at least one of them looking after him. More by now, if they’re smart and this is a time to prepare for the smart scenario. Just before she left to head back up to her Exemplar duties, Medusa asked what I was building. I told her the gadget I was working on was a way to shock people just a little bit. I’d once seen an arcade game where children held onto these handles and were gently shocked more and more. It didn’t hurt them at all, just made their hands and arms feel numb. If they held on until the end, they’d get tickets.
“That sounds iffy,” my heroine girlfriend told me.
I shrugged. “I’ll make sure there’s a warning about it.”
“Maybe you should look up if any of that’s safe. I don’t want you giving someone the electric chair by accident,” she said, giving me that look that said, “I’m amused by what you’re doing, but I’m serious, too.” I see that one a lot from her.
“Also,” she said, turning to where a few different guns were all sitting on the kitchen counter.
“I was thinking I’d do one of those BB target shooting games, but why settle for the wimpy rifles?” She knows me well enough to know I don’t do much with guns. Even that incident with the poachers, I took a gun along to use as a hidden explosive instead of to shoot someone. They just don’t interest me and it seems like a boring way to fight. And that’s why she didn’t bother calling me out on the over-under shotgun, the lever-action rifle, or any of the rest. That, and most assassination plots nowadays would probably use a more modern pump-action shotgun and an AR.
After that, it was off to look at land around the town of Radium. I already had my shop, which was seeing some customers. It’s not like most people around here can afford a rocket-powered skateboard, but folks need TVs fixed or a cheap pair of earbuds. I keep a lot of the latter in their own section marked, “Ear Pals”.
So on one of my many meandering trips away from my responsibilities, I looked around. That was for my cover. It occurred to me that my fantasies of setting up an evil amusement park to hold and torture Lulios in while would-be rescuers face its dangers is just not feasible for me. I don’t know how long he’s in town and every moment I spend not killing him is a chance for him to finish what he’s doing and go back through the portal. And I need info. I need to know how long he’ll be here and what he’s here for. I’m not saying I’ll avoid killing him if it’ll lead to an interdimensional war. I just want to be aware of if I’m starting such a war. This Earth might decide it’s easier to hand me over. Medusa, too.
If I just charge in there and kill him right under Medusa’s nose, where she knows for a fact it was me, that might be the end of us. That would hurt. She’s far too kind and forgiving of me, and it’s amazing to have someone safe to be with. But I can’t imagine it’s easy for someone with her morals to balance who and what I am with however she feels. I see it sometimes, when she looks up from texting with her friends. Or when she discusses her old gang at the Master Academy. I’m not the only reason she broke away form conventional superheroing, but I’m a sticking point. I wish… I don’t know. Not something I can put into words. And now part of me thinks maybe it’d be for the best to drive her away, like that little voice speaking up when you stand on the edge of a cliff, imploring you to jump.
After a few minutes lost in thought, I stopped staring at a cow pasture with a bunch of curious bovines in it and headed back to the shop. There, I could continue work on a different project near and dear to my heart. The ultimate body.
It’s not so ultimate yet, but it’s a start. I managed to get a couple of different powersets to work in the same body. It’s tricky, because most human chimeras have DNA that’s more similar. In this case, a chimera is when you have an organization with two or more sets of DNA in it, not a mythological beast that’s a bunch of different animals mixed together. One example of that is this woman who had her kid taken away from her because it turned out her womb came from an identical twin she’d absorbed before she was even born. Genetically, her daughter was the offspring of her partner and the unborn sister whose womb and eggs she got instead of her own.
But that still involved siblings. I’m mashing together people. And unlike cheetahs, who faced a genetic bottleneck about 10,000 years back, human genes are varied enough for organs to reject each other. The process Technolutionary and I worked out to turn a human into a homo machina is useful, but I’m not transforming a baseline human. I’m finding a way to keep both sets of DNA and the powers somehow associated with them, both active.
It’d be easier if I was ok with my body looking strange. A lot of supers with animal-based mutations have been affected at a genetic level. Or, like, if I wanted to give myself the powers of one of the bee people, the Buzzkills. I could have a body with a shark’s mouth, Buzzkill wings and exoskeleton, and reptilian scales. Now that’d be a chimera.
Not to self: secondary body project named Chimera?
Either way, I had a body with a couple different powersets. And I needed to be in more than one place at the same time. Whatever shall I do?
When I had idle time, I connected to the transceiver merged into the biomechanical brain of the experimental body I had so far, codenamed Firecat. She had a darker base skin that would tan up well, but ginger hair. I got her dressed, took some spare cash and some identification stolen from supers a cult tried to raise as superzombies, and I took off into the sky.
I love flying, even if it’s not as effortless as when I had the powers of Mr. Omega. Then, wind resistance and friction just weren’t a thing. Now, I found it helped to have an aura of heat and a helmet. If I can find a super with forcefield abilities, that’d be great. I had to sneak Firecat across the border, but that was no problem. Between the various fascists taking power and the civil war that broke out, Canada’s improved their border enforcement. It’s still a huge border.
And just like that, I was in Canada with a body, making my way to a city. That’s when some of the secondary abilities from one of the powersets really hit me. The “cat” part comes from one of those refugee kids. She had these energy claws, but she also seems to have some weird sight where she can see hints of electromagnetic waves in the air. It was a bit trippy in the city where the portal resides.
First thing’s first, a little bit of shopping to look more presentable. I needed some luggage to stick the helmet and clothes into. After that, I needed to get made up and have my hair done up a little. I didn’t want to spend the time on it, and it does take time, but it was a real part of my plan. I needed to look better than if I just walked in off the street so that I could walk into the hotel and act like I was a woman of some means.
“Howdy,” I said, playing up my apparent American-ness. It would also help. “I’m looking for a specific room to stay in here.”
The woman behind the desk looked like she was barely out of high school, but she smiled at me and set to work on her computer without looking. So she had at least some experience. “I’ll happily look that up for you if you give me the room number you’re hoping to reserve.”
You’d be amazed at the kind of detail drones and spy satellites can give you. I gave her the General’s room number. It was a nicer suite, the kind of thing you’d need money to afford. “When would you like that room?” the woman asked.
“I would love to have it tomorrow night if you could, or by Sunday at the latest, if it’s possible,” I said.
Her expression changed slightly. If you know to look for it, you can tell when someone’s professional demeanor has to be plastered on to cover up disappointment. The expression goes from natural to stiff. “I’m sorry, that room is not available on those dates.”
“Well… when is it available?” I asked, crossing my arms and trying to look impatient.
The woman didn’t click on anything else. “That room isn’t going to be available until the 4th of July. Do you want me to go ahead and book a reservation?”
I shook my head. “That’s going to be too late, shit.” I pulled out a cheap prepaid smart phone and pretended to look at it. These days, you need something like that to complete a disguise. I’ve even got a load of auctioned-off police-seized broken cell phones I could use, but they’re still not in at the shop.
Now, if they were any good, they’d have booked the rooms on either side of the General’s as well. That’s an easy way to gain access to a high value target, either through the windows, through the walls, or by setting off a bomb right next to all of it. Through my own brain computer, I checked the hotel’s website to see if it’d be possible to do an online booking of the room below the target’s. Humans and homo machina both have the flaw of checking for threats from around, but not above or below. That one was still good. I smiled a smile of relief and exited out of the website, “Oh my god, honey, thank you. It’s a good thing you didn’t book that for me and I checked. I gave you the wrong floor.”
Asset Firecat is inserted. Hmm. If I have time and more samples that work right, I wonder how many of these rooms surrounding Lulios I could fill with my bodies, like one fucked-up Brady Bunch opening.
“Giant Gummy Bear Defeated By Exemplars!” read the headline. Another one for Medusa’s stack. Nearest I can tell is a candy factory’s evil manager created a gummy concoction imbued with hatred and a desire for destruction. But since it was a giant gummy bear, her team ended up blowing it up.
There were the protests, and other things going on. Elvis was spotted at a burger place in Utah, trying to eat without getting swarmed by fans ever since he got pulled either from another dimension or from the space between dimensions. There’s also a story going around that aliens tried to take over the world using robots hidden as various metal statues. It turns out they’re vulnerable to shorting when completely submerged in water.
The world does its thing and I just do my thing. Maybe I take a few genetic samples sometimes. Nothing much to it. A swab here, a hair sample there. Medusa doesn’t approve, but at least she’s focusing on the self-improvement and consent stuff. There’s also a possibility of me raising a super clone army.
“You can’t just steal someone’s genes,” she said to me while I played around with this little holographic projector I had set on the table. I was eating a bowl of cereal while I showed her my plans. I hadn’t yet shown her how far along I was. Not that I was really far along, but she didn’t seem fond of the idea. And while I was messing around with cereal, she chomped down on some breakfast bar. She had to go
“Maybe I should turn this into a wrist-thingy or a watch,” I said, looking over it. Then I shook my head. “Wait, no, this is for you to see. But I don’t get what you’re complaining about here.”
“That’s someone’s genes!” she said, “That has to belong to them. It’s what they are!”
I waggled my hand. “I mean… between the effects of both physical development and environmental factors, there’s some legitimate debate on if genes make a person who they are.”
Medusa’s flat look made it clear my argument didn’t impress her. “You can’t honestly believe that.”
I looked back at her for a moment, then rolled my eyes, “No, I don’t. But I’m not going to make a copy and run around pretending to be them. I’m just going to use their genes to try and create the most powerful body possible to inhabit. No one gets hurt, and it’s not like anything’s really stolen.”
“This is wrong,” she said. “You don’t need to do this.” Her phone dinged and she glanced down at it for just a second.
“If it doesn’t hurt anybody and it makes me better, why not do it?” I asked. “Would it somehow be right if I was in a wheelchair and it was the only way for me to walk? I got robo eyes, remember? Should I take these out and just be blind? There’s nothing virtuous about forcing someone to stay in a body they don’t want.”
She quickly chowed down on her granola bar while I talk so that she was clear to respond. “You’ve already fixed that, but you’ll never become who you want to be until you make peace with who you are. A certain amount of ambition is a good thing, but not when you get lost in stealing people’s DNA to become all powerful. Remember Mr. Omega? You had more power than you knew what to do with. You flew around blowing things up and killing friends of mine. I know he was messing with your mind, because I know how you feel about yourself. Doing that again won’t make you stop hating yourself.”
I seethed. Some of it is because I have good, legitimate reasons. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be in an ideal body, or even to have a body that doesn’t stay fixed to one look. Hell, I think part of the reason I stopped being suicidal came from realizing I’m a woman and doing something about it. “Being in the right body helps more than you realize,” I told her. “And I know you prefer when that body is Reindeer’s and she’s all heroic and everything you really prefer.”
Medusa sighed. “You’re getting really defensive right now when I think we should have a clear, open-minded discussion. I want you to know I love you. I want what’s best for you. But I need to ask, are you feeling inferior to your changed self?”
“No, I feel like you and everyone else clearly prefers that thing that takes over my body to me. And if it came out personally and I stopped existing, everyone would be happier. It’s different than when everyone just wanted me dead,” I told her.
Medusa started forward, then her phone beeped again. She looked down at it and sighed, then back to me, “That’s not what’s going on with Reindeer, but listen: Qiang and I both love you like you are, without wings or horns or shooting fireballs. And I, shit,” she stopped what she was doing as her phone beeped. “I swear I’m going to throw this thing. Listen, I want to talk about this with you, but I have to go do this thing today. You’re important to me, but this is one of those where someone could die today. Is it ok if I go deal with this?”
I nodded to her. The sooner she leaves, to sooner I can do my thing. And what she was trying to get across is that I’m still important to her, but she really needs to tend to something. “Yeah, go on.”
She pumped her fist and ran up to kiss me real quick before running off to go use the bathroom. I sat there wondering what, if anything, I was going to do today when she ran out of the house to get picked up. I had a lot of potential subjects in town, which is easier but risks exposing my plan more. There were way more at Master Academy, but that would be riskier. Finally, there were villain bars, which are more spread out, have fewer powered people than the other choices, and have at least an equal chance of turning violent as the school full of superheroes and superhero trainees. But nobody really cares about villains, so there wouldn’t be a lot of objections to it.
I also did the more substantive work of growing some bodies for testing purposes. Essentially clone bodies built to test if they retained the powers of the person the DNA was taken from. Of the ones I had so far, I didn’t get good results. Just the one, that let me generate fire. Still didn’t know how to incorporate it into another body, so the next set of experiments was to determine if fire powers would under other circumstances. Like, would the powers work if the brain and my transceiver were in another body? Was it just the body itself that had the powers? Is it a combination? Then there’s figuring out how to blend more than one genetic sequence to retain the powers while doing something else.
I figured a bathroom break would give me time to think it over and that’s when I found Medusa’s phone. When it beeped again, I could see part of a message on her screen. “I hope you distracted Psych…” it trailed off. I could break into it. Should I break into it? No, there’s that whole trust thing. The next thing was “! Lulios arrived early!!”
Weird name. One like they’d have back where I’m from. If she was meeting with people from my dimension, no wonder she wouldn’t want me and them to meet. It could be worse, though. It could be the Lulios I knew. But he’s dead. Blew him up.
Ya know, maybe I better peek around and make sure. It’s a common enough name, but still. I left the house and headed out to my greenhouse, just so I wouldn’t be found in the same room as the evidence if something were to confirm my paranoid fears.
I zipped my consciousness up along the information superhighway to Canada, where there’s a portal to my old world. They don’t like me being there in-person. Some people hold grudges over the whole “nearly destroying the world” thing. I spied through phones and cameras. They’d gotten better about wifi-accessible cameras in the area, but good luck getting people to give up their phones. And then I felt another presence in the digital landscape, trying to block access.
I hadn’t had to hide my presence that way in a long time, so it kind of snuck up on me and shut me out of the first one. After that, it knew I was there, so I changed tactics. I pulled back and scrambled my signature, then rerouted and bounced through various intermediaries, including some around the world, then traced back the homo machina blocking me. If I was better at this, or this person wasn’t, maybe I could finesse my way in. Instead, I brute-forced things while this person’s attention was elsewhere.
I was in a body. Not fully in there, just looking. The person was holding their head and looking down. “What’s wrong?” asked an older voice. A hand grabbed the body and pulled the face up to check on. I didn’t get a good look at that person because I was checking out the crowd around the person as fast as I could while this person concentrated on expelling me. They kicked me out pretty easily, then tried to trace me. They couldn’t just kill my consciousness out there. That’s still there in my brain. But it’d probably be bad if they found me. I got out of there, even though I had to sabotage some things behind me as I went. Bluescreened a computer, sent a driverless car off into a pond, and I activated the self-destruct sequence in a wifi coffee maker. With enough distance, I took the time to scramble some of my tracks without destroying CPUs.
In the end, it left me resting my hands on a table in the middle of my greenhouse, going back through the brief video I’d recorded. The old man I’d seen was dressed in one of these suits favored by military veterans on my world. Not the same sort of thing most people wear, something closer to a uniform but for someone not in the military any longer. His face had been a little mish-mashed from where fresher skin had been regrown to cover up injuries to a lot of the rest of a face that had grown older and wrinkly. The younger skin helped me recognize him, too. He’d been older when I knew him and thought I killed him, but not a young man.
I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. When I didn’t pick up, they sent a text. “Its Medusa, did I lv my phone @ home?”
“Yeah,” I sent back. “Also, I got a strawberry growing in my garden!”
“!” She replied, if that even is her, “Ur plant grew?!” Ok, it’s probably her.
No big deal. I left her phone where it was. Didn’t get paid a visit by anybody. No need to let on just yet that I know the guy who used to run the Psychopomp Project is somehow, infuriatingly, still alive. And that Medusa somehow knew he was coming and was supposed to distract me.
I kept watch thanks to the United States’s own satellites, and maybe a Chinese one or two. Everyone’s got eyes on everyone else, but right now they’re my eyes and they spied on the car that took General Lulios and his delegation to a nearby hotel.
The only question is if my subtlety is going to involve actual sneakiness, or if it’s the kind of subtlety where I sneak a bomb in, blow things up, and go on a loud murder spree.
Huh, another text message from Medusa. She forgot to say something before, but she wants to know if I can think of something fun to build for the town, like an amusement park or arcade. Damn woman, even her distractions are giving me ideas. An evil amusement park with killer rides? Murderous animatronics? An arcade with games that brainwash people?
I’m horny with killjoy.
I want to start off by saying I had to end the vacation early for Qiang. I know, I hate staying separate from her, but I don’t actually want to bring her into a violent confrontation. That she can handle herself doesn’t mean I want her to. Still, she had some fun while we were up at that hotel. She missed the snow, but not the guys with knives.
I sold a pretty good amount for the folks back home battling for their lives against a tyrannical police state. I mean, they could have had ME in charge instead, but, ya know. Shit happens. I’m not bitter. Who said I was bitter? Not me, that’s for sure. A bit angry at the hotel. I had to fight with them to comp me a new room, and they still stuck a charge on there for cleaning the old one. Never shopping there again, 2 stars, might rob later.
Mr. Chester and I had a talk in the new room once I got him stabilized enough. I didn’t give him his arms back. He lost arm privileges when he tried to kill me. It also made it a lot easier to keep him captive, because then I only had to tie his shoelaces together. And he told me all about his colleagues who hunt African big game for profit. They supplement it with running safaris for people who don’t like a lot of rules and regulations on their hunts. So while my daughter’s vacation ended, mine didn’t. Once I’d sold everything and paid that insolent hotel’s charges, I stopped back home to drop her off and change outfits. Also, I stuffed Mr. Chester into a costume mermaid tail and threw him in a pool with some piranhas I borrowed.
The beginning of my exciting safari began in the Ivory Coast. Right out of the Abidjan airport, I was tempted to grab a phenotype for myself. I had plenty of nanites in me again, because they make such a lovely weapon and because I had limited space to bring any syringes. I also didn’t want to bring my armor for reasons that would become apparent later. Abidjan was a pretty good looking city, something I could see easily from my room in an entirely different hotel. One that, I hope, doesn’t mind covering the cost of cleaning dead bodies. My plan didn’t rely on that, but you never know when that service is going to be helpful. Even the piranhas leave some bones behind.
The downside to this lovely place was speaking French again. My least favorite of the Romantic languages, because Italian and Spanish don’t require an extra level of translation so I know which letters are silent and which aren’t. On the plus side, my accent sounding so much like that of the American South means I can actually skate by on ignorance. As far as they know, I’m a rich, white American. Had to pay more than I’d like for a bigass rifle and pistol to complete the look, but having those shipped in ASAP drew what I hoped was the right kind of attention if people check on me. I Private jet or not, they still checked over someone coming from a hotbed of disease like the United States.
That established some public record of my arrival, including my willingness to bribe people to try and bribe officials to get through quicker. They didn’t take me up on it. Smart man.
They set up a preliminary meeting that turned into a Zoom call. Normally, this sort of thing would involve a private meet-up, like at some restaurant or cafe. But better safe than sorry. They have enough reason to worry about me.
The man on the other end of the call looked back at me from behind sunglasses. “How did you get our number?”
I smiled. “I met a man while doing business in the Eastern bloc. He introduced himself to me as Mr. Chester. When I expressed admiration for his products and line of work, he suggested I contact you.”
“Payment up front required. Will that be an issue?”
I fanned myself with a stack of hundred dollar bills. “Pardon me, it’s just so much more warm here than I was expecting. As you can see, I came prepared.”
He was probably rolling his eyes behind those glasses at such a transparent way to show off my money. “We will be in contact.”
They got back to me the next morning, in fact. They sent a car for me, which blindfolded me while they checked over my weapon and a pack that had been much lightened from when I first arrived. I overheard a couple of amused remarks at the steak knife I’d brought with me, but I wanted to use it. The rocket I brought now stood on the roof of the hotel. And I didn’t need a phone with me for it to hone in on. From there, I was brought outside Abidjan, where they met me with a truck. Including what seemed like the same guy, though it gets more difficult to tell without seeing the eyes. “Our newest guest arrives. Meet Ms. Grey.”
Like the blindfold moments before, my eyebrow rose. “I never gave you my name.”
The man nodded. “As we prefer. To us, you are Grey.” He motioned to another car pulling up. A pair of men were let out of it, with hair so slick a match might have started an oil fire on their heads. And where I brought along camo designed specifically for the sort of brush and scrub you might find elephants in, they wore desert camo. Though, I suppose knowing the proper way to kill those cute wittle critters isn’t something to be as proud of this time. And, of course, we all had the rifles. Our hosts were packing AK-74s, with a machinegun laying in the bed of the truck next to a metal stand.
We made such a group of sporting hunters. But until the animals get guns, too, the idea of “sport” is just a hollow set of rules meant to pretend at nobility. Even animals like these types hunt, wouldn’t last long against the sort of weapons humanity could bring to bear if it was so openly hostile to them. Speaking of which, I checked my gear over again. “Where’s my knife?” I heard a laugh behind me.
“This will not help you,” said one guard, waving that silly knife around before tossing it away. In addition to the guy with the sunglasses, four more guards came with us. Sunglasses and a guard drive, stuffing us hunters in the backseat and the other three in the bed.
A couple hours later, we stopped and headed out. One of our hosts stayed behind with the truck and the gun, though I had to stop and tie my shoes. Really, I needed a way to puncture through a tire just the right amount. It would have been easier with the knife, which was my only one. I have my fingernails, but none of them were long enough to do the trick as well as I’d hoped. I had to resort to very carefully burning holes in a couple of tires with my eye lasers.
I made the absolute worst of hunters. I fell behind once and caught up just as the other two hunters were aiming at a lioness that was out hunting. “Hey guys! Wow, look at her.”
The lioness looked up at that, then ran off. One of the guys tried a shot, followed by the guards with us opening fire. The big cat had enough of a headstart. I couldn’t say the same with the next one, when one of the guys popped a shot off as soon as he saw the thing. He shoved his gun into my hands, saying “Make yourself useful and hold this,” with a New York accent before running toward it to take a photo. Nearly cost him when another lioness jumped out of where she was hiding in the brush. Unfortunately, the guards tore it up with theirs. At least the distraction kept anyone from noticing me plug the barrel of his gun.
He found that out the next time he went to shoot and it blew back at him, smashing into one of his eyes while the metal of the barrel blew open so close to where the round had loaded in.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck me, goddamn, I can’t fucking see, fucking medic!” the guy cried. His friend came to rush to his side, but one of the guards pushed that fellow into the dirt. I handed him back his rifle, too, while our hosts checked over the injured sportsman.
The one who looked him over turned to us. “This hunt is over. I can not help him here. We must go back.”
At that rate, we could have made it back before night, if we didn’t come out of the trail through the bushes to find the guard we’d left behind was arguing into a burner phone. He looked up, then told the person on the other end, “They are here now. You tell them why you will do nothing!”
“What is going on?” asked the head of our guards, the man with the sunglasses.
“The tires went flat. Clean through. I have not seen this before,” he explained.
The head of our expedition looked them over real quick, then took the phone away from the one who had been using it. “Come as soon as possible. We will be out in the night because of the time you have wasted.” Once he hung up, he turned to the rest of us. “It will be fine. We will patch your wound as much as able and wait here. We will send you back on the truck. Until then, we do not go far from this clearing. It is dangerous out here at night, even with a full moon.”
Oh, did I not mention that part? I feel it was more important information for them than it was for me. Why should I alone have all the fun?
Just as dark was falling, I wandered off on my own, calling out, “Going to beat the piss out of myself!” I heard chuckles behind me, and, shortly after that, the sounds of someone else following in the brush. The timing was delicate on this, so I went ahead and activated the rocket in town, which would fire off to my location. I looked up at the full moon and-
I don’t have a clear idea what happened between then and Reindeer pulling the costume out of the rocket’s capsule. The cameras showed her fur covered in blood and some gore hanging off her antlers. She snorted. “This isn’t how I wanted to work together, but it’s a start,” she said to the camera, then ran off. When she got a good distance away, she started to pull on the costume. “They were coming to investigate the noise. A hunting party? Good start.”
Reindeer ducked before I heard the shot, then began running, circling around, the person after her going full auto. She aimed and fired with the sonic gauntlets of her costume, creating an opening and pushing the guard onto his ass. She jumped, firing to keep him pinned down until she landed with her antlers in his gut. She whipped her head around to get him good and poked, slinging his rifle off to the side, then tossed him loose overhead. Another shot took a chunk of horn off. She bolted for cover under the bright round moon.
Reindeer hopped into the night sky to spy on what was going on. Everyone left alive was retreating to the truck. A burst from the machinegun in the back of the truck winged Reindeer. They spun her around, but it looked like they didn’t penetrate. Spun her around pretty good. She landed hard on her left arm and leg. She had to have trouble breathing, but crawled to her hooves to get away anyway before the firestorm started. The whole group concentrated their fire where she landed.
She stopped to take a breath and check herself. That’s when she found the detonator. She pulled it out, extended the antenna, and pressed a button. Back at the truck, my gun and pack blew up. She jumped into the middle of the clearing, which had gotten much more clear since the bombs went off. I tried to count it all up from memory… sunglasses guy, truck guard, the two hunters, and two other guards. She got two of the guards as far as I could tell from the automatic rifles as opposed to what the hunters brought. One of the hunters was blinded before all this happened, too. The tipped the truck over, and roughly half of machinegun guy was resting by his gun. The other half, if I followed the trail of blood correctly, was somewhere under the truck bed.
The other hunter was coughing and screaming. Reindeer brought her hoof down in an axe kick, then stomped his head in.
“All of this was a sabotage!” said sunglasses man. Reindeer turned. He had the sunglasses off now, showing off heavy scars around his eyes. His gun looked trashed, but he held a machete.
“No, this was a hunt,” Reindeer said. If I was her, I’d have been smirking when I added, “Did you enjoy the animals having a sporting chance?”
The last man standing charged, an enraged yell escaping his lips. Reindeer focused her sonic gauntlets at his legs and fired. His knees snapped backward and the yells turned more pained than enraged. Reindeer joined in until he stopped. “Did we get it all out of our systems?”
He threw the machete, which Reindeer went to deflect with her antlers. Instead, cut most of her right antler straight off. She grabbed him by the leg and threw him way up in the air. She looked up, keeping track, and rolled a couple of seconds later. She came up hooves up, the force tearing the man’s head and a little bit of his spine off.
Then, finally having a good rest, she checked on that machete. “I’m going to want to see this when I change back.”
Really didn’t like her talking about me as if she’s me. Movement at the edge of the clearing caught her attention. It was the blinded hunter. He’d survived everything so far, and was now crawling off, blind. “I should finish him off quickly,” Reindeer said. The man might have heard from the loud whimper I could make out after that.
But then the second truck showed up with a trio of guys. The last coherent words for a few minutes were French for “Mother of god, what is that?!”
Much of it after that is rather boring. It was a long drive back to Abidjan and my room. I woke up in the shower, Reindeer’s costume drying off nearby. I reached up to where I felt a phantom pain where Reindeer lost most of an antler, and a note that I considered way more chilling than anything Reindeer did to the poachers. “Don’t be afraid to let me in.”
I don’t take vacations too often. I don’t relax very well, or at least the things I do to relax and the things I do as a vocation overlap significantly. Vocation, vacation, let’s toss the whole corpse out. Thing is, there aren’t many places to vacation at right now. Most folks have everything all closed down, but I found a nice spot in scenic Siberia that wasn’t afraid to stay open during these trying times. Lovely, Siberia, with its… uh.. snow. And bone-chilling cold. Qiang bundled up and ran around in the snow between the airfield and the hotel itself. Or maybe it was more of a lodge. A chateau? I don’t actually know what the criteria are for some of these things, but I only counted four stories on approach from the airfield. It was only a short distance away and they managed to keep the road clear. The clientele who visit this place get that privilege.
They don’t know who I am, but I dropped enough of the right names and signs. And their surreptitious scan at the airfield would show I’m nothing so baseline as human law enforcement. My wares would also be pretty damn suspicious. These things don’t grow on trees. They were surprised about my daughter, but some people do that. And they could see the knives she had with her.
They didn’t roll out a huge red carpet for us. Once you get inside, it’s a muted welcome. They showed us to the suite with our bags and trunk. I turned to the porter who led us up here. “When will the showroom be open?”
The pale man smiled. “Madam, the showroom is in recess for the next two hours for maintenance. After that, you may join us at your discretion.”
I let Qiang go play in the courtyard behind the place while I checked in on things. Medusa, for instance, was overseeing efforts to help protesters in the United States. Though, if you’ve been there, protests are something of an understatement. It’s very nearly a revolution at this point. What Medusa was telling me about was overwhelming. Cops were attacking protesters all over the country. Soldiers were patrolling American cities. The President hid in a bunker and turned off the White House’s lights while police pepper sprayed a kid in the face.
Medusa’s doing her best to keep her own visibility and the visibility of her people out of the spotlight. This isn’t about them, or about giving assholes an opportunity to make this about nefarious supervillains rather than an explosion of righteous anger. Heroes are joining in where they can, helping save people where they can. But the Exemplars are staying in plainclothes to help keep people out of the hands of cops, keep them safe. Pull people out of the way of white supremacist vigilantes trying to run over sitting protesters on a closed road using a semi-truck.
It’s a lot, and sometimes all you can do is be there for people. Or, sometimes you put on a mask and initiate a plot that helps folks instead.
After that, I checked on the rhinos. They’re going to need a more accurate climate to live in before long, but I’ve used the wonders of supertechnology to bring back more of the formerly-extinct black rhinos. I’ve got a veterinarian and a local rancher looking after them for now while I figure out who I need to kidnap to help me figure out how to make things work. I’m better at killing things than at bringing them back to life.
I sent Qiang back up to the room when I went down to the showroom. The porter was able to help me wheel the trunk down there. In other hotels, it would have been a ballroom. Here, tables were set up for people to view merchandise in person and over digital feeds. Everyone could see as I began to set out rhino horns and elephant tusks. I got the idea from growing an entire rhinoceros body. So I had them build me some authentic rhino horns and elephant tusks, separate from the animals themselves. A few other vendors and customers stopped by to look it over.
One white guy with an accent that seemed crossed between English and Australian picked up a tusk to weight it in his hand and look it over. “This is something. Where do you get a supply like this?”
I smiled. “I have my ways.”
He smiled, light reflecting off his bald head, ringed with short, coarse white hairs that came down his sideburns to join into a beard. “I know some people, very maligned, who would kill to have this much ivory. Could I possibly bend your ear to discuss a partnership together?”
I winked at him. “Let’s get dinner, next maintenance cycle. I’d love to talk about it with you.”
He smiled warmly. “I would be honored. Here,” he waved his phone over a scanner that was part of the standard vendor package at this place, putting down enough money to purchase a couple of the tusks. “I cannot wait to speak with you in a few hours.”
It was pretty boring running that little booth, but I was also overseeing some financial stuff. The money I made from sales was funneled through a couple of shell companies, then got split up to go to various bail funds, lawyer funds, and medical supply organizations. What, nobody thought I’d really stay out of this, right? Spread it on some toast, because this shit is my jam. The people don’t want a mad killer taking out the cops for them, looking like I’m some sort of leader. But I can at least give them some money. Maybe water that helps keep them a bit healthier than they should be and counteracts that virus going around.
That’s why I went to some classy, secret Siberian black market with a load of artificial ivory and rhino horns. Well, that was one reason why. Sometimes, my plans are like ogres. They have layers. One layer involved that meeting I had a few hours later with the South African. It was ok. I’ll never understand this recent fascination with skins-in mashed potatoes. He didn’t notice me palming the steak knife, either. Despite his invitation, we discussed little actual business. He asked about minor things, like how I was getting used to the showroom, where I normally sold, and where I normally operate.
This guy, Mr. Chester, was kind enough to walk me back to my room so we could formally talk business. A couple of other guests were heading our way from opposite sides of the hallway. One was a heavy-set man, the other a woman with some muscle on her, both in nondescript black clothing. “I am eager to learn how much of the business you participate in,” he said as I opened the door to my room. There were a couple more guys in there, also in black clothes. I felt a life poke into my lower back as Mr. Chester whispered into my ear. “For example, have you ever carved into the flesh of such deadly game and cut free the only valuable part? Into your room, please.”
I let him march me in. The two “guests” in the hall took up positions outside the door and pulled it closed. Mr. Chester pushed me onto the sofa, but didn’t try to join me. There was no objection as I sat up. “Not your usual way of treating an elephant, I hope. Not even Long Dick Johnson could pull that one off.” I looked around for any signs of Qiang. My daughter’s snow-covered shoes rested next to the door. The door to her room of the suite was open, as was mine. The TV was off, but the remote was on a table next to one of the goons, leading me to hope he turned it off. Which meant it was on when he came in. Oh look, the curtains. There weren’t any feet sticking out from under them, but there was a little bulge right about the same height as the interior window sill.
“You can look around all you wish, but you won’t find a way out. We know this building’s rooms well. They have one exit. The windows do not open. And they are completely soundproof for the protection of guests’ secrets. Secrets like where you acquired such a large source of ivory. Because my friends won’t like you undercutting them.” Mr. Chester said. The other two in there pulled out knives of their own. Mr. Chester twirled the knife around in his hand once before it came to rest, a wood-handled knife with a ring on the back of the handle and a blade where the back end looked like it was clipped off near the end of the blade.
I nodded toward it. “Fan of knives, eh? I prefer lasers.”
Mr. Chester laughed. Lasers shot out of my eyes and sliced off his knife arm at the elbow. His laughter turned to screams, and when he reached over with his remaining hand, I took that also. Both of the guys lunged at me, but one found himself with a stabby little girl on his back all of a sudden. The other turned to look at that and signed his own death warrant. I snapped his neck and took the knife out of his hand. Turns out I didn’t need it. Hot blood splashed across me from his throat. “Good job, kiddo.”
On the floor, Mr. Chester was shutting down on me. I knelt down to check on his vitals. “And good job on surviving. I have some questions of my own for you about those friends of yours. Part two of my little plan here, and I’m so glad you indulged me. But first, let’s see how good the soundproofing is.” I reached down and grabbed the blade Mr. Chester had hoped to use on me and walked over to the door, knocking on it. “Anyone out there?”
They couldn’t open the door, but I did The two out there seemed surprised to see me. “Knife to meet you!” Heavy guy took a knife through the skull. The woman took one to the gut. I kicked her over onto the floor. She turned and tried crawling away. I took a moment to grab the knife out of the one guy’s skull. I pulled his body into the floor and opened his mouth to set the grip of the knife in there, then walked over to guard who was now trying to get to her feet. I took hold of her leg and swung her overhead to where she thunked down with the knife going through her back and into her lung.
I left all the bodies outside the room, with a note for the cleaning staff. “These are dirty, please replace with clean ones.”
Just because Caligari’s gone, doesn’t mean this story’s finished just yet.
The sheriff stopped by the other day. The one with the big badge and hat, not the deputies. I’ve been known to use the terms interchangeably, I’ve realized. Seems like I see a lot of these guys around here. I was sitting out on the front step of my shop, chatting with the automaton I rescued. The automaton’s designation is a long string of numbers and symbols starting with five, so I got permission from it to call it Fiver. I’d have never gotten the full name out in time when Fiver jumped onto the sheriff’s truck, arms whirling and ready to tear through the glass.
“Fiver!” Some of its visual sensors rotated toward me. “He means no harm. Don’t you, sheriff?”
“I nearly shit myself,” the lawman said as he got out of his truck. I saw him try to reholster a pistol and settle for leaving it in the truck. “Do you have a leash for that thing?”
“Fiver’s not a pet. It’s a sentient and sapient being that was held captive. What can I do for you, sheriff?”
The sheriff took his hat off and wiped his brow. “You know the riots happening in Minneapolis?”
I nodded. “I’ve heard a thing or two about it. Seems like the whole thing could have been avoided pretty easily, but then I don’t have much room to talk.” I sometimes worry I’ve been captured and trapped in some sort of simulation because of how much people want to leave me be.
The sheriff’s eyes flicked between me, Fiver, and my shop. “You don’t have anything to do with it all, do you?”
I rolled my eyes. “Not everything’s an evil supervillain plot.”
“Only…” he trailed off. He put his hat back on so he could point up above my store. I turned to follow the gesture and found he’d noticed the large spacer rocket currently being assembled in the enclosed yard behind my shop. “…some folks believe you might be planning something.”
I waved it off. “All a big misunderstanding. That’s just to get my friend Fiver here back home. It’s old-fashioned by their standards, but it’ll do the trick.”
It looked like any old rocket they’ve launched here before, but a few improvements from Fiver and I made it a lot better for the automaton to travel in than those oldies would have had. We didn’t need to include life support, toilets, food supply, or exercise facilities, saving on room. Instead, we mainly focused on giving it good engines and radio systems. There are a few tricks I picked up that might be handy in other scenarios.
“Well, if you say so. Mind if I take a look around?” he asked.
“Ya know what, why don’t you come on in?” I said, getting up and opening the door.
I showed him through. He eyed some of the gadgets and weapons I had out on shelves already, but I claimed they were all milkshake blenders and sex toys and so on. “This too?” he asked, picking up a big metal gauntlet with a sonic cannon on top.
“Fisting,” I said. Fiver let out an inquisitive trill. I told it, “Organic reproductive/pleasure protocol.” The automaton clicked understanding. The sheriff just looked confused. I didn’t explain, just let him go stare at the rocket as if he knew anything about rocket science.
Ten minutes of walking a circle around it and staring, he turned to me and said, “Please don’t fuck things up for all of us.”
“Will do,” I said. “I got no desire to distract from those voices anyway. Not all evils come from people wearing masks, and not all fights are fought by people wearing capes.”
I got the feeling the sheriff didn’t entirely agree on my assessment of the situation, but he was smart enough not to object. I turned to Fiver. “You ready?”
Fiver gave me an affirmative.
“Well then… I wish you the best of luck finding your way back to your people.”
Fiver’s 6-limbed body crawled up the exterior of the rocket to its hatch. The artificial being secured it behind him while I headed inside and closed the garage door. It doesn’t sound like a lot of protection against the launch of the engines. One of Fiver’s additions activated with the engines, creating an energy cone that kept the rocket’s flare from spreading out as easily. Burned a hole glassy hole into the dirt back there, but it lifted off more easily and would help the thing maneuver in space. It also meant my whole store didn’t get destroyed again. Oh, and the town of Radium was safe, too. The sheriff didn’t even think to ask about that one.
Fiver was on its way back to the stars. The other captives stayed on Earth. This Earth.
Medusa figured out a situation with the guy who’d been watching over them this whole time. I didn’t even get his story until the end of this. He ended up deciding to stick with the kids. “I brought them this far. I’ve been through a lot with them. They’re my only anchor to the old world. I worry about them. But… I’m glad you worked this situation out.”
He, Medusa, and I were standing in the corner of the backyard at this new house. It was a bigger one, more on the outskirts of Radium. The couple there seemed happy to have a bundle of kids and teenagers running around. They’d managed to throw together a pool, playset, and batting cage in a hurry. There was also a guest house out back that this guy had claimed.
“Let me know if you need anything, Bo,” Medusa said. I guess that was his name. “We’re building a community. I want a place where young supers can grow up in peace and have a choice what to do with their lives. A place for supers to be people, with lives, mistakes, and dreams beyond fighting.”
“Holy shit you talk good,” Bo said.
“Bo!” called one of the little girls.
He looked over as she waved him on toward the playset. “Katie-cat’s calling.”
We let him go on, but Qiang ran up soon enough to keep us company. I missed her. There’s a difference between an adventure where I know she’s waiting for me and safe, and one where some guy might have kidnapped her. To many people, I was that guy. Back when I was guy, that is. I believe Qiang’s learned her lesson about inviting herself along to those adventures, and I learned not to be so flippant about her doing so. Ugh, she’s probably going to grow up to be the world’s biggest badass and I’m going to be that parent who walks in and embarrasses her in front of everyone. “You just killed a dozen ninjas using nothing but a clothes hangar? That’s nice, but you have a smudge on your cheek, hold still.”
I ducked out early to head back to the house, which had been unshrunken. I also had to deal with the collectibles. Medusa turned in Caligari and police got curious about that big hole in the river, but that didn’t stop me from raiding a few things from the stockpile. Weird way to go about it, the way things have been lately. I want something done with Caligari, but the non-police options involve killing him or locking him up myself. I don’t want to deal with a pet right now. Which reminds me, I couldn’t bring the black rhino with me. Maybe it’ll end up in the hands of conservationists, but having even one still won’t bring that species back.
Just something that wouldn’t leave my mind as I looked over some of the stuff I grabbed. Like the gigantic emerald set in a necklace or this pair of tea bags. Might was well keep a few trophies for myself, even if most of it isn’t usable. Oddly, I didn’t care so much about the old suit of my armor Caligari had that I took back from his stash. He’d into a lot of the components in all this. It must have killed him to do that to his own collection. Good.
I lifted the tea bags up and sniffed at them. Huh. I’m not much of a tea person, but there was something… enticing about this. I might have to try it, after… huh. It’s like a pattern the past few days. Remote control. Clones of Caligari. I wonder… if I had the biomass, then yes, I could do this.
The trick was getting the biomass. I got some cows delivered, dead but unbutchered. There would be major modifications, but the presence of bones and circulatory systems would make it easier on the nanomachines. I just had to give them enough to work with and the proper programming. A bit of metal for some more of the building… Yeah. I can do this.
And while I was doing that, I got an idea for solving my problem with Caligari. I practically sprinted to the Flyer.
Hours later, in Pittsburgh, I walked through the door as a hot but mean female lawyer. “I’m here to see,” I scoffed as I said the name, “Caligari the Collector. I’m his legal representation.”
The cops led me to a room while they went to go fetch Caligari. When he came in, he looked quizzically at me, but didn’t fight. He slid into the chair opposite me and held his hands up to have the handcuffs taken off. The cop looked to me and said, “He’s under special precautions as a gadget-using super threat.”
The illusion around me fixed him with a death glare, purely for the act. The cop uncuffed Caligari and left us.
“I don’t know who you are, but I’m grateful for the break from that cell,” said the Collector.
I just smiled, not at the idea of helping him. I smiled at the way my armor’s tail slid through the lower back opening on my chair, under the table between us, and up to stab Caligari in the neck. Inject him, really. Just a little bit of those same nanomachines with a nice old trick. He slapped at the back of his neck and turned, the tail staying nice and invisible. I don’t trust a police station that’s not on fire. So I withdrew the tail. Caligari turned to me and opened his mouth to ask something, but then his eyes rolled up and he fell forward, face thumping off the table. Little machines were in his brain, right around the spot you’d need to poke to induce a coma.
I stood up and walked out of there past the cops at the door. “Guess he didn’t want my representation. All yours, boys.” Trust them to see him passed out and think I unleashed a little brutality of my own. You can’t trust people’s best instincts, but you can trust them to be their worst. And, in a way, I was a little brutal.
As good an idea as the remote-controlled clones. I closed my eyes on the way back home in the Flyer and opened them again back home in the backyard, as a rhino. Oh, don’t worry, I don’t want to be a rhino. I tested out its range of motion, movement, senses. And the principle of controlling it. Feeling its power for myself. I pulled out and ordered the nanomachines to break down the computerized brain that let me control it.
Yay. I can bring back the Black Rhinos. And I can indulge a few other instincts. No need to steal a body, when I can have my own. Well, the powers would have to be bonded genetically, and just imagine if I could start blending them.
I might have to start snorting that fucking tea if it gives me ideas this good.