It’s been so long since I’ve been to a real doctor, let alone a First Earth doctor, that I’d forgotten how lovely the experience is. I don’t know what my breathing and orifices had to do with brain stuff, and when I asked the doctor, he responded with, “I don’t have access to their grid or how it scans people, so I prefer to rely on my own examination. You’ve had significant body modifications done. Stick out your tongue for me.” When I only did the normal amount, he added, “The full length please.” He whistled after seeing the full two and a half feet of it.
“I don’t know where you put it,” he noted. He checked my breathing, reflexes, coughing, all that. Only when he was done with that did they wheel me over to the brain doctors. And after all that, I was told I had to wait a couple days for results. Of course.
Well, good, it gave me time to work on Thanksgiving plans. The guest list is myself and my daughter. The fowl are purchased and sufficiently thawing. The good thing about living in a town full of supers is I didn’t cause problems walking around with the body that’s a catgirl with bright pink fur in places. There goes Psycho Gecko, scourge of two dimensions, blindingly pretty neko. So things were fine back home. I wish my main body was back there, but things are the way they are.
I even got the shop reopened. Gotta be ready for Black Friday. I’m selling Mostly Harmless Gas Grenades. Low sting, bad smell, and featuring a special anti-fingerprint coating that makes it harder to pick up forensic evidence. Buy two, get a third free! Fun for the whole family! I’d probably face more pushback from the heroes living in town if not for the pandemic. There are a LOT of people prepping to crowd into stores on Black Friday. If inconsiderate people are going to engage in biological warfare, why not counter with some (mostly) harmless chemical warfare in response?
See, this is why my ex thought it was better to get me living in the middle of nowhere, where I can’t corrupt so may people. Hell, can’t even talk Marianne and Adrian into a threesome.
I’ve also been spying on Leah, my former ward. I didn’t ask too many questions once she disappeared from the Master Academy. The heroes never liked our relationship, and I didn’t care much for her crush on me. It all started when Captain Lightning ended up killing a powerful mage while trying to stop him, fueling a little bit of anti-super backlash at the time that seems quaint now. Leah got outed as having powers and kicked out of her house, only to get nabbed by this “hero” who dreamed of making the world a better place. His plan for this involved a drug called Sexahol that invoked feelings of love and sexual arousal in everyone affected by it. He tried offering Leah as a bribe, one I didn’t take before kicking his ass and clearing up the attempted hippie love fest. In the aftermath, I started looking after Leah until she eventually wound up with the Master Academy, a school for young supers.
I’m a lot of things: a lover, a fighter, a teacher of great philosophical truths. But while I taught her how to fight, I did not embrace her crush on me. I’m a motherfucker, but I’m not a kid fucker. I have issues about that kind of thing thanks to my own upbringing.
I was just heading out to spy on her when the doctor from earlier stopped me. “Hey there, Delilah. I’m glad I caught you before you got too busy. I have something I would like to try on you, to help explore the extent of the condition’s effects on your memory.”
I mean… if Leah’s banging my brother, it’s not like there’s going to be a drastic change in her circumstances that warrants me spying on them tonight. I could stand to see to my own mental health.
So I did. I took the doctor up on his offer and soon found myself strapped onto a table and having a helmet fixed onto my head. “Hey doc, is this supposed to squeeze my brain like this?”
“I took your skull measurements in the earlier exam and adjusted the size as needed. It’s supposed to be snug so it can get a proper read. You didn’t say anything in your medical history about a history of claustrophobia.”
“I’m not afraid of Claus. I’ll fight him anywhere, anytime! Also, I’m cool with tight spaces. I recently spent a bit of time traveling in a coffin,” I informed him.
“Good,” he said messing around with a few things. I couldn’t see much outside the helmet, but it felt like he was touching the helmet, maybe attaching things. “It’s important to have an accurate medical history. The nanomachines are wonderful healing devices, but it can be hard to know a person’s history without scars to tell us.”
“Hey doc, anyone ever tell you how good you are at monologuing?” I asked. Darn thing did something fuzzy to my internet and bluetooth signals. There was something a tiny bit uncomfortable about it, but just because it felt like this guy was beating around the bush about something. I don’t have any room to talk there, but I think that’s what set me ill at ease. I enjoy the joy of knowing more than someone I’m about to doom.
“Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment. It must seem so unfair, too. Science allows you to live without your body being a living memory, and now science is causing your memory to fail,” Something big got shoved into the top of the helmet, accompanied by a stab of pain. I gritted my teeth and tried to move my head, but my neck was also strapped down. I strained and the straps held tight. He really had adjusted everything based on the earlier exam. I whipped out my tongue, trying to arch it over on top of me onto whatever had stabbed into my head and felt something grab it in a steel grip. While that held it, something else clamped down lower, near my mouth, and kept clamping until pain bit into my tongue and most of that meaty mouth muscle was removed. I tried to scream but something white hot was shoved against my mouth, instantly scorching some of my skin as well as cauterizing the stump of my tongue. I even tried the laser eyes, which instead destroyed my eyes. Mirrors, I figured out later.
The doctor gave me time to come to terms with all of this pain before I heard his voice close to my ear. “You wouldn’t remember me anyway, and the nanomachines long ago removed the scars from that fateful day when you attacked my home and killed my first wife. You can pretend to be a girl all you want, but the DNA tells me who you are. Brace yourself. I’m about to put my pain into your soul.”
Something in the spike of pain running into my head jolted me. My teeth ground together. My muscles tensed and tried to flex themselves apart. My HUD’s clock started flashing 12:00. The electroshock went on so long, I began to wonder if he was trying to turn me straight. At one point, he let off long enough for me to see if I was done frying and I doublechecked my sexuality. David Bowie, hot. Felicia Day, hotter. Yep, still bisexual with a preference for women.
“Still alive, Psycho Gecko?” asked my torturer.
“You realize, of course, that this means war,” I told him, really wishing I hadn’t pissed myself during all that.
“Let’s see how you like this,” he said. There was another jolt, but this one only lasted a moment. Then flames roared up around me. My body lagged behind in appearing and feeling pain, which is how I reckoned this was a simulation of sorts. He’d simulated dumping me in unending fire that crackled and popped as it curled skin that never stopped feeling. I couldn’t die, just feel endless pain as it went on and on.
I admit, it got a bit boring after awhile. It didn’t have the same physical effects as the electricity. My body was fake. It changed soon after realizing I was getting used to it. I went from being on fire to falling through an immense cityscape. The street was perpetually below me. Buildings shifted for me to slam into long enough to feel the impact. They would then disappear and I would continue falling as if nothing had arrested me.
I was burned, slammed, frozen, steamed, shredded, crushed, stabbed, and put into a giant blender. I don’t know how long the torture lasted. I just know when another jolt brought me back to reality and I felt whatever he’s jabbed into my brain pull out.
“You don’t understand who that is!” I heard him cry out. “That bitch is Psycho Gecko!”
“Easy,” someone close by said. Shona, I think. The straps were being undone. As soon as I could move my hands, I reached up to pull the helmet off. Someone was already helping me with that. My arms felt like jelly. I slid off the table I was on, my eyes still messed up from self-inflicted laser damage. Fell right on my ass. Legs didn’t want to work too well. A bit too shredded from the electrical damage or something.
Everyone else was all arguing and I sat there, trying to get a sense for myself and how much time had elapsed. Twenty-one minutes. I searched for anything to see through and found nothing. I searched for a good lie to tell, too, but I was still a little brain-scrambled. Someone started helping me to my feet. I ended up deposited in the infirmary to be checked over very slowly and carefully by these interesting little robots. Cameras in the room revealed robotic beetles crawling over me, assessing my health and injecting me with nanites.
And while I laid there, I was able to hijack someone’s phone and listen in to Shona talking with regular security staff. “I don’t know. If she is, she helped us rather than try to kill us. She’s had every chance.”
“You weren’t like this when she first got here. When did you flip so hard?” the security officer asked.
“That was when I didn’t know who she was and we had Mirator to worry about. She fought for us knowing we could do like what Varsia did.”
Elsewhere, Leah and Davilo were chatting about everything. “No wonder she hates this place!” my former ward yelled. “Don’t tell me you agree with what he did.”
Davilo’s voice was flat. “I don’t know what I think. This is a shitload to take in if it’s even true.”
Trust is a tricky thing. I’m glad I have another pair of Dimension Bombs in the auto-factory back home, ready to extract me. If I can’t trust in them, I’ll trust in weaponry.
I’ve had to be creative about my brother’s questions. It helps that I honestly don’t know some of the answers.
When he asked, “What’s your full name?” I don’t know. Same for age, though we’ve figured out I’m a few years older than him. I know Shona, the Red Leader of the bunch, was lurking around somewhere when we talked about this stuff. This time, she’d come in and started to make this drink she likes using a messy orange powder and water.
“Were you part of the Gecko Rebellion?” he asked.
Heh. Now there’s one I can certainly be honest about. “Yeah,” I told him. “I was a part of that. I was very angry and not in a good place mentally. I wanted revenge, and to just lash out at everything. I’m starting to move past it, and not living on this Earth helps.”
I could almost feel Shona staring. I pretended to brush some hair out of my face and found her in the kitchen area near us, sipping on some juice. My brother, though, pulled out that photo again. “What do you remember about our dad?”
I shook my head. “Not much. A few flashes, maybe, now that you’ve shown me that. The main thing I remember is when they came for us. Shot him, shot mom, pointed those guns right at me.” I raised my voice a bit for Shona’s sake. “Yeah, I was an experiment as a child. Might be a reason I’m averse to Justice Rangers, being kidnapped, and then being held in a cell while people run tests!”
I heard her set her cup down loudly. I didn’t turn to look, figuring she’d storm out. Instead, she walked up to me, so I readied myself for a fight.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re entitled to your anger at me and at the ones who wronged you. I’ve been a bitch to you.”
“Oh…” I said. “I didn’t expect you to actually apologize.”
“I lost loved ones in the Rebellion and I’ve held onto deep suspicions. I’m trying to be better, ever since I found out my mentor, Alyss, was one of you and took part in the Rebellion as well.”
“And you’ve got yourself a homo machina gator,” I commented.
My brother laughed. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t take part in the Rebellion. I kept my head down and attended university. They made a discovery that allowed them to create their own transformer, and the minions of Carriox attacked. I ended up bonded to it and started training as a Ranger.”
“Did you even know how to fight before becoming a Ranger?” I asked.
He shook his head. “They’re training me.”
I rolled my eyes. Shona looked at me. “I take it you know how?” I nodded, then got an odd question from her. “Have you been having any mental problems?”
After the laughter died down, I wiped the laugh tears away. Shona and my brother were sharing a look. Shona continued on, “What I mean is, have you noticed any memory loss? Every time I’m around you two, you never use his name. You call him ‘you’ or ‘my brother.’ Do you remember it?”
“Psh, yeah, of course I do. What kind of a person would I be to forget my own brother’s name after he told me while I was locked up,” I said. They kept staring at me, so I said, “Davilo.”
“See? No problem,” Davilo said.
I held up a finger. “But if I had noticed any memory issues, what would we be talking about.”
Shona sent a glance Davilo’s way. “Homo Machina are recent enough of a subspecies that we are just now finding out about some medical problems unique to your physiology and abilities. They’re still trying to learn more about it, but some Homo Machina who engage with the infonet and digital systems extensively see a loss of memory. The prevailing theory is that their brains can’t handle the workload and dump long-term memory storage to compensate, but they’re still working on it.”
Now there’s a big hot dump taken on my day. Just drop a steaming load of that for me to consider. Trained assassin or not, they could tell something was up with me.
Shona, for her part, tried to pat me on the shoulder and provide comfort. “I have been unlearning my own hate. The only reason I treated you as I did was because Carriox’s lieutenant, Mirator, can mimic the abilities of past enemies. That includes Psycho Gecko.”
That snapped me out of the funk, mostly by giving me something to concentrate other than the extremely bad news. Never underestimate a good distraction; it’s both an excellent way to kill people and great to avoid killing yourself.
“There’s a fake Psycho Gecko running around?” I asked.
I think they recognized I wanted a distraction. They pulled up the photos for me to see on a wall monitor. “You must have snuck through the portal awhile back not to know these guys,” Shona said.
Carriox was an interesting enough guy on his own. His armor looked like a mix of bronze and slick black feathers, with a pair of large vulture’s wings on his back. His helmet was a metallic vulture’s skull, with his face in the open mouth. It was impossible to make out his eyes behind a visor of teeth, but he had two pair of pointy fangs sticking out. In contrast, Mirator didn’t wear any armor. It was a jagged, assymetrical being of reflective glass. Where parts had been shattered or broken off, the next layer down was just as reflective. He had no eyes or nose, just a shiny set of mirrored chompers. They had a list of other forms he’d used and brought up the Psycho Gecko one.
They looked at me when I snorted. I mean, I could see where it was influenced by me and my armor, but the guy took some creative liberties. The “frown” of my visor was much more exaggerated. The shoulder guards were sharpened as if I was going to stab someone with them. I kinda liked the addition of the metallic skulls that covered the knuckles of the gloves. Probably fucks up range of motion, though. Still, Shona and Davilo were questioning my reaction with their looks. “Well, it’s like Gecko.”
“The Rangers know Psycho Gecko is on Earth Prime and has more advanced armor, but Carriox and Mirator don’t. It’s not an exact match, but he can still turn invisible and use the Psycho’s Assassin Punch.”
“I wonder if it’s the same method of invisibility,” I mused aloud.
“We haven’t been able to test,” Shona said. “Do you know anything useful?”
Once again, another alarm. Everything on the monitor was replaced by a disembodied head, until the person on the other end of the line moved back from their camera. “Rangers, Mirator is attacking the Prime Earth Embassy!”
“We’re on it,” Davilo said.
“Are you up for staying by this monitor if we need your help with Mirator?” Shona asked.
I shrugged, then nodded. They ran out of there. I gave them a minute to watch the flashes of light zip away that were the signature of their teleportation, and ran outside.
It was a world I’d left behind long ago, of huge skyscrapers, nights brighter than days, and deckers hiding in every crevice. It was also still pretty easy to find a map program that could direct me to the Embassy and someone’s car left sitting around carelessly.
The Rangers were already there by the time I arrived, fighting Lab Rats and a monster who began to fill the area with noxious smoke. The Rangers were affected regardless of their helmets and armor, but I kept an eye out for this Mirator guy. I found the Fake Me slinking off. I’d never slink like that. I have a very distinctive slink. Fake Gecko hid behind a bush, watching the events of the fight and holding what looked like a bazooka with a long rifle barrel attached to the front of it. The scope was nearly as large as Fake Me’s head. Maybe that’s why he didn’t see the car coming.
I dove out and rolled to a stop until I was laying on my side like one of those French girls, watching the car flip around and the Fake Me, rolling to a stop after getting clocked by the car. I hopped up to my feet and ignored one of the Rangers calling for me to stop. Fake Gecko was on one knee and caught a hard blow to the head that I think shattered some carpals. It may not be my armor, but it still hurts like armor.
Mirator, pretending to be Psycho Gecko, stood up with a laugh that didn’t sound anything like me and drove his knee into my gut. I doubled over and felt his glove on the back of my head, readying me for a knee to the face. I rolled forward and dropped onto my back. Fake Me was thrown off balance by missing so that when I wrapped my legs around his ankle, he was thrown forward onto the ground. I prepared to laser off one of his legs at the knee, the back of the legs being a weak point on my early armor. Just as I fired, Mirator reverted to his mirrored form. The only reason I didn’t shoot my own eyes out was because the angle of his leg was enough to reflect it up into the sky.
I quickly cut the lasers off and he went back to being Fake Me, turning and kicking me in the jaw. He rolled to his feet and turned to me, putting up his dukes. “Don’t you know who I am, little girl?”
“A pretender,” I said. “Because you’re no Gecko.”
“Do I look like him now?” asked Mirator, disappearing. I reached into my pocket with a smile and pulled out a handful of that orange powder Shona the Red Ranger liked to use for her drink. Messy, I said. It likes to stick to things, like flour. I blew it around and watched as it clung to a form walking toward me. Fake Me stopped to look at his own damn self and that’s when I booted him in the gut. He stumbled back a little and reappeared, looking like he’d taken a dive into a bag of Cheeto’s. He caught my next right punch, and my next left punch, leaving us deadlocked.
“You’re strong. Why are you fighting for them?” Mirator asked.
“I’m not. I’m fighting for me,” I answered, then opened my mouth wide. That newly-added prehensile tongue of mine shot out and wrapped around Fake Gecko’s throat. Then I ignited the laser claws in my hands, cutting into his fists. Say “Bye bye” to those knuckle skulls, cheap imposter.
“No, Master! Use the beam on me, your loyal and valuable Mirator!” he said, shifting back into his mirrored form. He tried shifting us around and using footwork to loosen my grip, but I moved with him, keeping on choking him out. He couldn’t just outright let go of my hands, either, because he was trapped within swiping distance of those claws. When we shifted around, I saw the gas monster was down and not moving, but that big red gigantification light from the sky wasn’t flashing. Instead, it captured Mirator. My tongue was feeling weird and he started to grow, so I pulled it back before it either got too big to hold in my mouth or I was attached tongue-first to a giant monster. I withdrew my claws and ran clear of it. I didn’t want to be within stomping distance.
Davilo, the Red Alligator Ranger, jumped over to check on me. “Are you alirght?”
“Better than he was doing. Go tear the fucker a new fuckhole!”
Davilo nodded and summoned his giant robot to join the rest of his team against the giant Mirator, who was sticking with his own appearance at first. I found a nearby First Aid station just outside the Embassy where I got some nanite gel to work on my broken hand while the Rangers faced off with Mirator. The giant mirror monster tried some entirely new mimickry as a giant monster; appearing as some past giant monsters and even a few giant robots. He gave them some trouble at first, but then they split their robot into two robots and the doubleteam put him down in a big shower of sparks that probably wrecked several city blocks.
But, hey, I was at the embassy. I figured I’d scrounge up something that’d let me walk through all the security back to Earth Prime and that’d be it. I didn’t count on my path being blocked by Leah. I didn’t know the former runaway-turned-my ward-turned-Master Academy student was here. I didn’t know she got hot. I didn’t know she was playing tongue twisters with my half brother either, when he came on down.
I don’t know if she realized it was me Davilo introduced as his sister Delilah, but… maybe I oughta keep an eye on this situation. And check into this memory loss thing. I have time.
I didn’t have to wait long. Shortly after first getting there, even despite the way the Red Leader held things up. I was fed. I wasn’t treated badly. I also couldn’t access anything outside the cell, leaving my spare bodies on their own back home. My daughter’s smart enough to take care of herself, but I’m starting to wonder if this might affect her mental health. She could end up with some issues. I should have a talk with her about that.
Wait, no, I’ve tried to blow up multiple planets and enslave billions thanks in part to my own issues. I better find someone else to have a talk with her about that. And I should do more to see someone about my psychological problems. Probably would if I hadn’t had so many people try to take over that role involuntarily.
Just getting the whole “nothing died” disclaimer out of the way before we go into how I got free. So I’m in my cell, just about to the end of pi, when the alarms go off and I lose my place. Alarms so loud and shrill, I thought my ears were malfunctioning. The flashing red lights cleared that up. Then the lights flickered, the alarm went off, and everything went dark. When the regular lights came on a second later, the clear wall slid away. I stepped out and saw a hallway going left or right with more such cells and a few others leaving theirs. The rest were all a bit unusual looking. Captured Ranger enemies was my guess. At least the place was bright without being overwhelming. Soft white walls and the lights weren’t annoying.
“Who are you?” asked the thing from the next cell over. He was made up of lots of little pieces of things. It took me a moment to realize his body was pieces of plastic trash. Surprised he survived long enough to get captured.
“You can ask me that after we get more than a single step outside this prison. Which side is the exit on?” I asked.
To my right was a thing with a body of sharp crystalline angles of various colors connected by coal. That one was looking off to its right, then back to me. He waved us over his direction. “They say this way!”
“They” were these slimy humanoid rats that ran around hunched over on two legs. I’m guessing those were this bunch’s minions. We soon found ourselves running out and about into the rest of a facility, which at least had some wood walls or different paint. Most of the monsters I was with decided to chase people and destroy things. Whatever, fine, leave them to it. It did occur to me, given my history, that adventures and personal growth has done a hell of a lot to curb my grudge with the Rangers. Really don’t like them, since they’re the kind of dicknozzles to kidnap a person and do a background check for no reason before letting them out of a prison cell.
At the same time, I guess I oughta recognize I’ve given them some reasons to be a bit cautious. Again, the near-destruction of the entire Earth and the deaths of some Rangers at my hands. And that their security precautions still turned out to be too weak to figure out they had me. I move to save anyone. I didn’t move to hurt anyone. I decided just to leave. I’d already woken up my proxies back on Earth Prime
The entrance was big and open, with a whole set of doorways. The Yellow, Red, and White Rangers ran past, looking to deal with the other escapees. More rats ran in after them. Unlike the ones from the cells, these wore tattered lab coats. Oh, lab rats. Showing human-like intelligence, a pair of them decided to attack the random woman walking around. If it isn’t clear, I’m not using that as a compliment.
I held up my hands and tried to give them an out. “Four or five moments. That’s all it takes to be a hero. Everyone thinks it’s a full-time job, but only your lifetime, there are only four or five moments that matter.”
The rats looked at each other, then squeaked loudly and came right at me. The one to my left swiped. I grabbed his arm and used him to lever myself up to dropkick the one on my right. Knocked that one away. The one I was grappled with tried to pull me closer for a bite. I jumped up and headbutted it in its pointy skull. It dropped to a knee. I tossed it up against the secret. It bounced off and landed with a hurt squeak. The other lab rat came at me. I just grabbed it by its lapels and slapped it back and forth a bit. Eight slaps later, I checked on it to see it punch drunk. I pushed it over onto its back and started toward the doors.
I gave it the finger and said, “This is not one of those moments for you.”
The non-brother Red. Red Leader, seeing as she appears to be the actual leader of the group and my half-brother seems to be the newb of the group. He was outside with the Black Ranger, fighting monster whose body looked like rounded plastic except for a trio of electric plug prongs sticking out from its right hand. It raised that arm and shot electricity from its plug hand. The two Rangers flew back, throwing off sparks that briefly became person-shaped and echoed the laughter coming from the monster.
I hesitated. They’re Rangers they always find some way to win, and I don’t know this guy. He kidnapped me, and he did it based on just finding out we’re related. Both are good reasons not to lose my shit over this. My contemplation took a bit of time that my brother and the other Ranger used to recover. The monster, meanwhile, was turned toward me.
“Who do we have here?” it asked. “Pretty, pretty. Why are you hanging out with these losers?”
“Not by choice. The fuck are you and the fuck you doing coming at me?” I asked.
“I feel power in you… I can shut that off…” Creepy bugger. The plug guy came toward me, but I figured I could let him get closer before showing I’m ready for a scrap.
“Looking like a sextoy’s gone to your head, sounds like,” I said. The plug monster held out its non-plug hand and I felt all my cybernetic bits act up. My ears wailed, my spine decided to drop me to my knees, my vocal box started to heat up, my eyes went blind, and I believe my bladder switched over to coffee mode. Yes, I have a prosthetic bladder. No, that wasn’t all of parts listed. Ugh, even worse, the bladder switched to Cuban coffee mode which is even worse. That’s some strong shit, and something I didn’t expect to seriously use when I built a replacement bladder with extra filtration.
It’s a survival thing. At least I didn’t install an icemaker.
It was hard to think at the time. I was busy being shocked by the plug monster’s control over electrical devices outside my natural bioelectric one. I was released from this shocking state and heard the monster yelling out. By the time I shook it off and stood up, my brother was slicing at it with a pair of katars. It’s not like he saved me. But enough sounding like one of those yandere anime girls. Or is it tsundere. John Deere? Might be some residual brain scrambling going on. Regardless, my brother was fighting when the plug monster raised its plug to the sky and let out a burst of electricity.
“You missed,” my brother said. The Black Ranger jumped toward the monster with shield and mace in hand. He struck it from behind, throwing up sparks, and skidded to a stop next to my brother.
“Ha ha ha!” laughed the plug monster.
“You have a funny sense of humor,” Black Ranger said. Just then lightning struck the both of them blasted them in separate directions. The plug monster approached my brother, the thin pair of prongs elongating into jagged blades.
I ran up behind the monster and wrapped my arms around its waist. I jumped, bending backwards, and slammed its head into the sidewalk. I jumped to my feet and turned, catching its head with a kick as it attempted to rise. I smiled as I looked down on it and activated my laser eyes. Twin beams of light, amplified by stimulated emissions of radiation, cut into the monster. I savored its pain after what it did to me. “Gonna roast you like a pig. Squeal, piggy!”
It raised its plug hand to me. I revealed the laser claws, courtesy of some grafted super DNA that actually works to transfer superpowers. Chopped the monster’s hand off at the wrist.
A red circle of light shot from the sky, engulfing the monster. I cut the lasers, which were making my eyes a bit toasty in their sockets, and stepped back. The Rangers ran up and pulled me back too, with me slapping away their hands. “What’s this, the thing where it turns giant?” I asked.
“I’m out then. Have fun!” I said, turning to run away. I didn’t want to try and validate any weird feelings related to knowing that guy, a Justice Ranger, is my brother. I don’t need a brother, especially not one who is an enemy. I briefly felt arms around me again and, before I could elbow the arms’ owner in the crotch, was all fuzz-light-teleported away from where I was.
My brother pointed back to where we’d been. The plug monster grew giant, stomping on the ground and laughing maniacally. “Yeah, yeah, thanks,” I told him.
“See you soon, sis!” he called before teleporting off.
I shifted a lot my attention to the regular world, paying the attention to a pair of giant robots little mind.
The Sheriff had stopped by. I think Qiang had called her when my proxies began to respond to my freedom. The town’s top cop nearly barged on in, but I was there to open the door. “I didn’t do it, and anyone who says I did is a damned liar who’s about to suffer an unfortunate accident!” I declared.
The Sheriff looked at me, then chuckled a little. “Tried too hard that time. What happened?”
I shrugged. “The Justice Rangers don’t know who I am. Kidnapped me without meaning to, then held me captive while they tried to determine if I was dangerous.”
“So how did you get out?” the Sheriff asked, fully aware I’m dangerous.
“Monster attack. I’m on foot, so it’ll take me a bit to get to the portal. The real problem’s getting back on this side of it,” I told her.
The Sheriff sighed. “I had to tell Medusa, you know that? She’s probably headed there now.”
“Ugh… fine, yeah, I get it. I’ll send her a message so she doesn’t blow my cover,” I said. “See you around.”
The fight didn’t last long once the giant robots were brought out. They never do. Less than five minutes later and Pluggy exploded into nothing. Guess he wasn’t going into the cells. It must have been easy to trap the others they’d captured, because a giant robot alligator with a pair of wheels in place of back legs sped along the nearby superhighway and stopped nearby. My brother landed in front of me and pulled off his helmet.
“You don’t have to go. I’ll make sure Shona doesn’t lock you back up,” he said. He’d apologized enough over his short visits that I guess he felt he didn’t need to anymore. I’m glad. It got pretty boring to hear.
“There’s a reason I’m not on this side of the portal,” I informed him. “And a very good reason I don’t like the Justice Rangers. And I don’t know you! You’re not family, you’re just some guy who we just found out is related to me.”
Maybe it’s because he was in the costume, but he seemed a lot less permissive. “Listen, we lost our dad when we were both young. You lost more than that. Something was taken from both of us. There’s no guarantee we’ll get along, but you’re some what was taken from me. We have a chance to recover some family that they stole. And it’s going to be hard to get through the portal now that Shona’s suspicious of you. Maybe you can convince her, or you can hang out while you work out another way through.”
I folded my arms in front of me. “You’re really desperate, aren’t you?”
“Aside from kidnapping you and bringing you back to this dimension and holding you captive, why are you so angry? Nevermind, as I was saying it, it became clear to me. I messed up, but you’re family,” he said.
Meaningless enough to me. “You’re so damn lucky I made arrangements back home, but I can’t stay long, not even two weeks. Fine, but I don’t give a crap about Shona and her questions. She’s got some arrogance. Y’all kidnapped me! I don’t even want to see her again.” Also, as the most suspicious of me, she’s the one most likely to uncover that I’m a person they want to kill or imprison forever. And while it might be justice for them, that would be quite inconvenient for me.
I was, of course, surprised to be led through the door of the building he lived in and found out it housed the whole Ranger team with some spare beds.
“You stayed!” said White, waving at me from a couch. The Red Ranger, Shona, just glared at me from over a cup she was drinking out of.
I turned to my brother real quick. “I’m blaming you when this ends badly.”
I had time to hide a lot of shit and get my bodies in line before I received any special visitors. I got a heads-up from the Sheriff when they arrived in town. Local law enforcement has been scaled back significantly and changed up due to many heroes deciding to make sure the cops weren’t going to be a problem in Radium the same way they were elsewhere. I think the Sheriff had to resign herself to it over the simple fact that if superhumans in the town really wanted to cause trouble, there’s only so much she and her deputies could do about it. Even the fact that they had the firepower to take down a helicopter gunship was just proof that this small-town Sheriff had too high a budget. It seems one of her remaining duties is to be something of a liaison to me when outsiders come looking for me.
“Hey,” she said, walking into my store. She eyed the various cybernetics and weapons out in the open, but didn’t say anything. “You better hide anything that’s going to get you in trouble. A Federal Marshal and a handful of First Earthers checked in at the office. They’re tracking something.”
I nodded to her. “Thanks for the tip-off. I’ll do my best not to blow everything up, so you can consider your duty done.”
The Sheriff tipped her hat and left, not looking particularly relaxed. I looked over the nerdy teens checking out either the merchandise or me and called out, “Y’all better get out of here. Might get a bit dangerous.”
“Are you serious?” asked this one guy who hadn’t yet learned the value of shampoo.
I activated some of the store’s defense systems. A trio of laser cannons descended from the ceiling. The skeptic’s eyes went wide and he followed the rest of his friends running out of the store. I quickly had them withdraw back into the ceiling. About twenty minutes later, a group of people in their early-to-mid 20s walked up. Like every other Ranger team, each one prominently sported a color somewhere on their person. It was a bit different that there were two people in different shades of red, though. One of those was a black-haired woman in a brown top with a red half-jacket over it. The other red was a blonde guy with a face I instinctively wanted to punch in a red v-neck shirt under his coat.
I looked between the pair for a moment before addressing the woman, “Hello there.” I didn’t outwardly pay them any mind, instead wiping down the top of a display case that featured a knifebow. I caught a glimpse of the woman nodding to a girl with white hair and a guy in a black turtleneck. They spread out, checking the transformer bracelets on their right forearms.
“Is that allowed?” blonde-haired Red guy asked in a Southern accent. Is that how I sound? He was pointing to the knifebow, a crossbow specially-designed to shoot knives at people at high speed. There were various knives in the case with it, along with a sign reading “Ask about our explosive ammo!”
“2nd Amendment,” I said. “I have flamethrowers in the back if you want. Cops can’t do anything about it. You looking for weaponry or gadgetry?”
“This is weird town,” the other Red said, stepping up. “Where do you get your products?”
I shrugged. “I have sources. Some of this is artisanal.” Behind this pair, a guy with yellow vertical stripes on his shirt finished talking to the guy in black and walked over to a shelf of gadgets. Laser scopes, rangefinders, grappling hooks launchers, hooks, and a couple of netguns.
Yellow made a show of picking up one of the net launchers and dropped it with a really loud “Whoops!” He bent over to pick it back up, his head knocking the shelf and pushing it over. I sighed, annoyed at both the clumsy distraction and having to pick up all the stuff. I walked around the counter and pretended not to notice the guy in black slipping back there. I smiled when he tried to head into the back and a rope trap lifted him upside down and hung him from the ceiling.
“So annoying,” I said, fixing the shelves back and putting stuff up there. I paid no mind to the Rangers assuming combat stances. I turned to them, hands on my hips. “So, what exactly are y’all looking for?”
The woman in white showed her bracelet. “Something like this. We know it’s here.”
“Yeah, what are you doing with it?” asked the guy in Red. With his fists up, I noticed he didn’t have one of the bracelets. That was the one whose bracelet somehow activated for me.
I held up my hands and walked around the corner, flipping a switch on the wall that dropped Black to the floor. He pulled himself free and stood. I pointed to a box under the counter. “There’s what you’re looking for. Hands up so I can’t touch anything.”
He started for it, then turned to me. “You get it in case there’s another rope or something.”
That got a little giggle from the girl in white, but I went ahead and slowly reached down, pulled the box out, and set it on the counter where they could all see the slightly-dented transformer bracelet within. My brief freakout after having transformed into a Ranger and alerted them to my presence had left it with a little cosmetic damage. I’d debated finishing it off, but ultimately figured the best way to go about this was to pretend to be nobody important.
The Red guy grabbed his bracelet, looking agitated at the minor damage, but slid it back on.
“Free of charge,” I said, lowering my hands and setting the box back under the counter. When I popped my head up above the counter, I saw the Rangers weren’t finished here yet.
“Who has handled it since it’s been here?” she asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know a lot about the people who stopped in. I’m guessing they tangled with y’all. They just stopped here long enough for gas and some quick medical care, paid for it with that.” I nodded toward the bracelet that was being examined by Red Guy and Yellow.
“Who transformed?” Red Guy asked.
“I don’t know,” I lied. “Put a lock on that thing or something if you don’t want anybody else using it.”
“No one else should be able to use it,” the woman in Red said.
Yellow looked up. “There’s been no tampering with the security. The person who transformed shared enough DNA with you to be family.”
Red Guy went through some emotions. I was trying not to let mine show either, because I don’t have a clue who the fuck this guy is, but I don’t know what family I’d have. I was fairly young, but I didn’t have siblings.
“Family like the son of an aunt?” Red Guy asked.
Yellow pointed to the bracelet. “The way the genetic security functions may not work for them. It would have to be a close family member, such as a child, a parent, or a sibling.”
…this fucker said what now? I’m sure as shit not this guy’s parent or kid unless there’s some weird time travel around here. I think some of my surprise showed through to me face, because Red Woman was watching me closely.
“None of the people we fought were men,” Red woman said in our original language.
“You think it’s her?” my so-called brother said, mistakenly. The sibling relation was the mistaken part. There’s no fucking way. I’d remember a brother. They’d have been in the Psychopomp Project. They’d be DEAD.
White stepped forward, speaking in English. “Why did you come to this Earth?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
“You two are brother and sister,” she said to me, gesturing to the guy who’s definitely NOT my brother.
“No, we aren’t,” I said.
“I know one thing that can help,” Yellow said. He pulled out a device. He threw it at me and I caught it, looking down at it. My homo machina body connected to the wires coming from it on its own volition, which ended up powering a bright light. I threw it away.
“See? She’s definitely homo machina like you!” Yellow said.
Nobody looked all that happy with the guy’s weird flashlight. They were all focused on me. At least their combat stances had stopped. Me, I wanted to attack. I was defensive. They were claiming I had a brother and our genetic similarity is why his transformer worked for me. I took a moment and instead focused on the nice route for the moment. “Leave. Get out of my store.”
“You should come with us,” Red woman said.
“Why?” Black asked, clearly the smartest of the bunch. Her idea was fucking nuts.
Red guy, the fake brother who is definitely not my brother and I don’t care what anybody says, held his hands up and walked toward me. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a digital photograph encased in a thick protective plastic carrying case. He slipped back into our home language to explain. “My father disappeared when I was young. When I was old enough to ask about him and why he wasn’t around, she told me she was his mistress and that he and his family were killed. My father, his wife, and their child.”
And then he showed me a photo triggered my memory. It was a photo of a man, a woman, and a baby. I didn’t recognize the woman at all, but the man’s face triggered some long-sleeping memory.
What the fuck? I sniffled, wondering what happened to the humidity or the water sprinklers in there. Fucking localized rain storm in my store.
“Get out,” I said with a cracked voice.
“This is a lot to process and we can’t stay,” Red woman said to my… to the guy in Red. She stepped closer and whispered something to him, about how, “You’re a Ranger and she’s a victim of the purge.”
“Get out,” I told them all. When my… the person, the guy, the one in Red, when he stepped forward, I called down the laser cannons. They all scattered, the two Reds barely managing to transform before the lasers blasted them. Sparks scattered off the tight uniforms of the Alligator Ranger and some kind of Snake Ranger. The lasers were keeping them pinned down, but then blasts shot out from the guns held by the white Bear Ranger, the black Skunk Ranger, and the yellow Fox Ranger.
I stomped a pedal and the display case opened. The knifebow bounced up into the air for me to grab and turn on those three, already loaded with a standard hunting knife magazine, the under-barrel bayonet gleaming in the bright lights. I cocked the knifebow and fired bursts of knives at the trio. The Badger Ranger pulled Bear Ranger out of the way, but I caught the Fox Ranger on his shoulder.
I stung the knifebow over toward Snake Ranger in mid-flying kick. She blasted it in half, but I raised the barrel with the bayonet I could use. In the moment, in THAT moment, all that shit going through my head, I wasn’t thinking so clearly. I felt I should clarify. That’s why I was still standing there when Alligator Ranger landed behind me with a flip and wrapped his arms around me.
Everything was bright light. Fuzzy whitish-yellowish light, but with some distant feeling of other lights all over the place. A universe of light.
When it ended, I was in a cell. Thick metal on three sides of me and a clear wall on the fourth one. My internal clock figured out I’d lost an hour of time and my GPS systems failed to connect with the usual satellites, or any satellites.
On the other side of the wall, my person who had grabbed me and teleported me stepped up. “I’m sorry. I know you’re confused and hurt and upset. I promise, I don’t hold it against you. I just brought you here so you could calm down and we could connect. That fighting was necessary for either of us.”
“Let me out!” I yelled, stepping up to the see-through wall. I gave it a tap, judging the material. Transparent aluminum. Strong stuff. I might not be able to force my way through.
“Ranger Red’s doing a background check to see if there’s anything she can find. I promise you, I will let you out when you calm down and aren’t so murderous.”
That pretty much confirms they have abso-fucking-lutely no clue who they’re dealing with. Pretty sure when I don’t check in with the store’s security system, it’ll go ahead and unveil the “Closed due to kidnapping sign,” I’ve built into the front door.
“I’m sorry,” the person who isn’t my brother said. He slipped a package into something on the wall and pressed a button. After a second, a portion of the wall opened up and revealed a drop box. The package was a wrapped-up sandwich. I took it and set it aside on the pallet that seemed to be a sleeping area. That person continued, “I really wanted to bring you with me and find out more about you and our father. This is a big deal to me, and I think it’s a big deal to you, too. If you don’t trust them, and maybe you don’t after everything that’s happened to our people and families, then trust me. I’m not going to betray my new sister. I have a sister!”
He yelled that last part out on his own, excited. It actually cut through the anger a bit. This guy reminded me of Reindeer in that they were both such big dorks. And I’m confused, but I should be able to bluff my way through this. If they had enough of my DNA on file to identify me as one of the great nemeses of the Justice Rangers and murderer of multiple Rangers, enough so that their own security systems can get me and this- my brother confused, then they’d already know who I am because they’d have identified him as the brother of Psycho Gecko.
“What’s your name?” he asked. Just then, an alarm sounded. He looked up, then raised his bracelet. “Now? They’re attacking the city now?!” He looked up at me. “I have to go. Monster attack. Please say something?”
I waved him off. “I go by Delilah now,” I told him.
“Delia?” he asked, getting it wrong. I rolled my eyes and waved him off. “We’ll talk soon, Delia! Sorry!”
It’s November, which makes it a great time for schemes to come to fruition. Like harvest season, you could say. I think some of it’s people waiting until after Halloween. In other cases, I’m pretty sure some villains are desperately trying to avoid Thanksgiving with family and the best way to do that is to either conquer the Earth or get sent to prison. Sounds extreme but, in their defense, a lot of people have found out recently that a lot of their relatives are ok with white supremacy. If you’re spending the holidays with a gang of neo-Nazis no matter what you do, might as well try and blow up the state of Utah.
From the news I hear, someone very nearly sent the Earth into a new Ice Age. Except his attempt to freeze everything was slowed down long enough for some superheroes to stop it. That turned out to be because of another villain hanging out in Argentina. That woman found something she took that drastically improved the strength of her powers. Heroes came after her, too. She took a bunch more of whatever she had, turned into a towering inferno, and burned out. Not even enough of her left to figure out what she too, which is going to drive some people batty.
In other news, Herne the Hunter is on the run after his second attempt on the superhero Reindeer. Even the villains like having a night when they can run around in masks and not risk getting caught. It’d kind of like how risky it is if we all just start killing each other. For the longest time, heroes and governments have had no problem throwing aside norms and laws when it comes to me. Most villains wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of onslaught. And even I found it fun and worthwhile to uphold that Halloween truce.
I’m keeping a real close eye on Herne. At the time of writing this, he’s peeing in the woods near his campsite. Didn’t even give it a shake before zipping up, the barbarian. I’ll see him in person soon.
I recovered quickly from my injuries, and even helped some folks with theirs. I still have a store with weird gadgets and prosthetics, after all. People are figuring out I’m a little better than most doctors, if they’re willing to put their lives in my hands for a moment. Like this one girl I finished up with. A teenager, she and her mom stopped by for a quick and easy breast reduction, as they were a tad bit large and causing some back problems.
It was over in no time, and I gave her some news about a bonus. “Ok, so while the machines were in there, they found some issues with a disc in the thoracic spinal column. The disc had worn down some and was starting to give in. They went ahead and repaired that, made sure to top off the others and did a little work reinforce them.” I showed her and her mom on a hologram so they could see where the specific problem had occurred. I also brought up a schematic for a cybernetic spine that retains full range of movement with way better support. “The problem is, the human spine’s a mess. There’s not much to work with there. Now, if you’re willing to undergo a longer procedure and don’t mind the occasional problem with magnets or metal detectors, I have an upgrade that’ll do the trick.”
“I think we’re good, but thank you so much!” the mother said, smiling, moving to guide her daughter out. Figures. It might seem weird to both heal people’s bodies and offer replacements made of metal and circuitry, but a normal human spine is still subject to paralysis and regular eyes have crappy night vision. Humanity didn’t settle for sleeping in trees and scavenging bone marrow from bodies left behind by predators; it doesn’t have to remain fixed to the frailties and failings of the flesh.
The day after that, I got someone into the store who looked new in town. Radium wasn’t a big place before the supers starting flocking to it. There’s probably something deeper to be said about a group of people who abandon apparent responsibility to save people by segregating themselves. Regardless, I’d have remembered a guy with an eyepatch and fresh wounds on his face with a metal arm.
I was eating lunch and trying out something new I’d added to this body, which gave the guy pause. Not often you see a woman with a prehensile tongue eating fries from a foot away. I don’t think showing off the other modifications would have made him feel any better, but at least I hadn’t gone through with doing up my head like Pinhead, with metal sticking out. I was going to go ahead with it, but then I got to thinking about doing a metal spike mohawk, and just got lost in the weeds. Even considered a steel wool afro before tossing that out. So for now, my hair’s a bundle of curls and my tongue is an oil black, extended prehensile limb.
“Can I help you?” I asked the guy. He grunted and walked closer, ignoring a couple of kids oggling some ray guns in a glass case. Those are fakes; I keep the real ones hidden without the batteries in.
The man looked around and leaned forward, invading my personal space with the smell of sweat and whiskey. He was a big guy, with graying hair, a 5 o’clock shadow, and biceps the size of my dainty little head. “Someone told me this was the place to come for the best cybernetic implants on Earth, in this weird little town. Are you pulling my leg, or can you replace an eye and fix my arm.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Someone’s got a big mouth, but they’re right.” I nodded toward the back of the store. “Come around the counter and into the back to the body shop.”
He did a doubletake as another of me appeared in the back. The body shop was both literal and figurative. We passed by a car being swarmed over by some spidery robots, giving it some maintenance. “Is this a joke?” asked my new customer.
“No, it’s someone who wanted to be turned into a car. That was a joke, this is the humanoid section of the body shop,” I told him, pulling aside a curtain to show him my doctor’s office room. “Sit down and let’s take a look at that arm and eyehole.” He set a bad he’d carried back aside and
The arm was pretty nice. Almost entirely mechanical, though it had some loss of strength from something having been jammed through it at the elbow. There was enough left to figure out what he needed, repair it, and patch the hole. He had a computer on his forearm, but that was doing just fine. After that, it was taking a look at where his peeper had gone AWOL.
“Nasty, but fixable. I have a range of cybernetic options, or I can regrow it for you. Any preference?” I asked.
“Are the cyber eyes better than regular ones?” He asked.
“Oh yeah,” I swiveled a monitor out from the wall to show him various features: night vision, thermal vision, zoom vision, flash immunity, etc., etc.
He brought the bag up and opened it, pulling out an arm that looked like it was made of cables. It came down to a set of five fingers that looked like the cables narrowed down like tentacles, evenly spaced all the way around. I leaned in to examine it. “Nice work.” I noticed the top, where it was supposed to connect at the shoulder. Some of the cables extended past to where they’d connect at the back of the shoulder, but there was a molded rubber interface with some snapped-off wires hanging off. A little bit of blood spotted that area. “Who’d you take it off?”
“That’s the kind of question only my lawyer will ever answer,” he said.
I waved away his concerns. “It’ll definitely pay for your whole operation here, don’t worry. I’d be willing to give you some more upgrades in exchange for more resources from over there. First Earth.” I snorted.
“Yeah. We’re Earth Prime to them,” he said. “Next one will call itself Earth A or Alpha or something. Everyone wants to be first.”
“Just stay away from Earth Aleph. Nasty place,” I advised, not that he’d know what I was talking about. He nodded and made his selection for an eye, getting quite a nice package deal if I do say so myself. The nanites cleaned up the socket and put in a direct interface and we popped in a nice new cyber eye that he chose to have glow an unnatural red.
The man stood up and tried everything out, nodding with less of a scowl on his face. “Good work. Call me Raider,” he said, offering a hand.
“Delilah,” I told him. He didn’t pay for my name, so he’s getting my alias. “I’m serious. You find any neat tech next time you’re over there, I’d be willing to buy it. Cash, gold, upgrades, medical services, even gadgets and weapons.”
Imagine my surprise when he stumbled into the workyard out back a few nights later. He and a bunch of his friends landed some helicopter lifted by VTOL-style rotating jets rather than rotors in the back and came out calling for medics. I threw on the yard’s stealth systems to cover up everything back there and got the nanites pumping. Once everyone was stabilized, I went to check on Raider, who was checking back over their jetcopter. “Didn’t think you’d apply my offer in such an unexpected manner. Looks like y’all went through the shit.”
“Yeah,” he said, tossing me a bracelet of sorts. I looked it over, some sort of tech with a crocodile motif. “Took that off a Ranger.”
“Whew… a dead Ranger?” I asked.
Raider let out a pained laugh, reaching up to put a hand on his chest. “I wish. Think I pulled something.”
“I’d say you pulled something alright. A Ranger panty raid.” That got a laugh and some more pain out of him. I jabbed him with a needle of regenerative nanomachines that confirmed some internal bruising on a few organs and set about repairing the damage.
They didn’t even end up staying the night, just long enough to heal, rest, have some snacks, and make sure they’d lost anybody trying to find them. Then they were off and I was examining that Ranger bracelet which I’d come to realize was one of their transformers. They put it on, say some sort of phrase that I’m sure is a voice security measure, and their costumes appear around them. For a long time, homo machina like myself couldn’t even be Rangers due to some weird genetic incompatibility and then prejudice based on their encounters with one particular Homo Machina nemesis. They’ve overcome the incompatibility as far as I know.
While checking it over, I ended up hitting some sort of button disguised in the crocodile design. My arms pulled out away from my body and I felt like I was spinning as a red-colored metal crocodile spun up from below. I couldn’t move my head to look down, and suddenly it didn’t matter because I was wearing a tight costume with a helmet enclosing my head. I don’t even know how it captured all my hair in there. Gloves, boots, a metal icon of a crocodile on my chest.
“What the fuck? How did this thing transform?” I asked.
I heard a voice through the helmet, asking in my own language, “Who is this? How did you transform?”
“How do I not untransform?” I asked them in my home tongue.
“Press the button again and say ‘Power Down.’ Where are you?” a different voice asked in the helmet.
Instead of answering, I tried the button. It worked, leaving me looking normal in my shop and tossing the transformer bracelet hard to the side where it bounced off a wall.
Well, shit. Time to obscure some stuff. I think I just attracted a team of Justice Rangers to where I’m hiding out.
I’m back! Hello from the ghost realm, dear readers. Or was we like to call it, the Nether Region. Or are reports of my death exaggerated? I guess we’ll have to find out. Oooh, spooky! Well, not as spooky as that clown statue right behind you now. Don’t look. It wasn’t there a minute ago, but maybe itll go away on its- wow, that is a big knife.
So when we left off, Reindeer turned to me and yelled, “Move, bitch!” She jumped to get some distance between her and the legion of losers who had taken Herne’s offer to de-antler her for a million dollars per antler. And while the Wolves of Avalon had motorcycles that could keep up with her, they were on rooftop. And I commanded a group of drones flying around on rotors. The main one used its hologram abilities to disguise Reindeer’s location as people fired at her.
“Drop down,” I advised her. “I’ll lead them off.”
Upon landing, she dropped to the ground off the building where the gathered bunch couldn’t see. I made my projection seem to fail and a fake Reindeer appeared suddenly, running off in a different direction.
“Suggestions other than run this out?” I heard Reindeer over her suit’s monitoring systems. “I don’t want to deal with this next month.”
“This shouldn’t be happening here and now. Little jobs defying the truce are nothing in comparison to this. I want to appear in person.” If I’m a devil, then there’s nothing I like more than someone jumping headfirst into my domain.
“Can’t kill them while you’re a hero’s sidekick,” Reindeer reminded me. “How did Herne find me?”
“Don’t know. That round thing he had seemed to do something with those portals. He’s not known for portals on his own.” I had described it as a circlet. That’s what it looked like, a silver ring big enough to fit on a person’s head. He held it in one hand just before summoning a big portal that brought the whole party to the rooftops.
“It’s a shitty plan, but last time we fought, I didn’t have you. If it was just me this time, he’d stand a chance,” Reindeer said. That made me feel a little fuzzy inside, like someone sewed a plush doll into my chest cavity.
“Geez, sorry, I’ll work on some damn power armor for you then,” I told her.
“Shit, portal. He’s dropping them off at intervals. I’m made,” Reindeer warned me.
I’d ended up behind a building that blocked Herne’s view of me. The hunter must have started sending them around in a search pattern. I dropped the hologram and instead hid the drone, heading around the side of the building I was at so I could spy on Herne and his horde. Yep, he had his big portal open, but just one. Same as when he somehow summoned the whole big group up there. “Yeah, he’s sending them out. Can you manage while I steal his portal doohickey?”
The call from Reindeer was interrupted by gunshots, a loud snap, and someone crying out in pain. “Yeah, but hurry the fuck up.”
I flew on, my drones hidden behind the illusion of the city around us. I zipped in and tried to ring it on one of my drones but Herne held on tight. I pulled his arm back, but he held on and whirled, getting a second gloved hand on it. So, plan B then. I watched in the reflection of his biker helmet with its own antler design as the power armor of Psycho Gecko became visible. A holographic facsimile of who I really am but am currently hiding. The thought of how the layers of truth and lie pile up here is confusing to me.
“Psycho Gecko! I heard you were dead,” Herne said, tugging at his big silver ring. It gave a bit, because the drone hooked in it wasn’t as strong as I am with my armor.
“When has being dead ever stopped me from living?” I asked. “Odd time of night to be invading a city with a huge group of minion.”
Just like that, a new shimmering white portal appeared, hanging in the air halfway up my projected armor. If it was real, the top half of me would have fallen through and the bottom half would have been separated. His desire to see me dead shows me disrespect.
“That was not a smart move, Herne,” I said.
“You’re not the Psychopomp, just an illusion!” he yelled. Damn, someone finally gets my first name right, and he’s someone I need to kill. Hmm. I gathered all my free drones in a group above the one trapped in the circlet and brought them down. All of us went through the portal and emerged way the fuck in the sky above the city of Chicago. But since the human arm uses ball and socket joints, we moved downward in a trajectory that swung toward Herne. Herne was not on the same side of the portal as my drones. And once we swung past the lip of the portal, Herne’s hand was no longer attached to the rest of Herne’s arm.
As soon as the limb sheared off, the portal closed. Down below, other bright white areas from the hunting party disappeared as well. I let the weight carry us down. I needed to get to Reindeer, and I didn’t know how to use this damn circlet-thingy. Maybe she’d be able to. It might require hands. “I got it and Herne’s now one hand short of a one-person orgy.”
“Send it my way. They still have numbers and they’re herding me. It’s getting hard not to kill them. Oh come the fuck on! Hup! They tried to get me into an open square, but they forgot I can jump.”
Indeed, I spied through Reindeer’s suit as she used her higher position on top of a gas station roof to kick the crap out of a climbing hunter in a bowler hat. A spray of blood shot out of his broken nose as he fell onto the crowd before. She ducked when the gunfire started up again. “Shit! I’m fine, didn’t penetrate.”
She went to goad them, but bottles flew through the air at her with burning rags poking out of the top. She instinctively raised her gauntlets and blasted them with soundwaves, then thought better of it and jumped back. The roof she left behind went up in a blaze. She landed on a truck parked on a street behind the gas station, bouncing off it with a “Whoof!”
I was still coming in for her, but it was taking time. At least Reindeer had a moment to recover the air that got knocked out of her. There was just enough bushes blocking the view that she could add some confusion to the mix. If she could lose them now, the hunters didn’t have a way to portal out into a search grid.
Her time disappeared with the roar of motorcycles speeding around that street. The Wolves of Avalon biker gang sped around the corner and were coming right for her. A few had shotguns and submachine guns. Bullets and pellets bounced off Reindeer’s costume, but she had a vulnerable head she raised her arms to protect.
“Fuck this nice guy shit!” she said, turning and grabbing the truck she’d landed on. She grunted as she dragged it around, tearing off a chunk as its weight had an uncivil disagreement with the strength of its construction. Reindeer threw the left side of the truck at the speeding biker gang, knocking most of them down like a bowling ball. Others went down as they tried to avoid the toss or panicked.
The roar got louder all of a sudden but nothing approached from that direction. Reindeer turned and caught Herne’s spear just behind the head. The tip pushed into her belly part way, piercing below her ribcage. The only reason it didn’t fully shishkebab her was her own super strength holding it back enough. But Herne was on his bike there, and he wasn’t done with just a light spearing. He kept going, one severed forearm wrapped around the handles of his motorcycle to keep it in line while his good hand held the spear. Reindeer screamed as she was pushed to the road and dragged by the spear she couldn’t afford to let go of.
I swooped in to the rescue, my drones pummeling Herne’s helmeted head heroically. The hunter fell on the opposite side of his bike, skidding along and throwing up sparks as he came to rest against the half-truck occupying the road.
Reindeer tossed the spear away and stood up, holding a hand to her gut. With her other, she held out her hand for the circlet. I flew it into her hand, but the second its silvery surface touched her, the flesh of that hand began to burn and she wailed in pain. I pulled away and she panted. “Fuck, it’s silver. Quick, hide me.”
I threw up an illusion, hiding her in place in time for the mismatched group of minions who had forced her off the gas station roof. She’s lucky the bunch were too noisy to hear her panting. Most of the chunk looked around for her, then started spreading out to search. A few stopped over to help Herne out and none really cared about the Wolves, who by now had mostly found their feet.
“Find her!” Herne called out. “I need that tiara back! She can’t have gone far.” He walked slowly over to his own spear, a bit worse for the wear from the crash from what I could tell. His leather pants were partially-shredded.
One of the Wolves limped over, adjusting his wolf mask. “How do you reckon? She can go anywhere in the world with it.”
Herne shook his head and let out a pained laugh. “It’s pure silver, bane to werewolves and weredeer.”
Great, the fairytales and movies were right about something for once. Why couldn’t this be a porn instead of a werewolf movie?
Herne went on. “More than that… just find it.”
Looks like biker boy’s got a soft spot for his tiara. He turned toward his spear and held a hand out. He said something I didn’t understand that caused his voice to reverberate and echo, and the spear flew toward him on its own. He planted it blade-first in the road and rolled up his sleeve to where thin, skin-thick computer rested, the same sort that I made widely available upon the creation of VillaiNet.
Ouroboros, lord of Paradise City and one of the villains trusted with judging violations against supervillains as group, spoke from the computer. “Herne, this is a major violation of the truce.”
“She means more to me than your rules,” Herne said. “I have to take her, especially now.”
As expected, Ouroboros gave not one fuck. “If you call off your dogs now, we can arrange something. You know what calling down a Judgment on you means.”
“You have your rules, and I have mine. The rules of the She,” he said, then hung up. Weird. The She? I put out a search for any group by that name, then figured I might have heard wrong and started running the vocal file on its own.
Sidhe. That’s like one of those groups of gods or faeries. Probably even ones who were just early superhumans masquerading as mythological beings like the Three Hares. I’m not convinced they were actual gods, though some of the magic users among them might as well be. The Barons don’t strike me as folks worth playing with. This tiara is probably some magical artifact from some of these Hares, who are one of the few groups who could probably give Herne sanctuary now that I’m thought to be dead. They’d be pissed if he broke their toy, though.
I relayed all this to Reindeer as quietly as I could. I thought I saw Herne’s head cock to the side a little despite my lowered volume.
“Make me look like Gecko and prepare to tase him,” is all Reindeer said before she snatched the tiara off the drone that held onto it. It smoked in her hands and she screamed. Like, wish she’d warned me before doing that to my body.
Herne realized what was up and lunged with his spear. It stuck into the drone that had held onto the tiara, which sputtered and twisted to the side as it died. The others all surrounded him and shot him full of enough electricity to stun a particularly angry horse or a real punk of a hippo. I hope Reindeer’s plan was going as she wanted with as little as she said, because I made her suddenly reappear, except it was Psycho Gecko’s armor again. Gecko held the tiara in both hands, tearing. It snapped apart with a loud ring. Then Reindeer walked over to Herne. I stopped tasing him so as not to catch her with any of the voltage, which seemed to be a good call for when she tossed the broken tiara aside, snatched the spear out of his good hand, and shoved it through his remaining wrist. She grabbed that hand, the tearing sound barely audible over the sound of Herne the Hunter’s screams, and used the wound and her own super strength to tear it free.
Herne fell to his knees, crying, but that still left a lot of his guys milling around, gawking at the supposed Psycho Gecko. Some of them might have even tested the idea that this wasn’t the real Gecko, but some of them checked their own arms for the VillaiNet interface. Even my old connection, still active despite my death, received the message. “Herne the Hunter is officially subject to Judgment, as are all henchmen who stay with him from this moment forward.”
They scattered, except maybe for this beat-up, broken nose Brit in a bowler hat who asked all nasally, “How do I bloody well get home now?!”
Reindeer tossed him the two halves of the tiara. “Put your hands together and hope real hard,” she told him. Then she turned back to Herne. “And Happy Fucking Halloween.” Boom! She took him down with one knee to the helmet.
Made for a hell of a hangover the next day when I woke up having to recover from Reindeer’s injuries. And got really fucking weird when some of the heroes in the neighborhood dropped off some food for me as “Get Well” gifts for a fellow “hero.” Hurt about as bad as taking a spear to the gut.
You won’t believe how nice it is sometimes to stretch my legs, especially when you’ve been traveling by mailed casket. They don’t treat those boxes well, I’ll tell you that much. I scared the crap out of some airline guys once after they jostled me too much. I banged on the lid and yelled at them to have a little respect for the dead.
I kept having mechanical breakdowns and so on, such that my “quick” method of travel turned out to be slower than if I’d driven back. Finally, once I got near enough at Chicago, I made sure to send myself some money and a backup costume. With the mail moving so low, I’d decided to stay in Chicago and let my alter ego play there come the full moon. The blue moon, in fact, which happens once in a blue moon. But I still took the time to groom myself, stretch, and enjoy some real food. It’s a complicated relationship, sharing my body with a heroic weredeer who shares my knowledge and skills. If she dies, I die.
But, hey, we were now well away from Atlanta, where Herne the Hunter declared his intent to hunt down and kill Reindeer. I still sent along some improvements this time, along with some drones for me to help out from. One in particular was the main unit, an armored and upgraded four-bladed hover drone. I’m no hero, and I’m definitely no sidekick. But it’s my body too, even if I can somehow remain conscious by operating through another body. Besides, the full moon fell on Halloween. Things have gotten strained from time to time, but not so bad that heroes and villains continue to fight while Americans walk around in their own masks and costumes.
I was taking my daughter trick or treating. Radium’s growing pains meant both safety from the pandemic, and a bunch more children and houses. It was going to be a good night. Kids stopping by my home would either get another spare body at the door, or a bowl of candy left on an armed-looking bear trap if I found it too difficult to spread my attention three ways. I even ran into Marianne while we were out. A former hero and now one of my neighbors in Radium, she left her husband at home to hand out candy while she ran the kids around as Mario and Luigi.
“And look at you!” Marianne said, the empathic heroine making a cheerful witch in her black hat and dress. She was fawning over my daughter’s costume. Qiang enjoyed the excuse to dress up and wanted me to fancy her up again as Western-style princess. “You look like a doll!” the ex-hero said as she examined my kid. Then she turned to look at me and her smile changed to one that looked like it was holding back a laugh. “Wonder Woman.”
“Truly, one of the most frightening costumes: a badass woman who likes bondage,” I explained. I checked on the moon. Yep, Reindeer would definitely be waking up. A teenager dressed as a werewolf stopped by and howled at the moon.
“I better check in on a friend,” I said, holding up a phone as if I was calling someone.
Over in Chicago, the land of mystery and mayhem, I brought a drone lower to address the weredeer who had taken over my body. She was just finishing checking over her costume. “Hello Reindeer. Welcome to Chicago, Halloween night. It’s a tid bit nipply, so I’ve included some additional layers you can wear. As requested last full moon, I’m awake to assist.”
“Good. Let’s get out there and see who needs help,” Reindeer declared.
“Ugh, why is heroic-me such a dork?” I asked through the drone. I pulled up the other drones, all smaller versions with less armor and functionality that were set to hover around behind my main drone in a circle until needed.
She laughed and left the cheap motel room I’d been staying at and launched herself at the nearby roof of a Burrito Bell. “All of us is a dork, Wonder Woman.”
“That’s different. That’s a costume,” I told Reindeer.
She snorted. “Remember when you looked at yourself in the mirror and fantasized about a car losing control so you could grab a kid out of the way and save them?”
“Nope. Completely untrue. Not a thing I’d ever think about, and you can’t prove it,” I answered. “We should probably shut up and not talk while we stalk the night on wings of justice.”
“Dork,” Reindeer said before moving on both literally and by not discussing any daydreams that totally didn’t happen when I put on my Wonder Woman costume earlier. Which I showed off on my other body as I walked around with Qiang, carrying a spare candy bag on my belt right next to the lasso of truth.
It wasn’t an action-packed night in Chicago. We greeted some trick or treaters and signed stuff for kids. There were a few weres among those kids. They were especially happy to see a superhero like them, someone else who had recently gained such an condition as a result of some shenanigans last year by an ecoterrorist group playing with magic. The teen girls were already used to their bodies going through a change that frightened people once a month, but there was further othering and sometimes demonization of people who aren’t entirely human once a month. I don’t even have to look up the relevant porn sites to know it’s already fetish material.
After that, we checked on some Halloween parties. “Whatcha gonna do, narc on people partaking of the peace pipe?” I asked. “Tell them to keep the noise down?”
Reindeer peered across the street from the shadows, ears flicking as she listened in. “If you weren’t so focused on being a contrarian, you’d know why. See there?” she pointed to a girl leaving the party, stumbling in a diagonal line and missing a shoe. You could practically smell how easy a target she was for anybody with ill intentions. A pair of guys broke away from the party to follow after her. Neither Reindeer or I believed they were doing so to help.
“You should pick a body with hands next time,” Reindeer whispered to me. “Ideally, you’d go down there, pretend to be someone she knows, pickpocket her license, and guide her home.”
“I’m not your sidekick,” I said.
“Fine. I’ll do it then. You hang back and keep an eye on those two,” she said. Reindeer dropped down, landing behind the girl. The guys following after came to a stop and began talking. The girl didn’t even notice Reindeer until the weredeer jogged up to her, “Hey, oh my god, I just want to say thanks for coming to the party tonight.”
“Who? Yeah, sure,” the girl said. I noticed the lift when Reindeer plucked the girl’s wallet out and then pulled out her driver’s license. She returned the wallet, then held up the license. “You left this back there. I thought I’d better come up and return it, and make sure you got home ok. Can I get you a cab?”
I tapped into the local taxi network and redirected one to them. Crisis averted, the night was saved. I floated my little drone self down to her. “I’d have waited until they made a move and beat the crap out of them. I’m not sure they learned a lesson this way.”
Reindeer eyed the direction the two guys had went off in. Back to the party. “This is preemptive. Less risk of her getting hurt or traumatized. Think you can catch up to them?”
“Already there,” I said. A smaller pair of my drones swooped in behind the pair and tased them until they dropped. Then they tased them some more. That wasn’t necessary, but it was enjoyable. The main drone projected a marker with distance to the pair. Reindeer jumped most of the distance, leaving me to play catchup with the Queen Bee drone while the others hovered around.
“Hey,” she said, nudging one of the pair’s arms with her hoof. “You two try that again, you’ll get worse. Learn some fucking manners, you filthy animals. And stop picking on people just because they’re drunker than you.”
The attempt at a lesson was interrupted by a brilliant white light in the sky and the gasping of the party nearby. “Oh hell,” Reindeer said, a second before I heard the roar of a motorcycle. I spread the drones out at a higher elevation to spot for Herne. I found where a loop of white had appeared in the street. Someone was in front of it on a motorcycle. Instead of Herne, I saw a biker in a leather jacket with a patchwork wood and fur mask on. The insignia on the back of the jacket read “Wolves Of Avalon.” Not one of the gangs I’m familiar with, but there’s a shit-ton of biker gangs out there. Most of them are old guys pretending at rebellion while wearing patches on their jackets about how much they love the cops and other authority figures.
The Wolf howled, and more bikers came through the portal. Then another opened nearby. “Time for a rumble, my darling dears,” said a man in a bowler, smacking a billy club into one hand. He tossed a cigarette down and stomped on it with his boot. I tased him with a drone while others pushed him back through his portal before it closed up.
By then, the street was filling up with more ne’er do wells from wherever they dwell. I recognized some of them. No Greens or Reds from Empyreal City, for instance, but some wore old Wolf gear from up there or the Q masks. Others didn’t have any fancy masks and just looked like gangs or militia jackoffs. These were all small-timers.
They were all coming for Reindeer, too. One swung a chain overhead and charged Reindeer. He got a sonic-assisted punch to the guy that put him down. Another one, in a Q mask, had a pool cue. He got a spinkick that’ll leave a hoofprint under that mask.
I moved in to cover Reindeer’s rear with the drones, catching and tasing some of this bunch. The main drone soon arrived and took to the sky. I warned Reindeer ahead of time. “Bright flash in 3, 2, 1.” It wasn’t a full flashbang, but it was a flash alright. A blinding white image of one of my favorite porn model’s showing off her tits lit up the night and covered for Reindeer’s graceful exit.
Nearby, another portal was closing on a roof. Herne propped up his bike there, clapping. “You brought toys.”
“You are a toy,” she told him.
“Fine,” he said, not entirely getting the dork’s insult. “But this toy brought friends.”
“Dregs,” I corrected.
He looked at me. “A robotic sidekick, how family-friendly.”
“I’m not a sidekick!” I insisted.
“What you are is outnumbered,” Herne explained. “I’ll have that trophy before the night is out. The one of them who brings them back gets two million, one per antler.”
“There’s a truce!” Reindeer declared. That reminded me, I should be angry.
Herne laughed and held up a circlet of silver. The portal behind him vanished, then was replaced with a much larger one. I could see the street down there, and a horde made up of the least of the worst ran through, led by the Wolves of Avalon baying for Reindeer’s blood.
Reindeer turned to me and yelled.
To be continued. I know, tense right? I wonder if I survived.
Oh I want some body to love. I need some body to love. Oh do you want some body to love? I’m gonna need some body to love. Because mine has been held up in the mail. Ugh. Whatever happened to the days when you could ship a body around without raising a bunch of questions? I went to track where my body was and found it still in Atlanta. I am too self-important to have my mail delayed like this.
I popped back over there and found myself in an open casket. That’s what I mailed the body in. Turns out those things are just about perfect for storing human bodies. Had to put some air holes in it. I packed some snacks and water. I even wore a diaper. Anyone who wants to judge me on that can ship themselves around in a casket without one and see how that works out. No, go ahead. Let everyone know.
The casket lid was open, like I said. I was in a room. I heard voices nearby, apparently not in the same room as I was. I sat up and looked around. I was in a room with lots of packages. Weird, this said I was in a U.S. Postal Service building. Damn private mail services, shifting the work onto the mail. I mean, the regular postal service aren’t bad folks, they’re just being sabotaged right now. That’s why I tried to mail myself through a private service that is more easily bribed to let things pass on through without asking questions. Someone fucked up.
I figured the first step to finding out more about such a directional mistake, I’d nimbly hop out of the casket and go spy on whoever was talking. Unfortunately, I tripped over a pudding cup. The casket lifted up, then came back down on the table it was on, banging against the wood. The voices stopped. I quickly closed the lid and took a position next to the door where I wouldn’t be spotted immediately. They had some empty boxes there, bottoms and tops open, that I pulled on top of myself. I hid there, holding up one box just enough to peek out.
“I don’t like it. There’s a body in there and now I bet it rose from the dead or something!” a voice said, coming closer.
“Then you should have left it alone and sent it along. You want to know how much more I get paid if I find a dead body? Big fat zero, that’s how much.”
It occurred to me I should have gotten back in the casket and popped an eye out to get a look at things. If you know what to look for, you can kind of tell when a closed eyelid doesn’t have an eye behind it.
“Holy shit!” one guy said. It sounded like the first one I could clearly make out, the one who thought I was dead.
“So the top fell, that’s all,” said the other one, a more tired voice. That seemed to be the guy who didn’t give a crap as long as he got paid, an attitude I can get onboard with as a criminal. Someone who quietly does their job and just their job is an incredible asset. If cops want to see a dead body, one of them can get paid to come here himself and get corpsified.
One guy entered slowly, keeping his eyes on the casket. Another guy, who looked tired of antics in general, walked past him and sighed to stand next to the casket. “The lid fell closed, that’s all. That’s all. Now come on, it’s close enough to lunch for me.”
The other guy looked at him, then carefully examined the lid of the casket. He was pulled away when the more cynical of the pair started walking out of there. “If you don’t come with me, I’m getting you the chicken salad sandwich!”
The more excitable one looked back to him, then the casket, then started heading out the door. “Hey, you know I’m allergic to salads!”
I quickly helped myself out of the cardboard boxes and set out to explore the post office to figure out where I dump myself to get shipped out of there. It was impressive in scale, even as it lacked security. I mean, there was no discernible difference between the door to the Lost Letters Office and the door to the Lost Weapons Office. I opened that one up just to see what they had and I’m pretty sure that sword in the stone was a fake. Impressive-looking reverberating carbonizer in there, but this really angry squid in a jar was giving me side-eye.
“Free me, mortal!” said a voice in my head. I saw the ghostly image of the squid hanging in the air with each word. So it’s a psychic squid.
“I could, if that was my problem, but it isn’t, so I’m not,” I informed the cephalopod. As much as I’d love to spend all night looking through the Post Office’s pile of weaponry for anything fun, I’m still wearing a diaper here. That’s a plus for some people, but not for me. I prefer more mainstream kinks, like trying to steal other people’s bodies and identities. I had a more pragmatic reason to not aid the mad psychic squid: it would cause trouble. That usually is my kink, but I want the place to ship me back home, not get wrecked. So I made a note to send an infiltrator back whenever I got home and left it there in its jar.
It was a strange place. They had letters and packages all over the place. I passed Christmas presents, either early or late. At one point, I passed under an arch made of cylindrical packages, like people were shipping a bunch of posters. They were holding up a ceiling of more boxes and envelops. After that was a room with a bunch of mannequins standing around. And a lot of dolls. Porcelain dolls, plastic dolls, rubber dolls, cloth dolls. What the fuck, Post Office?
Well, clearly this isn’t where my casket needs to go. I went to walk through, then felt watched. Always a good sign in a room full of dolls. Something moved out of the corner of my eye and I whirled, ducking low to ready for a pounce. An old-fashioned mannequin with a screaming-looking face tried to karate chop my head. It ruffled my hair. I punched it in the face and it didn’t react either. The mannequin’s other hand came up and popped me in the chin with a punch that didn’t do much.
I rolled and came up behind it, but the thing was fast. It dodged my rising kick and punched me right in my girl balls. Don’t know how it knew I’d reinstalled those. That stumbled me back as the earliest inklings of testicular reverberation started and I resolved to make those damn things internal going forward. I kept backing up to give myself some space and came to the poster package archway. They gave me an idea, so I made a show of further backing away, the murderous mannequin coming for me.
“You are trespassing in the Post Office!” the mannequin declared.
I stopped, grabbed a bunch of the poster packages, and pulled them down, then turned and ran as the ceiling in that corridor collapsed on top of the mannequin. Then the mannequin stood up and brushed the envelops off like it was nothing. Not even a papercut.
That’s really on me at this point. Speaking of points, it opened a plastic hand and a small blade emerged. I grabbed some of the poster cylinders, looking for a weapon. There had to be some nerd sending a sword. Signed vintage movie poster, nope. Anime girl pinup, nope. Arm-length green dildo, jackpot! It had some weight to it, too. I raised my weapon, “En garde!”
“Stop damaging the packages!” the mannequin ordered.
“I’ve got your package right here!” I said. “And it’s a big one.” I slapped him in the face once, a good hit that knocked its face to my left. A follow-up backhand knocked it back into place.
We locked weapons, my dildo to its blade. “Besides, stab me and you’ll damage a package as well!” I kicked it away and brought the dildo up to counter any slice it might make. I know more swordplay than most after my crash course to deal with a sword-wielding hero that time, so psychological warfare was a good way to supplement the fight. I don’t know much about mannequins, but it’s possible to throw a competent swordsperson off their game by describing their sexual partner’s genitalia. If I knew what the mannequin fucked, if anything, I’d do the same here.
As it was, I still caused it to hesitate. “What do you mean?”
I didn’t lower my guard, and neither did it. “I am a package. I was being shipped in a casket, until I woke up and found out I’d been delayed. One of the postal workers opened me up and set me aside. I’m just trying to figure out where to set the box I was in so I’ll get proper service.”
“Show me,” the mannequin urged, poking the air with its blade.
“Put the knife away first, creepy toy,” I told it.
“I am a Postal worker created to aid the human workers during the night shift, not a toy. And this is a letter opener,” It raised the hand with the blade sticking out of it, which then withdraw back into its palm.
I led it back around to the room with my casket. “I see,” it said. “You are overdue. You can not possibly be shipped until tomorrow. If you leave your weapon behind, I will carry you to the appropriate room.”
I held the dildo up by the handle, then flipped it around to point the tip at the mannequin’s face. “Betray me, and I’ll take you apart.”
“Understood,” it said, grabbing the shaft. I let it take it away. Reluctantly, I got in, running a hand over the controls of the casket’s weapons. I didn’t tell the mannequin the specifics because I didn’t want to give it that much of a warning and because I’m pretty sure you have to pay more shipping and handling for that thing.
Instead, as I felt it merely pick me up, I resumed where I left off listening to the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, “I’m Going Home.”
I admit, I raced ahead. I had been ready to go when the team decided to leave Atlanta. Sgt. Slam wouldn’t approve, I think. Murko, though, took one look at all the bodies I’d left laying around and thought the best thing I could do was go ahead and ship myself out of there. And since he had given me probably the least shit, I gave Gates a parting gift: a really good stabbing knife.
“Neat!” he said, swinging it around a little bit to get a feel for it. “Anything I should know about it?”
“It’s a pretty standard hunting knife design except for the blinding flash you can activate on the bottom. Also, if you point it at someone and push in on both ends of the guard, it activates these little booster rockets that sends it flying right at someone,” I informed him.
“Rocket knife!” Gates said, holding it up. “Why me?”
I shrugged. “I feel like you could use it best, and I needed to get rid of that. Don’t worry, it’s not defective or used in a murder. I played around and made it, but then had nothing to use it on. Maybe you’ll find a use for the rocket knife.”
“Wow,” he said.
To Dr. Monroe, I gifted my special toilet paper. “It’s really soft and it smells good. It’s a lot better than the cheap stuff y’all are going for. Also, it’s been specially-treated to help with any pain that might happen. If it does. Like with diarrhea. Shit happens, ya know?”
“Whose faces are these?” he asked, looking at the photos printed onto each sheet.
“Oh, just some people who deserve to be there. Some saints, some businessmen…”
“This looks like that one congressman, Matt Gaetz,” Monroe said, pointing to one sheet. “But badly printed.”
“No, that’s just how he smiles. Pretty sure the aliens who programmed him fucked up that part. Anyway, treat the toilet paper well. Or don’t. It’s yours now, to help you deal with all the shit you have to put up with.”
To Newburgh, our medic, I gave a couple of my drones with some manuals written up on how to use the cloaking function and weapons. “Could be helpful for intel gathering.”
“I won’t use the weapons,” he said.
For Murko, the team sniper who also covers our tracks, I gifted some unattached, drone-sized lasers.
“You ran out of gifts, didn’t you?” he asked.
And finally, to Sgt. Slam… I had nothing. “My absence will be gift enough,” I told him.
“Yeah, it would. This is sentimental of you. What do you have planned, separating like this?” he asked.
“We’re coming to the end, right? Once Big Turtle’s down, that’s it?” I asked.
He crossed his arms. “Yeah, he’s the last lead we have in this list. Then we rendezvous with the Exemplars. You heard from Medusa?”
I shook my head. Slam continued, “They’ve been busy with something else. We haven’t heard much from them. For what it’s worth, whatever you’re planning, thank you for playing the game. I appreciate you doing your best for me.”
We shook on that. Then I told him, “Ok, help close this up for me, will you? I laid down in the cheap coffin I’d bought. I didn’t ask how the fence acquired or what he meant by “lightly used,” but it didn’t stink and it had enough room for my body to lay down and get a few bed sores. They closed me up and slapped the pre-printed label on for me to be mailed off. I guess they didn’t notice it was headed back home to Radium. I had another body to send to do my bidding. And I had done the homework on both our target and the situation, and I knew not to send my body to Kentucky. But at least I waited until after my body was dropped off and in the system before doing anything that would tip off the rest of Project Accountability.
Senator McConnell. DIE’s codename for him is Big Turtle, based on his appearance. He’s the Senate Majority Leader, spending his days either laughing at all he gets away with or forcing through an unprecedented number of young judges with a similar ideology. That led to the first change in plans. He wasn’t back in his home state of Kentucky, but in the District of Columbia to push through another judge.
I think I’d rather attack Kentucky. I’ve had my fill of D.C., but that’s where the target is. Back home, I finished helping my daughter with her homework and began prepping a body for D.C. I had a special idea in mind for him. It wasn’t a body, or a robot double of my armor. An eight-foot tall hunk of bulletproof metal plate and rocket boosters. Then I realized the weight was too much to get there quickly and I cannibalized it for parts for a better infiltrator.
It flew into Washington D.C. And boy were its arms tired. I’m kidding. I’ve supplemented my rocketry with fixed-wing, long-distance drones. Can’t exactly pick those up at Wal-Mart.
I’m probably the first person to say this, but C-Span was vital to my success. There he was, Big Turtle giving a speech with a bunch of bullshit. People die, and he has empty words about helping while bills about helping people through the pandemic pile up on his desk. A lot of regular folks are stepping up. Big Turtle isn’t abandoning his duty; that would be mere cowardice. He’s actively pushing back. If I’m the Scourge of God to punish mankind for its failures, the people pushing back against the cops in the streets are the mankind I’m supposed to be fighting for. And this guy, with his ridiculous looks and cutesy nickname, is dragging down the rest of humanity. It’s a noble way to frame murder, but it’s still murder.
But so is what he does when he complains about the House not addressing the Senate bill to curb childhood obesity by legalizing the theft of candy from children. Just a big of insult to injury after hearings for a judge who believes gay people don’t have the right to chew gum in public.
The drone passed low over the Capital Building, then looped up and headed right down on that dome. My infiltrator dropped out and held onto the tail of the thing but let go so the drone could put some distance between it and the infiltrator before smashing into the done and exploding. The dome crumbled inward, flame blooming upward. The infiltrator, a robotic body in a trenchcoat, passed through. I fired a hand off, arcing through the air on the end of a cable to grip a portion of the roof that could still hold some weight. The infiltrator rappelled to a safe stop on the floor of the Senate, right in front of Big Turtle himself, and pulled its hand back to itself to adjust the trenchcoat around it.
C-Span just got a titload more interesting.
“Big Turtle, your angel of death awaits,” the infiltrator said.
From the corners of the room came Capital Police, sidearms in hand. Big sidearms. Big Turtle went from trying to stand to ducking for cover. The police fired. The infiltrator split apart into a trio of four-limbed spider-bots, abandoning its coat. One wrapped around Big Turtle’s torso while the other two fired their grappling fists. One of the cops one went with a broken nose. The other fist gripped part of the wall as the bot jumped, tripping a bunch of them. It retracted the fist and launched itself back, joining the other two at Big Turtle. The three reassembled enough to stand him back up, then began to shift into a different configuration. The cables wrapped around him tight and the rocket boosters shifted to the bottoms and sides. Stabilizing fins poked out.
“Help me, goddammit!” Big Turtle yelled before one of the hands, now free of its cable, crawled down his face to clamp over his mouth.
“No more words. Nothing you can say will ever hurt anyone, ever again,” the infiltrator announced.
“Whoever’s paying you for this, I’ll pay more!” he pleaded.
“Money isn’t everything,” I said before launching. We flew into the air, inertia dragging his jowls down while we took flight. Support boosters flew in and joined up to the infiltrator, causing the old bastard to quake from the acceleration.
He was saying something, I realized. “Nothing you can do will ever undo what I’ve done to this country. You can kill me, but you can’t kill my legacy.” He laughed, that hollow, monotonous laugh of his, the same one he used when he talked about blocking progressive judges. “And they’ll crucify you, because I didn’t use robots and missiles!”
“Yeah, it’s a shame nobody else did until now, too,” I responded, laughing as the heat started scorching him. “What’s the matter, Big Turtle? No shell to hide in? Ahahahahaha!”
Sadly, he’d have never been kept alive long enough for me to toss him into the sun. The bigger robot couldn’t have even done that, though it would have gotten him into space. Too heavy, though. The more weight in the rocket, the more fuel you need, and then even more fuel to carry that fuel. I guess I should be glad. I was trained to kill first, gloat later. As unlikely as it might be, I can see a bunch of misguided or outright-evil shitkickers deciding they’d open a wormhole or hop in a spacecraft to save this flying fuckhead.
I think he was dead before we reached the end of the atmosphere. He got there for sure before too much longer. He was one crispy frozen turtle even without air to breathe. All that was left was adjusting the trajectory so he’d be headed toward the sun and then cut the feed.
And look at that, Sgt. Slam gave me a call. I knew he would. This wasn’t the most subtle way to go about solving their problems. Not when I could have made Big Turtle look like a hypocrite with a drug overdose or something like that. But then, the people who don’t care about the concentration camps don’t care about hypocrisy either.
“You had this planned all along?” he asked.
“Yep,” I responded. “Nice and simple, no reason to bring a whole team into this mess.”
“Murko’s going ballistic,” he said. “He thinks you should have murdered him at a brothel or something.”
“Important white men dying at brothels leads to imprisoned sex workers. It’s going to take a lot more work to clean things up, work by better people than me. But at least I can clear the way. Accountability, right?”
“Don’t say that too loudly. I think Murko wants to go accountable on your ass. See you around, Gecko.”
“See you around, Slam.”
Now to catch up on how those mutant crayfish are doing that I unleashed in Belgium.
After the deaths of ICE’s top guy for the city and DIE’s CDC mole, it seemed like we just about had everything wrapped up in Atlanta. ICE is paralyzed with certain succession and personnel issues. The second highest-ranking officer is in charge, but he’s undertaking some unit disciplining and transfers. Someone just walked in and murdered his predecessor, after all. Can’t keep those guards around.
As a result of those issues, the crackdown on the protests failed and Atlanta’s city officials are working out their own governance. ICE even moved out of city hall to settle on a more defensible position on the edge of the city. Newburgh and Murko are doing what they can to scrub things here. Rendered me pretty unnecessary, especially when I could be shipping off a spare body to Kentucky for a finishing touch to the whole mess.
Which made the perfect moment for them to try one last thing to screw us all over. Newburgh gave us the first hints to it. “It looks like ICE is pulling out. They’re leaving a token force behind, made up of the agents who were stationed at city hall when it was infiltrated.” The rest of us were sitting around eating. We’d been living out of the tour bus. It got a bit stinky at times, but
“Think we should do one last drive by as we leave and moon them?” Gates asked. He was fixing a little door on the top front of the tour bus that hid a grenade launcher behind it. Don’t worry. We were in the parking lot of this old Big Lots and nobody was paying attention to us there.
Slam finished his hotdog up and was reaching for the chips. “Let them retreat. We won.”
And we would have. I was trying to find somewhere nearby with crates big enough for my body and armors. It’d be easier, maybe even quicker, than taking the bus and sharing a shitter with the rest of the team. I was just about to put a down payment on a luxury coffin when Gates called out, “Holy shit, what’s that?”
I looked up, then dove for my armor. It had been a bright projectile flying through the sky. It wasn’t a bird, a plane, or a super man; I’d say it more closely resembled a missile. It wasn’t headed our way, but it didn’t need to be. Plenty of warheads go off once they’re in close enough proximity. From the bang behind me, it sounded like this one did. The fact I heard a bang meant it wasn’t a nuke. I still finished suiting up, realizing I was throwing on the Eminence armor. Once I had shoved my face into the helmet, I watched the cloud scattering over the edge of town.
Slam pointed to Newburgh, “Find out what the hell just happened. This may be none of our business, but I want us prepared to render aid.”
Newburgh had a tiny laptop out. “Nothing yet.”
Slam turned to me. “Gecko, can you scout with your drones?”
I raised a hand and summoned one of my remaining drones to me, then up into the air. It rose higher while I projected a simplified hologram of what it saw. Newburgh walked over, checking it over. “That’s the old fire station the ICE remnants are at, right there.” He pointed to a building right in the middle of the affected area. “Get closer.”
It took a few minutes. In the meantime, we heard the beginning of hell breaking loose. It sounded like plasma fire from ICE rifles, explosions even. The drone got close enough to see ICE agents going crazy. They emptied out into the neighborhoods around the fire station, shooting. One of them got hit by a car that turned a corner. The driver got out to check on the agent he hit, who jumped up and started beating the crap out of the driver with his fists. Started biting him. Another ICE agent ran up on that one and tore off the biter’s helmet, exposing the bring pink skin of the biter’s bald head. The biter turned to him, but the other agent just pointed to his own head, then to the biter’s victim. Then, the second agent rushed at someone else nearby who had approached with a phone. I think he had been trying to offer aid. Instead, he turned into another meal.
The drone’s feed cut. Might have been shot. These things were almost pink brutes, but without growing giant, and with guns. Probably some of that regeneration, too.
“Gecko,” Slam said. I launched myself into the air toward the site of the massacre starting up. It took a few jumps, Slam getting onto comms before the last one. “If that cloud is the brute virus, this is going to be bad.”
“It doesn’t seem widespread yet,” I noted. I watched further down the street as a car sped my way. An ICE agent held onto the back of it, smashing at the rear window. I waved my hands toward me and ran for the car, hoping the driver saw the clear message to keep coming. I ran and jumped into a flying dropkick that carried me over the windshield and the roof of the car into the body of the ICE agent. He fell free and we rolled along the road, slowly coming to a stop as the car sped onward out of the area.
The Icer rose, pulling a knife with his left hand. The right forearm dangled in a way forearms aren’t meant to dangle. His head shook and he began to growl, his mouth gnashing and flinging spittle. “Who the fuck are you?” he asked. He didn’t wait for an answer, lunging for my neck with the knife. He hit harder than a normal person, but so do I. I blocked it. He dropped the knife toward his other arm. I caught it instead, grabbed his head, and swiped with the knife, taking his head off. I kept a close eye on the body. Pink or not, the body stopped wiggling after a few seconds. “The name’s Eminence, because I rule.”
I called into Slam and the rest. “Not the same size as the others, but increased strength and aggression. Pink skin. Not a lot more I can tell you off this guy. I pulled up a quick look at a still of when I’d crossed over the windshield and sent it along to Newburgh while I looked at it myself. “At least someone in the area doesn’t seem affected.”
Slam responded, “Gates, Murko, and I are on the way in the spare.”
I jumped one last time, landing near a half dozen Icers firing into a corner store. I trucked the nearest one, knocking him and the next two in line down. The others all turned their plasma rifles on me. I dove to the side and left a holographic duplicate standing in my place. The shots went right through her. My fists went through two of their chests, from behind. I pulled their hearts out on the way back. The one in the middle rolled forward and came up, rifle trained on me then snatched out of his hands by my nanomachine cape. The cape then came down, a vertical sheet that bisected him. Around this time, two others I’d knocked down were starting to stand up. I grabbed one’s head and twisted it around like half an Exorcist. The other one, my nanites put a solid hole through his chest and popped his lungs out onto the sidewalk.
I was surprised by cheers. People inside the corner store had managed to hold out against the onslaught and they were clapping happily. None of them looked pink. One of them pointed, and my HUD showed the guy whose head I’d rotated pulled it back around. So, I guess that means they have some regeneration abilities. I spun around and gave him an uppercut that knocked his head off. That earned me a pause in the applause, for a second. Then I was back to being their hero. It’s hard to be happy at the death of someone who just tried to kill you.
I waved at my adoring fans, then set off around the fire station. “Slam, just saw a crowd of people who were unaffected. So far, the only pinks I’m seeing are ICE agents.” I stopped, and turned toward the fire station, jumping onto its roof. “If we do this piecemeal, it’ll take forever. I’ll try and draw them to me.”
I switched to loudspeaker mode. “Hey ICE taintwads! I’m here and I killed your friends!” I ducked a shot. Then another. I couldn’t guarantee all the agents were after me, but only because I stopped counting after the first dozen ran my way.
Just for laughs, I swiped with my left hand at one of the shots. Agh! Yeah, that hurt. Instant 4th degree burns, my guess is. The gauntlet didn’t melt, but that didn’t matter. Still fucking… gah. The nanites immediately set to work while I busied myself avoiding anymore bursts of hot plasma. I could have done that in a remarkable display of agility, cybernetics, power armor engineering, and audacity. Instead, I left a holographic doppelganger to dodge while I lounged on the roof of the fire station, letting my hand heal. Crispy. I swear I could smell the burnt meat.
Some of the local supers showed up around the time my guys did, and that complicated matters. I was just going to paralyze the whole bunch, which would be risky enough. If I kept it quiet enough, the pile near me would be the only ones affected. But then these supers show up and start drawing off some of the crowd. And with a big crowd of them having climbed or jumped to the roof of the fire station, I had superseding priorities.
I jumped up and pivoted, bending low. My nanite cape was as an atom-thick blade. Though they weren’t all the same height, the entire crowd encircling my projection ended up considerably shorter. More kept coming, some of them realizing the projection wasn’t real. A grenade landed where the projection stood. I kicked it off the roof, where it sounded like it exploded some climbers. Someone fired his pistol and gut shot me, having figured out I had to be there to kick it. Yay, the sound and incredible feeling of fried intestines. I think something popped in there, too. Yep, that’s some internal damage. Lots of internal damage.
I flopped myself to the side to avoid more shots, which were plentiful. But I made one small change. I sent the nanites out to flow up toward the projection jumped at the trio of remaining Icers trying to ice me. They shot at it, then decided to advance past it once they realized they were just shooting through. The nanites flowed up and formed a hollow body for it then, giving it substance when it turned around and clawed off the first one’s head. The second one barely had time to notice that when the fake-me tore his arms off and kicked him off the roof. The last one fired, but the shots fried a few nanites. The rest formed a horn on the projection’s head for when it headbutted the man. It held its head against his long enough for the nanites to expand, popping the man’s head and dropping him to the roof. The projection disappeared as I recalled the nanites.
“You alright?” Slam asked from up top.
“Yeah, just need to heal a bit. Took some plasma to the gut. Took out all the ones on the roof. How’re y’all?” I asked. I was just laying there, focusing on healing. A hand was one very painful fucking thing. My guts felt like I’d been in a Carolina Reaper chili eating contest.
“We got them. You going to make it?” Slam asked.
“Unfortunately for you and the world, yes,” I said.
And, as revealed by the CDC guys, who were still pretty clueless about all the politics involved, the world wasn’t at risk of turning out the same way. They clued Sgt. Slam in on the fact that these ICE agents were prepped beforehand to change. “This was their penance to ICE,” he told us, including me. I’d been taking it easy after the gutshot. It was healed by the night of the fight, but I still had weird feelings from it.
“This isn’t going to end until we take out ICE’s political support, and the Strode documents tell us exactly who needs to go for that to happen,” Dr. Monroe said. He held up a half-burnt piece of paper. “Codename ‘Big Turtle’ aka Senator McConnell of Kentucky.”
At last, time to turn this KY into jelly. I don’t know if it’ll really take down ICE, but it’ll make me happy to eliminate Big Turtle. And in the end, isn’t that the entire point of this?