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.
We were still in Atlanta when the full moon hit. I’d already called Reindeer’s costume to me and contemplated taking a rest. I could have concentrated my consciousness to another body to monitor things or do other things, but I just didn’t feel like it. So I said goodbye to the crew, headed off on my own with Reindeer’s costume and gadgets, and waited for the full moon to catch my eye. As usual, my awareness ended before I realized it. Everything that follows is based on the cameras and other sensors on Reindeer’s costume.
She spent a little bit appreciating the night. The South is cooling down a little, and she seemed excited to look up at that big, yellow moon, then suited up to in her costume to go for a run. She was in the middle of Atlanta, though, so it wasn’t the sort of place used to seeing a critter with antlers gallop through. She moved like she was so naturally light, almost like flying. Before long, the needs of those poor, unfortunate souls called to her. A car crashed ahead of her at an intersection and Reindeer made right for it. The guy inside is going to be fine.
It was a quieter night. There were protests, but the cops were finally slacking off. Most of what she dealt with for about an hour was more mundane. She snatched someone up out of the road before they got hit by an inattentive driver. She found some blankets for a homeless guy and his pals who were sleeping under an overpass. She even helped find someone’s lost cat.
Then, shortly after handing it back over, a pale green star of light shimmered in the air down the road, then opened up to reveal a single headlight. The motorcycle that approached did so with the growl of a hungry beast, and the rider appeared to be holding a spear. I recognized the horn design on the helmet when Herne The Hunter got close, skidding to a stop. He didn’t even flip open the helmet to address me. “You’re outside your normal playground, Reindeer.”
“You got a problem with it, Herne?” Reindeer asked.
“I’m thinking I need a new trophy.. A special one, like antlers from a female reindeer that’s managed to keep them an entire year. Those would be special and rare. Know where I can find some like that?” the biker supervillain asked.
Reindeer gave him the “shove it” gesture. “That direction, keep going until you hit permafrost.”
“Funny. I bet my friend there thinks the same thing,” Herne said, pointing behind Reindeer. The other me turned to look behind her, then turned back toward a small bang that preceded her being wrapped in a weighted net. I’m not mad, Reindeer, I’m disappointed!
My heroic alter ego tried to toss it off but it caught in her horns. She tried to tear it open, but it was reinforced. She tried to jump over the spear when Herne rode at her on his bike, and she accomplished that one. The landing looked off a bit with the net caught all on her.
Herne skidded the bike to a stop and wheeled it around for another pass, taking the time to to move the netgun from the hand guiding the cycle to magnetically clip onto the bike’s body. Reindeer raised the arms of her costume and the sonic weapons, giving Herne a full blast. It knocked the hunter off, but Herne raised a hand as if to call for mercy. Instead, a pair of hounds made of light appeared and rushed toward Reindeer.
Reindeer jumped, using the assistance of the other sonic devices affixed to her legs, and landed on top of a nearby building. Figured she’d get the net off herself in peace, a notion that lasted only until the lighthounds started up the wall of the building after her. Reindeer took off, jumping from building to building, sometimes helping herself along with soundwaves. The hounds couldn’t keep up, or maybe they have some sort of range.
The net had gotten on her good, but it was still just a net. With a little bit of time to actually thing about it, she tossed it off and began contemplating her next move. I know because she narrated to me, “I haven’t heard from you, Gecko, so I guess you took the night off. I’d like to work with you, if you’re up to it. Trying to decide if I need to sneak around and get the drop on this guy, or leave him alone. I think he’s only here for me, so he probably won’t target anyone else. If he’s anything like you, he might get the idea to start hurting people until I turn around and show up. I think that means I have to go back. Good talk.”
She turned and headed back, circling around somewhat in case Herne was following straight behind her. She caught a glimpse of moving lights through some trees in the yards of a residential neighborhood and stopped to look around. After a couple of seconds, she dropped down to ground level and tried to stick to grass. She tried to stay close to a tree, but with the branches and then a swing, she had to take a bit of a detour around it. At least she had the advantage of sound to warn her if Herne was on his motorcycle. She turned the corner around the house and saw one of the lighthounds. The other didn’t seem to be there. She looked around, then saw the garbage and recycling bins.
She ran up on the hound. It detected her somehow, I don’t fucking know if those things can hear, and turned. It latched onto her arm while she swung the bin down behind it, lid open. It then lost its hold on her arm when she kicked it full-on in the chest into the bin and slammed the top closed. With a snort, she turned and swung the bin, smacking the second hound into the side of the house. “Sorry!” she called out, voices inside raising as people wondered at the ruckus.
Reindeer turned to glimpse a single headlight and hear an unusual roar and bolted. She stuck close to obstacles while she could; keeping trees in the way, staying on grass, leaping fences. Herne’s ride wasn’t a dirtbike, so it slowed him down a little to navigate these. He could head out onto the streets, but his hounds had been left behind and he must not have reloaded the net launcher. Surprisingly, Reindeer to the streets again briefly. She jumped, shooting up like a bullet over Herne’s tossed spear. She landed on a highway overpass and barely avoided getting squashed by a garbage truck.
Watching her running down the median of this highway made me tired afterward. The werereindeer has amazing stamina. Pretty good speed for someone on foot. But only she was on foot. It wasn’t ten minutes later a single headlight raced up the highway behind her, and the only obstacles Herne needed to avoid this time were cars going fifty miles an hour. Seemingly worse for Reindeer, she stopped and turned to face it, her breathing calming down.
Herne had his spear riding on his back, but his hands weren’t focused solely on driving. He did something, then reached back. He pulled out a pair of irregular rifles. Oh, wait, one of those is a grenade launcher. Reindeer spotted it first with her superior vision. That’s what gave her enough of a heads-up to jump the median when she saw something. Unfortunately, the cameras gave me an eye- and earful of a huge flashbang going off that probably did a lot more to her than it would a regular person. She stumbled around a bit, regaining her sense of direction within seconds and running out into the other half of the highway literally blind and deaf to the danger. Luckily, enough drivers had seen what had happened that people slowed down rather than risk hitting her. It sounded like some might have even been yelling at Herne, but I couldn’t get a good enough listen.
Something else lashed out at her from direction of Herne. A bola as near as I could make out, it wrapped around Reindeer’s legs. The hero faltered and tripped, but I think she’d had just about enough by then. This time, she tore through rope and cable like a male model through any shirt that might hide his abs. Herne launched another flashbang, but this time Reindeer got an assist from a semi. It slowed down and rolled right beside her, the driver popping his door open as he passed by. It hit and caught Reindeer at first before the effects of the second flashbang let her see someone has risked his livelihood to help her out. She climbed the open door to the top of the cab, calling down, “Sorry!” while stepping on the roof.
Herne jumped the concrete barriers of the median and started heading right for her, spear in hand this time. He came up next to a tow truck and struck, hitting something that forced the rear of the bed down to skid against the road. The truck and Herne both braked, Herne going up on his front wheel to slow down.
Reindeer started adjusting the output on her sonic gauntlets. Herne circled around, dodging a car that honked its way through the lane he’d been in, and gunned it as the truck neared the semi. Reindeer fired and cussed when she saw it wasn’t going to cut the motorcycle’s jump short. It knocked Herne off, though. Reindeer quickly lowered her arms and dug in, moving to the side as she grabbed the hand grips of the bike. She spun and jumped off the semi, whirling motorcycle in hand, bearing down on the villain who was still skidding on the road. Herne saw it and reached behind him for his spear, bending.
The spearhead punched through. Reindeer juked to avoid it. She also pulled hard on the bike, tearing off the seat and the whole steering column. Meanwhile, Herne tried pulling the spear back through but barbed edges of the head caught on the bike. Seeing an opening, Reindeer gripped the motorcycle and strained, tearing the remains in half. Herne caught her in the side of her chest with the spear, but she grabbed onto it and swung, tossing him and the weapon off the highway and down below.
The suit had a small first aid and trauma kit in the belt. Reindeer raised a thumb to hitch a ride and caught onto a truck that honked at her, swinging up onto the bed without it ever stopping. There, she tended her wounds, the hunter unable to follow if he was even willing at this point.
Two messages waited for me when I awoke back at the motel. One was from Reindeer reiterating that she wants me to transfer to something to help her out next time. The other was on VillaiNet’s forums and caught my attention because Herne was calling out Reindeer. “This isn’t over, Reindeer. In one month, it’s open season on you. I will have those antlers!!!!”
As happy as I was to get back from my little space adventure, it seemed like the various aliens involved were more happy to see me gone. I tried to ask for some extra time in space, but Tarkington, Fort, and Dreiser weren’t having any of it. They were under orders to bring me back before my absence caused any more problems. And to obtain an autograph from me. Someone in the Blank ranks recognized me from that space opera I helped with where me really fighting people was accidentally included in the recording.
At least I got to have one last goodbye to all my comrades in arms. We were going to distribute out from the Xlevon ship, using their transit records to help direct the delivery ships and Blank vessels. Since my Blanks really wanted me to leave fairly soon, I got to address most of the remaining prisoners. “In the words of two great Earth philosophers… be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.” Then I pressed my handprint into a tablet-like device that said it was applying the handprint to the corner of a holographic still. Ng
I think Tarkington liked it. Dreiser didn’t. “They’re going to have weird ideas about Earth if any of them make it there.”
“I hope it’s a long journey,” I said, taking a seat.
“Scared of your fellows?” Dreiser asked.
“Some of them were afraid of me, but no. I meant I hope it takes awhile to get back. It’s about time for the full moon back home, and I’d rather miss it if possible.”
“Why?” asked Fort.
“You ever heard of werewolves?” I asked.
He got excited. “You’re a werewolf?”
“Not exactly,” I said.
“I don’t want a werewolf on the ship when the moon appears,” Tarkington said. “Sorry.”
“It’s more when I see the moon, not a specific time of the month. We could have had an issue before now if anyone had shown me a moon, I think.”
“A moon like this?” asked Dreiser. I cut my armor’s visual feed. I especially didn’t need to change while in my armor.
“I don’t want a werewolf on my ship, Dreiser,” Tarkington repeated. “You let our course drift.”
“Minneapolis isn’t that far from Radium,” Dreiser responded.
I stood up to try and find my way over for a swift kick.
“Whoops, emergency executive transport pod activated,” Dreiser said.
I fell, then landed in something. Restoring my visual feed showed I was on the inside of a padded sphere. I felt a dropping sensation for a second, until a hum surrounded me and it felt like normal, non-falling Earth gravity. I heard a voice from the top point of the sphere. “I apologize, Gecko. You will touch down in Minneapolis. I have to reprimand my pilot, and the moon is still out. The pod is programmed to avoid obstacles and slow your descent to the surface, but it appears your trajectory’s taking you near a lot of humans who might be respond to you falling out of the sky.”
I was unprepared for the pod deciding to let me see out all of a sudden. The voice announced, “Reconnaissance mode active,” and then there was the city and night sky. I got a full view of the moon and told my armor to release before I sent my consciousness back to the main homebody.
I did, of course, check in on my daughter in her room as soon as I got back. “Mom, you’re back!” she said, jumping up. I noticed she’d been snacking in here. And as I hugged her, I noticed a lot of snacking. All over the place. I had still been making meals and getting her off to school, but I’d been neglecting her while I was away and she used that time to smuggle snacks into her room and set them aside in places I couldn’t see from the doorway.
“Yeah, my body just landed in Minneapolis, but Reindeer’s got it now,” I explained. “It’ll be good to get a vacation from that vacation we took.”
“It’s good knowing the evil aliens didn’t get to keep you,” my daughter said.
“Yeah… sorry they ruined our vacation. You wouldn’t have liked the trip. The food on their ship tasted nasty. And the guys who abducted me, I think they expected all of us to fight and eat each other, because they didn’t leave food where they kept us. I accidentally ate something that made me super high. All of the other prisoners were from planets like ours that don’t go out into space much, and they were talking to each other thanks to a monster with lots of tentacles that can talk directly to people’s minds.”
“Did you rescue any alien princesses?” she asked.
“I consider myself the alien princess, sweetie,” I said. “And I sorta rescued myself there when I got another body and my power armor in there. They thought they killed me. Oh, but this one alien ended up dying while helping me. Don’t even know what its species was. It was a green blob.”
I told her about it while I gave that body something other than a nutrient IV drip for sustenance, but we were interrupted a couple minutes into it by a call from an unknown number. I don’t like to answer those generally, but I was expecting a call.
“It’s Reindeer,” my main body said now that it was transformed into a weredeer. “Can you come bring me clothes? Or you could even stop by if you want.”
“I’ll get the clothes to you, but after that bit last time, I don’t think I’m the partner you’re looking for on that stuff.”
“Fair enough,” said the heroic version of myself. “Throw in something for medical, if you can.”
This was a Firecat body, so I grabbed up Qiang and fetched Reindeer’s costume from the basement lair. Outside, I tossed her into the air, changed into big cat form, and jumped up to catch her on my back before racing off toward my store. I could remote active some things to get the rockets in the back ready for deployment. I kept first aid kits in stock nowadays, along with bottles of Riccan Bottled Nanite Water and a gas mask fit for a deer’s muzzle. Still had to manually load them. The time I lost in doing things myself was made up for by how fast the rocket blasted off into high atmosphere and homed in on where Reindeer’s call came from.
I loaded up a spare rocket with more medical supplies if they needed it and kept it on standby, but Qiang and I went home again. I wanted to actually relax in my own residence while watching what was going on. She wanted to watch, too, but I told her we’d have to wait until her bedroom was clean. We got a good bit of it, but she rushed like most kids, so I’m thinking I’ll ask the nanomachines to comb through everything when she’s off at school.
Reindeer was with a crowd of protesters. I hadn’t been keeping much track except to know there’d been violence and there were way more protests than the news was covering. I’m still pretty sure the protesters didn’t need to be seen with a supervillain watching their backs, but people liked Reindeer. The rocket slowed its approach as well and deployed a parachute so the stuff inside wouldn’t be ruined. Reindeer passed out a few of the medical kits and waters before someone shoved the costume in her face. A few protesters formed a ring around her to cover her up while she changed out of a borrowed hoodie and makeshift skirt into her costume.
“You with me?” she asked one of the cameras.
The phone of someone nearby played a brief clip of a character from a TV show saying, “That’s a Texas-sized 10-4, big shoots.”
“See if you can’t help us out with some of these cops,” she said. I expanded my mind, directing some of this feed to the TV so my daughter could watch. They had a pretty big force of police in front of them, with some white supremacist paramilitaries flanking the protesters. Cops were wrapping around, trying to surround the protest, but it was too large at the moment. They’d need to stop them. I broke into the channel they were using to coordinate the flankers to the north and indicated that they’d need to head further north with the protest having moved off in that direction.
I noticed an issue at the rear of the group. SUVs and vans were riding up and people were snatching isolated protesters into them. Sure would be a shame if something in the vehicles’ computers messed up and their engines died on them before they could get away, huh? And look at that, electronic locks. The guys holding them had weapons, but they were also vastly outnumbered by the protesters looking to de-arrest their fellows.
While I ran electronic interference, Reindeer was walking near the head of the group. They put here there, not as a figurehead but as a blocker. Didn’t make any difference to the cops who they gassed, apparently, but people who saw photos or watched footage would see a hero getting attacked by militarized, trigger-happy goons.
The paramilitaries didn’t hesitate either, and that was a lot more clear of a distinction. Hero versus people with Confederate Naval Jacks and Nazi Swastika patches beside the authoritarian “Back The Blue” flag. They were getting in people’s faces and I could tell Reindeer was having some of the same control issues I was. She really wanted to punch these assholes. I wanted to fuck with their cellphones and make them explode. Both of us knew if we did that, a situation that might become violent would become violent. I kept the idea in my pocket, but went ahead and planted some fun little worms in their phones to track and siphon off data. Might be a rash of mysterious deaths in the next few days.
The tension didn’t quite drain away, not even when someone ordered the cops to withdraw despite the orders from on high telling them to stay there. That left the way clear for the march, and it left the white supremacists all alone with a much larger crowd of protesters. The paramilitaries took one look at the numbers difference and the retreating cops, and decided they didn’t want any part of a crowd that beat a militarized, million-dollar force using cardboard shields and leafblowers. They ran scared, their silly Hawaiian shirts flapping away.
A cheer went up, and Reindeer spoke into one of the cameras. “You’re pretty good at this. Tell me you got names and addresses.” She turned and looked into a phone nearby where someone was filming everything that was interrupted out of nowhere by an arena full of people chanting along with a wrestler, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The surprise to me came the next day when I checked the news and found out Reindeer wasn’t the only superhero who stepped up and started blocking for protesters. There was even a big deal where one had stepped in and captured a would-be mass shooter in Wisconsin who murdered someone and tried to kill more. This weaksauce president we have currently after all the fighting and political maneuvering may be a traitorous son of a bitch, but he cared enough about which way the wind was blowing to pretend he did something. Then the protesters paraded his goons from the vans in front of news cameras and he announced he’d be withdrawing federal agents from protests.
Ah Earth. Those “civilized” aliens out there may look down on us, but I think I’ll take those assholes in the streets over the ones who never go further than expressing concern any day.
Yacht. Weird word. Probably some Scandinavian origin if I bothered to look it up. Like maybe a Viking wanted a new name for his really big boat. That, or someone’s pet camel spit near one and they thought the sound would make a good name. Words are funny like that. Like how the disease malaria is named after “bad air” because that’s what they thought spread it. And speaking of disease, the presence of it played something of a role in my follow-up pursuit of Howard Kuill.
The guy thinks he’s hot shit, but he’s really more of a steaming pile. And nothing showed that off more than his attempt to escape the plague-ridden United States, and any chance at accountability. Law enforcement swarmed over the Kuill offices and a few even found the Morlock Pit. Slemmer’s been taken into custody and they’re also looking at him for insider trading over the short-selling. Kuill fled on his yacht, though. Even if they caught him, he’d probably face less time than Slemmer, even. Killing people isn’t much of a crime once you hit a certain tax bracket. But play around with the stock market like Slemmer did and they’ll come down on you like an Incredible Hulk.
The laws fail a lot of people and let a lot of the worst go. Definitely not a status quo I’m fond of. But death is the great equalizer, and it seems the world still needs a Psychopomp to guide some souls to the afterlife.
It took some doing to find the yacht. He’d departed California, but there weren’t really any safe harbors to the west of him. I figured he’d either enter Mexican waters or Canadian, and the States’ more adversarial relationship to Mexico had those folks better prepared to catch Americans trying to jump the border. Canada’s been side-eyeing the U.S. as well, but there’s not the same history there of border shenanigans that would prompt Canada to be on the lookout the same way. I think some of these Americans even tried to overthrow a Latin American country within the last year using mercenaries.
But enough politics. It’s bound to come up when pursuing a fugitive across national borders, but in this case, the Canadians were ready enough. Seems a bunch of old Canadian retirees got upset at all the Americans floating over to gas up on Native lands in Canada despite travel restrictions. They’ve been keeping a close eye on folks crossing over into Canadian waters. I kept my ears open when the old people called in a sighting of Kuill’s yacht, The Sound Of Money.
I knew I’d need my water wings for this one. Sure, Batman gets a fucking batboat or a batplane or a batsub or a pool batnoodle. If he was Jewish, I bet he’d have had a bat mitzvah. But I have no furry-themed transportation. Even Black Sunshine, my tricked-out car, is sitting off in lock-up somewhere, and I’d probably have to reread everything to figure out what happened to my Minstrel Cycle.
So I needed transport, and the last yacht I stole ended up inside a building. But don’t worry, that was planned and is in no way indicative of poor boating skills.
I have the skill, but what I lacked was time. I had to get up there in a hurry and catch the fleeing douchenozzle, not to be mistaken for a Flying Dutchman. So I had to shoot my ass up to Canada in a rocket and go looking for a boat there on the west coast. People saw me walking around with a couple big bag of supplies hopping into a boat that wasn’t mine and the worst I got was some guy standing around, squinting, asking me, “How’re ya now?”
“Eh,” I waggled a hand. The size of those bags I was carrying should have been an indication something was up, but he didn’t mention it.
He was just leaning against a pole that went down through the dock to function as a support, smoking a cigarette. Checkered shirt and jeans, so not security. “Not so bad, ‘n you?”
“So this is some sort of routine question where my answer didn’t matter, eh?” I asked the guy. I started checking this thing out. Making sure it had some fuel, mainly.
“Would it matter if I told you you could rent a boat or borrow a boat or ask someone for a boat? No, but you didn’t do that, did you?” God, this guy stood so stiff.
Seemed to have fuel and otherwise be ready to go“Just trying to take care of a little business. Get rid of a guy bothering y’all from south of the border.”
“Ah. Degens from down-country,” the strange man commented. “If you wanted help, you should have asked.”
“I don’t need help,” I told him. “Just a boat to get to Kuill.”
He stopped leaning on the pole in one sudden motion. “Spare keys are under the driver’s seat. Please bring it back. Other than that, try to have fun.” He flicked the cigarette off into the water, which struck me as a bit callous toward the environment for a guy who just politely let me steal a boat, whatever.
I could have done a lot of this by drone and all, but I wanted to be personally present and I wanted to be sure I got the guy. I blow up his boat from afar, maybe I got him, or maybe he was off the side of the thing swimming with card sharks. Maybe he took a seaplane somewhere else. Those things strike me as an excellent way to get around border problems and airports, and I wanted to be prepared for the possibility of me being wrong. That meant being there in-person.
I saw a few sailors in short shorts carrying guns, but they dropped their guard when they saw I was a pretty woman in a swimsuit small enough to get me arrested for indecent exposure in most places. I waved at them all happily and leaned on my flawless acting abilities. By which I mean I took a swig of a bottle of gin and yelled out, “Oh my god, I’m here to see Howie!”
They actually helped me onto the boat, pretend-stumbling. Took my bags, tied up the boat, put a hand on my ass. Ok, the last one wasn’t helpful, but I let it go because it showed they bought the lie. I put an alternate reality mark on that guy, to remember him down for later. “Oh, thank you, thank you! Where’s Howie at?”
“He’s off the boat. You can wait for him over here,” one AK-toting sailor said, leading me away into this big-ass boat. I settled in near one of the bars that was part of this lounge where various other beautiful women were dancing around. I must have spent an hour dancing around white-girl drunk. If not for the fact that my notions of smug, righteous superiority is so tied to being better than the people I’m killing, I was tempted to kidnap a few of these hotties for myself. I’m surprised I didn’t slip for real; I had to be dripping.
Finally, Howard Kuill’s helicopter arrived to save me from having a slit slip. I saw the guy himself, stepping down in a white suit, throwing his long, wavy dyed hair around. Lucky me, he gave me a good 30 minutes before moonrise to get my shit together. That meant making sure my bag was nearby and adjusting the DJ’s playlist. I don’t care what anyone says, I am allowed to keep my flair for the dramatic.
The real test of skill was walking close enough to that helicopter to sabotage it without getting noticed. And as we established, I had some dental floss up my asscrack at the time. Took so long, I almost didn’t make it back in time for the howl at the four second mark of the song I made sure to put on signaling just before moonrise.
I had enough time to bounce on over to the dance floor and, smiling at the thought of what they were about to witness, get ready for the Thriller dance, but set to Scandroid’s cover with the robo-zombies and robotic werewolf.
It was nowhere near midnight, and this time the evil thing was lurking in plain daylight. But then I collapsed, drawing a shitload of attention to me. My brain was there, but my consciousness was off in a bag somewhere. I burst out of it and found myself looking at some confused sailors, neither of which were armed. I held a finger to my Spooklight costume’s mask and shushed them, then grabbed the other bag.
I opened the door and found myself face to face with the grabby guy, who hesitated to raise his rifle. I grabbed it and pulled, yanking him forward by the strap around his torso. He walked right into the knee to the groin. Then I grabbed his throat, tossed him up against the ceiling, and slid underneath him so that when he landed, it was with my knuckles digging into his sack. I took the gun off him and tossed that overboard for safe keeping, then hurried out to the deck where people were gathered around my convulsing body.
I saw an arm shoot up out of the huddle, growing brown fur. The people began to scatter then, with a handful of rifle-toting sailors running up to get a better look. I swung the back, knocking one of them to the side. Another two got a dropkick that sent them skittering. Of the other two, one focused on me, while the other aimed at Reindeer, who began to stand up. I tossed a light orb that guy’s way, shredding his gun in a small explosion. The guy above me opened fire, giving this body a lot of bruises through the bulletproof fabric of the costume.
In case I haven’t emphasized it lately: bulletproof doesn’t mean padded. And while I hadn’t built these bodies entirely up to the standards of the one Reindeer used to throw my assailant overboard, the ones that prove stable enough to keep around get some upgrades. Reindeer helped me up. “Got your bell rung, huh?”
“HUH?!” I asked at the time, because I’d gotten my bell rung and had a gun go off several times point blank in front of my face. Reindeer took the bag off from me, then pointed me toward the group of sailors recovering and forming themselves up into a firing squad. The easier not to shoot too a lot of valuables or guests. That’s why I went ahead and blew the floor out from under them with a light orb. Some flew back, but a couple fell into the hole as they scrambled to get away. I saw someone start up the helicopter, the rotor blades speeding up and then slowing down as the cockpit began to belch smoke.
I started into the ship to try and find out guy Howie, since I realized I’d lost track of him. There were still other boats he could take to escape. Instead, I got that Mr. Grabby coming at me with a big buck knife. “What the fuck is he paying you?” I asked while trying to avoid a blade to the throat.
“Don’t touch my balls!” he yelled, raising the knife overhand.
“Shouldn’t have touched my ass,” I told him, dropping to my back and driving a foot hard between his legs. The knife clattered to the floor. “Lesson learned?” I asked
In a high-pitched voice, he said, “They’re inside me now.”
I patted him on the head. “Yes, the real nuts were inside you all along.” Then I bounced his head off the floor to knock him out and rolled out of the way as Reindeer charged into the yacht looking for Kuill as well.
“You check the boats, I’ll check the armory!”
Well, at least we had the same idea. Out at the boats, I didn’t see any sign of Kuill and his wavy locks. Some people were pushing off in boats of their own, and there were the lifeboats from all over the deck. They weren’t the target. In fact, from the explosions I heard, jumped forward to raise a fist toward one boater who was trying to push off with just himself in a boat. “Good time to carpool, don’t you think?” I think he ended up enjoying the position I put him in when some of those dance floor hotties rushed him looking for a ride. I gave him a thumbs-up as he shoved off, which he returned.
Satisfied Kuill wasn’t getting away this way and knowing that explosions usually mean something of significance is happening, I decided to head back the way I came. Some parts of decks were missing or crumpling, so I had to hop down and hop up a few places until I found myself in the open part of a lower deck than the lounge, where Reindeer was locked up with Kuill in a bulky suit of power armor. He had giant speakers fixed on the shoulders and arms of his outfit, blasting Reindeer with soundwaves. Behind her, I saw people knocked off deck. I sighed and ran over to toss out some of those float rings, then backflipped and sent a light orb Kuill’s way. He released his grip on Reindeer to use one hand to blast the orb, detonating it in midair. Reindeer used that to reach in and tear something off his suit that caused the arms to fall limp at his side. She ripped him out of that suit and threw him to the deck. .
Howard looked up at us. “What? What is this? Who are you? I have money if you want money.”
“Justice, like lightning,” Reindeer said. “Ever should appear.” She turned her back on him and looked to me. “Finish it?”
I nodded and stepped forward. “To few men’s ruin, but all men’s fear.”
Reindeer knew what I did. Maybe my better half isn’t that much better. Or maybe sometimes better means some folks need killing.
“You saved us a boat, right?” she asked once I dropped Kuill’s corpse. “I’m not a flying reindeer.”
“Yeah. Might as well try to get the boat back to that weirdo at the dock.”
She put an arm around my shoulder. “I’m proud of you. Mostly nobody died. And you didn’t even have to steal a boat. We could make a good tag team.”
“Don’t push it, hero,” I told her.
“Wish you didn’t have to kill him,” she said, speaking somberly for a moment. “I catch a bank robber or a mugger, we know there’s a system. Maybe too flawed of a system for how it treats people. But that guy wouldn’t face a second in jail, so instead he gets oblivion.”
“The life of a hero’s hard,” I told Reindeer. “Come to the dark side. We have donuts. Some of them have sprinkles.”
That cheered her up a little.
My target: General Lulios, the prime asshole. The guy who started me on this path in life, as I’ve done nothing but blather about for the past month. That confrontation in Nunuvat was the last time Medusa and I spoke in all this and I got more detail about the situation when she dropped him off. I assume he’ll have protection.
I really should speak to Medusa again. No, I shouldn’t. She’s the one who kept going when I said not to. And she’s the one who didn’t seem to understand the importance of justice for what that bastard did to me. I want to speak with her again because she means something to me and because I’m in desperate need of a companion to pour my heart out too. But damn, I should have dated a friend instead of an enemy.
Max is still a friend, we’re just not like that. Even if… nah, still a friend. “I’m thankful you saved me, and I value our friendship,” he told me when I started planning the invasion of an alternate Earth, “But I can’t join you in this.”
I stopped and looked up at him. Sam and Holly flanked him and looked just as certain in the decision as he did. I sighed and got to a stopping point before responding. “Fine. Can’t force you. I hope we can still work together going forward.”
He shrugged. “You could just hang sometime. I’m still your friend, but this is a suicide mission.”
“Don’t know what you mean. It’s me, after all. Not the first time I’ve taken on the world.”
Sam decided to join in, “Technically it’s two worlds who oppose you killing this dude.”
“I can’t let him get away with what he did just because people like him now. It’s not right for folks to dismiss all the bad shit he did.”
Holly surprised me next. “But then you’d have to justify a need to punish yourself for all the bad things you did that weren’t his fault, and it almost comes across like this is an elaborate suicide-by-cop like you used to want.”
Max stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder to draw my attention back up and toward him. My gaze had drifted down as I pondered Holly’s words, not tried to hide from them and any inconvenient tinge of truth in them. “You don’t have to do this. We can help. You can do more of the therapy you quit or take the medication you stopped.”
I turned back to my work. “Y’all might want to get out of here before I finish this D-Bomb and zip on over there.”
They left, looking all sad at the thought that I wasn’t giving up on this vendetta. The gall, bringing up my mental problems. They should know my brain is ok now. I have a computer in there, a psychic superhero did stuff to it, and then aliens played around with it. My brain is perfectly fine! And so what if I die? They think it’s a matter of suicide. I buried hatchets and ended feuds because my daughter was worth living for. This vengeance is worth dying for. The world would still martyr him, but he would be dead. He belongs to the dead. Every future of everyone he had tortured and murdered in his sick Psychopomp program, every “what if” that could have been, they all cry out for a reckoning.
I am the Psychopomp. I am his final reckoning.
And by my reckoning, they have way too big a shitload of firepower at the portal to the other Earth for my liking. My drone shouldn’t have gotten through in the first place. Maybe they still could. Maybe I’m being overly paranoid. Maybe I’m a lot of things. Maybe I’m suicidal and crazy and alone without a community and friends after a lifetime of being the monster to everybody around me. I can’t fix it. No one can fix it, not without time travel. All that’s left is revenge.
Nobody left to miss me but Qiang and Max. And after that little bit earlier, why skimp on the brutal honesty? They’d get over it.
So, back at the house, I told Qiang I had something real important to do and I might be late getting back to Firecat for supper. I took her down to the basement for a laydown. Just before I pulled back, I heard Medusa calling a greeting. She called me while I was checking things over. Operating so closely out of two bodies was going to be hard enough. I didn’t need to forget stuff, too. Not a lot to forget though. It’s Li and my main body in its armor in a Psycho Flyer, with a big o’ bomb in the transport hold that’ll tear a hole in reality. I didn’t have time to bring Firecat, and the other body I put together died from where I left it. Whoops. At least it didn’t have a consciousness in it, but it just goes to show the importance of feeding and watering your spare bodies. Remember that down, kiddos.
And after all that, I get a call from her. I didn’t pick up, so I get a text. “Please, let’s talk.” I’d sooner celebrate that day’s Independence Day.
I was going to do the mean thing and tell her we could talk if I survived, but it was time to be professional again. Professionalism: be polite, be efficient, have a plan to kill everyone you meet. I blocked her, closed and sealed the Psycho Flyer, activated stealth mode, and detonated the Dimension Bomb.
Every damn time I do one of these with just myself, it tosses me through the Universe Divide into my original universe and this time was no different. And it always dumps me at the site of my original exit from the world, which my would-be victims at first turned into a memorial of my cruelty and victims. Upon my return and their realization I’m not dead, they fortified it. Then it became the site of the permanent portal connection these two universes. Meaning even though I bypassed the defenses on one side of this, I still appeared only a little off the ground in an area full of sensors and guns meant to keep me out.
Alarms went off immediately upon reappearing in reality. I gunned the Flyer and dropped chaff, then almost immediately had to bank upward to escape the wall around the area portal zone. I felt impacts and the panel showed damaged armor plating falling off from where something got me before I got clear of the wall. After that, I was free and clear. They didn’t seem to have so many guns and cannons pointed outward, and stealth mode seemed to protect me so long as I stayed low enough.
I parked on a hill overlooking the nearby city to reach out and see what I could see. Not literally; the morning light was as unwelcome to my cybernetic eyes as it had always been. I went digital.
The news was abuzz with recent revelations. The Justice Rangers had kidnapped General Lulios to use as bait to kill Psycho Gecko. Hey, I’ve heard of that person. And while many of the people seemed outraged, others sided with the Rangers all the more after Lulios told them why. He actually told them about Psychopomp. About kidnapping me and other kids to torture and abuse into the government’s expendable and deniable pet killers. About how the bigotry of he and his fellow soldiers caused the project to degenerate into sadism. He even told them about the scientists trying to break some of us out and dying when we were all caught. He was currently locked in public stockade in the middle of a memorial park to fallen Justice Rangers. That would mean Justice Ranger guards, but they’re mainly there to keep him in.
It was late afternoon when I snuck the Flyer in close and dropped out of there with my main body. I recalled some of the clothing I used to wear and my holographic illusion made me appear to be no different than another person there to look at the great general brought low. Most people maintained a good distance, but nobody minded when I stepped up closer to Lulios. “Why’d you come clean?”
“It was the right thing to do. I truly wish to make amends for what I did to Gecko and my responsibility for everyone he terrorized since,” he said. He coughed. Dude’s head was dirty, with some dried plant matter and seeds in his hair.
Be efficient. That’s what I was supposed to do. Move in and kill, then worry about talking. It was a great plan, and seeing him overrode it. I stepped closer to the stockade. A blackguard stepped up to put a hand on my shoulder. I grabbed him by the arm and threw him into his comrade on the other side of the stocks. Then I took hold of the metal stock and pulled, my armor amplifying the force applied by my muscles. After a long moment of strain, something let out a wiry snap and the stock opened. Lulios tried to stand up but fell on his ass while I approached, dropping the illusion and letting them all see my armor.
“You had to know this was coming,” I told him. Behind me, most of the gathered crowd decided it was a good day for a run in any direction but toward me.
Except one young woman. She started toward us until Lulios raised a hand and yelled, “Stay back!” He lowered his voice as he looked up at my helmet. “It doesn’t make it any less scary.”
“Any last words?” I asked. Behind me, the two blackguards had gotten to their feet. One called in backup while the other advanced on me from behind with a rifle aimed squarely at my head. I snapped my armor’s tail, knocking the rifle free, then wrapped it around his waist and threw him at the other man. They both crashed into an old statue nearby of the first yellow ranger. The woman from before was still there and pulled out a stunrod. Think baton that electrocutes someone.
“Please don’t harm my daughter,” Lulios said, nodding toward that woman.
I cocked my head to the side. “You really think I’d do that? That I’d take out my vengeance both on you and your child? What do you think I am, some kind of monster?” He almost looked relieved before I added, “Well I am, thanks to you.”
I was about to put my fist through his chest when I felt weird. Tingly. I looked around for what was causing my hair to rise on end and saw a moon in the afternoon sky. A full moon. I thought that was supposed to be for the 5th, but…
Quickly, hoping this would work, I jumped into the Li body in the Flyer. It’s still basically transmitted from my brain, but I was able to fall asleep in on ebody and keep going in another, so maybe whatever freaky neuroscience was going on would save me from the transformation. I opened the door to the Flyer to see my main body cry out in pain and pull itself free of my armor. Lulios backed away, his daughter rushing to his side to help him escape. They jumped at the sight of antlers spurting out of my head and my face elongating.
I jumped down in Li and raced for the group. If I’d just been efficient, this wouldn’t be a cluster in the fuckening. The pair got a little ways away from my transforming body before I caught up to them in the other one. I pounced… and stopped in midair before swinging around in a circle a few times and getting thrown down a grassy aisle between rows of statues. I gouged divots in the grass where I dug claws in to stop myself and snapped my jaws at Reindeer standing between me and my targets.
“Play 911 by Lady Gaga,” Reindeer said. My armor, laying mostly in one piece, began to blast it out. Reindeer launched herself toward me, then dug her heels in and skid while grabbing a statue of some beetle-armored person off its pedestal and throwing it at me. I ducked under it and wrapped my tail around it, swing it down low. I hopped up and released, throwing it right back. Even if Reindeer dodged it, Lulios wouldn’t have.
Reindeer jumped up over the statue and kicked down, knocking it into the dirt. It rolled, but stopped short of Lulios and his daughter.
“How’d I know we’d end up fighting?” I asked Reindeer.
“We don’t have to, but I’m you and you hate yourself still. Look, justice is being done. Lulios’s crimes are public. He was in a stockade. You won.”
“Not until he has his final punishment,” I growled at Reindeer.
“You can’t live in a world without mercy and forgiveness,” Reindeer said. “I know you don’t care for your own sake, but the reason you hate me and him and yourself is because you think a person can’t change and move past their earlier mistakes, because you don’t think you deserve that.”
As fun as it was to talk to myself, and it wasn’t, I scampered forward and swiped at Reindeer’s calves. She backed up, lifting her legs high, then caught my tail when it came around to pop her in the face. She landed and used my tail to swing me overhead, smacking me into a marble fresco depicting some Queen of Magic person. I grabbed onto it and dug in, then used my tail to fling Reindeer into the air. I activated the natural camoflouge of this form and rolled back, bringing my tail’s point up to impale Reindeer. I remembered at the last minute who Reindeer was, though, and instead batted her to the side, cracking a depiction of a little robot with an oversized head.
Reindeeer jumped to her hooves quickly enough, but was coughing thanks to the impact and some dust from pulverized stone. It gave me enough of an opening to remember why I was there. Reindeer had me seeing red, when I should be making someone see black.
“Do you want your daughter to grow up knowing if she wrongs you once, you’ll kill her?!” Reindeer called.
That stopped me from advancing on Lulios. I whirled on the weredeer that takes over my body once a month. “How dare you?”
“I’m you, you fuckbrain,” Reindeer said. “I’ve always been you, just the side that finally tried to do what we always wanted. You have a shot at a new identity and a new life, everything you claim to want, if only you can find a way. He took that away from you, but you don’t have to be the monster he made anymore. You are responsible for your own actions now, and nobody deserves to live in a world where one mistake means death. That’s not what we want for our child.”
I was silently brooding on all this, awash in emotions. Many of them involved anger. “I’m scared,” I told myself.
Reindeer approached, wrapping her arms around me. “I know. We’ll find a way to do the right thing. You’re smart and you’re strong. For all that she’s messed up, Medusa was right that you’re a person worth forgiveness and love. If you want it, and I know you do. All you’ve ever wanted was to be the good gal.” Her voice raised as she called out to Lulios, “I’m not going to be the creature you saw when you justified killing my parents and abducting me. I’m not your child soldier anymore, you husk of an old man!”
Reindeer kept her arm around me as she gathered up my armor. More blackguards were approaching, but so was the current Ranger team. “Stop!”
“The fight’s over… we’ll leave in peace,” Reindeer said.
“Get on the ground!” called the same Blue Ranger I’d beaten back on my Earth.
“Well, if you’re going to be dipshits about this, we’ll just leave!” Reindeer called out. We both jumped for it. They fired at us, but the only blast that got close, I intercepted with my tail before it got Reindeer. With Reindeer leaping and me climbing straight up the side, we managed our way up the building I’d landed on and scrambled into the Psycho Flyer.
“I wish you’d been less suicidal when you came here,” she said. “Would have been nice to have another bomb to get us back.”
“Looks like we’re taking this right up the portal’s poop shoot, then” I said. “Hey, you’re not going to insist I have to forgive Medusa next, are you?”
“I’m lost on that, too. I’m you, remember? She lost our trust and we’ll have to figure out what’s up going forward, but we weren’t going to kill her over it at least,” she said. “We both tried to hop into the pilot’s seat for a moment, causing a chuckle and me swapping into the co-pilot’s chair while Reindeer zipped off for the portal “I think they know we’re here and where we’re going, so let’s speed this up, shall we?” Reindeer said.
I used hands and tail to man battlestations “All tails on deck. We’re a little short on countermeasures from getting here.”
One of the first signs of resistance we encountered was a pair of missiles that blasted apart easily when shot. But the wreckage didn’t fall. Instead, little robots flew out of the wreckage. Some latched on as we passed through and began to cut and dig their way into the metal. One got onto the cockpit windshield, so I activated a different countermeasure. The windshield wipers slid out. The robot tried to duel with one, but it moved back and the one behind it swept its feet. Then the one it tried to fight knocked it around a bit before the robot dropped off the Flyer. Others were taking down more armor plates and putting enough dents in the adaptive skin and projectors to expose us in patches. I unstrapped and ran to the back, tying a cable around my waist and opening the rear hatch.
I swung out and around, grabbing for a handhold on the side of the Flyer. It was not fun, but I had some divots premade by those robots. One with the misfortune to be near where I grabbed one got sent off. I stabbed another with my tail. Really liking this thing. A hell of a learning curve, but humanity made a mistake when it got rid of this appendage. Another of the robots tried hopping onto me and bringing its sawblade down on the armor over my spine. I twisted one arm completely around and flicked it off. Ball joints. Another thing humans got wrong when evolving.
I spent the entire rest of the flight to the portal zone on the outside, trying not to get blown off while destroying saboteur bots. I didn’t end up having time to clamber back in, and Reindeer had to mostly shut the rear entry. “Hold on tight!” she called out through the external comms and took us right for the portal we shouldn’t have been trying with that big of a vehicle. We crashed through the awning, ions and all sorts of energy projectiles sizzling through the air. One popped me right in the chest, destroying one of my hearts. Good thing I had a spare. Except in all the crashing through the awning, we had shit flying everywhere. The Flyer was just sliding through the portal when a hunk of jagged metal jammed down and-
I want to start off by saying I had to end the vacation early for Qiang. I know, I hate staying separate from her, but I don’t actually want to bring her into a violent confrontation. That she can handle herself doesn’t mean I want her to. Still, she had some fun while we were up at that hotel. She missed the snow, but not the guys with knives.
I sold a pretty good amount for the folks back home battling for their lives against a tyrannical police state. I mean, they could have had ME in charge instead, but, ya know. Shit happens. I’m not bitter. Who said I was bitter? Not me, that’s for sure. A bit angry at the hotel. I had to fight with them to comp me a new room, and they still stuck a charge on there for cleaning the old one. Never shopping there again, 2 stars, might rob later.
Mr. Chester and I had a talk in the new room once I got him stabilized enough. I didn’t give him his arms back. He lost arm privileges when he tried to kill me. It also made it a lot easier to keep him captive, because then I only had to tie his shoelaces together. And he told me all about his colleagues who hunt African big game for profit. They supplement it with running safaris for people who don’t like a lot of rules and regulations on their hunts. So while my daughter’s vacation ended, mine didn’t. Once I’d sold everything and paid that insolent hotel’s charges, I stopped back home to drop her off and change outfits. Also, I stuffed Mr. Chester into a costume mermaid tail and threw him in a pool with some piranhas I borrowed.
The beginning of my exciting safari began in the Ivory Coast. Right out of the Abidjan airport, I was tempted to grab a phenotype for myself. I had plenty of nanites in me again, because they make such a lovely weapon and because I had limited space to bring any syringes. I also didn’t want to bring my armor for reasons that would become apparent later. Abidjan was a pretty good looking city, something I could see easily from my room in an entirely different hotel. One that, I hope, doesn’t mind covering the cost of cleaning dead bodies. My plan didn’t rely on that, but you never know when that service is going to be helpful. Even the piranhas leave some bones behind.
The downside to this lovely place was speaking French again. My least favorite of the Romantic languages, because Italian and Spanish don’t require an extra level of translation so I know which letters are silent and which aren’t. On the plus side, my accent sounding so much like that of the American South means I can actually skate by on ignorance. As far as they know, I’m a rich, white American. Had to pay more than I’d like for a bigass rifle and pistol to complete the look, but having those shipped in ASAP drew what I hoped was the right kind of attention if people check on me. I Private jet or not, they still checked over someone coming from a hotbed of disease like the United States.
That established some public record of my arrival, including my willingness to bribe people to try and bribe officials to get through quicker. They didn’t take me up on it. Smart man.
They set up a preliminary meeting that turned into a Zoom call. Normally, this sort of thing would involve a private meet-up, like at some restaurant or cafe. But better safe than sorry. They have enough reason to worry about me.
The man on the other end of the call looked back at me from behind sunglasses. “How did you get our number?”
I smiled. “I met a man while doing business in the Eastern bloc. He introduced himself to me as Mr. Chester. When I expressed admiration for his products and line of work, he suggested I contact you.”
“Payment up front required. Will that be an issue?”
I fanned myself with a stack of hundred dollar bills. “Pardon me, it’s just so much more warm here than I was expecting. As you can see, I came prepared.”
He was probably rolling his eyes behind those glasses at such a transparent way to show off my money. “We will be in contact.”
They got back to me the next morning, in fact. They sent a car for me, which blindfolded me while they checked over my weapon and a pack that had been much lightened from when I first arrived. I overheard a couple of amused remarks at the steak knife I’d brought with me, but I wanted to use it. The rocket I brought now stood on the roof of the hotel. And I didn’t need a phone with me for it to hone in on. From there, I was brought outside Abidjan, where they met me with a truck. Including what seemed like the same guy, though it gets more difficult to tell without seeing the eyes. “Our newest guest arrives. Meet Ms. Grey.”
Like the blindfold moments before, my eyebrow rose. “I never gave you my name.”
The man nodded. “As we prefer. To us, you are Grey.” He motioned to another car pulling up. A pair of men were let out of it, with hair so slick a match might have started an oil fire on their heads. And where I brought along camo designed specifically for the sort of brush and scrub you might find elephants in, they wore desert camo. Though, I suppose knowing the proper way to kill those cute wittle critters isn’t something to be as proud of this time. And, of course, we all had the rifles. Our hosts were packing AK-74s, with a machinegun laying in the bed of the truck next to a metal stand.
We made such a group of sporting hunters. But until the animals get guns, too, the idea of “sport” is just a hollow set of rules meant to pretend at nobility. Even animals like these types hunt, wouldn’t last long against the sort of weapons humanity could bring to bear if it was so openly hostile to them. Speaking of which, I checked my gear over again. “Where’s my knife?” I heard a laugh behind me.
“This will not help you,” said one guard, waving that silly knife around before tossing it away. In addition to the guy with the sunglasses, four more guards came with us. Sunglasses and a guard drive, stuffing us hunters in the backseat and the other three in the bed.
A couple hours later, we stopped and headed out. One of our hosts stayed behind with the truck and the gun, though I had to stop and tie my shoes. Really, I needed a way to puncture through a tire just the right amount. It would have been easier with the knife, which was my only one. I have my fingernails, but none of them were long enough to do the trick as well as I’d hoped. I had to resort to very carefully burning holes in a couple of tires with my eye lasers.
I made the absolute worst of hunters. I fell behind once and caught up just as the other two hunters were aiming at a lioness that was out hunting. “Hey guys! Wow, look at her.”
The lioness looked up at that, then ran off. One of the guys tried a shot, followed by the guards with us opening fire. The big cat had enough of a headstart. I couldn’t say the same with the next one, when one of the guys popped a shot off as soon as he saw the thing. He shoved his gun into my hands, saying “Make yourself useful and hold this,” with a New York accent before running toward it to take a photo. Nearly cost him when another lioness jumped out of where she was hiding in the brush. Unfortunately, the guards tore it up with theirs. At least the distraction kept anyone from noticing me plug the barrel of his gun.
He found that out the next time he went to shoot and it blew back at him, smashing into one of his eyes while the metal of the barrel blew open so close to where the round had loaded in.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck me, goddamn, I can’t fucking see, fucking medic!” the guy cried. His friend came to rush to his side, but one of the guards pushed that fellow into the dirt. I handed him back his rifle, too, while our hosts checked over the injured sportsman.
The one who looked him over turned to us. “This hunt is over. I can not help him here. We must go back.”
At that rate, we could have made it back before night, if we didn’t come out of the trail through the bushes to find the guard we’d left behind was arguing into a burner phone. He looked up, then told the person on the other end, “They are here now. You tell them why you will do nothing!”
“What is going on?” asked the head of our guards, the man with the sunglasses.
“The tires went flat. Clean through. I have not seen this before,” he explained.
The head of our expedition looked them over real quick, then took the phone away from the one who had been using it. “Come as soon as possible. We will be out in the night because of the time you have wasted.” Once he hung up, he turned to the rest of us. “It will be fine. We will patch your wound as much as able and wait here. We will send you back on the truck. Until then, we do not go far from this clearing. It is dangerous out here at night, even with a full moon.”
Oh, did I not mention that part? I feel it was more important information for them than it was for me. Why should I alone have all the fun?
Just as dark was falling, I wandered off on my own, calling out, “Going to beat the piss out of myself!” I heard chuckles behind me, and, shortly after that, the sounds of someone else following in the brush. The timing was delicate on this, so I went ahead and activated the rocket in town, which would fire off to my location. I looked up at the full moon and-
I don’t have a clear idea what happened between then and Reindeer pulling the costume out of the rocket’s capsule. The cameras showed her fur covered in blood and some gore hanging off her antlers. She snorted. “This isn’t how I wanted to work together, but it’s a start,” she said to the camera, then ran off. When she got a good distance away, she started to pull on the costume. “They were coming to investigate the noise. A hunting party? Good start.”
Reindeer ducked before I heard the shot, then began running, circling around, the person after her going full auto. She aimed and fired with the sonic gauntlets of her costume, creating an opening and pushing the guard onto his ass. She jumped, firing to keep him pinned down until she landed with her antlers in his gut. She whipped her head around to get him good and poked, slinging his rifle off to the side, then tossed him loose overhead. Another shot took a chunk of horn off. She bolted for cover under the bright round moon.
Reindeer hopped into the night sky to spy on what was going on. Everyone left alive was retreating to the truck. A burst from the machinegun in the back of the truck winged Reindeer. They spun her around, but it looked like they didn’t penetrate. Spun her around pretty good. She landed hard on her left arm and leg. She had to have trouble breathing, but crawled to her hooves to get away anyway before the firestorm started. The whole group concentrated their fire where she landed.
She stopped to take a breath and check herself. That’s when she found the detonator. She pulled it out, extended the antenna, and pressed a button. Back at the truck, my gun and pack blew up. She jumped into the middle of the clearing, which had gotten much more clear since the bombs went off. I tried to count it all up from memory… sunglasses guy, truck guard, the two hunters, and two other guards. She got two of the guards as far as I could tell from the automatic rifles as opposed to what the hunters brought. One of the hunters was blinded before all this happened, too. The tipped the truck over, and roughly half of machinegun guy was resting by his gun. The other half, if I followed the trail of blood correctly, was somewhere under the truck bed.
The other hunter was coughing and screaming. Reindeer brought her hoof down in an axe kick, then stomped his head in.
“All of this was a sabotage!” said sunglasses man. Reindeer turned. He had the sunglasses off now, showing off heavy scars around his eyes. His gun looked trashed, but he held a machete.
“No, this was a hunt,” Reindeer said. If I was her, I’d have been smirking when I added, “Did you enjoy the animals having a sporting chance?”
The last man standing charged, an enraged yell escaping his lips. Reindeer focused her sonic gauntlets at his legs and fired. His knees snapped backward and the yells turned more pained than enraged. Reindeer joined in until he stopped. “Did we get it all out of our systems?”
He threw the machete, which Reindeer went to deflect with her antlers. Instead, cut most of her right antler straight off. She grabbed him by the leg and threw him way up in the air. She looked up, keeping track, and rolled a couple of seconds later. She came up hooves up, the force tearing the man’s head and a little bit of his spine off.
Then, finally having a good rest, she checked on that machete. “I’m going to want to see this when I change back.”
Really didn’t like her talking about me as if she’s me. Movement at the edge of the clearing caught her attention. It was the blinded hunter. He’d survived everything so far, and was now crawling off, blind. “I should finish him off quickly,” Reindeer said. The man might have heard from the loud whimper I could make out after that.
But then the second truck showed up with a trio of guys. The last coherent words for a few minutes were French for “Mother of god, what is that?!”
Much of it after that is rather boring. It was a long drive back to Abidjan and my room. I woke up in the shower, Reindeer’s costume drying off nearby. I reached up to where I felt a phantom pain where Reindeer lost most of an antler, and a note that I considered way more chilling than anything Reindeer did to the poachers. “Don’t be afraid to let me in.”
With crime way down on account of the pandemic, I figured I wouldn’t have as much to worry about from Reindeer. My weredeer alter ego was due to come out on the 7th, but most of the country nearby remains closed. That means fewer murders and robberies. Sure, the Exemplars and Cape Diem are doing their best to use nanites to clear the virus up, but a lot of people have it in their head that some sort of Illuminati group is going to stick microchips in them using a vaccine, to control their mind. I guess it makes more sense in a world where I have held the world hostage using nanomachines that let me control people’s bodies. The whole incident really set the world back as far as benefiting from nanotechnology.
And in this case, it means the world’s experiencing a slowdown in crime. Hard to burgle a house when the victims are present. And the only thing you have to do to scare off a mugger is cough menacingly in their direction. I figured Reindeer might frolic around the house or whatever deer do. Maybe go on a boring patrol where nothing happens. That didn’t stop the teasing from Medusa from annoying me. “Ready for your monthly visitor?” she asked while I laid out the Reindeer costume. I just grumbled to myself as I checked the batteries that powered the sonic wristbands and the sound-based jump-assisting bands on the legs of the red, green, and chrome costume.
I wish she realized how insecure I am about Reindeer. It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but what if the world preferred Hyde? Would they have worked against Jekyll to find a way to put the doctor asleep permanently in favor of Hyde? Now there’s a theme for my life, wondering how much I have to die to become the better person people want. No wonder I preferred suicide-by-superhero as a concept.
I don’t know how much Reindeer shares my thoughts. But at least she still wears the cameras. I positioned one to get a view of my body when the full moon shone bright. The change looked painful, with bones warping and snapping. Fur spouted in clumps and filled in between that. My face wrenched forward and at one point my mouth opened to show my teeth pulling up into my skull and new teeth coming down make me a proper herbivore. I’m glad my mind doesn’t seem to be present for it.
Where I collapsed, the superhero known as Reindeer stood up and changed into her costume. She even played nice for me and put on her cameras I’d set there so I could keep track of her and what she did. I quickly found out some idea how much of my knowledge she shares when she went straight to where I hid my Psycho Flyer. She took it up in the air and set off for Detroit, spending a good deal of the flight programming in coloring on the camo skin of the Flyer so it looked all bright and cheerful.
She stopped at one point when it became clear that even though the zombies were gone, the braindead still roamed the Earth. A number of trucks had blocked off some key roads, trapping an ambulance. Big trucks, with bumper sticks that involved fishing or a comic book character peeing on things. They were led by a bright orange car with a swastika painted on the top of its hood. I guess that’d be the General Rommel. They had signs, and slogans written on their windows, talking about doctors are now all Hitler. One had that written on a sign.
But they weren’t moving for this ambulance, and there were some people in medical scrubs along the sidewalk yelling at them. From the signs those folks had, I think they were counter protesters. Well, when one of them decided to walk out in the crosswalk in front of the unmoving vehicles that were still refusing to let an ambulance through, that’s when the General Rommel drove forward a short distance. It bumped the person just a little bit. But the counter-protester smacked their hands down on the hood, so the orange car started coming forward, slowly, pushing the counter-protester.
Reindeer was out of trapdoor in a flash. She landed on the hood, denting it and causing the airbags to deploy. She punched her way through the windshield to reach in and shut off the car, then tossed the keys away. The driver stumbled out. “That was my mom’s car, you subhuman bitch!” So that’s when she tossed the driver away. And pushed the car up onto its side so it leaned on one of the others holding up traffic. She went down the line like that, clearing a path. Some of the protesters realized what was happening, then realized they couldn’t get out of the way because some assholes around them had clogged up the streets with traffic. Whoops.
So the ambulance got out of there and no one of consequence was harmed. Guess I can’t give Reindeer too much shit. Some heroes might have tried to claim some nonsense about free speech and so on. And when a bunch of the drivers crowded around Reindeer. “You can’t do this!” said the one who was driving the orange car. “We have freedom of speech! You can’t attack us like this!”
Reindeer pointed to the counter-protester that guy hit with his car. “Yeah?”
“That’s different, that terrorist attacked my car!” I found Reindeer and I had more in common when she punched the asshole for saying that. Instead of killing him like I would have, she zip-tied him and dropped him off, roughly, in front of the nearest police station with a USB containing a copy of the footage showing what he’d done.
I looked into that after I watched it. They released the guy. No arrests.
With that in mind, I was ready for the next disappointing bit of do-gooding that solves nothing permanent and saw that Reindeer’s patrol was mostly quiet. Things calmed down for awhile until just after midnight, when she heard a report of a disturbance along the police bands. Since it was a boring night and she didn’t realize the futility of aiding a status quo that appears neutral but is secretly built to favor white supremacy, she stopped by. Just to see if they needed a hand.
Turned out they weren’t doing anything. Just standing around, watching as burly guys grabbed everything they could out of a building. A different man ran out and tried to grab a vase out of their hands, but a couple of them helped push him off, knocking him down and dropping the vase. A family joined the man, helping him up and pulling him into a sad, crying hug. The son ran over to glare at the cops and point to the men cleaning out their home, but the cops just shrugged. One raised a thumb to another man overseeing the big guy.
Reindeer landed next to the cops and asked in an icy voice, “What’s going on?”
The cops turned to her. “It’s an eviction. We’re not allowed to assist, but it’s within the owner’s legal right.”
“That’s right!” said the overseer. He walked up to Reindeer with a piece of paper in hand. Reindeer’s much better at reading in low-light conditions than most people, so she could make out the wording of the eviction. She grabbed it from him and tore it up.
Then she headed for the building. One of the movers tossed a set of wooden shelves out the door that broke apart on the walkway in front of her. She stepped over it and pointed to him. “Put everything back.”
“Don’t listen to her!” called the landlord over Reindeer’s shoulder. My cameras showed him turning to the cops. “She can’t do this.”
“This is just a job for me lady,” the mover said. “I’m not hurting anybody.”
By the cops, the family they were throwing out on the streets during a pandemic continued to huddle together tearfully.
She heard or maybe even smelled another guy approaching who tried to wrap his arms around her. She stomped on his foot hard enough to crack a couple bones, then kicked him in the gut to send him sprawling. Another mover rushed out of the house with another vase, swinging the decoration at Reindeer’s head. She grabbed it from him and kneed him in the groin, then did a cartwheel that saw her set the vase on the ground, kick that guy in the face, and land on her feet behind the vase and away from the person who now clutched at their bleeding nose from the ground. The one she’d been talking to had grabbed a crowbar and came at her. She dove over the vase with a dropkick that knocked the wind out of him and put him on the ground sucking desperately for air.
Even I could hear the cops talking with the landlord. “I guess we should arrest her, that’s battery…” they didn’t sound eager, probably taking into account the three guys she just beat up.
“Gentlemen, if I may,” said a new voice, from someone who stepped out of the shadows.
This guy wore a teal outfit, broken up by yellow-outlined crenelations, like a castle. That is, they looked like the top of a chess Rook, with yellow lines on the outside, and blue coloring it in. That showed up on his thighs, biceps, and chest, except the one on his chest also had a yellow roaring lion head design there. Same one he had on this pointed kite shield he had, over a foursome of teal and blue squares. He wore a domino mask and had long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, so I had a lot to work with when I started up a possible search of his identity upon seeing all this.
“That animal is disturbing a lawful and, until she arrived, peaceful eviction.”
“This ‘animal’ is the one trying to stop you throwing a family out on the streets now, of all times,” Reindeer said.
The new person approached, raising his hands to the sky. “We don’t have to fight here. You’re a hero. I’m a hero, too. But this man has a legal right to the use of his property.”
“Unless you’re going to fight me for the right to throw them out, shut up,” Reindeer said.
He put up his dukes. “I don’t want to.”
I wish Reindeer had a phone to snap a photo of him with the crying family. I’d have left the flash on so I could suckerpunch him while blinded. Instead, she walked past him, giving him the finger. He looked disappointed at first. “Get out of here unless you’re going to throw the first punch or fuck with their stuff.”
She walked over the family. “Come on, let’s get your stuff back in. What wasn’t destroyed.”
“Beat her up!” the landlord said, running up to the would-be hero. He shook the landlord off. And when the family passed by, giving him a look, he slunk off back to wherever he came from. At least the gathering neighbors let him pass with a little bit of derision. When the landlord saw the crowd, he skedaddled out of there without looking after his movers. At least the ambulance who arrived looked after them and got them out of there past the jeers of the neighbors.
After getting the family and their surviving stuff inside, Reindeer addressed the crowd. “I can’t be here all the time, but the power is yours. You can be there for each other, if you show up. If you take that power. United.”
I guess she didn’t have a proper ending for the little speech, so she jumped up into the waiting Flyer. At least that story got a good ending. The landlord hasn’t been back. Apparently, he’s having trouble hiring reliable help to go in and evict people.
With everything on lockdown, a lot of crime has outright stopped. A lot more has continued, just in a new way. Humans are nothing if not innovative criminals. I think it has to do with having a bigger, more connected population of social animals. One guy tries something a certain way, messes up, and gets caught. The next guy learns from his mistake, tries something else. Maybe he gets caught, too. It works the other way around, too. People think up new ways to not be victims. Sometimes. And sometimes, I turn into a weredeer superhero.
Ugh. A superhero. I live in fear of an animal hidden deep inside me that comes out once every full moon to terrorize any of my villain friends it comes across. Oh, right, I don’t have but like one friend in the entire villain community, and his two henchwomen. Last time, I stuck a camera on Reindeer so I could keep track of what happened. My altruistic alter ego informed me that she’s not going to stop her heroics, but she wanted a costume. Well, I made her one.
“Nice,” Reindeer said. That hero’s not me. That’s the only way that can explain her love of the padded red and green costume with the shiny chrome accents. “Like silver, but not,” she commented on the chrome zippers and other metal pieces. She pumped a fist and gave a “Yes!” when she noticed the opening for her tail to slip out of the bottoms. There were also a couple of cameras hidden in the lapel to help me keep track of her. She waved at one of them before slipping the outfit on.
She put it on, then examined the wristbands I’d made. I shouldn’t have made them, but seeing her jump around gave me an idea for helping her movement around an urban environment. Then, I went off on a brainstorming tangent about this whole thing. As a result, the wristbands formed a small hill of metal with the side pointing away from the body ending in small concave divots. Dishes, actually. On the underside of the gloves were a pair of switches. The innermost buttons activated the wristbands and the direction-focused sonic weaponry within. The target would hear them and get a nasty headache along with disorientation. Someone next to them wouldn’t feel a thing.
The outermost buttons activated anklebands, if they can even be called that. Hooves are toenails. The divots down there are wider. When activated, those devices generate a sonic push with enough strength to help Reindeer jump even further than her superstrength would normally allow. It’d probably be a good idea if she used them on her landings. The whole setup was powered by a trio of batteries on the back and sides of her belt. The belt buckle flips down to show how much juice she’s got left. When she flipped it down the first time to turn on the system, a note I’d left her fell out. “Do try to bring it back in one piece, 007.”
The fact that I’m making jokes and extra weapons doesn’t mean I approve. That goes double for when she took off for my store and stole my Psycho Flyer I keep hidden in the backyard. “I’m just borrowing it,” she said to the camera built into the lapel of the costume. “If you got me a vehicle of my own, I wouldn’t need it.” She snorted. “How about a sleigh?”
I hate her. She set off for a nightly excursion, heading over to Detroit and disguising the Psycho Flyer. She retained enough of my own knowledge to handle the Flyer. I was going to joke about if she ever learned to fuck as good as me, but then I wondered what happens if she decides to get her own girlfriend.
The city wasn’t as bright as it used to be. Some buildings had no reason to be lit up now that their inner workings were being done at home now. No clubbing, except those done by people hoping to escape the clutches of the undead. I guess if Reindeer has to focus on anything, she might as well go after the small bunch of them making a slow takeover of the Detroit suburbs.
It would almost be funny. In the movies, there isn’t a lot of reason for folks to be loners. There’s usually at least one complete asswipe who gets dragged along even though the group would be objectively better off without them. In real life, an uprising by the mortally-challenged never really had a chance to become a threat until a mysterious virus forced everyone to isolate from each other. Instead of facing a neighborhood of people with barricades and weaponry, the zombies had time to tear into individual houses and chow down on the inhabitants. Reindeer hadn’t shown up in time to stop them all.
I guess I can relate to that. Part of my weird knowledge of chaos theory and multiverse theory has me think sometimes about all the ways things could have gone different. One word different. A tone here. Being friendly when someone felt like being a jerk. You don’t get second chances. Of course, I can always put that out of my mind and focus on blowing shit up. Reindeer wanted to hijack my body and be a goody-goody, so she got to ponder it.
Reindeer zoomed in front of a mass of zombies shuffling down the middle of the street and grabbed the gunner stick. The screen zoomed in on a few faces that had seen better days. Gnashing teeth, dead eyes, and skin falling off the bone… this wasn’t a pretty bunch. Reindeer caught sight of something though, and flicked the targeting reticule over. The zombies were passing by a Tesla Nitro. Designed personally by Elon Musk personally, the Nitro is said to be powered by an innovative engine combining electricity, solar power, and nitroglycerin. Reindeer took the shot and… holy shit, they’re right about the nitroglycerin part. The fireball knocked all the zombies around it down, threw shrapnel that took out at least a few, and caught a bunch of them in the blast radius on fire.
That still left a sizable chunk left to deal with, but the ones that stayed on fire would be dealt with eventually. Reindeer used the guns to mow through some of the rest. People aren’t all the same height, but she caught an angle and did her best to chop a few down regardless. At the end of it, the Flyer’s HUD showed a count of all the enemies moving. 87.
Reindeer set the Flyer to hover in place, set up a bright flashing pattern of lights, and turned on Weird Al’s “Eat It” through the external speakers. By the time she landed on that first zombie who had the misfortune of being right underneath the VTOL, that thing was a bright advertisement saying “Zombie Food Here”. And she didn’t even do it with a helmet or anything to cover her hooves.
Reindeer hadn’t given them enough time to gather in a horde that would negate her movement capabilities. Some of them crawled and got their heads stomped in. Others shuffled. Reindeer grabbed one’s head and smooshed it between both hands, getting blood all over the camera. She wiped it off the same time she wiped the hungry expression off the face of another zombie with a roundhoof kick.
She punched and kicked and stomped, but the horde slowly pressed in on her. With the benefit of not being in the middle of the action, I noticed when the clouds began to move in. She stayed changed without the full moon touching her still. She jumped up to catch the rope and scope out the situation. The wind howled, and leaves swirled about. “Sprinkling,” Reindeer noted. I couldn’t hear any rain at all over the moaning of the hungry dead. She turned her head and spotted a figure in a robe standing on a car.
The robed person held a rifle that glowed with engraved runes. The zombies assembled around them, not just as a crowd, but as an actual assembly. They were building something out of bodies. A large tube. “Oh!” Reindeer said and pointed a fist at the robed figure. The person dropped the rifle and began holding their hands to their ears. The zombies fell out sync. The guy directing them fell off the car he stood on, at which point. The crowd of zombies blocked Reindeer’s shot. Something changed with the zombies, too. The ones nearest the Flyer stared up at it and swayed. The ones by the robed person stretched out their arms and came after that one.
Unlike the other time I saw a mysterious hooded figure leading a pack of zombies, this one’s robe ripped and tore itself into jagged pieces. Two of them stretched out on either side as long wings and carried the necromancer into the air.
At this point, Reindeer got an idea. She climbed the rope and headed to the cockpit. There in the distance, the unknown mage dove, trying to reclaim the etched firearm from the middle of the remaining horde of undead. Zombies reached for their former master and mouthes gnashed. The wings frequently came away just a little shorter. One time, the necromancer flapped up… and the Flyer plowed into them. I looked on from inside as the person clung to the front windshield of the Flyer, wings unable to flap properly with interference from the jets.
Reindeer went over the loudspeaker. “How do I stop the zombies?”
The figure gave a middle finger.
“I can drop you into the middle of them,” Reindeer warned. The middle finger retreated and a pointer aimed at the enchanted gun.
“You reinstalled the guns on this thing, Gecko,” Reindeer muttered while looking over the console. “Where are the fireworks?”
She flipped a switch. An orb descended from the top of the cockpit and began to spin around, flashing multicolored lights all over while rave music played. Reindeer quickly flipped the switch back up. “The ravings of a madwoman,” she said to the retreating light ball, shaking her head. Another switch, she flipped more slowly. She felt the Flyer jerk as something fell, not realizing she flipped the anvil switch. Cameras below showed it landing on the head of a zombie and crushing it into paste.
“It’ll have to do,” she said, lining the Flyer up over the gun.
“You can’t just destroy a rifle!” called the figure on the windshield. “This is America!”
Reindeer snorted and pushed the anvil button. The Flyer jerked again as the second one dropped out and smashed the enchanted weapon beneath its weight. Immediately, all the zombies around dropped dead. Er, deader. Redead. Once bitten, twice dead. The zombies had ceased to be.
And in the morning, my girlfriend woke up to a hogtied necromancer on our lawn and a card with Reindeer’s lipstick kiss on the inside.
I loathe her.
As Medusa promised me, we went to go see Beetlejuice the Musical where it was playing in Empyreal City. We brought along Qiang, too. The play about death was lots of fun for the whole family. We even stayed the next day over, just to enjoy ourselves and feel less rushed. The downside is when it came time for us to fly back, Medusa had sent her flyer off to go help some Exemplars dealing with other problems.
“Just call yours,” she said. I’d finally asked her about it, since it was getting later in the day.
“I did,” I told her. “The problem is, it might not get here in time.” It would be close, but I didn’t have my condition explicitly mapped out. As a weredeer, I know the full moon prompts my transformation into a half-woman, half-deer. I don’t know if I have to actually see the moon, or if its light has to shine on me, or if it has to be night.
Qiang skipped along beside us, playing with a tablet we got her, oblivious to the whole conversation.
“Nobody knows it’s you. Don’t worry,” Medusa said.
I rolled my eyes. “If you were trying to protect someone from a werewolf, would you bring them to the middle of a crowded city and stop worrying?”
Now it was her turn to roll her eyes. “You’re not a werewolf. You don’t hurt anyone.”
“But Medusa, think about all the innocent criminals!” I said, meaning to remind her about those people I hurt, but just causing her to laugh at the inadvertent joke.
“I trust your other half to beat up the right people,” she said. “I’ll tag along if you want.”
I turned and shook my head, putting my hand on her chest. “I don’t want you to see me like that. The full moon brings out a dangerous part of me that I’m not proud of. I become a danger to my loved ones.”
Qiang giggled. She was looking up from her tablet to watch us. While I was distracted, Medusa grabbed my hand. She kissed my fingertips, then entwined her fingers with mine. “Relax. If you don’t want me coming along, I’ll respect that. I’m getting you a body cam, though.”
We got right on that and headed back to the hotel room. I didn’t want to ruin the outfit I was in even if the dress didn’t look as good on me as I thought. I know, I throw money around like it doesn’t mean anything. At least I robbed someone straight-up instead of doing the dishonest thing and scamming them out of cash by selling colloidal silver to cure illness like that bipedal wart Alex Jones is doing.
Yeah, I said it. Sue me, you bloody cumwad. Send a lawyer and try to guess what I’ll send.
Anyway, I got changed into some less expensive clothes that would keep Reindeer warm, provide good mobility, and can be easily replaced. I don’t like what my alter ego does when I change. I’m still going to keep her dressed. Waking up with my clothes shredded in winter isn’t fun. With those precautions taken, I checked in on my personal Psycho Flyer. It wasn’t as close as I wanted. Thanks, bad weather. I set it to fly to the roof of our hotel instead of coming to find me and decided it was time to face the music.
I was pretty much ready, so I strapped the camera onto my head , turned it on, and just watched Medusa and Qiang for a bit. Qiang walked over to show me some clip of these guys playing some sort of hide and seek where someone hides in boxes that look like they’re from videogames, and the people searching for them poke the boxes with fake weapons looking for them. It was amusing.
I lose my memory of the change, and I guess the time immediately before it, so the only way I know what happened for the rest of the night after this point is the body camera. I’m glad I don’t remember it if the footage is anything to go by. It looked and sounded painful. No word yet on the smell. Things grew and snapped into place. Qiang started crying, so Medusa held her and they gave me some privacy. After experiencing the sound of my own screams changing to match a new muzzle, Reindeer stood up and had already ducked her/my way out the door. She caught the elevator at the end of the hall, and waved to Medusa when my superhero girlfriend poked her head out of the room to see what happened. She looked more worried than earlier.
Reindeer went on the prowl. I know, it’s a weird way to describe a patrol, but she was looking for action in the way that involves beating someone up. If she was looking for the other kind of action, Medusa was right there. We’d have had to set Qiang up with something to do elsewhere, but it was possible. Hell, my girlfriend’s dated a woman who is part dinosaur and a guy who was part sloth; I think she’s ok with some hot furry action. And come to think of it, she probably wouldn’t mind if I stopped shaving down there. She’s put up with way more hair.
Despite me turning out like this being connected to my occasional contracts for the Winter Spirit, Reindeer didn’t seem to be capable of flight. Instead, she’d jump into the air on legs that seemed about as strong as the pseudomuscles of my power armor that let me do much the same. I know the transformation to and from being a weredeer does a few odd things to my physique, but I wonder if the upgrades I’ve made to my bones and muscles are still there and help her out.
Reindeer ran and jumped everywhere. She’d land on a roof and jump off. Then she might come in close to a tall building’s walls and run along it briefly before pushing off. The city had been beaten up pretty well over the years, something I had a hand in, but it didn’t take her long to find an area where the lights were a bit darker, a bit dimmer. Fewer in number for one reason or another. She landed on one roof and then I heard a distant scream. Reindeer took off for it. When she got near, she peered over a rooftop to see a man and a skimpily-dressed woman in a courtyard. The woman was on the ground, kicking at him, all tears and blood. The man tried to catch her leg with his left hand, a knife in his right.
Reindeer jumped off the building and was looking down as she landed on the guy’s shoulders, smashing him to the ground. He screamed as some bones snapped, but wasn’t going to be doing too much more with his arms after that. “Are you ok?” she/I asked the woman. After the surprise wore off, the woman nodded, pulled herself to her feet, and hugged onto Reindeer, thanking her. I or she, whichever, didn’t stick around too long. She made sure the woman was fine and kept an eye on the downed guy while the woman ran off really fast for someone in high-heeled boots.
She didn’t take the guy in, but she also didn’t give him any medical attention. Instead, she jumped up to the rooftop and continued on patrol. After awhile, she stopped and sat down, just watching and resting. “Gecko, we should talk. This is my body, too. I’m a lot like you. I am you. The other parts of you that you bury. The part that wishes you had really been a hero. I’m glad you stuck me in better clothes, but I need a costume ’cause I’m going to keep going. I think you die if I die. And can you look into some sort of shoes?” She pulled her leg up to let me see the bottom of her hooves.
Before my evil heroic alter ego could continue on about her plans to to stick around and steal my body once a month, she dropped her leg and hopped to her feet. She set off with something in mind, heading in one direction, then adjusting her course. A few streets over, I heard the sirens. Running toward sirens to help the police. That monster. It’s hard, seeing what gets unleashed on the world by the full moon.
The police were chasing a shiny hovercar. Despite the braking issues of that form of vehicle, it held the advantage by being able to jump over cars on the road. Cops had to wait for folks to get out of the way. Drivers in this city didn’t getting out of the way for anyone.
It was the Privateers, riding around and occasionally firing back at the cops. And… fired off fireworks? That was weird. They’re a rogue military organization, but ultimately professionals. They’d only do something like that if they were deliberately trying to hold the pigs’ attention. “This is a distraction,” Reindeer said. She turned and headed in the opposite direction they were going. It was a simple way to go about it. “I don’t have your homo machina abilities, so I’m giving this a try.”
Ha-fucking-ha. She ended up being right. She caught a scent or a sound or something and turned toward this lab. They had another hovercraft there, cleverly hidden behind four pieces of painted cardboard. I sighed to myself watching that part. I use holograms! Why bother with fucking holograms when cardboard cutouts work?!
Reindeer landed in its open top and kicked in the console. She proceeded to tear out wires that looked like they did something. Before long, the Privateers rolled out a couple of carts full of expensive equipment. They all tossed the cardboard out of the way and one of them hopped into the hovercraft. “What the fuck? Someone sabotaged us!”
Reindeer lifted the hovercraft up like a boss. Are people still saying that? Fuck it, she’d be a boss character in a videogame, so I don’t care. Seriously, she lifted a damn hovercraft and overturned it on top of most of the Privateers. The equipment probably made it out ok, but it looks like Reindeer shares my disregard for collateral damage. A couple of privateers were left. One pulled out a military machete. The other whipped out a pair of pistols and squeezed the triggers.
I didn’t see any projectiles, but Reindeer screamed and brought her hands up. It knocked her over, but when she brought her hands back down, they were covered from blood. Her ears? She didn’t have time to ponder it before machete guy was in her face, swinging. She bent over, then raised her head. The machete was gone. Oh, she used her antlers. Then she dropkicked her assailant, sending him flying into the guy with the pistols. She got up faster than they did and ran over, smashing one of the pistols.
One of the others raised the other, but Reindeer jumped and landed. I saw from her point of view as the Privateer raised the pistol and fired at her. Poor guy forgot his physics, though. Sure, Reindeer cried out in pain again and it threw her off. But that meant she splashed onto the guy and slammed him back down onto his friend who was still on the ground. They struggled for the pistol, but she won it when her antlers cut into the guy. She tore the pistol apart and spun to her hooves. One kick and one punch, and those two were out.
If this was a movie, that’s when the cops she called beforehand would have arrived. Ugh, calling the cops. I can’t… I just can’t…
Ok, so the cops got the Privateers, and the rest of the night proved fairly uneventful until the morning sun vanquished this horrible curse.