For some reason, the full moon has gotten marked down as a family bonding night. Which is kinda ironic, considering the importance of the night is that I’m a weredeer who transforms at the full moon into a heroic alter ego. I don’t have a lot of friends in the villain community these days, so I guess it’s not so much attacking my friends. I think Max decided to spend some time at Isla Tropica after spending some time with his sibling in the South, so that’s not an issue. I don’t have many friends period, but I guess the people I spend the most time hanging out with for awhile are Marianne and Adrian, and they used to be superheroes.
I was a little on edge the whole day leading up to it, even though I’d been making peace with Reindeer on an intellectual level. I guess that’s a part of me. One day a month, that deep-seated desire to help people doesn’t come out all twisted. It was still unusual to be so tense.
Tonight’s agenda was to fly into a city along with an Exemplar shipment. The Exemplars were helping with the official vaccination efforts. They had the manpower; transport was getting to them. And I just happened to have built my own flying machine to help get around.
“Are you sure this thing’s safe?” asked Davilo, my brother. He was already transformed into a Justice Ranger. I guess he had something of a break right now. Leah, my former ward and apprentice, didn’t hesitate before running into the side door of the vessel. It was a more compact version of one of my Psycho Flyers, with some of the upgrades to speed and stability of the new ones, sadly offset by it being a little less rounded an aerodynamic from the materials I used. It’s stable; I wouldn’t fly around if it was going to fall apart on me. Instead of three jets, it had four oriented on the sides but at a lower angle that reduces its profile a bit. Along with concentrating some weapons at the front, I dub this… the Pegacorn. It’s like if a unicorn and a Pegasus were mashed together. Still has the same cloaking capability as the other Flyers.
We had some Exemplar help loading up. They had on white power armor, scuffed or dirty in places, but there were prominent red crosses on them. Medics, in other words. They didn’t carry weapons, though the armor that helped them carry such heavy loads also meant they’d be more than capable in hand to hand against most people. In between using my shop as a stop-off for villains needing a place to lay low or seek medical attention, I also let the Exemplars stop over. Somehow, I’ve become neutral ground.
We were all ready and in the air when my internal alarms went off. I left my body behind a curtain with Reindeer’s costume. The Iron Deer power armor came online with me at the helm wondering if I might change the name. It seemed ok at the time, but now we’re bordering on tying my identity too much to that Marvel comics guy. I went to fly the Pegacorn while pondering such ponderous thoughts.
Leah, Davilo, and the Exemplar guys crowded into the cockpit. “It sounds weird back there,” Davilo offered. “What do you think?”
“Metal Deer? It sounds so generic. Metalbeast is better, but isn’t properly descriptive. Might be fun to mess with the fans of that sci fi movie, though.”
“What are you talking about?” One of the Exemplar medics asked.
“Thinking up new names. Iron Deer was a bit hasty of a moniker to take up. Means I picked a name too fast. Too many associations with a comic book character for my taste.”
“Maybe we should call you Psychopomp Deer?” Leah teased. At least I think it was teasing. She seemed happy with herself at that suggestion.
“No offense, but I’d rather not drag my good name through the mud by associating it with heroism,” I told them all.
“You actually like your reputation?” asked a medic.
“A lot of people died to make that reputation. Doesn’t really fit to know I can kill anyone in between helping save kittens from trees,” I said.
At least my brother had some sense. He asked, “What is wrong with cats on this Earth?”
“It’s an expression,” Leah said.
“It’s a waste of a perfectly good feline,” I answered. “Climb up onto stuff, then refuse to get themselves down even though they could just survive the fall.”
One of the medics peeked back. “I don’t hear anymore bones snapping. It might be safe to go back.”
“Golden hind!” called Reindeer from the rear of the Pegacorn.
“…An ass?” asked Leah after a moment of silence.
“No, a creature from Greek myth that Heracles had to capture. A hind is an old term for a female deer. I get tired of the Greek stuff.”
The medics filtered back as Reindeer made her way up, costume on. “It’s that or try to build a new name. Like Bronze Hind or,” she tried to snap her fingers, failing just as much as I always do. “Platinum Hind. Titanium Hind.”
“Ununbium Hind?” I asked.
Leah cleared her throat. “Titanium Hind would look like Tit Hind if shortened, if that makes a difference.”
“Platinum Hind it is then,” I said.
Reindeer tapped me on the head. “It needs a ‘The’.”
“The Platinum Hind… I feel like I should be shinier,” I said, glancing down at the metal body of the power armor that could move on its own.
“If people think you’re platinum, it might mess with their expectations,” Davilo said.
Leah clapped. “I could shine you up!”
Davilo blushed. “That must mean something different here.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s suggestive on this Earth, too.”
Reindeer laughed as Leah went red-faced and shouted, “Just get us there already!” before stomping off toward the back.
Our destination was St. Paul. The Exemplars were running it 24/7 to catch people who needed it but couldn’t come in regular business hours. I’m 99% sure they’re vaccinating everyone possible in-between the “appropriate” vaccinations. We off-loaded everything and then, I guess, Reindeer’s plan was to help with the vaccination. So I guess we were helping vaccinate folks. Reindeer and I had enough medical knowledge to aid the medics with the technical stuff. Leah and Davilo stuck around with us, Davilo sticking beside me.
“You should stop by First Earth and do stuff like this,” he said at one point. “But I understand if you want to avoid it.”
I didn’t get a chance to answer when the action started. Because it’s always going to fucking happen. I swear, my power is attracting useless conflict. The clinic we were operating in started to shake. The ceiling split apart, but a portion of it fell in toward us. I pulled the patient in the room toward me and opened up, protecting the guy in the inner cavity built to hold Reindeer.
After a few seconds of debris falling on us, everything seemed to quiet down. “Davilo, you ok?”
“I’m alive, sis,” he answered. “Doc?”
There was a muffled sound for a moment, then the doctor turned on the speakers of his power armor. “I’m going to be sore tomorrow, but I made it.”
“I’m going to push,” I said. I started standing up, creating enough room for Davilo to squirm around and get his feet underneath him. He helped me and the both of us got enough up for the Exemplar medic to untangle himself from around a chair.
The medic coughed, then asked, “Where’s the patient?”
“In here! I’m fine,” came the muffled reply from inside me.
“Good. Once we get you out of here, give the vaccine two weeks to reach full efficacy and you’ll be good to go.”
“Thanks!” he called out. “For all of this.”
We got out from under the debris. “I’m going to check on who did this, you want to dig people out, doc?”
The medic nodded. Davilo joined me as we jumped clear of the place. It was like the building had been pulled apart through the middle. Some parts of it were coming up at an angle, confused people wandering out or looking for each other. We happened to be in the large part of the middle that fell apart when it came down. My brother and I hopped clear to . I paused long enough to open back up and let the relieved patient run off.
“I knew it! Robots are trying to take control of us!” Davilo, the patient, and I all turned to see a man in a hoodie and cargo pants. Could have been anyone without some special costume. He didn’t even wear a mask. I got a great look at his face for later.
“Did you do this?” I called out.
“I don’t see a badge. Per the United States Naval Code, you have no right to detain me,” the man said, bowing up at me. I jumped over the building to land in front of him. Davilo made his own way involving kicking off the damaged building. Just before he landed, the man threw his hands up in front of me. I grabbed them and broke his thumbs.
“Agh! Fuck! You’re not allowed to do that!” He grabbed at his hands with, well, his hands.
“What about this?” I asked before kicking him in the crotch hard enough to lift him off the ground.
He landed and doubled over, sounding like he was trying to avoid a dry heave, “No! What kind of hero are you?”
I stepped behind him and grabbed him by the boxers, lifting him up in a wedgie. “The kind that doesn’t talk and let you do something. Now what’s your deal?”
He didn’t answer at first, the pain from the nutshot catching up to him. It wasn’t until I was spinning him around me by his boxers that he made some noises other than pain. “Stop! I’ll talk!” Meanwhile, my brother and the patient I’d saved were helping extricate others from the damaged building.
“Good,” I said, holding him up so I could look him eye to eye by the back of his pants. His boxers were a mess by this point. “What’s your deal?”
“I have to stop the global cabal of pedophile reptilians who operate out of a pizza place,” he said.
“What’s this have to do with vaccines?” I asked.
“They’re not vaccines, they’re microchips that keep track of you.”
“Are you aware you have your phone in your pocket and that its global positioning is activated?” I asked.
“That’s…different?” he asked. Then his head exploded and a dent appeared in my chestplate.
“Snipers!” Davilo called out. Suddenly, they went from getting people out of the building to trying to get people behind as stable of cover as possible. Dong! Another shot bounced off my head this time, but it gave me an idea what we were looking for. I pointed. “Thataway!” The sniper was in the back of a pickup truck down the road, more hoodie-dressed people back there. It was all a similar getup, but these were packing guns and had stayed less obvious. Some kind of fall guy bullshit, probably thought they were clever. The two guys in the truck still had their phones with them.
A silvery light shot into the sky. I stared as Reindeer floated into the air but not using the jets or the sonic equipment on her costume. They couldn’t have let her hover that way. They wouldn’t have lit up her eyes or antlers so they looked like they were filled with the light of the moon.
The sniper aimed at her. The others, realizing they’d been made, raised their rifles toward her. The truck’s engine roared to life, so the driver at least had enough sense to realize something was up. With a flash, twin silver beams of light shot from Reindeer’s antlers to knock them all back and scatter their weapons. The driver gunned it then, tires squealing as he tried to race out of there. I gave him a moment before I self-destructed his phone. He lost control then, probably concentrating on a pants pocket. The truck smashed into a postal box, then into a traffic light pole.
We had them all tied up by the time the cops finally rolled up. They rolled to a stop, rolling the window of their cruiser down to look agog at the weredeer and robotic deer sitting there with a truck that had a bunch of humans tied to the hood. “Sup,” Reindeer said with a nod.
“You got a hunting permit?” the cop behind the wheel asked as he stepped out.
“These fucks just attacked a bunch of people getting the vaccine. We better not hear any bullshit about letting them go because you think prosecutors won’t charge them,” Reindeer said.
That cop’s face got red at the implication he’d be biased.
I held up a hand. “Shove the indignation up your ass. You want to say there are good cops, prove it.”
“Yeah. Hunting season ain’t over yet,” Reindeer finished up for me.
Once the cops finally took those guys into custody and started taking witness statements, though, I pulled Reindeer aside. “What was that with the horns and the lightshow?”
Reindeer shook her head. “I don’t know. Something feels different. Maybe because it’s winter. Maybe I’m getting stronger the longer I stick around. You know you didn’t have to do all that to the first guy.”
I shrugged. “I know, but he annoyed me. I wanted to hurt him and somebody doesn’t like me casually murdering folks.”
“It’s not any better if you do it in a tuxedo, either,” Reindeer cut me off before I could joke about formally murdering people.
The night was ruined, but no one else died. And I found some evidence to suggest Reindeer is getting stronger. Found that out when I woke up around noon, wearing a towel in my bedroom with a note in hand that Reindeer had written explaining she’d woken up in Reindeer form the morning after the full moon.
I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m going a bit crazy and paranoid, but I’m fine.
There aren’t too many years quite like 2020. Good. After all we had to go through this year, this big asteroid showed up. Can’t say I was surprised that a shitload of heroes and villains got off their holiday-padded asses to fly up there and blow the shit out of it someway or another. They got a lot of power, just not much killer instinct unless you interrupt their holidays and celebrations over the year end. I don’t blame ’em one bit.
Lucky, too. I’m not saying I couldn’t blow up an asteroid if given a little time to prepare, but everything I have ready right now is more for dealing with fleshies. Asteroids don’t care about knockout gas, laughing gas, or ass gas. That last one’s an experiment in stink-based warfare, meant as an area denial weapon by smelling bad enough to force people to get out or start hacking. I could have managed a D-Bomb before it hit us, but I’m working with a lot less infrastructure nowadays. If I keep expanding my basement lair any further, I’ll owe the neighbors rent.
Anyway, the asteroid couldn’t handle the power of however many pissed-off superheroes were ready for a break. We were all hanging out in the living room, watching the wall monitor showing supers around the world handling debris from the asteroid. Some pieces were small enough not to worry about, but I guess there were a few that people thought could wreck orbital infrastructure.
“Wow,” Davilo said. “This world’s potential is astounding.”
“We’re not as far ahead technologically, but we’ve got some things going for us,” Leah said, smiling at Davilo, then turning to glance at me.
I noticed and figured I’d contribute to the conversation, “Just glad I never crossed the threshold that gets me splatted by the power of a thousand suns.” One sun would do it, though. Like that time a super whose powers would have let him consume the world couldn’t do much once I teleported him into the heart of our local star.
“Thank Medusa for that,” Leah said.
“That a deity over here?” Davilo asked.
I shook my head. “Lots of the supers like to use the names of mythological figures, but the original myth has her as an inhuman being who turned anyone who looked at her to stone. This one is one of the few who can keep up with me in a fight, and my ex.”
“I’m not gonna lie, that surprised the hell out of me,” Leah said. “But she was also your biggest cheerleader for so long. I don’t think she wants to give up on anyone, but there’s something special about you to her. Too bad it didn’t work out.”
“Yeah, well, there’s way more interesting stuff going on than my love life. Like asteroids,” I said, steering things back away form that conversation.
That only lasted a little while before my Reindeer alarm went off. I set an alarm in the house to keep me updated on how long to go before my monthly visitor arrived. Two hours at the time. I assured my guests it was nothing, then told some of my helper robots to check the Iron Deer while I pulled out Reindeer’s armor and went over it for a last check.
“That’s some new armor,” Leah said, eyeing it curiously.
“Ok, so you know how about a year ago a bunch of people were turned into animal-human hybrids, and then afterward a bunch of people became, like, lycanthropes and felinthropes and whatever other -thropes you want to call them?” Or in my case, a misanthrope.
“Oh my god, you’re a werewolf?!” Leah asked, excited.
Davilo turned to me finally to see what the commotion was about. “Werewolf?”
“Nowhere,” I answered. I held up the helmet and poked some fingers through the antler holes. “I’m a weredeer. A werereindeer. She’s called ‘Reindeer’ and she’s a hero, unlike me.”
“Aww, that’s so great,” Leah said. I fought off the urge to full-body shiver. She doesn’t have the same hang-ups and associations I do with heroes, despite her own history with one. Medusa got to her in time.
“Well, it’s complicated for me, knowing every month that I’m going to transform and potentially attack my own friends and other people I least wish harm upon. On the other hand, she’s smart, reasonable, and has the affection of the people.” And if she took over, everyone I know except maybe Mix N’Max would prefer her to me. Just letting y’all know, I’m insecure about that.
I finished getting them up to speed and made the final flight checks remotely. It wasn’t a full-sized flyer, but I was able to put together a smaller replacement using more car parts and some of the experience of converting Mrs. Johnson’s Impala into a flying sleigh.
Five minutes before moonrise, I went ahead and took my body downstairs for the big change. These kinds of transformations tend to be unpleasant to look at. I skipped over to the Iron Deer armor, turned its eyes temporarily, and waited until all the snapping and fleshy squishing sounds stopped.
“You done?” I asked, cutting my eyes back on.
Reindeer arose with a yawn. “Yeah, sure. Hey, do you have any normal clothes that would fit me?”
“You know you can’t really blend, right?” I wanted to get the question out of the way before this turned into some sort of comical misunderstanding. Reindeer can’t exactly do undercover work outside of a forest.
“I thought I’d take the night of superheroism. I don’t get a lot of time to hang out, and our brother’s in town. You haven’t been catching up with Leah, either,” she said.
If I had lungs, I’d have sighed. “I’ll see what I can find.”
I tromped upstairs in the mobile power armor and pointed back down with a thumb for the benefit of Davilo and Leah. “Looks like she just wants to hang tonight. I’m gonna grab some clothes.”
“You’re a robot now?” Leah asked.
“I transmit my brain signals to certain transceivers and control them like my own body. For some reason, it lets me stay conscious whenever the change happens,” I explained at increasing volume as I headed back deeper into the house. Qiang was in her room, listening to loud music and playing games with her friends. And I found out that I had a few outfits stretchy enough to fit Reindeer’s larger frame. At last, my love of faux-leather pants that show off the ass comes in handy.
“And we’ll see if this top fits,” I said, tossing one to Reindeer that I thought might handle her. That dream was dashed when she tore the top while pulling it on over her head.
“Good news,” I said, grabbing a pair of heavy duty scissors. “Looks like you’ll be wearing a crop top tonight.”
So they all went out. I let them drag me along, but did my best to just stay out of things. The locals and heroes all seem to love Reindeer, so I let them all enjoy their time. Then the bar went quiet and someone turned up the TV for breaking news. Police were doing a big manhunt for someone running around Milwaukee leaving big fleshy mounds of tentacles clinging to stuff. Some of the bar patrons left then to fly over to help or speed or whatever. This little super enclave, Radium, is way far out from everywhere, so the only way anyone was assisting the cops was if they could get there fast.
“I can teleport us if you want to go,” Davilo offered to Leah and Reindeer.
“That’d be awesome, bro,” Reindeer said.
“Four person super team for the evening? Sounds great,” Leah added, but without the sarcasm I’d have used.
“You want to come?” Reindeer asked.
I didn’t, but as both the only supervillain in the bunch and the only sober person, I figured someone had to be there that could help the person they’re looking for escape. Like a designated escape driver. I shrugged and followed them outside where Reindeer and Leah stood with their arms out on Davilo. “Come on, I’ll teleport you,” he insisted. So I reached out and put a metal hand on his head.
Justice Ranger teleportation reminds me a bit of cross-dimensional travel, but whatever thing we’re looking at isn’t alternate universes. In minutes, we flew from a pretty dim area to collection of many more lights of all different colors packed into a tighter space. We landed in the middle of the street, with a car coming right for Reindeer. I jumped for her, taking the hit and falling right back against her as it just barely got its hooves on the ground. The back of the armor opened up and ensconced Reindeer, who lifted up the front of the car enough to redirect its energy away from herself, then set it back down at a little different angle.
“You ok?” our companions asked.
“Didn’t even touch me,” Reindeer said.
“And Gecko?” Davilo followed-up.
With a background accompaniment of drums and guitar, I added some distortion to my voice as I declared, “I am Iron Deer,” before dropping toning it all down to answer, “And I’m fine. The damage was superficial.”
“So you’re like a suit of armor Reindeer can wear, with a voice that helps out,” Leah noted. “That’s cool.”
“Let’s split up though,” Reindeer said, hitting the release. “This isn’t a horror movie; more bodies means more chance of finding him.”
While she slid out of me, I did a quick search and found the area everyone was searching was to our east. “Thataway,” I said. “A man, Caucasian, in tan and brown clothing. Unarmed, but superpowered. Seen carrying a small bag, contents unknown. I’m going to jump in and say I don’t like helping the cops with their job, especially after this year.”
Reindeer set her hand on my shoulder. “All the more reason we should find the guy first instead of them. We can’t trust them to do right by this person, but we can trust ourselves.”
Davilo did his morphing sequence while I was looking at Reindeer trying to come up with a snarky and pessimistic reply. I turned to see a teal-colored Justice Ranger standing there with some new team symbol hanging diagonally over a breastplate with a pair of attached shoulder pads.
“I’m not dressed for superheroing as much. Can I go with Iron Deer?” Leah asked.
And that, finally, is what led to Reindeer, Iron Deer, and the Teal Justice Ranger jumping around the streets of Milwaukee looking for someone the cops were after. And I spent that time teasing Leah.
“After all that time having a crush on me, you finally got inside me,” I said.
“Oh god!” she laughed from inside. I was trying to check things out from atop a building while spying on police scanners. Some of them mentioned Davilo and me, but none spotted Reindeer yet. Damn, and her costume was still at home because we were out drinking.
“Keep an eye out for Reindeer, too.” I tried heading to the nearest mass of tentacles this super had spawned. The police had left up some tape to try and keep people out of its reach while they were busy dealing with all the others. There were a few gawkers at the mess. It was like someone stuck the bottom of an octopus to the side of a building, but gave it way more tentacles and none of those little suction cups on them. They were different sizes, too. When I got there, they were mostly slow and inactive, with only the biggest ones raising themselves toward the closest rubberneckers.
I skipped around toward the rear of it and headed toward it from the roof. The tentacles got nice and wild before I could get too close so I doubled back and broke into the building, a clothing store, to head for the wall that way. “Why are you so focused on these tentacles?” Leah asked.
“Trying to see if one of these that gets loose might try to crawl back to the person who made it,” I explained. “It happens sometimes.”
Well, one trashed side wall later, I pulled a squirming smaller tentacle into the store and tossed it back toward the front of the store before it could latch on. “Fly free, little tentacle! Or tendril! Or cephalopod, maybe? I need more words for these things.”
It didn’t fly free. Instead, it squirmed and writhed and pulled itself toward me. I ended up grabbing an incendiary device and activating it, letting it grab hold, then booting it out onto the street where it exploded into flames.
“That’s why we don’t play with creepy, slimy tentacles,” Leah said.
“Oh, is that why?”
Suddenly, I got an unknown number texting me. “It’s Reindeer. I found him. Home in on this number and find a way to distract the cops.”
“Will do!” I said. I at least took the time to leave the building before rocketing into the air with Leah’s fun screams reverberating through my metal body. I pinpointed the phone pretty quickly, just past the edge of the search cordon. Then I heard someone call in that they think they spotted him. I gave it a few seconds afterwards, then did my best with audio distortion to mimic the voice. “False alarm. Cancel that.”
“That’s all it takes to fool them?” Leah sounded like she could hardly believe it.
“I swear it’s getting easier to fool people.” As I approached, I saw a couple cars of cops with guns trained on a building. I loaded up some stink gas rounds into a grenade launcher. I popped one through the open door of one of the cars and the other onto the street near the cops. They looked up, then began to cover their noses, running to get clear. One of them tried for his car, the one with more stink gas. He abandoned it to catch up to the other ones running away, with me dropping more stink grenades to keep chasing them away.
I sealed up the helmet fully so my passenger wouldn’t get a noseful when I skipped to a landing and jogged into the building. Reindeer was kneeling in front of a man who had a few smaller, thicker tentacles piercing his jacket. Looked like the kind of thing they leave veterans with, especially those dog tags.
Reindeer held up her hand. “Wait there, Iron Deer. Just wait.” She turned to the guy. “That’s a friend. We’re all friends here. No one here is going to hurt you.” She turned back to me. “He’s having a PTSD episode. He was in the pharmacy trying to get medication when things went bad.”
I sat down then, well away. “Don’t worry. With me around, you’re as safe as can be.” Inside me, I heard Leah muttering to herself.
“Why?” croaked the man. “I’m a villain now, aren’t I?”
“You’re a victim,” Reindeer assured him. “And heroes save victims.”
“Davilo’s on the way,” Leah said. “We’ll get you out of here, someplace safe.”
“Where’s safe for someone like me?” the veteran asked.
Reindeer smiled. “Let me tell you about a unique little town called Radium.”
Just breaking in here to say that since this is the last update before New Years, I hope everyone’s 2021 is better. Well, everyone with a few particular exceptions.
Happy New Years, y’all.
Late at night, while the full moon still lit up the sky, a man slept. Sensing something was amiss, the older fellow opened his eyes, rolled over, and looked around. Next to him, the lamp turned on, startling the man with a jump as he realized someone was sitting in a chair in the corner next to his bed. He reached under his pillow and brought up a shiny chrome revolver that his visitor, the superhero Reindeer, jumped up and pulled out of the man’s grasp before he could fire it. She pointed it casually at the man, finger off the trigger. “Don’t you know these things are dangerous?”
The man reached under the other pillow and pulled out a bayonet. He swiped at Reindeer, who reversed her grip on the gun and pistol-whipped his hand with grip of the gun, knocking the bayonet out. She reached for the bayonet at the same time the guy went after it with his other hand. She smacked him more gently across the cheek, knocking some of the fight out of him. For someone who’s supposed to represent my good side, Reindeer loves herself some superhero brutality.
“Sit down and shut up,” Reindeer said. “You were at a bank robbery earlier tonight.”
“No, I work at a bank. Was it robbed?” The man scrambled to get up, doing a good job acting like he doesn’t know what they’re on about. “How did you get in here?”
“I saw you on the footage. Your friends didn’t get rid of it. And your security isn’t as good as you think it is,” Reindeer ran down, being quite a polite home invader.
Another light turned on, this one belonging to a lamp by the door. Another man stood there in a custom-fitted black suit. He pointed a large-caliber pistol designed for superhuman encounters at Reindeer. “I think you’ll find his security is better than you think. Are you alright, sir?”
“She hit me,” the man on the bed said.
“You’re a deer,” the security guard said to Reindeer. “How did you get past the dogs?”
In the Iron Deer armor/robot, I turned on the closet light next to the guard, snatching his gun away. “I can answer that.” I projected an image through the eyes of the Iron Deer onto the wall showing me petting and cuddling the pit bulls while baby talking. “Who’s a good puppy? Such a good puppy! Snugga wugga wugga bugga good boy!”
“You assured me those breeds were vicious killers!” the sleeper complained. If I were in the habit of giving advice, I’d have told him that killers aren’t bred, they’re made. And that if you want a good guard dog, you go for one of the yapdogs. First time I looked up the origins of those kinds of breeds, I wasn’t impressed by the idea they were created to be guards. A large enough rat can beat up your average toy yapper. Then I remembered how much of a ruckus they make if the wind blows too strong and realized how fitting they were for the job. They were bred to mess with people sneaking around. And while you can’t breed killers, you can absolutely breed nosy dipshits who don’t mind their own business.
“I need backup in the master bedroom,” the guard said to his hidden comms.
I wagged a finger at him. “No can do,” I told him. He got to hear over his own radio channels as I used his sampled voice to say, “All clear. Everyone take five.”
“Hey, our breaks are strictly laid out in-” I cut the guard off because that was such a useless are to focus on.
“This is the wrong time to start worrying about the intricacies of paygrades. This guy’s either going to jail or some unpleasant people will find a worse option. Either way, I don’t think he’d going to be paying y’all much after tonight. Enjoy the benefits while you can. Raid the fridge. Misplace some expensive personal objects of his. Steal his toilet paper.”
“It looks bad if I just let you do that,” the guard said.
“Good news!” I said, grabbing the man by the head and slamming him into the walls until the plaster cracked. He crumbled to the floor in a daze. “You don’t have to let me do anything.”
Reindeer sighed. “That was rougher than necessary.” She turned to the man in the bed. “My sidekick is unused to working on this side of the law. She’s a little rough around the edges, but you wouldn’t believe all the people she knows who would love to beat up a Nazi collaborator like yourself. Or maybe you’re the mastermind?”
“Me?” the man asked all dramatic. Oh yeah, I think this guy’s the mastermind. “What makes you think it was me?”
Reindeer shrugged. “It’s not what I think, it’s what can be proven. And right now, there are some werewolves who are going to be very eager for reduced sentences. You’ve seen how much they cry and talk when they’re in custody. And the cops have footage of you doing all the work. You worked at the bank, you left the vault open and left the bags in the vault. You paid off the guard and gave the wolves the keys. Time is dragging on while we talk. Tick tock.”
I spoke up then. “You really want to lay all your hopes on a bunch of crying wannabes in Hawaiian shirts stepping up and taking personal responsibility?”
“Oh fuck,” the man said, that part starting to sink in.
Reindeer decided not to antagonize him anymore than we needed to. We’d already wasted enough time that night, so she opted to zip-tie him and walk him out. I’d have crashed through a window and flew off with him, but little miss perfect didn’t want to cause any more pneumonia or building damage than necessary. Except those other people we told to take five were all sitting around in the kitchen, snacking and drinking.
“Hey, do you know how expensive those are?” our prisoner whined to the guards.
“Oh shit,” one of the guards said. They were in custom-fitted black suits like the rest. They all grabbed their pistols and raised them toward Reindeer and I. Reindeer rushed the prisoner out while I got into the way and got shot. The Iron Deer isn’t iron because that hasn’t been a winning strategy since the time of the Romans. It’s designed to stand up to heavy small arms fire and survive some shots from light heavy arms fire. They had more of those pistols meant to break skin like steel, so they managed to put some holes in me. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t hitting much. I left empty space in there on purpose for Reindeer to ride along inside. Nothing they used had enough punch to get into the rocket pack’s fuel supply and cause problems, at least from the front. I grabbed one of my decorative, Christmas ball grenades. I tossed one into the middle of the kitchen where it detonated as a stun grenade. Sound and fury signifying nothing, it produced a deafening sound, bright light, and a pressure wave without an explosion. All the guards stopped. I raised a fist and was going to scrap with them, then decided I better see to Reindeer.
I barely settled on that choice when I heard gunshots from elsewhere. I headed off in that direction and found myself crashing through a doorway into the garage. There were more guards next to a cooler, shooting at Reindeer. She was pinned down behind a car with the prisoner. Reindeer nodded to me, then grabbed a four-way tire iron. She popped up long enough to throw it and drop one of the guards, then ducked and rolled to the side. At the same time, the guards all turned their fire and attention to me.
I raised my hands even as the shots went through my chest or bounced off. “Move along. Nothing to see here. Calm down, everybody.”
Reindeer popped up, using her sonic weapons to toss a couple grenades of her own. They went off, spewing smoke. The guards coughed and stumbled around blind. Meanwhile, I helped our captive up and shuffled him along toward Reindeer, who slid into a different car than the one they’d all been shooting up.
“I don’t have the keys,” the man complained, then shut up once Reindeer hotwired it. I shoved the guy into the front seat where she could keep an eye on him.
“I’m a little big for it,” I told her.
“See you at the precinct!” Reindeer said with a wave. I waved after her as she drove through the garage door. It crumpled and scraped along the top of the car before falling off. Next to me, one of the guards ran up, gun in one hand, and tried to draw a bead on the car. I punched him to the side and sent him flying.
Looking around at all the extra destruction we caused, I couldn’t help but laugh at how Reindeer didn’t want to cause more damage than necessary when deciding to walk our guy out. I saw another guard who had gotten free enough of the smoke and was pouring beer over his eyes to try and see again. He could see well enough through his beer goggles to aim for me, but I just raised a fist to the sky and took off.
Our reputation preceded us when we got to the station. An older Black man came out, ranting at me. “Do you know how much destruction you caused? I’m going to have the DA up my ass about the bodies you left behind, and now I hear you barged into a man’s house and shot it up?!”
“Are you, like, the Chief or something?” I asked. Why is this guy bothering me?
Reindeer arrived then, skidding the car into a parallel parking space. The passenger door opened and our prisoner was booted out while Reindeer hopped out of the driver’s side. “Sup?”
“And you!” this argumentative cop said, turning toward her and pointing. “You’re a hero already. I don’t know who your sidekick in the tin can is, but you should know what you’re doing by now. I got dead werewolves and a wrecked house?”
“Technically, this guy’s bodyguards wrecked the house while they were shooting at him,” I said. “I get the feeling they weren’t paid well.”
I think Reindeer and I were both pretty baffled to put up with a bit of ranting by this guy, but he shut up before long once the banker grabbed the cop’s leg and begged to confess first, before the Boogaloo Werewolves could.
“I’ll be back to deal with you two in a minute. Give me a hard time, I’m going to kick your asses so hard PETAs going to send me letters,” the cop said as he walked the banker into the station house. Reindeer and I looked at each other. She shrugged and I opened up the back panel for her to get in and fly us back.
When I awoke in my own body that was human once more, I found a nice little write-up in the news about Reindeer and Iron Deer stopping a bank robbery and exposing corruption, along with an addendum that the police chief of the precinct in question would love to see us again to give us a private token of his esteem. It was the same ranting cop, a photo of which showed him looking at the camera with expectant sadistic glee.
I, for one, wish we had a way different system than trusting those cop guys. They seem kinda suspect to me.
I’ve gotten a system worked out for my monthly visitor. Not that one. If you ever need to figure out who around you has a case of lycanthropy or one of the other -thropies, just call out and ask when the next full moon is. The very last day of November, a month after the one on Halloween.
My process for dealing with this involves ramping things down for a couple of days to make sure I don’t have any appointments or visitors stopping by. I have some prep work to do. I’m still not all good with letting someone else control my body, but Reindeer and I are mostly good. Mostly.
After the past couple of months, I decided to stop half-assing Reindeer’s costume and defense. This doesn’t make sense now that I’ve put it into words, but I didn’t want her to be a threat to me by having as protective of a costume. That’s done with. This isn’t a costume; now, this is armor. Conventional padding. Bulletproof plating. Anti-slash mesh. Non-Newtonian stab padding. And, the toughest of the bunch to come up with, a helmet that conforms to the head of Reindeer with slots for her horns. It was kickass, possibly too kickass, so I had to give it a softer paintjob.
It had some awesome capabilities as well. Pseudomuscles would help her jump further, run faster, lift more, and punch harder. Do you lift bro? Doesn’t fucking matter thanks to science. I replaced the sonic jump enhancers with rockets, but kept the wrist-mounted sonic weapons. I wanted to add grenade launchers, but the ammo system I wanted was too complex to add in time without redoing the arms completely. Instead, I made compact grenades that can be primed before being launched by sonics. There’s conventional, stun, smoke, glue, and laughing gas.
Everything was ready for when the moon came out and I swapped my mind over to another project I’d put together for this month.
By the time Reindeer emerged, she found herself staring at kickass armor with a pine green armor plates on a red underlayer. The helmet was green with red “eyeshadow” around the eyes. And while I’m perfectly fine with a two-color setup, a lot of people a tertiary color to break things up. It ended up being a toss-up between snow white or gold with glitter, and I went with gold. That’s what the sonic weapons and rockets were painted. The grenades, of course, were painted to look like Christmas ornaments. See, I know what I’m doing taking a couple days off to finish this stuff.
Reindeer turned and hugged me before checking me over. She had to look up. The Iron Deer’s dimensions are big enough to wrap around Reindeer if need me. It resembles a suit of medieval steel plate if the knight was a deer from the furry version of Robin Hood. I had a bigger jetpack and leg rockets than Reindeer, too. Reindeer pulled on her armor, telling me, “I should make you paint up.”
“I’m good,” I responded. “Where do you want to cover tonight?”
“Are there any protest hotspots?” she asked.
I’m glad I made the voice of the Iron Deer digitized and distorted. It helped separate me from what I was doing, which felt deeply wrong. “Protests continue nationwide. Most of the authoritarians are demoralized, so the police are no longer rioting as much. That said, Portland always has its issues. Would you like me to check for any other more general crime hotspots?”
“Would you be willing to check VillaiNet for tips? You don’t have to take us after any of our friends.”
Our friends. I didn’t like the way she said that, but I think Reindeer is essentially a heroic version of my own personality or consciousness, with access to a lot of my own memories. I figured I’d peek in on VillaiNet’s section that caters to non-members. They’re not going to extend an invite to every burglar who decides to wear a more colofrul mask, and the various mafias are their own thing. I found one thing that interested me quite a bit.
“This might be worth checking on. A number of complaints about information and equipment sold by villains to individuals who turned out to be part of the Boogaloo armed insurrection movement. Most of the villains see them as complete twats who like to pose with guns while talking up causing civil war, then call the cops on anyone who offends them. There’s some thought that a group of them might do more. Among the equipment they’ve purchased was a bulldozer and blueprints to several Chicago banks. I don’t normally mind people taking back some of their own money from institutions covered by insurance, but I don’t like these guys. A quick cross-reference finds that Chicago police suspect some Boogaloo cell to have been behind the robbery of three armored cars this month after an injured guard reported the robbers wore Hawaiian shirts.”
I set some details aside to check up another time, like why the injured guard saw it but the non-injured one denied it. The injured guard was Black while the other was white. Following this rabbit trail, I found the only casualties of these robberies were women and/or ethnic minorities, including a Black trans woman. I kept that information for later and shortened it for Reindeer as, “I believe they’re Boogaloo and they’re going to rob a bank. Huh, and the previous attacks were also full moons. It’s like they want us to go after them. Or…”
“…or they’re Weres as well,” Reindeer finished. “You should bring that silver knife you bought.”
“Wha?” I tried asking all innocently.
“You have it hidden around in case I somehow get separated from you. You worry I’ll try to come after you or kill you and take over your life,” she stated.
I’d have sighed if I was capable of it. Instead, I reached under this one desk down there in my lab. My metal hand moved past the holdout dynamite, ignoring the holdout flamethrower, skipping over the holdout hatchet to the silver knife held up by duct tape.
“You hold onto that,” Reindeer said before heading upstairs. She caught me off-guard with how casually and matter-of-factly she had me bring along a weapon that was her weakness. I stored it in a free section of the utility “belt” built onto the Iron Deer and then followed after.
One of the reasons I made sure this suit could hold Reindeer as well became apparent when we headed outside in the cold winter weather. The rear of the Iron Deer opened up and Reindeer slipped inside, her horns poking out of the Iron Deer’s head. But at least this helmet has an internet heating pad to help keep her warm.
“On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen!” Reindeer called out with a giggle. I had no eyes, and I must roll them. Thanks to rocketry and parabolic arcs, I didn’t have to put up with her for long. Reindeer tried to make conversation a little, then sensed I was still pretty moody and checked out the TV.
It felt like I’d truly become a sidekick to a heroic replacement for myself. Because I can prove a lot of levels of badassitude, but not I know people hate me. It’s not paranoia when you’re listed on the FBI’s Top Ten. This is really the only area where someone I can’t kill has a way to put one over on me.
There were three sets of blueprints the Boogers had bought, for the First, Second, and Third National Banks. Our right coming in took us closer to the Second for a check, then we headed over to the nearby Third. We were already on our way to the First when the police scanner started reporting an alarm going off at the First National. It felt weird responding to stop a robbery. To stop it, I mean. My usual response is either to cheer it on or grab a bag of money because I’m part of it.
We spotted a black van with a bright white igloo painted on the side. Yep, that’s the Boogers. Tinted windows, so I swapped to heat vision. “No one inside,” I informed Reindeer.
Reindeer hit the manual release and dropped out, landing on top of the van and rolling off to her hooves. I set down next to her.
“Disable the van, then come in after me, help catch them if they head out. Er, do you have any problems helping me with this?” Reindeer asked.
“I could watch a bank get robbed all day. Fuck your bank. It’s got insurance,” I said. After a second, I added. “But I’ll back you up. Let’s go pick some Boogers.”
I waited until Reindeer was inside before disabling the van. It was as easy as punching through the engine block.
I made it close to the doors when I saw dark shapes moving within. I turned on the headlights built into the eyes of the Iron Deer, surprising a werewolf wearing a shredded Hawaiian shirts. The HUD confirmed my choice of music: Monster Mash.
“Let’s do the smash!” I said, bursting in through the door. I grabbed one of the larger grenades I brought with me and folded it up in a big metal fist I punched into the panting mouth of the werewolf. Its teeth slid off my metal fist as I pulled back. “You better hope silver isn’t the only thing that works on you.”
Boom! The grenade did the mash. It did the Monster Mash. It caused a graveyard splash.
“Try to take them alive!” called Reindeer.
“Oops,” I said, flatly.
Reindeer came out from the vault area, which was already open. “They’re not back there in the vault. Money’s already bagged, though. And stop letting them know where we are. They’re hiding or something.”
“Relax, I think I know how to find these NAZI WEREWOLVES!” I yelled the last part.
“Not everyone you dislike is a Nazi!” I heard from down a side hallway in a growling voice.
“Therewolves,” I pointed for Reindeer. She ran on ahead of me with a snort.
There were a pack of five werewolves down the hallway, one of whom started to howl when it saw Reindeer. She showed it why hunters don’t use knives against deer. I heard its howl end with a gasp of pain as the antlers tore into its chest and it fell over with her sticking out of it. She flipped off him and onto her hooves.
I ran after. The werewolf got up and I yelled “Freeze or I’ll use lethal force!” just before stabbing it in the face a bunch of times with the silver knife.
“Not what I meant!” Reindeer called as she fought two of the werewolves at once. Another tried to come at her from behind.
I picked him up over my head. “Who are you?” he asked while squirming.
“I’m Backman!” I said, trying to make the robot voice gravely. I brought the wolf’s back down onto my knee with a loud snap of his spine.
I turned to see one of the werewolves stumbling against the wall. Reindeer was holding the other upside down by his legs, face turned toward her. She wound up and kicked him hard in his muzzle with her hoof, letting him flip over onto his back with his tongue and some broken teeth rolling out of his mouth. The other she’d been fighting turned to run past an open doorway. Reindeer fired one of the laughing as grenades right at his head, knocking him into the room that began to fill up with a yellow gas and the sound of laughter.
“He seems happy,” Reindeer commented. She looked around, then toward the back of one last conscious and fleeing werewolf who held a computer tower in his hands. Reindeer took after him while I glanced at the rooms nearby. And really, the only one open was the one filled with laughing as. The nameplate read “Security”.
I let her handle that guy while I headed inside to see what they had taken. There was a dead security guard in there, laying on the floor next to a desk smeared with blood. On the desk were a pair of monitors, neither of them on. From the look of the place, those were the only ones to watch cameras on. The werewolf had passed out from laughter-induced lack of air, so I tossed him over one shoulder. Outside, the one with the broken back was starting to twist back into shape, so I stepped on his back, then grabbed one of his arms and started dragging him along behind me. The one Reindeer knocked out was coming too, so I punted him in the face and tossed him over my shoulder with the other unconscious one.
By the time I’d caught up with them, they’d gone out a side door. Reindeer had the computer tower in hand and was surfing down a short series of steps on the body of the werewolf. Friction stopped the wolf at the base of the stairs and Reindeer hopped off.
“Iron Deer!” she called out to me. “Come make a copy!” I jumped and landed near her, leaving a little bit of a dent on the sidewalk. But it’s a nice sidewalk outside a bank, so it’ll get fixed in no time. USBs snaked out on cables from my fingers and plugged into the back of the computer. Finally, it sounded like police sirens were approaching.
“They took long enough, didn’t they?” I asked.
Reindeer rolled her eyes. “And these guys didn’t have cash, but there were things missing from the vault.”
I ended up reviewing the footage from earlier in the night as I copied it all. It showed a man in a nice suit leaving an office in the bank late. He went into the vault and bagged up money, then stole from a few safety deposit boxes loaded with jewelry and gold. He stopped by the Security office on his way out and handed off some of the cash to the guard. The guard counted it, then got into an argument with the man which ended when the man handed over more money. He left out of the front door and tossed a set of keys to the approaching werewolves.
That’s when the guard figured out he needed to hit the silent alarm. One of the wolves checked on the vault, then stopped by the bathroom. The others went to the Security room and forced their way in. Once they’d taken out the guard, they went after the tower that held the footage files. They’d just gotten out the door when we showed up.
I gave Reindeer the rundown as it happened. “Feel like making another stop tonight, sidekick?” she asked. If robots could shiver, I would have.
“Deal with this guy ourselves?” I asked.
“Same reason I had you make a copy. Can’t ever be sure the cops are going to do the right thing. I thought they’d cover for their friends here, but now we get to kick over another stone and squash some bugs.”
I thought about it a moment. “Yeah, I think I’m ok going after that kind of guy.”
We left the werewolves and footage there with a bunch of cops and a SWAT team, then Reindeer hopped in.
“Who are you, Reindeer’s sidekick or something?” asked one of the cops as he clamped a pair of superstrength-class cuffs around the wrist of one whining werewolf.
“I am Iron Deer,” I answered before Reindeer and I took flight into the full moon night.
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-