Tag Archives: Psychsaur

Frozen Over 4

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“Before we go in there, I got somethin’ to say,” I said to a group of nearby Master Academy trainees and heros. Many heads turned toward me, though a few gazes remained transfixed on the building ablaze before us. Venus preemptively facepalmed. “It’s better to burn out, then fade away!” Most of the rest followed Venus’s lead.

“What do we call her?” asked one of the others. Ball Boy, it looked like. Back in action and black in eye.

“You don’t,” said Venus.

At the same time, I answered, “Whirligig.”

“Alright. No one goes it alone. We get everyone out. We got lucky we were all out.” Seriously. As part of my “heroic internship” they made me do some of the heavy lifting while shopping for decorations and party essentials as a sort of in-costume public appearance to make people feel safe. They even stuck me in a re-colored version of the Master Academy outfit modified for what I had been going for in my latest disguise. They gave it a cheap “circuit board” coloring in spots; otherwise it was grey. We happened to be passing by an apartment on our way back when someone ran out smelling of smoke and asked for help with a fire.

“Let’s get in there and be heroes,” Venus said. I cringed. Strange thing was, the others were generally a little slower getting into the burning building. You’d think they’d never gone into one before. I, on the other hand, have spent so much time in fires that I might as well carry marshmallows with me everywhere I go.

I didn’t know who they assigned to be my teammate, but they maybe should have known to climb. I turned my run into a handstand that allowed my hoverboard drones to catch up and slide into place on my feet. They flew me upside down to the top of the building. I don’t normally work to get keep people from being set on fire, so it was a little bit of a new situation. On the other hand, my extensive experience saving my own ass came in handy. It was just a matter of throwing a person over my shoulder and then saving my own ass.

The difficulty came when I got out one last time and had to catch a girl who tried to run in. “Easy there. Hold on. Take this one.” I tossed the person I was carrying, a rather rotund man in boxers, on top of the kid.

That stopped the pre-teen from heading in any further, for a moment. The guy was conscious, after all. He stood up, apologizing to her. I had to grab her to keep her from running in. “You’re not supposed to go in there right now.”

“My grandpa and grandma are in there still!” she shouted at me. She pointed up, around the 13th floor. Or maybe it was the 14th. They can go to the moon, but they’re still afraid of magical numbers. As if simply not calling it the 13th floor will stop whatever evil spirits magically attach to it. Booga booga booga booga!

I had missed the floor, and it looked like most of the Academy supers were busy. I jumped up, the mechanical extra arms gripping the wall and propelling me up. They reached into the window ahead of me, knocking out any remaining glass in the frame before I slid through. I was in a kitchen. I pulled in the drones behind me and let them split apart to search. This apartment didn’t have anything. I made my way down the hallway like that, splitting up into three groups, all the while trying to keep myself low. Without my armor’s seals, I was as vulnerable to asphyxiation as anyone else.

On the other hand, it was getting pretty damn hot in there. Shoving myself in a metal can wasn’t the best way to deal with that. It looked like I may not get to gramps and gam-gam before the smoke killed them. I’m a hell of a lot healthier than any old coot and his old cootchie, and I was starting to have trouble.

Per-fucking-usual for my luck, I found them on the rear of the building, where the building had some tiny shared backyard with a building behind it. The old man held his wife closed with clenching, wrinkled hands. The woman held her hands clasped in prayer. I could tell her husband was mouthing something about love and her that sounded less like a prayer and more like a goodbye.

“Up and at’em, molden oldies. A little less conversation, a little more action.” I brought in the drones and raised the mechanical arms. They all fired lasers that cut a big hole in the wall of the apartment so I could get clear access to the fire escape. Someone hadn’t kept things up to code, though. The weight of that wall and brick caused it to fall down. I thought it was only going to fall that one floor, but, nope, they all went down. “That’s inconvenient,” I said as I looked down at it.

The building shifted a bit. Something weakened from the rising heat and a support fell, taking one of my drones with it. “Real damn inconvenient,” I added. That one wasn’t responding. I wrapped the mechanical arms around the two now-standing old people and called out the drone I did have. It couldn’t hold all that weight on its own, but it could at least slow the fall. Probably would have worked until a window blew out two floors down and threw us across the yard. There was much screaming and gnashing of teeth from the old folks. It only lasted until their teeth plummeted, but they weren’t still in the mouths of their owners.

I caught myself, but it was an awkward affair. I had to jam my arm in between a pair of the vertical struts of the other building’s escape’s rail. It broke my arm and left me hanging there. The man slipped from my arm and I had to catch him on my foot. It was not a fun situation.

I reluctantly turned on my comms in time to hear someone ask after me. “Any word from Whirligig yet?”

“No. Keep your eye out. That should be all of them,” answered Venus.

“We got a girl here talking about her grandparents,” another voice piped in.

“Shit, what floor are they on?” the first voice asked.

That was as good a cue as any. “Whirligig here. I got ’em. I must regretfully ask for a tiny bit of assistance here.”

The heroes were nice enough not to laugh at the sight of me hanging by a broken arm jammed in a railing with a pair of geriatrics weighing me down. They had flyers take the old people, and a last one brought up a first aid kid. “Let’s see to that arm.”

I held up a hand and reached to my belt, pulling out a syringe. A broken syringe. “Well, fuck.”

“Let’s see to that,” said the medic.

I waved him off. “I don’t need you sitting around here laughing. Just go and deal with the old folks or something. They were coughing real bad when I got to them.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

I shooed him away. “Go. Off with you.” I gave him the stink eye until he left. He’s lucky I didn’t use a laser eye instead. So while he went off, I was stuck pulling myself free with the help of my mechanical arms. I finally got up and over the railing so I could try and set the arm.

In my ear, I heard, “Good job. That’s everyone.” But, upon looking up, that turned out to not quite be accurate. I saw rodents staring back at me through the window. Hamsters, I think. Or gerbils.

“This day,” I muttered to myself. I brought up the drone as a stepping stone and jumped across and through the window, pulling my good arm up to without thinking. That was bad, because that’s the arm that caught the remnants of the window glass and got cut up pretty good. But, hey, at least I had my mechanical arms. Grab each of the furry little assholes in one, ride the drone down. Easy. I called the drone over, which worked pretty good until falling bricks knocked it down.

But at least I had the pockets on this uniform. Of course, that’s when the ceiling collapsed on me.

When the found me crawling out of there, I was wearing tatters, barely enough to cover all my pink bits and keep this operation Safe For Work with all the kids around. I focused on something past the heroes to keep from looking any of them in the eye. I didn’t hear too much of what they said. Something about getting me into the ambulance.

Then I heard the crying. “What about Butterscotch and Werewolf?” asked child’s voice.

“I’m sorry, honey,” said a consoling mother.

“Don’t lay me on my back,” I told the heroes. “Lay me on my front. Trust me. And close these damn doors.”

“What are you talking about? You need to lay where you can get air,” said Venus. When did she get over here?

I coughed a bit. “Trust me, I want to be on my belly for this next part. I think I saved Butterscotch and Werewolf. Damn well better be them. They’re nibbling on my colon.” There was some hacking. Ah yes, the famous black loogie. Haven’t seen one of those in awhile.

At least they were understanding about keeping the door closed so I didn’t have to see the reactions of everyone to the reappearance of the two gerbils.

Good news, they sprung for some nanites to help me recover more quickly from all the internal organ problems. It was a weight off my mind to know the kidney failure was going to be fixed, what with the giant splinter through it. Just wish they would have left me alone in my recovery.

It wasn’t so bad having Qiang snuggled up to me in the TV room, which is as far as I got after escaping the infirmary. But then that one super who played medic stopped by to check on me. Another one brought me a plate of food. “That was kickass,” that guy said. Teenager, had some muscles on him.

I noticed some other hanger-ons, too. A fat guy sitting in a corner, pretending to focus on a tablet instead of on me. “Fuck off,” I said, then laid my head down.

I woke up an hour later, according to my eye clock. Qiang was passed out beside me.

“Ugh, she was the worst,” said this one tiny guy with way too feathery hair. “She had this big mole thing.”

“What’s all this then?” I asked.

“Hey sleepyhead,” said a guy with three eyes on his head. “These jokers were talking about teachers they remember most. Sorry if we woke you. Nice hair, by the way.”

That got a snicker. Yeah, my hair would be a mess. I pulled my eye out real quick to make sure nobody had drawn on my face while I slept. Still clean. Popped it right back in and heard some “Ew”s from the crowd. I ignored them and checked to see how I was doing. Still soreness and internal bruising. They were rationining the nanites, stingy a-holes. I figured I should be able to get around on my own again, but I thought I might add something to the conversation. “The teacher I remember most was… actually, she wasn’t one of the ones from the program.”

Everyone shut up hearing me contribute. I noticed Psychsaur passing by and stop at the doorway. I tried to ignore her. “Eleseta,” I said, though it was with the Old Country’s accent. More like Old World at this point. It came out sounding more like “Elizabeth,” kinda. “If I had to make it sound like English, I guess Elisabeth. It all started when I was loaned out by the General to help this guy… something like a Senator. Not exactly. He was a big deal in the Pure Human Party, but he used members of this gang to help his goals. They were the Metalheads. They stayed so high all the time, they would replace body parts with crude cybernetics until they had almost nothing left. The worst ones couldn’t even feed themselves.”

“This is a weird teacher story,” said Triclops.

I held up a hand. “I’m getting there. I was sent in to find out why some of the Metalheads were cleaning up graffiti and helping people all of a sudden. They would beat up other gangs to return stolen goods. I found out there was an underground school going on. This was a bad part of the city and these guys were killers, so you don’t expect to find out some unarmed, unpowered woman with ovaries of steel is teaching them math or ethics. She was getting them real jobs, even. Imagine some big guy who looks like the front half of a car on metal legs serving you at a fast food place. The Senator wanted her caught, not killed. He was very specific on that. He wanted her broken as an example. Not killed. Alive, but…” I couldn’t really articulate it. “I caught her, no problem. She just wouldn’t stop talking.”

I stared off into space, remembering. She wasn’t mean, either. She was disappointed. She offered to help me. She saw, or thought she saw, someone in need of the same kind of help as those idiots with blenders for hands. “She insisted it was never too late. Irritated the hell out of me. Before the Senator’s people could do anything, Metalheads broker her out with the help of this other group. Not exactly mercenaries, but not a police force. They were an international agency to solve threats from extraordinary individuals. They got her out, but I was close after them. They were bringing in a stealth VTOL, but it was minutes away and they were just a small branch. The Peacekeepers and the Metalheads stood between me and her.”

Actually, I found her first. I could walk right past all of them without anyone finding me. I was more mission-oriented in those days. I was more precise. I could still remember the way she looked. Her beautiful defiance. That was the first time I ever thought of a human as beautiful. “She wouldn’t back down.” She kept saying that phrase over and over again. It rang in my ears like I was Grendel, seemed like. “Not even after what I did to everyone else in the building.”

I killed them all. I’d been more precise up to that point, but I had to show her. “She was wrong. There’s always someone like me.” Someone who will prove her wrong by murdering her students and allies around her. It’s not like I dragged them all over to her, but she heard plenty.

“So I had her there, cornered on the rooftop. No escape. And, that’s that.”

“Did you kill her?” asked Triclops.

I shook my head. “That wasn’t my mission. I shouldn’t have told this story. Not a good one.”

I got up, picking up Qiang. She hugged onto me as I started to walk away. Triclops called after me, “What happened?”

I stopped long enough to give an epilogue. I spoke proudly, “After that mission, I got a lot less precise. Unnecessary casualties. Enemies and allies both had a tendency to suffer collateral damage. That was the spark of my own fire, waiting to be stoked.” I walked out and kept my eyes straight, away from Psychsaur. I don’t know how much she could tell about me at that moment, but I didn’t want any of them to risk figuring it out for sure. Let them think I killed her if that makes them feel better.

I didn’t think I could go back there so easily when I started that story. When the VTOL plane landed on the rooftop, I just stood there. The pilot must have freaked when they lowered the ramp and Peacemakers trained their useless weapons on me. Elizabeth just stared into my eyes like my visor was clear. She turned and walked up the ramp. Just before it closed on me, she turned back. It looked like pity again, or maybe a deep sadness over everyone who died to get her away. Chances are I’m imagining things and romanticizing the past. But I made out the same sentence she’d told me when I first caught her, and then when I confronted her again. It had been at the bottom of every syllabus she’d passed around. Chances are it was on the new ones she had printed in the next city she showed up in, well away from the Senator and no longer disrupting his plans.

“It’s never too late.”

I need to kill someone.

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Frozen Over 2

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“No, no, no, this is all wrong!” I said. As part of my collaboration with Master Academy, I’d been staying there and wandering the grounds. I’ve been letting Qiang attend the classes, while I have been turning the library into a small armory. Knowledge truly is power. Especially knowledge of high explosives and carbon fiber bomb casings.

Now, the wrong thing wasn’t in the library. It was actually in a classroom. I’d heard through one of my virus-infected phones that the teacher had to run out and had left them to some busy work. So I ran up there and set about correcting the lesson plan. “Rushing into a bank? Are y’all serious?” I asked, erasing marker off the board about potential entries.

“Ok, let’s get it straight… you don’t want this to be a hostage situation and you don’t want fighting in there with the hostages. Damn civvies don’t know what’s good for them anyway,” I drew arrows of the robbers exiting. “You want them to leave. Sure, it’s public, but even fighting them just outside is better than inside. More open, too. Less cover. But more than that, if they’re in and out, no body apparently stopping them, where do y’all think they’ll go?”

I got no answer from the class this time, either. The kids seemed surprised to see a random, purple haired woman with bells in her hair take over the class. I rolled my eyes. “Safehouse! They’ll want to lay low for a bit. Tail them there and you can nab them with relatively little fuss.” I punched one hand into the palm of the other. “Either get them right then and there or wait a few hours until the adrenaline’s worn off and they’re tired, and they’re yours.”

A girl with really long hair and an old-fashioned floral dress raised her hand. “What if it’s a supervillain base?”

I shrugged. “The only change you might do then is send in a reconnaissance drone to check the place over.”

“We get drones?” a boy in the back of the class asked. He had a neon lime mohawk. It hurt to look at his hair.

“Who are you?” asked someone else.

The girl in the floral dress raised her hand again, but asked a question without being called on, “Are drones going to be on the test?”

“All good questions,” I said, pointing to all of them. “I don’t know, I won’t say, and who cares about tests? You got a hell of a lot more than a test to worry about if you’re in a class learning how to foil a bank robbery. You do the wrong thing and people die.”

That shut them up.

“What are you doing in here?” asked someone. This time, I realized it wasn’t one of the people sitting in front of me. It was Psychsaur instead. The reptilian-looking humanoid with feathers for hair was maybe the only hero in the place without a frown just for me. Well, Mender might count too, but I don’t know how much of his face he controls anymore. The guy’s like Stephen Hawking but with less firepower built into the chair. Side note: be careful accusing Stephen Hawking of cheating at poker unless you want to see him try to choke a bitch with a mechanical arm.

I held out my hands toward the students. “I heard someone giving bad lessons. I had to correct it. You’re heroes, for Norse gods’ sakes. You don’t just rush in and turn a robbery into collateral civilian casualties if you’re doing it right.”

“Come on, let’s talk,” she said. She motioned for me to follow her. And, since she was the only cool one, I did. I think I made my point to the students anyway.

“How are you doing?” I asked, catching up to her in the hallway.

She shot me a small smile. “It’s odd not falling into your head as soon as you’re around. I got comfortable there.”

“You poor girl,” I said. “Who knows what you took out of it? I bet that’s why you and Venus started making the beast with a billion backs together.”

She stuck her tongue out. It was human, actually. “You were just teaching teenagers how to be better heroes. Maybe I left some of myself in there.”

“Ew, me as a do-gooder? That’s just wrong,” I screwed up my face in disgust.

“You threw yourself in front of a rocket to protect people,” she commented.

I shook my head. “Uh uh, I did that for my daughter.”

“Yeah, you did,” she added, giving me some side eye. “How did you get a kid?”

“The same way anyone does,” I said. “Banged a fly, swallowed it so it couldn’t have a kid who would beat me up and castrate me, then got a headache one day. Dunked my head in a pile of headache powder that’d make Tony Montana jealous and she popped out, roughly five years old.”

“Bullshit.”

“No, I snort bullshit to help with impotence. I’ve never been impotent, but the cure works. Feel free to suggest it to all your friends.”

“Did you kidnap her?” The smile was gone. She wasn’t frowning or angry, just concerned.

“No, no, she was given to me. The Riccans thought giving me a kid for whatever things I might do would sweeten the deal when they wanted my ability to make weapons of mass destruction.”

“Jesus Christ!” She stopped and grabbed my shoulder to halt me as well. “You didn’t give her back?”

I expected an accusation, but then I’m not used to someone like Psychsaur. The telepathic dinosaur-lady has spent enough time in my head that she kinda gets me now. And she’s one of the few people I’m instinctively cool with as well. I actually got a sinking feeling considering her reaction and wondering if there really was some mental stuff going both ways back when she could get in my head.

“Her mother’s dead,” I said.

“What about her father?”

“I’m her father.”

“I doubt that.”

“I am.” I hissed it and turned to her, looking her dead in the eyes. “They killed her mother and put her in an institution mean to train her up as nothing but a tool to help them get what they want, guarded by men with guns. I’m not letting that happen anymore if I can help it. That’s not reforming. That’s just being better than the backwards, ignorant humans who do shit like that.” I had to calm myself down from that. Cheeks had gotten a bit flushed. I rubbed at them.

She hugged me. I pushed her away after a second. She winked at me. “You try to sound racist, but you keep caring about humans. Even your daughter’s human.”

I pointed at her. “Hey, she’s only half human now. First time I ever saw that, actually. Wasn’t sure she’d get the abilities from my side.”

We started walking again. “What do you mean, ‘now’?”

I shrugged and lowered my voice. “I put some of my DNA in her. Wait, bad wording. Real bad.” I swear, I’m starting to sound like that conservative guy in politics who got caught with all the pedophilia. He caused a big fracas about something, either speaking at a college, or attending some convention in Milwaukee, or running for governor. Either way, this was an unproductive area of inquiry. “She wasn’t, strictly speaking, my child in the biological sense. Now, she is.”

“That part’s creepy.”

“Well, don’t tell anyone. She doesn’t know and I think it’s just as well. Say, where are we going, anyway?” I’d noticed we didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. I thought she’d deposit me back in the library, but nope.

Instead, she stopped at that question. “We were walking while catching up. They wanted me to check on you. Venus thinks you finally lost it. Everyone else wondered why she said ‘finally’. Everyone but me. I can tell Qiang means a lot to you. We’ll keep her safe, but we have no reason to believe you about the other stuff. You really believe in Santa?” She held her hands up, palms to the sky at that.

“Of course I don’t believe in him. I met the guy. That’d be like asking if I believe you exist. Granted, I think he’s got some sort of Jungian thing going on, but nothing causes collective unconsciousness quite like spit-balling on psychotherapy.”

“More bullshit, but the important thing is that at least you believe. I just hope that it helps you in some small way. Now gimme a hug,” She didn’t give me a chance to respond, just forcing herself and her affection on me, right there in public. Like Psycho Gecko is just some huggable person who won’t attack or grope a superhero. I felt so violated and… clean. As she broke the hug, she added. “I have to go to a meeting. We’re going to have a lot of heroes here for a holiday party, so you don’t need to worry about anyone showing up to kidnap your daughter.”

I had the idea even before she started walking away. A holiday party, eh?

Luckily, I’d already settled into their systems comfortably and was able to get a look at the goods. Yep, Christmas Eve, so they can accommodate students staying over the holidays. Still pretty dangerous at home, with groups like EAGLE existing now.

When I’d initially arrived here, I hadn’t been entirely sure how to lure Eschaton to the Christmas creatures. I just knew that heroes know other heroes. After all, most villains know other villains. I’m sure Rothstein’s is going to have a holiday party too. I’ve crashed it before, back when they didn’t invite me, which isn’t to say they invite me now. But, hey, not nearly the first event I haven’t been invited to. People just don’t like having me at special events for some reason. Y’all should have seen the look I got from the CIA when I told them I might show up to a presidential inauguration that time. Pretty sure Langley’s entire plumbing system clogged up from all the bricks.

But, vague undefined 2017 dickisness aside, Eschaton probably had an invite, right? Nope. His name was explicitly on a list of people to not invite or even tell there was a party. A minor setback, because they had a section where they divided up the work duties. The three people signed up for invite duty were Artiste, Wildcard, and our old friend Ball Boy. Thought he’d have changed the name by now. Must be how people know him, like how this one bunch in Africa insists on calling me Equinsu Ocha. It means White Devil, but I don’t take offense. It’s how they know me.

So my mission was simple.. change the guest list. Truly, it would require cunning, guile, Ken, Ryu, maybe even Balrog. M. Bison too? Of course!

Instead, I stole a glance at their design and rushed one out myself. Then, it was just a matter of shipping over a few packages of my own. It just so happened that the bank foiling class got hijacked that day as an evil supervillain started teaching them how to play with drones, complete with races. We had enough extra, they could even try to shoot each other out of the sky. They looked a bit uneasy when I suggested that instead of a race and a war, we have a race war!

Crickets, crickets all around.

It was that mess into which three superheroes walked, including one I’d seen before when he and Venus and another person beat me. One of the racers swerved out of control and knocked him in the head. The invitations went flying.

They hardly noticed when they picked up an extra one. Of course, I could have done it with much less of a spectacle, but this way let me give someone a concussion. And, in the end, isn’t this season supposed to be about giving?

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A Feast of Fools 6

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Our story so far: Psycho Gecko, our protagonist, visited Empyreal City to make peace with the villainous Spinetingler, who stubbornly refused to die no matter how many times Gecko ended up having to kill him. While successful, the newly-minted peace was rocked by a car bomb seemingly meant for Gecko, or at least one aimed right at the hotel where he and his daughter were staying. A bit pissed and protective, Gecko set out to find the perpetrator of this deed and bring them to injustice. Unfortunately, the heroes got there first and have temporarily foiled his quest for truth, injustice, and the American Way by locking the bomber up in a private, hidden prison without judicial proceedings. Now, Gecko seeks to infiltrate the lair of these heroes, find the bomber, and do things so unspeakable, he’d have to slip into third person to describe them. And it’s all thanks to his clever plan of… being invited.

Ok, so the last part kinda makes it seem a little less skillful on my part. And it bugs me, which might be part of the point. Because I know they have this bomber, Sam Bass, hidden under their base. And they have to know I know. And I know they know I know. Once again, I must perform a delicate balancing act by walking the line between the known and the known known. More accurately, I gotta throw myself into a potentially dangerous situation and make it work out. Not ideal. The best fight is one you’ve won before it ever started.

I didn’t like mixing work with family in this case, but I brought Qiang along. It was Thanksgiving dinner. Well, more like Thanksgiving cafeteria, if I remember the year before. The food hall had plenty of people chowing down on fried turkey the prior year. When I showed up this time, the place swarmed with considerably less activity. In the intervening year between my captivity and now, most of the anti-cape protesters gave up and went home. Qiang and I passed by some of them. They had chairs, tents, and portable heaters. Some of the kids from inside were bringing them food. Just little kids who happen to have powers for one reason or another.

People get born into some shit like that. Good to show the other side who it is they hate and think is such a danger. Their answer, or at least the one I overheard way back in the Psychopomp program, is that a mere child with that kind of power is even more reason to keep them locked up or neutralized. Of course, the guy who said that seemed to smile every time he riflebutted one of us in the back of the head. Anyone paying attention to me when I wax philosophical knows a person can say whatever they want to justify whatever horrible things they’re about to do. Also makes for a handy piece of bullshit to try and tempt someone to doing what you want.

“Do I have to wear my armor?” Qiang asked. She popped her helmet off as we walked through the gates.

I looked her over, wearing mine as well. I had to pad it a bit more to work with this body shape. Plenty of room in the crotch, but it’s tight in the chest, with problems in the arms and legs. I pulled my helmet off as well and shook out my hair. The bells on each of the three tails jingled as we approached. I smiled. I’d been here as a prisoner. A prisoner when I should have been a corpse, a well-kept prisoner, but a prisoner. I returned an emperor. Well, empress.

I figured we drew stares walking across the campus to the main building. I saw them firsthand as we entered. They weren’t as crowded with students as when I’d stayed there, but they had a fair number. And, unless I was mistaken, they had parents. Family members. As soon as I spotted some of those, I activated the hologram projectors on mine and Qiang’s armor. Tucked under her arm, her helmet became a purse while her armor appeared to be a pretty little dress. I pulled the same trick with my helmet. Nifty disguise, actually. Explains why I’d keep it with me all the time.

Qiang waved to a girl who caught her eye. She ran off toward her friend and the friend’s family, who I approached more leisurely. Had to fight a smile that decided to show up on my face for no reason, too.

“Who is your friend?” asked who I thought were the parents of the girl. A little older, but the woman had the same curly hair as the daughter, whose face sorta resembled the man’s.

“My name is Qiang!” she said in her formal English. Heavy accent, I should clarify.

The excitable girl in front of her turned to the man and woman there with her body, but kept facing Qiang. “These are my parents. Mom, Dad, this is Qiang. Qiang, this is my mom and dad.”

“And I’m Qiang’s parent,” I told them, stepping up behind them. “You may call me Gecko.”

They plastered some smiles on their faces like they’d just been told it was time to gang rape a cow and happiness was mandatory. The woman spoke up first. “You and your daughter have very different accents.”

I shrugged. “I do a lot of traveling.”

“Rhonda,” said the woman.

She gestured to her husband who said, “Leland. Your daughter seems to know our Kayla, doesn’t she? Are they classmates?”

I shook my head. “No, but they might be.”

Leland smiled and looked around. “I was skeptical, too. It’s hard to leave Kayla in the care of people you don’t know who walk around fighting supervillains, but they’ve taken excellent care of her and she knows so much more control than she used to have. Don’t worry about the price, either.” This prompted a minor facepalm from his wife. Leland didn’t notice and just continued, “They’re understanding.” Then he noticed Rhonda. “What?”

“Gecko, you don’t need to hear all that,” she said, eyeing me up and down. At first I thought I had some swingers here looking for a third wheel. Then I realized it was the quality of the dress and purse I appeared to have.

A bell rang and the school’s intercom crackled to life. “Dinner is now ready to be served, if all our guests would join us in the dining hall.” With a bit of polite murmuring, we all obliged.

“Daddy, can Kayla and I sit together?” Qiang asked, turning to me when we got near the dining hall door.

I smiled at her. “I don’t see why not.”

It was just as we entered the now-decorated dining hall that Kayla’s father asked me, “Ge-cko. Is that Thai?”

Truth is, it would have been perfect to sneak out when everyone was going in. With Venus not having picked me out and everyone’s attention on the crowd, it would have been easy. It also wouldn’t have gotten me food. A girl’s got needs, after all.

Unfortunately, Venus found me in the middle of eating. “There you are,” she said, as if surprised to find me mingling with those hairy lower life forms called homo sapiens. She set a hand on my shoulder, confirming that I wasn’t a hologram but that my dress was. “I wanted to tell you something in private, if I could.”

We stepped over to a corner to get as much privacy as we could in the place. “Feeding the poor now? I knew you heroes were nothing but pink Commie bastards,” I said with a grin.

Venus brushed it off. “I’m glad I found you before you went looking for the bomber.”

I feigned shock. “Whaaat? Can’t I just come and enjoy a nice dinner like every other mass murderer? But, since you brought him up, I would like to have a little chat with that guy. Got any ball gags around here? Maybe I should ask Psychsaur instead.”

Oh, a little blush. “You aren’t-” A vibration through the floor. “You felt that?”

I nodded. “I don’t suppose you left anything in there with the bomber, did you?”

She shook her head. “I heard our suspect may have a contingency to get out. There was talk of mercenaries.”

“Bad time to have guests over, looks like,” I said. I looked over and noticed a plate full of cranberry sauce jiggling

Now it was her time to grin. “We’re not that easy to attack here.” A glow lit up the windows, presumably a force field of some sort.

“Folks, we ask you to please be calm,” said Psychsaur. The lizardlike humanoid had feathers in place of hair and could do shit with her mind. Telekinesis and telepathy. This announcement was made with a microphone instead of all that. “Master Academy is reinforced and happy to give you a demonstration of how safe your children are with us here.”

Several of the adults and teens got up, leaving families behind. One of them even made a show of pulling open his long sleeve shirt.

“You’re welcome to play if you don’t hurt anyone too seriously,” Venus said with a wink. Maybe I’m onto something now that I have womanly charms. I mean boobs.

Before she walked out of earshot, I heard someone call out something about “Drillers”.

I’d heard of those guys. They’re kind of a gang, kind of a group of thugs for hire. They’re good with drills, able to bust through a lot of safes. A high-pitched sound brought me out of my thoughts for a moment, accompanied by a sizzling sound from the force field outside the dining hall. Oh yeah, they do sonic weapons, too. Real handy if they’re fighting people in their getaway tunnels. That’s part of why they don’t operate in big cities so much: they like to drill up from underground to get at their targets. They’re good at getting into secure places that way, but cities screw with that.

Venus trusted me enough to leave me there with children and families, but that also left things wide open for me to pay the special superhuman cells a visit. I walked on over to where I sat with Qiang to grab my purse.

The corner where I’d been talking with Venus exploded in dirt and other debris as a conical drill bit the size of a riding mower burst through the floor. A man in brown leather sat in a chair that swiveled to keep him parallel with the ground. He pulled his goggles off and blinked his eyes just before a half dozen of his closest friends jumped out of the hole.

I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find, which turned out to be a platter of cranberry sauce. I threw it, Captain America style, and bonked one of them in the head. The others all raised their sonic rifles. “Get down on the floor and stop fighting, or we’ll open fire on the civilians!”

“Dad!” called Qiang. She tossed me my purse, and I noticed her slipping her own on over her head, the hologram falling away to reveal her armor and helmet.

“Put the purse down!” said one of the Drillers as he stepped close.

“Whosever holds this purse,” I started, “if they be worthy, shall wield the power of Thor…. Thor ballth.” I swung the helmet underhand into his balls, then up and onto my own head. I let the projection fall away and reveal my armor.

The Drillers didn’t know what to make of all this until I grabbed a turkey leg off someone’s plate and jumped forward, bashing one of the mercenaries into the wall. It broke over the next one’s head, who fell like a sack of potatoes. The next closest had time to pull a handheld drill with a conical bit like the one that brought him there. I looked around for a suitable weapon of my own now that I didn’t have a leg to fight on. I settled for a dish of dressing.

I charged him. He charged me, yelling. Drill met dressing, and plowed on into it, throwing dressing into the both our faces. Except I had a helmet. I pulled out, spun to the side, and wanged him in the head with the casserole dish the dressing had been stuffed into.

I turned to deal with the other two who had gone out, but I saw them being dealt with. One little girl had one of the guys by the ear. A boy about to enter puberty grabbed onto another and the guy instantly fell asleep, the kid leaving behind a round mark where he’d touched him.

That just left the one riding the big drill. He took one look at the situation and told a walkie talkie, “Plan B failed. Plan C.” With a whir, the drill bit began glowing red and drilled downward, curving sharply away after it got down enough feet.

I let him go. My part in all this was done, except for seeing to the same guy I assumed they were after. I headed out the doors, finding most of the party happening elsewhere. They could change locks, but hallways, so I found my way to the access for the underground section I’d been kept in. I was right at the door when I felt explosions. When I got in, I found a trio of openings along the floor of the hallway, Drillers spilling out. I felt more tremors, but nothing else opened up near me.

If I had to guess, they figured out the underground stuff had to be where Bass was being kept. It would have been too reinforced to go in stealthy, so then they opted to draw people out and have him turned over as part of a hostage situation. Plan C must mean blowing open holes and just looking all over for him.

I was a deadly, beautiful blur of braining and brawling as I beat the bastards up, down, left, and below. I even picked one up and squeezed him until he squeaked like a toy rubber duck. It was more a matter of getting through the numbers, even as the lights cut off and the fire sprinklers in the hallway started spraying us all down. The dark didn’t seem to bother them either so long as they had their goggles on. It was the dying that offended their sensibilities. Or, as I found out when I started opening doors, it was because they’d also been burning through walls in the side rooms.

I don’t know who else they had in there, I just know I didn’t find anybody. No one. Zip. Zilcho. I actually had one of them in a head lock as I opened the last door in the hallway. Finding nothing, I shoved his head into the doorway and slammed the door on it until things cracked.

I was walking back to the stairs when the lights came back on and a group of heroes, Venus in the lead, came into view on the stairs. “What happened?” asked Venus.

“They got him, I think At least, every damn room down here’s empty and got a hole in it.”

“Jesus, someone’s paying a lot of money,” she said.

“Oh, they’ll pay something,” I said. “Get me some of the Drillers.”

Venus held up her hand. “No.”

The other two heroes with her, the same femullet and guy from the other day, flinched back.

“’No’ is an unacceptable answer,” I said. “How about you rethink it before this night gets even worse.”

She raised her chin up. “It has nothing to do with you.”

“My blown-up boxers say otherwise.”

“Psychsaur pulled it all out of his mind last night. We know who he works for and why he did what he did. Some Middle Eastern delegation was staying there. He didn’t know you were there. He just didn’t care about collateral damage, like your boxers. This whole thing is paranoia, revenge, and stupid bad luck. It’s just what happens when one guy decides a group has to die and doesn’t care who gets in his way. It sounds familiar to me.” She raised an eyebrow.

I cocked my head to the side. “Give me a name for the organization, then. Something to keep an eye out for in case they get in my way again. Then we can go back upstairs and eat some pie. You like pie, right Boopsie?”

She rolled her eyes at the innuendo. “EAGLE. All capital letters, but it’s not an abbreviation for anything. They’re one of the groups we have now in the not-so-United States. They’re almost impossible to find.”

I waved toward the holes in the floor. “We got tunnels, don’t we?”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “We have people working on that. They loop around and dead end. By the time we reach the real exit, they’ll be long gone. Meanwhile, we have people to take care of, prisoners to secure, and a lot of people who need reassurance and a meal.” She unfolded her arms and held out a hand for me. “Come on. Let’s take care of you, too.”

“I don’t want to end it here,” I told her. “It can’t. This is stupid.”

“If you have someone you love to care for, it has to end here for now,” she told me.

Most of my part in taking care of the place was helping them with their food problems and thinking of a way to hunt down this EAGLE. Well, part of me thought of that. Another part thought that if this is just that dumb luck, she’s not entirely wrong about dropping it. A third was still pretty sure Rhonda and Leland were sizing me up, but they probably had a clue who I was by now. It didn’t stop them from sitting near me or letting our daughters chat away.

I didn’t sleep easy that night. Not over fear or regret. Some of it was residual anger. Some of it was being the middle spoon. Some of it was the cold. I woke up to find the covers stolen and Leland a bit cold natured, but that’s not what pulled me out of sleep. It’d be the alert from a little bit of malware I spread all over that damn school. Which reminds me, better make sure Kayla’s parents didn’t give me any meatspace malware.

Call it paranoia, or just being a villain, but I made sure to connect to computers and phones to leave a little something behind to keep an eye out for clues. Just certain phrases, like “EAGLE” and “Sam Bass” and “where they went” and “tracking”. When heard, microphones would activate and send me a recording of the conversation, with different priority levels based on how many of the phrases were used together.

Like an exchange between Psychsaur and Venus about how they knew the extraction was coming and planted a tracking device on Sam Bass just in case he was rescued and taken to an EAGLE base.

Well looky there. Now I get a chance to hunt down EAGLE and fry it. Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

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The Empyreal March 7

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And I thought this was going to be hard. No, I really thought it’d take more to get the military to back the fuck off. Thing was, it wasn’t the reporter showing that the soldiers were rescued and being taken care of, nor that innocent people were hurt or killed in the attack. It wasn’t the illegality of the soldiers being in the city in the first place. It wasn’t the lack of reinforcements. It wasn’t all sorts of things that were so easy to predict.

Nope, it was the incompetency of the Commander-in-Chief. It’s amazing. I’m not meaning to make all this political, but he’s the one inserting himself into everything and failing. Apparently the idiot went and watched the clip of the video in the middle of some hotel restaurant and it leaked out. I’m beginning to understand what people mean when they can’t even. They chose this over me. They fucking chose THIS over me.

Worse, it totally stopped me from being able to hold out. I just… seriously? I had it all planned out. I’d let things deteriorate, push to get my connectivity restored, and push for having my recovery improved with nanites. Maybe have something dramatic happen, wake up to an attack so I can singlehandedly save the day. It would have made a great music video.

Seriously, though, this just seems like stupid way for things that to end. I mean, the military’s still around. When the school’s scouts came back, they just burst into the cafeteria talking about how the military’s pulled back to Central Park. A cheer went up among everyone.

Well, almost everyone. I caught a distinct glare from Good Doctor, who sat beside Elita the Warrior Woman. She didn’t look too friendly either at that moment. I checked my food, a plate of some of the worst meat loaf I’ve ever stuffed into any hole on my body. It probably wasn’t poisoned, but just because neither Elita nor Good Doctor tend to use it.

Good Doctor’s power makes him deviously competent at finding weak points. Armor, both natural and artificial, as well as all the various weaknesses of a human body. Got an old knee injury that acts up? He’s your guy.

Elita’s the muscle. Big, strong, and with the ability to level a building if she’s mad. Unlike me, that’s without using explosives. There are ways to work around that, but it’d be a very bad thing to let her get her hands on you. There are multiple parts of her body she could use to snap me like a twig, some of them more fun than the rest. Then again, no body part’s that fun if it’s breaking you in half. I’ve never had my spine snapped in an amusing and entertaining way. That’ll have to go on the bucket list.

It’s entirely possible they’ve decided my usefulness is at an end. The same thought crossed my mind when I passed by Psychsaur walking with Victor Mender. Minotaur stepped behind them, holding a clipboard and chewing on the eraser of a pencil.

This was a bad time to have things so readily on my mind. I walked away briskly, wondering if it made any difference at this point. But am I just paranoid and schizophrenic, or did Psychsaur watch me leave?

Down in my little prison cell room, I started packing what I could carry. I slid into my armor and wished the place had a few more exits. They might kill me. It’s really the only option left. If they try and hold me, I’ll keep trying to escape. Things will get worse. That, or they’ll have to stick me in a situation that’ll cause a major deterioration of my mental state. And considering my brain at the moment, that also means they’ll never let me go. Or if they do, I’ll be some shambling old Alzheimer’s victim threatening people while pissing myself.

So I put on my armor. I strapped my chickens onto my belt. I packed my half-rebuilt laser potato peeler, its single blade with a gap in the middle still not sharpened enough to my liking. I wrecked my armor-printing machine. I loaded up spare materials and tools in a handy little bag and opened the door.

“Going somewhere?” asked Good Doctor from behind Elita the Warrior Woman, who did a great job of blocking off the hall.

“Ah, my old buddy. Now, I know what you’re thinking: should I kill Gecko? I can point you to a website with several answers to that question that may surprise you.”

“Why do you persist, even now, in claiming I am your friend?” He shook his head, glaring at me from under slicked-back hair. He liked to do that before “operating,” if he had a choice. In one hand, he held one of his scalpels. In the other, his mask, a sort of leather helmet that encompassed a visor area and a lower face covering.

I sighed. “It’s how I’ve thought of you. A wayward friend. You were ashamed of what you were, but you were still a friend.”

“You know why I did it. She meant the world to me. Then you…” He looked down, then lifted his mask over his face.

I nodded. “Yeah, I did. Maybe someone else would have eventually. You knew what she was. There are many risks, and you used to be one of them. I did what I chose to do, but so did she. She could have walked away at any point.”

“Could you?” he asked, his voice somewhat muffled now.

I pondered the question for a moment. “Huh. Point to you then. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise how it all ended. I hate that I did that to you, but I have to think about my life. I don’t have the luxury of imagining that my death serves some greater purpose to the world than long-overdue justice.”

“That works for me,” Elita finally spoke up. “You did so much to the world, I don’t know why the Academy left you alive.”

I shrugged. “I owe them a debt for saving me, I guess. A debt they intend to call in. But yeah, bad things goes down when I start believing in higher causes. That’s part of why I miss just going around doing my own random shit.”

She clenched a very painful-looking fist. “Got any fancy websites for me before I pound you?”

Under my helmet, my eyebrow rose. So many things I could do with that one. I just had to settle with. “Yeah. Www.gofuckyourself.com.” I opened my mouth and let loose a piercing banshee scream in a tony designed to paralyze the human body upon being heard. A gift from my time in the Cube. They used it to keep inmates under control when being handled or moved. I replicated it.

Both former villains went down, allowing my to hop over them and head up into the school itself.

There, I actually found another group headed by my way. Minotaur, Mender, Venus, and Psychsaur. Venus was even in her power armor, all shiny with its heavy plates. I didn’t know how many of them it would take to whoop my ass, but I knew how many they were gonna use.

“Please,” I thought. I turned to head down the opposite direction of the hallway but felt my body lock up

“Sorry,” I felt in my mind. “Why?”

“I must be made whole,” I thought back. I tried speaking and told the approaching heroes. “I’ll go. I’ll leave.”

“I am afraid I cannot let you do that,” said Mender’s computerized voice. “You brought an attack down on my children. You have been a menace to us despite our leniency. Remove your armor now. It is not as though you can leave.”

Someone must not have found out Psychsaur cozied up to me.

I screamed again. Psychsaur tried to cut me off, and it stopped me for a moment, but that was a moment when her own body became like jelly. It actually worked. I could move again, while Minotaur and Psychsaur crumbled. That just left Venus and Mender. Easy.

A pair of cannons rose from the back of Mender’s wheelchair even as Venus stepped forward. “You can’t win.”

“Ya know, I didn’t even want to fight right now. Can’t you just let me go? Are your morals that set in stone?” I asked.

“Some things can’t be compromised,” she responded. She jumped forward, over the downed bodies of her colleagues. She punched with enough force to break bones. I caught it easily. The left hand came forward in another punch, and I caught it as well. A metal spike shot forward but didn’t penetrate my gauntlet. My HUD reported a power surge. My gauntlets fed incoming excess energy to my suit’s batteries. “Lets get you out of that armor and back in your cell.”

“Oh, look, that ECM trick.” I jumped up kicked her in the chest, letting go of her fists to send her stumbling back to fall over her stirring friends. I turned and ran, dodging a lightning bolt and catching another with my gauntlet.

This time, there was no telekinetic force catching me, and the rest of the students didn’t get involved as I fled the school and into the city. I found a building that’s unoccupied above the first floor due to damage. Hell, I escaped at all! I guess I should have realized it when Psychsaur had to lock me down on her own. Or maybe I should have realized sooner that I even could make myself escape. It’s confusing. What did I know and when did I know it? It must have been when she gave me the ability to cuss and hurt people again.

That’s it, Psychsaur doesn’t die even if she was the one behind Mecha Gecko!

So now I rebuild. Get myself a proper lab going again, build up my own supply of nanites. Maybe take over the city. The Ukrainians had to run and hide, so that probably put a damper on their big money-makers. The military’s going to be on its way out. The Master Academy is a bit defensive, and I already know these newbie heroes couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

And I do have an agenda. I was serious about owing the Master Academy a debt. Despite my actions, I still hold to that. So first, I make Empyreal City great again. That includes making it a bit safer for them. And I kinda like this place. I think I’ll keep it around, and that means finding a way to encourage people to not completely abandon this city, blown up and disaster-prone as it is. I mean, it’s really been hammered a lot lately.

I’m not quite sure how to do that as a villain. I’m sure as shit not doing it as a hero. But I have a feeling I’m going to have one hell of a fun time figuring it out. I mean, that’s just a given when one of your first decisions is whether or not to assassinate multiple world leaders. I guess it depends on how big a bounty they’ll put on my head when I expose myself to the world.

Now, do I shave the pubes completely, or maybe leave it in some sort of heart shape?

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The Empyreal March 6

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Believe it or not, I did think this through. I feel the need to clarify that, considering the school is now under a siege. This current President doesn’t understand subtlety. At this point, I suspect he doesn’t know the meaning of most words in the dictionary. There’s a rumor going around that he can’t actually read, which is at least somewhat consistent with reports that he often just ignores the speeches written out for him.

It didn’t start as a siege so much, actually. The early morning following Valentine’s Day, alarms started going off all over the place, even as I was taking a post-intimacy walk. The Walk of Shame, some call it. I don’t know why they call it that, anyway. I just got laid. Should be the Walk of Standing Ovations. The Academy Award for Best Supporting Fucker for his work in the documentary “Against The Wall: A Deeper Exploration of Her Pink Floyd.”

Or, if the audience isn’t so lucky, the walk of pelting people with rocks. Some people really don’t like to be reminded that other people have someone else.

Nevertheless, I was on the stairwell down when the alarms started going off. I rushed down to find a window and check out what was happening when I heard the discharge of firearms. They tend to have a fiery discharge and leave someone with a sharp burning sensation, quite unlike myself. That doesn’t mean someone outside wasn’t getting fucked, and I was trying to make sense of who it was.

Some of our refugees were trading shots with a group of soldiers. Not a full-on war front, but a group like you’d send in to assassinate someone. Which was stupid. A compound this large, you don’t just send in one team. At the very least, you’d have multiple helicopters to provide support.

That’s when the choppers flew up. I didn’t get a good look in the darkness, but they thumped closer and provided cover fire that sounded like it killed a lot of unarmed civilians. They weren’t all armed, but some naturally felt the need to go around with weapons in case they needed to murder each other. In this case, it worked out a bit and gave us an early warning sign.

So much of an early warning sign, in fact, that somebody activated the school’s defenses. I noticed something rise out of the top of a stone pillar off in the darkness. There were several in the wall around the school. It must have been a rocket launcher of some sort based on the rocket it launched that shot into one of the choppers. It actually took a couple of hits before it crashed, landing on campus. The other one tried to pull out, and then crashed outside school grounds after taking multiple shots from multiple pillars.

Supers were rushing all over the place, and not necessarily in the best state of dress, either. But they were up and running. And I had an idea. I grabbed a couple of them who I didn’t recognize. “Come here, we need medics and doctors and shit.”

“But we aren’t-!” They didn’t answer so much as I pulled them out and we headed out through a door into the back. We ran toward the downed chopper.

“I’m not killing any soldiers!” shouted one of the ones following me.

“That’s the point!” I said. Yes, we were running to help them. We made it to the wreckage. It’s dangerous to just pull stuff off people or pull them out of vehicles in that kind of situation unless you’re a trained emergency responder. On the plus side, I’ve been the cause of so many similar injuries and crashes that I have a pretty good knowledge of what to watch for. And, it turns out, these guys have some basic training for handling all that.

Between the three of us, we managed to pull a few soldiers free and alive. Others had been thrown clear and were knocked out or otherwise so easily injured to be subdued without much problem. In the end, we had a half dozen of them in various stages of distress laid out nearby. I was watching over them as well while the others rushed in to get more manpower to see to the wounded. There was a lot of need for it, though by the time I had a moment to rest on it, I no longer heard gunshots. That could mean something bad, but what I knew of the school’s size and the student body’s capabilities suggested otherwise.

They all just groaned as I searched them over for any information, weapons, or hidden equipment. That included headsets with camera linkups. A quick glance in one showed they had drones and satellite views of the school. The night was alight with chatter, too. They were in retreat, wondering if reinforcements were coming in from the city so they could get their lost guys. Navy guys, from the jargon they used. Not all branches of the military call the same things the same things. Some people get to the choppa; others get to the helo.

When the guys showed up with some stretchers and a few of the more battle-ready supers, I held out one of the headsets for them. “Here ya go. Let’s just get these guys inside to a nice, warm, difficult to penetrate infirmary where they can heal up for awhile.” I looked down to the soldiers, though they might not have liked being called such. Again, more military terminology stuff. “Now remember, you’re patients, not prisoners. Because we’re not at war with you or anybody. So even though you attacked us for some reason, we’ll patch you up to the best of our ability.”

Yeah, that’s the plan. Officially, we didn’t take anyone prisoner. We’re not hostile, here. Some guy just ordered a death squad in to kill certain people, apparently without adequate intelligence, and now they’re convalescing as patients. It’s simple, really. Just a failed death squad with me watching them sleep at all hours. With my knowledge of all kinds of ways to kill people, not that they know about that. They don’t know who I am. All they know is they were sent in to secure the school, somehow.

Mender had a pretty good idea what happened, though. “They were after me,” he said to the assembled heroes and myself. “If I were eliminated, this school would fall into disarray,” his digitally-crafted voice spoke. “You would have surrendered with a gun to my head.”

I opened my mouth but about three different people elbowed me in the stomach at the same time. I don’t see what the big deal is. I was just going to say, “Speak for yourselves.” Weird thing is, Venus wasn’t anywhere near me. She was standing off by Psychsaur, holding hands. Psychsaur shot me a look. Was that sheepish, I wondered? I mean, the scales and all made it harder to tell. With the reptile features coming into play, she’s got inhuman lips and a face that extends out a bit.

My line of thought was interrupted by a burst of thoughts into my head, most of which amounted to “Sorry,” in various ways that all talked over each other. I caught a wave of embarrassment from her, which oddly caused my own face to flush.

On the plus side, I totally got a sneak peek at some memories that flashed through her head. So that was fun. Irrelevant to the conversation at hand, but fun.

“Do we know why they attacked now as opposed to any other time?” I asked, leaning over the back of a chair in front of me.

“We have ways of determining that,” Mender said. “You are not included in that for a reason.”

I looked around for Good Doctor, but didn’t see him there.

Mender continued on, “I see no reason why you are included in this meeting at all.”

“Maybe because I took charge and got the prisoners… I mean, patients… out of their wreck and arranged for them to be brought in here. Not the first-”

I didn’t think I could be thrown out a door that fast without taking the door with it. It was all a blur. I don’t know if it was telekinesis, super speed, force fields, super strength, or some combination of it all. It’s impressive, actually. No matter how strong an individual villain, there’s something a little awesome about being so thoroughly smacked around by a combination of strong superpowers. Then you snap to attention in a prison cell with a lot of unexplained bruises in unusual places. Tonsils, for instance. We’ve all been there, whether it’s supervillainy or a trip to Mexico on a drunken bender.

So I didn’t get to find out more about these methods, but they probably involve the psychics of the group. And while they dealt with the soldiers and other wounded from the attack, the bunch in Central Park sent a detachment to guard the main entrance of the school. Considering the size of the school, it would have taken probably the entire bunch to encircle the campus, and they weren’t going to advance with the force they sent. Too few men for the job.

Curious about that, I checked the internet for various things. Reporters, news, all that. The legal problems associated with the initial deployment has held up reinforcements, especially now that this President is having some legal problems. And some scandals related to him and officials in his administration having unusually close ties to Russia. The whole thing’s a mess: Ukrainians mobsters, Russians, the President of the United States, domestic militia superheroes, and the Claw. The fuck is going on here?

To answer that question, I decided to kidnap someone who might have the answer. I knew her as Tricia Tijuana, my ex-fake-wife. She once helped me out of prison on behalf of a guy I know in the media who may or may not still like me. He was under alien control when he turned on me. The kidnapping went easy, too. Just a matter of rolling over in the morning and asking her, “Hey, you want a Pulitzer?” She was freaked out, naturally. She didn’t know who I was, but that’s not the first time I’ve put a bag over a woman’s head in bed. Like most kidnapping victims, she warmed up to me once I dragged her back to my place of residence and explained why she should want to be there. Don’t try it at home. I had lots of hurt teenagers there, too. Made it a lot easier.

So now the news gets a nice view of wounded soldiers being tended to by the dutiful nurses, right alongside the wounded refugees and heroic teenagers who were so brutally attacked by members of the military just like the ones now parked outside a school, threatening displaced refugees from the recent bombings.

It’s made such a wonderful narrative, and all the better when soldiers began to die in small groups in their movements around the city. On patrol, while responding to criminal activity, even when just hanging out trying to get lunch at Hibachi Yum Yum.

I had to avoid fancy knifework at that last one. The place is barely staying open as-is; it doesn’t need criminal suspicions on top of it.

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The Empyreal March 5

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A little sleep goes a long way, as does good nutrition. Good nutrition injected straight into my veins, just like the Psychopomp Project used to make. Well, it tried it for a bit. Back in the early days of it, before the guys running it really went off their rockers, they tried weaning us off food for a bit in the hopes it would make us more efficient. There were some failures, which then led to teaching us the basics of cooking, including which recipes made the best use of people. Just in case. As long as you have a corpse, you have food. Hell, as long as you don’t mind losing a limb or two, you still have food in desperate situations.

I may have deleted some of those recipes from my memory.

After a little rest and a long shower, it was time to get to work setting upon my enemies and scouring them from the face of the Earth. Which, admittedly, involves getting a video from my brain. Hitting my head against a desk in the library, sadly, didn’t help ideas for that come any quicker. I stopped when I realized I had enough other people around willing to slam my head into things that I didn’t need to resort to it myself lest they get in on the act. And that reminded me of the person who most liked bashing my head against things. Or at least the most prominent person to get away with it: Venus.

And she gave me ideas. Many fun ideas.

Problem was, where to find her? I looked all over that school. I failed to find her, but Good Doctor found me while I was checking the gym. He had normal clothes on, presumably happy to be out of his gear, but I noticed a belt of scalpels around his waist as he stepped in there and walked quite purposefully toward me.

“Hello there, fellow escapee,” I said, smiling. He popped me in the throat with his fist. I held a hand up toward him and put the other one to my throat. I bent over, not wanting to fight him. Just because he didn’t think he was a friend didn’t mean he stopped being one. He took advantage of the position with a kidney punch. Fucker would know how to hit there. And he kept hitting there, which hurt a hell of a lot. I let myself drop, hoping he’d just start kicking instead, at least until he kicked me there a few times.

He left me laying there, and probably with plenty more bruises ready to join the leftovers from my beating. I rolled over. “Gonna be pissing blood for a month now. You happy?”

He was on top of me in a flash, holding a scalpel to my throat. “You took away the only happy thing in my life, you bastard!” He raised the scalpel.

“Stand down!” yelled Venus. I recognized the voice.

Good Doctor heard it too and looked up, then back down to me. I could see the struggle written on his face. “Why?” he growled. “What excuse is there this time? What lies has he told to make you believe his continued existence is necessary?!”

I almost said something, but it occurred to me that pretty much anything I said might force his hand. Plus, I wasn’t sure if Venus had an answer for that. I was curious.

She might have been, too. I looked up and she paused briefly before continuing to walk. “You’re not the courts. You don’t have the right.”

“The right?” His eyes widened in disbelief. “I don’t have the right? He killed my daughter. I have every right. He doesn’t get to hide behind rights and courts after all he’s done.”

“That’s what he says to justify why he kills. I know it’s hard to hear, but you’re a smart man. He killed your daughter and you are compromised by emotion. ” She stood over me. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever looked up between her legs while she’s worn jeans before.

I looked back up to Doc’s face, and I could tell he was learning why I hated her so much. He wasn’t going to do it. I thought he’d slam the scalpel into the floor next to my face. Instead, he clenched his fist and lowered the scalpel to his belt where it slipped into place among a few of its brethren. Taking deep breaths, he stood up and backed away from me.

I just looked up to Venus, who held her hand out to help me up out of instinct, then pulled it back before the offer got all the way out there. I put my hands under my head. “Heya there, Venus. You know, you look good in casual clothes. Also, I need your help with something.”

“I don’t want to know, do I?” she asked, standing well away from my head.

Huh. She looked a lot better in jeans and a shirt than she did in skintight costumes. I could give or take the mask, but the body makes me want to go “Oh yeah, baby, I’m gonna disappoint you so hard.”

“Well, you would need to be closer than that,” I explained. “See, I have this video I took on my eye. Sadly, y’all disabled wifi and cellular connectivity, which means I can’t call it an eye-phone, nor can I upload it in any way myself. And since you teamed up with a supervillain to strip me of my powers, I can’t just connect to something else to get it out there. So I’m sitting on some really useful knowledge, some video that could really help the situation, with no way to get it out there. So I got to thinking maybe you would be able to connect to me and transfer some data.”

“This is some kind of trick,” Good Doctor said. Venus nodded her agreement with his assessment.

“Look,” I leaned up on my elbows. “I’m serious. I didn’t stay in there that long just to get my ass kicked. I don’t entirely know why I went in there, aside from a bad experience with a flashbang and a bunch of soldiers. But I have something useful. Something that could lead your pansy asses to a less violent means of victory. I got my ass kicked for this. An old woman with some serious balls got shot in the face for this, and not by me. Other supers died in that fucking explosion. Look past me and think of the sunk cost fallacy, people.”

They didn’t know what to say to that, possibly because I seemed to give a damn and possibly because my last sentence took the piss out of the whole rest of it. I rolled my eyes then and raised a scalpel I’d stolen off Doc’s belt to my temple. “Ok, so I’ll cut in there, find whatever hole or patch y’all left from when y’all went in the first time, and open the way.” I held a finger from that hand out to dig into my hair, looking for an irregular spot close to where I knew the brain-based hard drive to be. “Venus, you need to stick a finger in, but I’m probably not going to be able to guide you. Come to think of it, that’s a bit of a setback I haven’t thought about. Just look through this last week, particularly my time in captivity. Good stuff. You’ll love the part when I’m on the chair.”

I didn’t give her a chance to respond to all that before I dug the scalpel into my scalp in what I figured was the correct spot. I gritted my teeth. She rushed forward and grabbed my hand, yanking it away. I winced up at her. “Ow. Pull out, not to the side. That hurt.”

Laughter broke her shocked expression. I didn’t laugh with her, just pulled up a small flap of skin and hair. “If you’re doing acting like I’m Patton Oswalt or something, there’s the matter of the data I still need to get to so you can get to it.”

She didn’t let me take the scalpel to my own head again. “No. I don’t even know how to do that if you could get to it!”

I sighed and let her take the scalpel. “What the fuck have you been doing with those powers, huh?”

She stood up and held the scalpel out to Good Doctor who took it. Couldn’t make out much of his thoughts on the matter, but maybe he was glad at least one of his tools got a taste of my blood.

I stood up. “Dammit. The needle and thread’s going to itch like hell now, too.”

“Needle and thread?” asked Good Doctor.

Venus answered back. “He doesn’t get access to nanites, even though he’s just a human now.” I just shook my head, once again being reminded of my horrible and disfiguring medical condition: being human. I headed to the door, keeping a hand on my scalp. Wasting my damn time, that’s all that was.

“Doc, can you tell some moron not talk about me like I’m not even here? Nevermind, give me a few seconds.” I didn’t let the door hit me on my way out and walked to the infirmary for a little bit of self-stitching. They had a couple nurses there working on students, so I just handled myself. Though, I did expect more. They managed to bring in more specialized staff for myself, unless they also have healers. And in this case, it wouldn’t even matter.

Venus caught up after a couple minutes while I was putting my head back together. She stuck her head through the door. “Don’t close up just yet!.”

I sighed and shook the needle at her, the thread still running back to my scalp. “Why the fuck not?”

“What if we plug something in that you could download the information to it?”

“It’s not like I built in USB connections.”

“Well there has to be some way,” she said, exasperation filling her voice.

“Some way other than restoring just one capability to me. This city is dying while we sit around, you know.” I crossed my arms as I looked up at her.

She glared at me. “You don’t get to pull that. It was never that simple with you. Now I’m about to go and have a good time. If I hear you caused any trouble while I was gone, I’ll let the Good Doctor have his with with you and NOT how you want. I’ll tell him it would be more fun to leave you an armless and legless.”

“Geez, Boopsie, a little high strung?”

She messed with her dark hair with one hand. “I have a Valentine’s Date.”

I raised an eyebrow and let my eyes wander in the direction of the city.

She added, “In another state. If you mess up anything, you will be back in that cell. Maybe you’ll keep your legs.”

“T’would be but a flesh wound, m’lady. But fine. I’ll sit here. What am I going to do, email my brain to someone?” I waved her off. “Now go on with your life. Go ahead. I’m just the nemesis you don’t have anymore time for. Shoo, shoo.”

Well, Venus left to go get ready for her date. Which she went on. With Psychsaur. Bit of a surprise there. Psychsaur picked up my attractions, but I thought Venus was Catholic. They weren’t the only ones doing couple stuff, which just further rubbed in that I was likely to be left rubbing one out alone. I had options, but that wasn’t the main thing on my mind. No, before I grabbed a box of wine and a pair of hoses to drink it with, I had to build myself a small transdimensional receiver.

It’s one of those capable of picking up a signal I bounce out of another dimension. Venus gave me ideas, sure, but not just the ones Psychsaur got to share. Ideas like “how about I trick the heroes into fixing me a little?” And it didn’t quite work yet, but I think I know how to make it work. So I fixed a receiver and prepared a small section for broadcast into another dimension, at which time it will be bounced back to the receiver, ready to be attached to a secured and untraceable email pointing out that Master Academy is in possession of an extremely damaging video. Sure, the White House has filters and all sorts of ways to track people down, but I know full well just how secure they are and aren’t. It comes with being emperor and doing interesting things in the Lincoln bedroom with a pair of Korean twins and a Japanese schoolgirl. We got so wild, they could have renamed it the Kennedy bedroom or the Clinton office.

And then it was off to MY date. Because I can totally get one, and not just with hookers. I know it’s not polite to call them that, but the chances of them ending up dead with me are pretty high, and they’re hookers when they’re dead in the trunk of your car.

On that note, Happy Surviving Valentine’s Day.

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New Year’s Retribution 8

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This city has gone to hell in a handbasket. And don’t just take that from me! It’s all over the news.

I found out after tinkering with my gauntlets some more. It was partially about upgrading the energy sheathes and partially about making sure they were clean after where I stuck one. The day seemed unusually quiet around the library. Even that couple who uses the study room weren’t showing up, which was really rude of them. What if I’d been hosting a webcam show, only for my main attractions to no-show?

When I headed out to the refectory to grab something to eat, I came across the first real confirmation of something unusual: a bigass cake. For those picture a cake in the shape of a butt, sorry to disappoint. Though it’d be awesome if one of those had a stripper pop out of it, right between the cheeks. A black stripper.

That probably comes across as racist, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than finding a pale green stripper.

I didn’t know what the celebration was about, but that’s no excuse for skipping over cake. I even ignored an alert from my phone about the motion sensors. There hadn’t been any significant movement from visitors other than check-ups, so I felt confident in ignoring it for the time being. I ended up getting three pieces. Fighting uses a lot of energy, so I was going to get two anyway, but then I just felt like getting an extra one for another person. It wasn’t consideration or anything. I just knew I’d need another for another person. I kept it to the side until Psychsaur walked in and sat down next to me, taking her piece without a word.

I looked over at her and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged and took the extra fork I’d brought over and ate. I squinted and looked back at the cake and the line for it. She pulled out her phone and looked up a video, then handed it over.

The video was of a local news broadcast announcing a complete lack of major or super crimes the night before. Muggings, attempted murders, and so on, but nothing big was pulled off. I mean, attempted murder sounds bad, but they were stopped before it became a completed murder. Nobody robbed a bank or stole a shipment of computers or anything like that. Crime in Empyreal City had dropped to a record low as part of a trend since the chaos immediately after I was supposedly killed. Empyreal City always had its heroes. In addition to them, the city now had Master Academy, reformed villains, and even these newbies. The poor criminals just couldn’t keep up for very long, even with me adding in a little bit of hijinx.

Darn thing must have been on auto-play, though. It loaded up another video right after that of the new President threatening to send the military into Empyreal City if it doesn’t clean up all the carnage. Turns out that one was from after the announcement about low crime, too.

“I doubt he’s heard of Posse Comitatus,” Psychsaur said, reading my mind. Not practically reading my mind, just literally reading my mind. It was a bit weird with how easily we seemed to be thinking each other’s thoughts, especially because I couldn’t really feel her in my head anymore. And yeah, we both thought it was odd, though apparently she suspected it might happen. She’d been trying to avoid me because of it, but slipped in out of habit sometimes when she was close enough. She wasn’t used to having such a long range, either, but she could keep up with me much further than anyone else.

I didn’t put a sympathetic arm around her, but it’s the thought that counts. It did weird me out having some sort of weird two-way telepathic communication where we simply thought each other’s thoughts. I’d prefer hearing voices in my head. That one made her laugh, though she quickly stifled it. I’d noticed we were drawing looks, and the thought went through her mind as well.

It wasn’t just those kinds of thoughts passing between us. I realized that soon after when I looked through and found myself feeling like I could really go for some Chinese. Or maybe he was Japanese. Regardless, he was a bit more on the buff and overly-muscled side for my normal preferences. I shot Psychsaur a look, but she was staring at the ass of this girl in tight leggings. We agreed the trade went both ways there.

So it was a teensy bit weird, and oddly calming, to sit beside her. Just enjoying a snack and another person’s presence, and not in a romantic way. She was perfectly attractive, but I didn’t feel any urge whatsoever to do to her what I’d dreamed about a few times, even if it would have been a perfect time to bender her over a table and be all like “Oh yeah, baby, I’m about to disappoint you so HARD!”

Then Venus stormed in, an irate expression upon her brown face. Psychsaur, being such a perv, really liked what she looked like angry.

“Have you seen the news?” My nemesis asked in a huff.

I cocked my head. “I thought it was news you liked. Crime down, heroes helping build schools and so on… that kind of crap.”

She held up her phone, where a news show on the most-watched news network in America was saying, “Unlike the biased mainstream media, we’re showing you the facts, and the facts are that monkeys have been causing chaos and panic in Empyreal City.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Geez, they’re not even hiding the racism anymore, are they?”

Cut to a picture of a baboon on a motorcycle with a pirate hat on, then another few pictures of a baboon fighting someone’s excuse for a superhero. They even repurposed the photos I’d staged to make the heroes look bad, only now they claimed the newbies were putting down a riot. Any idiot with a working memory would know it’s a lie… which meant this channel’s viewers were buying this hook, line, and sinker.

I looked between Venus and the screen, then settled on Venus. “I mean, I think it’s awesome that Animal Planet revamped Law and Order. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Because,” she said loudly, then noticed plenty of people paying attention to the argument. She lowered her voice and leaned forward over the table. I maintained eye contact. Psychsaur looked down her shirt. “You know what, just keep on listening.”

“That is why the new President of the United States has declared in a press release today that, in addition to his inauguration clearly being the largest in U.S. History, he will send in the Feds if anything else happens in Empyreal City. This is a direct quote from him, he said, ‘Does the President care about Americans? Of course I do. I love Americans, especially Real Americans. Nobody loves Real America more than I do, but we cannot allow all these explosions and gang violence to continue in Empyreal City. If they don’t fix the carnage in their city, I will send in the Feds. It will be the biggest and quickest cleanup of crime in an American city in history. Nobody cleans up crime like I do. Nobody.’”

I rolled my eyes. “Put that away, Venus, you’re killing people’s appetites. Psychsaur over here keeps imagining having to call him the Commander in-” I held up a finger and took a moment to gag before continuing. “Not going to finish that sentence. Besides, I don’t know what anyone’s talking about with gang violence and explosions. I’m one person, and I’ve kept a firm hand on all my cocks. They don’t just explode all over everything, willy-nilly.”

A fireball erupted out of the corner of my eyes, off into the city, followed quickly by a half dozen more and a lot of rumbling. I also noticed a beeping from my phone, but that wasn’t so important at the moment. I held up my hands, “It wasn’t me this time.”

Venus grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt and started leading me to Mender. Psychsaur started to follow, then stopped and turned toward the students. “Everyone, stay calm and eat your cake. We’re going to assess and handle the situation.”

I couldn’t keep up with her so well once Venus and I got out of range, but I knew Psychsaur’s mind was racing. She didn’t seem that worried though, so we had that in common.

Venus and I didn’t have to go far to find Mender. We spotted him roll down from the next floor up, drift around that little middle landing of the stairs, then roll down the next flight. He looked like his wheels were being pulled against the floor, his descent was so controlled.

“Sir,” said Venus.

“What she said,” I said.

“What is going on?” he asked.

“Explosions in the city,” I answered. “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess car bombs, but a lot of them. It’s gotta be something big that they managed to get into place. Or something really, really big in the sewers. I know a few recipes, but I was saving them for my guest lecture in Chemistry.”

A voice spoke up from Mender’s computer. Psychsaur’s voice. “He’s remarkably calm, but he didn’t have anything to do with it. He’s got a lot of explosives experience, though.”

“Psycho Puss, stay on campus. Venus, with me,” Mender said. Venus nodded and away they went, leaving me to fend for myself in a harsh new world of exploding buildings.

“Anybody else feel like s’mores?” I asked no one in particular as I wandered off back to the library. I actually had a few students cowering in there with me, including Quincy, the skinny guy with the glasses and glass powers, and Chloe, the girl with pigtails, thick glasses and hair powers. The couple from the study room were out, hopefully after the guy had the decency to ask her, “Did the Earth move for you too?” after the explosions.

“Are you going to do anything?” asked Quincy while I walked over to turn on a giant TV I’d put in.

“I was going to put on Labyrinth, maybe, but if you’re going to whine about it…” I’m not a hero, and a bunch of people hurt in explosions doesn’t faze me. I’ve caused a lot of them myself. And while I could probably be a lot of use helping rescue people from the rubble, I just didn’t care that much. I slipped on my armor just in case. I felt itchy, and not in an addict’s way. More like a good time to be cautious.

I did put on the news for the students while slipping on my suit. The youngsters were old enough to be kept abreast of it. I thought it was on mute at first, but the people trying to talk were stunned into silence as they showed helicopter footage of several damaged buildings, with heroes from all over the city now rushing out to help. I even picked out Master Academy capes already out there, scrambling over the blast sites, including a familiar hospital. I whipped out my phone. One alert when the bombs went off, which makes sense. Both movement and that the bug was shutting down. Fifteen minutes prior, an alert came in of several individuals moving in and out of the mauled speedster’s room.

Huh. They’d tried to evacuate. I briefly wondered if they managed to get him out, or if he had something to do with this. One explosion could be some delusional asshole’s plan, like McVeigh in Oklahoma City. More than one stinks of a plot, and the smelliest of plots are the product of supervillains. That, or just a whole bunch more extremist Christian fundamentalists, like the militia guys.

The TV cut in on my investigation with an urgent message, though. “Alert! Breaking news. Preempting an announcement of a state of emergency, the President has ordered the United States Army deployed to Empyreal City.”

“Well, that’s a fucking beautiful sight,” I said. “Better buckle up, little people. We’re in for a bumpy ride. Something tells me things are about to get messy.”

Ukrainians, militia, new heroes, and a president who talks about sending in the military if any more explosions happen before any explosions happen. This is turning into a really-fucked up Twelve Days of Chinese New Year. No wonder it’s the year of the flaming cock now.

I looked at my little group, who certainly hadn’t steeled themselves. “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t the first time something this bad has happened. Have you even seen last year? You got through that. I know that it just adds up and up. You feel like you’ve reached your limit as bad shit piles on you, and every little cut the world makes against you feels like you can’t take another. But you got through every cut before. You survived that same crap a thousand times. Don’t let just one be the end of you. Especially not when you’re all tougher than this.”

They hesitated. No breaking out into applause. Oh well. So I went on, “Now go get more students. I’ve been told to stay here, but there’s reason it just has to be us. We’re going to need food, water, blankets, tents, and all that. Get those gates open. A lot of people just lost their homes.”

Chloe asked, “What if the people who did all that,” here she motioned in the direction of the city, “get in here and do it too?”

“Then the baddest man on Earth will fuck them up,” I said. “It’s not courage if you only got it when times are good. Besides, there’s no damn excuse for a bunch of so-called heroes to turn away the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. Now, what the hell movies are popular with little kids who need their minds taken off giant explosions?”

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New Year’s Retribution 2

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I do so hate these heroes and their drama. I’m back in my cell again, for now. They brought in one of the other meddlesome mindflayers to play with me. It’s all rough, not quite as lubricated as when Psychsaur would slip into my head. The one who looked into me while I worked on my armor machine and designs for a cape did not have it easy just because it was his first time there. That’s how I wound up back in the cell.

Venus is arguing to Mender that helping out and loosening my restrictions is screwing up any chance of rehabilitating me or otherwise containing the danger I represent. Before they tossed me back down here, I let Mender know what I found out. That’ll help. I’m like his own personal CIA, but without the better dental plan than the FBI. Eh, it has given me time to heal up somewhat. They don’t want me touching nanites.

Besides, they need me. Making myself indispensable, or the lesser of two evils, has always been a good way to avoid getting dispensed with for good. I expected to hear something about all that when the door opened and Mender rolled in. I glimpsed Minotaur and Triclops outside at the door.

Heh. It just then struck me. Minotaur, Triclops, and Venus. Plus, a scaly reptilian woman who can paralyze people with a look, though it’s telepathic or telekinetic instead.

“Hey there, Vicky. Who puts you in those suits, by the way? Is there a student who you have bathe and dress you or-” I didn’t get a chance to finish. A barrel on a swivel mount arose as I mentioned a student and then it felt like getting hit by lightning. Not many people can personally vouch for that, but I’m one of them. I sat there, having inexplicably landed in some sort of puddle, head bobbing a bit even after my sight returned to me.

Mender’s digitized voice maintained its usual calm monotone despite what he said next. “You do not talk about my students like that. Do not suggest anything. They are the only reason you don’t sit in this tiny room with a thousand pounds of weights strapped to you while you eat and excrete through a tube. I would make a deal with the devil to protect them. I have captured one in you.” He paused, the lack of inflection not making it clear at first that he’d finished.

I raised a finger. “So… just to clarify… the same tube, or-”

And again with the electricity! By the time I got my senses again, he’d left. They didn’t put me in those weights. That was a good sign.

Some hours later, another visitor showed up. I don’t know if it was the middle of the night or not, but Psychsaur looked like she had just woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Her feathers were ruffled and messed up. And she appeared to be alone.

I raised an eyebrow but stayed seated against the wall. I felt her in my head again, so much better of a fit than the others at the academy. It didn’t even itch anymore. “Please don’t say anything,” she said. Tough request. I instantly felt the urge to go ahead and make a stupid comment. Which would be predictable, and I’ve also been getting hit a lot lately. I was in my little isolated cell in part because I’d been making no concessions to basic niceties. And I’d gone out of my way to murder a gangster’s wife. I think it sent a good message, but apparently I’m the bad guy. Then again, I am the bad guy.

I nodded and leaned my head back against the wall. She closed the door and sat down against the wall next to it, across from me. We sat like that for a couple minutes. I was curious, but just waited. She finally obliged. “It’s not easy touching your mind. I mean, it’s easy now. It gets easier and easier. I started feeling your thoughts without really trying that much.”

I considered that for a moment and concentrated on myself for a moment. The one I’d been forced to tap into all too often over the past couple of years as I moved from entropy to order. The me underneath. Don’t act surprised. That time with the truth serum forced that bit of me into the light without my say-so, but it was there. I looked her in the eye. “I’m sorry. Nobody should have to put up with this but me.”

“No one should at all,” she said.

“Aww, how sweet of you. Do they teach a course on those platitudes here?” I asked, legitimately. All of me wondered that one. “I only ask because I know what I’ve been like and I know how much you have to hate me. There’s no need to pretend you don’t for my sake.”

“I do, but I understand you too. You dream about it,” she said. She shifted a bit.

I winced. “You shouldn’t be here. They should give you a break from me. But I suppose that’s on me, too. I haven’t played very nicely. Thing is, I can’t even remember those dreams. Most people don’t remember most dreams. I even had a dream about… well, you don’t need that image in your head. It was definitely something you wouldn’t like.” I imagined Scooby Doo and Shaggy instead of giving her the heads-up on that one.

She was quiet again for a moment. I put a hand to my head as I spoke, “You shouldn’t have had me inflicted on you. Another poor corrupted soul, to verge into religious language. I push and I keep at it relentlessly. That’s the key. It’s so hard for people to resist forever. There’s always some give. It’s even a philosophical concept, that it’s better to bend than to break. I bend. I bent. Or did I break? Can you be both broken and bent at the same time? No, I think I bent. Regardless, there are some things worth breaking for instead. I am not one of them. Do not break for me. And pardon all the overly loquacious vocabulary. Deep down, I’m a bit of a wordy douche.”

It’s like there’s two of me. The “public” me with all the chaos, rebelliousness, and juvenile jokes, and the inner me that calculates and thinks and actually has a concept of shame. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. God and Dog, for fans of Fallout. “I couldn’t handle what was going on around me. I did something to make it work instead.” I smiled at her. “I don’t recommend it.”

“This is a better you. You’re the version that didn’t like finding out you weren’t really a good guy,” she said. What can I say? She knows me. “Can’t you stay like this?” Or maybe not.

I shook my head. “It takes a lot of effort to keep myself this way.”

“How can I avoid that?”

“I dunno. I’m not exactly the expert. Just the victim. If I knew how to avoid being a victim, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

Then she said a curious thing. “I can fix you.”

I winced. “Oooh, that’s almost certainly not going to end well. I suppose I don’t have a well-thought-out reason why, given the conventional solution being mind-altering drugs or therapy that involves zapping my grey matter. I guess probably the most pragmatic reason is that you’d be touching more of what I am than ever before. You don’t want that, and I just don’t think it can be done.”

“You don’t want to believe you can change like this,” she observed, sounding way too much like Venus.

“Why exactly did you come down here?” Subject change powers, activate! Form of an elephant in the room! “You’re here and it’s not just oyo wax poetic. You wanted to let me know what I’m doing to you. I’m sorry about that.”

“I wanted to know for sure that you knew who and what you were. I thought I’d give you a chance. I know you better than anyone else now. Tonight, I’m going to take the first step in giving you a chance to be a better person.”

“You’re going to do something stupid,” I said. I felt her get a grip on something in my brain. “Don’t fix me. It’ll end badly, and that’s from both sides of me. You won’t like me when I’m of one mind about something. The Fluidics certainly didn’t. Real fucking bad idea…” My eyes widened and I smiled. I jumped up. “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits!”

Except I got a thought. I turned to Psychsaur. “Fuck, you’re locking me in this room again, aren’t you?”

She stood up and brushed her head feathers. Her smile was much sharper, but surprisingly warm. “I’m not. Come on, there’s still food up in the refectory. Just be careful eating. You wouldn’t want to hurt someone accidentally.” She opened up the door.

Hearing that I even could accidentally hurt these people made me so happy, I thought about that dream I had of Psychsaur. She closed her eyes and raised her hands to massage her temples. “Please, no. No, no, no.”

“Can’t blame a guy for being happy.”

And happy I was. Because there’s my own personal stupidity. When limits were imposed on me from without, I took every opportunity to fight, no matter how big or how small. Sure, now I can slaughter everyone around, but it’s my choice not to. That means so much.

After a refreshing dinner, I gathered up my armor and disabled the machine I used to help build it. I had everything I needed to run off, right with the heroes gathered in the common room to figure out patrols and so on.

Yep, just leave them all to their own inevitable fate, with this whole back-and-forth with militias and protestors and so on. And I was of two minds again. The “fun” part of me figured it would sure be a shame to leave without confirming for sure who it was who put me into this situation in the first place, by using a copy of my mind in a giant robot to nearly kill me. The other part of me remembered that some of these students and heroes had sheltered me. They may have done it for the wrong reasons, but they did it all the same. It would be a shame if I didn’t at least do a little bit for them.

So instead of jumping out of the grounds, I turned around and walked back in. I headed toward the common room in my armor and tried to make my voice sound as nonthreatening as possible.

“I’m going out of my frelling mind without being able to help,” I told the assembled masked faces, who all turned in my direction. Mender shifted his chair to look at Psychsaur in what I figured was supposed to be a glare. I wondered if he knew what she did to me. If any of them knew, actually. “Please,” I followed up with, “let me help. Some of it’s the mystery of the thing. I want to know what’s going on and how everything fits together. And part of it is that I owe a debt. Every little bit helps, so give me a shot again. Something big, something little. And trust me, even the smallest, most insignificant events can have a huge impact.”

So let’s clear out those objectives I had in there before about not cussing, poisoning, physical violence. Wipe them all away.

1. Finish my work and figure out how the fuck these Ukrainians are involved with the people targetting Master Academy, and maybe find out what happened to Michelangelo in the process.
2. Figure out who kept the copy of me around and sent them after me.
3. Get revenge.

Think of it as a good New Year’s Resolution. Cue the cheesy inspirational music!

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Season’s Thievings 11

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The heroes are a bunch of Grinches. That’s the only excuse for the way they reacted when they found out about the stolen computer. Psychsaur passed by and stuck her brain where it didn’t belong. It feels dirty to say this, but I’m starting to get used to the feel of her reaching in there like that. Sadly, my tinfoil cap didn’t do a thing to keep her out. I’m at least willing to check out some of those crazy theories on avoiding mind control. Just don’t ask the scientologists for any help with that. They charge you thousands of dollars and all you get is inducted into a cult centered around alien ghost possession.

On the plus side, anyone who keeps on after finding out all that is almost guaranteed to be left alone by telepaths. Who would want to look into that mind?

Like I should talk, ha!

Shortly after Psychsaur read my mind and promptly ignored my mental image of better ways for her to spend her time than reading my mind, I got a small horde of heroes in the library, and they were curious. I’m curious too. What do you call a horde of heroes? Like, the actual collective noun? A herd of heroes? A cacophony of capes? A den of do-gooders? A pod of party-poopers?

So this veritable bellowing of heroes descended upon the library like bullfinches while I sat with a drink and read through the thing. Like bullfinches, they sounded loud and too annoying to pay attention to. Some yelled at me, some yelled at each other about preferring if Venus was here to handle me, and some shushed the others so no students would come running. Little did they know the only students they had to worry about coming were this couple in the study room. Bless ’em. They’re teenagers. This is the only time in their lives they’re legally allowed to screw underage partners. Who am I to deny them that opportunity when it doesn’t risk flying all over the books?

Finally, the flock of freakin’ felon fighters calmed down by the appearance of Victor Mender in his handy-dandy assisted living wheelchair thingy. That quieted them down as if he stormed in glaring, though he doesn’t really do much with his face these days. “Bring me up to speed,” his computer said. Psychsaur put a hand on his shoulder, the feather, scaled dino-girl’s eyes going glazed and distant for a moment. And I was back there all of a sudden. Relived the whole thing like a flashback. Neat. The blood, the gore, the disappointing lack of endorphins over the blood and gore, everything.

I blinked as everything came back into focus. According to my HUD clock, one second had passed. Psychsaur removed her hand from Mender’s shoulder and glared at me. Or I assume so. It’s safe to assume that’s the default facial expression from most people around here who know I’m me.

“Is this computer going to compromise my children?” asked Mender.

I shook my head. “I checked it over. No tracking devices. It isn’t connected to any networks of any sort, and I know some places to check. It just took me longer than usual to get in courtesy of your horrible human genetic experimentation, but that’s none of my business.” I helped myself to a sip of tea.

“Everyone except Psychsaur leave.” Mender’s commanded. The heroes listened to the digitized voice of their master, and I stood up to get while the getting was good until he added, “Not you. You do not operate without my approval.”

I raised an eyebrow and looked over to Psychsaur.

Mender spoke up again. “I will have her make it official if you push the issue.”

I do so hate giving them what they want without a fight, but I raised my hands. “Fine. Just thought I’d help. You know, handle some of that dirty work you guys don’t bother with. After all, they didn’t shoot any of you with the gun. They shot me. That kind of impudence deserves some revenge.”

“You are a prisoner. I have been lenient because I want something and because I can control you. Do not get on my bad side unless you enjoy that form of control,” he said. “If you had asked for my permission to hunt down the individuals responsible for harming the student you found, I may have given it freely.”

“Student?” I cocked my head to the side.

“From before the purge over nanites. I have extended invitations to those who would come back now that you are incapable of controlling them, but some have not accepted or responded. This boy was one such student. The evil that men do lives on and on.” After making his little point, Mender rolled on over to look at the screen of the computer. I pulled up a program that looked like it came from the Nineties. It was present on the computer and showed an inventory with coded references in place of the sources. If connected to the internet, it could be instructed to synchronize and update its information.

“This is shows me a little bit. A couple of sources handle heavier weapons and ammunition. Surplus military vehicles and equipment. Another seems to have your more specialized materials for building stuff. There’s a couple here that are chop shops for just regular stuff, and even some drug dealers in case that’s needed. I had an idea along those lines before, actually. I might make it happen now.”

“Psychsaur,” he said. I felt her probe my mind again.

“He’s telling the truth. He has a translator.” She walked over and leaned down over the table. “How do you know what the codes mean about the sources?”

I shrugged and opened another document, a simple note the owner of the computer made. “The greatest flaw of any computer system, of course.” I felt her in my head again, seeing my understanding of the note’s contents that laid out which code equaled what. I turned to Victor. “They will be scrambling to change as much of this as they care to. This is a big undertaking. People will be moving stuff all over the place. We must strike while the iron is hot, lest it be used to brand our asses.”

“He’s imagining a donkey,” Psychsaur mentioned offhandedly to explain the cuss word.

“I know you’re enjoying the mental donkey show, but let’s focus on the important stuff here. Like squeezing these guys until they decide it’s more profitable to give us the information we want. Honestly, if they hadn’t been so zealous to protect it in the first place, I’d have passed them right over and been able to do nothing but twiddle my thumbs. And if they’re just overreacting, then they’ll pay for their stupidity. That should be its own reward, truth be told. Also, they’re a criminal conspiracy, so technically this could be seen as a good deed.”

That’s how, less than two hours later, I crashed in the door of an apartment building riding the body of a whale of a guard who stood at the door. “Hi kids, do you like violence?!” I asked the lounging gangmembers.

They were fun, and good for letting me finally put some ideas into motion. I figured the drug dealers wouldn’t be high on the Ukrainians’ list of people to warn and evacuate, but what they lacked in importance, they made up for by giving me certain unique tools so I could deliver a chalice full of whoop-ass to everyone in attendance.

An hour after making short work of the least important part of the network, I paid that specialized materials warehouse a visit. They were in the middle of packing everything up, with armed guards and everything. Like almost all humans, however, they don’t usually look up as a first instinct. Jumping the fence into the compound wasn’t tough, and from there it was easy to make a vertical leap to grab the edge of the building and pull myself up. It’s probably safe to assume by now that I wore my armor.

I announced my presence on that cold December day by making the snowy day just a little whiter. I punched a hole in the roof and pulled it wide. I tossed out bags I’d taken off the dead dealers and hit a remote, causing them to burst with a minimum of explosive goodness to fill the air with falling white powder. Cocaine rained down. Tony Montana would have had a heart attack, and for so many different reasons. I’d have used pot smoke grenades, but they took too long to whip up. A little treat for another time.

I dropped down onto a shelf, sadly without a cool Batman glide. Think Batman at Ace Chemicals, except I dropped down into something that clearly wasn’t smoke to beat people up. And no cape, either. I’m considering a cape. I think it’d be cool, and it’s not as impractical as people make it seem. At least program one into the rear holodisc.

Also unlike Batman, I know how to have a good time. I put on a nice little song called “Why So Serious,” by Badministrator.

I dropped down and immediately gave someone a joyous Kwanzaa by gifting him with my boot to the back of his neck. Stuck the landing, too.

My laughter echoed through the air like falling yayo, accompanying the joyous sound of necks snapping, bones breaking, and gunfire hitting anything but my soft tissues. Music to my ears, and the reason why some of my soft tissues were temporarily hard tissues. But it just wasn’t the same. Normally, shoving my fists through a man’s belly and lower back until they meet makes me happy.

Any guards or workers who got in my way while I was in there, I took down. One of them dodged over fallen boxes while carrying a case of his own, only for me to slam him against the metal support at the end of the row and grind his face against it until his jaw popped off.

I heard some of the trucks rev up to get out of there with whatever they had. I noticed a contingent of bigger guys near the door, including one fellow with a gun I recognized as a M249 Para SAW. The SAW part stands for either Squad Automatic Weapon, or a literal saw depending on if you’re firing it full-auto at a tree or not. It wouldn’t do much to me, I thought. Then he fired a burst of fireballs from it in my general direction. I disappeared quickly enough, but not before tossing a knife in his direction.

As I believe I’ve stated before, I could be better with throwing weapons. My aim is not the best. My ability to utilize explosives is pretty good though. The grenade-knife exploded, taking the heavy gunner out before he could spit more hot fire than Dr. Dre on Speed.

By the time heroes showed up, tipped off by the destruction and a call from me to the Master Academy, I was gone with my own truck, a trail of bodies in my rear view mirrors. I got some good stuff, including several things on my wishlist, but I had more stops to make. I still had Christmas shopping to do. Just because I’m sticking it to these guys doesn’t mean I can’t get equipped.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s group of storage units full of future dead bodies and military-grade hardware that’s going to go in my library lair and maybe my armor. I’m thinking a nice mobile SAM will be a great Geckomobile against flying heroes. And, ya know what? I think I found a box of nanofiber that’d make a great cape.

Because it’s getting to be a new year. And I’m a new man in many respects. A new man who conveniently didn’t think about how much of this stuff I can put to use on myself when anyone thought to question my motives.

2016 had its highs and lows. Looking on how it ended, a lot of lows. The wrong people died. Someone other than myself is in control. I got turned human. Worst of all, too many people survived.

Time to go out there, nut up, and try to make 2017 a killer year, no matter how many people have to die to make it better.

Happy New Year.

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Season’s Thievings 7

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I jumped out the back of the obstacle course, untouched, singing a nice little tune to myself. “Shovel and Bone,” from a musical about Hell invading Heaven, not that that’s relevant to any of this. Though it did time up perfectly for when I smacked my hand on the floor and yelled out, “Again!” Then I got up and headed right back into it from the rear.

If only my armor was finished by the time I’d gotten through there. If not for the fact that I’d like to keep some secrets from the heroes, this new little quest of mine offers a fine opportunity to test it out. Of course, the best opportunity I’ve been given is the opportunity to crack some skulls, break some necks, and bust me some arms and legs. Preferably not my own, though I’ve got an idea or two about if I get hurt.

At least this time they didn’t stick me with some crew of unmentionables. Sadly, it doesn’t look like there’s a lot to deal with. A member of a crime syndicate might have a front of some sort. Maybe a surreptitiously-fortified compound or penthouse. Supervillain would have a lair; a hero a hideout or home. My point is that different groups set up in different places, partially due to means and partially because they’re all drawn to different things. Those can each present unique challenges. One of the depressing things about militias, aside from their tendency to want to save their country by destroying the government and citizens that make up said country, is that they don’t have an awesome base location. It’s a camp out in the wilderness northwest of the city. A stretch of woods with tents and a cheap chain link fence. The chain link is how you know they’re in for the long haul. Odd how improving their country never involves building things.

Ah, but that’s just my particular way of turning the knife. I hate all people equally, but according to their unique quirks. If I had one of those animal liberation people in front of me, I’d probably shove the impossibility of applying a vague concept like humanity to non-sapient animals in their face, just before slathering them in jelly and tossing them into a pit of starving raccoons. Which is something I technically could use in court. Oh, wait. Not inhuman anymore. Oh the humanity!

This bunch is equipped for raccoons, though. They have plenty of rifles, even if their beer supplies threatening any marksmanship that wormed its way into their brains by now. Hell, they’re probably hoping to take a shot at the racial meaning of that term, the way they fly the Confederate flag. And before anyone gets started, Cornerstone Speech.

They’re only showing small arms, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a few big guns stores away. Something that goes boom. Well-documented history of that, especially in their fetishization of that Waco bunch. This cult leader got it into his head that his god told him to build a religious army and prepare to wage war on the unrighteous of the United States, so the guy started prepping in his compound. The kids of the cult didn’t know what warm food was, but the group had more than 2,000,000 rounds of ammunition, grenades, and automatic weapons. Priorities. This bunch here doesn’t have a proper toilet, unless they’re hiding something in those big toilets or that prefabicated shed, but I bet someone’s got an RPG laying around.

I could always recon the place more, but it’s so limited I might as well just kill them all when I’m there. Assuming I can kill them. Psychsaur’s skirting around that. I decided to stop somewhere and test things out on my way back. If they’re hoping my own personal definition of “the wrong people” are my only allowable targets, they’re going to quickly find out how low an opinion I have of people. Hint: they are like unto ants, and I am their destroyer, mwahaha!

So I headed back into the city proper, riding around in my new Geckomobile! Sadly, I lost track of my lovely car, Black Sunshine, in everything. Instead, one of those Uber driver guys brought me back and graciously allowed me to pay him to take me around to certain neighborhoods.

“Are you supposed to be a superhero, or do you really like wearing those cat ears?” the driver asked.

“Just call me Behemoth. I’m no hero. Just a guy who likes kicking evil in the crotch. Save your thanks, citizen. I need to make a call.”

Sadly, the reduction in my networking capabilities left me unable to hear all the voices in my head that I needed to. I had to dial up Master Academy on this number I had. I’m sure Psychsaur just loves the thought of me having her number, but that’s what she gets for being stuck as my handler. “Hello Gecko.”

She wasn’t supposed to be calling me that, though I’m pretty sure the driver couldn’t hear. I could be lots of people with a name like that. I could be that Gordon guy who believes greed is good, or an insurance salesman, or even a videogame character whose levels were TV channels he entered. “Y’all are pretty crappy about keeping identities secret for a bunch of superheroes. This is a cellphone. They keep records. They won’t let you see the records, but they keep them. Also, they’re probably lying to you about any deal where you get a free device, so keep that in mind. I imagine y’all buy in bulk.”

“What do you want, Puss?”

“I’m looking for any crimes coming over the police radios. I don’t have one with me. I just need a heads up,” I looked out the window. Gun store, liquor store, pawn shop, liquor store. This looked like a decent spot. “Especially if they’re anywhere near… let’s see… looks like we’re on… seriously, Rotten Road? They’re not even trying with these street names anymore. Must have been destroyed a lot of times.”

“I hear they’re trying to rename this area after a kid’s show,” my driver volunteered.

“Right, kid’s show name. While we’re at it, maybe I can get a section of the city renamed ‘Angel Grove,’ but until then, I need some crime to fight.”

“Oh, are you talking to me again?” Psychsaur asked.

“Yes, sugar lumps, I most certainly am. Before I go through with Operation Fire Cobra Claw, I need to know all my bits and pieces function just fine.” I adjusted the crotch of my pants at that. I needed to do that anyway. My boxers were trying to turn into a reverse thong on me. Don’t split the wishbone.

“You want to make sure we’re not sending you in to get beat up,” she said.

“You know me so well. It’s like you can read my thoughts. Now find me someone I’m allowed to beat up.”

“Sure. Hold please.”

“Son of a Biz Markie!” I yelled, almost throwing the phone. When the driver looked at me, I told him, “She put me on hold. And she said he’s just a friend. She says he’s just a friend.”

“She your sidekick?” he asked, no doubt hoping to preempt my singing.

I nodded. “Yeah. She’s like my Robin the Boy Wonder, except with shorter shorts, and slightly less sexual tension. Probably because we’re banging. Hard. It’s part of her endurance training.”

“I’ll make you completely asexual if you keep this up. Worse, how would you like to puke every time you had a sexual thought?” Psychsaur spoke, having apparently taken me off hold.

“There are hookers who specialize in that sort of thing, I assume. If not, I can corner the market. But before we put you to work making people puke for a living, do you have a crime for me to stop yet?”

“Sure thing, I’ll send you the address now in text.”

And so I got my chance to once again inflict violence upon the hapless citizens of Empyreal City, starting with… Busy Bee Bookkeepers. I’d gotten out, paid the driver, and sent him on his way before checking in on the specifics of the place. I expected a robbery, a trespassing, or even beating the snot out of a jaywalker. Instead, I got a relatively peaceful-looking accountant’s office.

I called up Psychsaur again. “What, exactly, is the problem at this place now?”

“Embezzlement and fraud,” she answered. “The cops got the call to bring in Mr. Rick Faircloth. I thought you would like to start off easy as a superhero.”

“Not a hero.”

She kept up her teasing. “Were you wanting your own individual spandex, or can we stick you in a Master Academy uniform? Those are usually reserved for graduates. You might be able to get into a remedial course.”

“I’ll die first,” I said. I probably wouldn’t. I have to leave myself open to possibly infiltrating the place in the future, but why tell her that? “Is there a magic word I need to use or some special dance? Or can I just go in there and start busting heads?”

“You can just go on in, but there are some conditions to your ability to fight people now.” I kept listening, waiting for her to go on as I entered the place.

“Can I help you sir?” asked the secretary behind a window. Middle-aged, but not bad looking. A bit on the pale side, with a brunette bob.

“I’m here to see Rick Faircloth… and bring him to injustice!” I pointed my hand up in the sky. With my other hand, I held my phone to my ear.

Through the phone, Psychsaur mentioned, “Good luck. You can only use violence in response to violence right now, and deadly violence only if you are threatened at that moment by lethal force. Try not to chip a nail with the beancounter.”

The secretary ignored the dramatic pose and my conversation, looking down instead. “I’ll let him know someone’s here to speak to him. Do you have an account with us?”

“I’m here to bring in your boss on charges of embezzlement and fraud. I suspect your boss won’t go easy. I might have to punch him a few dozen times. Does he have any handy facial hair? I only ask because you never know when you’re going to need to swing someone around by the mustache and-”

I was cut off by the sound of a shotgun firing and blasting the air between myself and the secretary. I dove through the window on top of her. She turned out to have at least a little curve to her, enough that me landing on her probably didn’t break anything. My hands on her chest, I looked down at her. “Are you ok?”

“Let me up!” she said, trying to knock my hands off her boobs while sitting up.

I pushed her back down. “No, I can’t. It’s too dangerous. You stay here and, uh…” I raised one hand up to my chin as if to think, then put it back down, running my thumb over her shirt to feel her bra status. “Wait for safety. And to keep from fainting due to the trauma, take off your bra. I’ll be back to check on you momentarily.”

“You’ll never take me alive!” yelled Faircloth from down the hall.

“Fine by me!” I yelled back. Another shot rang out, then I heard the gun opening up. Figuring it was a two-shotter, I stood up and launched myself feet-first back through the window. Back in the reception area, a look down the hall showed Faircloth reloading an over-under shotgun. He must not have been well-practiced since it took him so long. I was more than happy to take advantage of the time it took and ran for him. By the time he raised the shotgun up, it was almost in my face, except for the part where I ducked under it and threw myself forward with my fist held out in front of me like Superman.

I aimed a bit lower than Superman, though. The big blue boy scout doesn’t normally use a flying punch on his opponents’ balls and grab onto one of their nuts while they both fall in the same direction. I did, though. I think I got Mr. Faircloth’s lefty in hand, too. He didn’t enjoy it. Unfortunately, he dropped the shotgun. Even though I had him down and moved up to straddle and pin him down, I couldn’t bring myself to punch the unarmed man.

Until he reached inside his suit coat and pulled out a papier-mâché knife. He sliced downward, opening me up on my left brow and cheek. Probably gave me an awesome scar. I grabbed his wrist in one hand and his nose in the other, twisting it hard. His head tried to twist with it, but in the end he laid there, screaming. What finally shut him up was when I yanked his head forward by the twisted nose and then slammed the back of it into the floor, albeit weaker than I think I’d have normally done. It just dazed him, not killed him, so that’s why I think Psychsaur’s work had me pull my punches. Same goes for my hesitation in jumping up and landing knee first between his legs.

A SWAT team burst through the door a moment later. They took one look at me over the downed and pacified accountant before the one in the lead held up his fist. “It’s clear! Good job, citizen. You’re a real hero. These accountants are always a feisty bunch.” I got an ovation from the SWAT team, which surprised me. There’s usually an entirely different situation going on when there’s me, a SWAT team, and the sound of hands hitting flesh.

They lead him out in cuffs, while patting me on the back. Psychsaur hung up on me sometime in the middle of all that to call in and advise them all that I was to be called Puss in Boots. The leader of the SWAT team thanked me again, especially since I’d come so lightly armed and armored. “That’s crazy. These accountants are the quiet ones. You always have to beware the quiet ones. They get caught, they try to take people with them. It’s a mess ever time. A major headache to deal with.”

“Really?” I asked. “Didn’t seem that tough to me. But then again, it takes a little more to beat me than strength in numbers.”

At least we know my ability to inflict pun damage is unrestricted. I think I’m ready.

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