Tag Archives: Qiang

Die Seas Adventure 3

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“You’ll give me what I want, or I’ll slit the bitch’s throat, hang her upside down on a hook, and make marinara from the drippings, you understand me?!” I slammed the phone down on my desk and leaned back. I raised my feet up under the desk to stop my backward ascent before I could lean too far and possibly topple over. Steepling my fingers in front of me, I regarded the person in question. “What can you do for me that could save your life, in light of their refusal to play ball?”

The Filipino pizza delivery woman shifted nervously. “I have some extra breadsticks I was going to take home when I was done.”

With that bit of negotiation out of the way, and a hefty tip given to pizza delivery across national borders by boat, I enjoyed my delivered lunch and rubber stamped a few things from the new Directory. I know my dear readers might have some questions, and I just really wanted pizza from that particular restaurant. Sadly, they forgot my order of extra marinara, so I won’t be ordering from there again. Besides, making it out of blood doesn’t really work.

As far as the Directory goes, they’re not doing too much. They’re just confirming a bunch of the old laws that they used to live by as far as traffic, littering, pollution standards, and all that. As the guy who gets to enforce everything, they figure I should have some idea what I’m hurting people for.

It gave me something to do while figuring out my next move. If I even have a next move. The hell is my next move? Money? I got a national economy under my thumb. I’m selling bionic toes to Seal Team Six. Power? More than I’d like. What’s even the point? Revenge? I got a few vendettas I’d like to end once and for all, but nothing all that important. Love? What IS love? Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me, no more.

Until the Dimension Rangers come knocking again, my schedule is clear. It has been awhile since that was the case. I almost want to start teaching Qiang assassination techniques, but I have memories of my own upbringing that say that’s a bad idea. I wouldn’t do it the same way, but it wouldn’t hurt her to keep some more innocence.

My attempts to check on what Silver Shark and Citra are up to haven’t panned out. I stopped to knock on Citra’s door at one point. “Hey,” I started, “Are you two lesbianing in there? I just want you to know I’m not angry if you are. I’m willing to prove it, too, even if I have to stand there and just watch you two do it!”

“They left a little while ago,” Qiang said from behind me. “What’s lesbianing?”

“I’ll tell you about it later, or you can ask Citra when you see her next, how about that?” I smiled and faked a cheery, excited jump. Qiang followed along, resolving to find out what lesbians are straight from Citra’s mouth. I resolved to try and see Citra’s face when she gets that question, perhaps before asking my own.

With all that acknowledged, I guess I’ll just roll with this whole Cult business for now. Maybe I’ll get a fancy hat. Religions always involve a fancy hat of some sort. If anything, that’s the problem with starting a new one. All the best hats are taken already. Hell, the Pope keeps an entire type all to himself, selfish god-botherer. That’s why I wore a round, towering hat myself. Like a tophat, but no brim and the top cut like a crown. Might as well throw in some references to me being legally recognized as an Emperor.

I went out shopping at the local hatter’s to make it a reality and picked up a nifty bowler. I wonder if I can get them to make a copy with a razor in the brim, or maybe something stiff that can break a statue upon throwing. I felt sharp enough to take a head off with it. Indeed, as I was leaving, I ran across someone who just dropped half a box of noodles right on the sidewalk.

“Excuse me, my good lady!” I called out after her.

She turned around, “What do you want bothering me, whitey? We don’t have any hookers for you around here, unless you’re looking for those Thai man-things on Yellow River.” Yellow River’s an informal name for an area that was either centered around a lot of buildings that had been painted yellow decades back, or it had been predominantly Chinese. I don’t believe it has the best reputation now, if the context clues are to be believed.

“The laws of the land decree that such littering is illegal. It dirties your beautiful city for all of us outsiders.” I took my hat off and gestured with it toward myself.

She scoffed. “You don’t come into my home and tell me what to do. Go tell the police if you can find them.”

I shrugged. “Well, as Emperor, I don’t need any agents of the law to back me up.” I put on my best gravelly voice. “I am the law.” Then I smacked her in the face with my hat. She cried out in surprise until I backhanded her the same way. She fell and started to crawl away when I spanked her ass with my bowler. I kept beating her with the hat, and my hand at times, incidentally. It was fun.

If you think about it, being an officer of the law is a great way to take out destructive impulses. Cops can get away with stopping people, frisking them, ruining their day. Shoot them with a taser, pepper spray. Beat ’em with a stick, shoot ’em with a gun; if you like hurting people, cops are nonstop fun. And that’s before you get into making up stuff and planting drugs. I hear some places let a cop eyeball a speeding offense. And even if they’re caught on video, they still get away with it, if they’re even charged at all. The other cops have their backs.

There’s even a way to steal from people as a cop. Civil Forfeiture. Cops just take your stuff for their own use. Ok, so technically they have to believe your stuff was used in the commission of a crime, and then they take it without filing any charges, and the owner only gets it back if they can prove the cash was innocent. Citizens of the other world, if you have this law, do not eat powdered donuts and then touch your money!

Good thing civilized countries have all those laws to protect people against beatings and thefts, right?

After my public woman beating, I had to take my hat back for repairs and pick up a new bowler. Y’all know why they call them bowlers, right? Because you can tell the man who wears one has good arm strength to carry around a pair so big, they weigh a minimum of six pounds. The maximum is sixteen pounds, which is what I gave the polluter with my hat. Heyo!

Alright, I think we’ve had enough social commentary this round. But before I left the city to go visit the cultist hicks living out there, growing all our food, I had to go meet the members of that corporation who sell people power at the cost of their soul. I’m talking, of course, about Faustus-Hephaestus, purveyors of magical artifacts, superpowers, and abnormal technology, depending on whether you’re

The name used to be the other way around, Hephaestus-Faustus, but they were infiltrated by a hero supposed to take them down who had a grudge against me. They turned on me instead of paying me for a job, so I destroyed some of their logistics and hidden bases, causing a bit of trouble. In the end, the hero was discovered and ousted, the Hephaestus side was weakened and made to look foolish, and the Faustus side took prominence. I’ve been caught up in my own stuff for so long, and less magically inclined, so I haven’t much associated with the new guys.

Now, I’m Emperor, and I reached out to them. They flew in to the airport. Think northeast, other side of the military base. I waited out there as they exited their private jet, a delegation led by a man in a polo shirt and khaki’s carrying a torch and chanting.

“Seriously?” I asked, interrupting the chant. “You feel how damn hot it is out here, and you’re carrying a torch?”

Behind him, three figures stepped out of the jet in heavy black robes pulled up over their heads. They walked across the tarmac toward myself and the stopped aide before one of them stopped. “Oh my Gaia, this heat!” He threw the robe off and began fanning himself.

The one in front of him turned back. “Jesus, Dave.”

The leader stopped and bowed to me. “Greetings, Emperor Gecko. We represent Faustus and Hephaestus. I am Lord Alhazred. With me are my associates,” he motioned to the others. “This is Mr. Pickman, and David Hero.”

The one who threw off the robe waved at me. “Hullo! I’m Hero, but don’t hold it against me.” He stepped past Pickman and offered his hand. I shook it. “Hot as hell out here, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is,” I answered. “That’s why I was suggesting your helper here cut down on the torches. Now, come on. I was going to grab some sandwiches on the go and head on out to the Ag Mall. Thought we could talk on the way to this ritual the local Cult’s cooking up.”

They all froze at that one before Alhazred asked, “Cult?”

“Yeah, bunch of hillbilly American types who want to feed the world. They’re going to summon up some legal help to deal with Scientology.”

They all relaxed. “Bloody Scientologists again,” muttered Pickman. “I’m all for sticking it to them. One of them tried that audit with me once. I fed him to a- well, I’m not sure what it was, exactly. I suspect it was the descendent of something old and powerful forced upon a mortal being of this plane. It made a terrible mess. Would anyone like to see?”

“Give it a rest already!” Alhazred said, and I caught a hint of an Arabic accent in his frustration. “Let’s get changed and have some lunch, shall we?”

Over a pleasant lunch in the back of an army transport, we discussed business. I was willing to let them do all kinds of stuff here if they paid good money for it. No more operating in shady locations. They could set up a permanent location here to sell wares of magical and technological empowerment.

They asked about what I might offer in return as far as knowledge and technology. They had been barred from Ricca in the past and were eager to take a look at inhabitants who had been upgraded and made superhuman. I didn’t let them know that the Institute of Science was basically still a barricaded mess that I hadn’t fully cleaned up, but I told them I’d be willing to help provide pieces to them that otherwise are available only to select clientele. If you think about it, a villain could make a good living off a gimmick centered around that radiation thrower.

“Beautiful country,” said Dave, looking at the landscape around us. “Are there any ruins on the island?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I always thought the Claw had this place made somehow, and I haven’t had time to go traipsing all over the western and northwestern portions.”

“If you don’t mind, I would love to take a trip to see the sights,” he said, smiling.

Pickman, who appeared to be quite scrawny and with a bad case of robe hair, gestured to get my attention as well. “Do you suppose I could borrow some of your people to model for me? I am something of an artist.”

“Ask them,” I said. “See if any will volunteer. I won’t force them one way or another, but you’ll probably find someone. We get all types here.”

Alhazred shuddered at that. “What?” I asked him.

He held up a hand. “Nothing. I just felt something… strange. They must have had many. You’re sure they only want legal help?”

I nodded. Alhazred didn’t say anything more, but I think he felt the ritual happen, because we arrived to find a large tree growing up in front of the Agriculture mall, tall like pine, but with branches jutting out. Every branch held a body close against the trunk of the tree, blood smeared out along the length of each branch and over the leaves.

“This wasn’t here before,” I mused.

I saw Hoodless and a few of the other cultists gathered around some wannabe queen on a camel had its own crown. He looked over and waved to me happily. “We got tired of waiting. Come on over here and meet Paimon! We’re gon’ have a dinner for him. I hope you like potato salad!”

Nothing to see here. Nothing unusual. Just a cult, an emperor, a demon, and three representatives from an occult corporation all sitting down for a picnic under some sort of sacrifice tree.

The oddness didn’t come until a ways into it when I silently answered a call in my head from the Intercept team. “Emperor, we thought you should know as soon as we confirmed it. We’ve had a bloop in the water. A big one.”

I smell something rotten, and I didn’t do it this time.

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Die Seas Adventure 2

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Seeing as I’m not supposed to be leaving the island and Captain Flamebeard knows what he’s doing, I busied myself on other things than preparations for the attack. Unlike China or India, this place doesn’t work on the raw material side of the marketplace. All these cybernetic parts and pieces had to come from somewhere, even if there’s a high degree of personalization. People are starting to get back to work in the factories. These guys were some of my competitors when my old corporation was selling medical prostheses, except these are aimed at a wider market.

Records are spotty, but managers on the ground are trying to fill back orders to some organizations that I know to be fronts for groups who like violence in the dark. Wetworks. CIA, maybe, though they’re not technically supposed to be assassinating people, but also stuff like military dark ops. I remember them from back when I ruled the world and its delicious computer mainframes.

Hey, as long as they aren’t trying to fuck me over, I’m willing to live and let kill. They look like they could use the help, too. The United States looks like it’s having a heck of a time. Some sort of racist nationalist group launched a couple of attacks. They’d been in hiding, simmering under the surface, and boiled over with their own supers and minions. A bit unsophisticated, maybe, but the size and scope hints at the same hidden funding that Ricca and groups even within the States gave them.

Up in Canada, Dr. Creeper showed up with another robot haphazardly painted over with pink paint and wore a crossed-out swastika on the back of his lab coat when he next went out, which was just a quick march run through the streets to steal some groceries. Something tells me he won’t be playing Nazi anymore just for the heat it draws.

Master Academy, other teams, and individual heroes did a fairly good job of stopping them without too many people killed. Even the FBI got in on the action, stopping one of them blowing up a building in Oklahoma City. Just like during World War II, superheroes stopped a Nazi fifth column. Huzzah, and all that. Venus cut a striking figure. They got a photo of her in mid-jump, about to punch the teeth out of a man about to drop a survival tomahawk on a woman’s head. There are already memes and everything.

She’s saving the day from assholes; I’m selling the next batch equipment for when they try. Some people not on any government’s books are really interested in exoskeletons.

In other domestic issues, I finally figured out what Citra and Silver Shark have been up to. Citra’s been kinda living with me, though she’s been sleeping in the quarters she had in this section before. Silver has taken up in a side room now, and hasn’t been all that close. Then there was the whole Lola thing and they disappeared for a bit. Not like I invited the pirate to live here, too.

So I woke up the morning before the planned attack with my head feeling like it would explode, a result more of having fallen asleep hanging upside down off a couch than the bottles scattered around me. I thought something had crashed in my dream from the sound. I tried to wiggle around and almost woke up Qiang, who had crawled onto my stomach to sleep.

I managed to get sideways when she was awakened by a door slamming elsewhere in the mansion. Another door opened, the main door to the residence. Silver Shark walked in with an enormous stockpile of clothing in her arms.

“What’s going on?” Qiang asked no one and everyone at once.

I sat up and patted her head. “I dunno. I think something stereotypical.”

Silver shot me a glare before stomping back to Citra’s room. I carried Qiang with me as I went back there to take a look at what was going on. The door to Citra’s room opened as I got close and Silver stepped out. She took one look at me, grabbed Qiang, and told her, “You can help us. Your dad can go play elsewhere. He has been stupid.” Then she slammed the door in my face.

I knocked on the door a couple of times, then got an idea in my sleep-addled brain. “So… anything I should know?”

Silver called back. “Yeah, go get yourself checked for fleas and anything else you might have picked up lately!”

“I take very good care of myself!” I answered back, though I felt rather oily and dirty from the night before. “The nanites gave me a clean bill of health.”

“Good for you,” she answered back.

“Good for you too, if you want to head upstairs,” I responded.

She opened the door just enough to poke her head out. “No. You’re not going to bring back some pirate hooker then pretend like you and I have that kind of relationship.”

I scratched my head. “I mean, you hadn’t wanted to make the beast with a billion backs lately. I thought you’d be fine with it.”

She gave me a look that made me glad the Claw never installed lasers in those eyes. “I thought you wanted a relationship. I thought you liked me for more than my body parts. I gave you a chance and you blew it.”

She thinks the chance was bad, she should have seen me working my way through the North Koreans. Actually, she did. “Your body parts are what first caused us to get busy, though. Like those fins, and your neck, and all the neat things they put inside you.”

She sighed. “There’s a woman underneath these cybernetics.” I was about to tell her I certainly knew and appreciated that, but she cut me off as I opened my mouth. “You have a lot to prove to apologize right now, and not just to me. Go think about that and leave us alone.”

She closed the door on me. I thought for a second, then asked, “Does this mean you’re moving out?”

“And give out the second best bed on the entire island? No way!”

See, this is why it’s easier to date guys. You pound another guy in the ass hard one night, they don’t have any problem letting you do it someone else the next.

Speaking of manly sodomy, Flamebeard’s plan to attack the Sea Org craft involved pretending to depart, then crossing around to cross the T. He didn’t expect any real resistance from them, and Sea Org was here for the Cult. Indeed, he maneuvered around in the way he let on, his pirate ship’s sails catching fire as he accellerated to attack. One cruise liner owned by a conspiratorial religious group versus one old-looking ship of anachronistic pirates led by a supervillain pirate captain.

I meant to at least pay attention during the attack, but I was busy on some very important Imperial duties. Qiang and I were watching a movie while I braided her hair. I’m trying to spend time with her a lot while I do all this stuff. I feel like it’s a thing parents are supposed to do. I dunno. I sometimes feel weird in pretending to do all the things parents do with this young girl given to me as an incentive who I then tricked into thinking I was her father while having her genetically altered to make that kinda true.

I didn’t have to ponder that for long, as I got a call on the official black phone. I had it installed for official Imperial business, not to be confused with the red phone, which is more for official hiding from nuclear war. I reached out a hand to the landline, which had bluetooth activated speaker mode. “You are go for Gecko. What’s up and who is this?”

“Emperor, this is the Intercept team at the base. We run the radar and sonar systems detecting incoming enemies. We have an unauthorized entry by a boat dispatched from that cruise ship anchored offshore. Are we under attack?”

“Just a little bit of religious warfare. I’ll handle it.”

I hung up and headed not to the Gecko cave, but to the man cave. I had an armor stand in one closet, and a wall of gadgets in another. I suited up in no time and grabbed my equipment. Rubber chicken grenades. Flares. A pair of machete’s rigged with explosives. And, as a last minute thought, a bunch of fluffy pink handcuffs.

Qiang clapped for me. “When can I come with you?”

I patted her on the head. “After you’re trained and have your own armor. See you later, sweet pea.”

I linked back up with Intercept, who gave me the route the boat had taken. They were landing right about the same time Flamebeard’s ship crossed the liner’s T and fired on it with howitzers. According to my observers, Sea Org was packing rifles and doing a fine job of missing depending on the sway of the ship.

I landed near the boat on the beach and found it unguarded, with tracks leading inland. I disabled its motor so no one would be making a quick escape and headed in. They’d actually landed in an undeveloped portion of the island, with plenty of trees and other flora. That led to me sneaking through the underbrush and occasionally leaping up to hold onto the sides of trees.

They traveled in a line, wearing camo. It wasn’t hard to find them with one big, boisterious one making about as much noise as possible. He tromped through bushes, spat chew, and offered some to one of his colleagues. When the man rebuffed him, he said, “Bunch of slack-jawed faggots around here. This stuff will make you a goddamn sexual Tyranosaurus, just like me.”

The guy he offered it to just laughed. “We all had the celibacy clause in our billion-year contract. You’re not fooling anyone.”

Virgins, six of them. Good thing I brought the handcuffs. These guys will make excellent sacrifices.

I went after the little one with the radio first. I eased myself up behind him, hologram projectors working overtime to make it look like I wasn’t there. I snatched the gun out of his hand with one hand, shoved my other hand into his mouth, and then jumped us both out of there. It took less than a second, and gave me time to leave the radio man cuffed around a tree with a mouthful of leaves and a broken radio.

“What the hell happened to Hawkins?” I heard someone yell from where the squad were marching.

The second one I took turned out to be the big guy. Got him in a sleeper hold and dragged him off into the foliage. Another one, a black guy, got upset at this and emptied his gun and the one left behind by the big guy into it. Did fuck-all to me, but it did kill the big one. Funny thing is, they inspected where the guy bled and thought they hit me. The one leading them looked at the blood on the leaves and remarked, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

Of course, then he turned around and the black guy was missing too. They decided then they’d turn around and try to escape, with me whittling away at them the whole time. In the end, it came down to just me and the leader, who tripped and fell out onto the beach, losing his gun in the process. He rolled to his knees and pulled a knife, expecting an immediate attack. Instead, I stepped out from the treeline, dropping my cloak and pulling an explosive machete from my belt.

He started to say “You are one ugly-”

“Motherfucker,” I said, cutting him off, along with his leg below the knee. He swung the knife at me but I knocked it away, grabbed his wrists, and handcuffed him. For good measure, I dropped a fallen tree on him to hold him there while I tied off his wound. “Stick around.”

The mission was a complete success. I got my five virgins, the big guy bleeding out before I could get him out of there. Flamebeard and his men ended up taking out the ship’s ability to flee, which caused the survivors to disembark. The ones not caught by Flamebeard were rounded up once they hit the island by anyone the Intercept team could scramble to meet them. I had a quick meeting with the Assembly’s transitional people who quickly dropped the question of religious liberty when I started showing them the businesses owned or run by the relatives of several of the people we captured. Throw in the landing they made, and these were POWs, not refugees.

Sacrifices for a cult, a new cruise liner for the island, booty for pirates, and now plenty of hostages to ransom back. Maybe we need more religious tourism here. I already have an idea involving all that gold we got from Flamebeard being melted into a general “plate” shape…

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Die Seas Adventure 1

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Life is good, so it’s inevitably going to be fucked up. But before it does, I should at least enjoy it. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to just sit around and enjoy myself. Now I’ve even got myself saddled with a kid now.

But I can still have a bit of fun. Like how I had Captain Flamebeard show up in port one day with his ship’s hold full of shiny goods. Gold, gemstones, and consumer electronics. “It’s the TV sets and computers that most people buy,” Flamebeard said when I stopped by the port to see his old-time pirate ship. “Most people don’t accept gold baubles for services.”

I handed him a bottle of plum wine, careful to keep it away from his beard of fire. If it fell in to a burning beard of fire, it’d burt out, out, out, and the flame would grow higher. And it’d burn, burn, burn, the beard of fire. The beard of fire. “We’re more than happy to take your stolen goods of all shapes and sizes here. I’m afraid there’s not much here for tourists, but we’re working on it.” I pointed at his ship. “Looks nice. Been awhile since I saw it fly off into the sunset.”

“Aye, she’s as seaworthy as she’s ever been, though I been lookin’ t’upgrade her cannons.” He pulled the cork out with his teeth and took a swig before offering it. I waved him off, then pulled out my own bottle to open up and sip on. “Any smiths in town know their way around fire and iron?”

I shrugged. “We might have a few people who know how to make your grape shot even graper.” He grimaced at that one. “And if that doesn’t work for you, Faustus sent me a…bird. They want to set up an outlet on the island.”

“A bird! I’d like to see a crow fly this far to deliver a message,” Flamebeard laughed and took another swig.

I shook my head. “Turns out they have magical messenger pelicans. Didn’t see it coming. Do you think they can do flamingoes?”

He had to stop drinking long enough to have a snort at that. Flamebeard and I werent’ exactly best buds last time we encountered each other, but he seemed to get my message loud and clear about this being a friendly port of call for criminals. I also made sure he knew I was personally enforcing the peace around here. That said, I didn’t mind if he and his guy shad themselves a cooling-off period ashore. They’re sailors. Gotta let them do some drinking, fighting, and whoring, or else what’s the point?

All the money, I guess. He paid me a personal port service fee out of a number of these gold coins and artifacts they had. They might have a lot more value than just the worthless yellow rock normally commands on Earth. They even helped me tutor Qiang on her math homework. She’s starting to understand that it’s easier to count in real time if you learn make things into tens and add the remainder. I like to think she’s growing up grounded for someone thrust into such a position.

It was there, teaching her to count on gold, that I was interrupted by furious knocking at my front door. Wondering who it could be so early in the day, I stepped outside in the Imperial bathrobe, wielding the Imperial brick tied to a string. “Ok, who the fuck’s on my lawn!”

I was met by a half dozen dirty men and women dressed like it was the Caribbean in the early 1700s. I grabbed one of the women who seemed a bit cleaner than most, even if she needed to clean her dreadlocks a bit. I pulled her by my side and said to the others out there. “I don’t know what you’re here for, but make it quick. I have a woman over,” here I nodded to the pirate I grabbed, “and it’s not going to be a good time for company.”

While that got a little bit of an “Oooh,” from some of them, one with a bandana covering up a bald spot on his head spoke above the others. “Cap’n Flamebeard needs you. Evil cultists kidnapped some of the crew! Someone said they was to sacrifice them to their heathen god and bring about the end of days!”

I took a moment to think. “Cultists… were any of them in overalls and packing shotguns?” I immediately thought of Old Man Hoodless and his people out at the Agriculture Mall. The nods from the pirates confirmed it. I sighed and turned to the pirate I’d nabbed, with her corset and tricorn. “Sorry, we’ll have to continue this after a visit to this funny farm outside of town, where life is wonderful all the time.” I started inside for my armor, then stopped and stepped back out. “What is your name, anyway?”

In a dark brown voice, she said, “Lola.”

Looks like the pretty pirate’s packing a pistol. Fun.

I got there ahead of all of them thanks to the roads not being so straightforward. Pretty good traffic for the island, all things considered. Maybe I’ll see if Flamebeard can mug a car shipper out of Japan, get some people something nice. Maybe I’ll hold a lottery for people who avoid tickets.

Anyway, I landed in front of the Agriculture Mall, where Captain Flamebeard had a slim, modern twenty-five pound howitzer on an old-fashioned cannon cart, aimed at the door of the compound. He waved his flaming sword at the Agriculture Mall’s fortified door which had so recently dealt with animal rights attacks. Slots were opened all over, with the cult’s shotguns sticking out. I mean, I expect the howitzer would get them in, but most of the pirates only had some cars for cover. One poor sod even yelled from the safety of his doorless, topless jeep. At least the pirates had some of their own guns among the cutlasses they wielded.

“Ok, that’s enough!” I yelled out, my helmet amplifying my voice. “The only one killing anybody around here tonight is me. Any volunteers?”

That shut up the pirates, so I walked on over to the compound door. “Knock, knock, kna-knock, knock!” I said, then rapped the door twice with my fist for the two bits. “Come on, Old Man, open up. I hear we have an incident here!” Behind me, Flamebeard was stepping ahead of his men to stand behind me.

Old Man Hoodless opened the door and raised his shotgun toward the pirate, who held his sword our, careful to avoid touching me with it. I held up my hands between both of them. “Gentlemen, let’s put down our weapons or I’ll tear you apart with my hands, alright?” I looked between them and they reluctantly lowered the offending items, Flamebeard’s extinguishing itself.

I turned to Hoodless, who had exited to reveal himself draped in crap-brown robes that looked course and itchy. “These no-good, dirty, rotten scoundrels are currently guests on our island. I hear you kidnapped one of them for a human sacrifice?”

“Well,” Old Man Hoodless scratched at his scruffy chin hairs. “Maybe I done did. You know how hard it is to get a good human sacrifice? We can’t just use any ol’ body!” He gestured with his gun hand off toward the city. “We don’t wanna take any of them folks. We got to live around them.”

“Well, that’s considerate, kinda, but I think we need to find another way here. This human sacrifice, is it on a deadline here? Ya know, is an eclipse needed or a certain day? Full moon? Anything like that?”

He shook his head. “Naw. Just tryin’ to summon infernal legal advice from the depths of Hades to handle this Cease and Desist from them damn Scientologists.” He reached to a fanny pack on the outside of his robe.

“Hard to reach the pockets?” I asked.

“Well, you know, I didn’t want nothin’ endangering the ritual. Nothing on under it.” He patted the material.

“Really? Looks hellaciously itchy.” I reached out. “May I?”

“Go ahead!” He held out his arm. “It’s really soft material.”

I stroked the sleeve. “Wow. That’s high-quality culting right there. Flamebeard, feel this.” I moved out of the way to let him feel. “Geez, is that from y’all? Where’d you get this?”

“I know a guy,” Hoodless said as the pirate also felt him up. “Maybe we can discuss tailoring another time. I’m really concerned about this Cease and Desist. This is Scientology, we’re talking about. Legend tells they captured a unicorn using the virgin blood of a sacred hunter-priestess of Artemis and bargained away its crimson life’s vigor for an Enochian contract the likes of which the planet has never seen.” The Old Man was practically foaming at the mouth by the end. Flamebeard had quietly stepped back to avoid splatter.

“Geez, even better than OJ Simpson?” I asked.

Old Man Hoodless wiped away his mouth. “Oh yes. After all, he only sacrificed the two people.”

Ba dum tish.

“Ok, so let’s get back on track here,” I said, smacking my palm with my fist. “This isn’t that time intensive, right? It can wait a few days?”

“I suppose,” grumbled Old Man Hoodless.

I turned to Flamebeard. “You’ve kidnapped people before, right?”

He stopped picking at one of his teeth with his sword and slipped the tooth back into his gums. “Yar, though it be more of a hostage situation than a kidnapping. Rich young bastards are worth a lot to the older bastard what spat ’em out.”

Somewhere, there’s a dyslexic or someone who didn’t grow up with English as a first language who is losing their mind right now. Between me, the hillbilly cult leader, and Captain Throwback, we’re beating the English language to death and lighting the body on fire.

I negotiated a deal. Flamebeard will go off and kidnap someone, preferably someone with a car I can use for the good driver lottery, and bring the unfortunate soul back to be sacrificed in a corn field pagan blood orgy in exchange for legal services to counter the Scientologist threat. Should be nice and simple. Though, before I left the cultists and crew to party with moonshine, I did pull Old Man Hoodless aside and ask him just what the Cease and Desist was all about.

“Well, we sometimes send people fruit baskets with some literature, an’ it turned out we done proselytized to a bunch of Scientologists that way. Scientology don’t take kindly to that, nosiree, so they threatened us. After that, it’s more I thought they was a bunch of assholes and sent ’em even more baskets. Then came the Cease and Desist.”

I grinned under my helmet. “I like you, Old Man. You’ve got the support of Ricca behind you, don’t worry.”

A small wrinkle did appear the next day, but I believe it just gave the plan a distinguished look. A ship was spotted off the coast. They didn’t hail us or approach the port. Looked like a big cruise liner.

I saw it from a high balcony at my residence, zooming in with my eyes to see one of the most generic naval insignias out there. My eyes immediately matched it to Sea Org, the paramilitary navy of Scientology.

From behind me stepped Lola, dressed in bedsheet if at all. “Hey baby,” she said, stepping up behind me and going in for a kiss that I turned my cheek into. Pirate chicks have some nasty breath. I don’t know if there are water restrictions that keep them from brushing so often, or if it’s just all the alcohol. Either way, I’d need to down quite a bit of rum to numb myself to the taste of trying that again. “What are you looking at?” she asked.

I pointed to the ship. “Well, I think I found your boss a good source of kidnap victims.”

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Break It, Bought It 8

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I had my former friend interred on the island. I didn’t know if he had any other family left, but I was giving him a burial. A proper one, despite the hints dropped by Old Man Hoodless. I don’t normally care so much about that thing, but the remains of Good Doctor’s dead, deceased corpse deserve as much respect as any worm fodder I’ve created.

I didn’t go myself. Sent some guys while I stayed behind to answer a few questions. The other signatory nations of the Treaty of Pyongyang were nice enough to allow me to import a few giant monitors for communications, in part because they wanted to interrogate me about my field trip. As for me, I had some fun giving them the same kind of response over and over again. “I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t leave the island. No, I don’t know why people claim they saw me leave. Did I allegedly do anything interesting?”

Technically speaking, all I have to do for an alibi is create some nonfunctional copies of my armor. Costumes and masks still hold power. And when the helmet and masks are pulled away, there are always bald-faced lies.

I met with the legislature, which is about ready to finish their work and create something they’re calling the Directorate. There were lots of bows when I showed up among the tents, at which point I asked if they were ever going to get around to having their own building. That’s when someone with a fancy hat walked up and I noticed a lot of these guys had adopted various ways of standing out. There was the fellow with the sash who wished me well last time, someone else with epaulets, this guy with a hat, and someone else with the kind of belt you don’t get outside of a steel cage match.

“My Emperor, we would be delighted to create a capital building,” said the man in the hat. Think top hat, but with gold sprinkles all over it and a sash of deep red. “As the Minister of Finance, it is my job to approve the location and funds. When I suggested a site for the new capital building, my colleagues insisted I meet with you to discuss it.”

I shrugged. “Sure, lay it on me.”

He held his hands out toward the ground we stood on. “Here.”

“A building for the Assembly or Directorate or whoever to meet right where the old Imperial Palace once stood? It has continuity. Hey, how about this, you build me a throne room and some place to hold diplomat balls, and it’ll work out pretty well.”

He bowed and went right to handling my request. Sadly, it’s only in English where there’d be confusion over whether I asked for a special bedroom for international relations. When the Minister of Finance told the rest of the bunch, I got a short cheer. I held up my hands to stop them then and asked, “I aim to bury The Good Doctor. He may have been an asshole who tried to murder me and my daughter, but he was my friend once upon a time. Is there any sort of place for honored dead?”

The Finance Minister, being closest, decided to take this question. “The previous Emperor arranged for his best servants to be buried at Champion Hill.”

I’m trying to get by bearings since I’m stuck here now. Trying to get oriented. So the city is on the east side of the island, with the palace complex on the west side of the city. Docks are on the eastern side of the city, with a military base to the north. Just to the northwest of the city, on an atoll off the coast, is the nuclear power plant. Champion Hill is north of the palace grounds, in the middle of a business section. I recognize some of those companies. Ricca must have had some pretty good tax laws.

Champion Hill wasn’t big on ground space. Lots of mausoleums and tombs aboveground, with statues and monuments. The staff, an unusual bunch of them, all rushed up to me. A walking rush, but then I am the Emperor. Most were dressed in simpler work clothes, like jumpsuits and t-shirts, but the one in a long-sleeve shirt jogged to get ahead of the others. “Lord Emperor!” he said. “What a surprise!”

The whole bunch bowed at once. I grabbed the lead guy’s head and gave it a shake like it was a hand. “Nice to meet y’all. At ease.”

They stood back up, the man in charge fixing his hair. “What brings You Excellency to us?”

“I’m looking to dump a body in a place no one will find it. I wanted to put him in a nice mausoleum around here. What space do you have available?”

“As the head groundskeeper, I would be more than happy to show you,” that one said. He took me straight away to one particular building. I noticed the others all went about their business, which included a few of them heading into other funerary buildings. “The previous Emperor had many heroes of the Empire whose continued presence would be problematic. They would be placed in here.”

He swung the heavy stone door open. The interior smelled of blood, but was pleasantly cool for this time of year. I saw decaying corpses scattered all over, many in multiple pieces. Deep gauge marks were all over the wall, many of them being three or four parallel lines. I turned to the groundskeeper. I don’t know if any were interred at all. “They weren’t necessarily dead when you put them in here, were they?”

“Such was the will of the Emperor.”

I looked at him, then pushed the door closed. “Ok, we’re going to retire that one. Wait, I might have one more job for it. But first, where else do you have?”

He didn’t look me in the eye as he answered. “The others are full.”

“Really?” I asked. I walked over to another mausoleum I’d seen staff enter and pulled that door open. I found a pair of junior groundskeepers within, working at a lab setup on folding tables. They looked up, surprised.

“What’s all this then?” I asked, stepping in and examining the little chemistry lab they had set up in here. I recognized many of the chemicals and the processes they seemed to be involved in. “Well this just won’t do.” I pointed to one particular beaker and shook my head. “You need more heat, and you need more ventilation. I’m surprised you haven’t blown yourselves up.”

One of the drug cookers mumbled the word, “Plot four,” under his breath after I said that. I clapped my hands together, causing all the others to jump a little. “Ok, first off, we’re going to get y’all set up in a better spot than this. Better equipment, a better building, and no risk of us arresting you. Trade-off is, I get a cut. And clear out some of these things so I can stick some dead people in here. You got anything cleaner than this one?”

They showed me to another they were using to grow some very lovely and aromatic plants. The head groundskeeper said, “We call these ‘Dead Man’s Party’. There is nothing stronger on the market.”

“I’ve seen what some of the supers smoke,” I replied. Everybody always brags about their marijuana.

He stepped back to the rear and pulled open a vault. Inside was a smaller variety that looked all dark and dead. “This was an experiment by one of my men that we kept, but never could sell. When Chaow first tried it for himself, we thought he died. He awoke from his coma three days, but we knew it would never sell.”

“I can see why. We’ll see what we can do for the hardier superhumans out there, provided you don’t need to grow them in here to get the quality?” I looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

He bowed to me. “We will have them cleaned out within two hours per your wishes, my Emperor. We will then worry about maintaining quality.”

So with all that set up, I was able to have a nice, private funeral for Good Doctor. I didn’t have time to invite my other friend, Mix N’Max, who had also worked with myself and Doc, but I did send him a bouquet as consolation. Not flowers, though. It’s the groundskeepers’ fault they left one of their bushes behind, after all.

Despite all that closure, I think things are coming together. The power’s back on. Food’s getting out there. We now have a burgeoning drug industry. Foreign businesses are coming back. And, we had a hell of an announcement of the new constitution. I gathered the Assembly in front of a building, the old Imperial Department of Public Good. Well in front of it. We wanted it to be a backdrop, not right on us, for reasons that’ll become apparent, along with the presence of a see-through splash shield. They presented the Constitution and announced elections. A legislature that then elects a smaller group of Directors overseeing most of that branch, with executive power ultimately resting in the Emperor, who gets a veto and all that mess. They were a bit dry, to be honest. I started to doze, but nobody noticed since I had my armor on.

After they were done came my big speech, borrowing heavily from stuff folks like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Eugene V. Debs, and just a hint of Paradise Lost. But I’m not going to sit here, post an entire speech, and expect everyone to think it’s awesome because a bunch of people clapped for me in a country where I’m allowed to have them all killed. I even got applause for the section about opening up the country to men and women, supers and norms, of all countries and creeds who seek to escape past mistakes and misunderstandings. A sort of neutral ground, where all can be treated equally in my eyes. I had to try really hard not to put up my hand and stage whisper that we’re really lenient on criminals funneling drugs, money, and other goods through the place.

The event concluded with me bringing out the staff of the Public Good people and all the little orphans they had been taking care of. They stood there. And watched as I sent a signal that set off detonation charges to implode the Department and make it collapse in on itself. A little bit of debris reached us to be stopped by the shield.

The first to react were all the children, my Qiang included, who cheered like crazy. The head of the Department rushed over to my side. “Emperor! What are you doing?”

“I’m putting a stop to what you do to and with the children.” I tried to shoot him a glare through my helmet. “You are out of a job.”

“But I have served the Empire loyally for twenty one years! I am a master at molding these children,” he pleaded.

I smiled under my helmet. “You know what? For your service, I have a reward with you. For your service, you shall be interred at Champion Hill.”

“I… thank you, my Emperor,” he said, reluctantly.

“You’re very welcome,” I responded. Meanwhile, off to the side, the groundskeepers all got the signal. They walked up to escort this fellow away from me and to his eternal reward.

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Break It, Bought It 7

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I didn’t just rush into the situation with Good Doctor blindly. That would just make it easy for him. No, I had to use that steaming pile of think gunk in my head here. The coordinates he gave me were for this artificial island made by the United States right after World War II and gradually abandoned as necessity allowed. Satellites confirmed he was there, along with a boat, and Citra. I even got to see when he burned the boat he arrived on. I could have rushed in there, but I took the time to pimp my own ride to the island. I don’t get many opportunities to have a custom-equipped speedboat. I expect it’ll come in handy. I’m not even supposed to leave the island.

Under Imperial decree, I confiscated a speedboat. I installed armor. I gave it a pair of small mines. I strapped machine guns to it, and a rocket launcher. Darn near blew myself up with that. This whole Doc thing had me on edge, even if he only took Citra. I didn’t want more of this shit, with friends turning on me and plans within plans. Who does, right?

But it’ll pass. One way or another. Doc will die, Citra might die, even I might die, but it will end one way or another. I won’t be so quick to say I just want it to end no matter what, because I’m still fond of living. Even if there aren’t any omnipotent gods out there, I’ve been the devil of a deal enough times to know to be careful what I ask for. That’s probably what got me listening to “Poor Unfortunate Souls” while I worked. Don’t let Ursula fool y’all. Her deal was particularly wicked.

But enough aquatic antics with mermaids. You can never get further than blowjob base with them, anyway.

Now, unlike my armor, I did add a self-destruct sequence to this one. It seemed handy if I needed to ram something and explode prematurely. I swear, baby, it never happens. Don’t worry, I have protection. It can’t explode until after the ejector seat has fired off well away. Ejector seats are fun, if you can get one. Mine comes with its own parachute, and the seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. There’s also a bag that goes over the face in case of emergency, like if I bring a really ugly person with a nice body back to the boat.

The day seemed stormy, and not from the weather. Seemed like a lot of the Assembly people were stopping by. I had let some of them in on it, not yet having learned all the various councils and committees they were working on. It was more a matter of letting them know they might have to bail me out. I told them they might have to print up some new money, and if I was on it, give me a nice hat. I’m thinking a bowler.

One of them even wore a fancy sash across his chest when he stopped by. “My Emperor,” he said while bowing in the Japanese fashion.

I returned it. “Got this baby almost ready to go. No paint job, though. When I get back, I’ll have to see about it. I’m thinking flames and a dark knight riding a unicorn. What do you think?”

“I wanted to tell you that the entire Assembly supports you in the return of Lady Citra. The treaty has disseminated throughout the Assembly and we want you to know that we will not reveal your absence. If anyone claims to see you off the island, we will say otherwise.”

“Thanks. Nice to have a little support, even if I’m leaving y’all in a bind.” I held out a hand. He took it, and bowed his head against it. I grabbed his hair and gave him a handshake on the head. “Close enough.”

Qiang ran over before I cast off, drawing my egress out even further. “Hey there, kiddo,” I said, wondering where Silver Shark was. The cyborg woman was supposed to be watching her and keeping her well away from here. Yeah, she’s alive, and almost good as new. Still a bit tender herself, but between Ricca’s nanotech medical care and all the modifications made, she pulled through. Guess it was too much to hope she could wrangle a kid, though. “What are you doing away from Silver Shark?”

“I snuck away!” she said, hopping up into the boat. “I swapped shirts with another girl when she wasn’t looking and ran away.”

Aww. She’s learning. And taking her clothes off in public. I’d be so proud of her if I didn’t want her far away from this boat so she didn’t smuggle herself onboard. “Smart, though you won’t always be able to do that. Listen, daddy needs you to stay here and try to be a good girl, ok?”

“Don’t go, daddy!” she pouted up at me. No enemy on Earth could attack me like the face of my daughter.

I hugged her, feeling her slowly connect to my armor as well to keep her from doing anything to it. She didn’t seem to understand it enough to power me down or accidentally screw up the strength multipliers on the exoskeleton. “I have to. He won’t stop, and he’ll hurt Citra and more. And if I don’t show up there, he’ll come back and try a different way I won’t see coming.”

“Can’t I go with you?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Nope. I brought you with me before because I didn’t know where he was and I wanted you close in case I had to protect you. I know where he is now, and that you’ll be safe here. I can stop him from reaching you.”

“What if he hurts you?” she asked.

“If he does, he might leave you alone. Don’t worry. I’m coming back.”

She didn’t believe me. Just hugged onto me, crying, yelling “Don’t go!” It’s a good thing I have experience being heartless. I picked her up, gently tied her up to a pole on the pier, and shoved off. I did see Silver Shark running up after her as I left, so I waved at her before cranking the Geckoboat up and speeding off into the horizon.

I don’t know if the island had a name other than whatever secret base name the military gave it. Talk about people not afraid of sunk cost. I can respect that.

I called the satellites back up as I approached. It didn’t look like he’d put any defenses in place. He just left Citra sitting outside on the ground about a hundred yards from a shed. She did some wiggling that convinced me she was still alive. Hear that, ladies? Taking the hint yet? Show some damn effort in bed!

No mines, no guard sharks, no trained seals, not even a belligerent mutated sea bass. It was almost insultingly easy. I swooped around and came up alongside the island and dropped anchor on the concrete. If it happened to slide off, I figured I’d hear the plop in the water. I climbed aboard and kept my eyes open for any sneakiness. Nothing. Aside from Citra, there were waves in the water and the bobbing of the boat. That’s it. I focused on the sheds and other abandoned building entrances, but it turned out to be unnecessary. I approached the tied-up girl completely unmolested, which isn’t a word normally used in situations involving bound and gagged females.

I pulled the gag out first, and quickly. Gagged people always have something important to tell you, like “Look out! They’re right behind you!”

“Look out!” she yelled, voice cracking and croaking. Fucking called it, right? “He’s taking the boat!”

I spun around. Good Doctor, his outfit wet and glistening from the sea, finished slicing through the anchor line and waved us goodbye before hitting the accelerator.

“That bastard,” I said.

“He’s stranded us. He’s going back to the island,” Citra said.

I turned to look at her and finish tearing off the ropes that bound her. “Conserve your water.” In my head, I connected to my poor, new boat and activated the ejector seat. Good Doctor shot into the air, clinging to the seat as the parachute deployed. So much for hoping he’d have been left in it so I could just hit the self-destruct. I helped Citra stand up and regain her feet all while watching Doc figure out how to direct the chute and seat back to land. “You’ll want to hide now. I’m going to have to murder a friend.”

She didn’t argue with me. She stumbled away, trying to find somewhere to hide. I approached the edge of the island where the seat looked to come a little bit short. Indeed, Doc jumped out of it and landed on the edge as the seat itself plopped into the water.

“Clever,” I said to him. “Lure me here, head back, and finish what you couldn’t before.”

He stood up. I couldn’t see his eyes through the visor on his black leather helmet, but I could feel his hatred. “You did not react the way I anticipated to protecting that girl. Rumors say you have a daughter.”

“Jealous?” I asked. He took up a scalpel in his right hand and a punch knife in his left.

“Saddened. I take no joy in what I must do to you,” he said, his voice warping slightly to the tone I often heard when he slipped into his murderous state of mind.

“I’ve seen you take plenty of joy in it. Didn’t think you were the type to go after a man’s daughter. Have you truly become no better than I?” I stepped forward, hands open and palms to him, leaning forward just slightly over my front foot.

“We are, both of us, monsters, but I did what I did to provide a life for my daughter. She was the one thing that justified my actions. The one thing I could live with myself for. Now she is ashes, and I will see anything you care about rendered as such.”

“This really the hill you wanna die on, Doc?” I asked, noting the tension in his body. I knew what his answer would be, but I also knew it didn’t matter. He was never leaving this island alive.

He threw his scalpel at me. I deflected easily, then saw as the hand he pulled back from the throw tossed pellets at the ground between us. Black smoke blossomed forth. I paced a little back and forth, trying to see around it, even calling upon the satellite view. He was inside the cloud. I rushed in and whirled around, my cape helping blow it away. I pulled it close as an emergency warning appeared on my HUD. One of my batteries had been stabbed.

I pulled my cape in close, but not before the other battery reported physical damage. “You lost your glowing heart. You can only last so long.” he called in that smooth British voice of his. I did have power in the capacitors, but he was right. Once that’s loose, this armor of mine becomes much less useful. Then it’s just a matter of pulling my helmet off.

I growled as I jumped high into the air, then grinned as I looked down at the smoke cloud below me. I grabbed my cape as I dropped like a stone. When I crashed back into the cement, the air cushion under my cape blew the smoke out from around me, revealing Doc and kinda breaking something in one of my knees. I grabbed him by his leg and pulled him down to the ground under me, where all it took was one super strong punch to cave in his face. I put a hole through where his heart should be for good measure there. Watching, panting through the pain, I saw his body in its death throes.

“Dammit, you fucking fuckhead!” I called, pounding at the remains of his chest with the bottoms of my fists one last time, trying to avoid getting raindrops in my mouth. Small weather front in my helmet is all. I sat back then under the bright, sunny sky. “Other people thought you could live with yourself just fine,” I said to no one. I thought back, trying to see if anything could have stopped all this. It all comes down to Forcelight and her death. Just a casualty in the crossfire, though one who I was glad to see go because of her power. It was a hard train of thought to follow when something in my knee was screaming for attention as well.

That was the state Citra found me in, putting a hand on my shoulder and shaking me. “Get up. You’re alive, right?”

I brushed her off and turned to look at her. She backed away, paling. With a swallow, she asked, “How do we get off the island?”

Oh, right. That. Heh. Cunning asshole did a good job on this trap. In addition to leaving me here so he could go back and do what he would on Ricca, I was now out where anyone could get me. I wonder if he knew that I was only allowed to run free if I stuck to the island. A bit too late to ask him now.

I laughed at that one. Even if I wanted to risk jumping to my boat, which I didn’t bother exploding, my knee has decided it is now jelly. The kind of jelly with fruit in it, except the fruit are bone shards and strips of torn ligament.

A shadow crossed in front of the sun and brought a flapping sound. I looked up to see the Titan descending on wings further across than he was tall. “You shouldn’t be here, giant blue dude.”

He settled on the ground more gently than I did, that’s for sure. “My people saw the message carved on your friend. I still owed you a debt.”

“Well, aren’t you just a beautiful deus ex machina,” I said.

“I think it would be a stantibus celsior ex machina, but I never learned Latin,” he said. He picked me up easily and carried me under one arm. Citra didn’t object to getting out of there. “Click your heels together and say ‘there’s no place like home.’”

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Break It, Bought It 6

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It’s been a rough couple of days. I had doubts soon after starting my search, because it seemed so bizarre that he didn’t try to kill me. He wants it, so why didn’t he do it? I mean, I killed his daughter, so why wouldn’t he go for the kill? He’d never been one to just send threats when he could go in for the kill. My first instinct was to double check all the footage of The Claw’s death and make absolutely sure. I even begrudgingly called Beetrice, though I had to put up with a nigh-unbearable squealing as she realized it was me. The thumbs-ups from the Buzzkills on the island didn’t alleviate my annoyance.

Not only had The Claw been confirmed dead, they locked his remains in a lead coffin and were preparing to launch him into space over in Russia. Yeah, probably after they examine his remains a bunch of times hoping to make their own Claw.

So that just left me with a former friend uncharacteristically targeting my daughter. He’s wanted to kill me, just me, ever since finding out I murdered his daughter. And therein lay the problem. I killed his daughter. He threatened mine. That’s the fucked up thing about letting yourself care about someone, too. When I realized that, I actually found myself wishing he’d go after me instead.

I suppose it’s not that weird, though. I’ve often preferred people to try and kill me. Except, I guess I feel a bit less like dying nowadays. And a bit less willing to martyr someone else upon the altar of my own safety. Rather than focus on confusing feelings, I figured I’d focus on the ones I know all about: homicide and avoiding being its victim.

It’s not like I had an army to swarm the island. I had a few Buzzkills and a couple squads of guys who used to be police or military. I could barely field a football team, let alone scour the entire island. I had only myself to rely on, and that also meant keeping Qiang with me. Anyone I left her with would likely be killed.

I know Good Doctor doesn’t seem that intimidating. A little older now, his power is x-ray vision, except without x-rays. It’s just the ability to see through things up to a certain depth. Pretty good little trick if you’re trying to hide something for obvious reasons, and because he has brains enough to check in places he can’t see through. He’s got a canny power, he’s smart, and he’s willing to kill.

Humanity is quite a bipolar animal, and I mean that in the same sense as including myself this time around. Simultaneously incredibly fragile and difficult to kill, humans are also ill-equipped psychologically to murder each other, and yet do so with ease over the littlest of reasons. Look at skin color. Some people are killed for having a shade of skin achievable by their murderer staying outside in the sun a few minutes. Despite the numerous horrible wars humanity has gone through, it was only relatively recently on this Earth that people learned to train soldiers to ignore humanity and become better killers. Too many in the World Wars weren’t shooting at people intentionally.

There are few times when superheroes are willing to kill, and few have gone through with it. Or had, up until this business with The Claw. I could actually take credit for corrupting them, I suppose, but his crimes were quite severe. Between him and the alien invasion, we might be looking at a time when far more of the heroes are comfortable taking life as a solution. There used to be unwritten rules. Villains don’t kill heroes, heroes don’t kill villains.

Doc is more than comfortable breaking those rules. He’s killed several other superpowered people before. Worse, he was doing it for a good reason. I can get distracted, or go easy on someone, or let them live on a whim. Someone who thinks they have a good reason is already prepared to force themselves to do what must be done.

So, now it should be clear why I’m worried about him. But what have I done about it? After confirming that announcements of the Claw’s demise weren’t premature, I warned Citra and Silver Shark that they needed to get off the island. I’m not entirely sure I want to put all my egg-layers in one basket, and I’d prefer being there to defend Qiang myself, so I kept her around.

I checked over my armor, too. It’s a strength, and also a weakness. I couldn’t help but think of the Oligarch, grand old supervillain of the Master Academy, who kept his armor out of enemy hands by installing a self-destruct sequence. I turned it on while he wore the thing.

I don’t include that function in my armor, which explains why life-support and power armor technology has advanced in recent years. Instead, I now have big batteries to rely on and an exoskeleton built into it that exerts enough force to break my own bones. It took more time than I wanted to spend making sure he hadn’t left any surprises for me there. A poisoned needle in my pants, a blade in a biceps, a cut wire in the crotch, a pile of shit in my boots.

Only once I was sure to be clean did I run off with Qiang. Despite the reason behind our search, it was fun jumping with her. She liked seeing the world from so high up and knowing it was with me. One stop, she asked me, “Daddy, can I jump like you?”

I patted her hair and said, “I’ll teach you how some day once we’re done finding this man.”

“I don’t want to see him!” she said, pouting.

“Are you scared?” I asked, sitting down so I could talk to her on her level. She nodded. “I get that. Big guy, a grown-up, who could hurt you. He already snuck into your room, like a monster in the night.” She nodded again. I reached out and pulled her knife out from where she had it hidden on her. “Monsters don’t like being stabbed, and neither do men. You can always stab a monster. Now, show me how you stab.”

She ran through some techniques I’d taught her, with me gently correcting her. After ten minutes of quick practice, she was giggling and adding little flourishes for fun. With her mind off Doc being some bogeyman for her, I stood up and we resumed our search. The first spot that took us to was the Cape Diem camp. I didn’t wait at the edges this time. I headed right for the medical tent, keeping Qiang close enough to hide under my cape for some protection. I had my eyes on point, overclocked, ready to identify Doc in a seconds. No dice.

Several doctors looked up, many showing signs of superpowers. “What is going on here?!” demanded what looked to be a short nurse with bark-like skin.

“I am Emperor Gecko of Ricca. I demand Good Doctor be brought before me.” I kept my eyes on a swivel, making damn sure no one snuck up using my helmet’s 360 display.

A buzzing from behind me accompanied the arrival of that drone with the hologram projection. “You have demands of us?” the translucent androgyne asked.

I turned, making sure to keep Qiang behind me. “Where is the Titan?”

“Away on other business. I am in command of this camp as of the current time,” answered the hologram.

“Fine, let’s find a corner to discuss this in away from everyone’s eyes,” I said, toning down my voice.

The hologram zipped on over to what could have been a storage shed, especially with a door big enough to allow Titan entrance. The sign on the door read “Administration,” in various languages. “What is this and why do you need Good Doctor?” asked the hologram. I didn’t answer for a moment as I cleared everything for Qiang’s entrance. “And who is she?”

“This is my daughter, Qiang. And this occurred Sunday,” I projected a hologram of what my eye had seen in her room, with Good Doctor stepping in, threatening her, and then leaving his message on the wall. “You’re on the short list of groups I expect could have brought Good Doctor here, since we’re not seeing a lot of other traffic to the island.”

The hologram froze, a projected belt appearing that read “One moment, please.” When it started back up, it said, “The Good Doctor joined our organization soon after our arrival on the island. Upon completion of certification, he asked for and was given assignment here due to his surgical abilities. Records show he went missing on the day in question. His actions do not represent Cape Diem policy in any way.”

I raised a hand. “I figured. Your famous neutrality has withstood worse dictators than me. I don’t want to have to call it into question publicly. I just want him found and delivered to me so he doesn’t harm my daughter. This isn’t about making Cape Diem my armor or anything like that. This is just about bringing Good Doctor before me, and this will have been made right.”

“I will communicate your request to the Director of Operations with the highest priority. Cape Diem would like to apologize for the actions of the Good Doctor in violating our neutrality.” The hologram almost sounded contrite. It had to know they’d be in some shit. A lot of people would see that neutrality as a restriction on an organization to act against oppression, but it also served as the shield allowing them to help people even in countries otherwise hostile to any foreign intervention.

It took half an hour before the hologram directed me over to a large circular metal framework. One moment, I saw right through it. The next, I saw the Titan standing in a large room. He stepped through and unfurled his wings, then came to stand in front of me. “Emperor Gecko, I would like to convey my sincerest apologies for the actions of this rogue agent in violation of our neutrality. The Security Division is coming through now and they will help you find him. There are a lot of men and women who come to us to escape their past, and this threatens that deal.”

With my blessing, they spread out. I briefly entertained the thought that this might be some ploy to take over the island, but that’d be it for these guys. No more Cape Diem. Best to keep my paranoia on a leash in that circumstance.

With them safely swarming out, I found Qiang tugging on my cape. “What about the train?”

“Train?” I asked, trying to figure out what she meant. Oh, the maglev. The one underground. Underneath the palace. That’d be a handy place to hide a person. “Right, the maglev.” It seemed perfect. While the Cape Diem supers spread out looking for their former colleague, I carried Qiang to the palace and set to work finding the way down. It turned out to be below some light rubble in the same crater that housed the legislature. If I hadn’t been down there already, I likely wouldn’t have noticed it at all. And the fact that it didn’t have that much blocking the entrance suggested Qiang had been right. We both slipped down there, Qiang using some of those lessons I gave her to pad almost as silently as myself down there.

We didn’t have to go too far to find MRE wrappers and more. I swear, he left that pile right in the middle of the way down just so I’d step in it. Ugh, going to take forever to clean that out from under my boot. And yet, no Doc. Nothing in the platform, and the doors to the rest of the track were firmly shut.

The hologram found us on our way up, the drone not having to worry about stepping in any slick, stinky piles left by my old friend. “Emperor Gecko, there is a situation.”

The hologram intendant led me to where they were dragging Silver Shark out of the water. She was missing a foot, a fin, and she had a scalpel jammed through her throat. More than that, she had coordinates carved on her back with the note, “Come alone or the girl dies.”

I mean, I could bring people along. It’s only Citra. He didn’t even get Qiang. Maybe he expected to send her off the island. See, it’s those paternal instincts why my kid’s still alive and his is dead. But soon, oh so soon, I’ll have to arrange a reunion for them. Because I am going to find him, and I’ll find him a grave man.

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Break It, Bought It 5

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Ah, it was a nice, easy-going day. The security team didn’t run across any weird subterranean mole monsters in the geothermal plant. All clear, meaning they could go on the streets and keep an eye out for anything too disruptive. Meanwhile, I tossed some engineers and geologists down there to see if we’re going to have a problem with that big hole through the undersea mountain base of the island. I know, you hear words like “engineer” and “undersea mountain base,” and you expect them to be more exciting. That’s why I’m thinking of having the palace rebuilt to resemble a giant skull.

That ought to be easier now. Peace is almost declared. Only almost.

I don’t know how Beetrice did it. I’ve hardly spent any time around her to see any growth in diplomatic ability or anything like that. I hope she didn’t fuck them into submission. I know I used that to solve a human resources issue, but it doesn’t make for good foreign policy. If you do that, having an attractive leader is just inviting lots of wars. They hate you because you’re beautiful. More like they want to be fucked into submission by you.

Ok, so let me get in to what’s going on. A small swarm of Buzzkills arrived on the island bearing a case for my eyes only. They didn’t know what the hell was going on with all these people setting up a tent city legislature on my lawn. I was out there watching the days session in my robe, having just awoken at the crack of noon. I’d spent another late night out enforcing my word as law. Last night, bird was the word.

We had an attempted break-in at one of the markets. Even though everything was pretty much under government control, there were a few certain supermarkets that received all the food. People might sell their own homemade produce or what-have-you, but food from the Agriculture Mall was distributed at these certain hubs. There’d been an Institute of Science idea passed around about lacing the food with Unity to ensure compliance. I didn’t see anything following up on it. It goes the other way, though. They’d also considered using the markets to distribute an edible vaccine. State control is a bit like fire or death rays; it can be used for good or evil.

It had been a small gang led by someone in a bird costume. Really long beak, cape of feathers, a general green and black color scheme going on. Not a terrible costume, but he’s going to look stupid if he can’t fly. Unless he’s supposed to be The Amazing Ostrich-man or Emu-tilator.

“Go. Take what you can and spread the petrol all over,” he commanded. Then he jumped as some of it splashed against his boot, then onto his calves. “What are you doing?” He whirled around to face the person who dared to splash gasoline on him.

He found me, standing on the dead body of one of the guys he brought with him, holding a gas can in one hand and a flare in the other. These things are really coming in handy for me. I need another flame-spouting saxophone. To our bird man, though, I said, “Me? Nothing. Just thought I’d stop by for a midnight snack. I’m feeling like chicken tonight.” Then I tossed the flare.

That story ran a bit longer than I intended. But I digest. I mean digress. Yes, digress. I actually don’t digest because he really could fly.

So yeah, I’d missed some sleep the night before, as someone will do in that situation. I wake up, check on the lawn, grab a newspaper, wave at the people bicycling by, then have some bee people land with a chest in front of me. Some days, it occurs to me that my life is a little weird.

I sipped a cup of something I’d been assured was tea, looked at the chest, then up at the Buzzkills. “You really shouldn’t litter. If those guys decide to make it illegal, I might have to kill y’all.”

“Forgive us, Emperor Gecko,” said one, bowing deeply. “We bring an urgent message from Queen Beetrice on the negotiations in North Korea. She has been trying to reach you by phone, but the number you gave her is not working.”

I told her not to call me, that I’d call her. When she insisted on having some way to contact me, I gave her a number for this church in the United States run by a former porn star.

“Oooh, yeah, shame about that. So, you’re delivering something to me?” I asked

The Buzzkill who took the lead nodded. “Yes. We would have warned you if the number was correct. As a matter of fact, my Queen wishes me to ask you for a cor-”

“So!” I clapped my hands together. “Let’s see what’s in the box, shall we? It must be important.”

“Queen Beetrice would be more than happy to explain everything you need to know if only you gave her a call,” the Buzzkill persisted.

I bent down over the chest and started opening it up. “No, that’s fine. I’m sure it’ll all be self-evident.”

“It’s locked,” said one of the other Buzzkills a second before I popped it open. They’d really make great faceless minions, if someone didn’t care.

And, really, I do care. I care a lot. I’m a caring individual. Life is a precious thing, as relatively sparse as it is in the universe. The existence of a multiverse somewhat undermines that, but I think my reasoning is still justified. But gems and priceless paintings are also precious things, and that makes them ripe for stealing or destroying. I mean, look at me. I hate people, but I still consider them special enough that I don’t go around killing all of them, barring a couple of times I got a bit agitated.

That level of self-control is why I didn’t feed anyone the peace treaty. That, and Buzzkills mouths are… interesting. Not interesting in a bad way, but not human.

So I’m somehow not being arrested or sent back to my home Earth. I mean, I was going to try and make that happen on my own, treaty or not. On the one hand, I should give her credit for making sure that happened. On what I wish was someone’s severed other hand, the condition for this is that I never leave the island of Ricca, where I will be officially recognized as Emperor so long as I hold that title. Oh, and all the countries involved in this treaty agree not to try and knock me off the throne.

I stay, I’m fine. I take one foot off the island, like to steal a nuclear power plant, and it’s open season on me until I hit Riccan shores again. It was a smart move by them. I gotta recognize that. That’s like studying Hitler and not acknowledging the Night of the Long Knives. You can hate someone and still see when they pulled off a piece of brilliance. They have every reason to believe I’ll be deposed and killed or exiled. I have a bad track record for ruling.

North Korea is to remain separate and under Queen Beetrice’s rule, who declares fealty to the Emperor of Ricca. While the rest of this is typed up, there’s a line here written in pink pen that adds, “as his future wife, to be married no later than one year from this date.” I guess Beetrice didn’t convince them to include everything she wanted. People keep wondering why I’m not looking for relationships all the time, but do y’all see the kind of shit that goes down when I stick my dick somewhere?

There are also restrictions on building up military, allowing in people to make sure the government isn’t doing any human testing, developing or building weapons of mass destruction, and returning the rest of the captured territories to whoever ruled them before the Claw made his big move. There’s a legal term for that. In the States, it’s called “We totally didn’t lose the War of 1812.”

I think Beetrice ceded a bunch of rights to offshore oil, fishing, and other useful territories. I pretty much have no sovereign water now. So yeah, that’ll make the populace happy when they decide to rewrite whatever toilet paper bill of rights their representatives come up with.

Oh, and then there’s the trade restrictions. Boring. Yawn. They don’t want us having plutonium, uranium, or excessive amounts of orange juice. Either they want to spread Scurvy or they’ve heard about my skill with explosives. I’m just saying, the world’s lucky Isaac Newton got popped on the head with an apple. If it had been an orange, shit might have gotten real. George Washington cappin’ Redcoats with an Uzi. Man, I wonder what the time-traveling Teddy Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla are up to?

So it looks like everything’s done and wrapped up, right? Peace in our time. Happy, happy, joy, joy. Hell, I didn’t even have to sign the thing. I apparently signed my name in bright pink pen, and with different handwriting, then wrote “Call me.”

I didn’t call her, despite the Buzzkills annoying me about it. They were so rude, I didn’t even invite them in for vodka and scones with myself and Qiang. Gotta work on alcohol tolerance while they’re young. Instead, I told them to find some other housing for a stay while they recovered from the trip. They just flew in and I’m sure their arms were tired.

It was in a drunken slumber that the goodish news got a lot less good. I had cut off Qiang after awhile, but I kept on going until I passed out. That isn’t too bad on its own. I just don’t tend to do it. It messes with waking up from the dreams. That night, I dreamed of the Good Doctor walking with slow, deliberate purpose into Qiang’s room, where she slept like a mess on her bed. He wore his costume of black leather and a mask that could have been inspired by surgery garb if it didn’t have a visor. The tools of his grisly trade glistened around his waist in the poor video quality of the dream.

The Good Doctor turned and looked right at the camera, then walked over to Qiang’s bed. I wanted to wake the hell up when I saw him pull out a scalpel. Luckily for everyone and the world that he instead carved a message into the wall. “Any time I want.”

I woke up to Qiang’s screams in the morning. It wasn’t a dream. The Good Doctor is here for me or for Qiang. Would he kill her? Had I not killed his own daughter, I’d say no. But now he wants me to know he’s here and he just might do it.

Clearly, my dear old friend is in a lot of pain. He wants to die. As his bestest best buddy in the whole wide world, I should support his decision.

With vigor.

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Break It, Bought It 3

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The nation of Japan formally condemned the actions of Ricca in kidnapping its citizens, stealing its infrastructure, damaging its power grid, pirating a couple of their ships, and carting off some of their land. And yes, stealing land by physically moving it is carting it, hence why the people who map it are cartographers. If you just steal it by occupying it, it’s Manifest Destiny.

The official response from the Empire of Ricca, as written by me, boils down to a simple question: the fuck y’all talking about? Sure, Japan has a general idea where the reactor went, but they didn’t have eyes on it the entire way, nor did anyone involved identify themselves. We’ve kept the workers who had been there from contacting their homes. Had to keep a close eye on them, too. They’re not entirely eager to be captives, and they had to do a lot of work on the reactor to get it fully settled. It hooked up to the grid just fine and passed a safety check, but it has played havoc with the plant in smaller ways that could get worse.

I’m also trying to work on a completely automated system to handle the work there, but that’s slow going. Keeping one perfectly functional is one of the gaps in my knowledge of nuclear reactors. Destroying one is much easier, especially if I want to take the surrounding environment with it.

The National Constituent Assembly found out about the entire exchange the same time the rest of the world. They’d set up something of a pavilion in the crater of the main palace. It’s all very makeshift, but it keeps the weather off them and gives them areas where they can discuss things with a modicum of privacy. It’s right there by me in case they need me to rubber stamp anything for them. They’ve got themselves some TVs and computers there now. That was how they saw the Japanese Prime Minister’s remarks on the situation. One group in particular came to meet with me, identifying themselves as the Foreign Relations Committee. Citra let them in as I finished to make us all a lunch of noodles and eggs. Noodles were an important part of the diet around the island now, but I didn’t ask where she got the eggs.

“Gentlemen, how is the politicking going out there?” I set aside a bowl I’d been munching on. “Looks like a hot one. Y’all got all the fans y’all need?”

“The Assembly is doing well, your Eminence. We are here as the Foreign Relations Committee. We just learned that the Japanese believe you stole something of theirs.”

I shrugged and sipped out of a mug that said “World’s Best Japanese Dad,” someone had left in the break room of the power plant. “You’re sweating. Here, dry off a bit.” I handed the spokesman a Japanese 5,000 yen note to use as a napkin.

He looked at it, and the oddly-named mug. “Emperor Gecko, we are the provisional government. How are we to respond to this theft? What if Japan attacks in the middle of negotiations?”

I waved it off. “They won’t see a thing, don’t worry.” At that moment, I had painters working on a mural meant to camouflage it. Ships would see the atoll and things past it. I asked if they could just do a picture printed onto a sheet, but the workers made some good points about it being easily torn, hard to hang, and almost impossible to print.

“But what if they do?” asked one of the other committee members.

I shrugged. “Then tell them you tried to get me to give it back, but I wouldn’t. I was an asshole, or I threatened you, or something. Think about it, gentlemen… you have a bona fide scapegoat on your hands. The nation can get away with anything because you have me to pin it on. You guys are just the innocent legislature in all this, trying to control me. It gets to always be my fault, not yours.”

Their eyes all brightened up and they looked at each other. “One moment,” said the guy who had first addressed me. The group all huddled together and spoke to each other in hushed tones for a minute. Then they broke apart, turned, and bowed to me. “Thank you. We will work out an appropriate response as soon as we make formal diplomatic contact with Japan and Queen Beetrice. Have a good day, your majesty.”

I’m only going to take being the leader of this nation serious to a point, so I might as well give them some leeway there, too. Besides, it’ll make it easier to justify getting rid of me whenever I can manage to leave. On the other hand, diplomatic immunity is one hell of a neat party trick. If I play my cards right, I could have a fun time before giving up the throne.

I got a bit too much soy sauce in the eggs, but it was a pretty good lunch overall. Soy sauce can be strong sometimes. Best to cut it with some mushrooms. They soak it up into an explosion of flavor.

Speaking of explosions, that started. Yep. Big explosions. I pulled on my armor first thing while calling up the power plant. “What’s going on out there?” asked the on-duty guard supervisor.

“I don’t know. I heard explosions, I called you. It’s nothing to do with the reactor?”

“Not here,” he answered. “Hey, could you make sure the guys get some of those new rice chips?”

I hung up on him, kissed Qiang’s cheek, slipped on my helmet, and ran outside to jump to a perch on a tower of the building. The smoke drifting up was nowhere near the reactor. It came from another direction. The grounds of the Imperial Institute of Science. I hadn’t done too much to that place. It had been abandoned. It’s really surprising that more things hadn’t blown up there before now.

I should have been on top of that more. I kicked off to land hard on the wall around the palace grounds and then headed out into the city. I had to adjust the satellite view I’d been using to keep track of the atoll power plant. They had done a good job painting the top face of the buildings. I could only see half of it from above in a quick glance.

The god’s eye view of the Institute didn’t show anything giant, which was a good sign. I was a little worried we had a kaiju situation on our hands. We’re in the right part of the world for it, I just introduced nuclear power to the island, and we’ve got a lab full of strange experiments. Well, it wasn’t a kaiju. It wasn’t anything but a letdown. No robot armies, or weird half-man, half-pineapple monsters. Just too much crap plugged in and running when the power got restored. But I’m still glad it drew my attention to the Institute.

The whole thing was opened up to me a hole that had been blown straight upward, which is a weird way for it to act. Most things that explode aren’t really directed any specific way.

Amazingly, the blast didn’t appear to hit any other rooms at the Institute. Even the walls were still intact, of all things. Door wouldn’t open, though. The keypad was wrecked, and anything else that might open it was trashed. I had to climb back up to the surface and head back in the entrance.

Someone had secured it by piling up metal and trash in the elevator. By the door to the stairs flashed a red light with a sign below it reading, “Lockdown”. I punched in a code and about five different things slid out of place before it opened for me. I hunted down the explosion from a new direction and found the room had been labeled as “On-Site Munitions Storage”. I didn’t find any pink mist or meat chunks, so I’ll have to get a full inventory from administration. A check of the walls revealed they were built of something way the hell thicker than anything else around here, directing the blast upward to a weaker part of the structure to protect the rest of the facility. Something very unstable hemmed in on all sides by dense stuff. Like a demon core. Or a political rally.

With that mystery solved, I got a look at the rest of the place.

Now, I have all kinds of weapons. They had War Man’s old weapon stash here. There’s a gun that shoots these mines that fire off a stream of flames. Then there’s a sword here with a bunch of layers of some sort of super-thin metal. I twisted a knob on the bottom of the handle and it fell apart into five different swords. Unless you’re good at throwing swords, it’s terribly impractical. Still cool. I didn’t care too much about all the prototype ballistics, but I went all around there cataloging stuff.

I needed to keep track of this stuff so it didn’t get used against me, plus this is the kind of place that makes prototypes. Those things can blow in your face if not used correctly. Like when I opened up what looked like a commercial freezer and found a gun attached to a glowing green backpack. A label on the wall read, “Warning: Nuclear Hazard.” The inventory for that room informed me they had invented a nuclear flamethrower. Well, it’s not really a flamethrower at that point, though it’s hardly the first quibble to come to mind. Mostly it has to do with having an unlicensed, prototype nuclear accelerator for a backpack.

That lack of people surprised me, actually. I wasn’t finding dead bodies anywhere, though I know the place had been occupied when I put a hole in the island and dumped the ocean on the geothermal power. I know they had been here, and I doubt everyone abandoned their pet projects.

The answer turned out to be in the elevator. That low, I went to check on it and found it wasn’t just metal gumming up the works. There was organic matter at the bottom of the pile of metal. Not crushed people. It stretched out and down. Skin you could see through. Ligaments. Chunks of metal held together by muscle. It reminded me of a web more than anything. I plucked a strand and heard something skitter from below.

I came back with the nuclear flamethrower. Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea in this context. I was just about to start burning my way through when a large, pointed limb pushed it all aside. The thing that crawled out had a lot of the rest of that flesh with it. It looked rotten, and I was really glad my helmet filtered smells. A big spider of rotten meat stretched over metal that showed through where the gore failed to go far enough. It crawled out on pointed legs, revealing a torso that sat upright in the middle section of its body. That part looked more humanoid, save for its head being nothing but a mask of skin with eight holes. Whatever was inside gleamed, and perhaps functioned as an eye. The limb that pushed the blockade aside pushed toward me, a leg now punctured from the inside by a bloody scythe that kept extending further than I’d have liked.

I lit it the hell up with the nuclear flamethrower. Squeezed the trigger and a everything in front of the mouth of the weapon started glowing green. It was an unusual effect, but the organ parts blistered, burned, and fell off. That front blade fell off when some ligaments bubbled and dripped like grease. The thing howled and scrambled back for the hole, a sound made all the worse by its voice being deep and an answering call from down below.

It wasn’t helped by a red light flashing on the body of the flamethrower, which didn’t want to stop firing. I shoved the business end of it into the hole that cyber spider crawled out of and held it there, firing until the multitude of howling halted. Then I fired it even longer, because this was no time to be stingy with the radiation. It was the only way to be sure, and it gave me enough of a working knowledge to figure out how to shut the radiation-thrower down safely and lock it back up in its freezer.

And so once again the day was saved from the monsters who might not have gotten out if I didn’t go investigating the building full of weapons I’d left unattended for like a month. Plus, I have lots of new toys to play with and inventions to sort through.

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Break It, Bought It 2

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Nothing like staying up late at night murdering hooligans to make you resentful of peacekeeping. A couple of guys had decided to run around a neighborhood at night, smashing up the place. Not so bad. More of an annoyance, especially because I’ve heard rumblings about gangs not letting people leave their homes. Except they’d been setting fires. That’s just what we need, a fire burning down half the island because emergency services collapsed.

“Good job on your reading, honey.” I said to Quiang. I’d set it up so I could listen to her and help her practice her reading. I’d even left a little camera for her to wear that would show me the book so I could help her with the words. Seems like the kind of thing a parent would do. I don’t have much personal experience to go on there. “Daddy’s got to take a break for a minute or two. Be right back.”

Below me, the pair I’d come looking for were lighting up a Molotov cocktail. Future Corpse One held the bottle while Future Corpse Two flicked his lighter trying to set fire to the rag at the top. “I think it’s out of fluid,” said Two.

I landed between them, grabbed the bottle, and smashed it over Two’s head hard enough to shatter it. I turned and shoved my hand into One’s mouth, held it open, shoved the bottle in there, then kicked him in the nuts hard enough that it carried him into the air a short distance. I turned to Two then and snatched the lighter from his hands. “This town deserves a better class of criminal,” I said to him. I flicked the lighter. Nothing. I tried again. Again, nothing. “I think you’re out of fluid,” I said to him. “Don’t worry, though. I’ll help you find more. It’s dark, though.” I reached to my belt and pulled out a flare. “Here, take a light.” I popped the flare and threw it at him.

All in all, it was a brief but thoroughly enlightening experience for him.

On the political side of things, I didn’t expect much from asking a bunch of people to throw together a group of representatives in a hurry, but they surprised me. I ended up with various committees and gangs in attendance at the palace who were either picked to represent some borough or neighborhood, or who had already been doing so. It’s just so nice to see some competence. I get a little jaded at times watching people rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic that it’s nice when something goes according to plan.

Which made it all the more frustrating when this group decided to maintain their fealty to Emperor Gecko instead of replacing me. After that little fiasco, I left them to sort out details like composition and rules and so on. I had a meeting with the local boss of the Yakuza. It was time for their humanitarian efforts to pay off as I wheeled and dealed. Or, to be more honest, attempted to not murder a guy and instead come up with some preposterous scheme to restore power to the entire island.

“It’s simple,” the Yakuza fellow explained to me. I hadn’t listened to his title, nor did I care to go back and reread. “We run underground powerlines from our island to yours. It will cost more until the new nuclear power plants are built. We would be more than happy to front much of the capital necessary for your own switch to nuclear power, if necessary.”

We sat in a small room at a higher-end bar that hadn’t been ransacked like the others. The Yakuza boss sat further away from me, at the other end of the table. The one doing all the talking was an underling sitting closest out of all his delegation.

I mulled over their offer. “So this will be able to handle the entire island’s power supply, unlike those generators you brought?”

He bowed his head. “Yes.”

I thought about it a minute. “Why can’t we just steal the nuclear power plant itself?”

“Pardon me. Would you please rephrase the question?” he asked. Geez, don’t know what about that didn’t make sense.

“You have a nuclear power plant over there. I need it over here. What if we took it from over there and brought it over here,” I pantomimed grabbing something and bringing it back over to me to illustrate the point.

“It is a large building with foundations in the soil of Japan.”

I nodded. “I’m aware of this. The question remains the same.”

“We would be unable to perform this. We would gladly provide power to your island while you work out a plan,” he answered, likely expecting there’d be no plan. One had come to mind, but I was gonna need some manpower.

“I would be more than happy to allow your group to operate on the island in return for power, and in gratitude for having aided the people of Ricca so far. I hope we can have a fruitful relationship, devoid of extradition treaties and nosy law enforcement.” When we went to shake on it, I gave him a little soul to go with it. Some fries with that shake. Fist bump, up and down, finger wiggle, all that.

From there, it was back to the assembly of committees, or whatever name they gave themselves. “Yo, dudes and dudettes!” I called out. “How far along have we gotten?”

One guy who had been standing on a table in the cratered courtyard looked up. “We are the first National Constituent Assembly. As soon as we have resolved the shape the government will take, we will dissolve and the people will decide representation. Do you approve, my Emperor?”

Yeah, sure, why not? “I approve of the steps you take for the people.” And it’s incredibly easy for people to say and do horrible things in the name of the people. “I need the aid of those same people to help provide for them. Not everyone has returned to the service of their country.”

We lost a lot of people who had just been brainwashed. I didn’t send out any orders one way or the other. The Koreans didn’t make a stink about letting them go, so I don’t think they’d have tried too hard to keep them there. I bet others are on the fence about serving the guy who killed the fellow they were loyal to, maybe some are so loyal they’re staying there until the war is technically resolved. Oh crap, I left Beetrice to negotiate a multi-national treaty with my life on the line.

Anyway, I’ve got a handful of loyal supers actually on the island with shaky loyalties. I could spend way too long looking into that, or I could go ahead with a plan that doesn’t necessarily involve them. I chose to go ahead. It was cheaper this way. Well, relatively.

It was late at night when the workers and I approached first while the ship went on, picking up an order of inflatable rafts, rice, and whatever else people are buying up on Ricca. We had plenty of boats to get to the mainland ourselves, but a trashed island could always use a few million more.

It was night, but it turns out Ricca had a rich nautical tradition. Most of the guys got their boats to shore without a problem, save one or two collisions. They spread out and began drilling down with the equipment we brought. Miners, demolition experts, and so on. They didn’t have to go far enough to hit lava or anything like that. Just far enough to help break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar. It took hours to get enough holes dug and loaded with the explosives. Meanwhile, I unpacked my armor and pulled it on, then commenced pounding anchors in and attaching heavy duty cables.

A lot of the guys were spreading worried chatter, especially after the night manager at the plant stepped outside to ask what we were doing there. After he saw the expansion blueprints and one of the resting workers who used to be a foreman gave him the runaround with some construction terminology, he went back inside to get us documents showing where all the ground cables were that left the site, just so we wouldn’t accidentally mess with any of them.

The foreman called me back over. “We need to go over these blueprints, with your permission.” I swung by there, trying to stay out of sight of the people inside as much as possible. After some consultation I had hardly anything to do with, they figured out we needed a few more holes and got to work. They knew what they were doing this for. I think it even excited them some to try this. I took some of the others to fix the last of our cables into place.

Our ride was that cargo ship returning. I’d given the captain and rather special crew extensive leeway with money and equipment. Many of them were former Riccan military who ditched the uniforms when the island was abandoned. They also knew the stakes, and that I was in a forgiving mood these days. When they came back, it wasn’t just with the ship we rode in on, now loaded with supplies. It was with five ships, some cargo, and at least one whaler. I didn’t get the best look at them in the middle of the night.

Those cables I planted earlier were run out to the boats, which most of the guys took back to the ships. Next came the part I least wanted to see. The more moving parts in any plan, the less likely it is to go off without a hitch, and we were running lucky so far. All this ships sitting around here would look suspicious to anybody whose job was to watch out for a bunch of strange ships not acting like civilian traffic. Except it was taking way too long to get the boats reloaded with some of those sailors and inflatables.

Our luck decided it ran far enough. “We have a problem,” said one of the captains, his voice coming through my earpiece. “They found us.”

“Any idea where they are?” I asked, even as I started hijacking satellites and tried to patch in to the Japanese Defense Force’s naval communications. Even my skills, you can’t just instantly break into Japan’s defense network that easily. Unlike the United States, they’ve been staying up to date. Their security could nab you so many different ways, you’d think you were surrounded by tentacles. Then things get really nasty.

Oh, sure, as if I wouldn’t make a tentacle joke about Japan.

“I’m on it,” said a digitally distorted voice. “I know right where they are. It’s called electroreception, and it’s why sharks are awesome.” That’s the happiest I’ve heard Silver Shark outside of sex. Made me a little jealous, as a matter of fact.

“The rest of us better step lively. Don’t go so fast you miss anything, but the coffee break’s over and now it’s time to use up some caffeine,” I said. The first wave of sailors began running around getting the inflatable rafts set up.

“All done. They’re dead in the water and sinking,” reported Silver Shark after a good twenty minutes. By that time, we’d gotten the rest of our ground team over.

I sorted through messages and found where they’d sent out a report about us beforehand. They didn’t get a distress call out, but they had called in backup. “We might see more company. I think it’s time to go. Last check, cables secure?”

The ships all answered in the affirmative. “Good. Looks like we got our part done. I think it’s time we blow this scene. Get everybody and the stuff together. Ok, three, two, one, let’s jam.” It seemed like the crack was louder than the explosions that caused the earth to reverberate under our feet. Alarms immediately blared from the nuclear plant, which the sailors flooded into. They were to make sure the night shift kept the place running. I’d considered a forceful evacuation instead, but we needed someone to run the place and train replacements.

Between the power of the explosions and the pulling of the ships, the power plant and a little bit of the land it sat on pulled off mainland Japan and into the water. Though auto-inflating rafts began to deploy around the edges, more were being swept underneath before opening.

It took the entire rest of the night to move the plant, but it finally settled into a small atoll just north of Ricca shortly after daylight broke. Nuclear power and atolls just go together in my mind for some reason. Natural fit. One safety check later and it was confirmed: the Empire of Ricca now has its own nuclear plant, and some new ships.

Welcome to Ricca. Our national motto: I swear, it fell off the back of a truck.

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Korea Harder 6

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Lots of lost sleep. It’s the memories. I’m there, back in the other world. Back as a kid, or back at the original dimension bomb. I almost snapped Qiang’s neck. I woke up and I didn’t know who she was. I only knew something was going on and I was being attacked. After all, I’d just been back in the old world, surrounded by enemies. And once I realized where I was, I seriously considered going ahead and breaking her little neck anyway. It might have been the better thing to do.

That whole thing where I was of two minds about everything wasn’t something as nonsensical as a split personality. Just the closest thing I had to a conscience. I don’t know if that was the part telling me to go ahead and kill her. I can’t tell anymore.

I couldn’t get back to sleep until I’d scratched a certain itch. I left one of my eyes to keep watch over Qiang and Citra, then headed out. I ran across a custodian cleaning up the place in the hours when most were asleep. “Hey, good job,” I told him, then pointed behind him. “What’s that?!”

They found him in the morning, hung to death off a balcony of the palace by his underwear, which had been pulled far up his backside, deep into his crack, and around his neck. When I do an atomic wedgie, Japanese people die.

That made me feel better, like I could get back to bed. But then, I realized I’d hit upon a decent solution. I soon skipped along until I found a crew setting up in the kitchens, getting them clean and prepped for the day. “You there!” I shouted. “No one’s in the chair! Come and visit your old friend Sweeney.”

I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, but I had a good time, and that’s what counts. Sent some messages out. Stuff for Master Academy in the event things went badly. Like how to fix supers brainwashed by the Unity chemical. Still none around here after the island lost power and all the others were sent to the supers and soldiers of the front line.

At the meeting the next day, I had to represent Claw’s interests. That meant only going back to pre-war, not pre-expansion, in terms of territory. I didn’t mind if the Empire went to some sort of democratic system, and figured I’d use that as a concession for better terms, but now I’ve got to insist on remaining in power as a way to protect the institution of the Empire. Or some crap like that. The rest of it is crap about economics, trade, and UN seats.

I smiled up at the glass of tea dropped off for me by the servant in the room. “Thank you. Please, don’t leave. We may need more orders. Just stand to the side, if you will.” He nodded and did as ordered while I addressed the others. “Listen, folks, these talks are fascinating. Truly, they are. I’m just a bit bored by threats at the moment, so why are these guys still here?” I asked, pointing to the Dimension Rangers.

The red one looked me in the eye. The Rangers tend to assign that color to the field leader of their teams, though at least one team was led by the pink one. It’s not unheard of for a later member to take over the team, as well. Still, the red one’s as good a person to talk to as any. “We are here to keep you from causing trouble. We are here to see that peace is achieved. We will then take you back.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why would you ever want me back?”

Red continued. “We did not know you were still alive. You can’t be allowed to run free and ruin this dimension. These people don’t want you here disturbing their lives and destroying their world.”

I looked to the edge of the chamber, where I’d ordered Citra and, more important, Qiang to attend. I called Qiang over. She ran over, doing a great job at keeping that knife of hers hidden. I took her hand and pulled her onto my lap, where I took her hand and felt the trademark connection of a homo machina. Everyone else around here could die. I kissed Qiang’s head, then looked to the Red Ranger. “This world is my home now.”

“Our world doesn’t want you back, but we can contain you. You have corrupted this world with knowledge beyond its natural development and killed untold numbers in the process. This world is not yours to play with. It does not revolve around you, nor do they want it to. We can move onto the important work after we clean up this nuisance you have created.” It’s a good thing the language we spoke wasn’t the same. Some people might take offence to that part about restricting knowledge.

“What if I just want to be left here in peace?” I asked.

He scoffed at that. The one in black laughed outright. I smiled and said, “Who doesn’t like a good joke? Isn’t it enough that I don’t want to destroy this world and kill everyone?”

Red wasted no time on a response. “No.”

“You do not get a pass because you are a mildly better person here,” said the outraged Black ranger. “This world is better off without you saving it.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “I’m sorry,” I said in English, so more people would understand. “You’re right. I’m a horrible person. I shouldn’t try the save the world. I shouldn’t do that anymore. I tried, and ended up creating the devices the Claw used to help wash some brains. Oh, and he had the White House destroyed. And I shouldn’t run a country. I’m just negotiating here because I killed the last guy and figured I could at least get some peace goin’. Of course, then it turned out the Claw set me up to kill a body double and probably snuck me some poison that can kill me if he manages to get any more to me.”

I paused here to hook my cup of tea with me finger and raise it to my mouth. Eyes went wide around the table as I did so. I lowered it some and smiled. “Don’t worry. This wouldn’t be the catalyst that kills me. Not when I’m supposed to be doing the Claw’s bidding here. Because he’s already given it to my daughter, and to that lady,” I nodded my head back toward Citra, who looked horrified. Lip quivering, eyes wide, all that. I added, “I mean, it could be. But life involves a gamble or two.”

I paused here and looked down at little Qiang. Wish I had that little thing inside me to give me a little guidance, even if it meant I’d listen and do the opposite. I looked to the Black ranger. “Take care of my daughter, please? I have to kill the man who tried to kill her twice already and almost ruined my world.”

I stood up. So did the Rangers. They took a defensive position as I held Qiang out to them. The Red one took her, though Blue and Black stayed on guard because I would gladly use that opportunity to punch them most of the time.

Instead, as soon as they did so, I lunged toward the servant who brought me the tea and put my fist through his chest. The speed of movement and contact caused the illusion around my arm to fail, allowing the black and blue of my armor to show through. He trembled and stared, mouth agape, at my fist. “Come on and change back, you bastard,” I said. “I killed this servant this morning, shoved him onto a bidet and forced the water through him until he died. Anal water boarding.”

One of the Buzzkills chimed in, “My Emperor, he has a twin brother.”

Oh. Crapbaskets.

Then the door opened and in walked the same servant with an assortment of finger foods on a tray. Every head in the room turned to him, except the guy I’d fist impaled. The man himself looked at me and his dead doppelganger. “My twin brother!”

I held the corpse out between he and I and pulled my arm out, disappearing. Before the body hit the floor, my next punch flew toward the Claw’s face. He slapped it aside, disrupting the hologram and allowing everyone to see up to my elbow. My follow-up to his gut hit nothing. One second his stomach was there, the next my left went through a hole. I pulled it out before he could clamp down. He deflected more punches, didn’t react to ball shot, and I might as well have headbutted George Washington on Mt. Rushmore for all the good it did. In retrospect, the nut punch was a dumb idea in someone who can relocate his nuts. I should shift mine around sometime.

I directed energy from the batteries to my right fist and pulled back, telegraphing. The Claw didn’t bother reacting. Of course, I just had to open my big mouth in the middle of a fight. I did it to release a scream on the frequency that short circuits human motor functions and paralyzes them instead of bragging, though. My helmet and ears protected me from the effects while he was wide open. And while it’d be a great time to shove an explosive down his throat, I had stronger explosives than I had space in the same room as my kid. Shouldn’t matter. Not like he could dodge.

He dodged it and let me tear up the door instead. Then he grabbed my arm and jerked it back. “You think you are clever. What innovation! Punch me. Scream at me. Betray me. Pretend you can keep your loved ones safe from me.” His head transformed into the bulbous, yellow, many-folded form I’d seen in the old photos. His eyes were large red slits on black, and he had more fangs than the Tepes family in that mouth of his. “You are not the hero of some story, just a cunt.”

He squeezed my arm, bending metal and breaking bones. When Buzzkill guards stepped forward to try and impale him with their stinger swords, he swiped at the air. He didn’t need to touch them to carve lines right through them. I jumped up and tried kicking off from him. I flipped back, but he didn’t let go. I landed on my head, shoulder popped out of its socket. He picked me up by the afflicted limb and slammed me into the ground several more times for good measure, then brought one of his titular claws down on my back. It pierced my armor and spine with ease. “Hey, you dick. I need that to walk,” I coughed out.

He stepped over me and toward the Rangers and Qiang, who started to stir. I popped the Unexpected Surprise, the molecular-edged blade, and sliced through his ankle. He grabbed the table and turned around. He opened his mouth and a glowing beam slammed into me, grinding me along the floor and leaving me smoking by the wall. He simply regrew the leg and turned back to the Black Ranger and Qiang. He reached for her slowly, getting a knife to the hand. When Black tried to push him away, Claw backhanded the man upside his jaw with a hard crack.

Claw went for another chance. It must have surprised him when I came running for him. He turned and sliced the air in anticipation of catching me. He lost that claw, then his head. The head rolled forward before his other hand caught it. I tried stabbing it with the blade, but he raised it up. I hit chest instead, and then the stump of his severed hand hit the side of the blade and snapped right through it even as it tore the stump to pieces as well. I tried to grab it, but it was sucked through his body, shooting out the back and leaving a hole in the wall behind him. His head grinned as he set it back on his neck, his hand regrowing.

You know, it’s mildly frustrating being the one on the other side of the constant regenerating.

“Get out of here already!” I yelled at the damn Rangers, mainly because they were supposed to be keeping my kid out of this. I didn’t give a damn about everyone else, who were also trying to get out after their brief paralysis. Then I looked Claw right into his furiously unkillable eyes and said, “Come on, you bastard. You’re not getting to her while I’m alive. Go ahead. I’ll even broadcast it. Get you some attention. You’ll always be known as the man who killed Psycho Gecko. That’s a lot more impressive than killing a little girl.”

Another mouth beam knocked the delicious chocolate pudding out of me and left me gasping for breath in my Psycho Gecko-shaped impression in the wall. He grabbed a chair then and threw it into me with enough strength to lodge three of the legs through my chest and pin me in there. At that point, everything below the hair hurt. Air eluded me, and blood was running like rats from a sinking ship.

“I will be the one to break you and hear you whimper,” he said calmly.

“I mean, if that’s all you wanted, I’m not a big fan of the bondage stuff, but-”

“Before this day is through, it will be cemented in the minds of all that you are just a weak little man with a reputation far greater than your means or ability. Who are you to challenge me?”

“Dimension Squad, Transport!” yelled three voices, followed by an explosion. I looked up to see the three Rangers had called their shiny costumes. The resulting explosion from their morph had wrecked the wall of the room. Instead of standing, they fled through the hole with Qiang, calling for everyone around to evacuate. They left me, but that’s no big loss.

“I think you missed your chance. Even now, I feel my salvation close at hand,” I meant to chuckle, but something solid lodged in my throat. Spat it out. Odd shade of pinkish-orange. Are there orange organs?

The Claw looked back at me, but stepped out after them, cutting his way through walls to follow after. I tried moving, but my body didn’t cooperate. I tried thinking of Qiang, or inspirational power up music, or something like that. But that kind of thing happens to heroes, and I’m not the hero.

I projected my consciousness outward, along the networked devices of the palace. Like a security camera nuclear alarm system. “Hey, Claw, whatcha doin’? Hunting down Rangers?”

He sneered and cut through that intercom, but at least the cameras had sound. “No more stolen nanomachines, no more stolen weapons. The Gecko thief has only cameras and speakers to steal. I doubt you burgled anything that can stop me now. Is there any part of you not stolen from someone else? From my understanding, your name is not your own. You have nothing to save yourself or your stolen daughter now.”

He pushed down the doors of the palace. Outside stood the diplomats, my few supporters such as Silver Shark and Beetrice, and the Dimension Rangers in what should have been the sunlight. But the sun behind them was blotted out. A veritable horde of supers crowded around outside the palace, all facing the Claw.

“This too is something of mine. You stole my Empire, but it is mine, and my subjects answer to me,” he said to mock me. I heard it perfectly, through so many ears. War Man stepped forward holding a grenade launcher more fit to be mounted on a tank.

“About that,” I said from a nearby phone being held by one of the Chinese peace envoys. “I have stolen many things, but not the Unity drug, nor the memories of so many superheroes. I am indeed a right cunt. But didn’t you ever wonder why I didn’t bring in nanites to replace those you destroyed, purse myself of your poison? They were sent to the front lines instead, to heal those who fought for you. You’re right. I was not strong enough, but I think they are. It doesn’t throw off your big finale if that memory block’s gone, does it?”

I went to laugh back in my little wall cradle, but the coughing started, and the distant thunder and multitude of lights and beams and lasers aimed at the Claw and directed by a bunch of very pissed and eager people. But I couldn’t stop coughing, and shaking and just before I lost co-

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