The Dudebot reawakened. I looked around to find out where they’d stored the thing. Looks like they packed a lot of my stuff together, but I didn’t recognize the room offhand. My things weren’t dumped haphazardly, though they could have treated my fucking dresses better. I lifted up one that they’d set on my armor chamber and ran unfeeling robotic hands over the badly-wrinkled fabric. I tossed it back down and crawled over the whole mess to make it to the door on the other side.
They had locked it. I kicked it. When it didn’t open, I kicked it again. I charged the gauntlets and slammed them into it, knocking the door open. It swung to the side, one tough fucking door, and I stepped out to discover my things had been vaulted. It was a short corridor of vaults that. Had to break my way out of a door at the end and climbed up some stairs to find out I was in a bank. Huh. And here I thought they’d stick my crap in a storage closet somewhere. I guess they didn’t want anyone playing with my toys.
It looked like one of the nicer banks, which gave me an idea what part of town we were in. The ones in the residential section were a little less plush. I think a bank tried to set up shop in the recreational part of town, but drunk supervillains didn’t bother to make any deposits before they withdrew. That put me in the same area the bigger banks set up. Corporations love to have an office in countries that don’t extradite.
I’ll give them credit, I had to bitchslap the doors open, too. They made the whole building tough. I walked out to find a crowd of Buzzkills and Island Security. The Sec guys looked disheveled. They were half out of uniform from what I could see of them above the cars they arrived in or the barricades they unloaded. The Buzzkills lowered their Stingers, but most of the Sec guys kept theirs up.
I stopped, arms akimbo. “Bow.”
The Buzzkills did, save for a couple. They looked at each other, then one started rushing around, trying to pick up Buzzkills. The other approached me, motioning for the Security guys to lower their weapons. “I must apologize, Imperial Mother, but you are not Empress anymore.”
“As your Empress, I say otherwise. Now, bow,” I ordered.
“We don’t need or want you!” A Security officer yelled at me.
The one next to him slapped him upside the head, but added her own two cents. “By order of Empress Qiang and her Regent, Queen Beetrice, you are sentenced to exile until we’ve established a stable and secure government for us, for the people.”
“This sounds more like something you were told to say, not some spontaneous will of the people. I did so much for you. I made the island safe in a time of chaos. Restored order. Corrupt politicians? Out of a job or dead. We even have a whole new island. And not a peep from y’all. No protests or signs or letters.”
“You, uh, tended to kill people who caused you trouble,” said the second Sec officer.
“Doesn’t mean I’d have killed you,” I answered.
The Buzzkill spokeswoman decided to rejoin the conversation. “Imperial Mother… all the attacks and villainy.”
I looked back over their faces, trying to read them. The Buzzkills were… sad, maybe? But the humans were scared or angry. This next part wasn’t going to help that. I activated the eye laser on the Dudebot. I sheared a barricade in half and took a Security officer’s arm with it. He fell, screaming. Before I could move onto the next target, a large stinger lodged knocked the Dudebot’s head back. Laser shot into the sky and the energy barrier over the island. It didn’t go through, of course.
The Buzzkills and Security officers unloaded on the Dudebot. They didn’t have enough firepower to puncture the armor on this model. I lowered my head slowly, cutting the laser. I wanted them to watch as everything they tried did nothing. A few of them made for their cars and came up with grenades. The Buzzkills tried to stop them, but nonviolently.
I shrugged and jumped the Dudebot out of there, bounding from rooftop to rooftop toward the palace. Alarms spread throughout the city I’d come to think of as my own. It seemed weird to think they were signaling that I was a danger to them, but it was true enough a few years back.
I skidded to a stop in front of the palace, where there were guards, Buzzkills, and some regular citizens who decided to pelt me with produce. Mangoes were mangled hitting me. Squashes squished. They didn’t yell at me before this little coup, but they yelled plenty now. The words they said were a hell of a lot freakier. “You won’t hurt her!”
I thought that would give me pause, but I kept walking. The Nasty Surprise popped out, a threat. The Buzzkills fired stingers at me and formed a human wall with the Sec officers and civilians present. Human/Buzzkill wall, I guess.
I was going to kill all of them. I knew it. Forget maiming like back at the bank. More than anything, I wanted to make those clueless peasants in front of me feel pain. I wanted to just let my anger loose. Destroy and kill, again and again after all these wastes of people did to me. I didn’t realize how much of a state I was in until I heard my daughter’s voice cry out.
Qiang wiggled through the human wall and ran toward me. I retracted the Nasty Surprise and bent down, holding my arms wide. I missed her, even for that short amount of time. It was the uncertainty over seeing her again and not knowing if she was a pawn in some scheme. But she was there now, in my arms, hugging me. I wish I could have felt it.
“I’m sorry I left. I didn’t know they’d do this,” I told her.
“I’m sorry too, mommy. I don’t want to be Empress now. They said if I did, you’d be safe. I want you to be safe.”
We just hugged. The crowd had the decency to shut up, but then another moodkiller arrived in her own power armor.
Medusa, Venus, whatever she wanted to call herself; the fucker who had a hand in all this. Giving people ideas about self-determination and stirring up trouble. Having the shield put up and cutting me off from using my portaholes. She bent down and tried to join our hug.
I stood up, pushing her away. “How fucking dare you?”
She held her hands up. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t how I wanted this to happen.”
I glared at her as best I could while remotely controlling a robot with three fake eyes. Luckily, my nemesis has a good imagination and knows me well enough to understand what I was trying to do. I could tell from her lip. It was an apologetic lip. “So nice to know the woman I love has it in her to stab me in the back and exile me far from everything I care about except Mix N’Max. Do you know why they call it heartbreak?”
She nodded. “I do. But I want to know how you are able to get through right now.” Yep, quick enough on the uptake that she asked a really important question. The second most important question out of those asked that day, in fact.
The Dudebot lit up red and began to warp. Medusa called into a radio to, “Maximum strength on the shield!”
It distracted her long enough for me to get her with a cheap shot to her firm abs. She caught the next one and kicked the Bot’s knee hard enough to topple it, throwing off a follow-up. Before I could try the laser, the connection ended.
I came back to myself, over in California. California, California, not California, Pennsylvania. I was in some house the Dusk Priest, Shockley, found for us to stay in. I opened my eyes and let myself float to the ground. I’d been sitting in midair, cross-legged like I was meditating.
“Your new method of spying failed?” asked the old man. He had put on a dress shirt, pants, and a tie after leaving his Snuggie behind. He kept an athame clipped to his belt next to a pouch of sand in case he needed to do anymore weird magic stuff or blind somebody for a minute.
“Even with my new power, they have a way to fend me off. Temporarily, at least,” I said, smiling. “Originality doesn’t matter that much. Everything fundamentally comes down to the same old principles and stories, and I know some guaranteed ways to do what needs to be done.”
“Don’t you know enough to build it here? Or there?” he pointed in a random direction. “Or anywhere?”
“This is the price she asked for, Priest,” I chided the man. “Wait for me here and don’t fret; soon, we will be on our way to pay in accordance with our deal.”
He didn’t seem happy, but I don’t get his complaint. He got to hang out in a mansion.
Meanwhile, I flew, armor left behind with the weight of mortality. I shot up through the ceiling, envisioning a barrier of my own that punched a hole for me to avoid getting any splinters in my long, crimson hair. I smiled as I hit zoomed into the night sky, the crescent moon illuminating my scarlet skin. It wouldn’t have been so easy to make out the black, long-sleeved dress, or the harlequin green and Mardi Gras purple of the legging stripes that lead into a pair of black booties. The white glow of my eyes and the Omega symbol on my chest were much easier to make out.
My joy of flying was bolstered by the experience at it I felt in the back of my mind. That kept me from getting too distracted on my way to the Master Academy. In a part of the country with such high land prices and a lot of homeless people looking for somewhere to camp, the Academy and its walls stood out.
I waved a hand in the air and left behind a red trail. The walls cracked in half at their middle and tumbled. Then I held up a single finger, and not my preferred one when dealing with heroes. With a little thought and giggling, I put the other three arms behind my back. A tiny beam of light shot out from my fingertip and down, burning through the roof of the main building. I dragged it one way, then the other, cutting it into halves as well. Then I brought it closer to me, taking out a statue in the middle of the grounds and spinning. I’m pretty sure I got some other buildings nearby, but most of them weren’t subject to what I was planning.
There were more alarms, but these had all the right in the world to be worried. I put that hand behind my back and brought out another one with its own pointer finger of doom, cutting a perpendicular line through the first so as to divide the main building into fourths. Below me, I saw people rushing out and about, some with flight and others with superspeed. I swapped out the other two hands who went diagonal, with the students and staff below more concerned with getting everyone to safety and dealing with whatever incidental casualties I was causing. It being a school, some of them were smart enough to realize I was following a pattern that could be avoided.
A few began to fly my way, scattering to present a more disparate field of targets. Oh look, the mortals think they can fight back. It probably seemed more manageable until I pointed all four index fingers down and split another eight beams off from each one.
Some of the heroes and trainees managed to get away. The really lucky ones did so intact. And one bold son of a gun flew up at me, sparks flying off his body before he tried to barrel into me. He let out an “Oof!” as he bounced off me.
I sped faster than a speeding bullet, and far too quick for him to have recovered before I landed a series of very light slaps to his face. Lovetaps, really. I stopped in front of him to grin afterward. Defiant little guy tried to zap me with an electrical bolt. I grabbed it out of the air and tossed it aside like a paperball.
“What the everloving fuck are you?” he asked.
“I’m Omega. And if you call me your goddess real nicely, I may spare you.”
I raised a fist, taking my time. He shrunk back. “Please don’t hurt me!”
I paused. “You know what to say.”
He closed his eyes and turned his head down. “Goddess.”
I brought my hand forward and patted him gently on the head. “Good. Now, your goddess has a little task for you. Just a trifle, really. When she asks, and she will, I want you to let the person formerly known as Venus know it was me who did this. And tell her I’ll see her soon.”
He nodded his head, so I used my new powers to force him to the ground. It was as simple as encasing him in a bubble of the energy that flowed through me and dragging it down to the grieving and the wounded.
I’m sure she knew before I returned to my priest, who grumbled about not knowing why we were taking our time. The resentful little toad was jealous, of course. He also had nothing to go back to and nowhere to run, not even to the nothing between somethings where the rest of me waits.
But while I’m here, I’m going to enjoy myself.
My destruction of the Hephaestus labs serving the Feds caused some shockwaves. Enough news went out about the exposed project in the government that some of the informants I have sent reports on to my agents. They considered it worse than a clusterfuck that they were warned about me coming and still couldn’t handle the situation. That was some lovely information. Then, of all things, the Hephaestus offices told me the dude I talked to went on a sudden vacation out of town.
Of all the… yeah, I knew the guy wasn’t trustworthy. That’s why I offered him a bribe. But I didn’t think he’d be so untrustworthy as to not honor the bribe. I mean, that was a deal between the two of us. Someone working for Hephaestus should know better than to violate a deal with me. I have some of my guys looking into where he may have hidden so I can deal with him personally. I was hoping it would be a quick job, so I could use him for weapons testing.
I had to make due with a fellow Pagan was more than happy to deliver. He called me out yesterday, said my presence was necessary at the proving ground range, a section of the island reserved for blowing things up to see how well they blow up. I don’t like that we waste our limited land area on such things, but they’ve been doing it for a long time. The Interior Director, with my approval, is trying to have the land surveyed to see how much work it would need to be safe for other use, but there’s something of a pissing match going on. Something about artillery running tests every time the surveyors go to do their job. Sometimes while the surveyors are out there.
I took a rocket, missing the effortless flight I had with Omega’s power running through me. Next to that, an oversized firework was a little bit of a letdown. I came with my armor, too, which still had the red color scheme and the Omega on it. Works like a charm, though the little wormhole gloves needed a going over and recalibrating. Chu told me the stack overflow wasn’t the whole problem, and wasn’t even most of the problem. The power surge was related to the portable holes themselves. That got the physicists hornier than a big bang, and while they set up a system to better regulate the power, they’re still studying the effects.
As I approached the proving grounds, I saw Pagan’s group. He stood flanked by a trio of other agents who kept their guns trained on a man in a suit. The man in question had been roughed up a bit. He had blood on his shirt and in his mess of hair. His hands were bound in front of him with a zip tie, and he had no shoes or socks on. I liked those last touches. While it’s more difficult to do things with your hands tied behind you, it’s easier for someone with a knife to cut them without being noticed. Leaving his feet bare also makes it tougher for him to run for it. They even had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He could still palm something, but it’d take some serious legerdemain. That’s a fancy word for all that palming and other hand work that prestidigitators do. And that’s a fancy word for a stage magician. But don’t defenestrate yourself just yet, dear reader. That means throwing yourself out of a window, and if you did that, you wouldn’t find out this man was a leaker.
Hell, so much for keeping that secret. Now, I don’t mean the man had a bladder problem, though he had certainly wet himself at some point in their handling of him. I landed near Pagan and remotely directed the rocket to continue on, curve up, then plunge into the ground a safe distance away. “Howdy,” I told my Intel Chief.
“Empress,” he said with a bow. The other agents staggered theirs so someone was up and capable fo dealing with the guy in the zip tie.
“What did you need me here for?” I asked.
“After the Fluidic alien infiltrator attacked the power plant and Telechamber to bring through the remains of his fleet, I knew someone helped him. He knew too much to have worked alone, and knew to avoid the water. These men I trusted to find how,” Pagan explained. He motioned to the prisoner.
“After extensive investigation, we discovered this man had provided details of the Telechamber problems and the layout of the nuclear plant to a third party via TOR browser. We believe the third party was the Midnight Man or a group he was part of, though they claimed to be a collective dedicated to aiding whistleblowers and exposing the secrets of corrupt governments. Per further checks, we found that the leaked information has not been released to the public by any such group. It was merely a front for infiltrators to further their own imperialist agenda.”
“Tsk, tsk… whistleblowing state secrets? For what, for morality?” I turned to the man.
“You stole the nuclear plant and kidnapped those men. Your experiments threatened the world,” the man said with a shaking voice. The agents started toward him, but I held a hand up and they stopped.
I shrugged. “Yeah, I am indeed a bitch, like any other leader. Nobody’s hands are clean, and maybe it’s wrong to think that’s the only way. But something you should have remembered is that information like that is never free. It’s always got a value, and if you’re not getting paid, you’re getting duped. You got duped, big time. So, tell me now, is what Pagan said here true? I don’t like scapegoats either, so I’m willing to hear your story, too.”
“I thought Ricca was changing, that if my mother lived, she would have been able to return to her people. You are just as bad as The Claw. Your insanity threatens to destroy the world. You are as bad as any Soviet or American with Mutually Assured Destruction,” the analyst said.
I sighed. “Sorry to hear you feel that, and sorry you felt it was more important to hurt me than to help yourself.” Turning to the agents and Pagan, I said, “You’ll want to stand clear of this one.”
Pagan nodded and the four of them began to walk away.
“You will kill me,” the analyst said, no doubt in his voice.
“Yep,” I told him. “No matter how merciful I might want to be, it’s what I have to do. You helped someone attack us. People are dead. Other people’s kids and mothers are dead because of what you did. For all you think I’m just like the evil alien conqueror, you unleashed a whole ‘nother band of evil alien conquerors on the planet to destroy people just like yourself. So you die here today.”
I activated the portable holes. I need a shorter name for them. Portaholes is the obvious portmanteau, but it makes me think of portapotties. I’ve talked about all kinds of portals and breaches. Wormhole just feels inappropriate to me, but it might be the best option.
I suppose I could have given the guy an easy death with some dignity. Or I could have done something really brutal to make sure people knew not to fuck with me. Vlad the Impaler came to mind, except I now had the ability to impale this fellow on anything in the world. The Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Sputnik on top of Joe’s Liquor’s sign in Memphis: the world was my boner.
Instead, I reached out with my mind, looked up a few things, and used some GPS info. I created a pair of wormholes and punched the man, once from above, another from behind. The next thing to hit him through a wormhole was a gloved fist from a boxing match, then a footballer’s cleated foot caught him in the balls, followed by a portal above him dropping an anvil on his head. It was significantly less survivable for him than it is for Daffy Duck. You couldn’t much hear the bones break because of all the squelching.
For the final cleanup, I tried double the holes, and much bigger than I’d done before. Chu’s not monitoring them all the time, but we’ve still got a full-time staff with a direct line to me if anything goes wrong. That they didn’t speak up when the train appeared, plowed into the anvil and the remains, and then went back through a portal almost as quickly as it appeared says good things.
I had a lovely dinner with Medusa, Qiang, and Citra. Citra had been on a break between semesters, but finally stopped here for a little bit. She did some important schmoozing in Belgium and she’s not really into the whole lesbian thing, so that all explains her absence lately. Perfectly reasonable stuff. I’m certainly not disappointed with the fact that I partnered for political reasons and not for amazing, clothes-tearing lust. Or love.
I woke up early thanks to a voice whispering in my ear. “Psychopomp… wake up. You’re missing the fun,” Mr. Omega said.
“What fun?” I asked groggily. I’m a morning person like Elton John’s a ladies man.
“You have done amazing, but our enemies gather.”
That woke me right up, though I stopped talking out loud so as not to wake up- nevermind, Medusa was already up. Huh. I thought I did a better job tiring her out. Should I be worried? Anyway, enough about sexy times. I talked in my head. “What’s going on? Someone about to attack the island?”
“Yes. Gifted humans in the Empire of Japan have studied the breaches in the dimension and the weakening of the barrier. They suspect a connection between this and your island. They drew my attention when I observed their testing. They are not the only enemies. I feel the Dusk Club has reunited.”
“That’s that group you pretended to be a part of. They’re real?” I asked.
The face in my HUD nodded. “They are the successors of the ancient tradition that banished me to the void. They have been in decline since the conflicts of the last century. They sense the veil is weakening and will rebuild.”
“What’s that mean for us?” I sent off a text to Apollo of the Hares to check on some group called the Dusk Club. If I still had the number for The Trust over in Los Angeles, I’d have asked them. That family is supremely fucked-up, but they’re involved in the magic world. And the magic bar on Beale Street in Memphis might get me where I need to go.
“It means I will soon have need of you to serve as my avatar again, channeling my power to further our goals,” Mr. Omega said.
Bingpot. Ok, Gecko, play it cool… “Yeah, sure, I suppose I could if you think I’ll need all that extra power.”
Mr. Omega smiled. “Those without power, risk. Those with power, rule. All we have to do is but find them. Then, we crush them.”
I mean, yeah, he’s vicious, but so am I. And I like the idea of flying like that again, with all that power. “I guess we’re hunting the Dusk then.”
“On behalf of the President of the United States, I am proud to present the new official metahuman protectors of the greatest nation on God’s green Earth, the Freedom Legion.”
Cue polite applause from party officials, staffers, and a few members of the press as a men and women in red and white uniforms walked out on stage. The outfits were padded with body armor, red with groups of four white stars forming a cross on the chest, hips, and thighs. Their gloves and boots are white, but their helmets, which don’t appear to have any openings for breathing or seeing, are red with a white panel from the top of the head to the chin. Reporters hands went up, but the Secretary of Defense, or at least the one belonging to that administration, told them, “Direct all questions to the proper channels.”
There are two different people claiming to be the rightful President of the United States. One is the guy who took over after I tossed the nincompoop-in-chief to another dimension the first time around. The second is the nincompoop’s VP. The cabinet’s divided on which one is right, and that’s complicated by some of the ignoramus’s cabinet having been in the White House and just recently returning to find someone else claiming to the same title they have. It’s a real Pope and Anti-Pope situation. Just like with those crises in history, I expect legitimacy will be retroactively determined by whichever one wins the conflict.
Still, even Congress agreed that the government needed its own team of domestic law enforcement supers instead of relying on the private market and regular vigilantes. One of the presidents rushed through his own version of it, this Freedom Legion. The other one’s probably working on something similar, and he better work fast. I expect one of the first threats the Freedom Legion is going to deal with is the rival administration.
I don’t really feel threatened by these guys. I can deal with regular ol’ supers. It’s things like Mr. Omega I worry about. And as an assassin, even one so good I usually kill for myself instead, it’s my business to have a plan to kill everyone I meet. Even my new buddy Chu. The guy’s allergic to peanuts, so I’ve already made a knife out of peanut brittle. Well, I’ve made a couple dozen because I keep munching on the things. But anyway, these Freedom Legionaries are a good thing for me.They give me an excuse.
I can claim the Legion is all about trying to destabilize Ricca. Plenty of people will believe it even if they never do get used for any of the U.S.’s overseas adventures as their military so often has. And I’ve had a reputation of being insane, so plenty of people can excuse my focus on them as an extension of that. That gives me all the cover I might need to justify my weapons programs in the eyes of any prying extradimensional entities. Why do I need the ability to shoot a star at my enemies? Freedom Legion. Why do I need something to help me fight giant robots? Freedom Legion. It’s perfect.
All in all, the flaunting of American power in a time of internal conflict makes it incredibly easy to strengthen my own power using them as a scapegoat.
I went ahead and let Intel Chief Pagan in on the masquerade, even if I didn’t tell him why. His lack of any real response to me wanting to build superweapons has been noted personally. While having someone antagonistic heading up my intelligence service would be dangerous, I also don’t need a yes-man there. I need the truth. I’ll keep an eye on my interactions with Pagan from here on out.
Chu, the guy working on other applications of teleportation for energy and firepower, has been given high priority. He’s getting his own team, way more lab space, and all the funding he could need. If that works out, it’ll take my armor to another level. Or it’ll fuck things up even worse than the Telechamber did. I’ll scorch the Earth permanently by losing control of the power of a star. Or there’ll be some kind of creature hiding in the heart of a black hole I let loose who empowers people that want to kill me. Or something. I’ll have to kill that bridge when I come to it. Be nice to have another break from crises at some point.
For now, there’s no rest for the wicked. You know, aside from sleeping in bed with my hot superhero girlfriend who likes me for some reason I haven’t yet figured out. Ever since our little connection via electronic medium the other day, I’ve had a desire to randomly throw my hands up and squeal, “She really loves me!” Was real embarrassing when she caught me doing so alone in my room.
The strict “Do Not Disturb” status I put out in the aftermath of her catching me is why I was late to hearing some news from our neighbors across the pacific. The non-Freedom Legion president had fled to Canada, which was refusing to extradite him and the remaining cabinet-in-exile back. I considered it a hell of a victory.
Then, the next day, we got news that a nuclear submarine identified by sonar as one of the U.S. Navy’s high-priced toys had gotten awfully close to the island. It wasn’t violating our sovereignty, but it was close enough to know they were up to something. Pagan had the alert level of the Security and Military raised in case of attack or infiltration, and the island’s shield was on standby. Just as he was starting to hear reports about power surges from the shield people, which he summarized and set aside for me to see, he also got reports of an attack at the nuclear power plant. That put us on full alert and immediately jumped to the top of my priority list.
I ran out of the Institute of Science in my armor and ran to a long case I left sitting on the ground outside. A button press blew the sides off and shows a rocket with straps on top. I slid my boots into them and they tightened automatically before blasting off. That’s right, in order to help me cross the island more quickly, I’ve got the personal rockets going on again. It got me to the power plant in no time, where I found my guards firing on a black-clad individual who was trying to get into it.
The super had these energy tendrils emanating from their belly that formed a shield from gunfire, but a grenade exploded behind the individual and knocked them over. That one was standing up again when he or she took a rocket to the chest that pounded them back onto their back. I had flipped off of it and landed over their chest. Before I could go for the kill, a bloom of tendrils wrapped around all of my arms and held them. I stomped the person in their masked and goggled face. The tendrils didn’t weaken, but a new one grabbed my legs and held them splayed out.
Next to me, another black-clad person of indeterminate sex stepped through the wall, twirling a sword in hand. I turned my head and fired off my helmet’s laser at the ghostly swordsperson. It passed through his head without making it explode into steamed chunks of brain, but he fell back and through the ground. His sword, meanwhile, spun through my neck, through the head of a nearby guard, and disappeared into the ground as well as gravity somehow took hold of a thing that appeared no more substantial than light.
But then, lasers are light too. And the guard who was hit ended up falling, his armor unscathed. I knew right away what got him, as blood filled my throat from where my flesh had been sliced under my untouched armor. The tendrils tossed me high into the sky, quite likely expecting me to be too busy dying from decapitation to do anything to save myself.
Tendril person also threw him or herself out of the place, trying to flee while most of my guys fired after them. Another couple of them looked after the downed soldier, while a trio stared up and tried to guess where I’d land.
I concentrated more on the landing, which I figured I could take easily enough. The fall wasn’t high enough to splatter me, especially not while regenerative nanites flooded my neck, absorbing stray blood while knitting blood vessels, flesh, and bone together again. By the time I landed, I was in shape to chase our friend. I only had to follow the sounds of gunfire and flash of laser rifles. And the big explosion that took out a furniture store.
“Report,” I ordered as I landed near the place, finding soldiers picking themselves up off the ground and sweeping the area for survivors.
An officer came up and bowed. “Empress, we cornered the intruder in the store as he tried to escape. We managed to wound him with laser rifles and were closing in to capture him, but he detonated an explosive device. We’re searching for casualties and remains.”
“Thank you,” I said, checking around. Reports came in that the sub was heading out of the area, so I doubted they’d find them, but the real report came in that there had been another incident, this one at the children’s school.
I hugged Qiang tight when I got there. She cried as she squeezed me as tight as she could. “Shh. It’s ok.”
Nearby, one of her protective agents was talking with Pagan, who came personally to oversea what the hell went wrong here. Seeing me with my daughter, he opted instead to text it to me. “It was another individual dressed like the intruders at the plant. He used claws to quietly kill members of her hidden detail, then captured Qiang. Your daughter stabbed him in the neck, without effect. Agents pursued until a large red finger appeared and flattened the intruder. We’re checking the crater for explosives and any evidence we can gather before one may go off.”
A large red finger. Sounds like Mr. Omega actually did me a solid this time. It also sounds like the threat I thought would give me all the excuse I needed to fight Omega turned out to be a real threat to me and mine. It’s almost enough to make me wonder if I might reevaluate this relationship with Omega. Either way, I’m not stopping the weapons development program. Someone’s about to get their ass kicked, and it’s either a godlike being from outside this dimension or a superpower.
You’d think a gal could take a vacation without problems cropping up. I don’t just mean various day to day issues of running a dictatorship. Unlike a democracy, I actually have to be responsible to my people. If I screw up, I can’t blame another party that then has to fix my mess.
I mean just trying to relax. Have a good time. Like swimming. My family hung out at the beach a bit. It’s real popular. We have all these little boats that can go out there and set up awnings for shade or grills for cooking. I was out there, swimming with this big fruity drink in my hand that glowed bright green. Pretty sure that wasn’t a healthy radioactive glow, but it failed to set off either my internal Geiger counter or my Giger counter. The former measures radioactivity, the latter measures whether a substance contains an alien parasite that will try to mate with my mouth. I mean, aliens mating with my mouth aren’t a dealbreaker normally, but I’m still trying to make monogamy work.
Where were we? Swimming, right. I was out there with my nemesis-turned-girlfriend, my bribe-turned-daughter, and my ex-turned-bodyguard. At the moment, Medusa and Qiang were playing chicken with some other swimmers. Silver Shark was off doing something. Not sure. I saw her jumping onto a pad at one point to launch people into the air, but that had been before I picked up the bowl of liquor. I took a sip of my ridiculously large drink and felt a bump.
I looked down and saw a fin pass by under the shining water. Ah, that’s where Silver Shark went. She’s one of the ones who had a problem with my lack of monogamy after I blew a bunch of North Korean military officials to gain their loyalty. It bumped me again and I reached down to try and run my hand over the metal of her cybernetics. “Easy there, Shark. We aren’t that close anymore.”
A squeal of delight drew my attention to that big pad thing, where a kid splashed in the water and Silver Shark hopped off the pad.
Oh. Shark attack. I took a drink because I was gonna need it.
I turned to try and find the shark that had been bumping into me. A big fucking shark came right for my chest, eyes black, before it dived. Sharp teeth stabbed into my leg as I was dragged down. My ears caught screams before I was pulled under.
Bastard probably thought I’d just let the leg go. Someone bit into the wrong bitch. I grabbed the plastic cup my drink came in and broke it so that it was jagged. It wasn’t easy to keep track of what was going on with the water rushing around, but we seemed to be heading into deeper water. I went a-jabbin’ into that sleek undersea predator. I felt its jaws let up, but the fact that I was in front of it meant I didn’t get away. This time, it chomped down on the side of my belly. It hurt, but my body’s a tough piece of meat and metal. I stabbed into it for a handhold then bent toward it to bite it.
We must have taken a downward turn at some point, because I smacked into the bottom and threw up a bunch of sand. The shark let go and shook the front part of its body to get loose from me. It tried to swim away, but it found the steely grip of three of my arms holding onto its tail. Now it was my turn to smile and roll my eyes.
I can only imagine how it looked when that shark burst out of the water and flew through the air toward the shore. I know I didn’t look the best when I walked out of the water and toward the crowds. My leg and belly were bleeding. Medusa and Qiang ran up, my former nemesis now asking, “Are you ok?”
Qiang hugged onto me and I gave her a quick hug in return, saying, “Yeah, I’m fine. You should see the other guy. In fact, let’s go see the other guy.”
I walked past the concerned citizens gathered on the shore and grabbed someone’s folding beach chair. I folded it up while pushing past the crowd that gathered around the shark itself. I looked down on the floundering finned fiend and started whacking it over and over again with the side of the chair. When that broke apart, I tossed it down and looked around for something else. Someone held a bottle of sake out for me, so I grabbed that, sipped some, then started beating the shark with the bottle.
It died eventually. I like to think it wasn’t entirely from being on land. Someone offered to make me a special dinner of shark fin soup, but I declined and threw the shark over my shoulder. “Hey, Qiang, wanna go with me to the taxidermist?”
“What’s a taxidermist?” my daughter asked.
“It’s where grown-ups go to make stuffed animals out of things they hit with their car. Only they don’t cuddle them or hug them or play with them. They just stick them on a wall.”
“Mama, are you going to be ok?” she asked.
I patted her on the head. “I’m just fine. You can stay here and play with Medusa and the others if you want.”
Reassured, she ran over and grabbed Medusa’s hand to lead her back to the water. Medusa looked at me concerned, but ultimately decided I knew what I was talking about. So I dragged the shark off with me.
“Yep,” I told Mix N’Max later, in my bathroom. We were in my hot tub, soaking. I pointed up at the shark mounted on the wall overhead. “I caught one that big once.”
“Stop it, you’re making that up,” he told me.
“Ah!” said Holly, one of his assistants, as she stepped into the room and saw the shark on the wall. “Oh my god. You put a shark in your bathroom.”
“Let me see!” called Sam, his other assistant, who ran into the room and seemed disappointed. “Oh, a dead one.”
That wasn’t the only interruption either. I was out on a date with Medusa, which was a raincheck after she missed our last one to go wreck a concentration camp over in the States. She was treating me all gentle and all after the shark attack. Normally, and quite predictably, I don’t tend to like people babying me, but I liked it in this context. The way she held me in her strong, muscular arms.
Then she got a call from one of her hero buddies. I listened in from the other side of the dinner table as she asked for details about something. She gave me a sheepish look when she hung up. “I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
“You do? There aren’t any other heroes in places that speak English?” I asked, wagging a piece of steak at her.
“It’s one of those grey areas that known heroes can’t mess around with. It’s that Deputy Program they implemented. Portland PD’s got an arms deal set up with another group like the one that got into that shoot-out at the mall last week. I want to put the fear of God into cops selling off evidence and armories while claiming they’re deputizing white supremacists.”
I folded my lower pair of arms across my chest while continuing to eat with my upper arms. That’s another great thing about having extra arms. I can show my disapproval while still shoving food into my mouth. “Fine. Arachnoid might want to help out, while you’re at it.” She clapped her hands and stood up. I sighed, but felt a little better when she bent down to give me a quick kiss.
“I’ll be back as soon as possible, don’t worry. Besides, we had half a dinner,” she said, before rushing off to go help people or whatever nonsense she was up to these days. It’d gotten a lot easier for her ever since we got the tele-chambers set up. The scientists used the data I stole from that other dimension to figure out a way to create an intradimensional portal. It was a hell of a strain on the island’s power supply, but we put a hell of a lot of work into that system having its own separate power supply. We’re really growing all the way around over here, and the ability to teleport people anywhere in the world or call them back has helped tremendously. So have the Deep Ones. Without them and other refugees, we’d be terribly understaffed.
So with her off, I was left to finish my meal with the prospect of having both dessert and “dessert” alone. As it was, I took my time with the first and ended up trying to survive overeating by catching up on the island’s news. That was interrupted by an alert on my internal HUD that started just as the ground started shaking. I thought it was an earthquake at first, until a big white mass of fur slammed through the ceiling of the restaurant nearby, knocking my table over and me out of my booth.
I looked up at the thing, which quickly raised up. More of the ceiling fell in under an even bigger and longer white-furred thing the size of a car. I connected to the city’s drones and cameras to see what the hell was attacking the restaurant. I beheld a giant bunny, thirty feet long if you didn’t count the head. I was going to give its height, but it sat up on its haunches and looked around, which made the length the same as the height in my book. It hopped, crushing another building under its weight. People ran, screaming in terror as it leaned down to nibble at the top of a tree.
I answered the alert from the Institute of Science and Dr. Creeper, its head. “Creeper, why is there a giant bunny running amok in my city?”
“I have here the scientist to blame for it, ja,” he said in his faux-German accent. “He has been a naughty boy, experimenting with a food additive meant to increase the size of animals who eat it. It is meant for livestock, but this is too far!”
“Huh. That’s actually kind of impressive. While I’m unhappy with the immediate result, I think he’s on to something. We’ll discuss this more once I’ve killed Thumper here,” I said, calling a Dudebot to carry my armor to me and putting the military on red alert. They always knew, being so close to Japan, they might have to deal with a giant monster. I doubt they expected it to be a rabbit. Someone lost the betting pool, I’m certain.
“You can’t do that!” Creeper yelled.
“What? Why? Is it important for the experiments? The only survivng sample of whatever caused this? Will it explode into a pair of rabbits half as big over and over again?” I asked.
“It’s so cute,” he answered.
I took a moment to think about the reason my Science head was giving for not killing a giant rabbit causing hare-raising terror in my city. As if on cue, it jumped a few more times, tearing a swath of destruction and flipping a bus that landed with an explosion. I told Dr. Creeper, “That’s not a good enough reason,” and clambered my way out of the restaurant.
The Dudebot met me, having jumped from the palace with my armor that I pulled closed around me. The robot doppelganger of mine wouldn’t fool anyone up on how my latest armor looked, but it had two arms and all the usefulness of my prior suit, so it was still worth keeping around. I jumped onto Big Bunny’s head and grabbed its ear. At the same time, the Dudebot made for its front paw and tried to pull it out of the way so we could topple this lagomorph. The bunny shook its head, jerking me around, then turned and kicked the Dudebot halfway to China.
I grabbed onto its fur and gave it a mighty punch that knocked its head down. It responded by rolling over and trying to crush me into a car. I let go and it rolled back over, exposing its belly to me. I flew up with a punch that caused it to jump and kick at the air, barely missing me while I fell. I landed on the front of the car and rolled backward off it, a little winded. The bunny recovered as well, but its fur stuck out when it landed and a portion of the city went dark. It hopped forward again, off whatever power lines it had been on, and started trying to shake that out. I threw a car at it. It bounced off, but the bunny began to flee. It made for one of the island’s skyscrapers and actually began to scramble up the thing, its fluffy paws smashing through glass as it lifted itself up straining steel. If that thing tipped over, it would do a lot of damage. I jumped after it, the sight of Psycho Flyers in the air making me grin.
They’d named the VTOL aircraft after me. The heavily-armed transports opened up on the bunny, firing machine guns and unleashing rockets into the white body of the rabbit, that began to turn black from the attacks.
At the base of the tower, I felt pretty useless until I found a pretty young woman frozen in terror. I grabbed her, and also that guy she was with, and gave them a push in the right direction, which was away. “The first rule of giant monster attacks is not to stand still near the thing and stare at the giant monster!” I yelled after them. Then I noticed it was getting darker. I looked up to see a burnt white mass descending upon me, filling the entire sky from my perspective.
When I did manage to crawl out, it was next to some amateur reporter streaming from his phone. “I think it crushed the evil dictator here to death. It wasn’t the Flyers’ fault. It was bunny that killed the beast.”
“Who are you calling a beast, asshole?” I grunted, prompting him to flee.
Geez, it’s hot. Someone ought to turn out that sun for a bit. I took my daughter and the superkids to an amusement park and I actually began to miss being frozen in ice. My suit isn’t quite as good at regulating away heat as it is protecting me from the cold. That’s something I ought to work on and leaves me visible to thermal imaging.
Conventional cameras caught enough of a view of myself and all those kids, though. They didn’t make a huge deal about it in California, but I guess dreary, muggy Kingscrow really doesn’t like to see people enjoying themselves. I spotted vigilantes watching us. It worried the kids, too. In the end, they didn’t find a good time to come after us. Even messing with a ride was too likely to cause serious injury, but it still brought down the childrens’ mood.
Escape was as simple as a pair of Psycho Flyers dropping smoke grenades around us and loading us all up. Almost all of us. I had to stop and give Psychsaur a hug goodbye. “Good luck with whatever you do from now on,” I told her.
“Try to be good,” she told me. I think she actually meant it.
“Aww,” I said, then reached out and snatched a bola out of the air. I tossed it back through the smoke at where it’d been thrown and saw a shape skid on the ground. “Why be good when I can be great? You just let me know if you need a hand.”
She patted me on the helmet. “I wish you were this giving to people who weren’t your friends.”
I shrugged. “I tried, but they didn’t want me as their leader.”
“You’re not mine either,” she noted, then stepped back, just before a boomerang would have smacked into her. She raised a hand and the boomerang reversed course back to where it came from. Someone outside the smoke yelled. “I guess you better go.”
“I’ll be back!” I declared, throwing a fist up. “You haven’t seen the last of me!” I turned and jumped into the back of the waiting Psycho Flyer. The loading bay closed up behind me as we raised up and began to make a break for the Pacific.
The trip could have been an absolute nightmare. A dozen kids on a long road trip, but with the power to freeze stuff or create plants? It’s a good thing they were all tuckered out from the trip to the park. They slept a good chunk of the way there and saved me a huge headache.
I can’t have a huge welcoming party every time I come back from somewhere. I’m away too much for that. So instead, I disembarked with Qiang and called up leftover Directors from Housing and Education to see to the kids. I should create a Child Supers program while I’m at it. I need an agency to help care for and train children with superpowers on my island, as well as being able to identify them among the general populace and help aid families who have trouble caring for them. I sent Director Pagan and Dr. Creeper a message about working together to find someone reliable, educated, and caring to help me manage the situation. It wouldn’t do for children of Ricca to be snatched up and sold off to some underground fighting and sex ring right under my nose.
With all that handled as much as it can be for now, it was time to deal with other problems. That meant doing things like reviewing test results on interdimensional vehicles for the expedition back to Uranus. It seems the data I stole from that other universe included some nifty new designs for increasing efficiency and stability in the dimension-breaching process, including a way to build devices that craft the portals to allow sending people through without also sending through a device.
There have also been some rumblings from the Lost Continent of Mu. The people of the Bronze City have learned to accept my ambassador as if he’s one of their own, but they’d really like to see their own sometime. I technically married Citra to forge bonds with Ricca, though she looked like their princess in order to fool the Bronze City and forge a bond with them. I forwarded her the email to see if she might be willing to fool them in between semesters of college. I suppose I could hunt down the original, who was last spotted saving Pennsylvania from a rampaging extradimensional T-Rex with the help of Veloci-Raptor, but she’s probably still pissed at me.
There was also a court case that was an issue. People had been appealing to a higher power, meaning me. Then a vigilante broke the person out and it became a non-issue. Or, more accurately, it created a new issue. Someone caught selling info to foreign powers broken out by a superpowered person. I don’t know if this means a superhero or a supervillain. The way this island works, it’s not so clear. Security and the Military have both been put on alert, especially at the ports.
Finally, there’s Venus. I had plenty of time to work on those other issues because I was waiting for her to get back to me. Because, causing my paranoia no end of worry, she wasn’t on the island anymore. According to Max, she disappeared with the Pink Justice Ranger. They were last seen getting on some sort of pink hovercycle that probably belonged to the Justice Ranger. They always get cool toys like that out of nowhere. I even tried spying on her phone, but she left it behind at the residence.
So it was that I went to sleep one day, just myself cuddled up with my daughter. And the next, I woke up to four people in Ranger tights and helmets. I sat upright and screamed, throwing the nearest object at the one in red. He caught my daughter, at which point I pointed to her. “Bastard, give me back my kid!”
By now, Qiang awoke. She kicked him right in his crotch. It wasn’t a hard shot or else they’d have sparked, but it doesn’t take much of a hit to the balls to get someone’s attention. He dropped her. It was Blue who held up his hands. “Can we calm down please?”
I held a pillow up. “Not when you’re sneaking into my room to catch me sleeping!”
“We wanted to talk,” said the Red Justice Ranger.
I tore the pillow open and pulled out a meat tenderizer. I pointed it at the green one, “Then why’s he got duct tape?”
Qiang and the Rangers all looked at the duct tape the Green Ranger held, and watched as he dropped it. “Misunderstanding.”
“Misunderstand my foot up your ass,” I said, leaping to my feet.
“Let’s talk about this. We’re trying to find our missing teammate,” Blue said.
The door burst in and a smoke grenade rolled in, spewing pink mist. Mix N’Max came in, syringe gun in hand. Sam stood behind him with a water pistol. Holly held a wooden stool like a bat, ready to wing. Qiang hopped onto the bed with me and whirled on the Rangers, knife in hand.
The Green Ranger turned toward them, pulling a piece of tape taut in his hands. Yellow and Blue pulled guns, but Red raised a sword out of nowhere. Almost as an afterthought, a Dudebot stepped out of my closet.
“Seems we have ourselves a Riccan stand-off,” I said.
Red turned between me and Max. “This doesn’t have to go bad.”
“We’re prepared for bad,” Max said. He’s right. Villains are exactly the sort to jump in and make the first move in a stand-off like this. We usually don’t have as much to lose, or just don’t care about collateral damage.
“Believe me, I’d give a lot to see Psycho Gecko die,” Blue said.
Green stumbled. “I’d rather not if it’s all the same. We were supposed to be a force for defense and de-escalation.”
Red looked to Green, then lowered his sword. “Rangers, stand down.”
Green lowered his duct tape and Yellow her gun. Blue looked to Red, “This is our best chance.”
“Technically, your best chance was in the other universe, on Uranus,” I said. “Nice try, but it didn’t take.”
“If it was me, it would have,” Blue bragged.
Red grabbed Blue’s gun out of his hand. “How many people aren’t going to live if you die here today?”
“Kinda surprised you’re even bothering with talk of defense and saving lives the way you bunch spend all your time over here, dealing with our problems.” With the Rangers all off guard, we could have easily gone ahead and attacked them. Part of me ached to do so.
I lowered my tenderizer. “Get the fuck out of my room. Everyone. You want to talk, Red? Give me a minute to get indecent.”
Minutes later, with Qiang running to go change out of her pajamas, I walked into the living room. Sam was playing bartender for Holly while giving the Rangers some side eye. Max lounged on a chair, syringe gun in one hand, flask of glowing green goo in the other.
My armor on and arms crossed, I stood in front of the waiting Rangers. “Talk.”
“Ranger Pink has gone missing,” Red said. “We thought you knew something.”
“But you didn’t think it was me?” I asked.
Red shook his head. “We thought you might have evaded our surveillance when you went missing, but then you appeared in Kingscrow.”
“The Pink Ranger is no more special to me than the rest of y’all as far as I know,” I said. “I don’t like you, but I’m tolerating you for helping us in the past.”
Blue jumped in. “So you don’t know who she is?”
“I suspect she tried to kill me when we were all off fighting a war in another dimension,” I said.
Blue flinched, but Red sat up straighter and said, “What did you do with her?”
Wow. I think I might be right about Pink. “I didn’t do anything. A superhero was investigating the attempted murder. They were last seen together. I know when they left, but not where to. I would think you have some fancy ways to track each other.”
Yellow lowered her head. “That is at our command center. Nowhere on this whole planet has technology sophisticated enough to track the bio-force signature of a morphed Ranger.”
I smiled under my helmet. “Almost nowhere. I bet we have a few handy tricks around here.”
“What do you want?” Red asked. “You want us to help you find her so you can kill her?”
Hmm. Good point. They’d never go for it if I did that, but I really don’t feel like letting my potential murderer go free. “I want you and any other Rangers to leave my island alone forever. Don’t get close. And as for the Pink Ranger… we have courts here. Good folks, I want what ever victim wants. Justice.”
Yes, I got a kick out of saying that last word to the Justice Rangers. No, I didn’t have to change my underwear afterward. Wasn’t even wearing any.
Row, row, row your boat… oh, hello there. It’s me, Psycho Gecko, better known as the Great Empress Ice Pop. With that name, maybe I could get a cameo on She-Ra. I’d fit right in, except for all the cussing, murder, and torture.
I probably seem fairly calm, considering my situation. Being frozen in one spot wasn’t too fun, I’ll admit. Neither is the hunger, or peeing myself. The armor’s helpful like that. I designed it with some similarities to a biological body, including a circulatory system full of nanites. It’s a pretty handy tool that helps me be sure I can break out whenever I want.
That’s a big part of why I’m so calm. I have a lot of options for getting out of here. Here has changed, by the way. With the aid of their captive cryomancer, they managed to cut out a smaller ice block to keep me in and moved us. I think this whole production moves, but they sent myself and the kid to Kingscrow. Been awhile since I’ve been back there. I only have hijackable cameras to go off, but it’s still somehow as gloomy as ever, even in May. There were plenty of automated cars driving around whose systems were easily exploited if I wanted to use them to escape.
At the same time, I’ve been directing Dudebots to follow us. I put them into position around my new resting place: underneath the Museum of Natural And Unnatural History. I’m currently sharing a freezer with what looks like a Neanderthal and a giant clown head on a worm-like body, all of us in our own block. It makes sense to stick us here, since they already have the freezers for this sort of thing. Plus, I looked it up and found Meecer helped endow the place. There’s much less I can do with the security here, as it’s mostly passive defenses and manual security grates. I don’t know if they realized that was a hindrance for me, or if this is just a location they use for their Dark Bazaar business.
Whoever has to deal with this mess is going to have a lot of work on their hands.
Meecer flew in to join me on Friday evening. About time. Didn’t he know I had places to be? I got people back home complaining about some court case, and my guys are still in the middle of working out a mining deal with the people of that Uranus in another universe. Meecer’s kept me from drilling Uranus.
When he came, he came with guards. I should be flattered. The private detective I’ve been dealing with led the way, wearing his pokerface. His Lady Gaga impression contrasted with Colburn’s shark grin. The big guy pulled the teen who froze me along with him. The boy kept his face down, hair covering acne-ridden skin. They at least put him in more clothes this time. Then came a pair of big men in suits. One had a chrome ray gun, the other had a green hand. Only his hand was jade-colored. The dude must be awesome at growing plants.
Finally, after all that fanfare, Erin Meecer joined us. About time. He seemed like a pretty mediocre-looking white guy. Rounded jaw, but not fat. A strong nose like a triangle, but without being over-sized. Blue eyes like a tropical ocean. Short black hair that looked a little wet from the gel used on it. Unlike all but the captive boy, he had left his jacket behind. “Is she alive?” he asked his people.
Colburn nodded. “Thermal scans show she’s putting off a lot of heat.” He licked his lips afterward. Ugh. At least the guy didn’t use words like “moist” and “succulent” to describe me. Then he spoke again. “Mmm, a succulent breeder.”
Ew. Spoke too soon.
“Jeffrey, shut the hell up,” Meecer said. He turned to one of his guards, who handed him something bundled in white cloth. I could feel that something, actually. It was the bobblehead of me. How nice. The one with the signal jammer inside.
I poke up through is phone. “How nice. You brought me a gift.”
He pulled it off his belt and looked at it. “You’re awake?”
“Alive, awake, and a-waiting to get out. Won’t be long now, will it?”
He raised an eyebrow, looking at the chunk of ice I was stuck in. “I intended to take you out of there. You are a special piece to me. Now, I’ll admire you from afar until you’re… ripe.”
“Necrophilia? I hear ya. That way I can’t complain about what a terrible fuck you are.” I responded, then laughed through his phone.
He gritted his jaw. “I meant you would weaken.”
“Good luck,” I said, laughing again, this time through all the phones any of them had.
His face went red and he raised his voice as he addressed me this time, “Stupid whore. You will stay in there. If you’re lucky, I’ll let you out while you’re still strong enough to open your legs for your betters.”
“You misunderstand me, Mr. Meecer. I meant good luck escaping.” I set the laughter on repeat. My gauntlets began to glow. The energy began to melt the water, and turn some to steam. On the ground level of the museum, Dudebots grabbed a guard standing at the main entrance and tore his head off. Three headed inside. A fourth sat at the door and blocked it, which meant I didn’t have to walk that one around. It’s not easy controlling that many bodies directly.
Colburn grabbed the shoulder of the teen cryomancer, fingers digging into the boy. “Freeze her!”
I stopped laughing long enough to give him some advice. “Hey kid. Guess what it means that I can control the signal in their cell phones from here? Guess why the alarms aren’t going off in this museum now?”
The kid looked between me and Colburn, then reached up to his neck. Then he smiled. He grabbed Colburn’s hand and covered it in ice. He pulled away and ran for the door. The closest bodyguard reached for him with his green hand. The boy raised his arms and created a shield of ice in front of them, smacking through the man’s arms. The man put a hand up to stop the boy from pulling the door completely open.
I activated my helmet’s laser. Everyone out there, including the boy and the guard at the door, turned at the crackling. The detective reacted first, diving to the ground. The guard at the door raised his hand. It began to glow. Whatever he was trying to do didn’t stop the beam of coherent light that burned a hole through the ice and the door. He looked at the whole I left, so close to his chest, and realized the teenager was using the opportunity to slip away.
“Forget him, let’s go!” Meecer called. He ducked and headed for the door. His guard there opened it up and fell back on top of Meecer from a punch by a Dudebot. That one stepped in, firing its eye lasers lower down on the block of ice I was in.
The guard with the chrome ray gun raised it and fired. A glowing dart shot out of the end and shot a hole through the chest of the Dudebot. He fired again and again, the Dudebot advancing slowly. He wasn’t hitting anything serious, though he was penetrating the armor. It forced him to back up, ended up against my ice block. Then the man with the green hand raised it and shot some energy blast at the back of the Dudebot’s hips that sheared it in half. It toppled to the ground.
They might have felt safe for a second, until the other two Dudebots stepped in. One raised its boot and brought it down on the chest of the guard with the hand. He moaned as something cracked. Another stomp cracked even more, but he didn’t moan any longer.
The guard with the ray gun took careful aim, but that’s when I shattered the ice bock enough to pull him back against me. I popped the Nasty Surprise and a mini-chainsaw shot out from under one of my arms and through the man’s chest, throwing hot blood all over the place. I tossed the body aside and hopped out of the ice block. I turned to Colburn, as did the remaining two Dudebots. He raised his hands, going completely black. He disappeared into himself, is the best way I can describe it. It’s like he folded up into himself, leaving me alone with Meecer, who was finishing a yell with “…leave me! You’re finished, Black Hole! I’ll make sure of it!”
I and my robot doppelgangers turned to Meecer, who was still pinned underneath a dead bodyguard. Nearby, the private detective crawled behind the neanderthal for safety. I ignored him for the moment, as he seemed smart enough to leave me to my scheme. “You won’t be doing much of anything from now on, Meecer.”
He laughed and held up his hands. “Go ahead and arrest me. The evil Psycho Gecko is nothing but a law dog, isn’t she? Trying to go hero?”
I retracted the Nasty Surprise and walked over. Reaching down, I pulled him to his feet, then got a better grip on his collar and lifted him off the ground. “I’m no hero.”
I grabbed his arms with my spare ones, his legs with one of my Dudebots, and the last Dudebot wrapped its arms around his belly. “What are you doing? Don’t you know who I am?!” Meecer called, trying to kick and flail his way free.
“Yeah,” I said with no small amount of pleasure. “A dead man.” I pulled his arms off. The Dudebot yanked down and tore his legs off. Then the one hugging him pulled down while I still held him by the throat. His head more or less popped off and rolled away, mouth still moving and eyes rolling back.
As one, myself and the robots turned to the detective. He wet himself. “Please,” he whined. “I tried not to have anything to do with it. I didn’t touch the kids.”
The three of us cocked our heads to the side, staring at him silently. Up at the door, the Dudebot on guard held its arms out at the boy who escaped helping the girl he fought before along, a crowd of other children with them. That drone projected an image of the detective. “This man. Did he hurt you?”
The boy just stared, but the girl shook her head. “You could tell he never liked being there, an’ he never did anything with me.”
“Me neither,” said another kid. There was a general murmur of agreement. The Dudebot stepped aside and held the door open.
“Congratulations,” I told him. “The kids put in a good word for you. You’d better make sure they don’t disappear.”
The detective nodded his head enough I thought he might lose the thing. “Yeah, yes, sure. I won’t let you down.”
“I know. You’d let yourself down. About six feet!” I cackled at that one. He crossed himself and ran out of the room past my Dudebots.
I called out to the nearest cell of my agents. We had a couple of guys in Kingscrow. “Empress?”
“I’m going to need a place to lay low for a few days. Things got hot here. Hot, wet, and sticky.” I stepped over the corpses I left as I followed by Dudebots out, the drones each grabbing a half of the downed Dudebot to drag after. By the time we got to the first level, most of the kids had left, but not the girl or the boy.
“Can we come with you?” asked the girl.
I stopped. “Why?”
The boy looked at her. “Because our parents sold us. Some of the other ones, they got here the same way, but we don’t want to go back.”
“There’s a system for kids whose parents did that…” Yeah, and I bet some of those kids were sold by people in that system, too. Child Protective Services isn’t an area where I bribed any officials. “But if you want to come to Ricca while you figure out what to do next in your life, I will let you.”
We picked up an even smaller boy outside who had been waiting around. He ran up to the kids following me as I was calling my local agents back up. “Make that myself and a few children. We have extraction coming.”
I was antsy up until Psychsaur and Qiang arrived. My daughter rushed into my arms for as tight a hug as her armor could let her give. “Don’t do that!” she admonished me.
“What, get caught?” I asked.
She nodded. “I couldn’t hardly sleep!”
I chuckled and patted her on the helmet. “Don’t worry about it. I try to get caught as little as possible. Let’s go home, pumpkin.”
She looked past me to the superpowered kids lounging around. “Did you get me brothers and sisters?”
Psychsaur snorted. I laughed. “No, dear. I have plenty of my own already. I saved them. They wanted to come with us.”
“Kidnapping children?” Psychsaur asked, but the smile showed she didn’t think much of the illegality. Knowing what was going on, she knew I wouldn’t be as bad as them.
I spread my hands. “Hey, all’s fair in love and villainy.”
Psychsaur came along with me to Seattle. I wasn’t going to bring her as there wasn’t any real reason to and she has her own life to live, but she asked about what I’m doing. “Just infiltrating some rich douchecanoe’s party scene of trafficked girls and boys to confirm he’s doing what I think he’s doing, then killing him. No different than your average Catholic Church service.”
What, did Pope Francis think I forgot? A lot of priests should consider themselves lucky I wasn’t Pope long enough to make some decrees.
Psychsaur ignored the jab at the Catholics. “You’re going to take your daughter with you into that situation?”
I thought about it. “I guess I can leave her in the room.”
“Around a bunch of criminals known for trafficking girls, who you’re going to piss off when you kill someone and stuff starts blowing up?” she asked, raising a decent point.
“Right, I need explosives…” My hands went to my waist, where my more integrated design left me without a belt to hang rubber chicken grenades from.
Psychsaur crossed her arms over her chest. “You know what I mean.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine, you have a point. I probably should arrange for a safe house for her.”
“I know people. I’ll go with you,” the heroine said.
I thought it over. Having a known superhero with me has the potential to alert Meecer’s people, but I did just give Psychsaur a hell of a makeover. She didn’t look anything like she used to. As long as she doesn’t throw on a costume, they shouldn’t realize who she is. “As long as you don’t go acting or looking like a hero, we’ll be fine.”
She shrugged. “Deal. I’m getting out anyway.”
“Really?” I asked. “Wow. Just so we’re clear, you’re going to stop being a hero?”
She nodded. “I don’t want to spend my whole life fighting and risking my life. There’s a lot of pressure to make that your calling when you have powers, especially if you don’t look human. I just want a chance to live my own life.”
I smiled. “Good for you. In that case, thanks for helping me with my super business before you hang up the cape and tights for good.”
She smiled. The bathroom door opened as Qiang finished and stepped out. “Ok, I’m ready to go!”
I threw a fist in the air. “Ok, kiddo. Tonight, Seattle. Tomorrow… the world!”
“Really?” Qiang asked.
I motioned her on over toward the door and the car. “Of course not. You’re too young for a whole world. Start with a fish and we’ll see how you do from there.”
Getting to Seattle wasn’t the problem. I just walked into a private airstrip like I owned the place and stole a doctor killer. That’s the nickname of private planes with a tendency to crash when flown by amateur pilots with more money than know-how. Lucky for us, I’m no doctor. If I was, I probably could have diagnosed why Psychsaur was so quick to get out of the plane when we landed and rush to the bathroom.
“Huh. I wonder what her problem is,” I said, looking to Qiang.
My daughter had put her helmet on at some point during the flight. As she unbuckled her seatbelt, she said, “Maybe she doesn’t like flying upside down.”
“Could be,” I said as I slid out of the plane.
Meecer’s people found us that night to invite me to the evil kidnapping rape ring, but in a classy way. You know, with an understated white envelope slid under the door and a beautifully calligraphied invitation with embossing. I held it up for Psychsaur to see. “I have a location.” And an instruction to dress casual.
It turned out to be a movie theater. I looked like anybody else on the street with my armor altering how I appeared to others. Some of those others were just people going to see a movie. I was missing a prime chance to catch the new John Wick alongside these folks. Well, most of these folks. The women with the super-expensive earrings and the guy whose watch I stole weren’t the usual types to go to this theater. I saw them head down a separate wing after an older ticket taker directed them there.
He approached me. “You are a new face. Do you have a ticket?”
“This is something of a premiere for me,” I responded, holding up the invitation. He looked at it brifly, then stepped aside and motioned for me to head down that wing of the theater. It led to a short stairwell down, then a doorway. And from there, a lavish scene of chandeliers, red carpeting, and a waiter stepping up.
“Drink, ma’am?” he asked.
“Not this moment. Perhaps later,” I said.
Two men approached. One was the same private dick from the house, whose name I never caught. The other was a larger man, wider, fatter, but not obese. He had a devious, hungry smile without a matching gleam in his eyes. “There you are… our newest guest.” The private investigator broke off to speak privately to the waiter while the big guy reached a hand out for one of mine. He settled on upper right. “Colburn. Jeffrey Colburn. I will be your host tonight.”
I looked to the investigator, who kept turned away to look at other attendees. I turned back to Colburn. “I thought our ultimate host was Meecer. I thought I’d be meeting him.”
Colburn laughed, like if Santa Claus wanted to take a butcher’s knife to some kids. “He limits his attendance at the Dark Bazaar. He doesn’t like connections. Here, let me show you our attractions.”
It’s disappointing Meecer himself isn’t here for the sake of convenience, but on with the show. The tour started with a particularly noisy area, where a cage surrounded by a clear container held two people. On one side, teen boy in a cage stood in a pair of shorts. He was a skinny one, no real muscle to him, with long, black hair. Facing him was a chunky girl who could have been in middle school, in shorts and a shirt. Both had collars around their necks.
Something yellow flowed out of the girl’s eyes, like little motes that drifted in the air. She began to hover off the floor, then moved her hands toward the boy. The motes shot at him. The boy raised his arms to shield himself and ice blossomed outward from him. Spines stuck into the ice or bounced off it, flowers beginning to bloom off what had come from the girl’s eyes. The girl directed those seeds or pollen or whatever they were down to the floor where they began to grow together into a quartet of thick vines with snapping flower mouths on the ends. They rose above the lip of the boy’s ice wall. He created small shields in the air to stop their bites, then held his hands out. Ice formed in the air in front of him and kept spreading over the rest of the enclosed area, trapping the vines. It almost reached the girl when a light flashed above the arena and the ice stopped moving and the girl fell to the floor. Both combatants appeared fine, but it seemed the boy was much stronger.
“Disappointing fight, but he’s so powerful that it’s hardly fair,” Colburn said. “We normally fight even after they bleed, but he can freeze anyone. I’d like to break him of the habit with a death match, but he’s premium breeding stock.”
“And the girl?” I asked, watching as both combatants were dragged out by guards in riot gear with batons and tasers.
“She’s too young for breeding, but pleasure is another matter. I advise giving her room to grow,” the ringleader of the night’s events informed me.
“I don’t think this was all made clear to me,” I said. “What’s all this about breeding?”
The man led me away, putting his hand over my shoulder in an overly-familiar way. He looked puzzled for a moment as he touched the armor, then continued his imitation of a shark’s grin. “An impressive villain like yourself must know the value of superpowers. Magic, cybernetics, random mutation, natural training, unnatural physiology, mad science; the ways to obtain such power are legion and unreliable. Prominent families agree that the best way to insure superpowers in your legacy is the result of proper breeding.” He led me to a hallway next to a bar area.
I looked around but I couldn’t see that investigator anymore. Maybe he’d ducked out, if he was smart enough, if he had me figured out. I doubt it, which meant he probably thought I was like all of these things.
Colburn jostled my shoulder. “Penny for your thoughts? You’re more quiet than I was led to expect.”
I motioned to the whole place. “Oh, just wondering how I could possibly have gotten so far without having heard of this place.”
Colburn’s fingers came together, tip to tip in an apologetic gesture. “One does not obtain an invitation by threatening to blow up the world. As I said, this is about the importance of good breeding in families of leisure.”
“Do you have much of a selection?” I asked, wondering how I was going to shut all this down. Destroying it was one thing; rescuing kids was another.
“We have hundreds of fit stock for you to peruse,” he said, snapping his fingers in the direction of a waiter. The waiter brought over what appeared to be a menu at first. Instead of a wine selection, there were lists of features: sex, ethnicity, skin color, hair type, body type, powers.
I turned and went to put a fist through his chest and pull out his lungs. Colburn, suit and all, turned black with white specks dotting him. My fist bang into him, but couldn’t penetrate. “Attacking us, Empress Gecko? Our hospitality is not to be violated.”
I pulled my hand back, but it caught in midair and began to pull toward him, along with my body. The room seemed like it sped up, and my arm stretched unnaturally long before I fell into Colburn. I fell out in a bedroom with a selection of fetish gear laying around. Standing in front of me was the teen boy from the fight. A voice came out of nowhere. “Boy, freeze her.”
“I’m here to get you out,” I told him.
He shook his head and pointed to the collar around his neck. “There’s no getting out with this bomb strapped to my neck.” He held up his hands toward me.
I turned invisible by instinct and began to charge my gauntlets. The ice advanced on all sides, even freezing my feet and closing off the ceiling from me. I lashed out at the ice, but it was replaced faster than I could break it. It closed over me, thick, restricting, until I couldn’t move.
I reached out with my mind, looking for something to help me out of this situation. I ended up connecting to a call being made. “Mr. Meecer, she disappointed us. Yes, just as small-minded as to be expected of new blood. Mmm, but isn’t it delicious to know we have such fine new breeding stock? One of the most famous villains in the world, and an Empress.”
“A rare treat,” came the response. “No one touches her before I arrive,” said the man I’d been looking for to kill.
Well, looks like I may have found my target after all, just as soon as I get out of this ice. If anyone expects me to warm up to the idea of sex slavery, guess again. If there’s anything I am at the moment, it’s a major frigid bitch.
A thankful one as well. Psychsaur texted me an update an hour later. “Police raided your hotel room. We’re safe at a friend’s.”
“Good. Keep her safe. Am captured, will deal with target. Side note: good thing I no longer have testes to freeze.”
Now that I’ve got a couple days to think, time to run through possible bomb collar frequencies. Then, when Meecer shows, I either set things off or disable them before busting out. All according to my mysterious plan that totally involved me getting caught. Yep. That’s how it’ll look when the story gets out on this end, at least.
Some might reasonably ask how I can trust Venus, now Medusa, to run around on my island and elsewhere. I know this for a few reasons, one of which being Mix N’Max, my old amigo, has provided that perspective. He called me up while I waited for Meecer’s people to get back to me, video chatting with me while Qiang was zonked out. I sat there listening to my ASMR, getting an audio-only ear massage from a woman wearing dish gloves while I scrubbed away at my child’s armor. I put it on pause when I saw he was trying to talk to me.
“Hey there, Maxxy,” I greeted him.
“Hi Gecko. Are you having fun over there?” He asked. He was standing in my living room, in front of the giant monitor that doubled as a TV in his poofy white shirt. Without his jacket, it didn’t stand out so much from his pale skin, but at least his red lips broke up the image.
I shrugged to myself. He couldn’t see anything more from me than a floating head because the call was coming from INSIDE THE BRAIN. “Eh, could be better. This guy’s not very punctual. I as good as left him a note saying, ‘call me’ and he’s taking his sweet time getting around to it. It’s a very rude way to react to someone who stole his ego painting.”
“Do you know what Venus is up to?” he asked.
“She prefers Medusa now. She’s supposed to be figuring out who tried to kill me when we were on that other world.” Ugh, dried dog drool with food gravy still in it. Scrub, scrub, scrub.
“She’s talking with the Justice Rangers. A lot. I’m not sure you should be trusting her. I asked Sam and Holly if they’d keep an eye on her.” He crossed his arms. Behind him, Sam Hayne walked into the camera view briefly, eating a bowl of cereal. She’d gone spiky and bright orange with her hair now. Max’s punk assistant gave a little wave, then stepped back off screen.
“Oh yeah? Anything interesting happen?” How does a girl lose this much hair in her helmet and not go bald?
“They had a girls’ night out. Medusa invited the Pink Ranger along. Sam doesn’t trust them.”
Sam called from offscreen, “That’s right!”
I shrugged again. “Sam doesn’t trust me.”
“That’s also right!” Sam added.
“Guys, I get it, I do. You think I trust her? I have no idea what she sees in me, how she can actually have any feelings for me after all we’ve been through against one another. I’m half-convinced this is all an elaborate plan of hers to get back at me by making me paranoid while getting some good sex from me.”
Holly rose from the bottom of the image, eating popcorn from a bowl. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Tell me more!”
“I didn’t know you were that way, Holly.” I said, eyeing her. She had long blonde hair with pink highlights now.
Max shooed her out of the frame. “She’s not. She’s just a fan.”
“Mhm!” Holly said just before leaving the call to just Max and myself.
The image I projected showed my eyeroll. “I completely understand the concern and it isn’t without justification. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m choosing to take the W on this one and trust her. It’s good to know I’ve got a friend like you who is looking out for me, though, and I’m sure if she does try anything, you will be part of the way I pull through it.”
“Get a room, you two!” called Sam.
I pretended to narrow my eyes. “Max, just how attached are you to having two assistants?”
“It’s getting to be a hassle to feed both of them,” he smiled.
“I’ll eat Holly then,” Sam said.
I raised my eyebrows. “Wow, they’re both like that. And all this time I thought Max was taking his work home with him…”
He laughed it off. “Try to enjoy your vacation, your evil majesty.” He gave the last three words a cheesy emphasis. He’d have to be careful not to take that tone publicly. Lots of people take that Empress thing seriously.
His comment about vacationing gave me an idea. When I finished with Qiang’s armor, I set it aside and started poking her. “Hey, wake up. Wakey, wakey. It’s morning.”
My drowsy little pumpkin stirred. “Huh?”
“I’m tired of waiting. Let’s hit an amusement park.”
We had a load of fun. We went to the front of all the lines. They tried to keep Qiang off a few rides, but she had these extending stilt things in her boots to raise her up in case I thought she needed to reach stuff higher up. Then she found a water pistol and pretended it was a real weapon. The park people bought it.
Our trip back was just a hop and a skip back with our armors on. Well, a few more than just one hop and skip, but y’all get the point. When we reached the street our little house we were staying in was on, I noticed an extra car on the street. A real nice one. And a window shade was drawn that hadn’t been before. “You stay back,” I told Qiang. “And stay hidden. You notice anyone sneaking up on me, or on you, you let me know immediately, got it?”
She nodded and ducked behind a car.
It’s about time they found us. I wasn’t even subtle, renting it under the name Psycho Gecko. Maybe he thought I’d have gone for a hotel suite, but I wanted to change things up this time. A small two bedroom in a nice neighborhood lacked room service, but it had a certain charm, and an ability to sneak up on where you stay that’s better than a hotel. There, you don’t know until you’re either inside or in the confined hallway just outside. Here, I have a whole street, with cars to duck behind. I left Qiang ducking behind one.
When I stepped out, a ripple swept across my armor. The coloring of my chest was replaced by the landscape on the opposite side of me, adjusted to counteract distortions. Holographic emitters worked with the armor’s own color-changing abilities to render me invisible. I stepped lightly in the less cumbersome armor and made a circuit of the house before going in.
A man in an expensive dark blue suit waited in the living room, the sun glinting off his dusky, bald head. His backup laid in a pile by the back door. As a courtesy, I left them alive, with complimentary ball gags so they wouldn’t talk. I grabbed myself a drink from the kitchen and stepped up beside the guy, leaning on the chair and turning visible. He jumped as I appeared. “Hello there, visitor. May I interest you in a frosty beverage?”
I stuck the straw against he fanged “mouth” on the outside of the helmet and played a slurping sound.
The man stood up and backed off, hands coming up just a little. He covered by grabbing his suit jacket and buttoning it up. “I don’t believe I will, madam Gecko.”
I gave a little wave with one lower hand. “Oh, please. Just call me the Great and Devious Empress Psychopomp Gecko. Madam Gecko was my mother. Heck of a brothel owner, that one.”
The man looked at a loss as to how seriously to take this statement. I giggled and set the drink aside. “I take it you’re a decently-paid, if expendable, goon here on behalf of a certain wealthy client?”
“Actually, I’m a private investigator on retainer for that wealthy client. I suppose that makes me expendable enough.” He smiled at that. “Lucky for me, I’m not here for a fight. My employer asked me to see what we can do to persuade you to return a possession with sentimental value. We thought it best to simply ask, rather than go to all the trouble of a fight.” He flashed a winning smile.
“Aww, look at you, trying to lube me up like that. It’s a good thing you’re not looking to fight, though, because those guys you brought were a pushover. What was it, just five?” I pointed toward the backdoor, outside of which they were all incapacitated.
The man winced. “Will it help my chances if I say I didn’t want to bring them along?”
I held a hand up parallel to the ground and wobbled it. “Eh. You’re right, it’s a fortuitous day for you. I wasn’t hoping to get into a fight either. I fully intend to see about a deal with you and your boss about the possession in question, which you no doubt already tried to find.”
The man motioned to a couch nearby. “Please, may I sit?” I nodded; he sat. “If we’re both in agreement that this is a time to deal, not a time to kill, then please help me understand what my resourceful client may do for you?”
“I’m aware that your client takes human resources very seriously. You know, let’s stop beating around the bush. I know your boss beats around some trafficked bush.”
“This is about the drugs, then,” the man said.
I shook my head. “I actually meant the parties with special entertainment for those invited. Just men and women enjoying some company and some fucking.”
The man’s face went still, but the smile no longer reached his eyes. “Oh. That is a more complicated subject.”
“I’ll bet it is.”
“I will have to confer with my client before I can make this deal. I hope you understand, this isn’t something I can do from here.” He slowly reached into his pocket and produced a cheap flip phone that he tossed to me. I caught it. “I’ll contact you with his answer.”
“That’s fine. Go talk to whoever you need to in person. I’ll be here with the painting,” I waved him off.
He started to go, then sighed, and started for the backdoor. “Let me get them before I go.”
“Oh please, I’d hate to throw them in the recycling,” I said.
I didn’t get confirmation until the next day, via text. “You are in. Seattle. 5/20. We will find you.” I set the phone aside and went back to examining the day’s paper, where a section on local events showed a memento picture from a ride.
“Son of a… Qiang, dear, come look at this. They said they couldn’t give us the picture because of someone showing more than they were supposed to.” There we were, strapped into seats, our arms up in the air. With our helmets on, you couldn’t see our screaming faces. You could see those of the other riders, their eyes fixed on us as we plunged down a steep incline.
The headline read, “So Much Fun, It’s Criminal!”
A hero asked me a favor. Psychsaur arrived here on the island, direct from Los Angeles. The reptilian, feathered hero is one of the few I’m happy to see, and the feeling is mutual. She gets me a bit better than most, thanks to the telepathy and the mind reading. I worry sometimes that my positive outlook toward her may be the result of even more tampering she’s done to my mind. She’s messed around in there in the past. I don’t exactly like that she did it without asking, especially in regards to some problems I hadn’t been ready to address at the time, but it’s done. And she was one of the first heroes to really get me.
She walked into the tent that served as my temporary throne room while everything was being rebuilt. Two capital buildings and throne rooms since I’ve been Empress isn’t a good track record. I don’t like buying new furniture every year. I wouldn’t have even bothered with concept of a throne room just yet, but I need a way for things to come to me officially without letting everyone into the residence.
I was playing with my daughter, because she’s still not leaving me alone too much since I got back from the other dimension. Today’s lesson: chainsaw juggling. Just kidding. That’s one of the things I’m gonna get a tutor to handle. No lesson today, just videogames. The dastardly duo of PsychoGecko and Noobmaster69. I don’t know where she got the 69 part. I teach my daughter to use only the most refined language.
I sat there, my brain plugged in for voice chat. “I don’t care who the fuck you are, you’re talkin’ to mama bear now. You’re sore? Fly your ass on over here, we’ll see how sore you’ll be. I don’t care, I got an extra pair, and the only ass they’re going up is yours before I pull your tonsils out through your sphincter. Go cry to your mommy, you alcoholic asswipe.”
Next to me, Qiang giggled and kept shooting at someone.
“That’s one way to greet a guest,” I heard a feminine voice call out. Psychsaur walked in from the shadows on the outside of the room. Gotta get better lighting in here.
“Psychsaur!” I dropped my controller and hopped up. Qiang was too busy at the time with the game and pause buttons are incompatible with multiplayer.
The hero smiled as she approached. “You’re camping in style now.”
I rolled my eyes. “Just a temporary matter until we rebuild everything and then they spend half the time gilding it all. I’ve got ideas on where to take the gold from, actually, but that’s a whole other thing. What are you doing here? You know, so soon after we were all on the same flying ship together.”
“I had to stop elsewhere first. I’m here for a favor, but I brought money,” she checked around and found some place better to sit than the cushions my kid and I were using. We both took a seat at a nearby table brought in for formal business.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Before I say this, I want you to know I thought about this a lot. I see it as a way of improving myself and fixing a defect that impedes me and prevents me from doing what I want to do in life. There are a lot of complicated issues surrounding body issues and disabilities, and I see this as the latter. It doesn’t indicate I see my condition as a sign of immorality or that it makes me less of a person. But it doesn’t let me be the person I want to be.” She fixed me with a look. I got the feeling this preamble came from experience.
I could sympathize. I have an extra pair of arms and boobs I wasn’t born with. “You, like most people, were born with an unfortunate defect: you’re not me. It severely hampers how awesome you can be.”
She made a drawn out “Heh” sound and looked to the side. “I want you to make me look like a regular human.” She fixed her eyes on my face, watching.
My reaction was more like, “Kind of a shame. You’re so pretty.” The scales, the feathers, they work. Not in a sexual way, not since she really went and mind melded with me, but they’re pretty features. The fact that they aren’t human ones isn’t that big an issue for me. It obviously is for her. “Sure. Got any particular person you want to look like?”
She brightened up and smiled. “Sure!” We talked it over for a bit, before she confessed, “I didn’t know how you were going to react. Thank you for not giving me shit.”
“Who am I to tell you you can’t do what you think improves yourself?” I reached up and ran one of my lower pair of arms through my hair.
And so the three of us set out for my workshop. I’d gone ahead and taken part of the basement level under the old Palace Grounds for personal maker space. That way, I didn’t have more giant vats of nanites laying on the floor of the living room. There was a small armory as well, with remaining pieces of past armors, as well as a copy of my current iteration. On one wall was the armor closet, assembling an upgrade. It was partially visible.
“Is that a shell?” Psychsaur asked as we made our way to a nearby nanite submersion tank.
I nodded. “Of a sorts. It’s a bit of a departure from some of how I’ve done armor before now. Instead of modular armor or a bunch of layers, I’m building it all in. I’m aiming to create a fully integrated and sustainable suit of power armor. No nanoweave with armor plates on top of it or embedded in it, with nanite quilt or exoskeletal muscle layers below. For starters, having an exoskeleton underneath stuff is just bad grammar. But I think there’s reason to believe I can make armor that provides superior protection with no loss of dexterity. Aside from the damn rockets. Haven’t figured out a way to incorporate them.”
Sad, that. I like having elbow rockets. There’s nothing like opening up an intercontinental ballistic can of whoopass on someone’s face.
I directed her to a square tub on the floor with a hand scanner attached. I touched my hand to it and a hologram appeared overhead, showing what we were aiming for with her looks. She looked past it, to a much larger block taking up most of the back of the space. “Make the hair a little darker. Hey, what’s that?”
“Oh. Working on something bigger, with a very different philosophy than the other armor. I prefer the integrated version, but you never know when you’re going to need some power behind your punches.”
“Hulkbuster, got it. That’s good… do you think it’ll work?” she wondered, setting a hand on my shoulder.
I shrugged. “I’ll do my very best to make sure it does. If it doesn’t, we can always change it later.”
Feels nice to do something for a friend, and it gave me time to metaphorically pick her brain. She could hear me from inside the tank, unless she turned on the TV or sound system. “So… do you know anything about a man named Erin Meecer?”
“Who?” she asked. Qiang snuck up and nearly hit me with a hammer.
“What’s this do?” My adorable daughter asked.
“Anybody you hit with it is disintegrated into a pile of ash and never comes back,” I told her. I pulled the hammer away.
“Really?” she asked, unsure of herself and looking from the hammer to where she almost smacked me.
I tossed the hammer aside, “Nope. But you shouldn’t mess with whatever’s laying around in here. You keep doing it, you won’t go with me to America.”
She hopped up and down. “Yay, am I going back to the Academy?”
I looked to where Psychsaur was being changed. “What’s going on out there?”
“I’m trying to find out what you know before my daughter and I visit the U.S. To impart a little karma on someone.”
Sadly, she didn’t know anything about the guy. Erin Meecer. Rich. Part owner of various companies, including a car company. Probably done all the same bad things anybody does who gets paid thousands of times more than their employees do for less work. Not really the sort of thing to disgust Medusa when she was Venus. Nope, this one has to do with private parties with kidnapped people, boys and girls both, helping to entertain guests.
“Mommy, do you hate rich people?” Qiang asked me as we flew into the country.
Psychsaur, seated nearby, smiled. We were kinda on my, uh, private plane. And Psychsaur didn’t look too bad. Not quite as unique without the scales and feathers. She reached up and rubbed her nose, getting used to it still.
I stuck out my tongue at the heroine before I answered. “When someone poor or powerless gets into trouble, they have more than enough people ready to make them pay. Not always, but since they don’t usually do it just once, there’s always a chance. But sometimes bad people do bad things and people don’t stop them because they have a lot of money or are important. I’m one of those people, too.”
“No you’re not!” she squealed as she hugged me.
“D’aww… you wanna help me break into a place?”
But Gecko, why would you take your daughter to go break into the house of a sex trafficking pimp bastard? He was out of town. I figured we wouldn’t find anything here. A guy like that has a lot of properties I could waste time looking through, but I thought I’d go about this the direct way. That’s why I busted through the door of a mansion in rural California on a hill overlooking the vineyard. The alarm sounded and tried to put out a call. I stuck a Psycho Gecko bobblehead on a table by the door. They’re cute. A bobbing head, then a pair of arms in my older, more iconic armor holding bobbing, decapitated heads. I built in a signal jammer in the base to make sure nobody radioed or used that pesky internet to get a signal out. I even showed Qiang how to cut the phone lines.
“Doggies!” Qiang said when a pair of Dobermans came checking the door.
“Honeybun, is your armor on tight?” I asked.
She ran forward and squealed with delight as one of the dogs tried to bite her arm. She tugged her arm free easily and tried to pet it. “Yes, mommy!”
“Don’t let them hurt you, dear,” I told her. I started in, but paused to see how she handled the dogs. They went for her arms and tried to drag her down. The couldn’t get the best grip on her armor, which was designed to handle worse than dog bites, and it had the strength to help her get up. Plus, it had the same tight seal to allow it to survive a chemical attack as my own. The dogs can’t get through unless she lets them through.
So with the alarm being nothing but loud noises and the guard dogs thoroughly distracted, I headed in. I kicked in a few doors, grabbed a few small, valuable trinkets. I wasn’t here for major theft, or even burning it down like I would prefer. Qiang loves the flamethrower, but this was about sending a different sort of message. It required a slow burn, some might say. Like me. I’m saying it. I didn’t get to use a damn flamenwerffer. Instead, I tried to find anything that might have particular personal value. A trophy or plaque of some meaning, perhaps.
In his living room, I found an eleven foot by six foot painting of Meecer wearing a lion’s skin and wrestling with a dragon.
I was taking it down when a man in a suit arrived, swaggering around the corner. He wore a pair of glowing red glasses and knuckle dusters. “So you’re the asshole waking me up?” He clapped his hands and the light came on.
Where before my armor looked like power armor, this guard got a look at armor that looked like dark grey skin, with no gaps. On the chest, four tendrils, like two uppercase omega symbols, one inside the other, stretched downward, colored a dark orange against the grey, one not meant to show up as garish in the shadows. The same orange colored my fists, knees, and spine. The helmet featured a grinning maw of fangs underneath a triangle of eyes that contained lasers. The helmet had its own “hair” in the form of a pair of horns that cling to the helmet as one piece and curl downward along either side of the face, ending in a pair of spheres: my take on a jester’s cap. This armor lacked the cape of my prior version. But instead of metal plates or nanoweave, it appeared more like a thick skin or soft shell.
“Who the hell ARE you?” asked the man who stumbled up on me.
I let the helmet do the grinning and raised my lower pair of hands. Glowing orange nails extended from the fingertips. “I’m Psycho Gecko. Tell your boss I want to talk.”
He raised his fists in a boxer’s stance for a second. I took a step toward him and he lowered them. “What am I doing… you don’t look like that guy, but I don’t make enough. Take what you want… just make it look like I put up a fight?”
I nodded and walked over. His shirt ended up shredded and I tossed him through a wall, but I didn’t hit a stud on the way through. He’d survive, probably end up with a nice scar that, if leveraged well, could really help his reputation. He’d be one of the few to survive a fight with Psycho Gecko. I’d say he should pray I don’t find out he was a part of Meecer’s side business, but he wouldn’t want to bring gods into this. They’s so squishy.
I carried out a big ol’ painting past Qiang, who had picked up one of the dogs overhead and was spinning it around in a circle. The other one was hopping around, trying to reach for the spinning dog. “That thing’s gonna spew,” I warned as I stepped outside and out of the blast radius.
Her giggles turned to a gasp, then crying. “Momma! He puked on me!”
“Looks like we learned something tonight. Come on, kiddo, let’s get back to the hotel and get you cleaned up.” I giggled a little bit, with the sound turned off, as she walked out of the house covered in a disgusting tax mixture. Aww. “At least you don’t have to smell it or wear it.”
Now then, I just have to wait until I get a call from Meecer or one of his associates. Sure, a hero might have trouble infiltrating whatever he’s doing and getting some proof of what’s going on, but I’m no hero. He has absolutely no reason to fear me going to the police or the FBI with what I find. He just has to fear going to the grave.
When I first got home, Qiang, my dear daughter, clung to me. When I went to bed, she clung to me. When I woke up, she clung to me. When I took a shower, when I ate breakfast, when I set my machines to build a replacement armor. I had to enlist Buzzkill bodyguards to finally pull her away long enough to see to her schooling, though I didn’t want to. If every there was a learning curve to master, it’s the one that comes with her being the heir to a supervillain’s empire.
With the nation militarized and under alert to deal with the threats of extradimensional invaders, my government was able to limp along. They deferred to Qiang and Citra, my political wife, as much as possible, but we’re lucky no one cared that much to ask who was running the country while I wasn’t around and what authority their decisions rested on. They might have said Qiang, who was a vocal advocate of Ricca continuing to aid the heroes and other countries while I was away, but there should have been a regent with a better understanding of the circumstances.
A failing on my part. I already have an idea to rectify it, but after spending time sorting out an important piece of business.
“It wasn’t one thing. Maybe it should have been. It’s easy to know what’s right when you first start out. If there’s a hoodlum who snatches a purse, you stop them. A pedant would say there’s nuance there, but not really. You get experienced at it and you can handle bigger thefts and fights. I was so proud of the first headlines about arresting carjackers and robbers. One morning, I’m having my coffee to warm me up after a cold shower. I bumped a bruise on my arm and scatter the newspaper. I was on the front page for stopping the Privateers from stealing a microchip from a Defense Department lab in the city, but I was reading about murders and carjackings no one stopped.”
I reached out and put a hand on Medusa’s shoulder. We sat on a couch at the Riccan Institute of Science. We were waiting for the doctors to get done with Dame. I’d taken a huge risk the first time I messed with Dame’s brain because I didn’t care that much if she lived or died. Medusa would rather she live, so I had brain experts and nanosurgeons do the job right. The nanosurgeons use holograms and Homo Machina physiology to closely manipulate regenerative nanomachines to handle jobs that Riccan doctors think are too risky or delicate for machine thinking alone. I think it’s bollocks, but I handed the job over for them to do their way. They know a hell of a lot more about brains than I do.
Medusa wanted to wait on her. Dame had been her friend. I wanted to wait with Medusa, and we decided it was time for a talk.
My nemesis-turned-girlfriend continued, “I wondered how many people were going to be killed by the chip I saved. Maybe more than if the Privateers took it. That was a scary thought for me to have. Mercenaries and pirates might be more responsible with it than law-abiding companies and my own government. Law-abiding doesn’t mean they’re right. The Privateers were wrong and would hurt people with it, so why wasn’t it wrong when the private company does it?”
“We still keep criminals in those basement cells where we kept you. Mender wanted you to be our assassin off the books. And he was wrong to think that, but it means I’m not the only one seeing this.” She went quiet for awhile. “He used to tell me, sometimes, to drop investigations. I had reason to suspect this guy, a rich man, of things. He was a philanthropist. I wonder if the money he gave to charity eased the guilt of what he did or if he used it to fish for victims. I wanted to move in, stop it, capture him, and turn him over to the police. Mender…” She shook her head.
“He told you not to bother?” I suggested. I shifted so I was laying with my head next to her, running a hand absentmindedly down her leg. I like touching her just because. She shifted so her bare feet were over to the opposite side, so I just laid there.
She patted my head from behind. “He did, and he showed me an article from ten years ago. A woman was arrested for making false police reports. She was a private detective. Her business license was revoked. She was evicted. Then he showed me another, about a local superhero. Villains hunted her down and beat her to within an inch of her life. She once worked with the FBI. Mender wanted me to know there was no one who would legally do anything about it. The best result would be him threatening us.”
Her hands lazed over my back, her nails lightly scratching me through my dress. “I threatened to go after him off the books. Mender asked me what would happen to the academy once the FBI snoops on us in retaliation. He had to protect his students. He’s just as selective as the cops. That morning, years later, I think about how I’m not stopping the clear-cut crime. I never found the time to go after him. I’m not stopping the really big crime. I’m just doing enough to maintain the status quo and anyone it doesn’t work for is screwed. I had to get out, but I couldn’t do this on my own.”
“Mmm… I thought you had lots of hero friends.”
She sighed. “They all knew the Academy and I didn’t feel like I could trust them. I needed help.”
“Of all people, you trust me?” I asked, rolling over. I had to see he face on this one.
She laughed. “To let me be a villain so I can fight the good fight? Yeah, I can trust you for that.”
“I dunno… maybe I can’t trust you. After all, you’re so off your rocker, you picked me for a girlfriend.” I winked up at her.
“Stop it,” she leaned down and kissed my forehead. “You’re better than you think you are and you’re getting better. I think I’ve been a good influence on you.”
“You think you knocked sense into me so you’d try smacking it in a different way?” I asked.
She looked away from me with a smile on her face and lightly shook her head. “I think you’re fine and you can be endearing when you aren’t trying to drive someone away. I’ve watched a lot of Gecko because of my job.”
I scooted up to rest my head on her thigh, propping me up a little to look away from her. I didn’t say anything for about ten seconds, so she added, “Be honest with me, ok?”
“I just don’t see why anyone would love me unless they were in a fucked up situation. I killed your boyfriend that time. I’ve tried to kill you before. How do you forget that?”
She reached down and took my hand. “You don’t. Maybe you learn to forgive it.”
I held her hand, ran my fingers over her palm. “I dunno how you do it.”
“You dropped your attempted murder investigation quick.” She intertwined her fingers with mine.
“I wanted to come home and be with my family. That reminds me, Qiang and I made you a present.” I held out my hand and activated the little homing drone. About the size of a small flashlight, it zipped along toward me, carrying a small box. I untied the drone from it and held it up to Medusa.
I’d worked hard on it in my workshop, with Qiang at my side. If not for me forcing her to go to school (and assigning guards to make sure she stays), she’d still be with me. Can’t blame the rugrat. So she was there with me, both of us in power armor, as I swung a great hammer overhead, pounding out a hunk of metal Above me, robotic tendrils spread out and turned downward, great lasers refining my design. When I was done, I backed away. The tendrils grabbed a see-through case and set it up around my creation. An arm lowered itself, no thicker around than a pencil and opened up. Arms small enough to have an arm wrestling competition with a mosquito spread out and latched onto the gift, holding it up in midair. Qiang and I unleashed our barbaric yawps into a receiver that amplified the sound and the box reflected it inward on itself. The box shook as sound waves slammed into the metal and refined it further, helping to distribute the carbon and forge a strong piece.
Medusa held it up. “Is it a keychain?” she asked of the small piece of metal in her hand. “How sweet of Qiang.”
Hey, I put a lot of work into that bracelet. I said watched her reaction to it, the way her eyes shone looking at it. I think she was fucking with me. She slid it on and looked down at it, then smiled a brilliant smile up at me. “I love it.”
After a brief kiss, she had to point out, “I didn’t get anything for you in exchange.”
Lightbulb. Exchange… “You did a lot for me on the ship. The way you stood up to Warman really meant a lot to me. But if we’re talking exchanges, you just gave me an idea.”
“I’m not swapping bodies with you through a transceiver like Dame has,” Medusa said.
I grinned. “Way to ruin Christmas for me early, but no. I was just thinking about a fun time you could give me, involving your rich asshole and whatever nasty business he’s up to.”
“That’s my problem to deal with,” she said. “You’re already doing this for Dame even when you don’t want to.”
I grimaced. “I do have something you could do for me instead, but I don’t want to. You’re here to forge your own path and do your own thing, and it’s a little close to what you did before. What I… I don’t want us… I’m trying to figure out how to say this. I don’t want our relationship to be about what we do for one another like some kind of business deal. I want to help you, and I don’t want you to think it’s about getting things in return”
She bit her lower lip, then ordered me to “Sit up.” I did so and let her pull me onto her lap. “What are you thinking?”
The way I sat there, with her hands on me, what I was thinking isn’t fit to print. Mmm, the taut muscles under her skin… “I handle the bad guy who got away, you find the person who tried to murder me?”
She smiled and kissed me again.
The opening of the doors interrupted us. One of the surgeons walked in and bowed. “Empress, good news.”
It was a little blow to the ego how quickly Medusa set me aside to go run and check on her friend who, apparently, had made a full recovery. I didn’t care to interrupt. I’m the last person Dame ever wants to see in her life.
Instead, I sent off a message to Queen Beetrice, the bee-woman in charge of North Korea. I made sure it was a formal electronic invite. Perhaps it would have been less rude to call, but I knew the kind of high-pitched sounds she makes when she’s happy. It’s entirely possible that every dog in Asia heard her reaction to a formal invitation to brunch with me to discuss an important matter of state.
Like it or not, as childish as I see her quite often, she’s proven to be damn competent. If anything happens to me before Qiang comes of age, she’ll make a fine regent.