Tag Archives: Qiang

Reckoning 9



Of course I’m alive. I woke up in a hospital wing, my HUD blinking 11:59 like a smartass and showing my location was being in the Exemplar base. Li’s the one that took debris to the brain, severing my connection. My consciousness reverted to my main body, which had transformed into Reindeer. As usual, my consciousness was pushed aside. I didn’t have a camera on Reindeer on this time. And the Flyer’s trashed. The good news is that more than 50% of it made it through the portal. Not in one piece, but neither was Li. Reindeer got me out, though.

This must have done a number on my reputation. Failed to kill a target, got all visibly emotional in public, ran from some perfectly killable Justice Rangers… people are going to start talking. The first thing they’re going to say is, “Aha! Gecko’s alive after all!” so that also makes it harder to stay on the down low.

Some of that I figured out from contemplation, and other parts were mentioned to me by the doctor who showed up to check on me. “You slept a little more than usual, but you weren’t in a coma. You’re uninjured. Do you feel any pain or discomfort?”

“Not comfortable with having my inner turmoil flaunted in public like that,” I mentioned.

“I’m only here for the physical problems,” the doctor said. He turned back to the door. “Speaking of, Medusa wants to see you. I have declined as she is not a family member. Would you like me to let her see you?”

I shook my head.

“You got it. She will see you when you’re discharged, though.” The doctor checked me over, looked at my chart, and all that. He started to open my eyelids and shine a flashlight into my eyes, before shaking his head and stopping.

“What’s the news, doc? Am I ever gonna dance again, or do these guilty feet got no rhythm?” I asked, voice no louder than a careless whisper.

“Could you dance before?” the doctor asked, scribbling things on a chart.

“I was a maniac at the macarena.”

“Well, you’ll have plenty of time to macarena out of here. Congratulations, you’re discharged. Director, you can come in!” The doctor called.

“Frell my cock off!” I cursed, only to be surprised by a guy in a uniform with a big E symbol on it.

“Medusa had to run. She had to take care of a secret fracking operation. I’m Eric. She’s asked me to arrange for your transport back to Radium.”

I pumped my fist. “Fracking, fuck yeah!”

“You don’t want to qualify that at all?” asked the Doctor.

I shook my head again. “Nah, I’m fine with it.

I didn’t really have clothes, still going all naked in my armor. Reindeer would have shredded any I was wearing and nearly trashed my armor, so they provided some clothes. Eric there seemed pretty understanding of the situation as he led me to the hangar. “Gotta get old, being stuck here like some sort of military operation, then having to chauffeur me around.”

“Many of us have nowhere else to go and chose to follow her, or are dedicated to the cause,” he said, totally not sounding like part of a cult. Totally. I wondered where they do the crazy sex stuff, but he interrupted me by continuing on. “I don’t mind flying you. You would cause more trouble on your own.”

I rolled my eyes. “Pure slander.”

“You stole the doctor’s wallet. I’d like that back, by the way,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Fine… old habit,” I said, handing him the wallet while slipping his into one of my new pockets.

“Come on, let’s get you back home and away from good people,” he said.

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “I hate you, you judgmental asshole.”

At least he didn’t try to force conversation the whole flight back to Radium and dumping me off on my front lawn with nothing but the clothes on my back and a suit of power armor capable of stopping a medium-sized army on a bad day.

Yep… back home… just deciding to live with not killing the bastard who had my parents killed, had me abducted, tortured me, taught me to hurt and kill people under pain of death, and ordered me around as his own personal hitman. He needs to pay… he really needs to pay. But I guess it’s not going to be me.

There wasn’t a huge welcome back from Qiang, because this whole thing was much less dramatic from her perspective. So instead, I spent some time in the basement, designing a new Flyer to build and looking back over at my plans for Li II and the perfect body. Li II wouldn’t be it, after all. There’s so many supers out there, so many powers. But I’m getting tired of all this back and forth, so I should prioritize movement powers. That moves a couple of supers to the top of my list. I had time to come up with a plan.

I also had time for the news. The news in 2020 is so fucked that I was barely a blip on the radar, but news came from the other world of my apparent return from the dead. Or I came out of hiding. With Lulios’s brief stint of public celebrity over here, the ensuing drama held some people’s attention. The stuff about the Psychopomp project was deeply embarrassing to the government he worked for and was a betrayal to all those people who touted him as progressive. Because it wasn’t just that he did this, but that he’d hid it for so long. He’s looking at imprisonment.

There was some neat stuff in there about the Justice Rangers. People who thought they’d gotten a bit too militant were up in arms over how they’d treated the situation. They’d known about it and kept it under wraps, even kidnapped Lulios to lure me out and kill me. Even past Rangers and alternate Ranger teams are coming out against that bunch. Weird. I don’t really expect people to call for justice on my behalf. Maybe they learned something. Wish I could have. Oh, wait, not true.

I learned that pretty much no one filming the memorial park fight caught me turning into Reindeer. Luck was on my side there. That could have ruined my reputation. And, if I’m going to be honest here, that’s not only me wanting to avoid having people think I could be a hero. I don’t think Reindeer was right about that. I’m no hero. Too broken for that. But it protected Reindeer’s reputation. The only reason the weredeer has a shot is because nobody knows she’s me. Almost a shame she can’t come out more. She and I could make a great team.

But this tumultuous little chapter in my life just wouldn’t be complete without Medusa. She sent me a text that she was coming over, so I waited. She came, like she said she would. She opened up the door to the basement and there I was, sitting in a chair facing the other direction.

“So, you thought you could just walk into my lair?” I asked, swiveling the chair around while stroking a cat.

“I expect you to talk, Gecko,” she said.

“No, Medusa, you expect me to whine!” I tossed the cat, a fuzzy grey and black striped thing at her.

She caught it, then looked surprised. “You got a real cat?” She dropped it once it started to shift and change, though it didn’t fall too far.

“Huh, not as tall as I expected,” I said, looking up at her from the body of the catgirl in front of her. I looked back down, getting a sense of it. Yep, a foot shorter than I thought I’d be. Plus the sound…

“You found some cat shifter super to steal DNA from now?” asked Medusa. There it was, weird getting used to sound with these bigass ears. I could hear stuff in the walls. I think I even heard Qiang stealing a snack from the refrigerator.

I shook my head, both as an answer to Medusa and to draw myself back to the conversation at hand. “No, I stole some unrelated DNA from a woman in Vegas, thought I might adapt it.”

“So now I’m dating Catwoman,” she laughed.

I reached up and popped my claws, then poked her on the end of her nose. I was gentle enough not to draw blood. “Listen up… you know the story now, don’t you? The man you protected, what he did?”

She nodded. “I didn’t know all that. I honestly wasn’t sure your stories about your childhood were real.”

Well, that got some blood boiling in me, but I calmed down. “I can see that, I guess. I’ve certainly lied enough, said all kinds of nonsense to get sympathy. Holy shit, this tongue is weird.” I reached into my mouth to start rubbing the tongue, which also lead to me licking my paw pads. There was a lot to get used to on this body and I meant this conversation to go differently than Medusa looking on enviously at my rough tongue. “But,” I stopped, pointing a finger at her again. “Even if you thought I was lying, I told you to stop. You didn’t know that was him then, did you?”

“No, but I had been asked by the Rangers to help look after him on this world. I thought I was saving his life. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it, but would you rather I punched you?”

I was not amused. “Yeah, punching me is something I’m used to you doing. We’ve fought and we’ve sparred. It might even seem a little backwards to you, but I draw the line at what you did. So we’re through.”

“Do you still love me?” she asked, looking into my cat eyes. It was dawning on her I was serious about this.

I sighed, which came out way cuter as a catgirl. “I don’t know how I feel about you right now. You violated a huge part of my trust to help someone who hurt me deeply. You hurt me in a similar way. I’ve killed people for doing that to me and nothing else. I’m not going to kill you, though. I don’t entirely understand why, but I guess a part of myself wants to be better. If that’s even what being better means. But if I’m going to be a person worthy of love, then I’m going to be a person worthy of respect, and if you aren’t going to respect my boundaries, then I’m going to make sure I can respect myself. So go.” I pointed off up the stairs behind her.

She was chastened. Saddened, even. I just felt weird. Like, this wasn’t about retaliation or revenge or that weird sense of righteous injustice I feel from time to time when staring into the eyes of a terrible person. This felt like an internal shoulder pat. Like I’d stood up for myself in a way I don’t when I’m killing people for petty reasons.

When we reached the door, I told her, “If you need us to move, I’m sure I can manage something. I’ll even leave Radium if you want.”

“No,” she said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a keyring. After a bit of fiddling with it, she handed over a couple of identical keys. “These are to the house. I meant that this place should become a safe haven. I guess I’ll… see you when I see you.”

“See you, Medusa,” I told her, shutting the door as she turned away. I turned and pressed my back to it, sinking down, somehow changing back into a cat while I tried to process the subtly gutpunch of the breakup.

This time, the happy ending means not getting the girl.



Ambush Predator



I don’t take vacations too often. I don’t relax very well, or at least the things I do to relax and the things I do as a vocation overlap significantly. Vocation, vacation, let’s toss the whole corpse out. Thing is, there aren’t many places to vacation at right now. Most folks have everything all closed down, but I found a nice spot in scenic Siberia that wasn’t afraid to stay open during these trying times. Lovely, Siberia, with its… uh.. snow. And bone-chilling cold. Qiang bundled up and ran around in the snow between the airfield and the hotel itself. Or maybe it was more of a lodge. A chateau? I don’t actually know what the criteria are for some of these things, but I only counted four stories on approach from the airfield. It was only a short distance away and they managed to keep the road clear. The clientele who visit this place get that privilege.

They don’t know who I am, but I dropped enough of the right names and signs. And their surreptitious scan at the airfield would show I’m nothing so baseline as human law enforcement. My wares would also be pretty damn suspicious. These things don’t grow on trees. They were surprised about my daughter, but some people do that. And they could see the knives she had with her.

They didn’t roll out a huge red carpet for us. Once you get inside, it’s a muted welcome. They showed us to the suite with our bags and trunk. I turned to the porter who led us up here. “When will the showroom be open?”

The pale man smiled. “Madam, the showroom is in recess for the next two hours for maintenance. After that, you may join us at your discretion.”

I let Qiang go play in the courtyard behind the place while I checked in on things. Medusa, for instance, was overseeing efforts to help protesters in the United States. Though, if you’ve been there, protests are something of an understatement. It’s very nearly a revolution at this point. What Medusa was telling me about was overwhelming. Cops were attacking protesters all over the country. Soldiers were patrolling American cities. The President hid in a bunker and turned off the White House’s lights while police pepper sprayed a kid in the face.

Medusa’s doing her best to keep her own visibility and the visibility of her people out of the spotlight. This isn’t about them, or about giving assholes an opportunity to make this about nefarious supervillains rather than an explosion of righteous anger. Heroes are joining in where they can, helping save people where they can. But the Exemplars are staying in plainclothes to help keep people out of the hands of cops, keep them safe. Pull people out of the way of white supremacist vigilantes trying to run over sitting protesters on a closed road using a semi-truck.

It’s a lot, and sometimes all you can do is be there for people. Or, sometimes you put on a mask and initiate a plot that helps folks instead.

After that, I checked on the rhinos. They’re going to need a more accurate climate to live in before long, but I’ve used the wonders of supertechnology to bring back more of the formerly-extinct black rhinos. I’ve got a veterinarian and a local rancher looking after them for now while I figure out who I need to kidnap to help me figure out how to make things work. I’m better at killing things than at bringing them back to life.

I sent Qiang back up to the room when I went down to the showroom. The porter was able to help me wheel the trunk down there. In other hotels, it would have been a ballroom. Here, tables were set up for people to view merchandise in person and over digital feeds. Everyone could see as I began to set out rhino horns and elephant tusks. I got the idea from growing an entire rhinoceros body. So I had them build me some authentic rhino horns and elephant tusks, separate from the animals themselves. A few other vendors and customers stopped by to look it over.

One white guy with an accent that seemed crossed between English and Australian picked up a tusk to weight it in his hand and look it over. “This is something. Where do you get a supply like this?”

I smiled. “I have my ways.”

He smiled, light reflecting off his bald head, ringed with short, coarse white hairs that came down his sideburns to join into a beard. “I know some people, very maligned, who would kill to have this much ivory. Could I possibly bend your ear to discuss a partnership together?”

I winked at him. “Let’s get dinner, next maintenance cycle. I’d love to talk about it with you.”

He smiled warmly. “I would be honored. Here,” he waved his phone over a scanner that was part of the standard vendor package at this place, putting down enough money to purchase a couple of the tusks. “I cannot wait to speak with you in a few hours.”

It was pretty boring running that little booth, but I was also overseeing some financial stuff. The money I made from sales was funneled through a couple of shell companies, then got split up to go to various bail funds, lawyer funds, and medical supply organizations. What, nobody thought I’d really stay out of this, right? Spread it on some toast, because this shit is my jam. The people don’t want a mad killer taking out the cops for them, looking like I’m some sort of leader. But I can at least give them some money. Maybe water that helps keep them a bit healthier than they should be and counteracts that virus going around.

That’s why I went to some classy, secret Siberian black market with a load of artificial ivory and rhino horns. Well, that was one reason why. Sometimes, my plans are like ogres. They have layers. One layer involved that meeting I had a few hours later with the South African. It was ok. I’ll never understand this recent fascination with skins-in mashed potatoes. He didn’t notice me palming the steak knife, either. Despite his invitation, we discussed little actual business. He asked about minor things, like how I was getting used to the showroom, where I normally sold, and where I normally operate.

This guy, Mr. Chester, was kind enough to walk me back to my room so we could formally talk business. A couple of other guests were heading our way from opposite sides of the hallway. One was a heavy-set man, the other a woman with some muscle on her, both in nondescript black clothing. “I am eager to learn how much of the business you participate in,” he said as I opened the door to my room. There were a couple more guys in there, also in black clothes. I felt a life poke into my lower back as Mr. Chester whispered into my ear. “For example, have you ever carved into the flesh of such deadly game and cut free the only valuable part? Into your room, please.”

I let him march me in. The two “guests” in the hall took up positions outside the door and pulled it closed. Mr. Chester pushed me onto the sofa, but didn’t try to join me. There was no objection as I sat up. “Not your usual way of treating an elephant, I hope. Not even Long Dick Johnson could pull that one off.” I looked around for any signs of Qiang. My daughter’s snow-covered shoes rested next to the door. The door to her room of the suite was open, as was mine. The TV was off, but the remote was on a table next to one of the goons, leading me to hope he turned it off. Which meant it was on when he came in. Oh look, the curtains. There weren’t any feet sticking out from under them, but there was a little bulge right about the same height as the interior window sill.

“You can look around all you wish, but you won’t find a way out. We know this building’s rooms well. They have one exit. The windows do not open. And they are completely soundproof for the protection of guests’ secrets. Secrets like where you acquired such a large source of ivory. Because my friends won’t like you undercutting them.” Mr. Chester said. The other two in there pulled out knives of their own. Mr. Chester twirled the knife around in his hand once before it came to rest, a wood-handled knife with a ring on the back of the handle and a blade where the back end looked like it was clipped off near the end of the blade.

I nodded toward it. “Fan of knives, eh? I prefer lasers.”

Mr. Chester laughed. Lasers shot out of my eyes and sliced off his knife arm at the elbow. His laughter turned to screams, and when he reached over with his remaining hand, I took that also. Both of the guys lunged at me, but one found himself with a stabby little girl on his back all of a sudden. The other turned to look at that and signed his own death warrant. I snapped his neck and took the knife out of his hand. Turns out I didn’t need it. Hot blood splashed across me from his throat. “Good job, kiddo.”

On the floor, Mr. Chester was shutting down on me. I knelt down to check on his vitals. “And good job on surviving. I have some questions of my own for you about those friends of yours. Part two of my little plan here, and I’m so glad you indulged me. But first, let’s see how good the soundproofing is.” I reached down and grabbed the blade Mr. Chester had hoped to use on me and walked over to the door, knocking on it. “Anyone out there?”

They couldn’t open the door, but I did The two out there seemed surprised to see me. “Knife to meet you!” Heavy guy took a knife through the skull. The woman took one to the gut. I kicked her over onto the floor. She turned and tried crawling away. I took a moment to grab the knife out of the one guy’s skull. I pulled his body into the floor and opened his mouth to set the grip of the knife in there, then walked over to guard who was now trying to get to her feet. I took hold of her leg and swung her overhead to where she thunked down with the knife going through her back and into her lung.

I left all the bodies outside the room, with a note for the cleaning staff. “These are dirty, please replace with clean ones.”



Collector of Curiosities 5



Just because Caligari’s gone, doesn’t mean this story’s finished just yet.

The sheriff stopped by the other day. The one with the big badge and hat, not the deputies. I’ve been known to use the terms interchangeably, I’ve realized. Seems like I see a lot of these guys around here. I was sitting out on the front step of my shop, chatting with the automaton I rescued. The automaton’s designation is a long string of numbers and symbols starting with five, so I got permission from it to call it Fiver. I’d have never gotten the full name out in time when Fiver jumped onto the sheriff’s truck, arms whirling and ready to tear through the glass.

“Fiver!” Some of its visual sensors rotated toward me. “He means no harm. Don’t you, sheriff?”

“I nearly shit myself,” the lawman said as he got out of his truck. I saw him try to reholster a pistol and settle for leaving it in the truck. “Do you have a leash for that thing?”

“Fiver’s not a pet. It’s a sentient and sapient being that was held captive. What can I do for you, sheriff?”

The sheriff took his hat off and wiped his brow. “You know the riots happening in Minneapolis?”

I nodded. “I’ve heard a thing or two about it. Seems like the whole thing could have been avoided pretty easily, but then I don’t have much room to talk.” I sometimes worry I’ve been captured and trapped in some sort of simulation because of how much people want to leave me be.

The sheriff’s eyes flicked between me, Fiver, and my shop. “You don’t have anything to do with it all, do you?”

I rolled my eyes. “Not everything’s an evil supervillain plot.”

“Only…” he trailed off. He put his hat back on so he could point up above my store. I turned to follow the gesture and found he’d noticed the large spacer rocket currently being assembled in the enclosed yard behind my shop. “…some folks believe you might be planning something.”

I waved it off. “All a big misunderstanding. That’s just to get my friend Fiver here back home. It’s old-fashioned by their standards, but it’ll do the trick.”

It looked like any old rocket they’ve launched here before, but a few improvements from Fiver and I made it a lot better for the automaton to travel in than those oldies would have had. We didn’t need to include life support, toilets, food supply, or exercise facilities, saving on room. Instead, we mainly focused on giving it good engines and radio systems. There are a few tricks I picked up that might be handy in other scenarios.

“Well, if you say so. Mind if I take a look around?” he asked.

“Ya know what, why don’t you come on in?” I said, getting up and opening the door.

I showed him through. He eyed some of the gadgets and weapons I had out on shelves already, but I claimed they were all milkshake blenders and sex toys and so on. “This too?” he asked, picking up a big metal gauntlet with a sonic cannon on top.

“Fisting,” I said. Fiver let out an inquisitive trill. I told it, “Organic reproductive/pleasure protocol.” The automaton clicked understanding. The sheriff just looked confused. I didn’t explain, just let him go stare at the rocket as if he knew anything about rocket science.

Ten minutes of walking a circle around it and staring, he turned to me and said, “Please don’t fuck things up for all of us.”

“Will do,” I said. “I got no desire to distract from those voices anyway. Not all evils come from people wearing masks, and not all fights are fought by people wearing capes.”

I got the feeling the sheriff didn’t entirely agree on my assessment of the situation, but he was smart enough not to object. I turned to Fiver. “You ready?”

Fiver gave me an affirmative.

“Well then… I wish you the best of luck finding your way back to your people.”

Fiver’s 6-limbed body crawled up the exterior of the rocket to its hatch. The artificial being secured it behind him while I headed inside and closed the garage door. It doesn’t sound like a lot of protection against the launch of the engines. One of Fiver’s additions activated with the engines, creating an energy cone that kept the rocket’s flare from spreading out as easily. Burned a hole glassy hole into the dirt back there, but it lifted off more easily and would help the thing maneuver in space. It also meant my whole store didn’t get destroyed again. Oh, and the town of Radium was safe, too. The sheriff didn’t even think to ask about that one.

Fiver was on its way back to the stars. The other captives stayed on Earth. This Earth.

Medusa figured out a situation with the guy who’d been watching over them this whole time. I didn’t even get his story until the end of this. He ended up deciding to stick with the kids. “I brought them this far. I’ve been through a lot with them. They’re my only anchor to the old world. I worry about them. But… I’m glad you worked this situation out.”

He, Medusa, and I were standing in the corner of the backyard at this new house. It was a bigger one, more on the outskirts of Radium. The couple there seemed happy to have a bundle of kids and teenagers running around. They’d managed to throw together a pool, playset, and batting cage in a hurry. There was also a guest house out back that this guy had claimed.

“Let me know if you need anything, Bo,” Medusa said. I guess that was his name. “We’re building a community. I want a place where young supers can grow up in peace and have a choice what to do with their lives. A place for supers to be people, with lives, mistakes, and dreams beyond fighting.”

“Holy shit you talk good,” Bo said.

“Bo!” called one of the little girls.

He looked over as she waved him on toward the playset. “Katie-cat’s calling.”

We let him go on, but Qiang ran up soon enough to keep us company. I missed her. There’s a difference between an adventure where I know she’s waiting for me and safe, and one where some guy might have kidnapped her. To many people, I was that guy. Back when I was guy, that is. I believe Qiang’s learned her lesson about inviting herself along to those adventures, and I learned not to be so flippant about her doing so. Ugh, she’s probably going to grow up to be the world’s biggest badass and I’m going to be that parent who walks in and embarrasses her in front of everyone. “You just killed a dozen ninjas using nothing but a clothes hangar? That’s nice, but you have a smudge on your cheek, hold still.”

I ducked out early to head back to the house, which had been unshrunken. I also had to deal with the collectibles. Medusa turned in Caligari and police got curious about that big hole in the river, but that didn’t stop me from raiding a few things from the stockpile. Weird way to go about it, the way things have been lately. I want something done with Caligari, but the non-police options involve killing him or locking him up myself. I don’t want to deal with a pet right now. Which reminds me, I couldn’t bring the black rhino with me. Maybe it’ll end up in the hands of conservationists, but having even one still won’t bring that species back.

Just something that wouldn’t leave my mind as I looked over some of the stuff I grabbed. Like the gigantic emerald set in a necklace or this pair of tea bags. Might was well keep a few trophies for myself, even if most of it isn’t usable. Oddly, I didn’t care so much about the old suit of my armor Caligari had that I took back from his stash. He’d into a lot of the components in all this. It must have killed him to do that to his own collection. Good.

I lifted the tea bags up and sniffed at them. Huh. I’m not much of a tea person, but there was something… enticing about this. I might have to try it, after… huh. It’s like a pattern the past few days. Remote control. Clones of Caligari. I wonder… if I had the biomass, then yes, I could do this.

The trick was getting the biomass. I got some cows delivered, dead but unbutchered. There would be major modifications, but the presence of bones and circulatory systems would make it easier on the nanomachines. I just had to give them enough to work with and the proper programming. A bit of metal for some more of the building… Yeah. I can do this.

And while I was doing that, I got an idea for solving my problem with Caligari. I practically sprinted to the Flyer.

Hours later, in Pittsburgh, I walked through the door as a hot but mean female lawyer. “I’m here to see,” I scoffed as I said the name, “Caligari the Collector. I’m his legal representation.”

The cops led me to a room while they went to go fetch Caligari. When he came in, he looked quizzically at me, but didn’t fight. He slid into the chair opposite me and held his hands up to have the handcuffs taken off. The cop looked to me and said, “He’s under special precautions as a gadget-using super threat.”

The illusion around me fixed him with a death glare, purely for the act. The cop uncuffed Caligari and left us.

“I don’t know who you are, but I’m grateful for the break from that cell,” said the Collector.

I just smiled, not at the idea of helping him. I smiled at the way my armor’s tail slid through the lower back opening on my chair, under the table between us, and up to stab Caligari in the neck. Inject him, really. Just a little bit of those same nanomachines with a nice old trick. He slapped at the back of his neck and turned, the tail staying nice and invisible. I don’t trust a police station that’s not on fire. So I withdrew the tail. Caligari turned to me and opened his mouth to ask something, but then his eyes rolled up and he fell forward, face thumping off the table. Little machines were in his brain, right around the spot you’d need to poke to induce a coma.

I stood up and walked out of there past the cops at the door. “Guess he didn’t want my representation. All yours, boys.” Trust them to see him passed out and think I unleashed a little brutality of my own. You can’t trust people’s best instincts, but you can trust them to be their worst. And, in a way, I was a little brutal.

As good an idea as the remote-controlled clones. I closed my eyes on the way back home in the Flyer and opened them again back home in the backyard, as a rhino. Oh, don’t worry, I don’t want to be a rhino. I tested out its range of motion, movement, senses. And the principle of controlling it. Feeling its power for myself. I pulled out and ordered the nanomachines to break down the computerized brain that let me control it.

Yay. I can bring back the Black Rhinos. And I can indulge a few other instincts. No need to steal a body, when I can have my own. Well, the powers would have to be bonded genetically, and just imagine if I could start blending them.

I might have to start snorting that fucking tea if it gives me ideas this good.



Collector of Curiosities 2



For whatever reason, Medusa insists we don’t have enough housing for this batch of transdimensional refugees. I suspect she’d fucking with me. Qiang’s regretting her enthusiasm for bringing them all along by now, too. At first she liked having other girls to hang out with, then the bathroom situation reared its ugly head. I managed to hide my private lair bathroom from them for a couple days, but then they started hogging that one, too. There was one time in the middle of the night, I had to head outside and use the greenhouse instead. Plus, the teens have hormones flying everywhere and I’m hot. Awkward things happen. Awkward boners happen.

With my patience about used up, but the whole crew having had a decent shower, crap, sleep, and dinner, I gathered them around to get them to draw me a map of the Collector’s place. They were having fun with it, remembering all the defenses. That ended when Medusa walked in. She’s not their Medusa, but she took the name and she looks the same as theirs. From personal experience, I know mine kicks way more ass. But it’s kind of amusing to watch their wariness around her. “Hey, I got pizzas!”

I made sure I got one of the first slices and bit into it before anyone else could. They looked worried at first when I acted like I was choking and fell down. Then I stood back up to choke some more and draw it out, and they figured out I was playing. “Seriously, calm down. She’s one of the good guys. She’s the best guy.”

“She looks like a woman,” said one of the teens.

“She’s that, too. But, seriously, she’s one of the paragons of superheroism on this Earth. Aside from the fact that she likes me. Maybe she got some brain damage in a fight.”

She walked over and gave me a playful elbow check. “She tells the best lies about me. Everyone ready to eat?”

I nodded. “I’m ready. Y’all good for a break?”

Food is a special. Builds trust. That’s what they mean about bringing people together. And it seemed to help out. And afterward, I was able to get enough private time away from her to let her know the kids were driving Qiang and I nuts.

She laughed. “I told them I could place them, but they said they wanted to stay with you. They don’t trust me because of the other Medusa. Just like that robot at Caligari’s will trust you more than anybody else on this planet. And I trust you, because you’re trying to save it and them. But you’re still that nasty badass bitch, and that scratches some itches for me, too.”

I growled. “Really wish the house wasn’t full of kids right now.”

“We’ll get them placed and make up for it. You might want to rethink getting pregnant if you dislike kids so much. You can see if the Collector has anything that can help with that.” She smiled at me.

I booped her on the nose. “I know what you’re trying to do, talking about kids and getting preggers to make me less horny. Joke’s on you, thinking about being your baby momma is a turn-on for me.”

Which was a weird thing to figure out on the fly.

Armed as best as I could with the knowledge from the refugees, it was time to go on the offensive. And since I was in a lighthearted mood, I even threw on some music to listen to. Something to get me pumped. Jazzed. That sort of thing. Science and rationality are one thing, but it’s also rational to understand the effects of emotions and use them to your advantage. Like when I played the song “Legal Assassin” while throwing on my armor even though only the last minute and thirteen seconds of it fits me.

Curious children, some teens hoping for a peek and some kids wondering what the music was, got to at least see me throw the power armor on. It was fun and theatrical. At the end of it, this one teen girl in the group was like “Whoa.”

Back to Philadelphia for me, ready, willing, and expecting to resort to violence. We hadn’t been that far from his, which was dug out from inside of a complex of stores. All the stores being shut down made it easier to stay hidden there.

According to the kids, the last line of defenses they had to deal with was the store they emerged from being locked up tight with stronger glass on the door and windows, and a door with an digital lock that could keep people in. I circled around slowly in the Flyer, stealth mode up. I found that one because Caligari the Collector isn’t Caligari the Window Installer. It looked like chunks of the glass had been gauged out. There were claw marks that tore a hole big enough to let someone out. I decided to stay in stealth so I could hover there and do a little recon. I popped a drone out and sent it in closer. If I was him and couldn’t get this closed up, it’d be the place to concentrate my defenses.

I went ahead and popped a few cameras with the drone. No response. Damn drone didn’t have all the fancy visual modes I’d have preferred, so it was a team effort. The Flyer could shift over to let me see things outside the usual visual spectrum, but holy shit that was tough in the daylight. And unless I wanted to shove the nose of my aircraft right up against the shop, there wasn’t a way for it to filter out all the solar bukakke. That’s on me for not going at night. At least the drone gave me a visual on the inside of the store. Cleaned out, empty even. No pressure pads waiting for me, no tripwires, no paint cans attached to strings, no bear traps hidden under toilet seats. That last one is very important, because your minions will learn not to use that toilet, leaving them the cleanest ones in there, and the toilet most likely to be used by an intruder who really needs to get something out in a hurry.

So I bit the bullet and hopped out, staying in stealth mode with my armor. I brought some more drones with me, but moved the little whirling, helicopter rotor thingies up out of sight. Nope, no lasers. No need to deploy my foolproof disguise as a kitty cat. You can fuck a lot of things up if people think you’re a cat.

Let’s see… next would be the gas trap down the stairs. The guy who belches green gas inhaled it long enough for the one of them who is stronger to lift it up. It was sitting on the ground. Looked like the lifting mechanism was broken. I squeezed past even though it blocked much of the passage and directed the drones in to follow me because the materials were making it tougher to maintain a remote connection. I put the Flyer into a hover mode. That had been triggered by a pressure plate. Around the corner was the corridor full of bees and burn marks from how they killed the bees. It’s a classic trap, but not efficient. Still, no evidence anything was being replaced.

The way in and out from here was more labyrinth than maze. Uh, just something I’ve read, where labyrinth’s were depicted, counter to the old Greek myth, as having only one path. It was long and winding, but impossible to get lost. People build them like that as a form of meditation. These hallways were an underground path you couldn’t get lost in, but it’s a dangerous journey. With all the storefrongs, I doubt there’s just one exit or entrance, which completely throws the comparison to a labyrinth or maze out the door.

And instead of a minotaur, I found a bunch of cages and glass containers with nothing in them. The lights were all off, too. Except for a blinking red one on top of a robot. Not an automaton, I think. The fresh arm on this thing looked familiar. This was Caligari’s guard bot, left behind for some reason. A parting “fuck you” to any cops or supers who showed up. It sensed the drones and let out a blaring siren sound. Good disorientation measure, I have to say. It raised both arms, including the one I made for it. A pair of grenades popped out, glowing purple and heading right for the space in the middle of the drones. Which happened to be occupied by me at that point.

I jumped and scattered the drones, who set to work firing on the robot. One went for the head, another for its original arm, and the other two tried to cut its legs out from underneath it. Nothing got through. A spiderweb of glowing light filled the air that none of the bullets penetrated. Not fair. There were gaps in between that 80s neon spiderweb.

A rocket shot out and destroyed one of the drones. Another caught a laser, so at least we know this robot has variety. I headed for it around the time it lunged for another drone. Metal claws with the same neon glow as its shield erupted from its original arm and went right through the cheap metal and plastic of the drone. I snapped its head off with one good punch, an energy sheathe building up around my other hand. That one I slammed through the robot’s chest. Both arms reversed, with the claw swiping for my head. The claw itself embedded in my helmet and got stuck there while I was using my knowledge of its newer arm to pop that one off. It was close enough for me to feel heat and wetness. I swung the new arm at the old one. The same time I did this, the old one retracted its claw into the arm so it could pull back, pop it out, and go for my chest. My swing deflected it. I dropped that arm and wrenched the older one off.

The robot brought its legs together and shot into the air on a plume of fire. The drones took some potshots but didn’t hit anything important enough to stop it. The ceiling above it retracted, giving my eyes a lot more solar bukkake to adjust to while the robot made its escape and leaving me in the abandoned den of Caligari the Collector. Error messages and danger messages from the Flyer rushed me. I hopped up to the opening and saw the Flyer visible and listing, with the rear ramp down. I heard feedback as speakers below me turned on and Caligari’s voice issued forth. “Wonderful performance, my cloaked friend. I would love to study your armor, but the capabilities displayed in your fight will need be enough. You will have to try harder to steal that robot you were interested in. Yes, using the quick-release mechanism built into the arm gave you away, builder.”

I heard Qiang’s cry over the speakers too. “Momma!”

“I used to have children of my own,” Caligari said. “I’d like them back. Your child for my exhibits. You handled my robot far better than they did, so it should be easy enough for you.”

I called up Medusa real quick, trying to make sense of this. I heard worry in her voice as she picked up and said, “Gecko?”

“I’m fine, but did he attack there? He says he has Qiang.”

“No. I tried calling. We just noticed she’s not here. I think she snuck aboard the Flyer.”

I directed it closer while keeping an ear out for Caligari’s gloating attempt at a deal. “…back to the space I had to leave because of their escape and I will know. My sensors show me everything that happens in there. Then, your daughter will be returned unharmed, and I’ll even consider selling you the robot you expressed a desire for. There’s no reason we can’t handle this like adults.”

“What happened? Are you ok?” Medusa asked. “How did he get Qiang?”

I hopped onboard the Flyer when it got close enough and saw some evidence of how that happened. There was blood around in there, and a dead giant tardigrade that had lots of stab wounds all over its body. “Looks like Qiang invited herself along and hid in the Flyer. I didn’t notice. Stabbed the shit out of this guy’s pet, but maybe he had another, or another robot. He wasn’t at the base. It’s abandoned, but he wants me to bring the refugees we rescued back there to get Qiang.”

“Gecko…” she started to say. I could hear agony in her voice. I know she loves Qiang, too. And she knows what I’d do to get my girl back. Caligari’s going to know what I’d do, too.

Amazingly, the refugees weren’t hiding when I got back. It took a bit to get there with one of the engines damaged, but Medusa was waiting out front for me, running up to hug me. Even in the middle of the kidnapping, she still fussed over little things like the bloody head wound I’d received through my armor. She’s gotten so good at knowing what I’m thinking that she even commented on the kids all gathered around at my front door before I could say anything. “They want to help you after what you did for them.”

I wasn’t in a mood for heart to hearts and Hallmark movies. I was pretty seriously considering giving Caligari the kids, then double-crossing the Collector and tearing his heart out. Then came the group hug from that whole bunch. Terrible fucking night for rain.



Collector of Curiosities 1



At least where I am, people are being responsible and staying shut down. Gives me free time to work on armor and oversee my daughter’s education. Undermines the business I myself was trying to get off the ground there. It’s not a huge loss to have the store closed.

I even got some work in online, with an advertisement I put in VillaiNet coming back. Just something where I said I could provide high-quality cybernetic limb replacements as long as people provided a few measurements and any custom particulars they needed. This one was a simple handjob. Armjob, too. Everything below the shoulder. The client gave me the length and width he needed to match it up with the opposite side of his body. He also requested ball joints for the elbow and wrist to give it a more full range of motion than what humans have, as well as some empty modular spaces inside the shell of the arm that could accommodate storage or installation of other gadgetry in the future. That meant the shell had to open, but that wasn’t so tricky.

So, with everything all shut down and nothing riskier than selling an arm for less than an arm and a leg, I brought Qiang along with me. Give her a chance to see outside the city while she was at it. I was itching to change up how I looked, but why should I have the fun. “Would you change what you look like if you could?” I asked.

She nodded while eating her bowl of cereal. After she swallowed her mouthful, she told me, “Some of the kids think I can make them sick because I look different.”

Whoo. Shift happens. “There’s nothing wrong with your heritage and how you look. They’re being ignorant and mean, and so is anyone who tells them that. I just wondered if you wanted to look different for fun. To see what it’s like.”

One dip in the nanites later, and I had changed myself up, and so had she. Her hair now looked wavy curly like my own natural hair turned out to be, but it was also bright blue. She was the same otherwise, so I guess that turned out to be a good start without reinforcing any harmful messages. Speaking of messages, I had some I wanted to send to the parents of Radium if I had a way to contact them all. Qiang advised me to leave out most of the bad words, but she laughed at some of the descriptions of what I’d do to people, so I think I’m in the clear.

Which is good, because when it turned out I’d started to suggest she change her appearance after people teased her about how she looks, I was about to shit a brick. I’ve jumped in front of a rocket for that girl. I’d depopulate an entire country to get back to her. And if something actually happened to her… well, it’d make the old me look like a puppydog. So, yeah, no way in hell do I ever want to contribute to going after her like that. I’m just glad she had enough experience with me changing up how I look all the time to understand.

I had trouble in this area, too. Thought of going ginger because I have a certain fondness for that look. Then I considered pale skin, straight black hair, and high cheekbones; a real Morticia Addams look. Then I was like “How about shaved head, mohawk matching my daughter’s hair, with a couple tufts of hair coming down on either side of my face.” Sounded pretty good as well.

I opted for the Morticia Addams look, including a black dress that showed some boob. Fabricated a gothy sort of veil that would look like I’m staying safe from the virus in public, even though my tiny machines already have it beat. After the plastic surgery, I was swarming with the things.

So my daughter and my Gothy self took off in my private Flyer to make a special delivery to a suburb of Philly or something. Suburbs like that provide a good middleground between being able to hide in rural areas but have no shot at real money or power, or being crowded into a big city where all the important stuff happens and people can find you more easily. This place had a little bar we could sit outside and eat, with me keeping the arm in a purse. So Qiang and I had a meal while the client spied on us and cautiously approached. I assume he did the spying, I mean. Since we were close to Philadelphia, I did the tourist thing and ordered a cheesesteak sandwich. It was greasy.

Anyway, the bench my daughter and I sat on was soon approached by a fellow with some truly amazing sideburns, wearing one of the medical masks. “Pardon me, but you look as though you need a hand.” That was the sign.

I gave the countersign. “I already have an extra one,” I said, pointing to my bag. My daughter’s alarmed gasp instantly got the adrenaline flowing. I whipped around to see she was fine, but looking across the street at something hiding behind a mailbox. It looked like a dog-sized tardigrade.

The client held up a hand in a calming gesture toward the tardigrade. “I must apologize. I brought that for my safety. I recently had an incident with security.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Someone broke into the ol’ lab, eh?”

He smiled through his mask. “I am a collector of rare and exotic finds. Someone decided to take a part of my collection and damaged by guard robot. This will fix it up nicely. You should see some of the astounding things I have in my possession.”

Someone taking up a hobby like that is bound to want to show it off, and I was trying to be polite while working this side hustle, so I let him show me. Besides, Qiang found some of it fun. There were rare animals like container of jackalopes(“It started as two, but you know rabbits”) and a black rhino. Unusual weapons and armor, including one of mine from way back. He didn’t know it was me, I should point out. But at one point, going into another section of live exhibits, there was a robot that definitely didn’t follow human design conventions. It was roughly diamond shaped, with two sets of three soft robotics-style tentacles it used to try and get a purchase on its container. The reason it stood out to me is I understood its cries for help.

“Huh,” I said, leaning in closer.

“That’s not the robot I’m repairing. That is some spacebot. It’s completely hostile and has gibberish code.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked. “I wonder if I could fix it.”

“That would be dangerous,” he warned.

I shrugged. “I think I can fix it. Seems more dangerous to leave it like that. I could put a deposit down. Pay you to take it into my custody and fix it, then you give the money back, plus extra for repairs, upon return.”

I really did have it in my head to fix the thing up if it needed it, but I intended to set it free. It’s part of a civilization of free and freed automatons I encountered in space once. I deciphered the language and connected with them, even helped save one of their leaders and stop the attack of the space station this all took place on. They seem like ok beings, just misunderstood by fleshy sapients without my unique perspective.

“I see what you’re after,” the client said. “You want to buy it!”

Not exactly, but that’d work too. “You got me. I have a fascination with autonomous robots.”

He pondered it, stroking his chin. “I’m not sure. It feels as though I’ve lost so much already. Rain check? I will reconsider your offer when I reobtain the stolen portions of my collection. You won’t be waiting long.”

I shrugged and held a hand out as if I was shaking an invisible hand. “Ok. You have my contact info.”

Qiang had gotten a bit bored in all this, so was dancing. I danced with her a bit before going off to find somewhere we could wash our hands and then making our way back to where I’d hidden my Flyer. Though it wasn’t as hidden as I’d have liked. Sensors in the VTOL informed me of trespassers while we were washing our hands. I decided to handle this personally instead of putting on an aerial show that dumped out all the people I saw in the cameras. More kids is not what I need, and this bunch consisted of a couple children a little older-looking than Qiang, four teens, and a grown man.

The fact they found my vessel was enough to raise suspicion, but one of the teenagers burped up a cloud of green mist at one point. While smelling bad is a particular expertise of teenagers, it usually isn’t visible, so I figured I had some supers on my hands. Maybe some local group of teenagers with attitude or some such.

“Honeybunny, do you have your knife with you?” I asked as we got closer. Qiang pulled a blade seemingly out of nowhere. “Good. I need you to stay out of sight. Someone helped themselves onto our ship and I need to find out who they are.”

“Aww, can’t I help?” she asked.

“You’re a big help to me already, but I don’t want you getting hurt. This is one of those times when you need to do what I say without trying to weasel your way out with your cuteness,” I said, cutting her off just after she tried a pretend sniffle. She stomped her foot against the ground all cute and angry, then stopped walking.

“Ok,” she said. She looked around and spotted a ladder on the side of the building. She started climbing it up to the roof.

I smiled and began walking toward the parking lot around the corner. Sure, I’d doubleparked, but the VTOL appeared to be a pair of minivans, so nothing looked out of the ordinary. I walked softly through the illusion and up the ramp into the back of the aircraft. No one was standing guard, so they didn’t see me right away.

“It’s not airforce,” said the man with them, looking in on the cockpit. “So-so first attempt, but this wasn’t designed by a professional.” He turned and saw me. His reaction to me prompted the others of his group to notice and turn around, getting into stances as if ready to fight.

I leaned against the side of the ship, nonthreatening but ready to command nanobots to form molecule-thick blades for slicing and dicing. “I like it because it’s mine,” I told them.

“I’m sorry,” the man said, looking at the youngsters all ready to fight. “We need to borrow it. The cops are all over the roads.”

“They’re looking for you?” I asked. “Why?”

“Some sick freak caught us and kept us in his private zoo!” said the boy who’d burped up a mist earlier.

Another guy in the group stepped forward. His stance was wary, but he stopped holding his hands up like he would punch me. “Please. We’re not from here. We came through the portal because we thought nowhere could be as bad as our Earth, not even the one we’re calling Bad Earth.”

I cocked my head to the side. “I’m guessing you’re not meaning the portal from the Earth with homo machina, so are you talking about the one where Master Academy were the bad guys?”

The boy nodded. One of the little kids, a girl, chimed in, “And all our good guys are bad guys here!”

“So you came through the portal and you somehow got captured,” I said.

A lot of the crowd was relaxing as I heard them out. The adult in the room came forward as well. “He called himself Caligari the Collector. Some of the children and I were part of his collection until last week. The police are looking for us now, so we don’t trust them.”

My expression went from stoic to flat and annoyed when my daughter called out from behind me. “We can get you out!” I love her, but she needs to learn to listen to me.

There was a time I’d have seen this as a great opportunity to doublecross these transdimensional refugees and save that robot. And plenty of people who call themselves heroes would just save the people and leave the bot. “Fine. I know a place where you’ll be safe and someone who can help you get settled in, but I need y’all to help me out in turn. I need to know how to get into Caligari’s place so I can break out this.” My artificial eyes flashed them a hologram of me watching the footage of the robot.

The adult came forward and reached his hand out. “Deal,” he said. We shook on it.

And the other little kid, a boy, nudged the girl and said, “Told you this was Bad Earth. She wants to save the mean killer robot.”

I admit, I took a tiny bit of pleasure in watching them squirm when I told Qiang to go to the cockpit and call up Medusa. Back when she was a more clear-cut heroine, Venus got the idea to take the name Medusa from her evil counterpart on the Earth this bunch are from. Now, Medusa’s the one saving their lives.



Zombie Reagan 8



The immediate aftermath of the retaking of Washington wasn’t any smoother than grabbing the Nuclear Football was. The codes weren’t still active, by the way. I’d rather not go into details how I know, but I know. The national guard ended up moving conveniently slowly through the same areas of the District that the Exemplars prioritized. They got K Street cleaned up in a hurry, though. But the main threat was over. The Exemplars were mopping things up with the aid of some gangs and mutual aid groups until the military swept in one night and decided that was the time to enforce some weapons laws. Officially, the Exemplars stood by and let them get taken.

But that early morning raid didn’t go off without a hitch. They had a couple wagons out for all the suspects they arrested. Medusa hit the first one hard enough to cave in the engine. I was more refined, tossing a shrapnel grenade into the cabin of the other. All the soft tissue damage, none of the danger to the passengers in the back end, who all disappeared, along with the evidence. And some odd digital distortion messed with records of who they were even going after. The warrants could have been handy for that, if they didn’t go up in a fire. It was all a real clusterfuck of police work. Personally, I think someone should resign.

When the press corps finally returned, word got out that the President was supposed to have a ceremony honoring some of the “heroes” of the occupation. Just none of the Exemplars, or the local leaders. Just cops, firefighters, EMTs, and the like. Give them a medal instead of anything that would improve their lives, but don’t even bother recognizing all the inconvenient people. Cap off the heroic storyline with a big ceremony.

But this particular section of the story isn’t over yet. Not all of the dead have been accounted for. Like my girlfriend, Medusa, one of the few heroes who can take me in a fight and live to tell about it. Except someone tried to have us killed when we were keeping the last bunch of cultists from setting off a nuclear firestorm. She was sure it was the President. He’d tried to tell us he couldn’t scramble the Air Force to shoot down the presidential jet the cultists took, but then a fighter showed up to blow us out of the sky when we’d accomplished our goals. I could follow her logic on that. She had threatened him before.

I’d taken a quick trip home to pick up my daughter. Little Qiang had missed us and I’d missed her. It’s unfair to leave her behind so much, but I also shouldn’t bring her along on my adventures. Armor or no armor, she’s just a kid who deserves a better life than fighting. Or abandonment. The both of us met Medusa at a bar that had seen better days. Some of the harder-to-reach stains were still around from when they had to clear the place of zombies. The doors need to be replaced; they had wood pieces nailed to them from where zombies had broken through parts. A pump-action shotgun hung over the bar, stock and barrel covered with tally marks.

“Hey other mommy!” Qiang said, running to my nemesis at a booth against the wall and hopping into her lap for a hug.

Medusa gave a happy “Oof!” and caught her, squeezing her tight. The look she gave me seemed a little sheepish. She rubbed Qiang’s back. “Hey baby.”

I sat down across from the both of them. “Lovely spot here. A place for survivors.”

A waiter stopped by and dropped off some beer for myself and Medusa, along with a root beer for Qiang. We had ourselves a nice meal with Qiang, listening to her talking about her cartoons and her books. I even let her have her pick of some of the fancy jewelry one of the museums around here misplaced during the recent unpleasantness. When she was sleeping on a bed in my Flyer, Medusa and I sat down in the cockpit to discuss what the future holds. Not the baby thing, or anything like that.

“What’s it feel like to be dead?” I asked, pointing with a thumb toward the screen and the image of the city.

“I’m not officially dead yet, but it could be useful. I can see why you like it,” she smiled. She grabbed the chair to hold herself steady when I plopped her feet up in my lap and started undoing her shoes. She makes about the closest sound a human can to a purr when getting a foot rub.

“People hate me. Liking you so much, they could see it as a betrayal if you decide to play dead,” I suggested.

She purred and closed her eyes. “I see my options as playing dead or punishing the President and making sure he doesn’t try this again before he’s out of office. No way he wins re-election.”

“Strange things happen. The pandemic and the zombies show that a lot of people have no interest working together to deal with a threat to their lives. Especially when they can pretend it’s not their life threatened.”

“Pessimist,” she said.

“Gotta know what’s wrong to fix the problem,” I countered. Not that I cared being labeled a pessimist. I am one, and worse.

She squirmed a little as I inadvertently rubbed a ticklish spot. “Ok, so how’s this? We’ll meet him after the ceremony. If he announces I’m dead, I stay dead and you get to remove him from office.”

You know, killing the President isn’t such a big deal at this point. I’m sure I’d find some way to enjoy it.

Medusa continued, “But if he doesn’t say anything, I’ll make sure to get something compromising on him and hold you over his head like the Sword of Damocles.”

The ceremony was held the next morning. That alone should be enough to kill over. Everyone’s sleep is all screwy from the entirety of the fucked-up times we live in. Venus showed up. Without all the metal in her body like I have, she doesn’t set off alarms. She’s never been shy about hiding her face with how public her heroics have been, but she’s also been in power armor for a couple years now. So she attended, I watched it on TV, and I met up with her afterward to bring her a hot dog from a food truck run by a Deep One immigrant from Ricca.

“Status unconfirmed,” I said while she scarfed down the hot dog.

“Mhm,” she mumbled between mouthfuls. I took her hand and we began to walk, taking a leisurely stroll back to where I parked the Flyer. There, she sat down to play a game with Qiang while I donned my armor. She looked at me, then down to a circle of holodiscs I’d set up on the ground. “Let me know when you’re ready.”

I nodded.

The White House can be tricky to sneak into, but there are several holes left open when the guy in charge of the whole place is incompetent. Like when you piss off a woman who has worked closely with the Secret Service before and who they like more than you. Medusa, in this case. She still had friends who managed to survive everything from me to zombies, and they were willing to let me in on the condition that I not physically harm anyone. They didn’t say anything about emotional harm, so I headed up to the Presidential bedroom to see what dirty laundry he had.

As Presidents go, it was pretty standard. Some women’s clothes in his size. No big deal there. Pills, coke, and heroin. I think he’d be a lot more chill if he was smoking weed. Ooh, nice, dirty photos on the personal cell phone. Geez, this President’s so crappy, he can’t even get a hot mistress. Not to be too mean about looks here. JFK set the bar really high with Marilyn Monroe. Maybe this guy’s into that sort of thing too. I should be less judgmental about the asshole’s tastes. I still kept the photos, along with footage of all that stuff up close and personal in the Presidential bedroom. Oh, neat, he had a bust in the room too. Thomas Jefferson. He’d turned that one around so he faced the wall like a fun little prude.

Enough tourism. I had what I wanted, so I stopped by the office to talk business. I waited at the door. “Medusa, you at a stopping point?”

“Pausing. Ok, ready.”

When I opened the door, the hologram system synced up with the holodiscs. I became hidden under an image of Medusa in civilian clothes and a mask. And when she spoke, it came out of my suit for the President, and an assistant, to hear. “Afternoon, Mr. President. We really should talk about your attempt to kill me.”

“You survived!” he said, standing up He was a boxer guy, but not because of any interns hidden down there. He glanced down at his lack of pants, then sat, “Someone spilled some soup, my apologies.”

“You have a lot more to apologize for than soup. Start with trying to blow me up.”

He held his hands up. “I told you, the Air Force wasn’t under my full control.”

“How did they find me?” Medusa crossed her arms. I copied the movement even though no one could see me.

“The cult-!” the President started, standing up but leaning over the desk for propriety.

“The cult ordered themselves fired on?”

The President shook his head. “Fine, why not? They’re religious fanatics!”

“All that with the plane’s radio and phone lines down?” Medusa asked.

The President went silent for a moment, red building up in his face. “Whatever you think you know or are going to accuse me of, know that you will not come out of this looking good for attempting to assassinate me.”

“I’m not trying to do anything. As far as anyone’s concerned, I’m not even here. The only record of me being anywhere near the White House are your recordings of this conversation. So if I were you, I’d think very carefully about how I spent a week straight fighting zombies, raided one of the jets you use for Air Force One, took out the last of the cult, survived a fighter jet, then walked in here like I own the place.”

The President sat back in his chair. “You owe me for a fighter plane, by the way.”

Medusa laughed. “Take it up with my friend.”

“Friend?” asked the Leader of the Free World.

The image of Medusa vanished, replaced with the swirling cloud of darkness I used to obscure my presence. The best the President could do was a glimpse of sharp claws swiping through the cloud as I jumped onto his desk and said in a deep, distorted voice. “Me!”

I vanished as well, leaving him to create a puddle under his chair that the assistant rushed to try and clean up. I imagine he had another one later when he found Thomas Jefferson’s head in his bed, with ketchup packets to simulate blood and give me something to write the message. “I was here, too.”



Zombie Reagan 3



Medusa found us a lead. Which is nice, because I’ve been busy designing some things to make the zombie pest control situation a little less tedious. I made some incendiary grenades, but they smell pretty bad. I don’t think we have to worry about the element of surprise when it comes to zombies. I also redesigned a pistol to function as a flamethrower. It gets more usage out of the fact that it fires a quick burst of flame. It saves on fuel and makes the thing lighter, but the fact that it’s a modified handgun means it doesn’t handle all the fire so well. I’ve got my autofactory assembling a better design as more of a rifle. Or even a facemask. I don’t expect people to like the facemask option with the heat being what it is.

I’d be further along, but I spent awhile designing an add-on to my suit. I now have… a tail. A tail that can shoot fire. A tail that, when I first wore it, accidentally set my lair on fire. It’s a work in progress, and that progress gave me less time for the firearms.

So when Medusa had a lead, I was ready! And also glad that, soon, I wouldn’t be working so much with a group of people who were still on the hero side of things. Vigilantes and not fans of the laws, but still trying to help people. This zombie apocalypse doesn’t appear communicable. The only reason it stands a chance is that people risk dying if they get too close to each other. A couple of military units in their godawful biohazard suits have shot up a horde over in Maryland. A competent military response cold wrap this up or force them to go underground.

I sat around, waiting for her to get to my part of the plan. There was some sort of lodge or something they were going to hit up. Some social club for influential people in Richmond, Virginia. They expected living guards, so they wanted to bring in more people to try and round people up without killing everyone. I felt like that part was a bit of a knock against me. I felt that even further when she finished the briefing without telling me what I needed to do. I called her up real quick.

“Hey Gecko. How’s the tail coming?” she asked.

“Work in progress. But I do have guns and grenades y’all could use. You know, on the mission. I can just zip ’em on over to you whenever you want. Great time to let me in on my part of the plot. I’m great at sneaking in and subduing people.”

“I’m happy for your enthusiasm, but you’ve been too enthusiastic and it’s hindered the intelligence-gathering aspect of our mission,” she answered.

“I got you useful info from the mountains and I took care of the problem to boot,” I told her.

“You burned up the bodies and any documents we could use to identify them. It’ll take forever to figure it out from DNA testing. We don’t know who anyone was, who was involved, where the money was coming from, nothing. I appreciate you helping us, but this is the wrong operation for a resource like you. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well remember when you asked me how you looked in that purple dress? I lied. The straps stand out too much against your muscular shoulders and you would look better with clear straps. Or strapless!” Seeing as the phone equipment was part of my head, slamming the phone wasn’t a good option. Regular hanging up would have to do.

Qiang walked up and looked up at me. I smiled down at her. “Hey kiddo. I get left behind too, sometimes.”

She nodded, then pointed right in front of me to a large metal pot. “Are the meatballs done yet?”

“Indeed,” I said menacingly, thinking of turning my enemies into meatballs and spilling their guts like noodles. You know, fuck it, I’m 99% sure those aliens didn’t fix my brain. I shouldn’t have gotten that upset over not helping heroes. I should be happy to spend all my time at home with nothing but childcare, homeschool, and hobbies to keep me company. Well, with dinner just about ready and my daughter’s lessons over for the day, I cracked open one of my incendiary grenades for a sip. That is some truly foul-smelling stuff, but it’ll get you drunk.

I passed out early that night thanks to the drinking. It’s a good thing the sunlight didn’t light me on fire, I had so much of that stuff in me when I passed out and while I slept. Pretty sure my blood alcohol level was enough that I’d need a liquor license to give a blood donation. I felt like the walking dead until I topped myself off with nanomachines.

Medusa hadn’t come home that night. I checked out front, then winced and hid from the sunlight like Ben from Night of the Living Dead taking a shot to the head. Except I did my shots last night. I’ve been on a zombie movie kick for obvious reasons lately. As a supervillain having to take part in a zombie apocalypse, I wanted to be aware of and avoid some of the common pitfalls even if they didn’t all apply here. It’s the same reason I wanted to make damn sure my daughter didn’t remove her armor when she went with us. I figured most movies, her doing that would be the exact moment she got bitten. But if they spread by bite, some of those dead bodies on the mountain wouldn’t have needed to be raised separately.

It made the scenario much different from movies, but I wasn’t taking my chances. And some of the movies feature unusual scenarios. Like the Return of the Living Dead series, where the zombies are nigh-indestructible, capable of speech and thought, actively seek out brains, and are created by a mechanism that could raise the dead from a graveyard. Huh. Well so could these necromancers, ya know? And if I was a right-wing mage raising the dead to help me take over Washington, I’d pretty much have to stop by Arlington.

So I hijacked a government satellite passing by and took a snoop down on Arlington National Cemetery. There was a crowd on Roosevelt Drive, near the walkway up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They had chunks of wood they were offloading there, using a clear, paved space to build. A handful of them standing around wore the usual black robes, except one whose outfit looked like a flag. My first instinct was to keep it to myself, but for all my pettiness, I knew Medusa had a point. And I can’t be going around hating that they leave me out at the same time I’m so instinctively opposed to the hero work. So the way this is supposed to work is I stay petty, I run off and try to do this on my own, and this time the other guys have some way to beat me.

I sighed. Time to be all responsible and mature. I called her back up.

“You done acting like a baby?” she asked.

Time to bite my tongue. Remember, I love this woman for some reason. “Yeah, sorry. You’re right. I’m used to doing things my way and I messed up. How’d the op go?”

“We neutralized some Zeds and guards, but they don’t seem to know where the leadership is. No sign of the Reagan zombie either. We have some notes they made about a mass animation.”

“I think I know where they’re doing that,” I said. “I got the idea to check around graveyards since they can just raise the dead right out of the graves, and I prioritized where they’d probably want to go if they’re planning to take Washington D.C. There’s a small group of cultists at Arlington National Cemetery right now putting something together. They brought some zombies with them.”

“Good job. Can you send us what you have?” she asked.

All professional, no more sniping. No more bullshit like a high school TV drama.

I still went, of course. I came in loud and proud, dropping an anvil on whatever wood altar they were putting together. I dropped out of the trapdoor and into the biggest group of shamblers, fire erupting from around me thanks to a pair of my moonshine-based incendiary grenades. Even without apparent zombification as a threat, I’m still glad for the environmental seals of my armor. This shit has a smell that tells you it’s flammable. I actually can’t know if the ignition or the scent is what knocked the closest zombies away. I tossed plenty more around, lighting the area around me aflame, and charged for the group of cultists.

The folks doing the heavy lifting were in fogged-up hazard suits, so they didn’t try for me, but they had a group of guards in tactical gear. I could tell they weren’t military from all the Punisher and “Don’t Tread On Me” patches. The wannabe weekend warriors charged while firing. I dropped forward so I balanced on my hands and feet, a tail of metal swinging in the air. The tip of it ignited in fire. I went around with an extra pair of arms for awhile and that took some getting used to, but a tail isn’t an arm. It’s not a leg either, so I haven’t entirely worked out how to make it fit in with my neurochemistry. It swung around, spurting flame a little higher than I meant at first, but the second pass was low enough to catch the clueless fake soldiers on fire. While the zombies would stumble along in flames until it burned through them enough, these guys had more immediate things to fear from being caught on fire. And I think only a couple of them remembered to stop, drop, and roll.

I passed by one of them who was trying to shake off all the fire and handed him one of the incendiaries. “Here, hold this for me.” I had a nice chuckle when I heard it go off behind me. That guy nearly did the Wilhelm scream!

I didn’t expect much from the Cultists left until one stepped forward and threw off his robe. This one wore a dark costume that looked like a bunch of black feathers, working its way up to a plague doctor-style mask.

“And who shall I be killing today?” I asked, leaving a holographic copy in my place while I cloaked and stepped to the side.

“Unkindness,” he responded with a moan. I glanced at his skin and noticed heavy rotting. Ah, that’s be that secret weapon of theirs that would inevitably come into play. I went to grab him and break his neck, but he dodged and knocked me to the road with a shimmering wing that resembled his armor. While I was down there, I saw the sky filling with birds, heard the cawing of ravens. Some were perched nearby, on trucks. A lot were perched nearby, actually, and I got the impression they could see me somehow.

Unkindness took to the air, his wings propelling him a little higher. A sword just kind of grew out of his hands. I rolled to the side, letting it miss me and embed way further in the dirt than it should have. Its patterning glistened and I realized it was supposed to be a metal feather. I rolled to my feet, but a black shape crashed into me hard right when I was getting to my feet and knocked me back down. It was a raven. More filled the air, landing on me and pecking. They weren’t a danger, but they kept me from seeing anything. I tried using my tail, but it whipped around all over the place and shot fire into the sky while I had to roll around trying to get birds off me. Couldn’t get the thing to turn and douse me in flames.

I didn’t figure I was in any real danger until I felt my weight shift. We were flying. And by we, I mean the ravens were flying. Every time I went to brush them off, more would land on me. Finally, I tried one of my incendiary grenades. I scrambled for the pouches I’d brought them in. How the hell were so many gone? I tried one, feeling a beak try to slip it away. Damn smart birds. The wave of flame from the malevolent moonshine gave me a little bit of a clearing as birds fell off or escaped en masse.

That gave me a second to check out my situation. The birds were regrouping, flying in to cover me the same way. Unkindness was with them, grabbing onto me wherever my arms and tail couldn’t brush. And we were pretty high up, but not enough to guarantee my death. They wanted me higher, and I was out of grenades. And blunt force trauma is a well-known way to get around armor.

I called for my Psycho Flyer remotely. Should be something onboard I can use to shoot at all these guys without penetrating my armor, or at least catch me when I fall. But the sky was thick with ravens. The birds flew into the jets, sacrificing them to cripple the engines and force it into a crash landing. Yeah, so I got a little worried.

I didn’t really notice a pattern in all the squawking until they got loud and panicked, too. They all retreated, leaving me to fall from a height that might possibly do me in. They were fleeing a trio of Psycho Flyers, one of which did a roll to catch me through a trapdoor that slid closed while it rotated around.

I tuned into the Exemplar channels on my internal radio. “Bird 3 reporting. We have Lizard Queen onboard.”

“Nice flying,” Medusa called out. “Ex-squads, let’s mop them up, see if we can gather some people. Priority on disabling the bird man.”

“Called himself Unkindness,” I said. “Is my codename Lizard Queen to y’all?”

“No time for discussion, Lizard Queen, but thanks for drawing fire. Now we know what their surprises are. Birds, don’t let the crows take out your engines. Swing low, let’s drop some squads.”

By the time it was my time to jump out along with the squad of power-armored Exemplar soldiers in the back of that Flyer, there was no resistance left. What zombies wandered close were taken down with headshots without a need for flamethrowers. And the guys in robes were just plain gone.

“Any sign of the cultists?” I asked.

“Negative, Lizard Queen,” someone reported. “We lost them. Squad One reported they disappeared into a crowd of birds that flew off.”

“Bird 2 here, we no longer have a visual on Unkindness,” I heard one of the other pilots call in.

Well, I was thoroughly grumped out. I don’t like it when the list of people I want dead doesn’t match the list of people I’ve killed. And my flamethrowers seemed to be too much work when compared to a simple bullet. For what it’s worth, Medusa came along after the end of it and patted me on the shoulder to say, “You did well. And you did good.”

I shuddered. She playfully smacked me upside the helmet. “I’m serious. You’re a good vanguard, and without you, we’d have almost half a million more zombies to deal with. If they keep raising supers from the dead with their powers, I think we’ll need someone on our side who is good at killing supers. You up for it?”

I jumped up, smacking my fist into my palm. “Leave ’em to me. Once I’m done with Unkindness, you’ll quoth a raven nevermore!”



Zombie Reagan 1



I’m back in my proper time, and am glad to see there isn’t a mob chasing me anymore. There isn’t much of anything chasing me. I had to check the news when I got back and found that while there wasn’t much in the way of a change to history, there was a new pandemic that swept the world. I headed home first and foremost. I didn’t mean to lose so much time to time traveling, but The Mobian is always so inconvenient. He even brought Reagan back to life after I killed him during the assassination attempt on the guy.

The problems of heroes fighting for the status quo seems to be magnified when it comes to time travel. Hitler loses in the end, and that’s good, but a bunch of other improvements don’t happen just because people failed at the time. Until or unless I can do the same thing, there’s not too much I can do thinking about it. Especially when I have to find a daughter during all this “social distancing” stuff.

She was at home. So was Medusa. Amazing, my vigilante girlfriend wasn’t off trying to save the world from a disease. Instead, she sat there watching TV on the couch while Qiang played on a tablet. Both of them jumped up when they saw me.



I scooped up Qiang first, then welcomed Medusa into the hug. “You’re not infected are you?” asked my girlfriend.

“Hey now, I stayed faithful while time traveling,” I assured her.

“I meant with the disease,” she said. “When and where have you been?”

I owed them an explanation, so I gave them one, careful to leave out the worst of it for Qiang’s sake. Yeah, she’s seen and heard worse, but she doesn’t have to be like me. She can have a childhood. So I gave the reader’s condensed version where people still died. Medusa borrowed Qiang’s tablet at one point to check something. She turned it around to show me the Wikipedia page about the hospital where I tried to stop Reagan’s resurrection. A coincidental accident. That’s what they list it as. Somebody accidentally crashed a bus into the Presidential Limo, injuring and killing some Secret Service agents.

“What changed, momma?” Qiang asked.

I held up my hands to signal I didn’t know. “Don’t know yet. I didn’t see this virus anywhere when I was gone. I don’t know about some of the rest of it..” I suspect my own downloads of various archives and internet subjects changed.

Medusa shook her head. “This was around before you left, but it hadn’t spread much. It’s shut down much of the world temporarily. It came from China, originally.”

“Huh. China,” I pondered it. Can’t think of anything special Reagan did with China, so maybe she’s right. Or maybe this is one of those butterfly effects. A butterfly in China flaps its wings, and people around the world start getting sick.

“A lot of people said mean things to me,” Qiang said.

Medusa stroked my daughter’s hair. “There’s a lot of racism going around because of where it started.”

“Oh yeah? What ended up happening?” I locked eyes with Qiang. I’d be more worried about the racism if my daughter wasn’t a certifiable knife nut who I’d trained in martial arts and sneaking around, with her own suit of power armor.

Qiang looked down at the floor. “Mama Medusa caught me breaking into their houses so I didn’t get to finish it.”

I reached out and patted her affectionately. “Aww… I know you tried your best, baby. If it makes you feel better, Medusa’s caught me before, too. Tell you what, you and I’ll get together and…” I looked up to see Medusa fixing me with a preemptive glare. “…constructively work out our problems with the other people in a way that teaches everybody a lesson.” Internally, I sent a private digital message to Qiang and only Qiang that showed a pair of stick figures with long hair, meant to be me and her, beating a pinata with baseball bats. When it cracked open, a small stick figure fell out that had the word “Meanie” pointing to it.

“How’s that sound?” I asked Qiang. She giggled and nodded.

Medusa emitted a strange noise. I raised an eyebrow but played it cool, in case she was somehow spying on us. I had my doubts when she pulled out her phone. Nice to see one of those again, though. You don’t realize how much you miss them until they’re gone. Well, maybe y’all don’t, dear readers, but I do. But Medusa’s still typing on her phone’s touchscreen, so I doubt she’s sophisticated enough to intercept private communications between myself and my daughter.

She looked up at me and held her phone up. “So this is your doing then?”

Someone had forwarded Medusa a video of a news report coming out of California. “This is live aerial drone footage brought to you safely from social isolation. There’s a crowd of people in flagrant violation of the lockdown order at the Reagan Memorial Library. Police have been dispatched to tell them to go back into lockdown, but I don’t think they’re listening.” The drone zoomed in to show a bunch of people in really bad shape shuffle forward and lunge for a bicycle cop. The cop shouted at them, then pulled a baton. He got a couple good hits in before collapsing underneath the weight of the horde. “Oh god. They’re eating him. Shit, this is the zombie apocalypse. Fuck this. Fuck my boss. Fuck my lying, cheating girlfriend Brenda who I know is sucking off my best friend. Fuck you too, Ron. I’m out.” The drone zoomed out of there.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not my doing,” I told Medusa. “Torian and Mobian kicked me out and I don’t think they’re the type to raise a zombie horde.”

“What’s a zombie?” Qiang asked.

“Usually, a human body returned to life. Some versions are just infected with a disease. Either way, they try to eat people. You’d be safe in your armor, though.” I felt like ending the explanation on an uplifting note, in case I just gave my daughter nightmares. Still, there comes a time in every girl’s life when she has to grow up and realize she’ll be opposed by an unthinking mass of people who will try to tear her apart. But enough about Republicans.

Oh, wait, zombies at Reagan’s library. It’s not over yet. Medusa cleared her throat. “You’re going to help with this, right?”

I pretended to think it over. “I mean, it’s just zombies, right? That’s not really a big thing with me.”

She held up two fingers. “One, too many horror stories involve someone thinking zombies aren’t that big of a deal and not helping out fight them.” Very good point there. Those folks are usually called dumbasses. “Two, the Reagan Memorial Library is where he’s buried. Your story can’t be a coincidence, but more than that… don’t you want to kill Zombie Reagan?”

I stood up as the beginning strains of the Superman theme began to emanate from my body. “This looks like a job for Super Gecko!” I left Medusa to make her calls while I went down to the basement to throw my armor on. One does not fight zombies without wearing armor that can withstand bites and lives no room open for infestation. I’ve never regretted making sure my armor was sealed up and filtered air from the outside.

When I got back, Medusa was waiting on me, but Qiang wasn’t around. “Where’d she go?”

“She ran off to her room when you went to the basement,” my girlfriend answered.

I went off down the hall and knocked quietly on my daughter’s door. “Sweety, did I scare you talking about the zombies? I’m gonna go beat ’em up real good, if that helps. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I don’t want to stay here alone,” she said.

I could understand that. “We’re going to fight them, and it’s dangerous. And you’re a kid.” Kids are like people in that they make bad decisions, but they’re way less predictable about it.

The door swung open. “I have armor!”

She had on her power armor, which I’d so recently let out for her. Unlike the slimmer and more organic look of mine, hers featured heavier plates over a thin layer that no zombie would have been biting, shooting, or stabbing through regardless.

Medusa stepped up next to me. “This is a horrible idea.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But I worry about leaving you here alone, so…” I ran and got a bottle of water from my former nation of Ricca. Former in the sense that they deposed me. It still exists, probably pretty safe from this new virus thanks to all the medical nanomachines I made sure were in the water. “Here, have a sip. Just to make sure you’re healthy.”

“What is that?” Medusa asked while Qiang popped her helmet and drank some of the nanite-laced water.

“Nanite water. When I sell a health supplement, I mean business,” I said. It would sell better if I was a barely-legal Youtube e-girl claiming I’d bathed in it, but… ew. “Anyway, dear,” I rubbed Qiang’s hair. “You stay here, and stay safe. Keep your armor on if you worry. We’ll go handle this.”

Cut to Simi Valley, California. Despite air travel being pretty quick, by the time we’d arrived, Reagan’s library had been ransacked by the zombies. Most of them had moved on, too. The Psycho Flyer we were in, one of my VTOL’s that Medusa had taken for her vigilante group, sawed through a group of them with its guns. I was one of the first to drop down, along with Medusa. She didn’t usually wear armor that concealed her entire face, but this was a good time for an exception. The rest of the Exemplar squad who followed her were in power armor that protected them just as completely from the few biters we encountered.

I tore one’s heart out of his chest, but it had stopped beating well before I punched its head off with the fist holding the heart. The Exemplars were all business, going through rooms of the library and either declaring “Clear!” or shooting first and declaring things later. It was the sounds of Medusa fighting that drew me to Reagan’s tomb. It had been emptied, possibly by the hulking, bulging mass of dead tissue Medusa was fighting that looked like a group of bodies had been mashed together into a larger form that was about ten feet tall. I saw one of Medusa’s punches disappear into a gap in it and the closest bodies grab for her. She wrenched away.

I walked up, holographically appearing to be one of those sports hot dog vendors who walks through the stands. “Chicken! Get your chicken here!” The arms reached for me, too. I handed out headless chicken grenades and tossed some inside before jumping back and calling a warning to Medusa. “Babe, watch out for the-!”

The chickens exploded in sequence throwing blood and undead ass everywhere.

“…splatter!” I finished. Real glad Medusa wore a mouth covering, even though she looked ready to vomit.

“You fools!” someone called. It was a person in a brown robe with sewn-in glyphs all over it, likely a man from the voice. He waved a dagger and pointed a handgun at us from atop this short wall above the pit that had once been Ronald Reagan’s grave. “You are too late! Our lord has come again, to walk the Earth and render judgment upon the heathens.”

His dagger lit up red, but then he stumbled forward and fell into the pit. His screams ended with a loud crack. Qiang became visible on the little wall and waved a balled up fist at him. “You smell funny and you’re stupid!” she called down at him.

“What are you doing here?!” Medusa called.

“I sneaked off with you!” Qiang said. “See, I’m not afraid, and I didn’t take off my armor.”

“Did you know about this?” my girlfriend asked.

I shrugged. “I thought she might do it, hence the nanites. I was keeping an eye on her.”

Medusa growled and hopped into the pit. “We can’t ask him any questions now.”

Qiang scuffed her boots against the wall. “Did I do wrong?”

I shook my head. “You didn’t do wrong. You just could do better. For instance, fantastic timing, honeybunny. Perfect.”

Medusa hopped back out of the pit, holding the man’s wallet. She looked through it carefully before holding up a laminated card. “What do you make of this?”

The Esoteric Order of Reagan. “Sounds like a secret society. Considering the circumstances, it’s worth chasing down. But first,” I leaped up to the wall, threw Qiang into the air, and caught her piggbyack. “Family bonding zombie-killing time.”



Privateer Party



As Medusa promised me, we went to go see Beetlejuice the Musical where it was playing in Empyreal City. We brought along Qiang, too. The play about death was lots of fun for the whole family. We even stayed the next day over, just to enjoy ourselves and feel less rushed. The downside is when it came time for us to fly back, Medusa had sent her flyer off to go help some Exemplars dealing with other problems.

“Just call yours,” she said. I’d finally asked her about it, since it was getting later in the day.

“I did,” I told her. “The problem is, it might not get here in time.” It would be close, but I didn’t have my condition explicitly mapped out. As a weredeer, I know the full moon prompts my transformation into a half-woman, half-deer. I don’t know if I have to actually see the moon, or if its light has to shine on me, or if it has to be night.

Qiang skipped along beside us, playing with a tablet we got her, oblivious to the whole conversation.

“Nobody knows it’s you. Don’t worry,” Medusa said.

I rolled my eyes. “If you were trying to protect someone from a werewolf, would you bring them to the middle of a crowded city and stop worrying?”

Now it was her turn to roll her eyes. “You’re not a werewolf. You don’t hurt anyone.”

“But Medusa, think about all the innocent criminals!” I said, meaning to remind her about those people I hurt, but just causing her to laugh at the inadvertent joke.

“I trust your other half to beat up the right people,” she said. “I’ll tag along if you want.”

I turned and shook my head, putting my hand on her chest. “I don’t want you to see me like that. The full moon brings out a dangerous part of me that I’m not proud of. I become a danger to my loved ones.”

Qiang giggled. She was looking up from her tablet to watch us. While I was distracted, Medusa grabbed my hand. She kissed my fingertips, then entwined her fingers with mine. “Relax. If you don’t want me coming along, I’ll respect that. I’m getting you a body cam, though.”

We got right on that and headed back to the hotel room. I didn’t want to ruin the outfit I was in even if the dress didn’t look as good on me as I thought. I know, I throw money around like it doesn’t mean anything. At least I robbed someone straight-up instead of doing the dishonest thing and scamming them out of cash by selling colloidal silver to cure illness like that bipedal wart Alex Jones is doing.

Yeah, I said it. Sue me, you bloody cumwad. Send a lawyer and try to guess what I’ll send.

Anyway, I got changed into some less expensive clothes that would keep Reindeer warm, provide good mobility, and can be easily replaced. I don’t like what my alter ego does when I change. I’m still going to keep her dressed. Waking up with my clothes shredded in winter isn’t fun. With those precautions taken, I checked in on my personal Psycho Flyer. It wasn’t as close as I wanted. Thanks, bad weather. I set it to fly to the roof of our hotel instead of coming to find me and decided it was time to face the music.

I was pretty much ready, so I strapped the camera onto my head , turned it on, and just watched Medusa and Qiang for a bit. Qiang walked over to show me some clip of these guys playing some sort of hide and seek where someone hides in boxes that look like they’re from videogames, and the people searching for them poke the boxes with fake weapons looking for them. It was amusing.

I lose my memory of the change, and I guess the time immediately before it, so the only way I know what happened for the rest of the night after this point is the body camera. I’m glad I don’t remember it if the footage is anything to go by. It looked and sounded painful. No word yet on the smell. Things grew and snapped into place. Qiang started crying, so Medusa held her and they gave me some privacy. After experiencing the sound of my own screams changing to match a new muzzle, Reindeer stood up and had already ducked her/my way out the door. She caught the elevator at the end of the hall, and waved to Medusa when my superhero girlfriend poked her head out of the room to see what happened. She looked more worried than earlier.

Reindeer went on the prowl. I know, it’s a weird way to describe a patrol, but she was looking for action in the way that involves beating someone up. If she was looking for the other kind of action, Medusa was right there. We’d have had to set Qiang up with something to do elsewhere, but it was possible. Hell, my girlfriend’s dated a woman who is part dinosaur and a guy who was part sloth; I think she’s ok with some hot furry action. And come to think of it, she probably wouldn’t mind if I stopped shaving down there. She’s put up with way more hair.

Despite me turning out like this being connected to my occasional contracts for the Winter Spirit, Reindeer didn’t seem to be capable of flight. Instead, she’d jump into the air on legs that seemed about as strong as the pseudomuscles of my power armor that let me do much the same. I know the transformation to and from being a weredeer does a few odd things to my physique, but I wonder if the upgrades I’ve made to my bones and muscles are still there and help her out.

Reindeer ran and jumped everywhere. She’d land on a roof and jump off. Then she might come in close to a tall building’s walls and run along it briefly before pushing off. The city had been beaten up pretty well over the years, something I had a hand in, but it didn’t take her long to find an area where the lights were a bit darker, a bit dimmer. Fewer in number for one reason or another. She landed on one roof and then I heard a distant scream. Reindeer took off for it. When she got near, she peered over a rooftop to see a man and a skimpily-dressed woman in a courtyard. The woman was on the ground, kicking at him, all tears and blood. The man tried to catch her leg with his left hand, a knife in his right.

Reindeer jumped off the building and was looking down as she landed on the guy’s shoulders, smashing him to the ground. He screamed as some bones snapped, but wasn’t going to be doing too much more with his arms after that. “Are you ok?” she/I asked the woman. After the surprise wore off, the woman nodded, pulled herself to her feet, and hugged onto Reindeer, thanking her. I or she, whichever, didn’t stick around too long. She made sure the woman was fine and kept an eye on the downed guy while the woman ran off really fast for someone in high-heeled boots.

She didn’t take the guy in, but she also didn’t give him any medical attention. Instead, she jumped up to the rooftop and continued on patrol. After awhile, she stopped and sat down, just watching and resting. “Gecko, we should talk. This is my body, too. I’m a lot like you. I am you. The other parts of you that you bury. The part that wishes you had really been a hero. I’m glad you stuck me in better clothes, but I need a costume ’cause I’m going to keep going. I think you die if I die. And can you look into some sort of shoes?” She pulled her leg up to let me see the bottom of her hooves.

Before my evil heroic alter ego could continue on about her plans to to stick around and steal my body once a month, she dropped her leg and hopped to her feet. She set off with something in mind, heading in one direction, then adjusting her course. A few streets over, I heard the sirens. Running toward sirens to help the police. That monster. It’s hard, seeing what gets unleashed on the world by the full moon.

The police were chasing a shiny hovercar. Despite the braking issues of that form of vehicle, it held the advantage by being able to jump over cars on the road. Cops had to wait for folks to get out of the way. Drivers in this city didn’t getting out of the way for anyone.

It was the Privateers, riding around and occasionally firing back at the cops. And… fired off fireworks? That was weird. They’re a rogue military organization, but ultimately professionals. They’d only do something like that if they were deliberately trying to hold the pigs’ attention. “This is a distraction,” Reindeer said. She turned and headed in the opposite direction they were going. It was a simple way to go about it. “I don’t have your homo machina abilities, so I’m giving this a try.”

Ha-fucking-ha. She ended up being right. She caught a scent or a sound or something and turned toward this lab. They had another hovercraft there, cleverly hidden behind four pieces of painted cardboard. I sighed to myself watching that part. I use holograms! Why bother with fucking holograms when cardboard cutouts work?!

Reindeer landed in its open top and kicked in the console. She proceeded to tear out wires that looked like they did something. Before long, the Privateers rolled out a couple of carts full of expensive equipment. They all tossed the cardboard out of the way and one of them hopped into the hovercraft. “What the fuck? Someone sabotaged us!”

Reindeer lifted the hovercraft up like a boss. Are people still saying that? Fuck it, she’d be a boss character in a videogame, so I don’t care. Seriously, she lifted a damn hovercraft and overturned it on top of most of the Privateers. The equipment probably made it out ok, but it looks like Reindeer shares my disregard for collateral damage. A couple of privateers were left. One pulled out a military machete. The other whipped out a pair of pistols and squeezed the triggers.

I didn’t see any projectiles, but Reindeer screamed and brought her hands up. It knocked her over, but when she brought her hands back down, they were covered from blood. Her ears? She didn’t have time to ponder it before machete guy was in her face, swinging. She bent over, then raised her head. The machete was gone. Oh, she used her antlers. Then she dropkicked her assailant, sending him flying into the guy with the pistols. She got up faster than they did and ran over, smashing one of the pistols.

One of the others raised the other, but Reindeer jumped and landed. I saw from her point of view as the Privateer raised the pistol and fired at her. Poor guy forgot his physics, though. Sure, Reindeer cried out in pain again and it threw her off. But that meant she splashed onto the guy and slammed him back down onto his friend who was still on the ground. They struggled for the pistol, but she won it when her antlers cut into the guy. She tore the pistol apart and spun to her hooves. One kick and one punch, and those two were out.

If this was a movie, that’s when the cops she called beforehand would have arrived. Ugh, calling the cops. I can’t… I just can’t…

Ok, so the cops got the Privateers, and the rest of the night proved fairly uneventful until the morning sun vanquished this horrible curse.



One Giant Duck



Longtime readers know it’s been awhile since I woke up in a field covered in blood with no memory of events the night before. Not since I cut down on bath salts for getting in the way of my cocaine habit at least. Priorities, people.

So I woke up covered in blood, took one sniff of the situation, and said, “Something foul has happened,” and then… it’d be weird if I started things off this time by mentioning that and didn’t elaborate any further.

So, the other day, I asked Qiang about some of the pictures she had of me in her room. They were of me as Reindeer. For those in the audience taking some bath salts, that’s what I was called when I was turned into a half-person, half-deer being late last year due to a magical dick-measuring contest between St. Nick and the Easter Bunny, or whatever else Spring has. Some dispute between magic related to the seasons as part of a plan to raise awareness of climate change by turning people into half-animals and turning power plants into regular plants.

Then, the Spirit of Winter added to my misery by giving me a pair of horns like on a female reindeer. I also had some lost time that turned out to be me doing weird stuff that undermined the Spring side of the conflict. Mindful of that lost time, and naturally wanting to show an interest in my daughter, I finally felt like asking her about it.

“It’s from when you became a big deer last month!” she told me.

“You mean in December, right? Last month was January,” I reminded her.

“Yeah, you did it then, too,” she informed me.

“I don’t remember that. Did I do anything?”

She showed me where she got the picture from, which was a news snippet about Reindeer, framed in the light of the full moon, beating up some people who robbed a liquor store. Not even bank money. Who gets bent out of shape over liquor store cash? Whether you’re stopping it or stealing it from them, it’s a lot of work putting someone in the hospital for just a few hundred dollars. Anyone robbing a liquor store probably needs that cash for rent, or an abortion, or drugs. The real assholes rob pension funds. Beat them up.

The articles didn’t mention Reindeer burying her muzzle in anything that would explain why I don’t remember that. I don’t like losing control to the extent that I engage in what appears to be legitimate heroism. I didn’t find any strange bags of cash around the place, so I think I just gave it back. I don’t know, really.

It scares me, that my personality can shift so much.

So when I woke up Sunday morning covered in blood, I was a lot less worried about it than the other time it happened. You wake up covered in blood, you don’t immediately assume something good happened. First thing I did, after all, was call up Medusa to make sure I hadn’t decided to solve our relationship problems the easy way.

What I learned would shock me to my core, which risked exploding. It’s really unhealthy for anyone in at least a mile radius to try mess with that power core I keep in me.

“You didn’t kill me.”

“Good,” I told her, until she went on.

“You turned into Reindeer and ran off to the city. You said you wanted to do what you always wanted.”

I held out hope in this regard as well. “Murder… uh… no, I already killed the Pope that time. And the President…”

Medusa interrupted my ponderings to tell me, “You said you had been desperate your whole life to be a hero, that it was the fantasy that got you through your worst times as a living weapon on your world, and that a lot of your attempts to fix this Earth are a twisted reflection of what you wish you could do tainted by your pessimism and haunted by your past as a merciless killer.”

After a couple of dumbfounded seconds, I said, “Nah, that can’t be it. That’s way too poetic for me.”

“Regardless, you showed up right when a mad scientist was trying to take revenge on a bank that seized his house.”

“Wow, that’s a real dick move for me to defend. Maybe I was talking some hero nonsense after all.”

She got a little irritated at that response. “Hey, I’m not on the bank’s side either, but he didn’t come to me. He made a giant duck that was wrecking the whole city.”

“Why would a duck do that?” I asked.

“Because ducks are assholes!” she said.

That checks out. Ducks are assholes. So are geese. Ostriches, too. A lot of birds, really. Don’t even get me started on roosters, those cocky little bastards.

I was interrupted by the appearance of a helicopter overhead. The sight of it sent a chill up my spine, or maybe that’s because I was in a field, half buried in snow, with no clothes on but rags that covered less than most of your options at Victoria’s Secret. No, the chill was from recognizing the chopper as a news chopper. I was being filmed by the news. “Uh, Medusa, there’s news people here now.”

“Try to keep your face covered if you can. Tell them ‘no comment’ if they ask questions. Refuse to go on the record. Where are you?”

“I’ve activated an internal tracking beacon… weird that I got that despite the whole transformation. Why did it do that to my eyes, but not the internal stuff, do you think?”

“Wrong time to want the answers to questions. Don’t give them any. I have pickup on the way.” She hung up then and left me to fend for myself against the media.

The chopper landed, the cameraman ending his filming before they got a real good, close look at my nips and my tucks. The reporter leading the way came up, averting his gaze. He even took his coat off. “Hello there, miss. Cold?”

I was, and accepted it. “Thanks. Who are you and why are you out here?”

“You’re a story, young lady,” he said. “That was something, what you did there.”

“What did I do?” I asked. I could have gone looking on the internet, but it was snowy out and I was very nearly naked. I don’t usually mind the nudity, but it becomes somewhat distracting when your nipples get hard enough they could cut precious gems.

“We should get you in shelter. Would you like a ride in the news chopper?” he asked.

“Hasn’t anyone told you not to pick up hitchhikers? I’ll sit inside and you can tell me, but we better not go anywhere,” I told him.

He nodded. “Deal, let’s go.”

What they showed me was footage of a duck the size of a bus quacking its way down the road, overturning cars and snapping at buildings with its beak. Not even a lot of destruction in my estimation, and it was being steadily herded toward a nice, fancy bank at the end of the street by a man in blue scrubs, a welder’s mask that completely obscured his face, and bright yellow gloves. He would occasionally throw these grenades that would shrink anything in an area or grow things in an area, leaving additional destruction, but he seemed careful to avoid hitting people with it.

That didn’t stop the duck from managing to pull someone out of a restaurant. The duck tossed them up in the air and meant to catch them in its mouth, but then a brown blur came flying in from the side and grabbed the person before they could fall into the fowl gullet.

The various videos and the news chopper’s footage caught Reindeer dropped in, landing with a clippity clop as if she or I or whoever had been super jumping or even flying. The light caught my antlers and eyes in a strange way that made them look like they glowed white for just a moment as I landed.

Reindeer set the man holding his bag of groceries down. “Nobody has to get hurt! Just turn around and go home,” I called.

“Someone’s already hurt, and it’s payback time!” answered the scientist. He pointed to Reindeer, aka me, and ordered “The bill has come due! Quackers, attack!”

I grabbed a loaf of bread out of the grocery bag and jumped up, kicking off a wall to land on a roof on the opposite side of the street from the wall. Also, a song started playing. The cameraman interrupted to point out, “Phones started playing that for some reason. We’re trying to find out what the song is.”

“Boom Boom Boom by Grace Mesa,” I said.

The other guy with them flinched. When the cameraman looked at him, he said, “I used to live in EC, and that sounds like a song a villain forced to play everywhere one time.”

“Back to the video,” the reporter said.

I, Reindeer, waved the bread at the duck, keeping its attention. It tried to fly up and snap up the bread, but I gave it a kick with my hoof that helped enrage it. It had to rise above roof level to follow me as I hopped away, leading it out of the city. After several minutes, I found a good, clean spot, a field outside the city limits where there weren’t a lot of buildings around, not even suburbs.

I stopped and turned, taking a fighting stance. The shadow of the colossal duck swept overhead, but then the big bird seized up and started shaking. It fell, landing on top of me. After several minutes, Reindeer burst out, clothes a mess and covered in gore. I began to wander away, dazed, and jumped my way out into some other fields.

“We followed the trail and found you here. It’s a miracle you’re not in worse shape after you reverted, but we think you probably had fur on all night,” the reporter said.

“How did you kill that thing? Do you have some other powers that let you shoot laser beams?” asked the cameraman eagerly.

“If I had to guess, it was the Square-Cube Law that did it in. If you don’t adjust your growing and shrinkage, it’s a killer. Something that big can’t function with organs the same relative size as a duck. Probably had a heart attack.”

Outside came the sound of something heavy landing. I hopped out of the chopper and tossed the coat back to the news guys. “Leave my face out of this if you know what’s good for you.”

Well, Reindeer’s civilian identity being escorted away by the Exemplars didn’t exactly do anything to keep them from making a big story about the superhero Reindeer saving the day and definitely being a hero. The insightful part was the mention in the article of others, not many, who likewise seemed to have retained the ability to turn into their half-animal forms. It only seems to happen when the full moon occurs.

Dammit. Turns out I’m now a weredeer.