Tag Archives: Qiang

Days of Future Tense 9

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Everything was mostly hunky-dory after all that. Where I’d been zipped off to was the House of Shadows and Spires, to my lab. There, my body was dunked in a tank of nanomachines to heal while my armor was standing in the foyer, looking around at all the sawdust on the floor and the way parts of the wall had been taped together.

“You’ll be back to normal in no time,” Dr. Ohms said, rubbing his hand along a portion of the wood floor patched up with wood that didn’t match the rest of it.

Alexander and Qiang finished nailing up a painting at the top of the stairs when Qiang turned and noticed the new suit of armor in the foyer. “Mom’s here!”

I waved and spoke through the armor. “Torian just dumped my body in the nanites. I’ll be fine.” Still, we all hugged as I kept explaining. “Remove the poison, fix the effects, patch the hole from the spear; I’ll be fine.”

“Doesn’t make us worry any less, mom,” Qiang said.

“Yeah, that was a trip,” Alexander said. “You ever seen someone stand back up like that? You were like one of those old slasher movie killers.”

“How long have you been waiting?” I asked.

“Eleven, no, twelve hours,” Qiang answered. “We were pretty exhausted when we got back, so we slept awhile and now we’re picking the house back up. It won’t be as capable at time travel, but we’ll make it work.”

I nodded. “What were y’all thinking of doing now this whole mess is over with?”

Alexander let me go. “We might go back home, eventually, but we thought we’d help out here. Torian’s out there again, and the timelines are in trouble.”

I sighed from thinking about what the fuck was even up with time that would require people traveling around to fix divergent timelines from spewing out more divergences. Figured I’d just go with it. If that’s what my kids want to do, let ’em do it.

“Well, I guess don’t be strangers? But I hope you don’t need my help too much. Find a happy medium, I guess. But I’m going home. Right back to where y’all left me, if you please.”

Alexander smiled. “We’ll visit when we can. Right now, it looks like we need to clean up something from the time crash that caused superpowers in the dinotaceous period.”

“Triassic,” Qiang corrected.

“That’s what I said,” Alexander teased her with a grin. To me, he added, “Intelligent dinosaurs with superpowers. Could be a problem. We need to do something to separate the timeline before it’s permanent. But first, let’s get you healed up and home.”

It took a lot of protein and healing to get my body back in shape. The poison did some nasty shit to the proteins in my body, melted a lot of stuff. Some bits, I decided not to bother with the meat and just go for metal. On the surface, I looked like a curly, chubby woman. I was back on my feet just time for one final meal with the kids before they dropped me off as the first stop. I gave a Qiang and Alexander one last hug and bid the rest of the group a fond farewell. “Feel free to use the lab and the machines. Might come in handy,” I told them.

Dr. Ohms flexed his healed arm and said, “Real handy.”

To Mobian Jr., I added, “Keep an eye out. Your dad’ll be back at some point, I’m sure. And if not, I’ve been known to help him out on occasion, things need to get messy. There’s a reason he hated me, though.”

And then it was time to step out the front door of the House of Shadows and Spires. It was a bright and shiny day in early June, according to my HUD clock. I noticed as I headed down the porch stairs that they looked a bit decrepit. Looking back from the lawn, the whole house looked like a haunted house now. Or more like a fixer-upper. And I noticed the letter that drifted out of the closed door addressed to me. It was from Qiang. It had some parting info for me

Checking back, it was the day after I’d left. Along with the brief note in that envelope, things felt weird.

I don’t know how long I was gone, but it felt like awhile. Qiang, the younger version, was home. I walked in just in time to startle her and make her cut off a chunk of hair. She was happy to see me, of course, but way less happy then I was because it had been less time for her. I’ve heard that given as the real reason people try not to go back to exactly the time they left. Maybe it is, but it’s also a bit cruel and unnecessary. Every day I was gone was a day my kid might think I’d been poisoned and stabbed through the torso with a giant robot’s spear.

It took a little bit before I got some urgent alerts over VillaiNet. Something about weird freaky temporal readings, and swearing they lost time. No one could agree on how much time was lost, though. And then my time was interrupted by Medusa calling me up. “Hey, Gecko, I’m not accusing you of anything, but I heard there was an incident at your place. Did you do anything big in the past day or so?”

“I got involved in the middle of a temporal war between a genocidal AI that wanted to destroy all superpowers and remake the world in what he thought was perfection based on its own flawed programming, ultimately ending shortly after the computer tried to smash all of time together to make a sort of Big Bang event happen for the multiverse,” I explained.

“Right, so time is fucked up. That could explain it. I’ve gotten weird reports of some sort of intense disturbance in South Dakota, with reports from local Johnny Laws that a team of superheroes suddenly appeared, including me.”

Oh. You know, there’s some things I didn’t quite explain as far as this invitation I made. I explained Jaguar Slayer’s recruiting efforts to try and kill me and how I managed to remind them all to be heroes again. It must have been a lot to process. I thought she hung up on me because of how silent everything was. After a full minute of no talking, I hung up, then had to answer a callback from her. “Oh my god, I’m so proud of you!”

“This is why I don’t tell you stuff,” I said.

“And also why did you invite a past version of me here?!” That’s a reasonable freakout. Like I said, didn’t entirely think it all out. I was pretty close to death at the time.

“Um, just think of her like a little sister? A little sister who might be dating your formerly dead boyfriend I killed that time.”

She took awhile to think, then reminded me, “Don’t hang up yet. I’m just… pondering.”

“Trying to figure out how to explain to people you’re very close to, including a version of you from before you rescued me, that we used to play with each other’s fun stuff?” I asked.

She laughed. Such an annoying laugh. I miss it. I almost said a thing. Almost said it twice, unsure of myself because relationships and emotions are tough. Instead, I settled on, “Are they still there? I’d like to go meet them, maybe bring something for Forcelight. Or Darklight. I actually really prefer the name Darklight, it was so much better.”

“So much better,” Medusa agreed. “You’re the closest asset the Exemplars have to what’s going on, if you want to head over there. The Superhuman Resources people are going to be scrambling, but they don’t have people out in flyover country yet. They can lay low in Radium until we get their lives figured out.”

Yay, a trip in my personal Flyer. Perfect for considering that I’m canonically supposed to have a kid soon and what that knowledge means for me going forward and figuring out relationships. You know, whether things are just because of how I feel, or because I feel obligated to Alexander. It was on my mind because Future Qiang’s little note was to warn me I’m supposed to get pregnant. Because this one, I’m the birth mother too. Not lying, adopting, and messing around with their DNA like with Qiang. Yeah, there’s a nice revelation to have. Yep, Psychopomp Gecko’s gonna lay an egg.

I tried to play a game instead, but my copy of Legend of Mana suddenly stopped working since I’d returned to a time before the remaster was released. Damn time travel!

I tried to look all official when I landed, which meant I used a set of my Lady Guardian armor. That way, when I landed in front of the police station where the Homicide Squad was hanging out. Medusa had forwarded over some transcripts. Darklight and the others weren’t under arrest. Venus being with them convinced the officers not to do that. After all, she was a hero.

Cops and capes alike perked up when I landed in the parking lot and stepped through the door. “Lady Guardian on behalf of the Exemplars,” I announced myself. To the heroes sitting around the lobby area specifically, I added, “The Exemplars are a group that formed in the time you’ve all been… inactive. We have a place a couple of hours from here. We’ll put you up until you get on your feet, help you get adjusted, and can help you obtain travel accommodations out if you’d prefer to hit the ground running.”

“About time,” Lone Gunman said, crumpling an empty bag of chips and tossing them expertly into a trash can on the opposite side of the room. “Can we stop for dinner on the way?”

“My Flyer has a selection of food,” I told him. Including some of those marshmallows with the cookies and cream center. Those are going to blow their fucking minds.

“I think we’re all pretty eager to go,” Venus said.

Darklight had her black costume on, but nodded. I ushered them all out, but stopped her. “I was told to give this to you. To help make amends.” I handed her a small tube of nanomachines designed to restore her to her unburnt appearance.

“Are these from Psycho Gecko?” she asked.

“You’ve all been gone for so long, you wouldn’t know. Psycho Gecko is dead. It happened some time ago,” I told them.

Venus smirked. Darklight looked to her, then took the tube with her. “Let’s go.” On the way to the Flyer, she began to talk to any of them who were listening. It didn’t escape my notice that the Human Sloth in his cybernetic body was bringing up the rear. “It’s not an illusion, everyone.”

“It looks familiar,” Miss Tycism said.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re all talking about,” I said, smiling underneath the armor.
“Still not an illusion,” Darklight said.

“I am Lady Guardian,” I announced. “I will be your pilot today. Please board. I advise you sit down and strap up for takeoff, and I’ll let you know when it’s safe to stand up.”

“This is the kind of fucking around Gecko would do,” Venus said.

“We can take her,” said Human Sloth, who is pretty much the last person who should be making that statement.

I waited until they were all inside to start laughing. “Well, couldn’t exactly let news of my living get out. But I am working with Medusa,” I told them all. I pointed to Venus. “You’d know her better as who Venus is now after she set out on her own from the Master Academy. Come on, let’s get y’all to Radium. And while we’re on the way, anyone got any dietary requests for a cookout? Might as well have y’all over to the place. I’ll call up Marianne and Adrian, see if they want to help welcome y’all.”

“This future is fucked,” Lone Gunman said.

Miss Tycism had gotten to the marshmallows and was sitting down, chewing on one with wide yes. “Oh. My. God. These are blowing my fucking mind right now.”

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Days of Future Tense 8

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Wattson got me to some sort of infirmary, even if the whole thing took longer than I’d like. Even only watching through my armor’s cameras, I started to get a headache. Or I think I did. I had kind of an all-over ache from the poison I’d ingested. Darklight demanded it as the price for her getting her head on straight, sure I wouldn’t. She and the rest of the bunch of heroes brought back before their deaths all watched me do it. And then after that, I took a spear through the… I don’t know what organ you’d call that. But I took a spear through it for Darklight. I get the feeling those heroes have now realized they’ve been fighting for the wrong side.

And I’m dying on a table while some goatee-wearing guy in a Victorian suit with a top hat and short cape helps me out of my armor and waved off Wattson the robot. “I know more about medicine than you could hold in your metal head.” To emphasize that, he tapped my helmet that lay on a table next to us.

Not being in an argumentative mood in those painful minutes, I got out of my armor in no time flat and let the guy examine me. “I don’t know how much nudity’s required here, doctor, but I’ve been impaled and poisoned by something called Absolute End. I don’t know if it’s supposed to act slow, or if it’s having trouble killing all the cybernetic parts of me. My cyber-spleen can only take so much. I think it’s straining the built-in coffeemaker.”

“That’s not what a spleen is supposed to do, but it helps. This might hurt your arm a bit.” I felt him set something on the table next to me, the view from my armor obstructed from it laying on the table behind him. Then he jabbed a needle into my chest.

“Ow,” I said calmly, though it annoyed me that he went for that and didn’t get it far enough into me.

“Sorry, one moment,” he said. I opened my eyes to see him pulling out a wooden mallet and raise it over his head. He pressed a button on the handle and the head split open, revealing a floating cube within. It glowed bright for a moment as he hammered the needle the rest of the way into me. “There, should be in your heart.”

I checked. “Hold on, I’ll open the maintenance bay.” Amateur hour around here, I swear. Acts like he’s never seen a robo-heart.

“This is a poor excuse for a heart,” the doctor said. “Had you actually seen one before you put this together?”

“Emulating the frailties of biology wasn’t something I cared a lot about of when it came to hearts,” I said. “Also, still dying here.”

“Relax, the antidote will counteract the poison. You won’t be healthy for some time, unless you get more of your nanomachines. In the meantime, I should put you into stasis. It’s a shame, really. I could use your help, shutting down this usurper of my temporal domain.”

“What’d you say your name was again?” I asked.

He smiled at me and stroked his goatee. “I didn’t, not this time. To Captain Codburn and his time pirates, I am Jack. Jack the Nimble, Jack the Quick. To the Mobian, I was the darkness he saw every time he looked in the mirror. And to you, I am the Torian.”

“Heh. I heard the Mobian was supposed to be dead, which means you’d go with him.”

He bowed with a flourish. “I would be, perhaps, had some foolish computer not destroyed the means by which my craft protected us from the timeline splitting effect. Now, there can be a Mobian and a Torian. It’s made time travel a thousand times more confusing.”

I raised a hand. “Please don’t explain it. Time travel will just work differently next time anyway. But I’d rather fight, and I think I know a way.”

It’s not a transfer of consciousness. More like a wireless connection I’ve gotten good at making. This set of armor happened to be the type that can move on its own. I raised the torso up and connected the legs, then stood up and set the helmet onto the neck.

Torian smirked at it. “I’ll adjust the stasis module accordingly. I think I could have done this without you. I know I can do it with you.”

I shrugged with the armor. “We outnumber them out there anyway.”

Torian pressed some buttons on the side of the table my body lay in and a dome appeared over me, the inside freezing in time. I watched a strand of my hair that had been blown up hang in the air, untouched by gravity. The temporal supervillain and dark half of Mobian turned to me. “I wouldn’t rely on the incompetence of my enemies.”

He led me up onto the deck of the frigate. The team from the time-traveling House of Shadows and Spires, including a son I haven’t conceived yet and an older version of my daughter, were handing the smaller team of Jaguar Slayer’s minions their asses. The squad of heroes summoned just to deal with me were tearing apart this large statue of an ancient warrior who held the spear I now carried with my armor.

Behind all of them floated a man with a blindfold over his eyes, skin glowing with crimson lines. He argued was back near the dot that represented the eye of Jaguar Slayer on the side of the building that I assumed was really the Slayer’s physical body.

Torian held up something the size of a keyfob and the voice of the blindfolded man came through. “I prepared to overthrow your Army of the Damned with an army of my own when you weren’t watching. Wattson and Calab weren’t the only ones to see your flaws for what they were. Yes, I will bring forth my army, but there will be changes in the pecking order around here when I am done, Jaguar Slayer.”

“There will be no pecking order if you persist in gloating, human,” the AI responded.

Torian lowered the device and the voices stopped. “Jaguar Slayer had to try to kill Mobian and I. We saw what he was planning. Time crash. It’s like a Big Bang, but with all time, all universes. Destroy it all, start it all over again. He probably won’t survive either, but nothing else will. Not your planet, or your multiverse.”

“Behold!” the blindfolded man announced over the distance and the closer sounds of struggle. “Your own twisted fates! Heroes who fell. Who took the path of least resistance. Who gave up on their mission to protect, and decided instead to dominate.”

The blindfolded man looked like he was being sucked dry and pale when he created these round, shimmering patches along the ground. People in costumes, in power armor, torn clothes, uniforms, fur, scales; a colorful corps crossed the multitude of thresholds, leery of their own compatriots. It was too much to keep track of all of it at once, but some moved more quickly to head toward our much smaller group. The frigate’s guns thundered and shot a flying suit of power armor out of the sky, leaving smoke and a falling round shield behind.

“This bunch aren’t going to survive that,” I noted to Torian.

He nodded and held up his keyfob again. “You didn’t think you would beat the Master of Time so easily, did you?” His voice echoed over the battlefield as loud as the guns.

He pulled a golden orb out of his pocket. “Before Codburn found me, I traversed the timelines looking for those who never faltered and those who clawed their way out of misery. And now, I bring them here!” He smashed the orb against the ground and motes of golden light began to drift around. They began to settle. Where one hung in the air, a man with hawk wings appeared. Another near to the ground became a version of Captain Lightning with a horned helmet. There was even another version of Man-Opener there; the armored walker he used was painted pink and green, and the three-piece rotating blade arms had been replaced with circular saws painted with peace symbols. It looked like some of them coordinated as they began to rush into battle to meet the other side.

I had spotted Alexander glancing back at us, an energy shield activated in front of him. I know he saw me.

“Gecko, if you please, get me across this battle in one piece and, I would prefer, inconspicuously.” He sounded smug about it, but then he had summoned a large green man to fight his identical twin large green man. I hefted him under one arm and fired up the hologram projectors to make us look as though we weren’t there. Then I was hopping us across the battlefield. Some guy in a red and blue costume, large white five-pointed star gleaming on his chest, zipped past to tackle someone in a black and white suit out of the air. The black-suited figure tried to fire eyebeams into the head of the other man, but the metal faceplate he wore over the front half of his costume held. He clobbered the black-suited man, then called down a lightning bolt right onto the silver shield design of his opponent.

It was all pretty awesome to watch, but my job was to get through it all. While I was distracted, a man in blue had been tracking me and fired a fucking trick arrow at me. It caught me in gunk that stuck me to the ground. I wasn’t visible, but he had some sorts of lenses there.

“Who is it, Sinclair?” asked a woman in red and black nearby. She was choking out a guy with a carrot for a mask using her whip.

“Someone’s trying to sneak by unseen, Duncan,” he declared, pointing toward me. She let go of the carrot guy and kicked him away, then whipped out at me. I raised my spear-carrying arm to catch it on that rather than risk it hitting Torian. Sinclair, whoever he was, reached back for an arrow with a miniature atomic bomb on the end. Just when he went to fire it, some white mass of fiber caught his hand, bow, and the arrow. It didn’t go far before detonating.

My armor gave a helpful warning that there were some rads nearby, but the radius didn’t reach me or the Duncan woman. She was so caught offguard that I easily pulled her to me. I ended her journey with a kick to the gut. Super tough, she flew up into the air and smacked into some cackling guy in spiky costume with big pointy ears. I tore through the gunk rather than stay and gawk. That’s what got us past all of them to the massive monolith beyond. And it seemed like a good idea with the sky turning into dark horizon full of universes.

The blindfolded man lay at the base. His skin looked splotchy, eaten up by the red glow that had flowed through him.

“Kill him,” Torian said. He squirmed onto his feet and I let him go.

When we both reappeared, a hole still through my armor, he raised a hand. I pinned it to the ground with the spear through the palm. When he raised the other, I grabbed it and broke fingers and hand. Then I grabbed his throat, squeezing just the right artery. I probably didn’t fool Torian when I emitted the fake crunching noise and dropped the man. It was just a squeeze of the same arteries used for a sleeper hold. After my own journey and an army of supers that includes the redeemed, I figured it was a good way to end the whole thing.

Above us, one of the shining masses of galaxies slammed into another. Everything shook on some deep, fundamental level that mocked mere vibrations.

Torian walked up to that monolith that I’d once taken to be a skyscraper and pressed his hand to the side. A panel popped open at chest level. He reached into his coat and produced another tool, what looked like a pair of pliers with the work end replaced by a block of circuitry. He held it away, doing something to crystalline cubes and finger-thick copper wires of Jaguar Slayer. “Do you know why they named it that?” Torian asked me. The shaking stopped. The universes no longer approached.

“I looked into that a bit. Mayan mythology has a hero who slays jaguars, representing chaos or other tribes,” I explained. Yeah, I checked it early on to see if it was relevant. Didn’t come in handy. Woops, we’ve been spotted. Looked like a little person in legless and armless black leather bondage gear. The dwarf ran at me, bounding more quickly than a regular human could. A holographic double of me stood ready in a boxing stance. The real me waited invisibly until he got close, then kicked him in the balls. While he was briefly airborne, I tugged the spear out of the other guy’s palm and sacked the side of it up under the dwarf’s crotch. Like an atlatl, I used the spear as a lever to toss the sore dwarf into the air. A maid with a jetpack flew by and clobbered him into the massive melee going on still.

Torian, of course, acted like nothing was happening. “Yes, the triump of civilization over chaos, It was a Mayan example of what your species calls Chaoskampf. They built Jaguar Slayer to bring about a utopia and end the chaos of human struggle and suffering. Your species’ nature is to struggle and suffer, though. It was maddening for the Jaguar Slayer.”

“I sought to do only what I was created to do,” a digital voice told us.

I walked over and patted the side of the monolith. “Been there, biggun. If it’s any consolation, it’s not your fault. I guarantee you the people who built you had no idea what they meant by perfection or how to achieve it.” I glanced over at Torian though. “That said, I see plenty of people who suffered and chose to rise above it out there fighting to protect everything. As long as people can dream, they can struggle and strive to make things better. Because, even if we don’t always realize it in the middle of the great shitstorm we call life, there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. And tomorrow’s just a dream away.”

Torian let out a harsh bark of a laugh. “Disney? Really?” He reached in and turned something. “Send them all back, or just the other side?”

“Keep the people I came here with, including Darklight and her bunch.”

“Your funeral,” Torian said, misreading me. I wanted to avoid their funerals. He cranked something to the side in that access panel and the battle ceased. Both armies were gone, along with Jaguar Slayer’s minions. The blindfolded man wasn’t even there anymore. The rest were. Qiang and Alexander were running up to great me, my future son able to keep up with his power armor-enhanced sister. Mobian Jr. lagged behind a bit, n

They both crashed into the armor. “I knew it.”

“It’s just armor,” said Torian.

“But if she’s controlling it, that means she’s alive,” Qiang said.

Mobian Jr., otherwise known as Calab, stopped for a moment and caught his breath. After a couple of huge mouthfuls of air, he asked, “Stopped the time crash, other-father?”

“Of course. And recovered the other half of what’s mine,” he said, slipping something into his pocket. “With what we found at the house, I’ll be back to my old tricks in no time. But first, we need to figure out what we’re doing with you bunch.”

“Someone’s got to keep some stability in the timelines now,” Wattson declared. Mobian Jr. nodded. Qiang and Alexander stepped back to join that group, along with Dr. Ohms holding a wounded arm pulsing with electricity.

“And you?” Torian turned to the heroes brought just for me. Darklight, Lone Gunman, Miss Tycism, Human Sloth, a slightly younger version of Venus, and Captain Lightning II.

“I had an idea there,” I said. “Though it might get complicated for a couple of you. When I’m from, two of you are still alive. We could probably put you back to when you were from. The rest of you are welcome to come back to my time. Pick up a few years after you left off, hopefully for the better.”

“I’d like to see that future,” Venus said. “I want to see for myself.”

I turned to Captain Lightning II. He shrugged. “You’ve given me a lot to think about. I can still fix my time.”

“We can help,” Dr. Ohms volunteered through gritted teeth.

Lightning nodded. “I would appreciate it.”

“Then off with you!” Torian said, sticking his hand back into Jaguar Slayer’s panel. Everyone left, except Torian, myself, and the time pirates.

“What of me?” Jaguar Slayer asked. “What do I do when I can no longer be who I was built to be?”

“Whatever you want,” I assured it. “If our destiny was set by our creators, there wouldn’t be much purpose to life. It’d just be going through the motions then.”

Torian grinned. “I wanted you to see this.” He turned and jammed those plier-things back into the panel. It sparked. Above us, portions of the monolith exploded. The red eye disappeared. And Jaguar Slayer was slain.

“I’m guessing you have Mobian’s memories.” The good side to Torian had watched me kill of those he’d attempted to save before, helpless, with me taunting him that it was truly for the best.

“It was the best way to save the world, and everything else,” Torian said. “But there is just enough power left in those dead cells for one last jump.”

He turned something and I wasn’t there anymore.

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Days of Future Tense 7

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I’ve watched Darklight kill me a few times now. Times when I had my attention diverted, or was asleep, or even just when I was in a spot that didn’t have my armor. The walls turned into a cinematic experience with surround sound and optional 3D glasses when she left for her hunting expeditions. It was, I admit, boring. She’s hurting people; there was often some collateral damage to another timeline. She didn’t care. It was easy not to care, knowing it was “just” a copy. In my more cynical youth, this would have just reinforced my dislike of superheroes who claim the moral high ground but sacrifice whoever they want. Now, it disappointed me that I really am a better person.

Still, she hasn’t gone after my family. Walked in this last time with the head of an alternate of mine, showing it off as a proud trophy. “Looks pretty stupid, doesn’t it?”

I shrugged. “It’s not me. That’s a version who never hurt you. You’re a very petty and small-minded person, aren’t you?”

“You just want to fuck with me,” she responded, tossing the head aside. It trailed blood behind it on the floor, little splatters getting on the container I was trapped in.

I waved dismissively. “You’re not even murdering kids yet. What, you don’t want to go kill my daughter?”

She stared at me for awhile.

“Anyway, back to my petty point. Time is at your fingertips and anything you do, you will never face the consequences.And you’re obsessed with me. Artificial Intelligence wants to rule Earth and all of time, murdering uncountable innocents, and wipe out everyone with superpowers. You want to go back in time and humiliate me. What will it take to get you to help save all of time?”

Darklight crossed her arms over her chest. The black costume that covered up her burns had some dried stains on it, mostly red. I’m glad there was a couple barriers keeping me from smelling her. She didn’t say anything though.

“You’re not hurting me the way you want, and I bet you’re realizing it’s not as fun as you expected. You want to go back and live your life? Do it. You can get healed easily.”

“You know what? Kill yourself,” she said.

I held out a hand like we were going to shake. “Deal.”

“What?” she asked, sounding surprised to me.

“If it’ll get you and the rest of your friends to help save everything, I’ll do it. Time, place, method, what have you.”

The time ended up being… IDK, ten minutes later? I don’t know how you measure “time” in a place that’s supposed to be “outside time”. Everything about time travel falls apart the moment I try to make sense of it, but the idea that time doesn’t exist in a place just doesn’t fit otherwise nothing there would advance from one event to another. I’d be seeing past and future versions of me in this cell, filling it up like a cage full of bunnies on Viagra.

That was how long it took before Darklight, Human Sloth, Miss Tycism, Venus, Captain Lighting II, and Lone Gunman all stood there. A cup of something that smoked floated in front of Miss Tycism. “This is the deadliest poison known to human alchemy,” she explained. “They call it Absolute End.”

“Take off your helmet and drink it all,” Captain Lightning II ordered.

I unsealed my helmet and popped it off, shaking out my hair. I dropped my helmet on the floor and held out my hand. One quick teleport later and the cup was in my hand.

“She won’t do it. She’s chickensh-” Lone Gunman started to say. He stopped because I’d brought the cup up and was downing the gag-inducing stuff within. Pretty sure I tasted some mercury and cinnabar, but it was so bad that the taste alone nearly toppled me. My throat and mouth began to warm up and ache. Anything touching anything else felt like sandpaper scraping that skin. I coughed and held up a finger, then lowered it once I had control.

“Ok, now will you please do your jobs as fucking heroes and save everyone.”

The bunch seemed stunned, except for Lone Gunman. He turned to Captain Lightning. “That was a trick somehow.”

Lightning shook his head. “There was no trick or illusion. All nanomachines are suppressed. I can see moving through her tissues already.”

I held my hands up in a faux-modest Venus de Milo pose. “Paint how you see me,” I said, then coughed some more.

The walls turned deep red. One wall crashed inward under the hull of a pointed metal hull. The bunch of Slayer-recruited heroes were pulled away from the breach, along with me.

We ended up in a larger area, another huge white room. Jaguar Slayer really likes the emphasis on overwhelming purity and cleanliness. Not a good sign in my opinion, but I was a walking deadwoman anyway. Jaguar Slayer felt so safe around me, even the container walls were gone. So was my helmet, though.

I really fucking hated that I’d done that for a bunch of assholes who didn’t deserve my help, but what I really did it for were the assholes who do, like my family. They can find a close enough me and manage Alexander. I was nothing in all this but some weird pawn with a tracking device somehow hidden on me. I didn’t want to die, though. Really did not want to die.

Others were waiting there. Another Iron Maiden armor, along with that blind guy in the robe, along with one or two I didn’t recognize. Instead of that one hairy clawed guy, they had some dude who looked part cat and a young teenager with spines sticking out of her body. The area behind them looked a lot like a smaller, enclosed version of the part I saw. No grass, no sky, and this one central building that reached up to the ceiling had a red dot that set its gaze upon us. In front of that was a statue of an loincloth-clad warrior with a spear. A voice boomed out of the red dot. “Ready yourselves. Gecko’s companions have walked into the seat of my power and my trap.”

The group looked at me. I looked at them. My eye twinged a bit, and Human Sloth winced away from it, so I must have been looking about as shitty as I was feeling.

Darklight shook her head. “No. I got what I wanted.”

The statue was fast as hell. It was a robot that raised its arm and threw the spear right at Darklight. That spear wasn’t for decoration and I very nearly didn’t get my body in front of it when Jaguar Slayer tried to hit Darklight. It speared my armor and right on through, but it slowed enough that it didn’t go into her. Or maybe it never would have gone into her and I’m a fucking genius at murdering myself. No, wait, she caught the spear. Dropped it, too.

“Ow,” I said.

She knelt beside me. Venus rushed over, too. “Can you stand?”

I shook my head, which hurt the back of my neck. “No, but I was barely able to do that before the spear.” I raised a hand toward Darklight. “With great power, comes…”

“Jesus, you don’t take anything seriously,” Darklight said. Fine, I won’t finish, but I was going to tell her it comes with mad ass.

Venus looked around, then back at me, then to Darklight. “What are we doing? What have we done for revenge?”

“I don’t know,” Darklight said, “But we don’t have to do it anymore.”

“Three votes,” Human Sloth added from where he stood nearby.

“Yeah,” Captain Lightning II jumped in.

Lone Gunman didn’t say anything, but Miss Tycism looked between the group and Jaguar Slayer’s bunch.

Interrupting all of this is when a modern metal frigate came riding up along the floor, honking its horn. It flew a flag that depicted a skeleton holding another skeleton at gunpoint with an AK-47 and stealing Blackbeard’s famous pirate flag. A crew of dark-skinned pirates stood, some cheering, others aiming at various people around.

“Avast Antivirus!” called one pirate, what appeared to be a fish’s head poking out of a shirt. The arms were covered with sleeves and gloves, and I couldn’t see what the foot situation was there. “Where’s that big-headed computer cunt anyway?”

Mobian Jr., whose jolly roger shirt even looked too straight and clean, poked his head up. “And Psycho Gecko.”

“Arr!” the fish cried out. “Hand over the lizard maiden and no one gets hurt.”

I’d have laughed if I wasn’t busy shitting my pants. Darklight grabbed me and pulled the spear out, flying me over to the ship. The rest of the bunch came running up. “Here she is. Any room for more aboard?”

“And split the booty even more?!” the fish gasped in astonishment. Or maybe for breath.

“Nobody’s splitting my booty unless I say so,” I said. I raised a finger to object, but then the nail fell off and the finger was bruising. “Also, I could use a doctor. Or something.”

“Get her to the brig’s status cells,” ordered Wattson, rushing over to reach for me. The robot was gentle with me. Still ended up jostling me some, but I decided to close my eyes because of how much the light hurt.

“You said something about a trap?” I heard the blindfolded man ask.

“There is a problem. My innumerable armies of the damned and demented don’t seem to be responding,” Jaguar Slayer said.

Qiang laughed. I’d recognize that laughter. “I’m real glad you kept the timeline where I failed to destroy that essential data, Slayer. We couldn’t have done it if you’d purged it.”

“Inconceivable,” Slayer announced.

“Conceivable!” My not-yet-conceived son Alexander countered. “You can’t bring in reinforcements unless we allow it. You can’t escape unless we let you. You’re through. We made you build the flaw into yourself and waited until you invited us in, thinking you were the one doing the trapping.”

“This ends now, Jaguar Slayer. And thanks to Gecko, you can’t erase anything leading up to it,” Mobian Jr. announced. Hey, it was nice to get the recognition. An antidote would be better. Then, more softly, “You’re welcome to sit this one out.”

“No,” Darklight said.

“Yeah,” Venus added, “We’ve got some penance to do. This ends now.”

I cleared my throat. Not to make a point, there was just a lot of blood in there. I had to spit some up. “Might I suggest we have that enthusiasm about this poison I drank?”

“Why would you do that?!” Alexander asked. His voice came closer.

I shrugged. “Seemed like the thing to do. Was hanging out with Socrates and Rasputin when that old philosopher asked us if we wanted to do some shots. Peer pressure’s a bitch.”

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Days of Future Tense 5

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As was explained by the woman we rescued, the not-so-utopian future I saw is one where superheroes and villains never existed. Where Teddy Roosevelt and Nikola Tesla never adventured through time. Where Captain Lightning never gave Hitler a wedgie. Where there is no Psycho Gecko or Darklight or Mobian. And while some of those people could definitely make the universe a little better by not existing, Jaguar Slayer’s real goal appears to be wiping out all of us in the name of order and perfection.

Our charge, Keiyona, told us a bit about her experiences. “Superpowers are from comic books or blockbuster movies. Maybe half-decent TV shows that networks cancel before their time.”

“Your military doesn’t have exoskeletons and rocket packs and so on?” I asked. Even our guys in the present have that stuff.

Keiyona shook her head. “There is no military.”

Alexander raised his hand. “What do you do about other countries?”

Keiyona thought about it a bit. “I don’t know. We never hear about them. Jaguar Slayer controls the government and the internet. I think there are other countries, but it’s hard to get news from place to place short of physically moving it, and travel has to be approved by an Ingram. Since the robots do all the work for us”

I think we all pretty quickly picked up some signals on our Shit’s Wrong-o-meters. I mean, on paper it sounds pretty nice. No cops, no military, no work. Probably cuts down on carbon emissions, too. Too bad the way the world got there was by the control of a killer computer program. I can’t really blame it on the people picking this, not when this computer started pulling this shit.

She continued, “My brother liked to tinker. It was his hobby. He had little kits that let you build simple robots and inventions, but then he told me he met some backdoor hobbyists. People who sneak around where the system is blind and do things it doesn’t approve of. They’re harmless and they’re everywhere. This time, the backdoor club was found. The last I saw of my brother, one of the Vigilants, those big robots, had scooped him up and was taking him to processing. I kept waiting to hear he had gotten some sentence or restriction, but I didn’t hear anything. I kept checking, but the system refused to tell me. Then another backdoor group found me and showed me video proof of the graves. Pits of bodies, for anyone who inconveniences the system too much.”

Heavy shit. And not, as some might guess, due to a problem with the Earth’s gravitational field in the future.

“Alright, what’s the plan?” I asked, wondering if they’d finally let me in on something ahead of time.

“My armor’s on the fritz. Want to take a look?” Qiang asked.

Oh, so that’s how this is going to be. I went with her down to my basement lab to take a look at the armor. The pseudomuscles were so compact and worked so smoothly, but it held interlocking armor plating that worked like scales. “Interesting, what seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is that no one’s being all that honest with you, but I know you hate that and are just as likely to take it out on us when you find out the truth. The others don’t personally know how that works with you.”

And then, she told me why. And it was indeed something that should stay just between us girls. What I can relay is when she went to a different subject. “But if you could take down Darklight, that would be a big help to us.”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about her,” I said. “She reminds me of someone from my past.”

“Could be,” Qiang said. “Slayer might have known you’d get involved, or he grabbed someone who hated you to fight us. It’s dark, but there are people who would do that.”

“If it’s the person who I think it is, she has every reason. And it sounds like if I go after her, that’s something I have to do alone. Is there a way the Long Hall can get me somewhere on its own?”

The grown up version of my daughter affirmed there was and led me to the Long Hall, a really long hallway in the House of Shadows and Spires where every door can lead to a different point in time, including alternate timestreams. Last time, pun not intended, it allowed me to see what Jaguar Slayer was going for. A World War II devoid of superheroes. A future with his robot minions in control and where superpowers are considered fantasy.

“Say please,” Qiang told me.

“That’s it?” I asked.

She patted the wall. “The House is alive. If it wants to help, it will help.”

I nodded. “Ok, then, House. I have some ideas. Will you please help me?”

A painting appeared on the wall that wasn’t there before. It looked like a children’s drawing of a smiling sun. I gave it a thumbs-up. “Ok, good. I need a few things. First, I have to go steal something that shouldn’t be that tough to do. It’ll be so easy, I won’t even recount it until it’s critically important to make myself look clever while creating a sense of narrative tension that wouldn’t be there if they knew the whole story. Besides, it won’t come up for awhile.

Next, I decided I’d go punch that Darklight person. Keep it simple after all that. I figured we’d try one of those places I’ve never been to before. The picture in the Long Hall was an old-timey black and white photo of a skyline under construction, kind of like old Empyreal City. I asked for part of the Golden Timeline that Jaguar Slayer was trying to build.

I stepped out of a building to see plenty of dirty streets and mildly-leaned up passerby. Also some horses and old-fashioned cars. People looked at me like I was completely foreign of a being. Which I am. I set down a case that’ll become important later. A bunch of them scattered away from me. I held out a gloved hand. “A newspaper, if you please.”

The crowd pushed a paperboy forward who stepped up and handed me a newspaper. I handed him a gold coin. Real, by the way. With time at my disposal, a little gold is such a trivial thing to give away. Money is no object. Head into the future far enough, and there is no lack of resources. Perhaps Jaguar Slayer’s decision to destroy other timelines isn’t such a bad idea. Otherwise, I can see too many people like me using it for temporal colonialism. Oh yeah, I’m tempted to use and abuse this situation.

But that would have to come after I finished with this alternate Empyreal City, this New York City. This essential part of

Now comes the part of this story to save the multiverse that requires a villain. I threw the paper back at the whole crowd. Then I raised my hands, took a good horse stance like it mattered, and let out a paralyzing screech. It’s such a cheap trick. Probably why it was first used on me by prison guards. The thing about us supervillains though: we tend to be thieves.

Everyone in sound of me dropped, paralyzed. Didn’t stop their breathing. Caused some car accidents. Just small ones, and only into sidewalks… and people on sidewalks. Buildings. Other cars. Pretty sure this is one of those situations where I have to be at least a little bit as ruthless as the AI I’m hunting. I didn’t figure I’d have to do much before I got the result I expected.

It didn’t. A bright light appeared in the sky. From it flew the burned woman in black, Darklight. Or some version of Forcelight, I would guess. A version with a better name.

She came flying in, landing with a crater. I left a hologram nearby to at least attempt to talk things out. “Hey, whatever timeline you’re from… I probably deserve all the hate you have for me. But you’re helping someone who has killed way more people than me. Whatever that other me did to you, I’m not her. Or him. I realized some things about myself. But anyway, helping Jaguar Slayer means you’re doing to trillions what that me did to you. And in the end, you won’t even get whatever you want. It’s going to erase all superhumans.”

She pulled off her mask, showing off that burnt face. “I made those nanomachines to help the world and you used them to threaten everyone. Then you took control of me and left me to die in space. Jaguar Slayer saved me, but the deal was, I get to kill you. He even got you to be his spy on the inside, feeding him information through that stupid blog.”

By this point, I was sneaking up behind her. That’s why I didn’t see her eyes shimmer until she turned around and tried to put her fist through my chest. I blocked it with both arms, watching her watch me. She could see me. With a pulse of white light, she dispelled my holograms.

“New tricks?” I asked. I followed it with another paralyzing screech that didn’t do anything to her. Worth a try.

“Killing you will be a treat,” she said through a strained grin as she pushed back against me. Then she grabbed my wrists, flew up just enough, and pushed me down onto my back on the street. Both hands were right there in front of me, but then my nanite cape formed a pair of arms that wrenched them away. Blasts of dark light melted cars and concrete around us.

“I’m sorry and I was wrong. If you’ll let me, I can heal you. It won’t make up for it, but I want to be better,” I said.

She glared down at me and kicked me in the boob. Then another kick to make sure she got the second one. “You killed my father you fucking freak!”

Ok, I think I’ve established diplomacy is not an option. I kicked up into her gut with both feet, then formed the nanites into one arm to whip her against a nearby building. I deployed a trio of mini drones from my armor that zipped toward her, exploding uselessly. It was enough to cover up when I came running up with some old-timey Beetle car and smashed it into her.

Black light blasted it out of my hands, leaving me holding my hands above my head and ripe for a haymaker to the jaw that made it snap out of place. I gave her one right back. I caught her return punch, and she caught mine in turn. “You’re not stronger than me anymore. If I wanted you dead, you would be.”

She stomped on my foot, then uppercutted me. I slammed back onto the street. Then she dug her heel into my ankle. She flew up. Way up.

“Stop now, before I’m forced to hurt you,” I declared to Darklight before she flew down fist first. I didn’t say it loud. I lost so many teeth from that uppercut.

The nanites pulled me to the side and left us both crashing down into the sewers. She fell much harder than I did. I got my bearing more quickly in the rubble and extended the laser claw power I’d stolen and genetically modified into myself since I’d last encountered Forcelight. She groaned. I stood there and lifted her up by the hair, bringing the claws in close. Then I dissipated them. Instead, I tossed her up onto the street and hopped out.

Darklight’s boss wasn’t too happy. There was that big device with the red light that pulsed quicker and quicker. The thing he uses to annihilates rogue timestreams. I hit the remote activation sequence for that suitcase I’d dropped and was happy to see it responded after all that fighting nearby. I grabbed Darklight and carried her over my shoulder, making for the door as fast as I could.

The Time Annihilator neared its activation. Off down the street, next to a pile of metal and some dazed people the Jaguar Slayer would sacrifice anyway, a suitcase popped open to display a shrunken clockwork device that once stood in a clocktower in the mountains of Romania. A grief-stricken father tried to use it to stop time after his son died. I think I regretted that kill even then. I studied it then, but realized I could also just find something to shrink it down and abduct the original. Now, its imminent activation caused Darklight and I to rubberband back and forth. I was at the doorway with her over my shoulder, then I was back in the hole, then I was where I thought I was supposed to be and ran for the door.

The door slammed itself shut behind Darklight and I. A photo hung next to the door of the scene outside. It was smashed up from our fight, but it was still there, frozen in time and holding that device at bay.

Mobian Jr. was the first to arrive, followed quickly by Wattson. “I’ll get her to the stasis cell,” Wattson declared.

Mobian Jr. looked over to the door, looking at the photo. “You trapped it, you clever primitive.”

I waved it off goodnaturedly while still getting my breathing under control. “Maybe now… you can stop giving me the… what’s the phrase?”

“The reach around?” Mobian Jr. asked.

I pointed at him. “Yes, that’s it exactly. Keep using it that way.”

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Days of Future Tense 4

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In the days I’ve been in the basement of the House of Shadows and Spires, I’ve had time to learn a few things. The laundry room is on the first floor, the kitchen is stocked with all kinds of unusual ingredients, and it’s possible for someone to leave the house for a time and place the house as a whole isn’t at. It’s called the Long Hall. The kids showed it to me while I munched on an allosaurus and fried dodo egg po boy.

“Each of these doors ways leads somewhere. Sometimes it changes,” Alexander was eager to show me around. Qiang let him, smiling to herself. “The hallway wasn’t here before Mobian’s time vessel merged with the House. They think it’s some complicated time shit now that everything’s going to hell.”

I smiled around my sandwich. Qiang snorted and added, “Only Mobian really understood the whole of the timestream and its branches, if he even did. Calab, that’s his kid’s name, thinks he bluffed a lot of stuff, but he kind of has a point. Time travel without restriction might cause you to wreck a lot of lives, even if they’re not the ones in your own prime timeline. Or you might disappear to everyone you love and live out your life with copies of them. It’s scary.”

“Is that what happened to me?” I asked.

“No, you died,” Alexander said.

I waited for a moment for anyone to continue, but they left me hanging. “Any idea how?”

Alexander looked to Qiang. Qiang sighed and said, “You dying is in our past. If we change that, you live with a different Qiang and Alexander, but not us.”

An awkward silence settled over us. I mean, rationally the thing to do is to let me live and bring happiness and joy to at least one timeline, but there’s emotion involved. And any rationality that doesn’t take emotion into account is failing itself. If I had to guess… “Worried I’ll be abandoning y’all in favor of some kids you’re jealous of?”

“You may not even have me if we tell you,” Alexander said.

“Ok, getting real curious about the circumstances of both your birth and my death. We’ve got time to figure this out, I hope. Feels like forever in between stuff.”

Qiang nodded. “We’re doing things roundabout. It won’t make a lot of sense until we’ve already won. We have to do things that way. But the House can’t stop you from sneaking out from time to time. Maybe it’ll put you somewhere you can help us. It’d be great if it gave you a final showdown with Darklight so you can work that shit out.”

“Who is Darklight?” I asked. “Y’all know her.”

Alexander shrugged. “We know Slayer picked her up and sent her after us. She’s tough, she doesn’t feel pain, and she punches like a truck. You saw that black light she gives off, too. She’s too burned up under that mask to identify, but she’s really hated sis and I. Now you.”

I nodded. “Right, someone I probably pissed off.”

The air glowed red and a siren went up. There were no special lights to turn red. Come to think of it, there weren’t any lights, but the hallway was just lit on its own. Alexander pulled out his repaired shield and stuck it to the underside of his arm. “That’s a red alert. We’re up, mom.” Both of the future, young adult versions of my kids hugged me before setting off. Qiang stopped briefly to wink at me before leaving me all alone in a corridor of doors that supposedly led to various places in time.

I tried the first one and found myself thrust outside into a pretty nice day, all things considered. The people around me noticed me immediately. There were statements of astonishment in German. I checked the door behind me and found it led to some small, boarded up shop. The door itself had been mistreated with kicks and so on. I turned to one guy who was passing buy, head buried in the newspaper, and grabbed it from him.

“My god!” he shouted, seeing me.

“One moment, I need this,” I said. Seeing as I had my armor on me, he wasn’t inclined to disagree.

The date was 13th February 1945. It was the city newspaper of Dresden. Oh great, sure. It wasn’t enough for Mobian to lie to me, I guess to keep there from being too many alternate versions of myself, but this weird ship/house merger sent me to Nazi Germany, to a city that’s about to light up like the most drunk Fourth of July party you’ve ever been to. Drunker, probably, what with the German beer. On the other hand, Kurt Vonnegut was somewhere in the city and I am something of a fan. And it was dark. That didn’t give me a lot of time for sightseeing.

Air raid sirens went up, letting me know the time for fandom was up. To bring back a saying I stole, I don’t know how many bombs it would take to kick my ass, but the low end of the estimate is 3,900 tons of high explosives were what the Allies were about to start dropping for the next couple of days.

I noticed something off, though. Instead of superheroes flying high in the sky to screen the Allied bombing run, there were just planes. Unless Captain Lightning and the rest of his friends really padded their resume, this wasn’t how things went. I glanced back at the newspaper and found the news different than I remembered. No supermen lobbing Panzers. Nothing about the Nazi expedition uncovering Mummy Man and getting beat to death as a result.

I decided to duck through the doorway with the paper in hand before I ended up extra crispy, but the House had shown me an interesting lesson. “Hey, House. I don’t know if you’re conscious or anything. I kinda got the sense Mobian’s old timeship was. But if you are, and if I had to guess what you were trying to do there, it was either to get me killed or to show me you had access to alternate timelines.”

The fact that I could think up a lot better places to dump a person to kill them didn’t mean it wasn’t an attempt. I’m just a better murderer than this house. I folded the paper and left it on a table, then tried another door.

In contrast to Dresden’s darkest hour, the place and time I stepped out into while still invisible was bright. And clean. Way too fucking clean. Despite people walking around, the walkways looked too clean. The buildings shone and even the flowers looked too bright. I was in some sort of square or park or something, someplace and time when the grass looked too green. Like the difference between good green beans, and those green beans that are overly green and taste nasty. Maybe that’s just a me thing.

I heard the distinctive rattle of an aerosol can being shaken. I looked over and this woman had pulled a bandana up to cover her face. She hadn’t even raised the can to spray it when she got dogpiled by these robots. They were thin, like stick figures. Didn’t stop them from tackling the shit out of someone for attempted graffiti.

The door I had come out of said “Maintenance”. It was embedded in part of the wall that arched up taller, with some structure behind it. I hopped up there to see what I was dealing with before connecting to the various networks I could feel.

Probably the thing that stood out among the astonishingly clean and shiny cityscape was four-story tall robots that patrolled the streets in between a small amount of traffic. A sign nearby changed from being some sort of plaque to displaying a digital message. “The peace of the Jaguar Slayer is nearly upon us. Another criminal is captured and will be made to fit into our order and peace.”

Yeah, that’s just straight-up dystopia shit.

My attention was pulled away from the news update by a pair of those patrolling robots turning toward a building that could have been a hotel. The side of it blew open in an explosion. Rockets flew out, smacking the large robots in the heads and torsos with explosives. The robots, which were thicker and mostly blue and red with skin-colored faces, fired eye lasers at something or someone. They kept going even as whoever shot at them went down some levels. One started to circle around, swiping an arm at the third floor to try and interrupt the escape.

For all the talk of perfection, the AI that could wipe out entire timelines didn’t seem capable of keeping its own utopia intact in the future. After a few minutes, the robots gave up, having dug a hole straight into the sewer where their quarry eluded them. Maybe Jaguar Slayer just couldn’t reset what it couldn’t find. Or maybe this was close enough and it was willing to put up with a little bit of imperfection.

I turned back to where the robots captured the one woman. They had tased her into a quivering and urinating mess, leaving her laying on the ground. Some people were watching, until a few of these robots approached. The onlookers decided they had better places to be.

I projected the form of that hairy guy who could regenerate stepping out of the maintenance door, popping the Nasty Surprise under one arm. That gave me enough of a cover for when he pounced on the robots, dicing them. The robots weren’t easy to chew through. They were tough for their stick figure forms. Still, they went down and I grabbed up the downed woman.

An alarm went up and the walls in general starting displaying the face of the form I had assumed, with a “Be on the lookout!” warning coming. I rushed into the Maintenance door and back into the House, dropping the illusion.

The others were waiting around in the dining room as I brought in the woman and laid her down. My nanomachines were already spreading out to see if anything had been dangerously fried.

“Who is this and how did she get here?” Mobian Jr, I guess Calab, asked.

“She’s from Jaguar Slayer’s would-be paradise, where he still hasn’t managed to fully get things to his liking. I fucked around with them a little,” I explained.

Mobian Jr. turned to Qiang. “You showed her the Long Hall?” Turning back to me, “You could have been trapped forever in a random point in time, or even an alternate time.”

I nodded. “Yep. But I got in and out. Even put on the face of that one guy with all the hair who can regrow a head.”

The group looked at each other, then Wattson stepped forward. “This provides most interesting data. We were in the field some hours ago and the individual you mentioned, Feral Fang, was at one point captured by Jaguar Slayer’s own people and removed from the timeline. It looked permanent.”

“How permanent?” I asked.

“We detected a complete erasure from every timeline. In all of the multiverse, Feral Fang no longer exists, unless held captive by Jaguar Slayer.”

“Neat, I helped,” I said.

The woman gasped and clutched at her belly, rolling over to the fetal position.

“And I even recruited someone!” I said.

“What was Slayer after her for?” Dr. Ohms said, electricity arcing along under his skin.

“Graffiti,” I mentioned to groans. “But it was irritating enough to warrant a response from the AI. There’s no act of rebellion too small, especially spread out among the infinite expanse of the multiverse.”

“Quit selling us on her, we get it, you wanted to save someone,” Mobian Jr. said. To the coughing woman, he added, “Welcome, ma’am, to the House of Shadows and Spires. We’re the ones who are going to wipe out your evil AI overlord.”

Wow, they really sound this awful and idealistic? All we really learned is we can make Slayer kill off his own minions with some trickery.

The woman choked out a few words. “Holy shit, superheroes are real?!”

Ok, so we learned a little more than that.

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Days of Future Tense 3

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Now, even though I joined this bunch pretty readily, I have to admit my focus was on the endgame. “What’s winning for us? What stops Jaguar Slayer from doing all this and lets us all go home?” I asked Mobian Jr.

The son of the time traveling hero looked at me in surprise, holding a pair of coffee cups in his hand. “I thought you needed me for a coffee order.”

“No, that was because I wanted answers from you. About that, and another question,” I said, holding up a new gauntlet for my armor and shaking it from side to side so that an empty finger wagged at him. I’d only been with them a short time, and most of that had been taken up by Alexander wanting a tour of my new workspace and armor. He was also showing off some of his gadgets that seemed to be from a variety of supers I’d been involved with in some way or another. The breastplate was that Thunderbolt stuff, a tough meteoric alloy brought to Earth in an asteroid that a bunch of supers got together to blow up before it could hit us and cause extinction.

Most of them don’t realize that was the same meteor that brought an important alien robot to Earth. I was able to bridge the gap between humans and alien robots, and we’ve reached an agreement. The robots are settling on other planets in the solar system. I’m sure there are a lot of paranoid people worried about that whole setup on both sides; robots are inherently distrustful of organic life that created them just to serve as slaves. Humans, and pretty much any other sapient species I’ve run across, are paranoid about their creations rising up to exterminate them.

I suppose in a way, the humans are ending up correct. Jaguar Slayer is some future artificial intelligence that’s decided that the only way to build a utopia is to completely warp the past leading up to its present.

And that leads to Mobian Jr.’s answer to me. “We need to change the timeline to prevent Jaguar Slayer from existing.”

“Last time I tried to change something majorly relevant to my own timeline, it started to do stuff to me,” I told him. “Your parent made it clear that doesn’t work.”

Mobian Jr. sighed. “Um… he lied. He was good at it. He had this little sonic gizmo, and he liked to use it to trick people into thinking they were dying if they were changing their own past. He mainly did it to people who were important or who he didn’t like. It might make you feel better he also considered you important.”

At least he wasn’t pretending Mobian liked me. I’m pretty sure this means it’s multiversal time travel at play, but that’s probably contradictory to my experiences as well. Fuck it, why do I bother still trying to make sense of time travel? I’m pretty sure they just change how it works every time.

I finished rubbing at my forehead with the empty gauntlet. “Fuck. Ok, back to the original question here. How do we stop Jaguar Slayer?”

“We’ve been fighting it for some time and we’ve tried to blow it up. We’ve gotten pretty good at it, and the raid we had gave us crucial data about its origins we can exploit to get rid of it. We’re going to stop at crucial periods in the development of what would become Jaguar Slayer and destroy it.”

“Ok, and what’s my role in all this? Need me to steal important data? Assassinate a key programmer? Protect a beautiful woman from a killer robot while nailing her?”

Mobian thought about it for a minute, which gave me some hope about the sex part, before answering. “We might need your help to fix some stuff, but you’re here to keep you safe. You beat that bunch then, but you have a whole life they could target that affects two of my team. Darklight would come for you again, and we can’t risk that. That’s all.”

I pondered it. “Darklight, huh? That’s the woman in black?”

He nodded. I shrugged. “Fine. I’ll just be down here, preparing for when I inevitably have to save the day.”

The first stopover was a dark and stormy night in the Scottish countryside, year 2050 CE. Great setting for the House of Shadows and Spires to appear. I came up because of a lightning bolt that flashed across my basement window. I couldn’t have told you how long we’d been traveling. My atomic clock was doing screwy things in this place. I found Alexander waiting around in his armor. He jumped up to hug me, making me once again wonder what is supposed to happen in my future that I have a son who is that eager to see me again. It implies I met an unfortunate fate.

“What’s the job, kiddo?” I asked. Dr. Ohms was putting on an outfit that looked like doctors scrubs with circuits visible in the material. Qiang, this future version of my daughter, had her armor on and was doublechecking the seals. It more closely resembled the version I used that had the fanged grin on it and a trio of eyes above.

My future and presently-unborn son, Alexander, pointed over to her. “Dr. Ohms is going to intensify the storm to provide cover for Qiang while she sneaks into the base and wipes a server containing targeting data that Jaguar Slayer uses. Without it, a lot of people the Slayer has picked up will simply be undone the next time they set foot in the time line.”

So my official job was to… sit around and let my daughter do all the work. Turns out I don’t like doing that. I don’t know how much of it was thinking I could do better and how much was being worried for my kid. Still, she hopped the fence and turned invisible well enough. This big window in the living room zoomed in to show her slipping in a door.

“Relax, she’s great at this,” Alexander said, leaning against me.

I put an arm around him. “I’m used to doing stuff.”

“Temporal signature active… they know we’re here,” Mobian Jr. said.

Wattson, the chrome detective, stepped up to the window. He pressed something on a clock sitting by it and adjusted the view.

Two windows appeared, in the computer sense. Picture in picture, which figures. We couldn’t have just zoomed in on Qiang infiltrating the base. One of the pictures showed a couple people, IDK. I focused on the one that showed this huge fight between two giant robots. One was piloted by me, and the other was controlled by a server containing a copy of my consciousness. The fight had its explosive conclusion that destroyed the server and left me half-dead, buried under rubble. And then Darklight appeared.

She blasted through the rubble. “She’s looking for me,” I said. Hey, wait a minute, “If this is multiverse stuff, how can me dying prevent Qiang from living?”

“It’s complicated,” Mobian Jr. insisted.

Alexander volunteered an answer. “Slayer’s killed you off every time you were in a different timeline. As long as you remain preserved here, you had to come from some time, so your prime one is saved. This is a weird attack, but it doesn’t serve a purpose.”

Certainly didn’t make me feel good to watch this super I knew I could beat uncover a dying past version of me and step on my throat until I shuddered and crapped myself. And then Medusa was there, in her power armor. The past version, when she went by Venus. She confronted Darklight, who told her something, even pulled off her mask to show off a face like Liam Neeson had been caught in a laboratory fire. She stepped close to Venus and the pair of them disappeared in a column of light. They were replaced with a device, like a cylindrical tank that tapered out at the bottom and top.

“What’s that?” I asked. I was over right in front of the window. I think the others had started rushing around due to something else, but Mobian Jr. was right there with me.

“That is the ultimate version of flipping over the board when you’ve lost the game,” Mobian Jr. informed me. “We believe that it’s derived from technology stolen from this very vessel when it was destroyed and the Mobian killed.”

I watched as a light on the middle section went from dark to an intense red. And then darkness, along with the words, “Timeline purged.”

“So you can do this too,” I said.

“Shit,” he said. I looked up at the other window. It was that hairy short guy again, but in an officer’s uniform. They had some others with them, including someone who looked like a woman version of him. They were all spreading out inside a building, a bloody Ohms slung over the shoulder of some guy I couldn’t identify with skin that had a scale pattern over it.

I looked back around. Wattson was gone, as was Mobian Jr. Alexander was with me, scanning the windows the windows showing what was happening. Qiang appeared briefly, grabbing the woman by the head and flinging her through a brick wall. Most of these Slayer fodder rushed for her there. It was the snake-scale guy who ended up finding her when she reappeared and uppercutted him onto his ass, taking Ohms from him. They both disappeared then and she made her way back.

Darklight appeared in the sky overhead. It was the column that showed it off. A bulky suit of power armor dropped from where she appeared, the main body of it resembling an iron maiden, with arms and legs like steel girders. They were coming for the house.

Iron Maiden ran for Wattson, the robot looking outgunned with only his cap, jacket, and cane to protect him. He wielded the cane like a sword, then tapped it at the ground once. He turned to run back to the porn where Mobian Jr. and his raggedy friend with stood nearby. The friend had on a bizarre fusion of armor, like football meets SWAT, with a facemask joining the top half of a welder’s mask to the bottom of a hockey goalie’s. Mobian Jr. was charging up the void cannon thing I’d fixed for them while the guy in the mix and match clothing twirled a gigantic wrench in his hands. He settled it against his shoulder and fired glowing chunks of metal out of the back end at Darklight.

Iron Maiden reached the point Wattson had tapped and shot up into the air like gravity had reversed itself. Alexander was out there too, raising up a pistol with a big round barrel that expanded when he pressed the trigger. The barrel spread out and fired blue plasma into the air. Unlike with my turrets, Darklight tried to dodge these projectiles, ducking to one side where Iron Maiden was about to hit her.

Mobian Jr. fired the void cannon then, leaving a streak of nothing in the air that pierced Iron Maiden through the middle and split it from sternum to fun bits. Darklight flew out from behind it, throwing a ball of darkness at us. Alexander holstered his pistol. A disk on the back of his glove grew larger, spreading out as meddle holding a forcefield shield inside it. He jumped into the air, rocket boots firing. The backpack he wore reached out a pair of metal arms that braced the shield to help it fling the darkness elsewhere.

Oh, and Iron Maiden seemed to be dead.

Qiang appeared with Ohms in a fireman carry. “We need to go.”

Alexander heard somehow and shrank his disk back down, giving Darklight the finger before rocketing back toward the house. Wattson had already pushed past everyone to head inside. The moment Alexander crossed the threshold, the scene around us changed. Gone was the night and the storm. Instead, a vast rolling desert spread out.

“Inside,” Mobian Jr. ordered.

I glanced out at the landscape, swearing I saw a puff of dirt off from one of the dunes. And the suns were bizarre. Purple, swirling. I felt a hand clamp down on my shoulder and turned to see Alexander. “Hey, don’t stare at it too long. Um, you think you can help me fix my shield?” he held up the small disk. Some of the portions that formed the edge were smoking and hadn’t closed in properly.

“Sure, kiddo.”

I followed him inside to see a whole slew of those windows, with one larger one in the middle that had Darklight and the rest of Slayer’s minions. “They certainly have the numbers, eh?” I commented.

In rapid succession, that device I’d seen before appeared where the House had been, and the lights went out. Wattson took off his hat and held it agains this chest.

Mobian Jr. rubbed his face. “It’s never easy see it.”

“What’s happening?” I whispered to Alexander.

“Slayer’s pruning the timeline. Destroying universe but the one where he confronted us and won.”

It didn’t quite feel real. Sure, you could create a universe easy enough, but did that mean that someone destroying Earth, the galaxy, and the universe a dozen times over was truly slaughtering that many people?

The people who felt I was worth protecting seemed to think so, and I agree. Guess they need my help more than they think.

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Days of Future Tense 2

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The House of Shadows and Spires is what this bunch call that old-fashioned house. The future version of my daughter pulled my future and unborn (that I know of), son off me when the robot, Wattson, issued some alert.

The guy with the future clothes held up a bag. “Here, more metal. I’ll take the void cannon now.” He tossed the money at me and took the gun. Had he not been an ally of my children, I might have had a more negative reaction. As it was, I let the Rhodium drop to the floor while I gave future Qiang and my future son a nice big hug.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Alexander,” he told me. “And I have to go save the future.”

I guess in the past I’d have made a big show of cringing over that. Instead, especially because I didn’t know what the fuck was up, I just kissed his and my daughter’s foreheads and told them, “Go. I’ll be here when you’re done.”

It’s a bit sappy, but sometimes we need sap in our life. Without it, how would we get delicious syrup, the only thing that makes waffles and pancakes edible? I daresay it’s downright patriotic, at least if you’re a Canadian, to believe in properly-applied sappiness.

They left me with many questions, including the standard paranoia-induced ones about if I might have been duped by someone who had gotten hold of my DNA and a picture of my daughter. The Rhodium was real, though, so they more than made up for it. Whatever future they come from, they know got enough heavy metal to shut Iron Maiden up.

I spent the night doing a heck of a lot of thinking, especially about Alexander. A bit classical of a name for myself and… well, let me have some secrets. Some confusing secrets I’m not sure about. It’s not everyday you meet a kid you’ve never had yet. Heck, the whole bunch had just disappeared as soon as they exited my door, taking their house with them.

The next day saw a different crowd come into my store. An Amazonian figure stepped in, dressed in all black from the bottom of her boots, straight up her lightly-padded pants and top, to the full face mask that hid even her eyes. With her was a short, hairy man with wiry black hair and a skunk stripe right through the middle of it. “Hey there, you seen anyone unusual come through here lately?”

A third person walked in, bald and wearing a simple robe, eyes blindfolded. He answered his companion’s question, “That is too broad a question given your entrance.”

The hairy guy gave the blindfolded man the finger. The blindfolded man grabbed it and twisted, eliciting a yelp from the hairy man. He addressed me next, never raising his voice. “My friends and I are looking for people who came through with some ill intentions. A band of shapeshifting temporal terrorists. We know from your past work with the Mobian you respect the sanctity of the timeline.”

I shrugged. “I think I’d like a redo on some mistakes I’ve made if it’s all the same to you.”

“Nevertheless, Miss Gecko, we know you saw them and we would very much prefer it if you came with us,” the guy said. No sight, but plenty of brass balls.

“Not my name,” I told them. “And if your only reason for coming in was to ask me questions you know the answers to before trying to arrest me, then you’ve made a serious error in judgment.”

“No, but our benefactor wished to give you another chance to aid us without turning to violence,” the blindfolded man let go of his hirsute companion’s finger. “The truth is that we do not care for the timeline either, and can facilitate the change in your circumstances. It would be beneficial to us as well.”

Mixed messages like that aren’t a good sign either. Someone who starts contradicting themselves to tell you what you seem to want to hear is someone you don’t trust without good reason.

“Jaguar Slayer is not your enemy,” the blindfolded man said. Yeah, sure, but the tall, muscled woman in black was circling around one way while the hairy guy subtly spread out in the other direction. My turret guns and traps were armed and ready to pop out, and I had some armor ready.

“The world’s wrecked. It’s hopeless,” the hairy man said. “It’s nothing but shit.”

“Jaguar Slayer was created to bring about a utopia, and it could, but there are anomalies, individuals who threaten to undo any attempt to perfect the world. They are deeply rooted, so Jaguar Slayer has decided that the timeline needs a change.”

“That’s not how time travel works,” I told them.

The blindfolded man smiled. “The imperfect timeline had a naive defender who feared all change, another such anomaly. When the changes become too great, the timeline breaks away. It can still threaten the new timeline because of the multiverse. Jaguar Slayer has found that the only way to make the world the best it can be for all would alter the timeline too much. And these other universes are a threat to that perfection.”

“And I’m one of those threats, I take it?” They couldn’t see my legs or feet behind the counter, where helper robots were already pulling part of my armor onto me.

“You are someone of immense utility and regret that Jaguar Slayer wants to give a chance to. You can erase your past, be the correct gender from birth, be a hero, and never worry about the blood on your hands.”

I shook my head. “That’s not how it works. The fact that I killed so many people wouldn’t be gone. It would have just happened to, what, another universe you want to wipe out as well?”

The woman in black made the first move. She was fast, flying over the ground with a punch aimed right at my heart. I pulled the armor up onto myself, getting at least the chest and arms secure enough to catch her punch. She was strong, but so am I now.

“Monster,” she said with a voice like she had a toad stuck in her throat.

My face disappeared behind my helmet, which projected a blinding flash of light right where here eyes would be behind that mask. I clocked her one in the gut that stumbled her back and let go to confront the hairy leaping guy whose fingers had become a set of bloody claws. I slapped him in the chest hard enough to drop him onto my display case, cracking the glass. Meanwhile, the turrets dropped from the ceiling to rain hot plasma onto his friends.

I pulled the winded man onto his feet. He clawed impotently at my throat, so I grabbed him by the chin and swept his head hard around with an “Ole!” His neck cracked, and a hard push sent the body tumbling back into the main floor of my store, where the blindfolded man was absorbing everything shot at him in a golden glowing ring of unknown characters and designs that hung in the air. The woman in black just tanked the shots, her melting uniform revealing burned skin.

She held a hand up, palm toward me. From it came a beam of what I have to call black light. Not the blue stuff that shows where you’ve been creaming; this was pure darkness in light form. I raised my gauntlets, which have the ability to absorb energy and repurpose it to strengthen my own blows. The black light overcharged the system, blowing the absorbers and capacitors without charging them. I took the hit and crashed through my own cement wall.

No matter how many cement walls you go through, they’re never as fun as your first time. I suspect that’s because of brain damage.

The hairy guy oughta know what I’m talking about. He came after me again, head back on straight and no worse for it. I rolled out of the way and let him land on top of the mine that fired a pair of taser darts into his taint and shocked him until his head exploded.

Back there in the shop, blindfolded man had sprouted a pair of iridescent butterfly wings that shattered into a bunch of small butterflies. The turrets shot some of them, poofing them into smoke, but most managed to swarm the automated defenses and blow themselves up, wrecking the weapons. Meanwhile, the woman in black had a lot half her mask shot off. The shots never did anything worse to her skin than burn it, though. The eyes glared at me. I got a good view of them when she flew through the wall and grabbed for my throat. I felt her thumbs pressing in, and not in the safe spaces you can choke a person for sex. She was out for blood, not any other bodily fluids.

My blow to her larynx weakened her grip. The strikes to the insides of her elbows as well. I meant to deploy my Nasty Surprise and whatever I’d taken to calling its whip-equivalent in the other arm, but that didn’t work out. Instead, I formed my nanomachine cape into a pair of tails that jammed into her chest and head. I heard her cry out in pain as the machines dug in, stabbing deeper despite some sort of protective aura and tougher bodily tissues than normal.

“Enough!” called the blindfolded man. He clapped his hands together once and columns of light encircled the woman in black and the guy who was regrowing his head. The columns threw my nanomachines out before I could secure the kill. Another clap and those two opponents disappeared into thin air, and a new column now surrounded the blindfolded man. “I am sorry for my companions. Perhaps soon you will be more willing to pursue redemption.”

“Redemption doesn’t mean annihilating everyone who knows you did something wrong,” I told him, as if I knew what the fuck I was talking about. Redemption is an impossibility for me. “A tip though… anyone willing to throw away that many lives isn’t really interested in making the world a better place.”

“Spoken like one who still has a world to go back to,” the blindfolded man smiled, then made a gesture. His column disappeared. Just then, the door flew open and the other crew from the future came running in. Qiang even had her own adult power armor! It was cool. And Alexander had a whole different look to him. A dark green breastplate, a Mix N’Max-style syringe gun, leg braces resembling Silver Shark’s cybernetic parts, and a backpack that looked like it belonged to Troubleshooter. I think I even spotted Ouroboros’s knives hanging off his belt. The guy had a stuff from all over the place, not just his other parent.

I dusted my hands off and stepped out of the backroom of my robots and nanomachines swarming over the damage to clean it up and fill things back in. “Sorry for the mess. Y’all need anything else?”

“Told ya,” Qiang nudged the future guy. Oh neat, he had these transparent forcefields around his limbs, head, and body. Looked like he had balloon powers, almost.

Wattson changed his hands from a gun and a set of blender blades back into actual hands and doffed his cap at me. “I’m terribly sorry for that, ma’am. We believed it was a possibility Jaguar Slayer would try to eliminate you for aiding us, but we took the risk and, as your daughter suggested, we believed you capable of defeating a direct attack.”

“Sorry, momma,” Qiang said. “But we don’t want to interfere with you more than we already had to. It’s just that the Slayer erased our tech girl, PK.”

Didn’t sound like anyone I was familiar with. “Well, they did. I got the feeling this one woman really didn’t like me, but it was the guy who couldn’t see that’s the real danger there.”

“He is,” Bubble guy nodded solemnly. “He’s the one who killed my father, the Mobian.”

I leaned onto my damaged counter, the glass seemingly flowing back into place on a wave of tiny machines. “Really? Because that sounds kinda completely unexpected. I didn’t like the guy much, but he always struck me as trickier than he looked.”

“He was,” Kid Mobian said. “We found his timesphere heavily damaged in the crevices of the Inner Circle of Fault.”

Ohms patted Kid Mobian on the shoulder. “Good thing Wattson and I were in the area. We joined it with the house, turning it into the House of Shadows and Spires. The mystery led us to Jaguar Slayer and his actions to wipe the multiverse clean. And while you beat the pants off two of the Slayer’s toughest, we managed a big raid. Your cannon worked perfectly.”

Wattson looked around at Qiang and Alexander. “I think perhaps we better ask you to come with us now, ma’am. The temporal annihilation war is dangerous. If you are not in the House, you may become erased as well. I don’t believe the Slayer would risk getting rid of you, but nonetheless….”

I held up a finger. “Will you return me here so I don’t lose any time as far as anyone’s concerned?” I glanced over at Qiang. She would know well how much time I spent away as a kid. And as for Alexander, I still have to conceive that guy.

Wattson nodded. “Indeed. A most agreeable term of service.”

The amazing thing was how they managed to, in a flash, transport my most valuable equipment and armor into the formerly-nonexistent basement of the House of Shadows and Spires. A tiny basement window showed me we had left the town of Radium, a nebula drifting by instead.

Good thing there’s almost no documentation on Qiang’s mom. And Alexander… I’m still wrapping my head around that one, let alone spouting off about who some future AI needs to kill to keep my son from ever being born.

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Gems and Holograms 4

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I collapsed going down the basement today. Another brain scramble for me. That’s one way I’ve been thinking about the stuff happening to me. It’s all fun and games until you have a seizure going down the stairs and you fall down. Qiang heard and came running. I didn’t want her to see me like that. She cried her head off, which didn’t exactly make me feel better and it turns out I’m shit at comforting people.

She sniffled and I don’t even know if she heard me when, as I came out of it, I asked her, “Call the doctor. Erishka.” My daughter was too busy latching onto me instead. When I stood up, her holding onto me caused me to stumble. As near as we can tell, my eyes and organs are safe, but I hate being so utterly cut off from everything as I was at the time. The doctor got us a landline and a spare cell phone for the purposes of calling safely.

The doctor didn’t want me to continue. “Do you want me to call Medusa?” she asked, helping me onto the couch for a check-up.

“I want you to keep my brain, my perfectly healthy brain as far as all medical checks confirm, from killing me the next time I use it to look up porn,” I groaned.

“If only that’s what you were doing, looking up swarthy bodies,” she said.

I raised a finger, even as she rolled me over to check something. “It turns out that there are racial connotations to that word. Thought I’d let you know. I didn’t realize them, either, but the English are really obsessed with skin tones.”

“Stop trying to distract me from the issue and this health check,” Dr. Erishka ordered through what sounded like gritted teeth. After a minute of cold things pressed to my skin, she rolled me back over and looked me in the eye, worried. “I need your help now. I’ve been in contact with my colleagues on our home planet and they tell me these cases are accelerating. One collective believes they’ve found the answer, but it may not be true. You can’t order me to make you better because there is nothing that cures you. I need your cooperation.”

I’ve seen a lot of looks in people’s eyes. Lots of mistrust, deception, and especially fear. Fear of all kinds. This woman, who I at one point tried to kill along with the entire rest of my planet, was afraid for me. After everything, she wanted me to live.

I looked away. “Sorry. Sure thing. What do you need?”

Apparently, she needed me on bed rest and only in my own head and body. So it looks like my meaningless quest for murderous revenge will be right back… after these messages! If I’m going to be stuck in a room, I might as well use my smart TV to help me hurt people. Yes, with older models, I had to hit people with them if I wanted to hurt anyone. With smart TVs, I can hit anyone around the world with a TV!

Like over in St. Paul. Lovely, lovely St. Paul. In St. Paul, Hector was finishing piling up every errant bit of evidence in the “safe house” these guys used, which was a house with an eviction notice on the door that they used to meet up in. Hector was admirably thorough; loose receipts, mail, and tools were doused with lighter fluid, along with the walls. The metal would survive the fire, but wood handles and the fingerprints on them would burn. I guess Hector never got called up to the big leagues, nor would he ever.

I’d dropped off a robot. Not a drone, a robot delivered by another robot to spy on the location and . It looked like a large roach and could plant more of my trackers. No fancy holograms or weapons that defy its size. It heard the popping noise that accompanied Yoshi arriving. I updated its orders and sent it creeping up on Yoshi. I knew where Hector was and could firebomb the place with him in it; Yoshi was even more unpredictable since gaining the ability to appear wherever he wants.

“Why not use your power?” Yoshi asked.

“I don’t know where stuff goes when I do it, maybe the FBI building. I know where it goes when I light it on fire,” Hector said.

“You’re just a pyro. Alright. Finish up here, I got to find out who’s hunting us. I got a friend checking VillaiNet for us,” Yoshi told him.

“Go. I’ll call you when it’s all ashes,” Hector said. He must like to be thorough. I like him. Going to kill him, too.

Another good thing about making it so basic and light is that when Yoshi stepped on the thing, it didn’t make too unusual of a crunching noise. Believe me, I tested the robot. I was aiming for a light crackle instead of a Dorito chip. One of the last packets of information my bug sent back to me was successful tracker placement. I knew it wasn’t an error created by destruction when the tracker appeared back in Minneapolis. Outside of Gil and the guy they dumped in Phoenix, they seem to stick around the Minneapolis area.

Fun fact: no matter how fast a craft goes on Earth, there’s a limit to how fast humans can go. I was once surprised by the survival of a pair of antagonistic meat-based supervillains related to this fact. Go fast enough and your body just can’t take it. You can black out or worse. A two pack of killer robots, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about their human squishy bits getting hurt. I even worked out a way to launch things like that without causing as many problems in the town. Rocket launches can be loud, and even cause a bit of light pollution. Launching from my Flyer when it’s already in the air doesn’t cause so many issues, or witnesses.

They’ve undergone limited real world testing but they also come with some really big self destruct explosives in case they really fuck up. And they sent the information back to me. I controlled nothing, though I could break in if needed. My medical condition necessitates relying on these robotic servitors to kill people for me. Things are going to get interesting.

The rocket broke apart in the air a few hundred feet up. The robots’ parachutes unfurled, which gave Hector a chance to spot them. He was watching the fire burn from across the street, either to be thorough as he said or a pyromaniac as Yoshi said. I get it either way. Fire is beautiful.

Robots are also beautiful. The parachutes cut off before landing so they could maneuver without getting The first to land was a more basic and conventional design from this Earth: a sloping square pyramid design with four wheels on the bottom. It moved forward, horizontal clamp and top-mounted pick-axe arm ready. Yes, Zero-One looked like a BattleBot. If not for the flamethrower, it would have been a good competitor. I mean, you can only watch so many robots explode when their fuel supply gets hit in the right spot before concluding that it’s better to waste the napalm on fleshy bits instead of metal.

Zero-One lit its pilot light and then disappeared from existence. Hector had his left hand up, the middle joint of pointer finger merged with a pale yellow gemstone that let him bend the finger still.

“What was that?” Hector asked, looking over at the parachute Zero-One had left behind on the ground. Then the second parachute drifted on top of Hector and covered him up.

Zero-Two is based more on knowledge I’ve stolen from my Earth and from all those delightful alien computers I’ve tapped into. The floating spheroid is riskier in case I got something wrong or didn’t have the optimal materials. Its sides opened and it released a seeker explosive. I combined the joys of chemistry and explosives with those programmable little robots that I used recently in an outing with Reindeer. Except this one is guided by Zero-One, not me. It zipped in close and around back, then blew up and took Hector with it. I knew I got him when the footage from Zero-Two showed the pale yellow gem zoom out of there.

It makes for boring TV. Not a lot of drama, no extended fight scenes, and I didn’t even get a chase scene out of it. That’s by design. A good assassination should be sudden. Assassinating someone who can disappear you like you insulted Stalin’s mustache should especially not be drawn out. I hoped to get more useful data out of Zero-One than just “poof, you’re gone.”

Zero-Two waited around incognito while I fetched a laptop and started checking on the trackers. Yoshi was still hanging out in Minneapolis. But the other tracker I planted was on Gil’s gem before I cut it off his finger. It was on the island of Sicily. I immediately began to wonder if this was some old fuckery of the Three Hares. The conspiracy of aliens, ancient supers, and their superpowered and mundane family lines are pretty much the first people to suspect anytime something seems to be connected to old legends. I don’t know this is related, but Italy makes me assume it is. The only way I’d be more suspicious is if the tracker ended up in Greece.

I figured I’d send a text to… the leader guy. I feel like they had a leader who I knew. We didn’t like each other, but we understood each other.

I’ve been trying to hide or explain away other times when this happened to me. I can usually look it up a little bit. This whole record has been invaluable. Maybe Dr. Erishka’s wrong about it accelerating and my condition’s been really bad for so long that I’ve been lucky to avoid the seizures up to now.

I ended up texting Medusa, asking her to see if a Three Hares person could answer some questions for me and eating a block of cheese to feel better.

My one-bitch pity party was interrupted by Yoshi’s location changing. Zero-Two doubled up on that and went live with footage of another seeker zipping toward the man. The boss of the thieves reacted by disappearing and reappearing elsewhere with a pop, then using his aging power to deactivate the seeker. I wondered a little if the electronics aged into failure before the compound that goes all kablooey.

Regardless, when Yoshi disappeared a second time, he didn’t return. It was back to Minneapolis for him. After a few hours of waiting, Zero-Two started on it sway home. Just a brave little robot on a journey through a harsh and unforgiving world of humans, with nothing but a lot of spunk and a full bank of micromissiles to see it safely on its way.

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Fuck Merry Kill 5

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I practiced Santa’s powers of stealth. The Jolly Old Elf is known for being able to land a sleigh on a house without causing much of a clatter, squeezing down a chimney, and dropping off a bunch of presents with no one home being the wiser. My methods differ a bit, relying more on illusion and deception, but allowances have to be made for the fact I’m not a personification of the collective unconscious ideas and beliefs around a season.

The Eidolon office was in Connecticut, which is a bit odd with so many people preferring flyover country or California’s Silicon Valley. Then again, the whole thing seemed to be an odd duck. The files I have on their past work had lots of expunged stuff. The people who made Agent Orange didn’t even want any files leftover of their involvement with these guys.

“Hi, Camilla Saturnium of Maximum News. Max News, the most truth, 24/7,” I introduced myself, doing my best to maintain a bit of crazy eyes. I’d gone blonde, blue-eyed, and mildly off-kilter in appearance. My cover was simple, reporter for a xenophobic, jingoistic news organization with no regards for the facts so long as the protection of white Americans was involved.

An older fellow with a poofy head of hair in a white button down and brown trousers, greeted me and accepted my offered handshake. “Ted Zackinski,” he introduced himself as. “VP in charge of communications.” I caught the legerdemain of him sneaking some hand sanitizer afterward, but I think I had him disarmed. Disarmed as far as my ability to think and understand, at least. In laughing off the plague, I showed him that I was the sort of person who will let people I’m happy with tell me anything I want.

“We wanted to highlight the tireless efforts of American corporations to keep us safe from the chi coms and other forces who would strike down our proud country,” I said, restraining myself from putting my hand over my heart. There’s convincing, and then there’s parody. One of the dangers of this cover is not being sure where the line is. And one of the reasons I maintain homicidal impulses is that I never end up going far enough. I decided to throw a little more in. I shook my head and gestured to the air. “So proud. One nation under God, amen.”

“I would be happy to tell you about our history as a company. Is there anything you wanted to focus on?” he asked.

“I wanted to know more about the great men behind it and the things they set out to do,” I said. “A source of mine said we’d be delighted to hear about the work of a Geoffrey Westmoreland.”

The man smiled. “You have good sources. Mr. Westmoreland was the founder of Eidolon Solutions.” He moved aside to show me a photo on the wall. Looked nothing like the faceless clone. This guy had eyes, a mouth, a nose, even a full head of hair into old age. “He created this company to build a legacy. Legacy is our watchword here, and even now the company remains his legacy even as he has passed on.”

“Passed on?” I asked. See, this is why I let on I was the sort of person to believe lies about the pandemic.

“Oh yes, Mr. Westmoreland was visionary, but he died earlier this year. He lived a long life, longer than most thanks to our research here, but it was his time,” he turned to glance at the portrait of the old man. “In some ways, it feels like he’s still watching over us.”

Ok, I know what kind of world I live in. I even checked for hidden eyes in that painting, or maybe the picture moving and stalking me across multiple room. Nothing yet. Yet.

Unfortunately, things were pretty vague after that. They didn’t go into more detail about what, if anything, these guys had to do, just that it had to do with biological research to keep soldiers alive in hostile situations. So I think this had something to do with super soldier research, and I guess that could have something to do with clones. But most of what I was doing here was trying to hunt down the guy whose DNA was used for the Miser’s flamethrower-wielding minion.

I even pursued the possibility of disgruntled employees near the end, as the neverending cavalcade of vagueness concluded. “So, I bet a company like yours has the occasional employee who tries to take you down.”

“This is an odd line of questioning,” the man said, adjusting his shirt cuffs.

I put on a show of looking around, then leaned in and whispered, “Just between you and me, our source in the Forestry Service said that something strange was found in the recent fires. This body without a face. They found an Eidolon logo. I’m here to get ahead of the story and help you. If you can help me find who might have made this faceless thing or leaked the info, I can help.”

While I revealed all this, I watched the man’s expression. His eyes glazed over lightly as he went elsewhere mentally, making connections. He got… twitchy. His movements gained a frantic edge to them. You know, it’s the little things that can clue you in to drug abuse. “I’m sorry. Thank you for bringing to this our attention. Can I have your card for later?”

I had some fake business cards thrown together because I go the extra mile. That’s what separates me from the amateur villains. Y’all think it’s easy to be a master criminal? The research alone… I’ve seen shit that would melt some faces. That’s one of my favorite things about chemistry, actually.

Ted, the guy who I’d been talking to, had me seen out by an associate with a bit more muscle on him. I got the feeling he was secret security in case I tried to show investigative instincts. I let them lead me out, made a show of leaving, and flew in a camouflage camera drone to keep an eye on the place. I’d have infiltrated the place, but I settled on a camera footage and wiretaps while I saw to my Santa-ly duties.

Miser’s important to deal with, but more than that, I have to keep up the masquerade. No one must ever realize Santa is on vacation with Martians.

And that’s why I stopped over in some other parts of the world, including handing out some presents in Norway. Usually, there’s Norway you’d get me that far away from a surveillance target, but I had some very special presents for them over there. I flew over the country, did my usual “ho ho ho”ing, and stopped off in Trondheim. A crowd of Norwegians soon appeared, and I started giving out gifts, starting with the batons.

“What is this?” asked one man after I handed him a baton.

“Baseball bats. Very special baseball bats,” I answered, before handing over some more, uh, sporting equipment. Sporting equipment borrowed from the L.A.P.D. They have more weapons and ammo than they know what to do with, so I figured I’d dispose of some of it and give people presents in one jolly occasion.

Even if that led to another Norwegian stopping and sniffing as he received his box of ammo, then asking with a smile, “What is in your pipe, Santa?” I brought one along to help sell the illusion, but I didn’t have anything in there. It might have been some odd Norwegian attempt at humor, or he could smell some of the other presents I brought. Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg have been good this year.

They got more agreeable when I started passing out candy and cookies. Lots of edibles in the L.A.P.D. Evidence lock-up, and the Norwegians were hungry. They were having a good time that night. My night took a turn when I got an alert from the camera drone. The Eidolon building was under attack.

I glanced out through the cameras of the drone. It was after dark, and a bunch of the staff were leaving. A blue light struck, fast as lightning, and someone fell over, their body flash-freezing, skin breaking in places, before falling over and shattering. Much of the staff reacted with panic, scrambling for their lives. The blue flash struck again and again. I adjusted the camera angle to watch an armored humanoid in a jetpack hovering over the scene, using a handheld weapon that flashed blue to cause the freezing effect. Every time it did, it left a swirl of frost in the air near the icy assailant.

This Cold Miser landed, smashing down through the remains of one of the employees with heavy duty metal boots. Ted, my guide from earlier, approached, waving his hands. “This is unnecessary! We haven’t said a thing. I can personally vouch for the loyalty of every one of these men. Do you know how hard this is going to be to cover up? You even killed Rachel from HR. That means I have to interview replacements myself.”

Cold Miser didn’t say anything to him in response. Flash! Ted fell over, the arms frozen in mid-gesticulation cracking off when he hit the ground. Then Ice Miser aimed his freezing gadget at the building itself. It took 15 minutes of continuous freezing to turn the building into a crumpling icy mess.

I was too far away in Norway to have stopped it. I could have activated a spare body back at home, but I doubt I’d have reached Eidolon Solutions in time to even stop the building from being destroyed. But that misses an important part of the equation… I don’t give a damn what happens to Eidolon Solutions. Defense contractors are a dime a dozen, and this proved that Ted, who maybe was a bit more important than his VP title had implied, had something to do with the guy I was in this to stop. But stopping the Ice Miser wouldn’t stop Miser himself. Or themselves. I don’t entirely know what I’m dealing with, even now.

So I set that drone to “tailing” mode and arranged a high-atmosphere surveillance drone flight to keep a better eye on the Cold Miser. Once he finished freezing the building, he flew off. My electric eyes followed him to the coast of New Hampshire. It looked like a remote and rocky little island, but the top opened up and the Cold Miser descended under it.

While I oversaw a bunch of Norwegians pigging out on pot fruitcake, a quick check of the old files I have on Eidolon made mention of cryogenic fast-freezing research by them while attached to NASA. Freeze some astronauts, send them on a journey that takes a few hundred years, and thaw them out when they reach the destination. The freezing part worked very well. Not very safely, as the Eidolon staff found out, but efficiently. That would have been from just before Eidolon worked with the Coast Guard on a project whose name alone survived: Ward. Maybe I’ll learn more about it when my infiltrator robot crabs finish going over the wreckage of their building and plugging into any surviving computer systems.

Ted was a helpful guide after all.

And that’s probably where this would end, except Qiang snuggled up to me on the flight back. “Why are you doing this, mama?”

“The Santa stuff?” I asked. She nodded, so I responded, “Guess it needs to be done, to make sure Christmas and all these holiday things survive.”

“I like Christmas, too. You think it’ll go away if we don’t do this?” she sounded worried there.

“It’s ok if you don’t want to do it. It’s just nice, you know. Some people are jerks about it, but it seems like it’s one of the few times of year people mostly try to be good. Some people can really use that this time of year, too,” I mused to her.

“Yeah, like how you get before you go away and do stuff,” she said. “I liked my uncle, but then you said you had to do all this and he should stay away.”

“He may not agree with everything we’re up to,” I said. They’re a complication, and I’m busy.

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Fuck Merry Kill 4

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There’s a line of thinking in Superhero Studies that every hero will create his own nemesis. They’ll fail to save a certain person or capture someone important to another. Maybe their powers trigger someone else gaining superpowers who takes a darker path. It’s not all that solid. For one thing, the only reason I chose Venus as my nemesis was because she could hold her own against me in a fight and probably some harmful psychological baggage.

Another big hole in the theory is that I’m not a superhero, but this Miser person is going out of his way to try and counter my holiday cheerfest. This year’s been so absolutely fucked, even the personification of joy in the middle of the cold and darkness doesn’t want to do his job. That’s where I come in: too stupid to know better, too stubborn to give up. And this time, I’m using my powers for goodness sake.

It started with Miser stealing the first shipment of vaccines for the pandemic. Then, someone started poisoning soup kitchens, and the Miser took public credit. I think that one didn’t work quite like he meant it to. So many people are in bad circumstances this year, there’s no getting rid of the demand for food. Between the need to replace soup kitchen food, pandemic shortages, and survivalist stockpiling, we were seeing an unbelievable soup shortage. I decided to do my part.

I caught an incoming soup flight. They were moving it by cargo plane, under guard. Never know when the survivalists would go for it, especially with how few of them know you can boil some neckbones for broth. I snuck up on the cargo plane, lights off. I waited until I got close to show off the improvements made to the sleigh. The deer now pretended to run through the sky, but it was the device at the head of them that I was most proud of. That deer had a skull-sized orb for a nose that housed a heat ray. Not a laser, nor an x-ray, but a heat ray. The difference is that the red-glowing nose didn’t cause as much of a lightshow when it superheated the metal of the mechanism at the base of the door. With a snap, the cargo door fell open, throwing someone out into the cold night sky.

There were a few armed guards standing around pallets of plastic-wrapped soup cans. Battle helmets, body armor, and repeating plasma rifles. Somebody paid a premium for protection. I hit the lights on the sleigh. The red, green, white, and blue bright lights were enough to throw off their night vision for the moment. I used the opening to drop the windshield long enough to jump up and run along the hood and deer. I jumped into the open door, hitting the remote to seal up the sleigh with my daughter inside. She can pout all she wants, but plasma rifles aren’t children’s toys. More reason these clowns shouldn’t have them.

I rushed up to one of the guards and grabbed his rifle, directing it upward. He fired hot plasma into the top of the fuselage while I swept the leg. Then, with the other foot, I swept the crotch. He slid a few feet but his gun stayed with me. I threw it at another guard, catching him in the face with the receiver. He aimed high while I slid low, headbutting his crotch and jingling his bells. I jumped to my feet, lifting that guy over head and throwing him overhead onto his back. The last guy caught me in the side, giving me the smell of roasted pork inside my armor. I projected holograms of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, future, and that Marley guy. He fired wildly and lost track of me coming at it him from the side and clocking him upside the jaw, putting him down like he was Glass Joe.

With them down, I could better hear the ruckus from forward in the plane. Folks were waking up to something going wrong. At least half the plane was blocked off, probably with more guards ready at a moment’s notice. I’d given them the moment, and they’d noticed. Send in the drones!

The windows of the sleigh opened again. From out of a large red bag in the backseat flew a half-dozen drones, pushing against the wind with the help of rocket thrusters, my daughter racing after all of them. The drones settled on top of the nearest pallets. I began strapping the nearest one to its drone. A curtain moved out of the way up ahead. I set a nutcracker down on one of them. The nutcracker raised its little toy rifle and fired at the nearest movement from that direction, causing the approaching guards to duck for cover briefly. That only held them off for a second before the nutcracker was blasted into flaming bits, but by then, I’d finished that pallet of soup.

I had other tricks up my ample sleeves. I flung a star tree topper off into the plane that caused a lightshow of fireworks inside the thing. That gave me time to secure another couple of pallets and move to help Qiang with the one she was working on. “Get back to the sleigh, dear. It’s almost time to get out of here.”

She nodded and ran back to where the sleigh was pulling up onto the ramp. She took the driver’s seat, of course. I remote-piloted it back out, leaving me with the pallets. “Ok,” I told her over the car radio. “Now hit the song!”

I began pushing some of the pallets, mindful of guards on approach. They’d figured out they had my back and that it was too much of a risk of hitting the soup they were guarding to fire. I sighed, though, when the BTS music hit instead of the song I actually told my daughter to play for this awesome music. That k-pop’s everywhere these days.

I turned and gave the guards a pair of middle fingers before activating the parachutes installed in the drones on the last two pallets. They fell out of the plane and I hopped out after them. My daughter interfered with that, too. Rather than a cool night sky dive, she caught me a few feet below the plane in the backseat of the Impala.

“You’re never getting your license if you keep this up!” I told her. She just giggled. See, this is why the real Santa never adopted an orphan then used superscience to alter her DNA so she was biologically related to him. Among other reasons, I’m sure.

The soup got where it needed to go. Some places had the time, money, and resources to rebuild their soup stocks, and stock stocks, from nothing. The Exemplars are running some soup kitchens and homeless shelters like that. Others needed a little help. We all do, sometimes. And this time, they got special deliveries from Santa Gecko.

But wait, there’s more. The Miser’s not just messing with people’s food. I awoke late one day after a night of flying around being awesome to find out California had another wildfire. At this point, I didn’t think the state had anything left that could catch on fire, but news choppers all spotted the word “Miser” spelled out in flames at the beginning of the mess.

This looked like a job for… Santa Woman.

Now, I didn’t know a whole lot about summoning water and snow from nowhere, but I know a guy who does. The supervillain Ouroboros doesn’t have the most impressive powers, but what he does have is a system that works. He gives his domain stability. Competence is a power all its own. One reason he has it so easy is the presence of weather control buoys he’s commissioned off the Gulf Coast. They’re able to keep hurricanes from wrecking Paradise City with its tourist industry and casinos.

I stole a couple. I was only going to take one, but then I remembered this was California, where “on fire” is part of the usual forecast most of the year. Hefted one up into the backseat of the sleigh and carried the other below, then set about reprogramming them on the way over to Cali.

I think news reporters were just fucking breaking down at this point. Militia shooters, murderous cops, pandemic, wildfires… and even more. Hell, an ICE agent interrupted the broadcast to ask her for her papers. I think it was just enough for her. She hit that wall where she couldn’t handle it emotionally.

“The dream’s over, Hernandez,” the ICE agent said. And then a pile of snow fell on top of the ICE agent and turned him into a snowman. She looked up to see my Chevy Impala lowrider sleigh zipping through the sky accompanied by the jingling of bells and the song “Feliz Navidad.”

Then she and her cameraman started running to escape the Icer.

I pulled up to better control the weather. These buoys worked better the closer to the epicenter of the weather they were meant to affect. That works perfectly fine in the waters of the Gulf, stopping hurricanes. Here, that meant pulling up way into the sky and watching as air cooled into hail and snowflakes. I swept in, bringing the cold with me. Which was plenty bad in its own way for California, but not as bad as yet another fucking wildfire. Most wildlife had already fled the fire, so they didn’t have to worry about getting caught in the snow that drifted down and buried the flames. I ended up creating a fog of sorts from where the cold precipitation hit the burnt-over ground and raging fires.

But, slowly and surely, the fires that were started so out of control were halted, until the only place left was a section of the woods in Northern California where a man roamed with a flamethrower, randomly setting things alight. I brought the sleigh down low and hopped out, my armor turning me invisible. He looked up at the sleigh and tried in vain to catch it with a gout of flame. The flame died when I snuck up behind him and pulled the gas lines out.

“That was easy. Time to catch some holiday spirit, Miser. Right upside your head.” I pulled the man’s helmet off and saw a faceless, pulsing, humanoid… thing. I bopped it over the head with the helmet just to be sure and knock it the fuck out. Thing was a little gross. A quick check with the medical nanites showed it was human… some half-formed clone with fucked-up telomeres that wouldn’t survive long anyway. This Heat Miser was just a minion that the real Miser didn’t care if it took the fall.

But it still gave me a clue. Not a lot of places in on this world can pull something like this off, and I got a match on the DNA. I still have plenty of outdated government files, like ones for contractor security clearance. These belonged to a fellow named Geoffrey Westmoreland, head of a little-known corporate subsidiary called Eidolon Solutions that gets passed around all the time. Some esoteric thing where people try to kill goats by staring at them and use sound to unlock wormholes. No wonder everyone regrets their investment and sells it.

Looks like they’re going on my naughty list, and its time to give them a lump.

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