Some might ask “Gecko, why are you visitng the United States right now?”
By some, I mean everybody. Every. Fucking. Body. I’m getting phone calls, texts, and emails. Hell, I’m getting emails in addresses I didn’t even know I had! I swear, something started vibrating in my colon that MIGHT have been a fax. Or I forgot an egg up there. Regardless, a lot of people seem to think my sudden and unexplained trip is their business. As it happens, dear reader, it is at least partially yours, since you have to slog through all this to get to the part where I turn people into juicy bits.
See, it’s a rather special time of year again. October. Halloween approaches. While I’ve always found it fun, I’ve also lately made an enemy of someone who seems like he’d take advantage of that day. A fellow named Spinetingler. I believe there’ssome dispute over his exact powerset, though he would count as a deity if he’d been born into pretty much any other period of this Earth’s history. He himself is rather monstrous looking, somehow able to alter his body and survive attacks that can liquefy many others. He’s still mortal, however. He can be beaten. So can his lackeys, who he usually ends up collecting and/or empowering into horror-themed villains that bring their own brand of terror to the world.
I have had to work around him ever since I inadvertently freed him from the Cube, an illegal, abusive, complex prison. To be fair, my motives were more about freeing myself. It just so happened that he got free as well. Then he tried to turn Empyreal City, something of my home city in this dimension, into hell on Earth. Or transferred it to a pocket dimension meant to resemble hell. I beat him that time, but I figured he’d be back. Horror franchises like him are notoriously difficult to kill.
I’m here to make some peace by giving him the very thing he moved hell and Earth for: his daughter. I hope I can find the bitch.
Entry to the United States was no problem. I’d been spying on the food cult of Old Man Hoodless and he got a big settlement from the Scientologists who had tried to sue him. Summoning that demon did wonders for his countersuit. And one of the things I’d happened to see was the whole gang getting pictures with a well-known actor. Lest I bring down the curse of the litigious Scientologists upon my readers, I won’t bother to name names. Let’s just say he was a pretty short guy, but Hollywood’s been more than up to the impossible mission of hiding that. And he brought his private jet.
The guy was a bit kooky, though. I think it was from the pills and alcohol his handler kept giving him, which didn’t partner well with him insisting on flying the plane. That gave me a chance to test out the profanity filter on Qiang’s armor. It’s a good thing hypocrisy only applies to people who aren’t me. “Those fucking pussies in Hollywood didn’t say anything bad about my man when he was raking in million-fucking-dollar box office receipts. What does poon-grabbing matter when you’re a star? They’re worried someone gets to touch it for free before they get rich enough to charge for it?”
Qiang tugged on my arm and spoke, “Daddy, why is that man talking so much about ‘funky cats’?”
There were advantages to not speaking in English, like being able to plot behind a white man’s back or talk about why we don’t like him. In this instance, I just said, “He’s a little weird. He thinks alien ghosts live in his head.”
“What are you two ching-chonging about back there, huh? You’re in America now. Speak American.”
In English, I asked, “What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with an abundance of superfluous breath?”
“What’d you call me?” asked the overly-sensitive and likely coked-up famous actor with lots of money for lawyers.
“I was quoting Shakespeare,” I told him. “You might look into his play on King John.”
“Maybe I’ll do that,” he said, turning back to look out the window. “Maybe.”
He had us land in Los Angeles rather than continue on to the East Coast, but I made the best of it with my deftness at arranging transport. I stole his plane, refueled it, and flew out of there. I still hadn’t heard anything about it being stolen, even as I landed us in Empyreal City. The staff recognized the plane and were more than happy to welcome such an illustrious guest, allowing Qiang and I any kind of security. The holograms helped.
As for a fancy car and hotel stay, I paid for those courtesy of a bank I infiltrated before I even headed to Ricca in the first place. It was a Canadian bank, but the ones and zeroes transferred perfectly well to American machines, and my illicit bank account had grown fat on the detritus of millions of transactions.
I got us our own floor of a hotel under the name Julius Marx and decided to teach Qiang the value of de-odorizing her armor. She fell asleep before we were finished, so I left her armor hanging up to dry and headed out myself.
I’d been checking the news. A bunch of stuff in there lately that could drive a man to drink… drain cleaner, that is. Like some guy who blew himself up to kill a busload of kids, but his suicide note claimed he was doing it ironically as a way of mocking identity politics. They found similar notes about how his Hitler poster was ironic, and his mother, when interviewed, claimed he had been ironically fucking their dog, too.
You know things are bad when I’m the part of the world making sense. Nah, the news more on my mind involved a certain class of super. And, especially with myself gone, the supers had quite a time in Empyreal City. I went to go find one of the folks I’d been keeping an eye on. The question was which one?
There had been a woman who turned into a giant snake, but she was harder to pin down. There’s been something big and scaley operating out of the sewers, but that thing’s shaped like a human, not a snake. Someone’s been running around in a pig mask, doing their best to ambush nighttime vigilantes and scare the crap out of them. A mad scientist woman has been spotted operating out of an abandoned hospital and unleashing deformed mutants on people. Some woman’s been gathering an army of rats and used them to pull off crimes. There’s even been a hero, Skelly, who has a bone to pick with crime. Most people wouldn’t consider “being a skeleton” to be a superpower.
Out of all of those, the only one who had something of a known address was the scientist, so I headed for her first. The neighborhood was one of many wrecked ones, with cracked and potholed roads, hardly any working street lights, and nobody walking around on the streets except for one wobbly shape with inhuman proportions. That thing seemed to fade into the shades from a distance, though I could pick up a wet plopping sound moving away when I landed on the street in front of the hospital, projected a disguise, and knocked on the door.
I caught a light flick on to the side. A cheap security camera that just saw a man in slacks and a white shirt. I made a show of knocking again, then turning to look back behind me. The door burst open and bulging, vaguely-humanoid things reached out at me. I dropped the disguise, pulled off the two nearest arms, and proceeded to bitch slap some mutants with their own limbs. That still left one of them with at least two arms, I soon realized. I also quickly figured out that, gross appearance aside, they weren’t particularly fearsome guards.
I ended up chasing them around the hospital a bit when we came to a room with actual lights and equipment. A woman sat there in dirty lab coat that I doubt was meant to be brown originally. She looked at me with one eye. She had two, but the other one was staring elsewhere. Her hair was supposed to be in a ponytail, but some strands had gone rogue. “Who are you? What the fuck do you want?” she asked, standing up and grabbing for the closest thing she could find.
I nodded toward her hand. “You plan to fight me off with a glasses case?”
She looked down at it, then over to where the pair of mutants who had attacked me fled through a hole in the wall. She looked back to me. “I have more mutants, whoever you are.”
I shrugged. “I can handle them. I am, after all, Psycho Gecko. Sorry, Emperor Psycho Gecko. I’m not used to making that introduction yet.”
“Are you here to kill me?” she asked quickly, trembling.
I shook my head.
“Then this is a warning to stop?” she asked, which caused me to tilt my head.
“I don’t care if you stop or continue whatever it is you do here. I just need a DNA sample real quick.” I approached her and began opening up one of my belt pouches for my little handheld paternity tester. My time in control of the entire world and accessing the U.S. government’s secrets left me with all kinds of data I haven’t all gone over. Some of that includes Spinetingler’s DNA.
“I don’t believe you,” she said, throwing the glasses case at me and turning to run. It wasn’t some sort of hidden weapon or gimmick, either. The glasses case bounced off me harmlessly as I jumped on the woman and pinned her down. While the tester worked perfectly fine swabs, it could work perfectly fine if the user pinned a woman to the floor and shoved bits of it into her mouth to forcefully get a sample. Of course it would; I built it. I can fit a replaceable needle on it as well.
“Who’s your daddy?” I asked as I held her down to get the sample. I sat on her as I waited a minute for the result.
Eventually, she stopped struggling. “What do you want? I’m not hurting anybody!”
“The mutants there might disagree, but I’m just doing a favor for someone. A bit of freelance detective work hunting down a lost daughter and you are… not it.” I stood up. “You’re free to go continue whatever thing you’re thinking I don’t like you doing.”
She got to her knees and looked up at me and a wall fifteen feet to my right. “Really?”
I patted her on the head. “Pat, pat. Yep, you’re fine. Go back to disfiguring people if you want. I have no quarrel with you.”
“Not even for trying to make your machines obselete?” she said, standing up. I sometimes think that it’s a chronic weakness of villains that they have big mouths at the worst time.
“Is that what you’re doing? I think you’ve got a ways to go yet,” I said, pointing over to where I’d tossed an arm in the earlier fighting.
“I can grow that back,” she said. “Growing isn’t the problem. I have trouble making them stop at the right time.”
“Working on regeneration?” I asked. She would hardly be the first person to cross some lines in the name of healing.
She nodded. “I can take a multiple amputee and restore them to full functionality. Er, uh, sort of. There’s problem with the formula.”
One of the mutants stepped into the light. It already had another arm starting to grow from its chest to replace the one I’d yanked off. It might have had a human face, if you can picture a human face stung by bees until the eyes are nothing but folds in swollen tissue.
Regeneration of human limbs and tissue is one of those things people have been after for a long time. The nanites I abuse so much just rebuild according to the body’s genetic blueprint, including whatever phenotypical changes I or someone else programs into them. Whatever this thing was, it’s like the process caused the body itself to grow but with lots of mistakes. Maybe something damaged the DNA or messed with the replication process. What had been a person now resembled a kind of warped tumor man. That’s basically what they are even if they didn’t have cancer with its own growth enhanced by what this person was doing.
I looked back to the woman. “It looks like you have a ways to go. You using radiation?”
She shook her head. “It’s a chemical I found. Most would call it a waste by-product. I just need to limit it and I’ll revolutionize medicine without the risk of you controlling people. Uh, if that’s fine with you, sir?”
I shrugged again. “Knock yourself out. I don’t have a clue what you could possibly be using that does this to someone.” I held out my hand toward the tumor man. “But you might want to move soon. Your presence here isn’t a secret. And maybe you’ll last longer at the next place if you don’t attack whatever random salesman knocks on the door at night.”
“I thought you were a Mormon!” she said to explain her trying to grab me with mutants. She shut her mouth and brushed a stray hair out of the way that had escaped from her ponytail.
“Fine,” I admitted. “That was a reasonable response for what you saw. If you want, maybe I could arrange for a proper work space and better equipment for you?”
She stepped back, her face screwing up like I just slapped her with a used tampon. “Why?”
“Why not? You can’t be making much headway like this. How do you even pay for anything?” I looked all around the room. The place was shit. Mold grew all over the walls. “And just think if whatever you’re using got into the fungus around here.”
She looked around. “I send my patients out to steal. If they don’t, I can’t fix them. You are a liar and a trickster. You just want to control everyone through your machines for your masters in the United Nations. The United Illuminati, ha!”
Yeah, she didn’t end up working for me. I left her to her fate of constantly struggling to make even the littlest headway with wrecked equipment and test subjects manipulated by hope. She wasn’t worth putting up with that much, and soon she’ll be strapped to a bed being a four course dinner of pills. But I made the offer.
At least I won’t have to disappoint Spinetingler by revealing his daughter to be that loon. If I did, he’d probably bed me to put her down like Old Yeller. And like Old Yeller, I’d use rabies to do the job.
“Alright men, women, and that technicolor rainbow in-between,” I said, walking along a line of my new guardsmen. Some were made up of the same probationary people I’d brought onboard to help scout things out and keep the peace. “I’m going to quickly review the actions of the probationary members all by myself. I may be quiet a bit while I do all this in my head, but I am here, and I can’t be pantsed. I put a lot of work into my armor’s anti-pantsing technology.” I spread my hands so that people could take take in the glory that is my armor.
Then I fast-forwarded through a long period of time involving body cams, satellite footage, and global positioning. A couple hours later, I noticed the new Security Department rushing back into place or standing up. I feel like I should judge them on that, but I don’t know whether to be a dick and focus on the ones who stayed in place despite an unreasonable request, or favor the ones who weren’t stupid. In the end, I decided not to bother either way because it didn’t matter that much in light of everything else. I should start hiring some sort of middle management and let them worry about it for me. As the head dictator of the nation, I worry about bigger things. Hmm. I might have an idea there.
I folded my hands behind my back, ignoring the penis-shaped balloon hat on my armor. I’ll review my eye footage to see who dropped it on me, but getting mad at a penis hat is the sort of thing that only justifies a penis hat. I wore that penis loud and proud for all to see. So I walked along the line of Security folks, head and penis held high. “So, I see y’all have been busy. Drug deals, home invasions, muggings… The veteran Riccan police officers here have clearly been taking advantage of me being distracted.” I stopped in front of one of the repeat offenders. “Seriously, dude, the old folks home?”
He held that distant stare of someone at attention for a few minutes. When he figured out I wasn’t moving on, he finally offered an explanation for his actions. “I thought they would enjoy it. They don’t get a lot of men jacking it to them anymore.”
His offenses were entirely focused on exposing himself to geriatrics who, it should be noted, haven’t complained. I don’t know if that’s due to the longstanding corruption of a tyrranical governent or genuine appreciation. Long story short, his explanation satisfied me enough to move on. “Good man,” I patted him on the shoulder and gave him my penis hat.
I stepped away to call out one of them. He stepped forward, smug. “Yes, Emperor?”
I waved him even further, away from the others. I kept at it until he stood right in front of me. I clapped him on both shoulders, then pulled him into a hug. “I just wanted to tell you… I know about the children.”
Then I tossed him over head and activated his killswitch in my head. Kaboom! “Ok, now I need the guy to come forward who has been picking up people for his personal home dungeon, and I don’t mean the kinky kind.”
That one took off running in the opposite direction. The others looked back, but I held up a hand. “No, no, I got this… You see, folks, I have just one question for all of y’all, as people who are meant to keep everyone safe but who are tempted to abuse the power of your position to fuck things up… explosions?” The death of their fleeing comrade added emphasis to myquestion.
I sighed then. “I know, I know. I’m the last guy who should be talking about law and order, and I’m sure there’s some half-assed justification I could use to explain away both my affinity for chaos and my current desire for a little bit of domestic stability. Perhaps that is, indeed, some fundamental clash faced by all people. Regardless, guys, I have a big trip planned. Don’t make me have to murder all of you? Help me help you by not blowing you up! Oh, that reminds me,” I shot finger guns at some guy with a love of date-raping everything. That petting zoo will never be the same, and I didn’t even get to visit it first.
The line of Security personnel ducked for cover in time to avoid explosion. I continued on, interlacing my fingers together. “Listen, if y’all want me to inflict pain and suffering on the great White Satan, it’s really important that we keep the peace here. If people get rebellious, it gives those imperialist Western dogs an excuse to invade. If you aren’t police, there could be a police action. Plus, the better this place stays, the more reason I have to break shit off the island as opposed to coming back and asserting myself.”
I stopped to turn and look at one of them, who jumped. “I swear, I only took the bribes because I needed them to feed my family and buy cool new clothes!”
“I’m not killing you. Just step forward. Come on.” I let him approach, cautiously, like a tender baby deer. I looked to the others. “Now, as part of this, I want to go over a few things y’all shouldn’t do in normal interactions with the public. See, it’s about proportionate response. If I just go around blowing people up for taking bribes as I do for someone who drugs and fucks cuddly baby goats, it causes a bit of a problem. Sure, people might cut out all the little things… but more than likely, it’ll drive people to do more extreme things to match the sentence they inevitably know they’ll be facing, or to hide what they’ve done. I don’t want to be that guy. I’m with it. I’m groovy. I’m dyn-o-mite!”
I consider some of my address to be part of the punishment. For the newbies, it’s a warning. “So as a basic tip, when just casually interacting with the public, none of this.” I elbowed my current victim in the belly. He doubled over, gasping. “Nor any of this,” I stomped on his foot, causing a crunch. “Or this!” I kneed him in the balls. “And whatever you do, don’t, under any circumstances, resort to this…” I grabbed his ear and twisted it. That was really important as a final touch, because people with broken toes, reverberating balls, and the wind knocked out of them like to fall down.
With that taken care of and a couple more guards disciplined with “mandatory” prostate exams, I left them in the likely-incapable hands of the Directory. When I thought about it, I realized I could dump the responsibility on them to nominate someone to be head of the police force. I don’t know the constitution allows this, but I also don’t care, so I think it all works out.
I also had a talk with them about the possibility of nanite dispensers as cover for what I’d ordered to slip them into the water. And because I’d like some for the palace. But it was just while I was on my way out to go pick up the machine.
Some might ask why I’m even bothering. Well, I realized that one of the things I wanted to do was help this island I’ve taken over. Being me, I have to help in my own way. I’m just no hero, even when I do good things. I’m bad, and that’s good. I’ll never be good, and that’s not bad.
See, a more heroic person might set up helpful dispensers all over the island where the public can access them anytime they want, including people who are just abusing the service or stealing from them. A better person would set up a system of people to refill these dispensers, also becoming targets to people like me. It’s boring, it works, it feeds the criminal element, and it’s what anyone would expect.
Instead, I’m setting up a conspiratorial, secret system to pump them into the water in a controlled release that helps everyone. One place to deliver materials to, one place to guard, one set of workers to pay a little extra to keep their mouths shut. Besides, they deserved the extra money after keeping the entire place running during the recent crisis.
Yep, I seem to have taken everything into account… or so I thought until I checked in on the Bronze City and found Citra assaulting me with what may have been a spitoon. I shook the Dudebot’s head. “Sorry, dear, I was elsewhere. What seems to be the matter?”
“I want to come home. I hate this place. Do you know what this is?!” she held up the metal container she hit my robot duplicate with.
I shrugged my double’s shoulders. “Your very own spitoon. I’m not a chewer, myself, but I’ll support you if you take up the habit. We can have a big parade with the 1812 Overture and a twenty-one spit salute.”
“This is a chamber pot. This is what I have had to use instead of a bathroom!”
She raised it up high, as if to dump it on me. Then she took, as if remembering my leniency has limits, she threw it out a nearby window. From the sound of things, it made quite an impact when it landed. On a horse.
“I hope you’re happy,” I told her, “If you’re done beating a live horse with a jar full of piss, I can answer you. Yeah, sure, fine. Come on home. I’ve got to go on a trip anyway, so we’ll send over some ambassadors. Maybe someone who pisses you off. Oh, and hey, we can even see about getting your old body back.”
She hugged me for some crazy reason. Eh, you know how sensitive the womenfolk are when you force someone to change their identity, take away their indoor plumbing, and surround them with chauvanistic hedonists who like to fuck drunk people. They must have trouble thinking straight due to all the blood flowing to their dicks all the time.
But enough about chicks with sensitive dicks.
My final act of preparation, at least for now, involved me holding my hands over Qiang’s eyes. My daughter had often wanted to travel around with me when I’m in my armor, and I often refused. I do dangerous things, after all. “You know how you keep wanting to go on adventures with Daddy?” I asked her, then had to help her up after she stripped over a girly pink sandal. “Also, this is a good reminder about picking up your shoes out of the middle of the living room.
She picked up the one she’d tripped over. “Dad, this isn’t mine. It’s too big!” She held it up to see.
“I see it, hon. Just hold onto it for now,” I told her. Then, when I had her positioned just right, I moved my hands. “Ok, let’s take a look…”
I think she shattered a window. It was hard to tell, because my ears adjusted to block harmful noises. My eyes worked just fine, though. Qiang loved her new armor. She ran up and hugged it and jumped up and down. It followed a lot of my design aesthetics: padded nanomaterial underlayer with curved armor plate strips to deflect attacks and increase flexibility. No shoulder pads gives her full range of arm movement. The leg armor is a little lacking, primarily focused on the thighs and shins, but with the underlayer doubled. There IS a powered exo-skeleton, which isn’t so exo if it’s built into the armor, but I put some restrictions on it to keep her from doing anything like breaking her own limbs. If she does, she’ll have the benefit of a few built-in nanite distributors that I can activate remotely.
I don’t know what Qiang was saying due to the pitch and volume, but I got the sense she wanted to get in and try it out. I showed her how to undo the environmental seals and pull it on before slipping on her new helmet, with armor strips running along the head and the visor looking more like a scowl. I built it to resemble my old standard armor, complete with 360 cameras. Like the nanites, I can turn off some of it to prevent sensory overload.
This is a weapon, with some restrictions I can turn off at will. And, once she got into it, I held up her left arm and pointed it away from me. “Now, can you feel that thing hiding in there?”
She nodded her cute little helmet. “Want me to use it?”
I smiled. “Do it.”
A thin cable shot out of the underside of her arm. It hit a light in the air and shorted it with crackles and sparks. “That would be the electricity. You can turn that part off if you want. Now listen, this is a weapon. This hurts people. If it’s turned up enough, it can kill someone. Do you know what that means?”
She nodded quietly. I hugged her. “You have the option, but you don’t have to take it. Do you want me to turn off the electricity?”
She nodded again, so I shut it off. “Daddy, I don’t wanna hurt people.”
“You don’t have to, but now you have armor of your own,” I said. She hugged me tight, just us in our armors.
Empyreal City better watch out. I got a Little Psycho on my hands. No… not a psychopomp. She shouldn’t have to bear that label. A Little Dragon.
Citra made it out just fine, it turns out. She’s barricaded herself in our rooms at the Bronze Palace, but he’s fine. My Dudebot’s making excuses for sending her back to Ricca, so I’ll see about getting her on a ship back over there when I’m not busy with more important things.
Like measuring my daughter for a new outfit, which is what I was doing when I got interrupted by official duties in the form of a messenger from the Directors.“Sir, the United States wants to talk to you. They are unhappy you set foot off the island in violation of the treaty.”
I rolled my eyes, patted Qiang on the head, and picked her up. “Come, my dear, it’s negotiate with that country that used to be a world leader.”
I spoke with a man with close-shaved hair and a hard face. He looked like they picked him for his ability to look angry and constipated. No wonder my guys said they were unhappy. I stepped up to the screen. “And who do I have the displeasure of wasting time on?”
“You’re in enough hot water as-is, you jumped-up carjacker. What are you doing off your island?”
I looked around, then down. I stomped on the ground a few times. “I don’t know where you think I am right now, but I seem to be on the island.”
He held up spy satellite pictures of me in Ricca fighting the Dimension Rangers and me in the Bronze City meeting the delegation. I glanced at them. “Do you have timestamps?”
“You know damn well we do so we can prove you-”
I reached over to put my and on the Giant Screen I’d been talking through, cutting off this guy with images of my own. They showed footage of the landing and of the fight, alongside footage of a Dudebot gladhanding people on Ricca. “As you can see, either I can be in multiple places at once, or you’re looking at a copycat. Perhaps some despicable doppelganger trying to sully my good name. I’ll have you know I would have you know I haven’t violated any treaty I’ve signed with your country and I am insulted by the implication. Not insulted enough to attack you or anything, but mighty peeved, I tell ya what.”
I was being honest, too. Beetrice forged my name on the original treaty, meaning I never signed it myself. Not that it matters, as I’m quite at fucking the truth sideways in the ass, but I like being able to lie while telling the truth. The best truths are the ones that destroy other people.
After my righteous indignation, the posterboy for frustrated abstinence pointed his finger through the screen at me. “One of you is a goddamn robot, that’s what it is. Probably you.”
I wasn’t in my armor, which made the statement all the more odd. Completely lifelike robots are extremely difficult to maintain. There are sound considerations, movements, smells, and keeping the skin alive. I raised my finger. “Qiang, honey, stab daddy’s finger.”
Qiang looked between the angry man on the screen and me. I smiled at her. She slid her knife out of her dress and held it overhand to gently prick my finger. I turned the prick toward the other prick. “Do I not bleed? Do I not have a loving and obedient daughter to take care of? Have I not recorded this entire conversation to present to the world if you try any of that He-Man macho preemptive bullshit? And before you say it, I know that wouldn’t stop you.” I smiled and chuckled, before looking him in the eye. “I would.”
I shut off the screen, then kissed Qiang’s forehead. “Good job, sweety. That’s what daddy likes to call ‘proof of life.’ See, sometimes people need to be sure someone is alive. Usually, that’s just a matter of holding up that day’s newspaper next to the person, but sometimes you have to resort to blood, or even body parts. Any questions?”
After our impromptu lesson on one of the basics of hostage-taking, I brought Qiang along with me to tour the water treatment plant. She decided she’d rather go play, so I dropped her off with Silver Shark to go find a Cao Cao’s Pizza. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese, but with a man in a Japanese samurai outfit who goes around cutting pizzas with his sword. They have lots of games for kids. I tried looking up their history, but the internet had nothing on them except for news archives about children disappearing.
See, this is why I taught my daughter how to kill people and employ a cyborg shark-woman as her babysitter. It keeps me from becoming one of those awful helicopter parents.
Anyway, the water treatment plant. It’s one of the more manageable aspects of my future plan. I was surprised I neglected this place in my first run-through of the island’s facilities. I mean, food’s doing ok. I believe they settled with the Scientologists. I sometimes see Old Man Hoodless roaring by the beach on his new speedboat. Power’s going well now that we’ve got multiple crews trained. I’ve approved the repatriation of the kidnapped nuclear plant crew via quietly dumping them in out of the way places on the Japanese mainland. But I haven’t had a crisis about water so far, and that’s actually pretty awesome.
Lots of systems are like that. The invisible cogs of the world that most don’t think about so long as they work. They can be a real fuckwaffle to fix or get started. That’s why I brought gift baskets for my visit. Sake, cheese, and some sort of medals the Director found for loyalty and hard work. They wouldn’t tell me which of the brothels sell gift cards, so I left those out.
It wasn’t a fancy operation. They had it parked on the south end of the island, right on the coast. Despite my good intentions, I suspect many of them were eager to swim away as I stepped inside to greet them. “Goooood morning my loyal aqua engineers! H2Oh boy aren’t y’all glad to see me? Water y’all doing this fine day?!”
Bad jokes are only a tiny part of the reason I went there to see the bright and shiny faces of the people keeping us hydrated. They didn’t have so many of the bright and shiny faces. Weary, sure. They pulled off confused and curious as well, but the place didn’t have much of a PR department. Then again, when your selling point is “Support us or have no water,” you don’t need a lot of tact to make a deal.
They had a mixed crowd of men and women working there, which is nice to see. They sent forward a man to represent them. “I am Shu, the spokesman for the Water Collective.”
“Collective?” I asked. “I am unfamiliar with y’all and assumed I’d be speaking with a manager or supervisor or something. Please enlighten me.”
Shu and I walked and talked as he took me on a tour of the water purification systems. They showed me the water treatment, ozone, and filters, and I pretended to be fascinated. It was still handy information to have in case I ever need it or need to help fix it, but it also wasn’t as cool as the laser room. Turns out they separate salt from water using a delicate process involving a large industrial laser. Some of the steam from that can be diverted to power an on-site turbine, which kept it self-sufficient while the power was off. They’re also selling the sea salt.
I nodded along hearing how it all came together in what Shu described as a wonderful and complex cycle of water up until they fired it off for me. I couldn’t help but get excited watching stimulated light boil the water into leaving behind salt crystals. “There are doors that close over there so we can get to the salt and access for maintenance… Emperor?”
Shu had to ask after me because I was hugging the observation window and emitting a high-pitched pleasure noise. “It’s ok. I’m just wondering if it has any penis-sized holes.”
“No sir, and we don’t like the laser breaking down,” he said. “But you are the Emperor.”
I unstuck myself from the observation window reluctantly as the laser powered down. I shook myself off to get the tingly feelings off the back of my head. “No, it’s fine, it’s fine. Still, I’m going to need a few things now.”
“We will do our best, sir. What can we get you?” asked Shu.
“I’m gonna need either a crapton of popcorn, or a secret agent. Even better, find me a secret agent and stuff him full of uncooked popcorn.” I was already looking up to find out where they popcorn grows and if we export any.
“I do not believe we can do this. Would you like to continue the tour instead?” he bowed, perhaps to hide his expression in the face of my reactions while also showing respect.
I nodded along with residual enthusiasm from the water-slaughtering death machine they’d demonstrated. “Sure, sure, I got ya. Listen, let’s just cut to the thing I showed up here for in the first place. What I need to know is if you have something already built to pump chemicals into the water supply.”
Shu raised his face back up, his smile failing to reach the corner of his eyes. “Of course. This way, my Emperor.”
It’s not really a surprise they built the place to do that, too. “Here it is, Emperor.” Shu presented me to a set of tanks hooked into the outgoing water supply. “These are the flouride tanks. We haven’t had flouride in them for years, though.”
“Flouride? I’m surprised Claw cared so much.”
She scratched the back of his head. “The rumors say a scientist told him he could use flouride in the drinking water to make people into mindless followers, when he was really a foreign operative meant to trick the Claw. The project did nothing but improve people’s teeth.”
“Interesting,” I said, climbing up to examine some of the tanks. All empty, but I think they’ll work. “Who did he work for? CIA? KGB? MI-6?”
“The American Dental Association,” Shu responded, getting a laugh from me.
“A dentist, eh? They stick him in a chair and take a drill to him for interrogation? Now that’s some poetic justice.” I rubbed my hands together, nearly salivating at the idea.
“No,” Shu answered, “The man had a cyanide tooth. They checked him for such, but the tooth was perfectly installed and eluded detection.”
“Well,” I said, slamming a hand down on the side of the tank. “These things are perfect, and tooth enthusiasts like that dastardly dentist may yet get their wish. I’ve got an idea. We’re going to inundate the local waters, you see. Special nanomachines that don’t quite operate the way the medical ones do.”
“Sir?” he asked.
I clapped my hands together. “Imagine if all you anyone needed to do to get over illness was enjoy water from the tap? Get over a cut off limb by soaking in a bath, even. It’s one of the first ideas I have in mind for improving things.”
The guy seemed a bit jumpy. He didn’t need to know about my planned instructions to mess around a bit with people bodies. See what I can do to impress some of those same abilities into people, much in the way I’ve upgraded my own flesh. I resolved to think more on whether it should all be controlled manually or subject to a program running experiments.
I had plenty of time to think about it after I left the treatment facility to head back to the palace and begin work on a child-sized suit of power armor. Unfortunately, the surprise was ruined when Silver Shark and Qiang burst in looking like they’d been in something of a tussle.
“Problem, dears?” I asked, smiling at them.
“We are never going back there again!” Silver said. I took it to be a normal allergic reaction to kid saturation until Qiang added to the conversation.
“They had robot animal samurai on a stage to play music, and then they let them walk around, and, and, and then one of them tried to take me in the back for a prize. He turned out to be a person in a suit with a knife, so I stabbed him, like this!” She demonstrated a hard, swift stab at the air in what would be crotch-level for a grown adult.
“Good girl!” I said, clapping for her.
“In your name, I beat the crap out of him and dropped him off at the base. If I didn’t have Qiang with me, I’d have taken my time,” Silver said. “You really need a police force to help with all this. You stay busy.”
“I have a lot I’m doing,” I told them. “Have to get the island ready for a brief absence, and that sounds like another area I need to work on.” And it’s true. I’m not just handling busy work. There’s much to prepare before I take my kid along with me to visit the United States. Speaking of, I may have to teach her to HALO jump.
I know the island seems like one big lovefest at times, what with the drugs and orgies, but I’m not the one personally selling those things. But people are selling them. Despite the preparations for defense, we’re seeing increased traffic from all sorts. The airport’s having staffing problems, they’re so busy. Faust’s got themselves set up to sell things right out in the open. Others are hocking ill-gotten goods that justify international travel. The really enterprising people are selling smuggling services to get the stuff bought here into other countries. Now those are smart.
Not only would it be difficult to keep undesireables out, but it’s counter to the business and tourism strategy of Ricca. It’s hard to keep an eye on everything, especially with so many of the old security cameras damaged or vandalized. I saw prostitutes plying their trade around newcomers both fancy and blue-collar. I saw drug growers making deals with pilots and boat captains. At a Faustus/Hephaestus street booth, one of their salespeople offered a glowing orb in a diamond-shaped restraint to a man in a tailored suit. Another one used a monitor nearby to show off a plasma sword to a bunch of people who smiled high-fived each other approvingly.
Such a pleasant hive of scum and villainy. It’s almost easy to get lost in all the scheming and deals. I get a cut of much of it, though I’m sure I’ll have to run down someone who doesn’t want to pay. The really awesome thing would be if I could make it even easier to get here and back to anywhere in the world with people’s products. I’d really, really love to get my hands on that teleporter of Cape Diem’s and figure out how it works for just that purpose.
Until then, I’ve got a plan involving flying robots. But, dear reader, you may have guessed they have to wait until I solve this issue with Mu. And do something about that tree over there. A group of justice rangers who have had to repress their hatred of me are not the sort of folks I like being too close to a tree that grants wishes.
This Mu thing. Originally, it was about exploring and conquering it. Then that got hijacked by finding out more about it while fending off attacks. It’s still about conquest, though. Taking over it, neutralizing threats from Mu, and securing the tree so that it can’t be used against me. It was while watching the myriad of people going about their schemes that I realized I needed to be more proactive and less reactionary. I’m good at reactionary, but still.
So for the tree, I need to destroy it or, if that’s not possible, contain it in some way. Explosives are always an option, especially with all the plastic explosives floating around in our market. There’s bound to be some way to destroy this thing. If there isn’t, there’s the containment option. A dimensional bomb could do, if it would do. I mean that I dislike it being in anyone else’s hands in the multiverse. What if it were to end up on another Earth with another version of me? I can’t be trusted with that kind of power. That’s why I must possess it or prevent anyone else from getting their damn, dirty paws on it.
I think I can handle ending the threat of the island and conquering it with related actions. Vercingetorix is coming, and eventually the Bronze City will have its fleet rebuilt to try again. Vercingetorix the barbarian might be on the island already, in fact. There’s plenty of wilderness on the western and northwestern portion of the island, and only so much I can look at. I need to draw him out.
That brings usback to the Bronze City and their Bronze Men. They don’t have much, but they have manpower. Note to self: don’t use that term near too many of the gay ones. They’re pretty old-fashioned. If they’re anything like the Classical Greeks, they’ll have primitive notions of consent. And bestiality. I’ll have to remember that bestiality point if I ever have a feast over there. When a person eats, they like to think nobody stuck a dick in their food.
So what to do about the Bronze City? Rule it, of course! I talked all about it with Elda, Princess of the Bronze City.
“Hey there, mopey pants,” I said, poking my head around the corner to look into her cell. “Are we going to meet the sun today?”
Elda held up well, all things considered. She sat on her bunk, deep in thought. Irritation flitted briefly over her features when she turned to look at me. “You look less ready for war this day, while I am ready to fight one,” she said.
I stepped in and moved to sit beside her on the bunk. She didn’t move her hand away when I set my own on top, which was a good sign. “I know it’s hard when your father dies. As much as you disagreed with him, he still meant so much to you. More than that, you are his heir. All the responsibilities he hoped he could prepare you for are now thrust upon you.”
Her hand clenched under mine, into a fist. “My claim means nothing on its own. My father insisted I learn the games politicians play, but only a king may rule the Bronze City. I told him I should not have to stayin the palace and learn these things if I can not rule and use them. He said that would become clear to me and that a good ruler was different than a hero from the tales. I threw those words back in his face the night I escaped…”
The sentence drifted off, but she took my hand in hers. She held back the sobbing, but not the tears. Then I held her. After several minutes of her calming down and even cuddling against me, I spoke up, “I may have a solution to your problems.” She punched me in the gut when I went for the kiss, but she DID listen to the rest of it.
“So, as you may realize, I’m something of a big deal. I mean, the whole world revolves around me a lot of the time. Yep, totally. But I’m also Emperor. It’s like a king, but better. But I’m an unmarried emperor, which causes people to get a bit jumpy. An unmarried emperor is one accident away from having a bunch of people fighting over my chair. It’s a nice chair, and we’ve even added this memory foam to the cushion, but a lot of people worry there might be someone worse out there to end up with. Others think that fighting over the place will end with buildings destroyed, people stampeded, and cattle raped.”
She nodded understandingly. Really not eating the meat over there, then.
“And you know I am a different sort of man than the ones you have grown up around. This is a chance for you to decide your own fate. If I were the king of the Bronze City, well, you know I have my own land to rule. You could rule the Bronze City in my stead, if you were my queen.”
She looked me right in the eyes. “Why should I trust you?”
I looked right back. “Because the sort of evil and ambitious person who murdered your father has seen fit to declare himself my enemy. Because I tended to your wounds, allowed you freedom even as a captive, and because I am making this your choice. Not mine. Not your father’s. Not Vercingetorix’s.” I’m so glad I wasn’t speaking English for that last sentence.
I had another thing to show her regarding my trust. She didn’t want to be blindfolded, so instead I threw her over my shoulder and held my hands over her hands as I jumped to our destinated, her screaming all the while.”You didn’t wanta blindfold!” I shouted by way of explanation.
When I finally set her down, she tried to kick me and back away. Except then she started to fall off the side of the building, because I’d jumped up to one of our higher buildings. I grabbed her arm and yanked her back up to me, holding her still with my arm around her shoulder. “Look.”
“We’re so high up.” She kept looking down, so I reached over to hold her chin up and force her to look out over the city.
“This is a part of my empire. You ask why you should trust me enough to marry me and make me King of the Bronze City? Because you would be Empress of Ricca. This goes both ways.”
Ya know what’s a great way to lure an old-fashioned hero out of hiding? If the evil emperor holds a lavish wedding to the damsel in distress. Almost always causes an attack. And that very sound logic is what allowed me to eventually bring the ladies around to my way of thinking.
“I swear, she means nothing to me!” I told Citra back in the residence, ducking a vase thrown by Beetrice. Silver Shark held Qiang in one hand and threw a pillow at me with the other. I knew no one would mean my kid harm, but that courtesy didn’t extend to me at all in this instance. Citra cried and grabbed a knife. I held up my hands. “The wedding will not go through!”
She stopped a few feet from me. “You’re sure?”
I stood back up, glad I no longer had to stop entertaining this amusing reaction by laying some hurt on her. “Positive. Vercingetorix is in the area. He may be on the island already. He’ll find out about it and crash the wedding. It’ll be disrupted and left incomplete while we all beat him up. In order to better cause this to happen, I’m going to have them install some sort of environmental hazard, like a bottomless pit or a volcano.”
“You won’t marry her?” Citra asked to be sure, pouting with Venus’s face.
I patted her on the head. “Of course not.” Then, looking over to Beetrice, I said, “Listen, Beetrice, it’s nice that someone is as happy to see me as you are, but there’s nothing between us but raw sexual chemistry. I’m looking for more than that.”
Silver started to open her mouth in response but I cut her off, “Actually, I’m not looking for more than that. I’m looking to not get married at all, but everybody’s making such a big deal about it and I don’t feel like resorting to extreme measures to make my distaste known. Either way, Beetrice, you’ve grown into a fine leader without me. You clearly possess cunning and a strong will to have held together your rule of North Korea and negotiated for my continued freedom. You have my gratitude, and a few hundred of my kids.”
Beetrice ran over past Citra and hugged me. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” On the plus side, I needed my back cracked that well. She set me back down gently and backed away.
Silver ahemed and nodded toward Citra. I addressed the shark cyborg first. “Silver, I like having you around, and you know how much I enjoy your enhancements, but we’ve already talked about how bad I am at being part of a couple.”
“Finally,” I said, drawing Citra close. “I am not a good man. I’m not even always a man. But you helped me deal with the Claw and stood by me during all that’s happened since then. Qiang likes you, and you were willing to give up your face for me. That says a lot to me.” It really does. Corrupting a woman into being willing to do that just to get with me? Rawr.
I reached back behind me and under my shirt. I had to toss aside a few knicknacks from visitng the bazaar. A pack of super trading cards that I hope has one of me, a pair of electro-grenades, and a laser-etched anti-personnel chainsaw. Don’t ask how I held that last one back there, but I have amazingly strong cheek muscles. Finally, I pulled out a finely-engraved gold comb. It featured a gecko on the end of it, a tiny Earth of jade and blue diamond held within its mouth.
I reached up, did up Citra’s hair, and slid it into place. Then I looked down at her purple face, leaned in real close to her ear, and said, “Don’t forget to breathe.”
She looked so happy, I felt a little guilty. I’ll screw it up at some point. But hopefully I won’t have to kill Citra like I’m going to do to Elda at the wedding I’m rushing through in a few days’ time. If the ceremony doesn’t make people cry, the funeral surely will.
I have good news and bad news. Mostly on the good side of things. But first, let’s get into the disposition of my forces.
I didn’t just recruit Deep Ones to try their flippers at VR robot piloting. I recognized they represented an amphibious force. Sure, they weren’t as good on sea and land as Seals, but they’d do adequately for fighting people so far back down the tech tree that they haven’t even researched “Not Dying For Beginners”. Good book, by the way. Sadly, the author passed away before he could write “Advanced Not Dying”. Auto-erotic asphyxiation, though his wife insists it was research.
So I made the rounds among those I’d convinced to come over to the dark side and asked these ill-bred fishmen if any of them have any combat experience at all. Some raised a fin, others didn’t. Some raised and lowered it. “What seems to be the major malfunction here?” I asked.
They looked between themselves before a couple tried to speak up. One quickly yielded the floor to his fellow frog man, whose Australian accent was more subtle. Brisbane, maybe? “We had monthly drills. No one fought for real, like sparred. Just in case the war against humanity started up and we swept across the dry lands to tear your civilization asunder, Mr. Emperor, sir.”
“I’ve heard of worse,” I said.
“They said it would be self-defense,” he continued. I think it was a he. I’m a bit rusty on my sexual dimorphism of amphibians. “But they taught us how to murder lone stragglers so we could ambush a funeral party, or attacking and occupying where people grow food and raise your domesticated beasts. There was very little actual defense in it.”
“I get the point,” I said, raising a hand to forestall more reminiscences. “I don’t think much of that is going to be useful this time around. These guys who are about to hit us, I think we can take ’em out before they ever become a threat. We kinda have to, most of the navy went rogue back when everything on the island collapsed. Anyway, I figure you guys are good at swimming, you can handle being in the water, and their ships are made of wood.”
I pointed over to where a couple of the regular soldiers wheeled out a crate. “I need y’all to swim these things on over to the ships and stick them to the ships however you can. You don’t even need to go aboard. Below water level’s actually ideal here. They’re actually land-style mines, but they’re engineered to be waterproof, with several glowing reviews.”
I was surprised to find one of Ricca’s exports are the “Soon The World Will Be” mines. The mine business is a tricky thing, since they’re kind of a war crime and infamously the bane of countries for decades afterwards, but they do see some supervillain use. Maybe put a field around areas you don’t want people to wander on your private island, or down a corridor you don’t want to assign guards to in your underground lair. Soon The World Will Be mines have a world-class reputation for dependability and versaility, being waterproof, difficult to tamper with and disarm, and a wide range of triggers. They even come with dude mode, where a mine detects someone on proximity, then activates a time delay. Just when they think they’re safe, kablam!
Coming soon to a black market near you. Not recommended for children 2 years and under due to choking hazard. Ask your mad doctor if Soon The World Will Be mines are right for you.
It took away from VR training time, but explosives training is one of those things that has to be done right if done at all. When it goes boom, you DO get more than one chance to make a good first impression. The problem is, if you make a bad impression, you make a good crater. That’s why so many hands-on courses on the subject end up full of high scores.
When they were done, I called over an officer. He gave me a salute and a bow. “They have much to learn, but we will not fail you, Emperor.”
“I’m sure you won’t. Have y’all seen Silver Shark anywhere?” I asked.
“We have not been informed if she is on mission for you, venerated one.”
“I didn’t send her out on one. She got huffy the other day, and I want to find her before she becomes Silver Pufferfish.”
“The Pufferfish was a thorn in the side of the great Empire of Ricca in the seventies, the histories teach us,” he responded, and seemingly oblivious to the pun. Maybe that was something gained in translation.
“Yes, well I just wanted to know if y’all had seen her. Do not organize a search party. This is something personal between her and myself.”
We gave them a crash course, or perhaps a blast course, then sent them off. The Deep One demolition team was to swim out to Mu and wait near the harbor of the Bronze City. When the fleet set sail, our guys were to follow them until they got drowning distance from land, set up the mines, and sink the whole lot of them. Also, maybe bring back a prisoner or two. I’m curious what happened with Vercingetorix. One day, he’s headed to the city with a ragtag band of misfits. The next, nothing. I counted all the ships in the harbor and they hadn’t been stolen, either.
While the Deep Ones swam out to use modern military gadgets on a bunch of triremes, I searched for Silver Shark. I’d originally expected her to come back after her anger subsided, but she ended up staying away from the residence. I went about checking for her by myself, aided by my ability to connect to a number of hidden surveillance cameras planted around the island. I ended up finding her in a bar. One of the more plebian bars. A small, dirty, smoke-filled place where people come to drink, forget, and see if anyone’s desperate enough for a fuck. A fun place to play cards or settle a bet over who can gouge out the most eyes.
When I walked in, there was a brief dip in chatter before people began talking more quietly to themselves. My armor was rather distinctive, marking me as that weird Emperor guy who would actually go into a bar like this, meant more for the regular folk.
“Hey there, sugarcookie,” I said, sliding up beside Silver and taking a seat. The bartender hurried over, and I gave him my order, then told him to leave us alone after he dropped off my sake. Silver glanced over at first, but didn’t attempt to fling me away. Yet another good reason I wore the armor. “You haven’t been back.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I’d say we had some different ideas about the kind of relationship we were in, but that implies I have good ones. I must confess, I’m pretty terrible at relationships.”
That got a short “Ha!” from her. Then she hung her head. “You’re the only one I’ve had in a long time. Most men don’t look at me that way.”
“Their loss. Some people just don’t know what beautiful is. But, listen, it’s not you. It’s me. I’m an asshole. And, even if I did care about anyone as a friend or more, there are some pretty big risks to letting people know about that. A hero might use someone’s identity to extort me, or some street vigilante might go around and kill someone just for having a connection to me.”
“I know, I’m a villain too, remember?” she said, shooting me a look with the void-like depths of one of her replacement eyes.
“Yeah, but you’re not hated by almost the entire world for threatening to kill like, half of them. I mean, I saved them all twice, at least. Three times if you count Cthulhu. What do I have to show for it?”
“Your own island and country,” she answered. “All the wealth within it. A blanket amnesty. The love of beautiful woman. Groupies. Your own private army of unquestioning minions. A giant bee woman.”
“I have groupies?” I asked. I mean, yeah, probably. Fucking Charles Manson has fans, and I have much better facial hair, so why not?
After a moment of silencewhere she didn’t elaborate on the groupies, I just added.”Moving on… I’m not the settling down type. I got issues. I don’t have any desire to marry anyone, but I can see how people see it as important now that I’m a public figure. Which… oooh, those damn toy companies can do whatever they want with my image now, can’t they? Son of a bitch. But if it wasn’t for this big dynastic thing, I wouldn’t get hitched. Hitching slows ya down, and I wanna be free to hop from place to place.”
“Oh god,” she said, facepalming. “Don’t-”
“You’re in my world now, not your world,” I stood and began singing, music issuing from my armor. “And I got friends on the other side!” I looked around to find the rest of the bar ducking and covering, rather than joining in on a magical musical adventure. I cut the music. “Spoilsports.”
“What kind of world do we live in where you lead a country,” Silver said.
I sat back down. “The United States elected-”
She raised a hand. “I got it. Ugh. Don’t even say the name. Point made forever.” She turned to me then, not speaking, but occasionally opening her mouth as if to start again.
I dove in for us. “Tangent over, about us. You and I, and our relationship. I saw it as a more casual thing but never got your take on it. You saw it as more serious, in which case I cheated on you. Repeatedly. Like, a lot. Look at me, Silver. I’ve sucked more Korean cocks than… hold on, I need to look up a Korean porn star.”
“As if you don’t know any already,” she remarked.
“Beside the point. Listen, you’re welcome back at the palace. As far as things between us go, I liked us being friendly with one another. If that involves the occasional roll in the hay, I’m fine with it. Besides, you’re a good example for my daughter. She might ask me for laser eyes one day if she sees how cool you look.”
She smiled at that. “You don’t deserve her or Citra.”
“I don’t deserve lots of things. It’s not a just world. To quote a certain Goblin King, ‘Fair? I wonder what your basis for comparison is.’ Yeah, Citra shouldn’t want to marry me. She shouldn’t have done what she did for me, either.”
“Damn straight,” Silver said.
We had a pleasant time talking, and though she came back to the palace with me, she didn’t crawl into my bed. A quick check showed Beetrice splayed out on my sofa, Qiang asleep on a pile of stuffed animals in the middle of the living room, and a doppelganger of my nemesis waiting for me in my bedroom.
Lifestyles of the rich and evil.
Of course, my brief contentment didn’t last long, as the next day would bring with it the news that the Deep Ones didn’t listen. They swam all night, took one look at all the boats, and figured they would go ahead and set up the bombs where no one could see.
“Emperor,” one of them groveled before me at the base. “The plan was flawless. But then we heard a clatter from the docks. A large man threw guards into the water, where they saw us. He had with him a great bear, a bald woman who moved without making a sound, an old man with wild hair and beard who threw exploding bottles, and an ordinary-looking man saved from injury by amusing slapstick instead of fighting. Together, they overtook one of the ships we had not set to blow and made off. We could not pursue, as the guards were busy attacking us with pikes and discovering our sabotage. We were forced to blow up as many ships as we could there in shallow water. Please, Emperor, have mercy on your humble subjects.”
Well, that’s good. Always nice to have a military fiasco on my hands. A bunch of ships down in the shallow water of a harbor, with most of the men who would have been on them still unharmed and able to fight. If I know how the universe works, the people that escaped were likely Vercingetorix and friends, which makes it worse. “Disappointing. Did you at least get me a prisoner?”
A captain or some sort of equivalent rank snapped to attention. Duizhang, I think they call this one. “Sir, the prisoner has is in our holding cells. We were careful to keep him separate from your other prisoner.”
I nodded to him. “That is acceptable. Find a way to have her find out about him and visit him. Don’t permit an escape, but she can have news of what has developed in her homeland since her capture.” He saluted and started to move off, but I raised a hand to press against his chest and stop him. “And see to it that we find the ship that escaped. Vercingetorix will no-doubt find some suicidally heroic opportunity to attack us. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I turned to look at the Deep Ones as I spoke next. “I must go see the Directory about allocating land to our newest veterans.”
That caused them to droop, knowing I would uphold my end of the bargain after they went against my orders and kinda failed. Because their immigration package to Ricca now includes a guilt trip.
The expedition is away, an armed force of security, workers, and VelocityRaptor for superhuman support. I would have preferred to send some scientists away, but I have yet to see them return to the island. Instead, I just have this bickering around here. It’s like fucking Conan around here, nothing but the lamentation of my women. Except Qiang, of course. It was all too tedious. I considered killing them all, too. I’d moved back in, because I’ll be damned if they’re going to inconvenience me that much. They walked through, bickering, trying to show off how they looked in dresses to make up my mind.
The whole thing messed with me reading Dr. Seuss to Qiang. It was meant to be a prelude to a later unit on post-World War II Japan and teaching her the famed wrestling hold, The Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gradunza. Instead, we had to practice our “Don’t fuck with me” glares. When the three ladies backed off, I turned and smiled at her Qiang. “Good job, sweetie. Did you see the way they stopped in mid-sentence and everything?”
She giggled at that and we returned to our lesson, though the gradually increasing bickering from the rest of the residence left me with the choice of murder or changing locations. So I threw on the ol’ armor and we headed out to the Institute of Science. I could have taken her on a walk around the island, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Everything felt combative, like I couldn’t stay still. Like I needed to beat the crap out of someone and kill. Instead, I took my kid where I could give her some lessons on understanding her connections to the digital world. I hadn’t gone over it with her as much as I’d have preferred.
Growing up with these kinds of abilities, I had time to get used to them. They were a part of me. It’s like the difference between people who grew up with computers and someone who doesn’t have any idea about them and suddenly gets one. It’s not an insurmountable handicap, but the person who grew with it has a lot of instinctual knowledge. There’s a reason superheroes who get powers aren’t instant experts in their usage. I taught her more about her new heritage, which is pleasantly strong in someone who is now a halfbreed.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, mostly because I haven’t done much thinking on the subject. Despite all my talk about hating people on a deep, personal level, I am biased against homo sapiens. They sometimes look gross, and they’re backwards, and they’ve done horrible things to homo machina in general and specific. Maybe I could make Qiang entirely homo machina. Or maybe change the rest of the DNA in her to a more suitable mother to have a child with me.
I wonder what Venus is up to? Just a random question, of course. Completely out of nowhere, without connection to prior statements. But since I thought of her, I figured I’d see about a nice present to send her, showing I’d been thinking of her. I found it as I searched through a computer in one of the offices of the Institute of Science while Qiang played with a monitor she was connected to. “I’ll be right back, baby girl,” I told her. “You keep playing around with that. See if you can make it look really weird.”
I considered grabbing something from infectious diseases. I even stared at the door a bit. Yep. Big, heavy door, sealed, with all kinds of warning signs. There were no windows. I found a computer on the outside. After a reboot, it couldn’t give me any specified status information on the interior of the laboratories inside the whole section. After a bit of searching, I went ahead and ordered a purge. It showed me an image of flamethrowers turning on.
Unleashing uncontrolled pathogens will just have to wait. Nasty business, anyway. The Claw probably didn’t worry so much since he was so utterly inhuman as to not be affected, but I guess I’m close enough to humans for interbreeding. Never occurred to me that was the case, but that’s kinda how evolution works with emerging mutants. They gotta fuck someone.
They had a section specifically focused on drones and robotics, but on a lark I decided to check out what they’d managed as far as chemical warfare and drugs. Those two were in different places, but I’d gotten administrative access to the network that let me see what the different hands had been doing once upon a time. So many different groups working on projects related to each other without ever knowing it. A drug to cause temporary paranoia with specialized storage conditions. A design for a drone with a sprayer and holding tank designed to meet those unique conditions.
Destroyed. Something went wrong in that part of the complext. Looked like there had been some fires.
Or, and this was cool, a few projects all centered around bugs. They have a section called Entomological Warfare, which almost unleashed a project to hold the world’s agriculture hostage during the Great Depression by unleashing bugs on what was left of the usable farmland, starting with a test in the United States. World War II happened at first, and Ricca was caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Bugs are dead, and records of storage were lost.
Normally, I’d pin this all on the world hating me specifically, but that’s really not the case. Shit happens. That’s reality for you. If you want a unifying theory of why history unfolds the way it does, shit happens is the only thing an honest historian could give you. And I do have it nice. I keep getting away with this shit, day in and day out. I’ve lost friends, experienced more pain than most people could while living, and the entire world has nuclear-fucking-fireballs just ready to turn this island into a useless piece of charcoal, but I still got away with it. I’m the leader of a fucking nation.
Now that I’m a political leader, I could round up everyone wearing glasses and murder them. I could withhold food from people of any category. When they’re my own people, it’s fine. It’s ok. I could just keep breaking this place. It wouldn’t surprise people. Hell, they might even be counting on it. Give them a reason to pull those triggers, especially if there’s nothing left on this rock but all the people the crazy Psycho Gecko sees fit to let live.
Ugh, I gotta stop ranting like this. This is the way I start talking before I start killing people for their own good. For some reason, people don’t listen to your reasoning after the first round of murders. I wonder if I can kill that instinct out of people?
Geez I need a hobby. Hell, maybe I should marry Beetrice. If I’m busy screwing her, I’ll be less likely to screw everyone else. Thoughts for later. I had to scrounge up parts. Instead of having a bunch of doomsday weapons handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve got to build something instead! Perhaps something that shoots serrated silver platters at people…
Instead, brought what I grabbed up to the office to put together my diabolical little deathbot. I was putting together a nice ball drone with the ability to roll around and a few limbs inside to help it maneuver up stairs, along with a pair of holodiscs to help mask it. I wasn’t sure on the weapons, what with all the problems this thing would face getting into the States, so I settled on an age-old classic: knives.
With the agility I’ve given this thing, it could play esports on a South Korean level while stabbing people at a Jack the Ripper level. If I didn’t trust this thing to go homicidal, I’d give it a try at making fries. It’ll basically attack anyone on sight. And once I get it sent to Venus, she can go fuck herself at a Vlad the Impaler level. I suppose I should be more cautious about indiscriminate robot slaughter, but caution’s for losers and quadriplegics.
It also gave me a teaching opportunity. “What’s that, baba?” asked Qiang, sitting in my lap despite my work. “Is that a drone?”
I shook my head. “This is a robot.”
“What’s the difference?” She looked up at me.
I kissed her forehead. He skin had started changing a little as the nanites helped rebuild her body according to her altered DNA. This is my daughter. My daughter is half-human. “Robots can do things on their own, like make things. A drone is controlled by a person all the time.”
“I don’t think I get it,” she said.
“I gotta get you a remote-control car sometime. You get a controller and tell it what direction to go. This thingy here will go around on its own,” I told her, “I’m sending this to a friend I miss. She would make a really good mommy for you.”
“Are you gonna marry her? What she look like?”
“Bring me that screen you were playing with earlier and I’ll show you.” She scrambled out of my lap to go bring it to me, which gave me space to attach a few parts. She brought it over right by my head, and I had to make her wait a little while I finished screwing in a support. Then I turned and pressed my hand to the wiring on the rear of the monitor. After a few seconds, a picture of the tan-skinned, dark-haired Venus appeared. She wore valkyrie armor without boots for no reason I care to elaborate on and rode a tiger-striped unicorn in mid-jump over a wall of fire. She still had her mask on over it all.
“Is she pretty?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I know it seems hard to tell, but she is. And she’s a good person. She’s going to be visiting us in a little bit. She might be angry, so try and act real cute, ok?”
We actually had a nice day. I finished putting my deathbot together and arranging for shipping to my nemesis’s home at the Master Academy. By the time it ended, I felt pretty chill. We made a night of it, me taking my daughter around to this new casino that opened up. She liked the slot machines a lot more than I did. She ruined my poker game, which I insisted nobody cheat either for or against me. All it took was her shouting about how funny the guy looked with the sword going into his head and everyone folded, including the guy who had just bet. We had to go around the time we got to this table where a pair of guys were passing around a revolver with only one bullet. Shame I had the kid with me, but she’s going to have a better life than me.
So I was pretty mellow that night when Intercept linked me a transmission from the expeditionary force. “VelocityRaptor here. I was told I should call in because you know my name and it would take too long to explain who another person is and why you should care.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Damn… whoever told you that deserves a promotion. Don’t bother telling me who, I don’t care. What do you got for me?”
“We have encountered Bronze Age villages. We haven’t figured out how to talk to anyone yet. We do not know the language, but we had skirmishes with little resistance. One of the soldiers almost took an arrow to the knee. He’s fine, but we have a prisoner now. Some girl. The technicians are trying to use the translator to analyze what she says and they expect to know more before long. They have samples for analysis if we ever get people who can analyze things.”
“I’ll find people who will put the anal in analyze, that’s for sure. Anything else I need to know?”
“Not at the moment, Emperor. This is the end of our report.”
“Thanks man. You need to check yourself for clowns, because I’m here to tell you, you have It. You’re going places. Now get out there and go some places.”
I sat there on the line for a couple of seconds before adding, “You going to hang up?”
“I didn’t know if you were going to hang up first, Emperor. I can hang up.”
“It’s ok, I can hang up first.”
“That’s unnecessary, I’ll-” I cut him off, hanging up. I do so hate these long goodbyes.
They’re campaigning for the Empress-ship. I didn’t think the batch of people I ruled over even gave a damn about my love life, so long as I didn’t do something stupid like getting peed on on tape. Most of that involves lobbying Qiang, since I’ve been avoiding the palace residence. I’ve been able to call Qiang out to me for lessons or meals in spite of their attention. I just tell her it’s part of her sneaking training.
I’ve been busy aside from all that mess. Like handling this little diplomatic mess with the Faust/Hephaestus people. Alhazred admits he had been a Cthulhu cultist hoping to see his god, and that all three were hoping to explore the island for ruins and so forth. His associates, Pickman and Hero, hadn’t actually done anything wrong while they were here, and Alhazred did help me lure Cthulhu here. In the end, I decided they would be allowed to use the island for storage and trade. I didn’t give them everything they wanted. They aren’t going to use the place for testing or collaboration with our own science people, at least partially because the Institute of Science is still closed. They don’t know it’s closed, but it made a good stick to hit them with, same with rejecting the customer service call center.
As part of my mercy upon them, I even gave the three an aerial tour of the island. I even saw to their safety with who the Shouho claimed to be our very best remaining helicopter pilot. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to them. There was some wariness from the passengers about that, so they made sure to stay restrained in their seats. I reassured them by ordering the doors be kept shut firm on their little ride, including one that separated the pilot from the passengers. That way, there’d be absolutely no chance of them falling out, or onto instruments, or the pilot trying to throw them out. I told them that myself. I promised them, completely out of thin air, that the pilot wouldn’t toss them out of the chopper. I then reiterated that there will be nothing to worry about.
As for the pilot, I told him to show me his best and most showy aerial maneuvers. Good thing the doors were shut for that barrel roll. As soon as they landed, I sent some of the soldiers over with the hoses to make sure the interior was hosed off of our little spew crew in there. They must have read my mind, because they didn’t bother letting out the Faust delegates before starting the hosing. When Pickman, Hero, and Alhazred slipped or fell out, they didn’t stop.
When I saw that, I leaned across to the the Shouho and mentioned, “Give them a little bit of a bonus for this.”
He held out a tablet for me. “Your Eminence, we have a member of the returned I wish to bring to your attention. He is enhanced.”
The returned appears to be their polite term for deserters who come back to Ricca’s service, in case I decide that someone who deserted can be punished but someone who left and returned won’t be. It’s mostly a stupid distinction, but when I once asked the Shouho about it, he started talking about how a military needs discipline and needs to know that desertion will be punished going forward. I picked up what he was putting down, or thought I did until the Issa politely informed me they left the whips and ballgags in their crates in a storage shed. Then I figured he didn’t want people deserting in the future.
This one was a man with extensive cybernetic augmentation, much like Silver Shark. His legs were gone below his thighs, replaced with knees that bent the other direction and feet ending in three-toed claws. He bent forward over the legs, his back weighted down by a gleaming chrome spine that connected his tail with an armored helmet that covered his head in the facade of a dinosaur with a mouth of fangs. The spine had a pair of short pipes around the lower part of it. He was a raptor, albeit a featherless one, with an armored chest and an exoskeleton running along his arms that ended in curved, sickle-like claws. He still had hands under them, and the raptor’s face with its sharp-toothed maw popped back to show it was a helmet. Underneath it, he maintained a neutral expression.
“Welcome back to the fold,” I said. Meanwhile, my eye HUD’s identification program made a match. “You’re the one they call VelocityRaptor, right?”
He nodded. Speaking in the Ricca pidgin, he noted, “That is the name the Americans gave me.”
Good restraint. The name doesn’t sound right in Riccan. “May I have a demonstration of your abilities?”
He nodded and the helmet lowered itself onto his face. The eyes of the raptor lit up red. He turned and those pipes shot flames a few inches into the air before he began running, gathering speed to run to the other end of the base and back fast enough to leave Olympic sprinters in his dust. While he was leaving, a pair of the lowest-ranked men ran up and began setting up dummies that looked like featureless humans.
He skidded to a halt and raised his tail. The end of it began spinning. Once the first of the soldiers had finished and gotten clear, the drilled into the chest of the dummy before swiping the head off. The other one had its chest torn open with his claws, leaking straw on legs that were ripped off one by one by Raptor’s. He ended by using the helmet’s jaws to crush the head and tear it off.
I gave him a polite golf clap. “I mean, they just got them put up and you already destroyed their work. That would seem rude to some people.” I got no response. “From here on out, you owe allegiance to me. You serve this Ricca going forward, and so your oath will be to this Ricca and you will serve out the term of your enlistment from now. Try not to take so long a vacation again.”
He bowed to me as best he could. “Thank you, Emperor. You are generous beyond all measure.”
I walked over and patted him on the back of the head. “No need for all that. Flatter me later, or whenever I feel like it. Right now, I just want to know if you’re ok with entering into new and unfamiliar situations, and maybe with getting nice and wet.”
He rose up to look at the grinning smile projected in front of my helmet where the mouth would be. “Sir?”
I had to throw together an expedition to Mu, and he was going to be part of it. After the first immigrant Deep Ones reached it and claimed a beachhead for the Riccan Empire, I decided to get some Manifest Destiny going. I’m also looking into importing lots of sand and building a bridge right at the surface to connect Ricca and Mu so that I can go there officially without the entire world throwing a tantrum and a nuke.
The peace treaty says I can’t leave the island of Ricca, which is a lot more restrained than if I never left the Empire of Ricca. But an entire new continent just appeared in the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t just dismiss it if a land bridge suddenly appeared to make Ricca and Mu part of the same landmass.
Even thought I spent a lot of time throwing togethe a group to conquer a new world, that doesn’t mean I neglected Qiang. Like I said, I was still feeding her and teaching her stuff. Basic strength training that she thinks are handstands, or crab walking. Good ways to build her up without pushing her too far and damaging anything. There are also our “dance” lessons that incorporate moves for a bit of self defense. She thinks it’s all fun and games until someone comes at her and she gouges an eyeball out.
When she’s not eating or attending Psychopomp University, I give her lots of time to be lobbied by the prospective Empresses. I actually had to assert myself after they got carried away once. My daughter asked for some ice cream and ended up being given progressively larger portions. I’d given her a network communication device, encrypted to keep anyone but myself out. It also means restricts her from calling just anyone or going online, which is all the more important when that kind of thing’s built into a person’s head. We’re talking home-style encryption too, with a different programming language.
So she called the hotline right to my head because she felt bad and threw up. I kicked the door in and tossed everybody else out. The giant shark cyborg, the giant bee woman, AND the ambitious servant girl. I got on to Qiang, but it’s hard to hold her accountable for that. Instead, I considered giving the other three a chopper ride. Between the three of them, they’d wreck the thing.
Instead, I ended up being able to make an example when, in the middle of applying nanites to the sweet-sick girl, Intercept called me with a tip from Flamebeard’s ship. They’d been taking a look at Mu and noticed a ship. A long catamaran-style ship with sails at the front and a number of burly rowers. He’d gladly take it out for us for a good price.
I rejected the offer and had Intercept keep an eye on it to let me know when we had a landing. The pacing was horrible, though. Took them awhile to reach us on that boat, and it’s tough maintaining anger for a long time.
I stepped out on the beach to meet and greet them. They responded with arrows. I suppose if this was that Civilization game, I’d have been beaten easily by the dozen or so loin-cloth clad men who charged forward, sweaty muscles exposed as they wore hardly anything but a little bit of leather and fur. The raised sword and axe and a sort of wooden club with nubs placed around the end.
Behind me a ways stood Beetrice, Silver, and Citra, along with a crowd of Buzzkills, guards, and VelocityRaptor. The three women were obviously not prisoners or tied up in any way. Just guests with a large group of guards, legitimately so in the case of the Buzzkills, who watched me bitchslap the colons of a group of people. Sometimes, the colons were still internal. I suppose it worked out that they were hostile. A peaceful group of traders would have made a different sort of example.
They seemed to be led by a particularly large one, muscular, but not overly so. We’re not talking about bodybuilders with those showy, useless muscles. Big guys, round, with arms used to swinging weapons and backs capable of lifting women and gold from those they come across. He came at me with a sword that bent when it hit my forearm gauntlet. I stomped his foot as he tried to straighten it and kneed him in the balls. When he dropped the sword and attempted to grapple with me, I hit him with an open palm to the throat, then reached down to turn He-Man into She-Ra. He had a lovely singing voice as he fell to his knees.
“Finish him!” my armor announced. I grabbed a gonad in each hand from that sack I took off him, ripped them apart from each other, then smashed them into the sides of his head until the top burst and his brain spurted out.
I turned back to the crowd, where I saw a couple of the raiders had gotten past me and the guards had punched their tickets to eternity. “It seems our new neighbors have a bit more balls than brains.” Then I stepped closer and gestured with a single finger for the ladies to join me in a private huddle. “Someone who wants to be a mother to my child really ought to remember what being a parent means. And let’s also not think too much about hoping to bully me into a position while we’re at it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go teach my daughter how to use her very own flamethrower.”
Kids love flamethrowers.
My people never did find the body. You know what else we didn’t find? A giant octopus-dragon marching around, getting worshiped. Straightened that shit up in a hurry, that fight. After everything that happened, I decided to get healed before organs started shutting down and leaving the cleanup for later. After injecting myself with nanites, I laid down, waved Qiang over, and fell asleep with her cuddled up against me. I woke up the next day to find she had left me a bowl of noodles on the stand next to the bed. First I had to hang up my armor to drain out before helping myself to the cold noodles. A little on the spicy side.
She was happy to see me when she wandered in and caught me in my imperial bathrobe and heart boxers, chowing down on the cold noodles she microwaved all for me. “How’s things, baby girl?” I asked.
“There was a big flood, and then they said a big bunch of land came up, and all the frog people are cleaning up where you had the big fight.” It all came out, mile a minute.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Much is changed. Are you done playing with monsters now?” A feminine hand reached out across the bedroom doorway wearing gold claws over fingers. It was Citra’s hand, which I saw as she stepped out in a red, high-collared Chinese style dress out of theatre or a fantasy movie. The makeup, the headdress looking like horns…
Silver Shark also stepped out, the large cyborg wearing a similar dress, though larger. They went a bit more whimsical with her makeup around the cybernetic eyes on her modified face. “I think he likes it.”
“Daddy, you’re drooling,” Qiang said.
I reached up and pushed my mouth shut. “Well, ladies, nice as it is to see you’ve both had a makeover, there are more important things around than the women in my life.Come, Qiang, let’s go see how the clean-up is going and whatever you’re talking about with a bunch of land.”
I started to walk past them, but Silver Shark put a hand on my chest. “You have to deal with us. We spent a long time figuring out what we wanted.”
“You both look beautiful,” I said. “But I have so much shit to take care of, including something about new land, and a little matter of necrophilia to take care of.”
“What’s necro whatever?” asked Qiang.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said to her.
“You have to deal with us sooner rather than later, because Beetrice arrived while you were resting,” Silver said. “She says you’re supposed to be getting married soon.”
The giant bee-woman, Beetrice, is surprisingly astute as a diplomat, and incredibly enthusiastic about bedding me. Way, way too enthusiastic. If she was here, I’m surprised I didn’t wake up to find myself tied down with a ballgag in my mouth. It’s not that she grosses me out or anything, with the exoskeleton, fuzz, and mandibles. It’s just that I don’t like her the way she likes me. Plus, she likes to almost kill me. Death by snoo snoo and dehydration.
Speaking of her skills as a negotiator, she added a clause to the peace treaty about marrying me that probably isn’t what everybody legally signed. I bet she’d get the United Nations to say it was binding anyway if they knew how much I didn’t care for the idea.
“She’s on the island? Wonderful.” Then I quieted down and cupped my ear, trying to listen out while remotely accessing cameras and digital devices nearby.
Citra stepped up to me and distracted me quite well by cupping my face in her hands. “You made a deal with my mother to take care of me. You know what she wanted.” The cold metal felt nice against my skin.
“You’re not something to be bought and sold. You should be the boss of your own life. Go do your own thing. You can make it on your own.” I grabbed her hands and held onto them for a moment before pulling them away, wondering when the sappy music was going to start up. I only meant to hold onto them for a moment, but she was pretty.
“You don’t buy people,” she repeated back, her eyes flicking over to Qiang. She pulled her hands away and crossed her arms. “What would I do? I have lived a servant’s life.”
I shrugged and gave her a little smile. “You could be a maid? Go to school or something. Find yourself someone you love.” My smile got a little less friendly as I realized something. “But you’d rather keep living in a palace, wouldn’t you?”
“You are another foolish American, thinking everything is about love and doing your own thing.” That caused me to back my face on up a moment while she continued. “The people do not love you. They know you are strong. You will keep them safe if they keep you happy. They like the lifestyle you offer them.”
“First, I’m not really an American.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Second, whatever happened to people liking me for me instead of because I have a big house?”
“I’ve had you. You’re an ass,” Silver Shark said. “You cheated on me, remember?”
I threw my hands up. “I don’t see what the problem is. You could have joined us at any time. What are you doing in all this anyway?”
She ran her claws over the fabric of her dress. “I liked the makeover. Some of the benefits were nice, when you weren’t being a jerk. Tell you what. I hear Queen Beetrice loves you for you.”
“I mean, maybe I should try Beetrice?” I said. “After all, I get a choice in this, too. I’m the big emperor guy in charge. Maybe I’ll chug a bunch of energy drinks and sports drinks, lay back, think of England, and then sell my amazing new combined energy/sport drink that you’d think someone would have invented by now.”
As if on cue, the palace’s landline began to ring, the ID placing the caller as Beetrice. I bent the knee pretty damn quick. Silver and Citra shared a laugh at that. “Damn injury, you know,” I tried to cover for it. “Just fought a giant Cthulhu. No big deal. No reason to give a guy a break before you start throwing booty at him. Anyone got a ring or something? Or what’s the tradition here?”
Citra spoke up. “Your family delivers gifts to my family, but my family is dead. Do you have any family?”
I shrugged. “Just Qiang. Other than that, I dunno. If I do, they’re on the other Earth that the guys with the giant robot ship are from. I think I remember an aunt. Either way, not an issue, but I can always give you presents. That it?”
“Then you give me jewelry in a hair combing ceremony.”
“Pretty easy to see these traditions don’t have anything to do with love. Ok, fi- wait a moment. Before I agree, there’s someone I have to consult on this. I looked to Qiang. “What do you think about her?” I nodded toward Citra. “She been nice to you?”
She nodded. “She’s alright.”
Dammit, Qiang! I needed her to be my wingman on this. “You think she’d be ok as my new wife and your new mom?”
She looked up at Citra, furrowing her little brow. Citra smiled warmly down at her, her eyes ligthing up and narrowing the corners of her eye. Silver wore a smirk. I turned back to Qiang. “You were in on it, too? Quite the conspiracy here.”
Before I could say anything else, I heard knocking at the door. “Hello! Psycho Gecko! It’s Beetrice! I couldn’t get you on the phone, so I came here myself!”
I stood up at that and prepared myself to greet my admirer. She rushed upstairs, wearing a dress that, based on the cleavage, back, and slits, was designed to spend more time on a floor than on a person. I gaped at it up until she wrapped her arms around me and tried to squeeze my lungs out through my mouth.
Why do I always forget about the strength? “How are you this strong?” I gasped out.
“What?” she said, stopping to look into my eyes with segmented ones before stealing a mandibled kiss off my lips.
“Insects can’t really get this big due to atmospheric conditions, let alone mate with humans and homo machina. It just occurred to me,” and here I had to take a moment to cough. She set me down for that. “I might be able to improve my armor if I were to study your body.”
A pair of “Ahems,” came from off to the side, where Silver and Citra frowned. Was it something I sai-oooooooooh.
“Did I interrupt something?” Beetrice asked.
“You know what? I think you did. Beetrice, please talk things over with Citra and Silver. Qiang, dear, let’s hurry on out of here and give them some privacy.”
I took her hand and rushed out under the reaching grasps of all three women, er, females. I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to marry one of them, Citra or Beetrice. I just didn’t really plan on marrying. Ever. Citra wouldn’t be too bad, I guess. I know where I stand with her. Beetrice just turns me off, liking me so much. I mean, Venus would be nice if she and I didn’t want to kill each other.
I think I’m getting some insight here.
First stop, the military base! I had called Intercept to see what they were up to and they informed me they still had a piece of Cthulhu in quarantine. This was conveniently the kind of thing that would keep me well away from the palace. Qiang was excited to see the place and all the soldiers, who had swiftly assembled to salute me in my imperial bathrobe. I didn’t have time to grab clothes, remember.
I gave them all a salute back, as did Qiang, and I met with the commanding officer, of a rank called Shouho, as well as the Issa of the Intercept team. They conspicuously avoided mentioning my clothing choice, and they were more than happy to show Qiang all about this helicopter while they showed me to a holding area with six pylons surrounding a tentacle, a glowing yellow barrier connecting each pylon.
I looked up at them. “Handy. Do they fry anything going forward?”
The Shouho spoke up. “The barriers are kinetic, requiring only power. This is an abnormal deployment to secure the anomaly.”
“Very good,” I said. “These look quite useful. We must construct additional pylons.”
“The military could use an expansion in material and manpower. For that, additional supply depots are required,” the Shouho responded.
I held up my hands. “We’ll handle that another time. For now, open this up for me. I’m going to need some alone time with it. It’s not a corpse, but it’ll do. Bow, bowm, bow bow bow.” I started to saunter forward, continuing to mouth porn music. When I saw them looking, I stopped, “Listen, you don’t want anyone to see this next part. Things are going to get freaky. Look at me, Shouho Whatever.”
I pointed at myself and the Shouho said, “Shouho Zhu Luankui.” He straightened up.
“Look at me, Zhu. Look at me. Freaky. That’s what it’s going to be like. You’re going to want raincoats out here if you stand in the splash zone.” I turned away and continued my preparations.
The Intercept Issa interrupted me before I could get into it. “Sir, what are your orders regarding the island that has appeared?”
I paused and pulled my boxers back up. “Ok, let’s go see what this is all about.”
It took me fifteen minutes to reach the beach with an enthusiastic driver and a few close calls. I found the Deep Ones hard at work on the beachfront. They were taking over most of the clean-up, with the locals more than happy to sell them noodles, dumplings, and so on. I thought we were going to have a problem there, but the Deep Ones had some serious bling. Gold and gems. I stepped over to pat the shoulder of one of them who was helping himself, or possibly herself, to a bowl of noodles. “Is it good?”
It kinda nodded its head from side to side. “Yes, good. Not the same as food from home.”
“You smell funny!” said Qiang, looking at a little Deep One that ate with what I assumed were a pair of parents.
I shrugged and focused on the one I’d stopped. “There may be opportunity there. Provided it isn’t poisonous to us, people might like it. Thank you, and the rest of y’all for helping out here.”
“Uhh, you’re welcome,” the Deep One said. “Thank you for allowing us to stay.”
I nodded and left it to the rest of its meal. Qiang had gotten into a game of tag, so I left her to it.
After all, I didn’t stop here just to gladhand the immigrants. I came to see the giant fucking island right off Ricca. I can see it. Granted, my eyes are better than most people’s, and height limits how far a person can see before the horizon’s a problem, but it’s there. I could even make out the mountains.
The satellite images showed more. Just offshore, having risen from the sea, a landmass roughly with roughly two million square miles of area. An entirely new continent that shouldn’t exist according to all the people who study plate tectonics and geology. The soldiers at the base were already calling it according to the name being popularized by the Deep Ones.
It is the island continent of Mu. It’s right here by Ricca. And it will be mine.
I turned back to the crowd of gathering Deep Ones. “Who wants to go claim some land for their new country?”
In preparation for my intended brawl with this giant thing in the monster, I wanted to make sure some of those parties who contributed to all this on Ricca weren’t going to do anything to mess with it. I don’t need help here, but I didn’t want anybody doing any sort of prayers or sacrifices that could feed that thing. Stories inspired by this thing don’t speak to any magic spells or anything, just physical resilience. Supposedly it causes madness just looking at it, but I’m just not seeing it.
I had a couple of groups detained while I saw to the Cultists first. Old Man Hoodless was mighty contrite. I know that, because he looked down at his feet, ran his hand through his hair, and said, “I’m mighty contrite over my part in this.”
He’s been a straight shooter with me so far, so I patted him on the shoulder, leaving a marker behind that would track his precise location and allow the Intercept team at the base to fire on him with some of the artillery cannons they got working. They didn’t offer an explanation of where they got the expertise for that, and I didn’t threaten anybody with court martials or executions. Not like I’m picky. I had Qiang call Beetrice for me. The Queen of North Korea and of the Buzzkills really wanted me on the phone with her, but Qiang was cool. Nobody expects a kid to know everything about their dad’s schedule.
The addition of Buzzkills alleviated a lot of sudden manpower problems in holding onto the Faust delegation. I’d also locked down Captain Flamebird’s crew, but those guards are more like observers. As far as Flamebird’s concerned, his whole crew is partying it up and getting drunk. I don’t know for a fact they had their eye on Mu or Lemuria, a pair of mythical lands said to have existed and sunk below the waters in the Pacific, but it’s a risk factor I can eliminate.
The Buzzkills were also helping the Directory’s people sort through our new immigrants with a little help from the Cape Diem organization. It’s taking time, and there are violent encounters, but that’s how it goes when you have two sides not trusting each other, and one of them forcing the other to wait around in a cramped space while they sort through them.
But the group I absolutely needed to sit down with were those guys from Faustus. If I had my way, I’d just go charging off across the ocean and punch Cthulhu-ish in the nards. If it even has nards. Note to self: find out if it has nards. Regardless of the testical status of the giant monster from beneath the sea, I can’t walk on water. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking out just any ship. Too small and easy to destroy. I want to fight this beast on equal footing.
I’d rather fight it on ground that’s ridiculously slanted in my favor, but I’ll take what I can get.
So I went to go see Alhazred. He and his buddies had been held at the military base. When I first delivered them to the guys at the base, they wondered why I didn’t leave them in one of the private sites. I haven’t had time to look into that, but I have an idea what they might be. This island had all kinds of secrets.
They kept Alhazred, Pickman, and Hero in separate rooms. I visited with Alhazred first, who on the floor praying. “Putting in a few words to whatever that thing is?” I asked as I stepped in.
He had his face to the floor, but sat up. “It is dead Cthulhu revived,” he said with his back still turned to me.
I shook my head. “It’s not Cthulhu. Looks nothing like it. It hasn’t magically taken over the world yet. I’ll bet you it was never dead, though it probably will be.”
“Death does not exist for creatures such as it!” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Easy way to prove that. Bring it here.”
He turned and crawled toward me, spittle flecking his face and a wild look in his eyes. “To bring it would begin its reign over your people, the first of all kingdoms to fall to it on this Earth! The waters would seethe and boil withs its armies of degenerate creatures! Your technology and magic would be as nothing to the horrors it represents! It is a god, and it will pass its judgment upon- ow!”
I slapped him upside the face. He held his palm to that cheek, looking a little sensible. I slapped him again just to make sure. “You done with the ranting yet?”
He blinked, rubbing his cheek. “Ow, yeah. Geez. Death, destruction, the end of civilization as we know it… what am I saying? I I don’t want any of those things! I just worshipped it for power. I didn’t think about the end of times it would cause if it was ever real and true enough to show up!”
I patted him on the head understandingly, then grabbed his hair and yanked his head back just to cause some pain and focus him. “Ow!” he said again. “I wouldn’t want him to come here if I were you. He could destroy the world if he tries anything.”
“Whatever it is, it may have a few abilities, but the fact that people treat it like it’s that powerful seems to be the biggest thing about it. I do want it here, and I want to kill it.”
“Why?” he asked.
I grinned. “Because we’re one of the closest places to it. Because it’s causing my problems for me and mine. And, finally, because how else am I going to fuck its corpse?”
He closed his eyes and shuddered. When he regained control of himself, he held up his hands. “I think I can help bring it here, but you better be sure you can kill it. There are legends passed down in fragments predating what people know of history, and they do not make this look easy.”
I shrugged. “Bunch of pansies, always exaggerating. The river floods once, they make up a world flood story. They run into a monster before encountering gunpowder, and it’s some sort of apocalyptic deathbeast. Oh, and they decide that it’s somehow driving people mad. That thing’s on twenty-four hour news right now and the only people its driving mad are a bunch of horny Japanese. All the other religions are claiming it fits with so and so prophecy of the end times and are about as bad as you, forgetting that they don’t want the world to end. After all, if they thought they deserved their own heaven, they’d have gotten themselves killed so they could go to it sooner.”
I pointed off in the general direction of the creature.“That thing says it’s a god. Big deal. I say I’m a god. It’s just a basic tip of life that if someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes. But it’s the god of a bunch of people who hadn’t invented armor, let alone guns, tanks, bombers, aircarft carriers, and nuclear weapons. It impressed people who never could have imagined spaceflight and computers. They were scared of something really, really big that looks like a jellyfish, the same way they were scared of lightning and eclipses. It is a god that commands fear only because of ignorance. So help me, I will find its ass and kick it. And if I can’t find it, I’ll make a new one. And then, I’ll stick my dick in the hole. Now, are you with me?”
I got a cheer both from him and from nearby guards who wandered over to eavesdrop. All hail the Man-Emperor of Mankind, right?
Alhazred agreed to help me out now that he’s come to his senses, though I stuck one of my explosive leashes on him. With some of the soldiers having proven themselves, they didn’t need theirs any longer. Pickman and Hero were left locked up, Alhazred insisting that they didn’t really know rituals related to this thing like he did. But he still hoped to have some help from people who knew some of the prayers.
That’s when I introduced him to Gillbert. Well, that’s what I call the Deep One who I first talked to the other day and who had been thrust into something of a role helping with the immigration effort. Alhazred had sudden-onset religious fervor, which caused the one-gilled Deep One to facepalm. “This again? This wanker’s acting like someone from down below saw the god awake and rise up.” He shook his head at the sight of Alhazred kneeling and praying. He reached down and lifted the guy’s head up, slapping him across the face. “Cut it out, you wanker! You wanna bring that thing down on all of us?”
“Actually, yes,” I said.
“The fuck you say!”
Geez, what’s with all the exclamation points? “I’m gonna kill it. I was serious.”
Gillbert gestured to Alhazred. “This wanker’s useless to you then. Messed up in the head, strewth.”
In response, Alhazred got up and began running through the Deep Ones toward the ocean, crying out in prayer. A few of the Deep Ones ran to join him. Gillbert nudged my arm. “I had my doubts about those ones. Now we know. If you’re serious, your friend here could run all along starting prayer circles. Save us all a headache and bring the big guy here.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “Good idea. Let them get eaten first, and separate some of them out.”
“I’m sorry it’s so many of them,” he said. “So many cunts.”
I shrugged. “Might not be anything. Religions turn on other sects all the time. Either way, you’re looking at, what, a couple dozen there? A few hundred others? Makes it easier to get the rest of y’all out of the way. This will call this thing, right?”
He shook his soggy head. “Dunno. The stories always said he liked worship. Stories said he was a cunt, too.”
“Not a fan?” I asked.
“Fuck them and their god. I just want to sit back and find a way to steal more land tele.” He snorted and spat something into the shallow water at our feet.
“Don’t we all,” I said, patting him on the shoulder.
Later that afternoon, as the hulk in he ocean turned toward us and began to make a beeline for the island, I knew it had worked after all. I put the Intercept team on alert. More than that, I authorized the nanomachine factories to work full time, bringing in as much help and paying as much overtime as needed. They acted confused about the overtime thing until I explained it to them and the fact that they’d be compensated. We were going to need a lot of nanites. After all, I’ve got a god to beat down.
We have a tiny problem on our hands here in Ricca. As those used to my description of problem sizes should suspect by now, most people would not call it tiny. Most people would call it a giant winged squid monster. Possibly even Cthulhu, but I expected something more intimidating. It’s just a big monster the likes of which we’ve never expected, apparently ripped straight out of the pages of H.P. Lovecraft.
It’s really not Cthulhu, though. The head is a round and ringed with wriggling tentacles, but it only seems to have the one eye in the middle. It might have scales on it, hard to see. It doesn’t sit very still, and I haven’t been able to see to its body because of all the wings and arms. It has them all over, enough to hide any central trunk within. Can’t be easy to fly with those things on all sides like that, but then I haven’t tried. For all I know, the almost-Cthulhu thinks nothing of it.
It emerged from the water immediately after another oceanic bloop was detected, miles to our southeast. It has absolutely killed boat traffic from the Americas. I’m not just talking about proactive defensive measures, either. It did something with a cargo container ship carrying cars and smuggled people from China to the United States.
First thing I did upon seeing it, aside from fending off phone calls from foreign heads of state wondering what I did, was armor up . I made sure Qiang had plenty of knives and caught a glimpse of Silver Shark rushing out in a kimono before I jumped out the window. I paid a visit to the Agriculture Mall to figure out what the Cult did. They seemed as shocked as anyone else might be, though I noticed their camel-riding demon friend was calmly looking over paperwork without any apparent upset in attitude. “What about this thing? It looks like it knows what’s going on? What’s it know that I don’t?”
“I reckon darn near ever’thing,” replied Old Man Hoodless. “Paimon here knows just about everything happening on our planet on this plane of existence.”
I stepped over, sat on the stack of papers it was reading on a desk, and slid around so it was now staring into my crotch. It looked up, smiling just slightly. I pointed my thumb in the general direction of the eldritch abomination wading through the ocean. “Explain.”
I have no clue what language it spoke, but my ears could barely even hear it. It wasn’t a matter of volume, but instead that the words were hazy and faded from sound almost as soon as I heard them. I would later find out the sounds failed to record. It’s just silence there, as far as my digital memory is concerned. I’m not a fan of something doing that to my brain. If anyone’s going to fuck up my brain, it’s going to be me. And alcohol.
“You catch that?” I asked Hoodless.
He shook his head. “Let me try somethin’.” He looked to Paimon and addressed him firmly. “This is Emperor Psycho Gecko. You will address him in English like the rest of us and answer his questions.”
Paimon stiffened slightly, then relaxed and nodded its head. “As you wish. You pay my retainer. Greetings, Emperor Psycho Gecko. I wonder what your true name is.”
I shrugged. “Beats me. But before something else does so, I’d like to know what that thing is tromping around in my ocean? Thing looks like off-brand Cthulhu. Like someone made a Russian fake Avengers movie, or that movie who makes Transmorphers had to come up with something on the fly.”
Paimon’s grin was not amusement or good humor of any sort. It smiled like a predator about to enjoy a meal. I readied my pimp hand for bad news. “It is the being that fits the world’s cultural understanding of what you call ‘Cthulhu.’ It is not that monster you named, which is a fiction. It is the being existing within the subconscious of man that inspired it in dreams and whispers of writers who then erred in describing it.”
I blinked. “Sounds like a cop-out for using a knock-off instead, but I guess it would be strange if it really existed in spite of being a fictional mythos. Why is it showing up now? Did it have anything to do with the sacrifices that brought you here?”
Without confusion, it calmly stated, “Yes. No. It awoke because of the meddling of other powers in the ocean who seek the ancient lands of Mu and Lemuria in those waters. Nonetheless, rituals are about dramatic effect. At the same time they sought it, a group of knowledge seekers who led by a worshipper of this being spoke prayers to it in the hopes of making their own discoveries related to it on this island. Then many people were sacrificed on a tree spreading its roots to feed virgin blood into the heart of the island. This being does not perceive time in the way you do, and it found this confluence of events pleasing.”
I pondered this over. “So it showed up now because it made the best sense… narratively? Like in a story?”
Paimon leaned forward. “What would you do if you could read the future and past to decide when exactly to make a dramatic entrance?”
“Son of a fox-fucking sasquatch,” I muttered. “I’d be unstoppable.” I’d certainly have a knack for causing trouble just when it could result in my nemesis, Venus, having any attempts at sex interrupted. Preferably while saying “I came as quick as I could. Oh, but I see you didn’t.”
“I had one last question left. “Is it a threat?”
Paimon shrugged and held up a palm parallel to the floor, wobbling it slightly. “Fifty-fifty?”
Then the screaming began. Always with the screaming. I rushed out out and headed for the city. Cameras and satellites painted a nasty picture. Creatures emerged from the ocean, clambering up piers and docks, stomping their way up beaches. They had the thin skin of an amphibian, with webbed hands and feet. Or something like hands, but clawed. Bulbous eyes? They had ’em. Flat noses? Yep. Their mouths were filled with smaller teeth, though, and their gills were external, on branching pieces of flesh sticking out of their necks. I recognized that from a little knowledge I have of amphibians. I’m called Axolotl Xolotl in Mexico, and axolotls are amphibians with the same sorts of gills. They branch out, like coral.
The invasion went mostly unanswered. A few fights were breaking out, mostly in ex-military who managed to retain weapons or enhancements. Something of an unofficial reserve, even though I never pushed most of them. At least the ones I did persuade into service realized there was nowhere to flee to. That’s an issue with soldiers of questionable loyalty, but we’re on an island being attacked from all shores and hardly any aircraft.
The thing is, aside from fighting back when attacked, most of them were making themselves at home instead. They skittered into shade and helped themselves to whatever food was around. Which, come to think of it, made me realize just how few stray dogs and cats crawl around this island. I landed in front of one who was on top of one of my guys. The soldier’s laser rifle had been knocked clear and the Deep One clawed at his chest, attempting to gauge out something bloody and necessary.
I grabbed it by the gill, picked it up overhead, and smacked it onto the pavement, tearing off the the gill in the process. It writhed there, and a few of the Deep Ones started forward toward it and me. I put my boot on its head and raised a hand toward them. “Stop right there, you fish-faced barnacle-humpers!” I yelled.
They did. “You understand me? Raise your right hand if you know what I’m saying.” No response. I tried Japanese, then Cantonese, both being important languages in close proximity. Neither of those worked so I thought I may as well try English. Before I could, the one under my boot spoke up. In an Australian accent.
“Bugger me, it hurts. Ripped of my gill, you wanker.”
As if in response, the soldier groaned and stood up. He coughed up some blood, then reached over and grabbed his laser rifle. He aimed it at the head of the one I had pinned, but I grabbed the gun and held the barrel toward the ground. He looked at me, then moved his finger off the trigger.
I put a little more pressure on the Deep One’s head to shut him up from his continued grumbling. “Ok, good, now we’re speaking the same language. Now, do I have to kill each and every one of you to solve this little crisis, or are you going to stand down and surrender? I only ask because I had other things to do today.”
“I only hit ‘im because he shot at me first, strewth. We don’t want a fight. That’s why we’re up here.”
I eased up on him a bit. “Explain this invasion.”
“Invasion? Things are crazy down there! The priests and religious ones are giving each other a wristy over their god waking up. They’re killing nonbelievers. You gotta believe me, mate, we just want to get away from a bunch of fanatics!”
I looked up at the rest of the Deep Ones, who saw me looking and put their hands up. I turned back to the one on the ground. “Ok, here’s what I want you to do. You and your friends need to get the rest of your people, wherever they are, and stop going inland. Assemble on the beaches. You don’t have to go all the way back to wherever, but let’s get you all organized before we go tearing up the whole city. Do we have an understanding?”
“Emperor, they’re attacking,” said the wounded soldier with me.
“They’re moving toward us and being shot at. There is a difference, and some of them might even be taking advantage, but this way stops the fighting. I can let it go on if you’re that set on revenge. I won’t die. You might, especially if you don’t get medical care. Going to be a lot of wounded or dying ahead of you if it isn’t stopped, though. Well, if they don’t go after the hospital in retaliation, that is. And at the end of the day, if they’re lying to me, I can just kill them all. Power means never having to say you’re worried.”
The soldier glared, but bowed and relaxed. “As you command.”
I nodded. “Good. Go get yourself looked at.” He saluted and jogged off at a pretty good speed for a guy whose chest can be described using the word “gauges”. I reached down and helped the wounded Deep One up. I nodded toward the others cowering nearby. “Go spread the word to your people. We’ve got a public address to make.”
They went around and I sent out a message to the Intercept team and other units I actually do have on the plan. Try not to shoot at them, because it’ll start a fight. If a fight breaks out, finish it quickly in a way that doesn’t escalate. Try to address the Deep Ones in English and get them to wait at the beaches. Prevent looting and protect Riccans if they should be attacked by these guys.
For good measure, I had the Deep One with me talk into my ear in the squishy tongue of the Deep Ones so there wouldn’t be any translation issues, telling them to go to the beaches where they would be sorted out. I then followed it up with some words of my own to everyone.
“This is your Emperor speaking. As many of you know, this was kind of a dick move by the Deep Ones to rush up here. But I’m also a dick. Many of you are dicks. If there’s one thing the new Ricca is going to be about, it’s giving dicks of all shapes and sizes a fair shake. These people are fleeing religious oppression, and I’m willing to give them a place for now. The people who came for them might soon come for us. Their god, this Cthulhu beast in the ocean, may attack as well. What we should be doing is working together to keep dicks like that from coming here and fucking everything over. To that end, I make you all a promise now, my fellow Riccans. I am going to kill that Cthulhu. Then, I’m going to fuck the corpse.”
And there was much rejoicing in the streets and beaches.