Tag Archives: Qiang

Kill Da Wabbit 2

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I missed that feeling of news coverage. The BBC talked about Psycho Gecko’s Blasphemy. Al Jazeera wondered which holy site was next. Outlaw X loving detailed the attacks, starting with my ride of the valkyries in London. Fox News ran a story suggesting rich Jews were secretly financing my attacks in order to draw attention away from a pedophile ring Hillary Clinton runs out of the basement of the Alamo. Not all PR is good PR. Some of it’s just fucking stupid.

It helped that I was rampaging around the United Kingdom, one of those countries that news people actually report on. Anybody who’s ever tried to hold someone hostage in Croatia knows what I’m talking about there. As Dame promised, there were many old religious sites with the Three Hares icon. They didn’t all turn up anything useful. Some had no secrets to share. Some had been long abandoned, with careful demolition yielding no further results. Others had been emptied before we got there, leaving little for us to find other than signs of human occupation in places humans shouldn’t have been living.

They didn’t all have that magic door, though. Good thing the proud interrogators of Ricca were on the job to follow up and ask questions in the area afterward. Or, more likely, they bribed a shitload of cops to ask a few questions for them. Nosy neighbors are a great source of information. They get so pissed about big trucks in the middle of the night, people moving, all that.

We also moved about. Dame didn’t like traveling with me, so Qiang and I had ourselves a little father/daughter road trip. We left the British Isles as quickly as possible in order to find something to eat, though. I was forced to express my displeasure in British cuisine after it turned out a waiter hadn’t intended me to bang his head into the table, then mash his skull. Then there’s the blood pudding incident. We don’t want to talk about the blood pudding incident.

Just me and muh daughter, driving around Europe. She was absolutely delighted when people started driving on the right side of the road again, even though it meant much less swerving from me. She’ll get used to cars heading straight for her. I still remember my first headlights. When there was still adrenaline involved.

Being in France tempted me to hit up the big tourist spots like the Louvre and rob them blind, but I have a child to look after. I have to think of her. That’s why we robbed a candy store instead. I wish I could say it had the Three Hares and we went on an amazing summer adventure of life, love, and lollipops. Instead, I punched the teller and Qiang, too distracted by her armful of candy, missed her shot to grab the cash. Instead, I grabbed bunch of those giant suckers, licked it, and smacked a cop in the face who tried to stop us right outside. The guy was going to have such a big bruise once he pried that thing off his skin.

I had to leave her behind for the next attack, and I was glad for this one. Dame met me in her normal guise in the twilight of the French countryside. More specifically, she asked me to wait in south-central France, at the edge of a great forest near a mountain. She tried to get the jump on me, but my armor’s traditional 360 degree display stifled her attempt. “Hello, Dame. Lots of trees around here. Please tell me this isn’t about some musty church in the middle of nowhere.”

“This isn’t about some musty church in the middle of nowhere,” she said, floating down to land next to me before solidifying.

“Good. Now I need you to get down on your knees and pretend you’re licking ice cream.”

She slapped me, which might mean she likes me. We’re in France, so I think I was supposed to grab her and kiss her at that point. “Don’t talk to me like that again or you can find your own hares.”

“Why is it that bitches always get testy when you break out the sexual harassment?” I asked.

“Ask your mother if you can catch her at the dog park,” Dame said. “Shut it already. You make everything profoundly less fun.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you’d gotten down on your legs already,” I mumbled. “Ok, ok, what are we doing here?”

“Off in this forest is the Chateau du Maquis, a former church refurbished as a hunting lodge following World War II, in honor and recognition of the Maquis du Mont Mouchet. They fought the Nazis in guerrilla engagements ending with a final attack where the force was dispersed, but not destroyed. The Nazis brought everything to stop attacks from infantry hiding in the woods; the Luftwaffe, artillery, armored units, motorized units, and veterans from the Eastern front all fought. 3,000 Germans fought 2,700 French and only managed to kill about 500. The rest lived to fight another day.”

“While the Nazis ended up as history. So where’s the forest in question? Is it behind all these trees?” I raised a hand up above the eyes on my helmet to shade my view.

“It, it.. it… flames, the flames, flames on the side of my face. Breathing… breathing.” Dame threw up her hands. “Come on, get in my car.” She pointed to a dark blue Aston-Martin.

“Hardly a fitting vehicle for a supervillain,” I said. Her response was to eye my rented Yugo. “What? You’d be surprised how much plastic explosive you can fit in one of those things. It’s the perfect car to blow things up. Nobody cares about the loss of a Yugo. Nobody investigates too hard. Nobody mourns the Yugo.” I looked back at it and gave the car a thumbs-up. A stiff wind blew and the wheels fell off. “So, your car?”

The Chateau, as Dame only informed me upon nearing it, had a minimal occupation of caretaker. No big security force. No police anywhere around.

“Sounds like the perfect place to run a side hustle. What are we looking at? Drugs? Weapons? Not to be too stereotypical, but wine smuggling? I could smuggle the shit out of some wine. Takes a whole ‘nother class of mule to pull that off. Or push it in, as it were.”

“Vacations. The wealthy need a place to hunt and hold secret meetings.”

“Which brings us back to the drugs and weapons and wine shoved up someone’s ass,” I told her. “They going to be put off by us showing up in costume?”

“Rich people. Isolated chateau,” was all the answer Dame provided, or needed to provide.

Heavy on the stone, steeples, and climbing vines, the forest pressed close to the chateau grounds, obscuring it. It felt confined by the forest. Perhaps that explains kicking the doors completely down as I did. “Everyone, drop your pants and raise the roof!”

An old man looked up from pushing a broom in front of an empty fireplace. “What are you wanting here?”

“Must be a Parisian,” Dame said to me, stepping up and slapping me on the arm. “Pardon me, my eccentric friend and I interested in the grounds. Is there anyone present who could educate us?”

“If there’s anything to know about the chateau, I would know it,” said the old man. He continued his sweeping past the fireplace. Didn’t even bother to pick up an old machete laying next to it, though. “I must finish. Then we will talk.”

I decided to set the doors back up while we wait, and noticed the old, burnt wooden Three Hares above the door. Dame helped herself to a glass of wine while I checked the Hares over for a trick entrance or some sort of mechanism. Had to pile up a couple of really old chairs to do it. Older than this place if it was only built after WW2. The Hares symbol itself might be salvaged from another site, which means a whole ‘nother trip involved.

“Any weirdness around here, Dame?” I asked. “Maybe help us narrow down where what we’re really looking for.”

The old man appeared at the doorway on the opposite side of the building suddenly. Fast old fart. “The Beast was caught around here.”

I checked with Dame, who almost had to waste a drop of wine to surprise, then looked to the old man. “The Beast, eh? May I ask which beast?”

“The Beast of Gévaudan. It was a giant wolf, the fiercest such beast to ever stalk the forests of Earth. For three years, the Beast claimed the lives of the innocent. Hunters came and failed. They shot a greatwolf and stuffed it, but the attacks continued. The hunts of man and wolf continued until Jean Chastel shot the Beast with silver. Its body disappeared into the care of a surgeon who confirmed it had feasted on human. This is the story of the Beast of Gévaudan.”

“Interesting story. Werewolf?” I asked.

“Here wolf,” said the old man, dropping to all fours. His clothes disappeared into long, grey fur upon the rise of a wolf the size of a bull.

Dame jumped up, tossing the wine bottle against the mantle of the fireplace as she put distance between herself and the old wolf. I was more focused on the knowing eyes of the old beast until the fire started. I thought it was the fireplace itself until I saw the machete was burning. From the flames, like ashes, slid an arm, then the rest of a dark-skinned human body with iron plate piercings running along the arms, the chest, and everywhere else not covered in red pants and shirt. He set his red sash around his chest and picked up the machete. When he spoke, the words I heard didn’t match his lips. “You come to my house with weapons and violence in your heart?”

I threw my cape back, unleashing a pair of laser drones. “Violence is such a simple description for what I do. I prefer if you call it a nightmare.”

Dame lit out of there without so much as a “Sorry,” and a piss in her pants. And as I squared off with the two, I heard things. Things like a car revving up and speeding out of there. Things like creeks and snapping branches. The satellite imagery showed more things were out there. I began to suspect I was entering that point where I didn’t know how many it’d take to whoop my ass, but I’d soon learn just how many they were gonna use. If they’re all as tough as the one at the first site I hit in England, that won’t be many.

So I jumped out as well, pushing the broken door out and knocking over someone. I didn’t get a good look at them as I slid a ways, then jumped off and into the thick woods surrounding the place. A dropped rubber chicken grenade set a fire to spread and cover my tactical re-mobilization away from the main area of conflict.

Whatever these guys were, however good of trackers and hunters, it’s a bit tough to hunt someone more powerful than a locomotive who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. I called in my own dogs then. Or at least their voicemail. “Titan, I’m going to need the Riccan soldiers in France. It’s better if you don’t know pretty much anything else about it. Oh, and if you see Dame come around, tell her she owes me a lot of ice cream.”

I smiled, hearing the crashing of trees in the night and the flutter of fleeing birds.

Nice place for a hunt. I’m hunting Hares, they’re hunting Gecko. Time to see who’s the top predator around here.

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Down With A Sickness 7

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“I want less emphasis on it, but don’t discourage the pursuit. Max is working on his stuff too, but any cure’s also useless if we can’t vaccinate against this thing. We could probably quarantine and cure the entire island if we had enough for everyone, but all it takes is one more boat coming in. Until there’s a vaccine, quarantines and cures aren’t going to do much,” I told Creeper via Dudebot. I left one behind in a storage closet at the Institute, right near the lobby command center. It helps keep in contact, especially since I’ve done some traveling.

Dr. Creeper was calm at least. I’d authorized him to spend some money on a massage day for the scientists, who were driving themselves to exhaustion over this and I wanted to keep morale up. Remind people what they’re fighting for. Or researching for, in this case. Brain work may not wear on the body the same way, but mental exhaustion is real. My Chief of Science had called to check in though, wondering if we should even worry about a cure. “I understand, herr Gecko. Vhile I have you on the phone, the cell you asked for has been completed.”

“That was quick. Nice going,” I told him.

“It seems ve had a similar testing room already built. The modifications were simple.”

“Thanks. Just keep it ready in case we need it. After all the trouble he caused us, I’m sure there’s another Funhouse I can get my hands on. Until then, keep up the good work.” It was a neat design to handle the issue with Funhouse. From the way the guy talked in unison, I suspect he had a hive mind. And since he was working as a spy, I suspect he was suspicious enough to not have all of his hims meet at the same place. Not unless he was insanely loyal, and I’m not sure that’s the case. He did screw up their plan.

If Funhouse hadn’t panicked, we wouldn’t know what the disease’s purpose was. We wouldn’t know powers could be restrained, even ones like mine. I suppose we’d know some shadowy cabal was behind it, but it’s pretty easy to tell when Faustus/Hephaestus is up to something, and VillainNet would give me a heads-up on others. People really like insignia, trophies, and decorative flourishes. What Funhouse led us to was an auxiliary base that saw barely any use in an abandoned temple to one of the world’s major religions.

I figured I could either start investigating all the Buddhists on Earth, or I could start investigating the design with the rabbits that was the secret door access.

I finished our little call just before heading up the steps of the museum Qiang was hopping up one at a time. We’d both dressed for London’s heat, which wasn’t so bad considering the island’s weather. The exception was that I had to wear these gloves along the length of my lower arms. I had them made because I was tired of wearing clothing loose enough to fit my arms down. Now I just have to worry about clothing that handles both pairs and hiding the extra ones around anyone I don’t want knowing they exist. These gloves are made of the same material as the camouflage of the Pyscho Flyer, but comfortable to wear thanks to an internal layer.

The Museum of Architecture was, sadly, not the best place for Qiang. Eventually, it’d be fun to take her through and teach her all about weak points and ways to sneak around, but she’s a bit young for it. I promised her we’d find something fun, like a zoo, afterward. Because, as I informed a guide, “I’m looking for information on a historical architectural symbol.”

I do so love many British accents, especially when they’re telling me things I want to hear. They were able to direct me to the area of the museum in question, though I had to dangle a donation in front of them to get some personal attention. I also let Qiang look around at scale models all over the place. She pretended to be Godzilla, but stopped short of destroying anything.

“Tell me if you’ve heard this one,” said a woman’s voice. I turned to see a blonde, tan beauty in her twenties approach, belly and sides peeking through openings in the fancy pants blue dress she wore. With a mask on, I knew her as Dame, a thief who had been known to work with heroes from time to time. “A kid, a supervillain, and the world’s best thief walk into a museum.”

“No mention of yourself in the joke?” I asked. “How do you always find me, Dame?”

She set her feet and crossed her arms. “A lady must have her secrets, but this time Venus gave you up.”

“Preposterous. Venus specifically said she was never going to give me up. Never gonna let me down. Never gonna run around or desert me.”

“Ugh, that is SUCH an old meme now. Shouldn’t you be saying ‘Gas the Jews’ over and over again these days?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, because it’s real funny when someone has to repeat the punchline thirty times hoping people start laughing. You’ve gotten better at insulting people.”

“I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of that comparison,” she said, grinning.

“Seriously, what do you want Dame?” I asked, motioning to where my daughter pretended to shoot radioactive breathe at a damaged gargoyle. “Some of us are here on important business.”

Even she enjoyed the sight of Qiang playing. “Obviously. What about you?”

“I’m trying to figure out why humans who speak English decided to associate sex with so many bad things by making the parts and actions into insults that people otherwise find quite enjoyable. ‘Fuck you, dick. Fuck you, pussy. Screw you, asshole. Cocksucker. Shit tits.”

She opened her mouth and flinched at the last one. I walked over and clapped her on the shoulder, adding, “Good to see you’re a fan, too.”

“Let’s just talk. Venus filled me in on the situation. I can tell you more about what you’re looking for than whoever they roped in to smiling pretty at the museum.” She turned and indicated the symbol in the exhibit of three rabbits chasing each other around the interior of a circle, with only three ears but each animal having a pair. “Let’s grab coffee.”

“Qiang, want to go get something as sweet as you?” I asked.

She stopped gnawing on the gargoyle and looked up, face alight. “Yeah Baba!”

Dame bent down. “You’re Qiang? You’re adorable.” She patted Qiang on the head with one hand. The other reached for where Qiang was hiding her knife. My girl pulled that knife on her, glaring.

“You think that’s bad, try to take her candy and see what she does to you,” I said. I patted Qiang on the head. “That’s my girl.” Qiang looked up at me and smiled.

We left and headed down the street, because Dame insisted, “The swill here is meant for tourists and academics. I know roasts worthy of a king.”

“As an Empress, I suppose I can lower myself to try a mere queen’s favorite coffee,” I said all snooty, raising my nose. I ignored the looks from an older lady who sniffed at the remark.

“As an Empress, you can afford to pay me. I don’t work for free,” she waved a hand. “I am a thief, not an informant. I have to make a stealing from someone.”

“I have money enough,” I told her.

“You have enough money to give it away. I want something more valuable to you.”

“Any deal involving my first born doesn’t count,” I told her. “But I don’t know what you’re hoping for that’s more valuable.”

She turned and winked. “Your crown. Officially, I’ll steal it and get away with it.”

“Only damn way you could get it,” I told her.

She raised an eyebrow briefly. “Maybe, maybe not. That’s how the story goes that I’ll get it, and you will verify it.”

“Fine, but you better give me something real or no deal. This is leaving a bad taste in my mouth already. That or it’s this coffee,” I said, sniffing at my cup. I palmed a nanite syringe from my purse with one of my hidden hands and injected myself to make sure I wouldn’t fall prey to sedatives or poisons.

“It will be. The symbol you’ve looked into is called the Three Hares. The earliest examples trace back to 6th century China in Buddhist religious spots near trade hubs. It spread along the Silk Road, moving faster when the Mongols established the Pax Mongolica. All the religions wanted it. There are churches all over Europe with the symbol in areas that imply significance and association with the Green Man, a pagan symbol of rebirth. Since Green Man is pagan, what little agreement there is on the subject suggests they are enemies. It also appears in synagogues and Islamic artwork. You can find a marvelous example of the latter on a casket in the Cathedral of Trier. You can’t go to church in Devonshire without tripping over more rabbits.”

“Ok, what’s it mean?” I asked, pretending to take another sip of my coffee. I wasn’t paranoid about it so much as I just didn’t like it.

She shrugged. “No one knows. It spread from China to England and was used by people in four rival religions. It’s connected to the Green Man, Buddha, the Virgin Mary, Lazarus, the Holy Trinity, and more gods than I can count, but nobody knows what it’s for. We don’t have any writings about it.” She stopped and turned to me.

“That’s not very useful,” I told her.

“There isn’t much useful.” She raised her cup to point across the street. A cathedral stood. “But that church has the Hares in it, and nobody seems to know what happened to the air raid shelter underneath it.”

“If that’s all…”

She pulled out a couple sheets of paper. “Every location and artifact I know of featuring the Three Hares symbol and every mythological figure associated with it in case that’s important. You’re working with a titan, after all.”

I reached out for the papers. “Groovy. Ya know, cool cat, I was down at the malt shop when I heard something about this hip new thing called electronic mail. All the lamplighters and newspaper boys are talking about it.”

“I know. I knew this would piss you off more,” she said. “Almost as much as finding out I’m working with you.”

I looked at her, then turned to the church across the way. “I’d better go get my spear and magic helmet then.”

“Your spear and magic helmet?” asked Dame.

I nodded. “Spear and magic helmet!”

“Magic helmet?” inquired Qiang.

“Magic helmet!”

Qiang hopped up and down excited. Dame rolled her eyes. And I began to hum “Ride of the Valkyries” as I began plotting.

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Down With A Sickness 5

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The trail had fits of stopping and starting, but never for long. Never long enough for the guy who took Psychsaur and Max to sleep. They’d zipped over to India from the portal, but didn’t stop there. They managed to get from there into Pakistan in amazingly little time. When I showed it to Titan, shortly after he and Venus joined me on Ricca, he informed me Cape Diem didn’t have a base there. “They stole our portals. Maybe they built something to hack into our network. Either way, this is unacceptable.”

We’d set up at the residence. It wasn’t considered neutral ground the same way the Cape Diem compound was, but it was a hell of a lot more private and better protected, even with that new hole in the wall of the living room. Everything had mostly turned out ok from that event. Our assailant, the blonde multiplier, hadn’t gone after Qiang at all, and neither did she charge him with a knife or anything. I think I’m raising a girl smarter than I am, but it doesn’t make anyone feel any better about a home being partially blown up.

It was easier for us to coordinate and control information Each of our organizations’ are looking into the attack in their own way, chasing leads, studying bodies and wreckage. Well, the bodies are on my end. It’s a bit inefficient, but cross-organizational cooperation’s going to have to wait.

“They didn’t take anyone for you?” I asked Titan for confirmation.

He shook his head. “No. He killed someone. Hurt others.”

“He took knowledge from you, but he took our friends,” I said.

“Not exactly,” Venus said. “You said Max made a cure?”

I nodded. “Yeah, but there’s just not enough, and it can’t be replicated.”

Venus paced around the office, looking at the monitors of our setup. “Psychsaur found him. Her powers let her do that. He avoided her until he was ready to do this.”

I looked between them. “I thought Psychsaur was supposed to cover Cape Diem first?”

Titan nodded to Venus, “She convinced me otherwise. It’s a good thing, too.”

“How’s that?” Venus asked.

Titan scratched his chin. “If she was at Cape Diem when this happened, the mole at Master Academy wouldn’t have been exposed.”

“Do we know who he is?” I asked. “Because on my end, he was just Funhouse the Clown, aka Ricardo Milhouse.”

Venus said, “He told us he found out his little brother had superpowers and was fighting crime at night. He was concerned and wanted him trained. He told us his name was Rick Houser. He brought a kid in. God, we had to lock up a teen to find out how deep he’s into this.”

“Richard Milford Holmes,” said Titan, tapping away at the computer and bringing up some of the Cape Diem files. “Twenty-eight. No powers, but a lot of enthusiasm to join us. He’s shown an eagerness to do the shit work even when offered duties more in line with what we expect. A lot of people join up to do something grand to help the world. It’s a good attitude, there’s a lot of more ugly work to it than people want. Except him. He was staying under the radar the entire time. Ten months.” He glared down at the table. Venus patted his arm.

“He hasn’t stopped at all until now,” I pointed out, bringing up the map where they’d finally been stopped. “So maybe he’s where he needs to go, or it’s a trap. A trap would be a bad idea for them.”

“Unless they take our powers with that collar,” Titan reminded us.

That was when Venus walked over to stand beside me. “What powers? This is all training and equipment.”

Venus and I had to take a moment to suit up, each of us in bulky armor. Hers was her current generation of power armor with the face taken up mostly by a golden chrome visor. Mine was based on the suit I’d stolen from her future version, but with additional armor plating and strength-enhancing pseudomuscles added to resemble my heavy armor. I was just as agile as ever, in armor far more durable. After all, nobody said the added armor plates couldn’t be the same material as the less-bulky version.

Titan remained his giant blue and orange self, with a pair of wings sticking out the back of his Cape Diem uniform.

On our way out, I gave Qiang a hug, smiled at Silver Shark checking on a burn along her arm, and politely squeezed by Sam and Holly trying to bar our way. “’Scuse me, gotta go save Mix N’Max, just the three of us, no additional help involved.” I picked up Sam with both sets of arms and set her to the side. I turned to find Holly taking her place, so I skipped around her.

“We’re coming!” Sam called after me as I pushed through the doors. Titan and Venus followed, with Max’s assistants coming after.

“You two aren’t villains,” I called back as we walked to a Psycho Flyer parked in front of the palace.

“You don’t know what he means to us!” called Holly.

“Do you trust them?” Titan asked me.

“They’re loyal to Max above all else. They’d never see him harmed or kidnapped in any way,” I answered. “But I doubt they have anything to bring to the table on this other than potential hostages if things go wrong.” I stopped to look at the assistants. “Leave this to us.”

“We are not useless,” Sam said. She pulled out a glass bottle with a simple oval label and “The Cure” written in Max’s handwriting. “Take us or we destroy it.”

I looked up the ramp of the flyer where Titan and Venus had stopped. They looked to me, eyebrows raised. Well, I assume Venus’s were raised under the helmet. I pointed to Sam and Holly. “Nothing about them threatening the cure?”

“It’s your aircraft,” Titan pointed out.

“I’m not saving your asses if you get in trouble,” I said, turning and walking up the ramp. I heard them clatter along after me.

They probably would have regretted it if they knew the flight was so long. I had the flyer loaded up for it, though. Toilets, toiletries, an in-flight meal, and a selection of movies to watch.

“Air Force One, Airplane!, Sully… what are you trying to tell us here, Gecko?” asked Holly as she stepped up into the cockpit.

I created a pair of holographic sunglasses in my lower right arm. “I think my meaning should be quite…” I lifted the hologram into place where my eyes would be through my helmet. “…plane to see.”

“Oh god, I’m going to be sick,” Holly called out from the back of the flyer.

“It wasn’t that bad!” I called back.

Sam winced and looked back. “I better get to her. Flying can be iffy for her.”

I shrugged as she left. “It was y ‘all’s decision to come.”

When we got to where we were going, the nanites indicated that Max and Psychsaur were still there. And where we were going turned out to be a small, decrepit Buddhist temple on top of a hill. I invited Venus and Titan into the cockpit to look down on it. “That’s a pretty cunning way to hide a lair,” I told them. “Anyone who breaks in looks like their sacrilegious. On the plus side, we have plenty of room if there are any religious artifacts left. Gold, sufficiently old stonework, even bones will do.”

“We’re here for your friends, not bones,” rumbled Titan. “I guess you better get in there since you’re the quietest somehow.”

“Okily dokily.” I stood up from the controls and the flyer dropped for like half a second. In the back, Holly vomited. I hope paper bags were involved.

“You fucking psycho!”

“Asshole!”

“Prick!”

“BLUURRRGH!”

The reactions I get. I held up my hands. “It’s fine. I got it remotely anyway. Just decided that if y’all are going to ask the guy flying the thing to get off it, shit might happen.”

“You could land,” Venus growled.

“I’d rather not risk being stranded in Pakistan. Nobody should.”

I landed harder than is preferred for stealth, but at least I was invisible. When I got to the door to the place, I found was in better shape than its appearance would lead people to believe. A quick scan through multiple spectrums didn’t reveal anything. No lasers, no wires, any of that.

I called down a quartet of drones from the trapdoor of the Psycho Flyer. They assembled on their way down, forming a platform big and strong enough to hold me in the heavier armor. I hopped on top as it passed through the doorway. I wasn’t going to get caught by pressure plates this time.

I had a line open to the Flyer cockpit, Venus, and Titan, so it wasn’t long before I heard Venus ask, “Found anything yet?”

“Lots of wood and tiles. Not even any valuables. Not one piece of art, either, except this little thing.” I spotted this decoration built into the base of the altar. Three rabbits, two running one way in a circle, the third another. But that was because the third one was broken, flipped around. There weren’t even any other doors anywhere. No way down to a hidden basement. So I flipped the third rabbit around and clicked it into place.

Behind me, tiles slid out of place along the floor, revealing a circular stairwell down that had to be hell to get hostages down. It also had no room for flying. “I got a way down. Go ahead and get down here. I don’t see anything up top. Y’all should be able to hop or fly to the stairs.”

I headed down and found my way through a rusty metal door, and from there to a circular room with a floor made up of rounded stones. There, I saw a quartet of dead Funhouse. No sign of Max or Psychsaur. But there were two other corridors from there. It was easier to figure out where to go when I heard retching. It’s been a vomit kind of day. “Funhouse was dead when I got here. I think I hear someone. Going to see if I find our peeps.”

I snuck my way on down the corridor when I heard Titan and Venus behind me, coughing. “What’s that smell?” Titan asked.

“They’re discolored,” Venus said from back there, too.

I found Max and Psychsaur locked in a pair of old time cells. Stone walls, a barred door, and a whole lot of hacking going on. I dropped the hologram. “Hey guys. Here I come to save the day.”

“Gas,” Max hacked up. “They killed him.”

Psychsaur added, “It got here.”

I pulled out a couple of syringes. “Venus, got a couple patients here. Some sort of poisoning. If y’all are still alive, I’m guessing it’s dispersed and stuff.” Metal bars and all, it wasn’t even a matter of hacking. I tore the lock off Max’s cell. The alarm started up then.

“I got activity down this corridor!” Titan called out. Then, the world blew the fuck up. But we didn’t go with it. There was a booming roar that tried to kill my eardrums. It got hot as fuck. Wasn’t as bright as I expected. After everything settled to mere shaking, I popped open Psychsaur’s cell, too, and grabbed them up. It’s a lot easier carrying people with extra arms.

I found Venus in the middle chamber, where a pedestal now stood in the center. Titan barred access to the other corridor almost completely. He stepped away slowly, grimacing “Any bomb you can walk away from is a good bomb.”

“You good?” I asked.

He nodded. “I’ve taken bigger.”

I nodded toward Venus. “That’s what she said.”

“She is busy downloading files off this computer while it self-deletes,” Venus said, a USB from her suit plugged into something on the pedestal.

All in all, a successful rescue. We got our friends. We got the collars off without damaging them overly much. And we got some files to sift through about what we’re dealing with, starting with the final message left in the system from a voice that sounded like dozens overlaid on one another.

“We had greater plans for you. You were to observe and report only. You are one piece of a vast apparatus. Our plan could never be stopped by one man with a cure. Ricca was the first, followed by Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Osaka, Empyreal City. All within the first week. Thank you for listening obediently while the gas circulates. Your obedience is no longer required. You are no longer a piece in our apparatus.”

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Down With A Sickness 3

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“…and the dastardly do-gooder who captured him and recovered the stolen Viking relics is said to have remarked, ‘There’s Norway you’re pulling this one off, Man-Opener!’ Folks, your old pal Outlaw X is going to break from the program to tell you about one of our latest sponsors. I’m sure you’re all aware of that crazy cat named Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca after the Claw’s unfortunate demise. Inter-villain squabbles can be a real bummer, so that’s why I carry the new RA32 pulse blaster. The latest handcannon from Riccan Arms uses photons and gluons and more -ons than you can shake a stick at. I don’t know how it works, I just know it can light up your enemies like the Fourth of July and fold into the shape of a large flashlight so the missus won’t find out where you go at night. Riccan Arms is the innovation you desire in a package your enemies fear. Pick one up today…”

The labs set up a forward outpost of a sort in order to easily access the outside. The Claw had the place set up the old way for information security. At this point, I’d be grateful if random people on the street downloaded enough of the work on the infection to give us a hand with it. It also let me listen in on Outlaw X, the premiere radio station for villains. I never kept up with it as much as I cared. Even they hadn’t quite gotten wind yet of the Riccan lockdown, courtesy of stockpiles we had off the island and a comprehensive decon protocol the guys came up with on a hunch.

The bacteria spreads quickly, so my guys decided to see what the transmission tells us. A few days outside a human body and they die. They collected a few to see what the dead ones could teach us. Vulnerabilities, but also a chance at a vaccine. Unfortunately, we don’t have anyone uninfected except the Deep Ones. Not all Deep Ones, though. It took some probing questions, but it turns out the purebred ones just don’t get infected. The bacteria just don’t recognize their brains as targets. It’s the ones with some human in their ancestry that end up infected. Deep Ones, eh? Close enough to mate with humans, like homo machina, but far enough away that they can’t be infected by this, unlike homo machina.

I figured out this was a handy thing, though, so I made inquiries through the Drone Division to see if elders and other Deep Ones community leaders could find me some able-bodied seapeople. I also sent along money and high-end moisturizing cream as incentives. A couple Deep Ones insisted on holding out for more. Specifically, they wanted to make sure their people’s work on behalf of mine wouldn’t be forgotten. They’d seen the way Americans were throwing away the lives of Puerto Ricans and concentrating immigrants in camps. They’d even begun a process of investigating citizens to decide if they should end up in the camps as “citizenship cheaters”. I told the guys working for me to inform those holdouts that I remain committed to seeing to the welfare of all Riccans, humans, Deep Ones, and homo machina alike, and would gladly honor those who help to save my people in their hour of need.

Lofty language, sure, but a lot more inspiring than sending them an answer of, “Fuck, man, sure, whatever.”

Luckily, the Chinese were making another shipment to the U.S. The Deep Ones were more than capable of capturing the ship. A science team donned hazmat suits and went onboard to find the people being sent over to the States. They went deep into debt to afford the chance at a better life, probably without realizing how bad the U.S. has gotten. Or things are just shitty enough in rural China that they’ll risk moving to a country where Nazis are still a major demographic.

The Deep Ones had to tackle one dumbass scientist who thought it’d be a good time to attempt taking his hood off. He got chewed out so many times up the ladder before I heard about it, Dr. Creeper told me he had to turn down the man’s request for seppuku. Which is an especially odd request for a Filipino, but Ricca’s something of a melting pot. Just the other day, people celebrated some holiday and I never got around to figuring out why they had dog balloons fighting with bird balloons.

In the end, they maintained quarantine and kept the people clean enough for experimentation. Because, as some upper-class white guy once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. You can tell, because you don’t hear too many poor people, or oppressed folks arguing that some people need to get the shaft for the greater good. So as a white guy, I had no problem ordering captured Chinese people to be used for experiments to save my people. Well, a white guy in the body of an Asian woman.

Once the exterior’s open to being changed like clothes, racism and sexism make about as much sense as being a fashion snob. Plus, a supervillain should always be on the lookout for downtrodden people. Think about it; police hostility to oppressed people means a lack of trust and gang organization. So you go in, you have people who area already disinclined to inform on you to the cops, and you can recruit in groups. Plus, you can buy a lot of loyalty sending them to school for subjects like mechanical engineering. They learn a trade, you get someone to help maintain the robot army. You know why you don’t see shadowy cabal of Jews taking over the world? Because nobody gave them a chance, dammit.

Enough, brain! Get on point, or I will poke you with things!

Work on a vaccine stalled when it came to using dead cells. They didn’t suddenly spring to life and create a full infection, which is great, but they also didn’t elicit an immune response. So while that’s a setback for vaccinations, it means we can safely ship weapons and equipment with no trouble. It has helped keep things under wraps.

With the science guys hard at work, I had a call to make. And since I had Psychsaur talking to Venus for me, that means it was Titan’s blue and orange mug that appeared on my giant screen at home. “Titan.”

“Psycho Gecko,” he acknowledged. “Any luck on a cure so far?”

I shook my head. “No. We had an idea for a vaccine, but it didn’t pan out. On the plus side, materials are safe to spread around after a few days. Maybe not anything from a refrigerator. We’ll see on that part.We’ll get you nanites for detection purposes, though.”

He rubbed his chin. “Is that safe? You said the bacteria eats nanites.”

I waved it off. “It’s fine. They tested to make sure, but it only seems to attack nanites that attack it and derive all their nutrition from hosts. The solution the nanites are in is more about preserving them from moisture and air, and the bacteria die off just as easily.”

“Thank god for the little things,” he said, pun probably not intended from his complete lack of reaction. “How are your people holding up?”

“It seems to be limited to the hundreds. If this were any other population, with less general health, I suspect we’d see more. What about your folks?”

“We’ve had four with the adverse reaction that we know about. Six other attempted to break quarantine. I have someone investigating.”

“Thank you,” I told him. “I peg the heroes, personally.”

“Not your own?” he asked. I mean, technically yes and no, that time my wife made herself look like Venus…

“Anyone infected could have spread it from the airport or docks as soon as they arrived, or from anywhere else. It’d have gotten everyone anyway. That’s what they made it for.”

Titan shook his head. “That assumes Patient Zero knows anything about it. He or she could have been ordered to let it out at a social function or in your vicinity. You could be collateral damage to a different target.”

“I think we can assume the target was me. It’s able to bond to homo machina and resist my nanites and it first appeared on my island as far as anyone knows. Not like the symptoms are unique, though. We’ll stick a pin in that for later.”

“With the CDC,” he interjected.

“Right. Those guys, if they even still exist these days. I just don’t think they’d risk someone getting caught ahead of time with this when all they have to do is release it anywhere on the island, so I think this person’s first opportunity was the party. That means someone who came in, either with the Master Academy group or with your people. But I will have recent arrivals looked into by my pervasive peace force. I might loosen the restrictions on brutality.”

“I emphasize efficiency of brutality,” Titan said, glowing eyes giving off just the faintest hint of disapproval.

I cocked my head to the side. “You wouldn’t believe the level of pissed I’m on. I think you’d better hope the perpetrator is found by someone other than me.”

“You are allowing the heroes to investigate their own,” he pointed out.

“I don’t trust Venus to investigate. I need you to get Psychsaur over there for me.” I’d hinted that Qiang might want to play with the reptilian superhuman quite a bit. Get her real sympathetic to what I’m fighting for. I don’t have to trust Venus to find out of if the heroes are behind this. I just have to trust a mindreader who likes my daughter.

“See if she’ll help me first and you have a deal.”

I nodded. “That is, of course, up to her. I’ll see if I can make it happen. Heroes, villains, and neutrals all aligned. Someone clearly wasn’t satisfied with the small size of their asshole.”

“Some things just aren’t done,” he said. “Standards don’t make you weak. Maintaining them shows a strength that means more than most understand. There are things you simply don’t do to people or children. Even your nanite scheme was a bluff in the end. The better for you that it was.”

Ehh, maybe I won’t tell him I was prevented from killing a huge chunk of the world with nanites that time.

I’m not telling lots of people lots of things. Like how I haven’t told even those in my science team that Mix N’Max has set up a little lab right in my own home to come up with his own concoction to cure this thing. It’d be about useless if it takes too long or if he somehow has to do one at a time. And then, once we’ve got a usable cure, it somehow slips out that he’s got lab space elsewhere and is working on this very thing. Sure would be interesting to see if anyone tries to break in and sabotage efforts.

Then, I play Whack-A-Mole.

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Party On 6

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Woot! What comes before Part B? Part A!

The whole damn island’s having itself a good time to celebrate the birthday of my little baby girl, complete with an impromptu parade from the palace to the Cape Diem compound. When the first fireworks went off, Max took cover and I grabbed the nearest object, a painting off the wall, and prepared to beat wholesale ass with it.

“Watch it, Cinderella,” said Sam said from over by the living room windows. “It’s just fireworks.”

Citra moved up to take my arm and squeeze my hand in both of hers. “Yeah, it better be,” I said, before tossing the painting to the side and checking to make sure I hadn’t ruined anything on the new dress. Qiang said princess party and the tailor did his best to accommodate her wishes for a special dress to wear. It was a Western dress, very much in keeping with the Disney movies that I’ve been known to throw at her, but not any specific one. I told the tailor to make her Moana, Mulan, any of them she asked for. Disney’s not as anal about what constitutes a princess as I am, but my daughter can damn well dress as whoever she pleases.

Instead, she went with a darker pink with lots of frills up and down the front, and her own tiara. With my approval, the tailor went easy on the tiara. Most people don’t realize it, but wearing a lump of gold and gemstones on your head is hard work. Royals build up to that over like weeks or days leading up to official events. So Qiang’s tiara is better than a flimsy gold tiara. It’s durable, light, and gilded.

My own number resembled hers, except I went with a vibrant green that probably looks more at home in Rio during Carnivale, and had a little more space to hide my second pair of arms. If it hadn’t been for all these outsiders, I’d let them out. But I always gotta keep something in reserve when my nemesis is around.

While I was picking at it and making sure Qiang had hers all together, Citra took one look out the window and suggested, “Why do we not make a small parade?” I really should look into what the transit system’s like on this island. Damn delegation. Regardless, I know plenty of things fall off the back of a container ship around here, so I called up my guys in our local police force. They helped a car dealer clear a little space for more merchandise. It’s good for ’em, helps them rotate the inventory.

So my family had a parade of sorts. Nothing all that special to it, only Max was throwing treats at the crowd, and I didn’t really feel the need for security. Anybody who fucked up my dress was going to get a high heel up the urethra. And if they messed something up for Qiant? Oh, even a cyanide pill wouldn’t save them. I’d bring them back to life, and then I’d really fuck ’em up.

While I was keeping an eye out, Citra actually hopped out of our slow procession and carried Qiang down with her. I hopped out after them as they greeted some of the visitors. “What are you doing?” I asked her.

“A princess should meet her subjects, and I think it is good for us,” she said.

I narrowed my eyes at her briefly before stopping myself. We were approaching another group who were getting all respectful and bowing. I stepped back and watched as Citra asked after them, how they were doing, other such platitudes. Empty stuff. Might as well ask how the weather is for all we can do about it. But they liked it. And not just them.

“You want to walk some, Qiang?” I asked the birthday girl.

“Yeah, Baba. I can ride in the car again when I’m tired. I get to be a princess!” She was hopping up and down and running along, eager to follow Citra’s example. As for me, I suppose I can’t fault her for having a will of her own. She is still another separate person, if one thrust into position and events far beyond what her life intended. Chaos can certainly be a ladder, or a pit. So while they were all smiles and spreading good Imperial cheer among my people, I kept a close eye out in case someone decided they wanted to hurt the Empress Regnant on our way to the Cape Diem compound.

Now, even though I was fully prepared to let visitors to my world come in peace, even provide an escort to me, the leader, it turns out the Master Academy people worked something out with Cape Diem. I didn’t see anything change hands, but Cape Diem’s whole portal deal with the UN isn’t something they’d risk losing. I wonder what the cost is for using the world’s only portal network to bring a bunch of kids to a birthday party on an island run by a supervillain. I suppose there are benefits for neutrality. But it’s neutrality that goes both ways.

My minions helped prepare everything, payment being they get to enjoy the party too. As my prior discussion of the cake ratio shows, I put a lot of thought into bribing people with food, fun, and bouncy houses. That even includes the guard detail who escorted the various princesses from the pink castle they temporarily called home. All of them formed a receiving line for my daughter on her way to the cake.

The cake itself loomed over the party like a small castle all its own. It was too big for the compound itself. It’s bad hat to kick your guests out of their own home by bringing in such a giant cake. People mostly contained themselves until we got there, at which point Qiang lost her shit with high-pitched squeals of delight and ran off into a throng of her friends who were being held back by their chaperones from Master Academy. We managed to separate them and, before everything devolved into the inevitable entropic pack of playing people, I let Qiang see all the various princesses. She was excited to meet them, and luckily they’d all calmed down a great deal. Something about being in public, with superheroes around, knowing they were going to be set free, and that this was all about my daughter’s birthday party.

Finally, barely able to contain her excitement and glee, it was time for my daughter to stand in front of her cake. And like all great cakes, it required men with flamethrowers hanging from flyers in order to light the candles. Ok, so required isn’t so accurate a term for lighting five candles. Let me think… fun? Awesome? Nevertheless, she stood there in front of a lower part ready to be cut and served to people. Then I unleashed the real humiliation. “Ok, time to sing Happy Birthday!”

Once I’d finished completely embarrassing her with the help of her friends and a huge crowd of strangers, she finally got a piece of cake, and then servants made sure everyone got cake who wanted it, including themselves. And from there, people mingled, people ate, people played games. I even caught this minotaur-looking super from Master Academy snorting in frustration as he kept missing at the clown dunk. The clown itself had a white face, a big forehead, and red hair. He’d also do this little dance in between throws, glaring right at the minotaur.

And it seemed to go ok. It was more like a big fair for a pretty good amount of time. Heroes and villains and me and my family all mingling. It was almost normal. It felt weird, like I should pick a fight just to have something to do. Fucking ball just wouldn’t hit the target and dunk the clown. I swear, that big-shoed bastard did something to the balls. While missing yet again, and ducking a cream pie thrown in retaliation, I noticed Venus.

It struck me as odd that we’d avoided each other so far. Unless she was avoiding me, which is a crazy thing to think. No, unless she was PLOTTING against me. That’s a sane thing to think. So I went over to where she was looking after some of the kids. “So, what horrifying thing are you going to do now in the name of being a good person?” I asked.

“Watching kids play on a happy day. How are you planning to be an asshole and justify it because other people in the world do bad things?” she asked right back, giving me a forced, closed smile.

“I dunno, figured I’d send missionaries to teach starving kids in Africa the joys of cannibalism.” My smile was more genuine, as was my amusement.

Venus wasn’t so amused. Doesn’t mean she was offended, she just didn’t like me. She turned her head suddenly, checking on a kid that had fallen. One of the Master Academy kids she brought all the way here to my daughter’s party even though she hates me. I looked at her and held a hand out. “I should be a better host. Thanks for bringing everyone. This means a lot to her.”

She shook my hand, and this time the little smile tugging at her lips also tightened up her eyes. “You’re welcome. She’s a wonderful girl. She’s worked magic on you.” After letting go of my hand, she turned to keep an eye on everything, smiling at everyone just walking around, having fun and playing games.

I shrugged. “She’s not so different from me. Orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, and trained to be more object than person. But she’s mine.” I saw a Buzzkill giving piggyback rides to refugee children. “That’s a screwed-up life she doesn’t deserve. No one does. It corrupts you, makes you want to cling to it. Makes you af- it feels more secure that way. Because once you know that’s your life, there isn’t anything that can scare you. I can do that for her, and I can destroy anyone who would hurt her.”

I turned to look at her then. Nothing like a good threat to round it out. Instead, she smiled at me. “That’s very heroic of you.”

I flinched. Couldn’t help it. “And here I thought we were playing nice.”

“You’ve become a better person,” she said. “You jumped in front of that rocket. See, I think staying with us helped you.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh yeah, y’all putting in a telepathic block to stop me from swearing or killing, that’s what I really needed in my life. Y’all didn’t help that much. Well, aside from saving my life. And… ya know, it’s been awhile since I got the shakes from not killin’ someone.” I looked at her and raised an eyebrow.

She held up her hands. “We thought it would help your recovery. We weren’t going to leave you in the middle of psychological withdrawals while we kept you from murdering anyone.”

I held up a finger in front of her face. “There anything else y’all did to my brain I don’t know about? Any more secret brainwashing to make be ‘better’?”

“No, I swear.” She’d tensed up, her eyes darting past me. Well, if we were drawing attention from her friends, they’d just get to violate Cape Diem’s neutrality and the sovereignty of my nation first.

I folded my arms in front of me.”I get so many mixed messages from you, Boopsie.” Then I just left her there. I wanted to hurt her or at least yell at her. But, and this is an important thing to remember in this instance, this was about my daughter. Besides, an Empress doesn’t get mad. She gets cake. I just have to hope any feelings for her weren’t somehow the result of telepathic manipulation.

And speaking of good feelings, there were Rhonda and Leland, the parents of my daughter’s best friend from Master Academy, just waiting for me to come say hello again and remind them about that threesome they had with a murderous serial killer and Empress.

Qiang could barely able to stay awake long enough to see guests departing by the end of the party. We didn’t have too many who weren’t already here decide to stay the night. Kayla and her parents for sure, but it’s not like all those kidnapped princesses, including all the Marias and Maries from Belgium, wanted to stick around. Even Venus had decided she’d head back instead of take me up on my offer to stay and ease her tired muscles with a refreshing dip in my jacuzzi.

Once almost everyone had departed, though, I heard a shout. I looked to Citra, carrying my exhausted five year old in her arms. Seeing them clearly both ok, I shot the similarly-burdened parents of her best friend a wink and headed off in the direction of whatever commotion we had going on. I found a pair of Security officers holding up one of their own between them. “Something up, guys?” I asked.

The one on the man’s left shook his head. “Apologies for not bowing, Empress.”

I waved off his concerns, “Bow later, talk now.”

“Very well. He got disoriented and collapsed.” I looked him over. Sweaty, even in the lighter gear he had on, but he had a half-full canteen bottle on his belt.

“Get him to our medical tent outside the fence and tell them to contact Dr. Creeper,” I said quietly. Louder, to a nearby family carrying a kid with a balloon tied around his wrist, I said, “Just a bit of dehydration. Make sure to keep drinking water, folks.”

It was when Creeper got there, along with some of the more medically-minded staff of the Institute, that I briefed him with a simple. “We have a problem.”

The man was still disoriented, still out of it. Babbling and feverish. I continued explaining in case nobody got it, “This isn’t heat stroke. We don’t know what it is. Worse, whatever’s going on isn’t being stopped by the nanites in the water or in the dermal patches they’ve applied. We need to find out what this is.”

“We need a quarantine, especially on outsiders,” Creeper said.

Fuck. “That’s not doable. Most of the ones who were here aren’t anymore.” And the ones who are here, like a little superpowered girl and her parents, won’t look so good. “Well, let’s get to it. The sooner we figure out what’s going on, the sooner we fix it.”

I knew arriving back at the palace that this whole situation would take tact. And probably sex. Just make it seem like Rhonda and Leland are having a nice vacation here while their daughter plays with mine. That’s what I was ready for when I opened the door to the palace residence and entered, only to have to hold back a lot of cuss words.

Psychsaur, scaled and feathered psychic hero of Master Academy (and Venus’s girlfriend), was seated at the bar in the kitchen, swaying, talking with Sam and Holly. She smiled a loose, too-friendly smile and her wave to me almost dropped her from the stool. Plus, I could smell the alcohol from where I stood when she opened her mouth to say “Hey Gecko! I’m not driving home tonight, so can I sleep here?”

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Party On 1

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Well, I finally had the talk with my daughter. Not the talk about sex, that has to wait. Probably until after the talk about nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. It’s important a girl has plenty of protection before she starts doing the dirty deed dirt cheap. Making the beast with a billion backs. Which reminds me, I need to learn how to take apart and clean an artillery cannon in time for her first date. I’ll just be there, sitting on the front porch, the Riccan air force and army surrounding me, cleaning a cannon in my lap. “Now you better have her back by 9, kiddo.”

No, I sat down Qiang because she’s almost certainly turned five, but either of us know for sure when her birthday is. “I’ve put this off long enough because I was stealing stuff and rescuing people, but it’s been a year since the Claw brought you into my life. So I think it’s time we had a party. It’s very important that we talk about if there’s anything you want.”

She kicked her feet back and forth, looking adorable in a dress someone made for her to match my own, her hair done up in a miniature version of the same headdress I had. “I wanna have a princess party!”

“A princess party? You’re already kind of a princess. Just a party for you and all your girl friends?”

“I don’t really have any friends,” she said. “I used to have some friends back when I lived at the bad place, but there aren’t any other kids I play with now. I guess I want a party where everyone can come!”

Huh. That’s not really a good sign. The lack of friends more so than the generosity, but the generosity’s something to keep an eye on. That’s simply no way to live. What kind of a world would it be if people were just nice to each other simple because they can be? Maybe that’s part of wishing a better life upon her, but it still irks me. Irks, I say!

“We’ll have to see about getting you enrolled in whatever schools they have for kids here now. Something to let you interact with more people. But that’s later. A princess party where everyone’s invited. You want a poofy princess dress?”

She nodded enthusiastically. “I want lots of princesses!”

“Have they been showing you Disney movies?” I asked. Another nod. “Ok, so princesses. Got it. And a big cake, that’s a given. Anything else special?”

A water slide. Lots of presents, of course. I had several catalogs from toy stores around the world for her to circle anything she liked. I don’t know what would be a traditional birthday party for her or for Ricca, but I know the one I’m going to throw.

But just before I left her to figure out her presents, she looked up at me and gave me one last major request for this little shindig. “Oh, oh, Kayla and everyone else from the school in that city! Can they come? Can they, baba?”

Kayla and that school in the city. That’d be Master Academy’s Empyreal City campus. Really the wrong crowd to invite to this thing. Inviting a school full of heroes to a birthday party on an island that sells drugs, guns, and pirated rock n’ roll to all comers? That’s a recipe for trouble.

But I smiled. “Sure, baby. It’ll take me a little bit to get everything and everyone together, though.”

The sound she made caused me to activate diagnostics on my ears. I thought it had to be an internal high-pitched squeal from the volume and intensity. It ended up triggering my ears’ flashbang protocols before I patted her on the head, pried her off my leg, and left the room. I also began to regret my instincts that my daughter needed more friends her own age. It was like the universe decided to spank me with some karma. There are a lot of great things to be spanked by if you’re into that, folks. Karma is not one of them.

The island already buzzed with activity from our recent rescue of loads of special criminals. I say “special” because they weren’t all necessarily super in the sense of having superpowers. A superhero doesn’t necessarily have superpowers. For some, it’s just training or gadgets, even just something like a cop who wears a costume. And if they wear a costume like that, they’re super. Just like even if they have superpowers but don’t use them for this grand game of heroism and villainy that I participate in, they’re also still super. Some of them, like the members of Cape Diem, use their powers to do things humans can’t do, and even wear costumes, but are also considered neutral.

The island is now hosting a mix of all of those liberated from China, and that does include neutrals. Even some Cape Diem members. Even some heroes China had tossed in prison for investigating into areas inconvenient for the government. So even though what I’d done should count as grounds for war as an attack on another country, people were rather silent on the whole issue.

It also gave me a lot of villains to get registered on VillaiNet who were eager to make some money or just pay me back. I’d assembled a group of them in a conference room at a local branch of a big-name bank that doesn’t shy away from doing business with criminals. I shouldn’t even bother hiding who our corporate accomplice is anyway. What, are governments going to do anything about it? For fuck’s sake, they’ve been caught laundering money for terrorist groups and drug cartels before and got away with less than a slap on the wrist.

“Ok, folks, take a good look. These are our targets. Princesses, one and all,” I said, pointing to a holoboard. Think of it like a whiteboard or a chalkboard that works off holograms instead. Pagan, my new head of Intelligence, assured me these were all the current princesses, barring a divorcee that didn’t count anymore. “I call dibs on the two hot twenty-somethings from Japan.”

That brought groans from the group of assembled villains. “You would, wouldn’t you?” asked one of them, one of the ones who hadn’t been rescued.

“Shush,” I said, “If it’s that big a deal, we can swap. Maybe I’ll take the York one. Maybe the Belgian teen.”

One of the villains raised an arm that glistened with scaly patches. “Do you really need us to grab all of these? Some of those wrinkly cunts might break if we put a hand on them.”

That got some chuckles from the group, and a follow-up from the be-clawed, hairy villain who had also come from the First Court of Hell. He now wore a tiger-skin jacket and had died stripes into his hair. “Or they die of dehydration being touched by a real man for the first time in fifty years!”

“I guess you’re volunteering then, to make sure that won’t happen?” I asked him, prompting good-natured “Oohs” from the audience. A few of them patted the tiger guy on the back in response. He adopted a smug smile and waved away the suggestion, taking it in good fun at least.

I held up my hands to quiet down all the jokes and commentary. “I know, I know, everyone wants to kidnap a young, pretty princess in case they take a liking to y’all, but there are some things to consider. This isn’t about wetting your wiener. Kidnap them and deliver them unharmed to the island. No molesting, no groping, no fondling, and no rape. If you’re here to rape, you’re in the wrong room.”

That prompted one fellow in a grey suit jacket to stand up. Didn’t even look like a super. “Excuse me, pardon me, coming through,” he said as he worked his way down his row. He waved a polite goodbye with the newspaper in his hands and left the room.

“Okily dokily, now that he’s gone…” I sent out an alert to Security with the man’s face so they could keep an eye on him. “This isn’t supposed to be about any harm to them. Bring them here so they can attend my daughter’s birthday party. It’s money for y’all and a bit of reputation from the prestige involved. Also, the gratitude of the Empress of Ricca, a country which has proven itself capable of jailbreaking people from the middle of a worm-infested Gobi desert, among other such prisons. Trust me, y’all are getting the easier part of the party planning. And, since I’ll need a break from that, I will take one or two myself.”

In fact, I set out immediately to get ahead of all of them. That’s easier to do when you control the airports and have the odd remotely controlled robotic double hidden around the world. The robot doubles, the Dudebots, are built to resemble the armor I so recently used, but with only two arms. Most people haven’t realized I have extra arms now, and even fewer know I’ve updated the armor. At least I incorporated the light armor’s design with the heavy armor. That way, I can go back to playing a guessing game a little bit with anyone who encounters both myself and a Dudebot.

Now, I haven’t spent that much time in Belgium. I know they have a lot of mucus, so much so that many of them speak phlegmish. It was where the great World War II battle known as the Battle of the Belge took place. It’s located in Europe, just under the Nether Region. And it’s got nine fucking princesses, I learned when I picked one of them to go after. The fucking is meant as a cuss word, and shouldn’t be taken as a statement about what the 67 year old princess does in her spare time. She can fuck all she wants, as long as I don’t have to see it or picture it in any way. Some guys and gals like hairless cats, some like ’em grey.

I’m going to have to come up with one hell of a plan to kidnap all this Belgian royalty, from the oldest of the tiara wearers to the youngest Brussels sprout. And I think I know how, through a plan involving needless complexity, mandatory nudity, and necessary violence.

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Back To The Past 7

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Archive Decompiling…

Section 8 Complete

Archive Begin Transmission

“When did you escape from this dimension?” Mobian asked.

I gave him the date of my D-Bomb detonation. “But you’ll need to be close. There was a force shield up around me to contain the blast.” He nodded once, thanking me, while I clung to my family. I hugged onto Qiang, probably harder than I should have. It felt like Mobian took forever to get out of there.

“Are you going to leave all your stuff in the ship?” Citra asked.

I nodded. “We need to go as soon as we can. The ship is wrecked, I think. I just need to go.”

“What’s wrong?” she asked, reaching out to stroke my hair. Qiang looked up at me, too.

“A lot of very bad shit happened to me when I was a kid. I could stop it if I wanted, but I would never have met any of you. It feels like I’m responsible for everything I went through back then now. So I want to run out there and save myself.” My HUD offered a helpful music selection from a band called Stabbing Westward that I had to decline.

“She destroyed your armor,” Citra pointed out.

I gave my armor a quick glance. I’d lost my helmet and one of my gauntlets, and the chest plating was wrecked. Fallen off, or barely clinging to the underlayer. Upon closer inspection, I could see all sorts of less obvious damage arising from the fight. The holodisc had taken a hit at some point. Venus’s armor had been able to go toe to toe with a charged up version of mine, which was impressive. It also meant some likely problems with the pseudomuscles and exoskeleton when we were punching each other’s hands. Her’s hadn’t been nearly so bulky, either. I need to steal me some of that.

And as for how I felt about finally getting her… I wish the fight went differently. At the end of the day, she’s still dead and I’m still alive, but it doesn’t sit so well with me for some reason. Though, it didn’t sit well with Venus to kill me and look where that got her. This is why a professional killer shouldn’t make it personal. I can’t help but wonder if my own obsession with her may mirror her obsession with saving me, and to similar ends…

A flash of light signaled that we’d jumped forward in time while I was distracted. The wall displayed down below us, where my old girlfriend knocked me the fuck out and left me laying next to a D-bomb. We must have been hidden from view, because nobody so much as blinked as the ship swooped down to hover close over my semi-conscious body when the force shield was activated. This time, I could see the mixed relief and worry; triumph and defeat. As much as my followers at this point had hated the way they’d been treated, I was the only one who felt as strongly about it as destroying the planet. It probably didn’t get any easier after that, but hopefully some humans were smart enough to recognize that homo machina are people too. But probably not.

When the D-Bomb went off and we were all thrown through the Universe Divide, those thoughts cleared away for a moment. It really was an amazing sight, seeing the multiverse laid out like that. Then we were hovering over the scene where the me from this point in time had arrived on the Earth where I almost sorta fit in better. Lots of things destroyed, and another me down there. As strongly as I tend to feel about there being no doppelgangers, I dunno, I’m not in a hurry to drop down and kill myself. Maybe it’s the time aspect. Maybe warnings about fucking with something that big do resonate with me. Hell, maybe I simply can’t. Something might come up to stop me just to prevent the paradox of me from the future killing the past me, which would then prevent future me from existing to kill past me.

From my perspective, the effects of messing with time travel have been ambiguous enough.

“I would have shown you the future, of the year 2033, but that period is in temporal flux at the moment,” Mobian said. He shot me a look. I scratched my eyebrow with my middle finger. “I have archives of the great war with Mot.”

“What is Mot?” asked Citra.

“A god of death,” Mobian answered.

“That story’s real?” I asked. “I guess it’d make sense for Venus’s actions, but I’d kinda been going on that just being made up to get me in the trap.”

“Mot is very real.” The walls changed around us, showing a being walking along a grassy plains. He looked like a man. Just an everyday guy. Beard, hair grown out and back in a ponytail, a slight beard. But every footstep stripped the plants and left perfect footprints of dirt. He had followers, for some reason. I guess if a guy might just kill everyone, he attracts the occasional person willing to serve them if it makes the threat stop. The surprise is that this supposed God of Death didn’t just kill them too. Suddenly, a glowing green man in a costume the colors of the American flag flew in. This one looked a lot like a guy I’d seen before, a super with a tank strapped to his back that nuked a militia base. I guess this time he decided tanks, but no tanks.

He held his hands out, then a mushroom cloud erupted, centered on the weird rippling guy. It didn’t even clear before the rippling man was flying at the nuclear man, who tried to outrun him. His target reached an arm out, and kept on reaching well past normal human limb length to grab the nuclear guy.

The nuker beat at the arm, and his skin even flared up in a brighter green, so I think he was tryting to do something. I have to assume that’s the case, because none of it made Mot stop. He pulled himself right up toward him, then collided and smacked over him like he was liquid. One moment there were two people there, then just one. Mot started to fall, then stopped. He looked at his hands, then toward an approaching group of tanks. He wiped them out with a nuclear explosion of his own, just like the guy who had disappeared into him. Then he looked back over to his followers, who were ensconced in a glowing dome of metal that retreated into the ground. None had been hurt by the blast, though that’s unlikely to be true for long unless he’s clearing away fallout.

“So he eats people and takes their powers?” I asked. “I dunno, I expected something weirder. Like, I dunno, tentacles? There are always tentacles involved. And that it’d be giant, with no real face. This just looks like a man.”

“I believe he was an early powerful superhuman treated as a god. I think his original, or most important, power is what he did there. He absorbs people and takes on their powers. He eats every superhuman he encounters,” Mobian pressed something else on his console.

The view shifted to Mot leading his followers into a small town. Locals stop and stare at him. He halts and raises his hands. The crowd of dark-eyed people moves past him, running for any people or animals around. They fight like their lives depend on it, beating the resistance out of folks. It was like a horde of pimps seeking cash from a couple dozen hookers. Someone did manage to shoot one of the followers, and that guy went down. The ground underneath the shooter shook and dirt flooded upward around the guy’s legs, trapping him and pulling him back under as it retreated. The prisoners were brought before Mot, who put his hands on their heads. He ate most of them. A very few were released to join his flock, though at least a couple of those hung their heads in shame. The more worrisome types were the ones to hold their heads up proudly and smile.

“Mind control?” I ask.

Mobian shook his head. “Not that anyone is aware of. It is discovered just before he is defeated that he has limited telepathy. The one who discovers this said that it was as though Mot peered into his mind and could tell that he was more afraid of Mot than of anyone or anything else.”

“He’s like some sort of extortionist cult leader,” Arsehole said. I still hadn’t bothered asking the name of Mobian’s companion, but, more importantly, I just didn’t care.

“How’d he die?” I asked “Might help me do so more quickly on this go-round.”

The scene changed yet again. Now, Mot stood in a city I didn’t recognize offhand. His followers swarmed like ants, many armed and firing back at soldiers. I noticed a pocket of them shooting uselessly at a tank until one of them closed her eyes and ran for the tank, arms wide. She exploded upon reaching it, cracking open its armor and leaving it a smoking heap.

Then I saw the monsters arrive. A killer clown with a ridiculously exaggerated head sprayed bottles of liquid on followers of Mot that left them smoking, acid-eaten wretches. A hulked-out man with a metal skull for a head ignored gunshots and swung a hook on a chain at followers. A long-haired woman clung to the side of a building and pulled people up toward her with a tongue that wrapped around their throats. Their heads disappeared under her long hair, which hung down to hide her head. They shuddered, then fell, headless.

Spinetingler appeared, his armor black metal and bone, to wield a scythe against Mot. Meanwhile, several of Mot’s followers clutched their heads, then turned on their fellows. Spinetingler’s daughter walked among them a flowing black dress, playing with a pet white rat in her hands.

Mot and Spinetingler fought, briefly. Spinetingler tried to cut the God of Death into pieces, but Mot’s limbs regrew like liquid spurting back out. Before Spinetingler could truly comprehend what was going on, Mot spread out like a human sheet that wrapped around the horror villain. Tingler struggled. Just imagine a human hand pressing out of a big, pliable sheet of human flesh. Nice images. More things to scare my daughter to sleep.

The squirming mass pulled itself back into just Mot. Then some of his followers began to warp and shift into monstrous forms of their own. The day suddenly became night, which seemed like just Spinetingler’s powers until the view shifted to show the sky blotted out by a massive ship. It fired Mot, catching the thing in a blue beam. Mot raised a hand to stare tiny parts of him disintegrated away, slowly enough for him to watch. He started to pull himself back together in spite of it, until the beam pulsed. The view shifted to outside the city, showing the pulse work its way down the beam until a it sweeps out as a wave, fading away before it reaches whatever is recording. The entire city just… blows away. Buildings, people, streets, plants. What’s left is a smooth, circular depression, deep into the Earth.

“The People’s Republic filed only token objections about the destruction of Beijing. After Islamabad and New Delhi, humanity knew the city was already dead.” Mobian said.

Qiang clung to me, hiding her face against my chest. I rubbed her head and kissed the top of it. “There, there, I can stop it.” I looked up to Mobian and nodded toward the space ship. “And the aliens?”

Mobian pressed a button and the walls of his ship whited out again. “That is for me to know and you to find out.”

“Fine… just know that once I take out Mot, I want the title,” I pointed at him with one hand as the others began rubbing my daughter’s back.

“The title?” he asked.

“That’s right, once I find and kill that bastard, I want to be called the God of Death.”

“You see that and you want to find it?” asked Arsehole. She threw her hands up in the air. “He’s a bloody madman!”

“You saw how well waiting for it worked out for everyone,” I explained. I looked down at Qiang. “Now let’s go see your momma.” I looked up at Mobian. “The little girl you just scared would like that, I believe.”

Mobian nodded.

When we landed at that time, Qiang rushed out of the timeship first. Citra and I followed, but I bounced off the opening and she went on through. I tried again, pushing at seemingly empty air. Citra turned to look at me, then reached out for my hand. She tried pulling me through but it just didn’t work. “Go, make sure she’s safe,” I told Citra. I whirled on Mobian, but he and Arsehole ducked through the door quickly. I tried to reach through and grab them, but I was stopped again.

Mobian raised his hands. “I will not give you the opportunity to screw things up further. That is all. This isn’t a trick or trap; neither ambuscade nor set-up. I promise on my life I would never allow your child to come to harm.”

I pointed to the corpse of Future Venus. “I somehow doubt that. I told it to show you what is happening so you will not be unaware. I will release you should anything go wrong.”

And with that, he walked away. Because he could. Just left me banging on a door. Muttering angry sounds to myself, I turned and looked around at the walls, wondering when they were going to show me anything. “Well?” I asked, raising my hands up.

The walls unwhited again, changing to show me Qiang and Citra holding hands, Qiang finding her way through a small town to a house. Mobian and Arsehole ran to catch up as well, but Qiang wasn’t focused on anything but finding her mom.

Nothing seemed to be happening so, having so recently used her as an argument, I snuck on over to help myself to a teeny tiny sample of Future Venus’s future armor. A gal’s gotta stay up to date.

“Mommy!” Qiang said, launching herself at a woman who was rather plain looking, with a scar on one eyebrow that caused a slight break in the hair there. A shame, though. If only I had Qiang’s birthday, I could have gone back about nine months beforehand and made sure she was mine. There wasn’t a man around there anyway. Also, note to self: find out Qiang’s birthday and throw her a party.

Qiang’s mother humored the little girl, having a young baby of her own now, especially once Citra explained to her quietly, “She lost her mother when she was young and you look like her. Please humor her.”

The woman smiled and agreed. Mobian patted Citra’s back but she shot him a look. I’m liking Citra more and more after this trip. I just hope she’s not in love with me or thinking this is more than it is. The group had a pleasant time there, it seemed. They sat and talked. The Citra, Arsehole, and Mobian all fawned over a baby I assumed was Qiang, while my present Qiang told her mother all about me saving her and being her dad and crazy adventures we went on. Yeah, a child’s recitation of my real life doesn’t make for a believable story.

Finally, it was time to drag her away. I knew they’d have to. If that mother was saved somehow, Qiang probably wouldn’t be mine. But knowing that doesn’t count for much when you see your daughter broke out into tears and start struggling to get free of a couple adults.

I launched myself at the command console with a growl, pressing my cheek to it as if that’d make everything merge together faster. Just as the nerves reached out and began to link to what passed for circuitry on the ship, a shock threw me on my back. The walls whited up again, not that I could watch anyway. I was shocked again every time I felt ok to stand or even roll over. It hurt like a brick up the ass.

A few minutes later, Mobian’s voice rang out. “There, go to your daddy if she’s quite done touching things she shouldn’t.”

“I swear, all I did was lick absolutely every surface on that console,” I said, chuckling to myself. I felt Qiang run over and hug me where I lay and I pulled her tight with all but my lower left arm. That one rested uncomfortably under my back. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

“I hate him. I hate stupid heroes,” she said through sniffles.

“I know. I hate them too,” I said, turning to shoot a hostile smile to Mobian.

He snorted and walked up to the platform on his ship. “What I do is necessary. For that matter, my life is if you want to go anywhere. I think it’s for the best if you have a lie down while I see to our travel arrangements.”

Without my helmet, I couldn’t keep as close an eye on everything. I had Citra and Qiang though. Citra to brush my hair and Qiang for me to brush her hair. And Mobian did finally let me up to leave.

I was happy to be rid of him, though. Happy to be back in Ricca, and only an hour after my last stop. Nothing really to clean up after all this, save for the bundle I had wrapped around my lower left arm. I kept it behind me and under my cape as I left Mobian’s ship, so he didn’t really notice. It really was amazing armor, what Future Venus wore. With one of my armor’s working holodiscs attached, Mobian may not even realize she’s missing it.

So I worked on it in the Institute of Science, keeping an eye on him as he began seeking out people with doctorates and more bills than morals to fill out our science team. They certainly would have loved studying what happened with my log. Time travel did odd things to its attempts to send off. I didn’t gain many new readers in the Cretaceous, but that’s for the best. As far as time travel trips go, mine was probably more of a bogus journey than an excellent adventure.

I lost so much I had to redo, too. I rebuilt the nanite mini-foundry, and the armor maintenance tube. And, finally, I finished my new armor. Gecko’s back from her little vacation. Well-rested. Re-armed. Ready to steal some shit and kill some people.

They say that in strange aeons, even death may die.

It’s time to bring the strange.

Dammit, I just realized I got roped into saving the world again. Because now Future Venus is dead, and I’m left alive to deal with a guy who eats supers or get eaten.

Venus is so damn annoying, she makes me want to kill her twice.

Archive Transmission Fragment 8 Complete

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Back To The Past 6

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Archive Decompiling…

Section 7 Complete

Archive Begin Transmission

Whatever damage had happened to the ship, at least it let me leave. I’d made sure Citra and our hostage were alright enough, then headed out to go see what the fuck was going on. I almost tripped over what I’d thought had been part of the wall. A column had fallen down and cracked open, spreading more of those colorful alien uniforms everywhere.

In contrast to the Cretaceous and my brief stopover in the Enlightenment, this place was full of digital noise. I’d gotten used to a lower level of signal traffic, and it was something of an adjustment for me to be here again. The ship had crashed onto a hilltop across the river and outside of a city with architecture you wouldn’t see on the Earth I’d become accustomed to. I knew this city. Home.

The city where I’d been born. It was even snowy, just like my earliest memories. The ones starting just before men with guns busted in the door. I realized a building whose unbuilt top floors I’d once used as a sniper’s nest didn’t even stand out on the skyline. That’s when I checked the date.

Oooooh. Oh no. No no no. How the FUCK did they know that date? Was there time to save myself? Should I?

That explains what was going through my head and why I wasn’t paying so close attention when Venus called out from behind me. “You seem distracted!”

I turned, throwing a wild punch, only to end up with her grabbing my arm and using my own momentum to toss me onto my back. I checked her out while slowly getting to my fight. The armor plating was flush, looking like puzzle pieces, but flexible. The boots were wider and thicker, probably for the sake of leverage. Same went for the fists. Light grey, save for a little remaining pink on the chest, it had seen better days. I found those pockmarks I’d seen on it before, along with scorch marks and thin surface cuts. The armor came up and guarded her neck where it met a helmet. That greying hair was hidden behind a helmet of armored V-shaped plates that swept from the back of her neck down to cover her eyes with one-way mirrored glass. The only skin I could see on her was her mouth.

“Done looking me over?” she asked.

I brushed my thighs off, biding some time, trying to stop the loud hammering of a tell-tale heart that gave away my thoughts on being back here and now. “How’d you know to come back now, to this time?”

She smiled. “I thought you wanted to kill me?”

“Oh, I do. You fucking used me! Just throwing my life away, taking my daughter and running. And now you bring me here. What the fuck?!” Ok, so I was bit on tilt. For the folks who don’t enjoy poker, that means I wasn’t thinking all that clearly.

“What day is it?” she asked.

“You brought me back to it, how can you not know?” I looked around, then up to where Mobian’s ship floated. “How do you know, you time-traveling limey piece of shit?!”

“I cannot tell you that,” his voice sounded from the floating orb.

As pumped full of adrenaline and emotions as I’d become, I wasn’t in a mood to hear that. I looked between that ship, then back to Venus. She took a fighting stance in anticipation of my attack. As far as she knew, I took one of my own. That’s what the hologram did while I stepped to the side. I moved around to her left before trying to catch her around the neck with a grab. The plan was to grab her and squeeze that pretty throat until her head popped or he neck crunched.

She was good, though. She didn’t react to my presence at all until I’d lunged for her. She spun out of the way and hit me in the back with a kick that sent me stumbling. Only then did I let myself become visible again.

“I don’t want to fight you,” she said.

“You picked a hell of a time and place to prove it,” I said, holding my arms straight up and activating my elbow rockets to rise to my feet.

“What’s the matter, something distracted you?” she said. She took another stance in anticipation of my attack.

And I so wanted to attack, but she was right. I was distracted. I want to just jump on her and scoop her ribs out with metallic hands. I also really wanted to go and see myself. I didn’t even remember their faces. And she brought me here, knowing, somehow, when and where, knowing I’d want to go there and do something. I clenched my teeth under my helmet. “Gonna chase me if I run?”

She shook her head. “No, but I think it’s a bad idea.”

“Yeah, you would. Out there’s a little kid whose parents are about to be gunned down. He’ll be kidnapped and tossed into a secret government program that’ll abuse him almost to death because the guy in charge has a hard-on for power. What does protecting the timeline even mean? Just protecting the devil you know for no other reason than you know it?” I put my top hands on my helmet, wishing I could run them through my hair or something. I’d started pacing around in a circle, but I jumped at her, throwing my upper right fist for a punch. What she probably missed was my lower arms shooting straight forward and pulling me along with their rockets.

Venus didn’t react in time and I caught her in the head. She grabbed that wrist with one hand, then went to smack me in the helmet with the flat of her palm. I deflected it with one of my lower arms, then grabbed her wrist with my left. I held my arms out to the side, my lower arms taking it to her belly one after the other. She jumped and wrapped her legs around my lower right, trying to drag me to the ground. She let go of my upper right as well, trying to put that one arm in an armbar. I grabbed hold of it with the lower left arm and used my upper right to pull her leg free. I swung her overhead and brought her down on the grass, tearing up clumps of it as I smashed her on the ground.

I got a few good smacks in that way before she a burst of fire shot out of her back and pulled her forward. She slipped out of my grasp that way, but not before dragging me toward her into the same torn up grass. I set my upper hands into the dirt and rolled until, with my body above me, I launched myself up and onto my feet. I landed right in front of where she was hunched over in the middle of standing. She turned and that giant right shot off her fist like a pneumatic jackhammer, knocking me flat on my cape in what was starting to become more dirt than grass. I slid a little, trying to recover my breath.

Meanwhile, the fist that had come off her about another forearm’s distance slid back along a pair of rails until it locked back on where it served as a gauntlet. But before I could even begin to get up, she’d lunged and planted her knee in my throat. She stood up over me and stepped to the side, careful of my arms.

“You are both freakishly fast. I should know, I hang around enough freaks,” said Mobian’s voice from above.

Venus ignored him. “You’d be abandoning your friends and family. You go and change time, guess what happens to every one of them whose lives you saved? No more Qiang, no more Max. Instead, Spinetingler would have Empyreal City and Ricca’s plot would have gone off without a hitch, maybe. It depends how the alien invasion would go, if they didn’t kill that henchman of yours or the statue. So I care and I know you do, too. Do you want to lose your daughter forever?”

That’s just a fucking low blow. And given my crotch situation, the only one she can pull off that actually hurts.

“You done yet?” I asked, then finished with a few coughs. I sat up. “You’re the hero. You’re supposed to be the one running around saving kids.”

“Cheap shot,” she said.

I scrambled to my feet, prompting her to back off just a little. “So, you want me to condemn myself to every fucked-up thing that’s ever happened to me for the greater good of your world.”

“And your family,” she added. “You want me to save someone even though you know it will hurt your loved ones and the world.”

One good thing about a pair of extra arms? I can flip someone the bird without compromising combat readiness. “Making some things right is just more important than your consequences. Like not being complicit in the torture and abuse of all of us in the Psychopomp Program. I’m not me yet, see. I’m some kid out there, enjoying the solstice holidays with my parents. I even have a real name!”

“You have a real daughter up there,” she raised her chin to indicate Mobian’s ship floating overhead.

“What the fuck do you want from me you turgid gurgler?!” I asked, flailing for words. I was just yelling at her at that point, fighting be damned.

“I don’t want to kill you, but I think I have to,” she said.

“You’re starting to sound like me before you decided to run off with my kid,” I said.

“I was taking her to the Master Academy!” she yelled. “You never let me explain, because you wanted to assume the worst. You disappeared in 2018 and somebody dropped Qiang off at the Academy.”

I pondered. “So this entire trip is when I supposedly died…”

Her stance tightened up again as she grew expectant of an attack. “Then you survived the ambush by the aliens and actually came after us. I knew what that meant. The timeline says you don’t go back.”

“You and that gorram timeline,” I said. “Here I thought you might still want to save me. Nope. Just kill me and abduct my daughter.”

I lunged. She moved back to put some distance between us. This time, I didn’t project invisibility. I projected a whole lot of visibility. I lit up with a bright flash of light that blinded her enough for me to sidestep and punch her in the throat. She stumbled and covered up her throat, leaving her with just one arm to counter more punches. She used her legs instead. She even jumped up, hitting her little jetpack, and staggered me by kicking with both legs. It put some distance between us and she flipped around to land on her feet. Then it was her turn to come for me.

I tried to block her punches, but that piston thing was stronger than I expected. I felt something crack in my lower left forearm. She swept my legs, but I managed to jump back and avoid it. She cocked something back on her right fist, shooting a canister out of the right knuckle. I went to swat it away but it stuck and electricity began to course throughout the armor. It didn’t do much to the armor, aside from help charge it, but it got through enough to leave me grinding my teeth, my muscles involuntarily spasming.

It only lasted a second, but was long enough to leave me open to a flying spinning kick from Venus that whirled me around. I turned around quickly and punched at what I was sure would be a follow-up with my upper left. The glowing gauntlet unloaded its energy on her right gauntlet. And that’s it. They hit, her gauntlet unleashed a couple streams of steam, and neither moved. I tried with my right lower arm, but she intercepted it with her left fist, no give, just steam. Same for my right upper, but I sent the wounded lower lefty flying for her face, only to be stopped by her grabbing my arm, raising it up, squeezing it, unloading on me with a big, pistoned left to the chest.

I lost my breath again, and lower left did pretty cracking, but she didn’t let go. I tried to fly away from the hit but she yanked me back in for another hit, this time to the head. It had me seeing stars. That strong of a hit, I thought I might even see Ziggy Stardust in a minute. Then my helmet was gone. How’d that happen? Of course, that question had to wait for me to keep getting the shit pounded out of me. It’s hard to think while doing me best impersonation of an asshole on getting a train run on it.

When Venus let me go, my chestplates had been trashed. I didn’t have a helmet. My lower left arm was broken in all kinds of places and the gauntlet was missing. Oh, and I spat up a bloody mess of what used to be most of my teeth. Venus knelt over me, looking down, even as my hands twitched around, my lower right one hunting for my belt. She raised her fist, and it looked big. You don’t know how big. So big, I musta had a concussion, that’s how big.

“I don’t want to kill you. That’s the kind of hero I was taught to be. When Master Academy was founded, it wasn’t about heroes. It was Oligarch who created it. He wanted kids with powers loyal to him. He just made it seem like we were heroes. He didn’t torture us, but he wanted to make us weapons like your general out there. We were taught that we were supposed to be better than everyone else, elitist jerk. Mender found out and confronted him. That’s how he ended up crippled, but he exposed Oligarch to the rest of us and we drove him off. Since then, Master Academy is about improving ourselves. And we can be better than we were.”

Her voice had gained a backbone then. She lowered her fist, then stood up. “You can still change.”

I tried to laugh but it came out as a cough. Instead, I settled for telling her “Fuck you.”

“You can still change the future,” she continued.

“What are you doing?” asked Mobian.

“He’s right. Some things are worth changing,” she called up. Then she looked back down to me, but still spoke up loud enough for him to hear. “I don’t want to become a murderer just to protect your status quo!”

It was almost inspiring, coming from a woman who led me into an ambush, beat the shit out of me, and kidnapped my daughter. Plus, whatever this was, this whole thing where she brought me back to before I was kidnapped to get an edge on me. These were the thoughts racing through my punch-drunk skull at the time. And I remembered something else that didn’t seem right, which mildly amused me to note. It was a bit arrogant, actually.

I raised my right hand. I think it was the upper one, because things were fuzzy at that moment. “Wait, wait, wait… one sec, hold on… before you go into any more preaching… you said just I disappeared, only me…”

A spear came flying out of the night right toward the side of Venus’s head. She turned and actually caught the thing, causing even Citra’s jaw to drop from where she threw it. Venus stood up. “I didn’t know about-” then she looked down to where a headless rubber chicken squirmed against her in my grip. I amped up the power on my suit’s leg pseudomuscles and kicked Future Venus through the chicken, causing Venus to drop the spear and sending them both flying. The chicken detonated in mid air and helped Venus carve out her own divot in the grass.

I grabbed for the spear and helped myself up, then jumped high, arcing down toward her. I don’t know where Citra got that spear, what it was made of, or what Venus’s armor was made of. All I know is that I came down on top of it with all my weight right into her mouth. It didn’t penetrate the armor on the other side of her head from her mouth. Instead, it slid and dropped me while the blade sliced upward through her skull. The rest of the stumbling I did dealing trying to catch my balance wasn’t any better for her head. I could barely even stand, barely even register what was going on as her body twitched its final twitches.

Instead, I held a hand over my face while searching through my belt for anything helpful like, ooh, a syringe! I had no shortage of places I could inject it with my armor beat to crap.

Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the glowing orb above us had started to rise.

“Come back down here!” called Citra, and I saw she now had Arsehole, Mobian’s companion, by the elbow. Arsehole was still tied up, but her leg restraints had been loosened enough to let her stand and move on her own.

“Yeah, get your ass down here, Mobian. I don’t think I’ll kill you,” I slurred, then vomited up a tooth.

“Hey, don’t leave me!” called Arsehole, and that really got him in a hurry to land. The glowing orb descended and the dark outline of a doorway appeared.

The older, British-accented time traveler stepped out into the doorway. “She changed the timeline.”

“Have that sit on a big purple dragon dildo. I changed the timeline,” I said. Citra came over to help me stand even as microscopic machines coursed through my body to mend tissue and organs. “We changed the timeline,” I said in response to my wife’s aid.

Qiang pushed past Mobian and raced toward me. Citra and I both bent down to hug my beautiful baby, despite the rather poor state I was in. The doubts I had about maybe going and saving myself washed away. They didn’t leave, not completely.

Mobian gave us wide berth as he stepped around to untie Arsehole. “I could still leave you.”

“You wanna try that again, Monty Python?” I asked, raising a lower left fist that felt stronger already. “I could still screw things up for you. Save myself, maybe build more D-Bombs, come back over early. Or, and hear me out here, we all just go back to 2018.”

He locked eyes on Venus’s corpse for a long second. “Let me bring her. She deserves a proper funeral for all I’ve known her.”

I nodded, then turned my attention to kissing all over Qiang’s face. “You smell like blood!” she said, giggling. Aren’t we a pair? Or perhaps more than a pair, the way Citra clung to us both.

“Come on, let’s get inside the ship before he changes his mind,” I said, leaving Mobian and Arsehole to drag the body of Future Venus inside by themselves.

Mobian did indeed bring her in, finding us three sitting down and cuddling, me all bloody and snotty in torn-up armor. It wasn’t exactly Christmas Card material.

“Before you go back to 2018, I have something I want to show you,” Mobian said. He glared at us, which just goes to show how he took all this too seriously. Who could glare at my little Qiang? “Something to make her sacrifice worthwhile.”

In spite of her presence, I glared right back at him. “Good, because there’s someone my daughter needs to see as well.” For emphasis, I jammed a big ol’ syringe into my neck and pushed the plunger, injecting myself with more nanites. He looked away first.

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Back To The Past 5

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“Tell me, creature, what are you and why do you interfere with the glory of France?” asked a rather pudgy fellow who spoke French with a bit of a different accent than most of his buddies. He sat facing me in a fine wooden chair he imported.

I rolled my eyes under my armor. Our audience was not quite private, but at the same time, the General had been informed of the efficacy of his weapons on me. He kept a pair of guards in there in case he needed to sacrifice their lives for his. I suspect those two young men hadn’t been told how useless their muskets were against me. I wasn’t about to take my armor off and give them a chance, especially as it would immediately destroy my credibility. Women’s chief role in warfare at this time involved sex, either as a camp follower or a victim. “Monsieur Bonaparte, I know your ambitions reach further than mere glory for France. A man such as you could rise to emperor, if you weren’t loyal to the Revolution, that is.”

That was about as close as I’d hint at it here. It may be going too far to outright say around guards that he plans to take over. That would technically be the sort of thing he could be guillotined for, though they were done with most of that by this point. Napoleon’s a man seeking only to elevate himself. That’s why, in the main timeline, he tucks tail and runs back to France when things get bad. With his fleet already sunk, that means leaving almost every other man of the expedition behind. Those who don’t die of the plague. In this siege camp at Acre, I am literally surrounded by dead men, and in an audience with one of the few men who matters.

“My loyalty remains with France. Long live the Revolution!” Napoleon said. A servant brought us a glass of wine each. I couldn’t tell if it was a good year, but I knew it was an old vintage. Couldn’t have been any more recent than 1799. Just a bit of time travel humor. Not many get it. You had to be there.

“Long live the Revolution,” I said, not downing the drink myself. Once again, the helmet was an important part of my cover. I watched as he partook, and continued on once his thirst had been sated. “And sure the best way to aid the Revolution, your men, and the glory of their general, would be to wrap up this siege as quickly as possible. Congratulations on defeating that relief force, but it still leaves you without the cannon you need to break the backs of the defenders.”

“Yes. The British confound us and the walls are strong enough that even the inferior peoples of this land may hold out against the superior cause and army,” Napoleon said, at least as much for the benefit of his soldiers.

I nodded along and projected a hologram of Acre’s defenses as the ship’s scans had presented it to me, focusing on blind spots and proposed timelines for penetration at the French army’s current strength. I could be more exact if I had the relevant info memorized, but I didn’t anticipate it being so important to my schemes before going off to fight a god of death. “Acre can and will hold out for long enough unless you accept my help.”

“You believe you can defeat walls that hold back France’s greatest army?” he asked.

I nodded. “I am more than capable of breaking through, but I believe my enemies, who originate where I come from, have a trap waiting for me. If I enter alone, I may be captured or killed, and your army never takes Acre. They won’t do anything with you and your men there with me. You get Acre. I get the renegades I’m looking for.”

“These are incredible tales you ask me to believe,” Napoleon said, leaning toward me.

I stood. “The difference between a psychopomp and a god is that belief is not necessary for men to die. Let’s go see shall we?”

I led Napoleon along as I trudged closer to the range of the enemy’s guns. He stayed back, of course, and called over a servant with his horse, a brown Arabian. “You’d look better on white,” I yelled back at him, remembering a painting not yet painted.

I started charging my gauntlets, then took off running across the battlefield toward Acre. Cannons boomed and balls bounced off the sand around me. For morale’s sake, I waited until one of them was coming right at me and gave it hell with four fists, which is normally something I reserve for an orgy. One-armed, that likely would have left me three-armed. With all four, I shattered the cannonball. A cheer went up from the French line behind me. I bowed toward Acre and turned with a sweep of my cape, walking back toward the French lines. The Ottoman forces inside kept firing, and actually got a lot closer, but I sidestepped the only one that would have gotten me. Then I jumped, showing off that my mobility was far beyond that of a normal human’s. I landed right in front of the future Emperor. “So, when’s the soonest you can attack?”

The attack commenced a couple hours later, after having given everyone time to get together. I led the charge. The Ottomans had upped their game. A shot almost hit me right near the beginning of my charge. It went right through and I disappeared, only for a half dozen more of me to appear. Grapeshot peppered some of the other mes around. Ah, holograms. The Ottomans could spend all day shooting at them instead of French soldiers. Some of the officers on the walls began to realize that as well, but by then I’d gotten rather close to the part of the wall the French had weakened the most.

On top of that, the defenders of Acre got to deal with an attack from the air, something none of them were used to. Drones hovered above them, picking out targets for potshots. People without an understanding of radiation or the speed of light got skewered by lasers. Bombs destroyed artillery emplacements that might have hit me. And I set to work on the wall, invisible to everyone. The French began to move forward while I put together a lovely bouquet of beautiful bombs to blow the wall. They could have charged up behind me, but I warned them they didn’t want to be too close when things went off. That’s why, once I was done, I jumped onto the wall and got hoppin’ to avoid being there when my work went kablooey.

It was more of a “Wawoom!” sound, truth be told. Rock rained down, the wall split open. Bodies fell and men screamed in pain while soldiers charged and cannons thundered.

“Now this is an occasion that requires some music,” I said to myself. The men around me, Ottomans with a few limey supporters, looked shocked as I became visible again. “Music, random,” I said as men pulled pistols and swords.

“Now Playing: Wow Wow,” my HUD read as I grabbed the arm of a British officer trying to tug his sword loose. Someone fired impotently at my back. I tugged on the officer’s arm, pulling his sword loose and into the belly of the man behind me. I broke it and tossed the sword’s wielder off outside the city.

A musket ball bounced off my helmet from the side. I grabbed the rifle from the man, broke it over my knee, and stabbed the jagged part of the front half through the unlucky shooter’s throat. One fellow who was just tugging a pistol free of his belt, got the stock of it in his nuts. He dropped the pistol and screamed. I shoved the stock into his mouth. “Bite down,” I said, then did a split and punched him in the nuts so hard he fell backwards from the fortifications into the city.

I was whirling, nut-crushing death incarnate, but that wasn’t my only goal here. After clearing myself some breathing space, I turned to look over the city and an entire secondary wall built further in. The French couldn’t take the city so long as it still stood. More important to that was a scene atop that wall. I saw Mobian’s timeship perched there, with Mobian and Future Venus standing there. Venus looked ready to beat some ass, but she wasn’t looking at me or the horde of rampaging Frenchmen. She was looking at man in a turban with much of his body covered, save for a hand gripping-

I jumped, having put too much power into the jump because I’d operated on instinct. I landed hard further down the wall past the man who held my daughter. She turned and yelled, “Baba!” as she stabbed at the man, but he didn’t seem to react. Problem was, it’s hard to stand on broken legs. I knelt there and tugged out a couple syringes of nanites. Then it was time to crawl.

Venus moved like a flash, a large metal fist encasing her hand just before she punched the living daylights out of the guy who had my daughter. He went stumbling back, falling over Qiang, who was then picked up by a Venus ensconced in dirty, pockmarked power armor of her own. Qiang’s knife bounced off Venus’s throat armor and fell off the secondary wall. I didn’t have as good of a few after that because turban guy’s turban fell off as his head grew into a flesh-colored spike. In fact, his whole body grew until it broke free, looking like a fleshy starfish.

Mobian yelled something at Venus, who grabbed the starfish thing and tossed it at me just as I was standing up. I threw it off to the side, getting amazing distance on it with some sort of Frisbee effect. Unfortunately, I saw it gliding toward the breach where the French were fighting their way into the city. Even more unfortunate, when I turned my attention back to Mobian’s glowing orb ship, I saw the outline of a door had closed. The ship itself began to rise.

“No, you fucking don’t,” I said. I pulled the drones away from the main battle to fire on Mobian’s ship. A light shot out, like lightning, and I lost connection with the drones. They froze in midair, then crumbled away into red dust.

“Get back here and die like a man!” I yelled and launched myself into the air. I grabbed more syringes in midair, making sure to keep myself full of healing nanites. My legs snapped with every landing, even in the sand outside the city. I reached out and let myself be shrunk and pulled into my timeship after an agonizingly long time, though hopefully not too late. Mobian’s ship never moved from its perch over the city.

I found him hailing me again as I reached the command center. “Gecko, whatever our conflict, we mustn’t disturb history. I believe it will go more or less as planned now, but we cannot continue this fight here.”

“I’ll do whatever I have to. You didn’t have to take her!” I yelled at him.

“Give us back our daughter!” yelled Citra over my shoulder.

“I understand you are perturbed at the moment, but you have a nasty habit of, er, murdering people. I want this resolved with as little loss of life as possible.”

“Yeah,” said Arsehole from where she sat on a little stool in the corner. “I’d like very much not to die, if you please.”

“So just land and hand her over now. Or you could have just left her for me, dammit,” I said. “You keep jerking my chain and someone’s gonna die!”

Future Venus spoke up on the line, “We’re afraid you’re already about to kill someone.”

And that’s when I gave up my fucks. Just whoosh, there goes the last one. I had the timeship rise and had it move to intercept his.

“We’ll all die, you can’t-” Mobian started, then my ship detected his exit from this point in time. The ship, acting according to its orders, jumped as well. The ship shuddered, sensors suddenly showing us having collided with Mobian’s ship. The top point penetrated into the side of Mobian’s orb. We appeared in space, briefly, the ship’s unusual way of telling time informing me we were in 2016. The year of the alien invasion, where I defeated the ship with a Dimension Bomb.

“I didn’t expect him to follow so closely,” said Mobian.

“It’s fine. Let’s end this,” I heard Venus say.

Over that, I heard my daughter’s voice cry out. “Baba!”

All around us, a fleet of alien vessels. “Now!” said Mobian. He tried to time jump, but my ship went with it, either due to physical attachment or the last orders given to it. At the same time, I felt the familiar pull as the Dimension Bomb blew a hole in spacetime and everything in the radius of the detonation went through.

It got really confusing then, as even the view of floating above many spreading Earths changed, the planets pulling back into one another until there were fewer.

When we came out, my ship wasn’t handling the stress that well. It fell to the ground and thumped end over end. The interior was protected, amazingly, but it didn’t look good for the timeship. And Mobian’s was still there, in the air, the side closing in where it had been damaged.

In the midst of diagnosing the damage to the ship, I discovered we’d headed back in time another couple of decades. Despite that, the signals and development of Earth definitely didn’t match up with the Nineties. Or at least, as I soon realized, not that Nineties.

“That did not exactly go as planned. Is everyone alright down there?” asked Mobian. Sparks shot out of the console for some damn reason as he began speaking and his voice sounded further away than normal.

“Yeah,” I said, before looking around. Citra was on hands and knees, throwing up. Arsehole had bumped her head against the wall, but seemed fine otherwise.

“Good here for now,” Arsehole said.

Venus almost sounded said when she spoke. “Good. I think it’s time we finally settle up.”

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Back To The Past 1

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“Nope. Nooooope!” I said, turning away from The Mobian’s timeship. I turned and began to walk away. From the 360-degree heads-up-display of my power armor, I could see Mobian, or at least an older, scarf-clad version of Mobian than the one I’d seen before, turn and look at his companions. The bleach-blonde middle-aged woman was just as clueless. It was the other woman, an older version of Venus with grey hair and a robotic right eye, followed after me.

“I come begging for help and you turn your back on me? Since when!” she said, hurrying to grab my shoulder.

I turned. “As much as I love to hear about you coming and begging me, future Venus, you said no daughters. An awful lot of stuff I get dragged on seems to take a month of my time, and that’s a bit too long for me to leave her alone.”

She looked me where the eyes of my helmet should be and walked around to block the direction I had been walking. “We need the world’s best assassin. Do you want your daughter to see kill people?”

“My daughter’s been through some shit.She can handle me turning someone’s skull into my own personal dickpuppet, but what I don’t think she can handle is me just dumping her to go run off for a week or a month or however long.” I poked her in the chest, noticing that the tattered top she wore was less like her hero outfit and more like scrounged-up body armor.

The Mobian poked his old, grey-curled head in from the side. “If I may, my timeship does not operate by what humans call ‘San Dimas Time’. I can return you to the instant after you left.”

“And if something happens, then I’ve just suddenly disappeared from her life. Either Qiang travels with me on a journey throughout time, or you can fuck off to Transexual, Transylvania looking for someone to do the Time Warp with, gramps, got it?”

“We need you,” Venus said, moving closer and crowding me in.

I looked between Venus and Mobian, then leaned in, brushing my upper hands through their hair. “Shh. Shh. It’s ok.” Then I reached down and slapped a lower hand on their asses at the same time. “So, how serious are y’all about needing me?” They stood there awkwardly for a moment before I let go of their heads, stepped past them, and pushed them behind me with both sets of arms. “Get the fuck outta here! Killers are a dime a dozen. Like that guy.” I pointed off to the distance where Specialist St. John sat by a fountain, his giant alien blaster shotgun taken apart for cleaning. “Dragoon there used to be a mercenary. Killing for pay is the mercenary way.”

“We’ll let you bring your daughter along!” said the blonde woman, marching up behind me. Venus glared at her and the Mobian bit his bottom lip briefly.

“That is a bad idea. She’s a child,” Mobian said.

“No, fine,” Venus said, turning her glare to me and trying to fight it down. “If it’ll get you to come along, bring her. We’ll look after her.”

Dear reader, do you ever get that feeling like you’re not being told the whole story?

“You need me that bad, eh?” I looked to Venus, focusing on her. “Must be something pretty important. Why do you need me? Come on. I’m not a tool here.”

She blinked her biological eye and crossed her arms, standing with feet spread just a little. “We need you. In fifteen years, Mot awakens. It is an ancient god of death and pestilence that consumes everything. It empowers its followers to kill; it spreads filth and disease wherever; it takes the powers of whoever it consumes and sends their ghosts and corpses to round up more for it to eat. It’s unstoppable. Mobian finally came when we had no other options,” she gestured to Mobian, who bowed his head sheepishly. “It’s too powerful now. We have to go back to when it was weaker.”

“I’m following along with you so far, but why me?” I asked. I pointed over at Dragoon again. “Mercenary. Works for cash.” I pointed at myself. “Untrustworthy psycho. Gonna try to love you up and turn you into a horny toad.”

It’s a testament to how rough a future she comes from that this got Venus to smile just a little. She got control of her mouth, but it still happened. “It does things to people. Mot forces people to confront the worst about themselves. It brings out every bad thing about them and makes them see it.”

“Like depression?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “Worse. Most people can’t put up a fight.” I don’t think she has much experience with depression. “We know where it will be at one moment, but we may only get one chance to destroy it. We know, don’t we? You know the truth about yourself?” She laid a hand on one of my forearms. “I can’t think of many who could get close to it through all of that.”

I cocked my head to the side. “What about future me?”

“You were dead. Will be dead.” The tense problem was just one portion of the awkwardness in those words.

“ You’re going to have to tell me how that happens,” I said.

“It’s a deal,” she said quickly. “Come help destroy Mot, and I’ll tell you how you die.”

“The timeship will be parked well away from this depression aura thingy, right?” I asked.

“Why?”

“For Qiang, of course. It was already agreed I could bring her.

“Yes,” Mobian said. “We wouldn’t want her to experience anything so terrible.” He looked between future Venus and myself. “We are agreed. Gecko, gather all you will need as well as your daughter.”

And I did. I grabbed Qiang, loaded up a couple extra rubber chicken grenades, and brought the radiationthrower back out of its carefully-sealed lead refrigerator. I don’t often get a chance to just drag the thing out, but it seemed like a good time to carry around an unlicensed nuclear reactor in a backpack. It helped conceal another thing I figured would be useful, especially if this depression aura was real. I’d been hoping to make more use of drones, and my brief time on the alien world attested to that. I snuck a couple of smaller drones under my cape, attached to the battery pack back there, as well as the back of my belt.

“Hey baba,” Qiang said, taking one of my free hands. Yet another advantage of having extras. “If we’re going back in time, can I see mama again?”

Hoo boy.

I squeezed her hand. “I sure hope so. I’ll see if they can do that, ok?”

I left a message for the Directory that I may or may not be gone for awhile. I’d let them know if I was leaving, and not to go selecting anyone else to take over for me too quickly if I don’t come back from the trip I may not go on. Mobian’s timeship was still where we’d left it. The blonde kept an eye out for me, though she spent more time checking out the various supervillains leaving. Most had been on their way out already, but Mobian’s vessel didn’t strike any of them as a good omen. As much as he was a hero, he was one who tended to show up around the time things were going wrong. It wasn’t so much that he caused problems, but he tended to be where problem were.

“Hey there,” Future Venus said, smiling warmly at Qiang in a way she’d never managed for me. Qiang ran over to go hug her. An idea flitted through my head of adopting more and more kids until she was forced to love me, but that obviously wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t even be fun, not even to watch from the outside. Might be a handy way to start my own gang of villains if I’m willing to put the years into it, so I decided to put it on the list of Possible Future Schemes. It’s right up there underneath “Engineer Global Ice Cream Shortage”.

I’d expected the inside of the ship to be all cluttered, with weird hoses and levers all around. It was a lot bigger on the inside than I expected, with a floor of some cloudy amber material. The walls were way more white than I preferred. A bit hard on the eyes there. The Mobian was standing atop a raised platform made of some dark metal that clashed with the rest of the interior. On one of the walls was a doorway of brass, perhaps, that led to further interior. Perhaps there were rooms there. Out here in this section, there was only the raised platform Mobian stood at pressing things, and the blank area for the rest of us to stand.

The opening we’d entered by closed up, cutting me off from the world’s information once again. “Are we ready to bid this millennium adieu?” Mobian asked, then leaned down to smile at Qiang. “It’s a smooth ride so you won’t need to buckle up.”

“Can we go see my mommy?” she asked in the Riccan pidgin.

Mobian’s friendly demeanor faltered for a moment. “I’ll see what we can do.”

“You speak Riccan?” I asked him.

He winked and pointed up at the ceiling of the ship. “My ship ensures we understand each other. Everyone who travels through time on it is linked, but the field dissipates if not soon renewed. Buckle your unnecessary seatbelts, folks!”

Despite that, the blonde woman was leaning on the side of the raised portion where it met the floor in a gentle ramp, holding onto the lip for support. “It’s ok,” I said. “I’m sure this nuclear device will be fine if it’s jostled too much.” I raised the radiationthrower. “Where are we going, anyway?”

“The where isn’t as important as the when. Tell me, have you ever been to the Cretaceous before?” Mobian asked. A part of the white wall cleared up like a fog, showing us lowering onto the edge of a marshy area. “If the location is important to you, this would be the continent Laramidia.”

“I think I caught that once,” I said. “So, this is is where an ancient god of death. Hey, after I kill this thing, I call dibs on its title.” Huh. Can a god of death be killed? Interesting question, but I suppose it depends on the type of god. My brief look into this Mot critter before leaving the present didn’t turn up a lot of info. Lived in a pit, ceaseless hunger, covers the land with filth. I actually had so much of a hard on for killing a god of death, I didn’t even want to pull out the social commentary, like wondering if this was Rush Limbaugh’s house or something.

The door opened and Venus volunteered to show me the way. “We’re far enough way that the ship won’t be affected. I’ll lead you as far as I can.”

I nodded and knelt down to look Qiang in the eye. “I gotta go deal with this thing, then I’ll be right back. Until then, this people are supposed to be nice to you.” I reached out and booped her nose with one of my lower hands. “See you in a bit, dumpling.”

We hugged. “See you soon, baba. Don’t get eaten by monsters.”

I patted her head. “Don’t worry, sweetie. Monsters hide under the bed because they don’t want me to find them.” And they don’t like it when I try to cuddle in the afterglow. I hugged her for a few seconds before breaking it off and standing up.

Once we’d exited the time ship, Future Venus pulled out a device and pressed a soft button on it. It created a conical hologram in front of her with lines marking ranges and a beeping dot in the distance. “This way,” she said.

We walked on for a bit, her not really responding to my attempts at conversation. Stimulating stuff, too. “And if that wasn’t bad enough, then Napoleon’s guys are just like ‘fuck it, kill ’em all. It’d just be cheaper to buy new slaves,’ and start gassing folks.”

“Do you just look at the worst humanity has to offer?” she asks.

I shot her a look. “No. I just figured I’d learn about the Haitian Revolution someday. It’s just your history, and it’s interesting. And those worst of humanity types come along naturally. Unfair to classify them as different. They are humanity.” We took turns hopping over portions of the swamp that we were circling around.

“Your daughter’s half that, too.”

“Yeah, she is. She gets to be my daughter. How fucked is her life going to be if people hold it against her, right? But that’s why I’m taking some of those lessons you tried to teach me to heart.”

“Bullshit,” Future Venus said as she stepped over a root thick enough to rival many a tree.

“I trust you with my daughter. I trust you enough to drag me to Jurassic Park. And I’ve been trying to do things to make the world a little better. I don’t want Qiang hurt because of a cycle of revenge that started with me.”

Venus hurried to get further ahead of me. “We’re almost there.”

“What, my attempt to be a tiny bit more responsible offends you, my dear Venus?” I jumped in front of her and turned around.

She stopped, of course. Even with the years on her, Future Venus was still beautiful and stubborn. “You’re bringing up some conflicting feelings, and it’s not easy knowing what’s coming left in your life and mine. My life from back then,” she gestured back behind her, toward the ship.

“Yeah, I plenty of conflicting feelings about you too. I hate you, but at the same time you’re so wonderful. A strong, unflinching hero with your stupidly naive goody-goody ways. I suppose Captain Lightning is too, but he’s not the one who seems willing to die for the belief there’s a better person in me.”

She crossed her arms. “And he’s not as pretty as me.”

I shrugged. “True, but I just learned it’s not an age thing at all, beautiful.”

She smiled and turned away, shaking her head. “You talk some shit.”

“Yeah, I do. But, ya know, I could always make someone look like you. They’d just never mean as much to me as you do,” I said. It felt a little warm under my helmet, but what the hell? I’m dead when she comes from, and present Venus won’t know any of this. “There’s a reason I can’t bring myself to kill you.”

“Yeah, because I can still fight you off.”

I handed off the radiationthrower to my lower set of arms and popped my helmet off so I could blow her a kiss. “Keep flirting like this and we’ll see.”

That got a laugh. When she stopped, she looked at me for a moment, pondering. Then she put her hand on my shoulder, leaned in, and something magical happened. “The-” she started to say before I made a little more magic happen. She didn’t let me go on forever, pressing a finger to my lips. “There. We’ve tried it. A man from your past and a woman from beyond your future.”

“Well see,” I said. When she backed off further, I put my helmet back on and redid the seals. “Unless changing the timeline makes you disappear, you could always stick around with myself and Qiang.” And my wife, too, but I wasn’t so stupid to mention that when I was on a roll.

Her smile faded and she looked down, shaking her head. “That won’t work.”

“If you’re afraid I’ll die on you, you’re supposed to give me that info anyway,” I reminded her. She sighed and walked past me. That… got chilly in a hurry.

“We’re almost there,” she said.

“Ok,” I said. I stayed quiet, hoping to give her time to think and sort all this out. Probably some hero hangup she’s dealing with?

I don’t normally enjoy nature hikes, but the day’s events made this one just awesome. If Mot the death god was trying to bring me down, he wasn’t doing shit. Maybe that’s what got Future Venus, but I wasn’t feeling a thing. I was thinking on that when she stopped, staring down at a strange stone that definitely looked out of place there from the glow within. The smooth obsidian orb just sat there. “This our Mot guy? A bit on the small side, and I thought there’d be a pit.” Behind me, the drones dropped out from under my cape. One took off for cover, the other headed up into the tree tops.

Venus looked back and up, trying to follow the noise, but didn’t seem all that concerned. “That leads to Mot. I’m not going any further, but wait a moment,” she turned and patted my shoulder. “I was going to tell you when you died, now, before you touched it. I can’t now. I hope you can understand.” She stepped back.

“This Mot aura’s really doing a number on you… Let me just deal with that. You tell me afterward.” I turned and walked toward the orb. “What do I do?”

“Just touch it,” she said. Nice words to hear coming from her. I went to nudge it with my boot and-

It was like it blew up on me, but not explosively. One moment it’s a rock on the ground, the next it’s surrounding me, everything held in place in rock or crystal or whatever’s the fucking difference when I’m trapped like that.

I could still feel the drones at least, but before I could direct them to fire on the thing, a diamond-shaped thing flew through the sky. It was even smaller than the timeship, but when it touched the ground, four beings appeared. Four humanoids, each wearing a different primary color with black and silver as secondary colors. The same damn things that showed up at the end of the big villain raid on the alien planet that created the Deep Ones and experimented on the mercenaries who accidentally found the portal.

The lead one in red made a sound that, after a moment, shifted into English words. “Go.” Venus turned and jogged away, sparing me one last glance. Red guy turned to me then. “You understand this language?” he continued in English.

I’d have nodded, or given him a middle finger, but both were hard to do. “Yeah, fuckface, but if you really want to speak my language, let me out of this thing.”

“You are Psychopomp Gecko, member of an infant race, leader of a group who attacked the society of your superiors. We will exact punishment for your trespass. You can not escape. You have no allies. Our victory is complete. Our power, overwhelming. Resistance will only bring pain.”

“Oh, you have no fucking idea,” I growled from inside this crystal ball that encased me as I stared out at a a foursome of aliens who decided to commit suicide the world’s least fun suicide.

Archive Transmission Fragment 1 Complete

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