I hate being a deer. I feel so helpless and jumpy. Yesterday, this child was feeding me a carrot in the grocery store when something fell over in a buggy and sent me running. Next aisle over, a cougar started chasing me. I don’t know if she is an older woman, I just know she’s part big cat now. We made a mess all in that store until the manager thought to start spraying the cougar down with a water bottle. I didn’t like the way she eyed me as I was leaving, though. It reminds me too much of Medusa.
I think my girlfriend’s a furry. I’m not against that necessarily. It’s kind of common in supers, after all. Batman, The Tick, Spider-Man; some of the most famous supers in media dress up as animals for a bit of fun. It kind of explains how Medusa once dated The Human Sloth, too. She’s off investigating this mess with her hero connections, but she video calls. I don’t mind the attention from her too much. I just wish I was out there with her.
But, a few days after my transformation into a deer woman, I’m still not adjusting quite right. There’s the jumpiness, as I mentioned. And the walking issues. High heels have nothing on having your feet turned into hooves. It’s like walking on a toenail.
I can’t even be useful and take out my other body because the mystery of the nanomachines seems to be that this transformation has disabled my abilities. I have to resort to typing all this up and sending it off to another dimension manually. Like some sort of primitive computer-user, smacking on a keyboard with a mammoth bone. At least for the short term, the other body’s taken care of. Got her hooked to a nutrient IV that’ll keep her alive.
So I’m just here as poor, defenseless Psycho Deer. At least whatever magic did this didn’t leave me as a buck with horns or I might have to worry about hunters gunning for me. I get more mundane problems to deal with, like shopping for Christmas presents.
My daughter, Psycho Chinchilla, has her heart set on a Limited Edition Baby Yoda doll. They rushed that thing out in a hurry, and barring a factory the size of a small moon, they were never going to have enough to meet the demand of all the people who absolutely have to have one. And my daughter is one of them. Y’all try saying no to a little girl you love who is now half-chinchilla?
It wasn’t so fun heading to the big city for this. Driving with hooves is another thing nobody knows to watch out for. Then there were the photo-ops as a few people stopped me to ask about a photo with their child. Most of those were near the little areas where kids can meet Santa and get a picture with him, but those are everywhere now.
Finally, I found the store. It was the one with sandbags out front as if it was under siege, and it really was. They were going to start selling the toy when the clock hit not this next midnight, but the one after that. I was too late to be in front of the line, which is why I went to the rear of the building. Geez, there was even a line of people trying to break in, with some in costumes pushing their way to the front of it.
Clearly, there was just one option left to me: Operation Flying Reindeer.
Most parachuting services prefer to wait until warmer weather to drop people, but most of their customers don’t hand them a big wad of cash while going, “Shut up and take my money.” I had on a big fluffy red coat for warmth. I didn’t think I’d need any explosives on this one. The toy store has a few sections of the roof that are glass. Fitting with the siege mentality, they seem to have sabotaged all the fire escaped that could lead to the roof. I watched one would-be burglar jump for a ladder, slip on some grease, and land hard enough on the pavement that something cracked.
It’s illegal as hell, but they’re worried about the bare minimum, like safety nets to catch people trying to jump from nearby rooftops onto theirs.
What they were less prepared for was a parachuting deer hopping out of the back of a plane. And since it took me awhile to arrange things last minute, it was getting dark. I lit a flare, its red light guiding me through the air. I hit the chute and used the handles to guide myself into position over the building, aiming for one of the glass sections. I pulled the line that disconnected me from the chute once I got on the approach I needed, dropping down and smashing through the glass with my hooves, dropping the flare in the commotion.
I fell in to a gigantic Christmas tree that arrested my fall as I skid down it. When I landed, I looked around to find the scene was chaotic for a different reason. A pair of Driller drill tanks were poking up out of the floor, with Drillers ransacking the place for toys. One of them stopped nearby, gaping at me, a toy Baby Yoda in hand. “Drop the toy and nobody has to get hurt!” I said.
He hefted a crowbar, so I drop-kicked him. It sounded like it hurt. When I stood, I found I’d also smushed the toy. Damn. One Driller came up behind me, holding a rifle to my back. I jumped. Deer can jump really fucking high, y’all. Part of the animal package was apparently getting some thick calves and thighs to give me the full animal experience. I didn’t go as high as when I have my armor on, but high enough that the Driller who shot instead hit another Driller who was coming at me from the front. When I landed, I knocked the gun down with my ample butt and turned to punch that one in the throat. A kick to the chest sent him sprawling.
I found another Driller trying to run for a drill tank with a bag of toys. I grabbed a nearby baseball bat and baseball, wound up, and tossed the bat at his legs. It tripped him up, at which point I tossed the ball at his back.
Another thing I miss about my armor is the 360-degree display. It means I didn’t react quickly enough when some Driller collapsed a pile of toys and forced me to run to avoid being buried alive. I ended up hopping onto a nearby model train display that doubled as a ride for children. I cleared the collapse, but then a Driller swung onto the front of it like a pirate, a sword at the ready. Two more hopped on behind me. I reached out for anything and closed a paw on one of those oversized candies. It was a big box of Sweet Tarts. Or maybe it’s a big package of giant Sweet Tarts? My sweet tooth disappeared overnight as soon as I became a deer. Instead, I eye a pack of iodized salt like it’s Medusa with a cock.
The Driller in front of me approached slowly, so I turned to keep an eye on the ones to my rear. The lead of those rushed me, a handheld drill in hand. I’m not sure why he needs it, but I have to compliment him on finding one of the situations where that would be an effective weapon to threaten me with. He charged, drill held in the middle. I brought up the Sweet Tarts to block. The drill penetrated them easily, the Driller gritting his teeth and growling in anticipation. So I tossed the Tarts away, taking the drill out of his hands. Then I headbutted him, kneed him in the balls, and threw him off the train.
“I got a golden ticket to pain!” I declared,, then remembered the guy with the sword behind me. I turned and he had his arm back, ready to swing. I ducked, as did the Driller coming at me from the ear of the kiddie train who nearly got sliced. He grabbed my waist, trying to bring his arms up to lock in a full nelson. I stomped on his boots and jumped. That Driller took the blade in his shoulder and fell, relieving the attacker on the front of the train of his weapon as well. When I landed, it was just me, that other Driller, any of the other ones who wanted to join in, and no weapons. Which is in my element, especially because all this jumpiness has me acting like a cheetah high on energy drinks.
Hook! Straight, uppercut! I had the Driller on the ropes, if there had been ropes. I hopped up and wrapped my thighs around his head, twisting around so that when I wrenched backwards and sent him overhead, he and I both would land off the train. It wasn’t the most fun landing for me, since that still involves coming down hard on my back on a hard substance, but it was worse for him. If he’d known it was coming, he could have rolled with it and landed on his upper back. He didn’t, so instead he smacked the top of his head into the floor. Sweet dreams, buddy.
I arose to the rumbling sound of one of the drill tanks retreating into its hole. A few Drillers were helping their hurt comrades into the second, but they didn’t bother with all of them before they closed the doors and headed back underground.
With them taken care of, I turned to the nearest group of staff and started to say, “Ok, this is a st-!”
They hugged me. They just ran up and hugged me, cheering and smiling like I wasn’t about to rob the place. They were all so happy that I saved them. The manager came up after a minute and asked, “What’s your name, hero?”
I blinked like a deer in headlights. “Uh, I don’t have one. I didn’t really come to-”
The crowd started chanting “Reindeer, Reindeer, Reindeer!” before I could inform them I was there to rob them. The only good thing about it was when the manager offered me my pick of the toys and I grabbed an unbroken Baby Yoda for Qiang. Then I got the hell out of there, being led through the secret underground administrative passageway to a nearby clothing store.
Qiang better be darn happy for this toy, because her mom is not proud of the things she had to do to get it. Especially when I made the news. Medusa sent me a winking smiley and a link to the online article.
“The things a mother will do for her childchilla,” I responded.
“im proud of u. u should join a team,” she typed back.
“Keep this up and the news is the only place you’ll see my big, fluffy behind,” I warned her.
“I’m thinking of doing a Secret Santa for the town,” Medusa told me over breakfast one morning. For my part, I was still in brainless zombie mode from being awakened in the AM. She kicked me out of bed. Me prime, I’ll point out. She’s still not ok sleeping with both of me. So when her pretty foot sent me tumbling off the side of the bed, a groan from me let her know I was awake. And she told me, “Get up. I’ll make us breakfast.”
By the time I shuffled down the hallway, she’d already started in on the cooking. I sat down at the little table we had in the guest house and set my glasses on the edge. I don’t have eyes of my own yet. I didn’t become more awake until she set a couple plates of food down and I saw she’d made the non-puffy scrambled eggs. And as I tasted them, I found she’d also overdone the pepper. And that’s where we were when the Secret Santa thing came up.
“Getting to know people?” I asked in as complete a thought as I could muster at the time. Don’t let the complete vocabulary I use now fool you, dear reader; at the time this was happening, the Hulk could have beaten me in a speech writing contest. I finally wrangled some hair out of my face and put my glasses on.
“Making people be nice,” she said with far too friendly of a wink at me.
I grabbed a fork and speared some egg, then tried to gesture toward her. “Too perky.” The egg fell off. I pointed down at it. “Not perky ‘nough.”
“What do you have against the holidays?” she asked.
I didn’t bother to answer until I got some food in me. Too much pepper, not enough salt. “Because ever since I saved Christmas, weird holiday spirits plague me this time of year. I’m almost afraid to find out what Hanukkah and Kwanzaa want to do to me, and I think the Muslims have something going on, too.” I waved a hand. “Lots of stuff can come get me now.”
“You’re going to let that stop you?” Medusa asked. “My bold villain’s scared of a few snowballs and giving presents. Maybe I should take it easy on you and make you find something nice to do for the town.” She got a thoughtful look on her face as she ate her eggs. “Maybe that’s what I should do. We need to get this place ready for more people. It’s a good segue to what I want to do next year.”
I raised an eyebrow, then hobbled over to the refrigerator for some orange juice. I held some up for her, but she shook her head. “Frozen coffee.” I checked back in there, saw her bottle of Starbucks stuff, and brought it over to her when I came back to my seat. She continued, “I know how to handle the people I’ve been fighting so far, but we need to do a lot more next year. We need to repair the Earth itself. I don’t know where to start. We need to do more than plant trees. We have to suck up incredible amounts of pollution.”
I set my chin on one hand in order to keep my head from hitting the table, my mind still a bit fuzzy. Thinking about sucking pollution up gave me an idea though. Once I finished realizing a thing that sucks al the air through it would cause major weather disruptions if it worked well enough to fix stuff quickly, I realized I needed to take a different tack.
Medusa noticed my vacant expression, probably because of my mouth hanging open, and slipped some egg into my mouth. I paused, before chewing and eating it. “Gross, ya know.”
“Gross? What, eating after me?” she asked, having a little laugh. “Think about where you put your tongue last night.”
“It’s not the same still,” I said, trying not to think about how gross the human body is. Even the sexy ones.
After a few seconds of eating, she told me, “Anyway, I remembered you need to fix your house. Don’t worry about the rest of the town. The insurance person came by and won’t accept that getting shot up by a helicopter with an anti-tank gun is normal crime. Did you know they don’t cover acts of war?”
I pretended to slam my fork down on the plate. “Insurance won’t cover that? This means war!” I stood up, pretending I was going to walk off. Medusa, perhaps because I very likely might go fight an insurance company, stood up as well.
“Easy there. You still need your health checkup after going to space. I know someone who can help,” I said.
“Eh, I don’t know. I’ve had a look with the nanites. If Max and I put our heads together, we’ll sort it all out,” I said.
“Hush. You’re going to go to a doctor,” she said. “I’ll get it set up today and let you know when.”
As it happens, my medical needs and my holiday misgivings would both come to the forefront rather quickly. It happened shortly after I stopped by the little house Medusa got for me and Qiang. The chopper had done a number on it, but I had kept the basement closed up and heated for my machines to do their thing. Soon, I had an army of nanomachines ready and willing to do my bidding. And do they did. With the insurance seen to and the cops having pulled up their tape, nothing stood in my way any more.
I raised my hands to the sky, then remembered the lumber I was carrying. I set it down, then raised the empty hands. “Come, my minions. Your work is not yet done!”
One problem with really small stuff is the effect extreme temperatures can have on them. With nanites, the most noticeable issue involves excessive heat. Cold isn’t’ always the best, either, so it was slower going to use them to repair the house. Commanding an army of robots to fix and clean my house may seem like a petty use of my powers and resources, but it’s really not that big a leap for a world that uses the Roomba. Besides, one of the most important thing about power is using it for the petty stuff. That’s why so many people with diplomatic immunity are constantly getting parking and speeding tickets.
With that out of the way, I thought I might go see what licenses I needed to build more around the town. I don’t know what sort of shop I’d settle on, but I still need a front for my ongoing criminal enterprises.
I was just about to go when I felt all woozy. And itchy. And things hurt. It felt like my body was squirming around. I collapsed when part of my foot moved without caring about the tendons and muscles there. I felt pulled in all directions at once as something happened to me, leaving me a coughing, bleating mess on the ground in front of my property. The nanites swarmed toward me, responding to an emergency message, but found themselves in error, not sure what to do.
After a moment, I couldn’t even communicate with them anymore. Then, in the midst of a feeling like my skull was pulling apart, I blacked out.
It’s a misconception that it’s easy to knock someone out by pain alone. That’s tough. You can knock someone out by hitting them, but that tends to risk brain injury. Sedating people also carries that risk, and others, which is why anesthesiologists are so important to the process of cutting people up to help them live.
So I knew some major shit had gone down when I woke up and found myself moving toward a bright light. Then I saw an old man with a wise, wrinkled face and long, white hair come into view and look down at me. He opened his mouth and said, “Move the light back, you’ll blind the thing. You sure you don’t want a super vet instead?”
Medusa was there. “I’m sure. She’s human… mostly.”
I tried blinking away the glare of the light, but realized I was blinking. No glasses on, but I could see. And I had a really big nose in my view, tipped with black but brown along the way.
“Easy, Gecko. How do you feel?” asked the older man, who I could see now was in a white coat and turtleneck sweater.
The pain was pretty much gone. “Hot and itchy.” It smelled terrible in there, and I felt like my pants were full more than they should have been. “Did I shit myself?” Probably ruined my stash of delicious chocolate pudding I usually keep back there. “Why is my nose so big?” I raised a hand to touch my nose and stopped. My hand was… something, that’s for sure. The fingernails were much bigger and a thick brown color. Aside from that, they mostly looked human still, if you ignored the brown fur and occasional bits of white spots. I pressed my hand to my nose and felt along my face, which had been stretched forward a bit.
Unusually, I felt a desire to get the fuck out of there, my ears flicking around to try and help me listen out for a safe space. That’s when I realized my ears don’t flick and move around. After a moment of animalistic freak-out, I lowered myself back down to the able. “Drugs.”
“Is that what did this?” asked the doctor.
“I don’t know if it did, but I’m pretty sure I need some right now. I don’t like to rely on them, but when I think I’m growing fur and a muzzle, I’m pretty sure the problem at some point is drugs,” I said.
“We don’t know. Her neighbor found her in front of her house. They called the cops, who called animal control, who found her fake ID on her and turfed her back to the deputies. I heard about it by then and showed up, then figured out it was Gecko,” Medusa explained.
“Doctor,” said a woman. “You should see this. It’s another one.” I noticed her eyes flick toward me. The doctor left me alone with Medusa for a few minutes to go see to what sounds like another case of whatever’s going on.
A blinking noise alerted Medusa to something, she picked up her phone. Then I heard the voice coming from it. “Ladies, non-binaries, and gentlemen, I am here to save your world. Those in Canada and the United States are just beginning to see my plan come to fruition. Look upon them and see your future, for the rest of the polluters in the First World are soon to follow. For with my brilliance, I devised a way to put an end to your ways by transforming half of mankind into… animals!”
“How’s that supposed to stop climate change?” Medusa asked.
“You’re probably asking yourselves, ‘who is this genius? What do they want?’ the voice on the phone continued, completely misjudging our reactions. “I am Verdant. And with so many of the wealthy, the powerful, the elite, and the bloodthirsty now reduced to man-animal hyrbids, you have me to thank for saving Gaia.”
“It’s kind of brilliant,” Medusa said. She looked at me. I hope I was glaring, but I don’t even know what I am right now. “Sorry. We’ll stop him, but I think this might raise awareness. I wonder how many assholes in the oil companies are becoming the animals they wrote off as acceptable losses.”
She kissed my cheek. “Don’t worry, dear.” The winked at that, then took a picture and showed me.
Son of a… “At least your boyfriend that time got to have claws as a sloth. And Psychsaur is part lizard. How the hell am I supposed to be threatening as a deer?!”
She cooed and scritched my ears and the fluff that my hair turned into. “Don’t worry about it. You just be a pretty little deer and let me hunt down the bad guys this time, ok?”
I snorted, unamused.
With all the money I’ve stolen, I’m no longer down and out. But with my house chewed up by the lead teeth of an autocannon, I’m now up in the inn. Or the small guest house, as it were. Between the house getting shot up and me running off to resolve the whole thing, I haven’t had time to do what I needed to take part in the annual feast day of the United States. I hear its origins go back to this time some starving Europeans were helped out by the Native Americans they soon thereafter exterminated. Really puts into perspective how much I could have been seen as a hero if I wasn’t so often a pawn in the games of the powerful.
Little did they all know that, with the support of friends and family I could trust, this pawn would go on to be a queen.
Qiang has had a little experience with Thanksgiving, and more would help since this is her home now. Plus, who doesn’t like to have a day when you and your daughter can stuff lots of delicious food down your throats? But the turkey wasn’t thawed. The dressing wasn’t dressed. I hadn’t even cut the cheese!
Even the option of grabbing food from a Chinese place wasn’t available. They didn’t have one in Radium. So I really thought I was kinda screwed. I continued thinking so when Medusa showed up on my door, but that also involved the good kind of screwed. Especially when she smiled. I don’t know why she’s with me, but I do so love that smile. She could do so much better than me. I threw my arms around her and hugged. Qiang ran up and joined us, squealing all the way.
Medusa bent down to pick up Qiang and kiss her on the cheek. “How are you?”
“Good! Mama made pretzel snacks and I was watching She-Ra,” she responded. It’s true. Found a recipe for doing stuff with pretzel sticks, peanut butter, and dipping chocolate. Double the hands makes easier work, even if I lost a pair of arms and ended up replacing them with another body I control. I need to give her a name.
“You like She-Ra, huh? Are you a Princess of Power too?” Medusa asked.
Qiang nodded happily, then added, “I think I could beat She-Ra.”
I laughed at that. I’ve moved away from using the TV stuff as a lesson for my girl. She’s learned a lot, and she still does some of the exercises, but it occurred to me that I could just let her be a kid. Sometimes that means she wonders about fighting characters and we get a little fighting practice in that way. She doesn’t think it’s fair when I wear glasses with googly eyes for lenses though. She’s too busy laughing to fight back effectively.
Medusa let Qiang down, then looked to me. I raised an eyebrow and said, “Hey Adora.” When she cocked her head in confusion, I added, “It’s from the show. If you follow it, that was actually pretty flirty.”
I let her in and she walked with me to the tiny kitchen corner of the living room where I had a chicken in its packaging, along with a clove of garlic, a lemon, and an onion. “Looks like you’re making a go at it,” she said.
I shrugged. “You don’t just go to a place and declare it a home. And I got really lucky and remembered to grab that. It’s no turkey, but I can do amazing things when you let me shove object A inside orifice B. And we know what the B stands for.”
“It would make a good addition if you want to bring it by the school,” she said. “We’re having a get-together for people who don’t have a big family to spend the day with. A lot of new arrivals to the town have a troubled history without a lot of family in their life, for good or bad. Someone thought it would be a good idea to see if we can handle a meal together.”
“Sounds risky. What next, a hero falling in love with her villain?” I asked.
She grinned, then ran a finger down my forehead. “You fell in love with me first. Admit it, evil doer.”
“Yeah I did. Got away with stealing you, too,” I grabbed her hand. She started slightly when my other pair of arms wrapped around her from behind and started nuzzling the back of her neck.
“That’s not fair,” Medusa whined, not sounding at all like she meant it. “Neither is not having the time… or space.”
She had a point. This place was tiny, maybe Qiang shouldn’t be able to hear every single aspect of my sex life.
The redhead pulled the hair away from Medusa’s ear to whisper to her, “Fine. I would love to eat out with you. Later. For Thanksgiving.”
She’s so cute when she’s blushing that heavily. She stayed and we calmed down over cups of hot chocolate. She even, I noticed, made an effort to address my other self as me, too. See, and here I wanted to gradually try and see what I look like, but now this gives me ideas to do a twin thing. I don’t know if I’m overthinking this or not overthinking this enough, especially because a relationship is involved. That and my own weird issues about bodies. As soon as I get done questioning my own mental health due to a prolonged period without my medication and unknown alien medical treatment of my brain, I should probably see someone about that.
That little party she was talking about sounded like a good idea, except for the fact that she invited me to it. I have to wonder how many heroes, or even other villains, are going to be happy with me as a neighbor. But I went, sending just the one body and resolving to bring back a big plate for the other one. Chicken and mac and cheese for everyone! Albeit, that’s much less of a celebratory thing if you’re vegan and lactose intolerant. We all have our struggles with intolerance. Even my poor daughter has issues with dairy, which is why I used tiny machines to reprogram her body to be fine with dairy. And that’s how we’re finally going to solve issues of bigotry. Little robots that make people better.
As thankful as Medusa must be that I’m not in control of a country anymore, she seemed plenty happy to see me walk through the double doors to the school’s cafeteria, which was a pretty standard-looking cafeteria if you ignored the paper mache turkey statues everywhere. Kinda makes it worse in my view. Like those stories of Vlad the Impaler dining in the middle of a forest of his victims.
It was a diverse group, though. Pretty sure some were aliens, including at least one of those Visitors from the Hares. Medusa managed to escape from a couple of guys, one of whom was white but had these thick dreadlocks with neon lights integrated into them glowing purple and blue. “Hey! Glad you decided to come out of your shell for the holiday. More out of your shell.”
I blinked a few times and blew some red hair out of my face. That phrase tickled something in my brain, like there’s an revelation waiting to happen. I put it out of mind and smiled. “Interesting crowd you’ve got here.”
“Orphans, refugees, people who had to find a family, people kicked out of families… I do not know a lot about my own heritage as an orphan, but many have a good reason to be disgusted by a celebration of colonization. I choose to view it as a day when people who do not wish to do that can be together with family and remember their blessings,” she said.
“…Yeah, that’s one way to justify it,” I said. “Though blessings is a bit more religious than I’d care for.”
She rolled her eyes and kissed my cheek. “Good fortune then. Come on, let’s go set this food down. Qiang, let me help your mom and I’ll show you the kids section.”
“I see it!” said my daughter, running off. Another revelation tickled my mind, that even though I’d adopted that girl and then did a creepy thing where I replaced her father’s DNA with mine while giving her my “powers,” she was reminding me a lot of me.
She led me through a crowd that was half-milling, half sitting at big table. No one was eating yet, but many of those seated had the hungry look of the wolf in their eyes. One woman had the elongated muzzle and extensive body hair of the wolf. After a moment, she clutched a silver pendant around her neck, closed her eyes, and became more human. Hey, she’s more honest. Some of us monsters hide inside a regular human body.
Again, that weird tickling in my brain, like that fairy from Ocarina of Time.
I got plenty of looks, but I think most of them were aimed at the cock I set down on the table.
Then came the time I didn’t really want to do. Mingling. I can mingle. I have the capacity to mingle. I just don’t have much tolerance for it. It’s like Christmas music. You’re capable of enjoying it, but by the time the three months of holidays are over with, the last thing you want to do is mingle all the way. Luckily, this is one of those areas where Medusa complements me. “Hello everyone, this is my girlfriend Delilah.”
Between the Feds and the sheriffs, the name ended up sticking. If I’d been more serious about it, I still don’t know what I’d have gone with. Victoria, maybe? Open your eyes, Victoria… just something from a song that speaks to me.
So I got introduced around on Medusa’s arm, meeting people and trying to keep track of names. I even met an older fellow with a paunch named Dave who told me he’d called the cops on those guys breaking into my house. “Thank you,” I told him. “I could have handled it on my own, but thanks.”
He waved it off. “We’re building a community here. We all handle outside problems like that.”
And before long, it was time to sit down and eat, with folks welcome to give whatever blessings they wanted, to deities foreign, domestic, imported, and extraterrestrial.
We didn’t make it through before someone shouted, “Now I remember! You’re the bastard who stole my sidekick!” Someone threw a glass of water on someone else, who followed up by smashing a piece of pumpkin pie into the first person. Next thing I know, I’m shielding myself with a platter like Captain America and fending off some guy charging at me with a turkey for a helmet and wielding a meaty leg as a club.
I grabbed a ladle of mac and cheese and flung it into his face, causing him to skid on the tablecloth. He couldn’t stop his momentum as I smacked him with the platter and sent him flying. Lucky for him he had a helmet. It might have been a friend of his who dumped a bowl full of cranberry sauce on my head, though.
By the end of the night, Medusa, Qiang, and I all walked out of there covered in various foods. I had grabbed a bit of cheesecake before someone could fall in it and was nibbling on the piece. I reached over and offered some to Medusa. “No thanks. This was a horrible idea.”
“Are you kidding?!” Qiang and I both perked up.
“That was awesome!” My kid shouted.
“The food was good. The entertainment was fantastic. If more Thanksgiving arguments went like that, we’d all have a lot more fun,” I added.
“Aww, you guys,” Medusa said. “I could hug you, but I won’t.”
“Yeah, I got you good with the gravy!” Qiang giggled.
Medusa’s mouth dropped. She looked to me, “Can you believe that?”
I nodded. “I can. You smell delicious right now.”
I tried to call Medusa about getting these cops to let these guys go, but she’s super busy right now. Something about a time-sensitive kidnapping and a rich guy trying to build anti-super robots. I’m pretty sure that project is doomed to failure, but she insists she needs to deal with it right now. I tried letting the sheriff who took my statement know instead, but he insisted they knew what they were doing and I didn’t need to worry.
Medusa’s not around as much as I’d like. I might have to start pulling some crimes that will draw her attention. Make her chase after me. Mmm. I’m beginning to understand why Catwoman teased Batman so much.
But that’s for later. I’ve had my armor checked over. There were some connective issues with the hood and the rest of it. I made sure to recolor the thing, and get rid of the symbol that resembled Mr. Omega’s. See, if you have a gimmick or a certain sort of name, it’s so much easier to have a symbol. Medusa can just go with an M stylized a certain way. Someone with fire powers or ice powers has any number of flame or snowflakes to go with. I favor smiley faces, but that’s pretty generic. Eh, generic might be a good look for me if I’m in hiding again. I went ahead and left the chest blank, but figured I could always project a symbol if I need it. I’m hoping to have more time to build up my resources before most people know I’m around.
Yep, the armor’s better off. My worktable is coming along. The green house is up, but not powered yet. And Qiang’s studying math. She’s got a study buddy. It’s cute. Also pretty meaningless, because I could just build her an internal calculator to figure all that up, but at least part of the problem later on is knowing enough about a situation to figure out which equations to apply. I dunno, might have to wait on that until her body’s stopped doing so much growing.
I thought we were doing just fine as far as the bank’s thugs, too. The ones who got caught posted bail soon after the judge set it. No big hassle or fuss. One of the sheriffs knocked on my door one morning to let me know the four who had been arrested had gotten out and were staying at the Flamingo. It’s this tiny motel by the highway. More the sort of place for people who need to stop for the night, from my evaluation using a drone. I’d call it crappy, but no more so than any other aging highway motel that doesn’t belong to one of the big chains.
I kept an eye on them. That was all I planned to keep on them. If I had any plans of murdering them, and I’m not saying I did, they involved waiting until the guys left. Less of a headache for people around the town that way. I know, it’s silly, but I might as well not be a complete ass to the people who looked after my daughter while I was hurled into the deepest reaches of space to contend with space Nazis and produce a space opera. That was fun, but I have a family to look after. That sometimes means not painting a couple of hotel rooms red with the blood of four hapless thugs who thought they could intimidate me.
I was actually cooking dinner when the attack came. I was frying porkchops when this roar started. I saw the wall above the stove tear open and I dropped to the floor. Oil and egg spilled everywhere, burning the crap out of my right leg before I crawled out of the splash zone. It just did not let up. Down in the basement, I had my puppet stand up and ready my suit. In the kitchen, I crawled for the basement door. It took me longer than normal to get there, maybe five seconds to scoot over and fling myself down the stairs. Longer than it should have. The sudden rush of adrenaline and the constant roar of what I realized had to be bullets cutting my house in half combined to make time feel slower than usual.
I got dressed about halfway up the stairs and crawled my way up. The nanites living in the suit were working on my burned leg when I went to pull myself up the stairs on while the gun made another pass in the opposite direction. One moment, I have my hand on a railing at the top of the basement stairs. The next, I no longer have a hand. This was disturbing in a couple of ways. Allow me to list them.
First, AAAAAAARGHGH! Fuck that fucking hurt like a son of a bitch.
It’s not much of a reason, but it is the one I fixated on for a minute before the nanomachines closed up the mess where my right hand had been. It wasn’t even taken cleanly at the wrist, instead having something of a tiny stump of a hand and a thumb still there.
Second, that meant the person was using a hellaciously powerful and expensive weapon. That’s like Warthog jet anti-tank cannon stuff. I ducked down into the basement, reaching out. It took some looking in the cameras outside before I found one that caught a glimpse of the helicopter out there. It was a bigger one, but not military. They had a really long autocannon sticking out of the doors of the passenger compartment.
I was going to see what I needed to do to crash it or throw them off long enough to get outside and take it down, but then I saw a sheriff’s truck pull up. It had one of those coverings on the bed that made it look like an SUV or something, but that split apart and a turret rocket launcher rose up.
This asks the classic question: explosions? Explosions!
The police fired first. In most circumstances, this might be an objectionably turn of events, but not when someone’s shooting at me with an anti-tank cannon from a helicopter. That same helicopter went up in a brilliant fireball, rising briefly before coming to a rest on my lawn. And then I had to realize I just got saved by the cops. Ugh. So, let’s add anti-aircraft defenses to the list of building projects. I’m thinking lawn gnomes with a flak cannon or a wind vane that doubles as a SAM launcher.
The sheriffs began to disembark, which is why I took the time to make my armor appear to be just normal clothing. When they opened the door, they found me holding a flip-flop and ready for war.
“Easy, ma’am. We got ’em,” said the lead deputy through the door. The one behind him had her gun out, showing off some unusual glowing parts for a revolver to have. He turned toward her. “Check around.” He turned to me again to add, “Now I know why your friend Medusa said you were the one we’d have trouble with. What have you got yourself into?”
I folded my arms across my chest. The illusion didn’t wince like I did, and seemed to have both hands. “Nothing. Maybe I just made a withdrawal from a bank that really doesn’t like losing my account.”
He looked at me, then back out to the street. By now, of course, a bunch of people were watching the helicopter’s fire die out. “Now you’re becoming a pain in my ass.”
“What’s up is something I didn’t think would follow me here,” I told him. “And when it did, I tried to take steps to make sure it wouldn’t come back here.”
He turned to look outside as the ambulance and fire truck pulled up. “You are making it hard for me to protect you as a member of this community, you know that? Do you need to see the paramedics?”
I shook my head. “Nah, not even just one. Listen, give me a few days to clear this up, nip the problem in the head, and you won’t have anymore awesome action sequences involving rockets and helicopters to worry about.”
“Or what?” he asked, looking back at me. “I wasn’t aiming to arrest you, not unless you’ve got anything you’d like to confess to.”
“I must confess, I’m perfectly innocent,” I said.
He snorted. “I doubt. I’ve seen your girlfriends. Not judging.” He held up a hand. “If they keep finding you, we might have to move you into protective custody is all. You can’t raise a little girl in a house that keeps getting shot up by miniguns!”
“In this case, a minigun would be smaller and less powerful,” I pointed out.
“My point is I’m not your enemy,” he said, “but we need to figure out some way to stop whoever this is from attacking our community. Do you know of anyone who might want to hurt you?”
“I do, but I’m invoking my Fifth Amendment Rights on who that is.”
Frustrated as the sheriffs were over this whole mess, they eventually left me, my backup body, and my daughter in peace when she got home. Having so far spent a lot of time around me, she was used to explosions and gunshots, and thus didn’t see a good reason to run toward them as so many other people did. But with our home currently a bit under the weather, we had to back up our things and move into a room for rent at this person’s guest house. At least they lived near the school. Unfortunately, there was no salvaging the fried pork chops.
No, I left the pigs well enough alone. And when, in the dead of night, four large guys snuck through the crime scene tape at my little house and started looking around, I circumvented the piggies yet again.
I appeared behind the last two, arms draped over their shoulders. “Now, this can go two ways. One of them involves violence, like I know y’all are instinctively wanting to do. Except, well, I doubt y’all are packing anything better than that autocannon in your trousers, no matter how happy you are to see me. Eh?”
The ones I grabbed froze. One of the ones in the lead jumped for cover and came up with an end table from Ikea as good at stopping violence as their meatballs. The other put his arms up and asked, “What do you want?”
“I want option number B. Letter two, you might say. You tell me some things that allows me to resolve this situation with a minimum of death for y’all. Because that’s what’s for sake with this bunch here. I won’t torture you, where you can hold out hope you’ll be saved. Nothing where the cops will burst in. Just death. Those you love never know what happens to you. Maybe they think you didn’t care and disappeared on them. Maybe a partner figures you really were cheating on them. Maybe your child grows up thinking you abandoned them and hated them. The party train keeps on rolling, but you’ve been tossed off.”
The guys with my arms around their shoulders seemed particularly aware of how close they were to me while I talked simply of their deaths. Just a matter of fact, like going out to the grocery store and picking up chicken feet for a meal.
The guy with his arms up looked at them, then glanced back at the guy holding up a nightstand. The nightstand fell apart. “In my defense, I didn’t put that together,” I said.
“What do you want to know?” asked the spokesman.
I grinned under my helmet and removed my arms from the two immediately in front of me. I rubbed them together and asked, “First, how’d you track me? Second, who do you work for? Third, where do I find them? Fourth, do you want the money I’m paying you as a bonus in big bills or small bills?”
Wake up, send Qiang off to school with a kiss and a lunch, and add some stuff to the compost pile. Bring in the morning paper, update a list on groceries we need, and catch the latest episode of the canceled hospital-based soap opera “No Fucks To Give.” Then, I move onto business.
It might have taken longer to figure out the bank I needed to go after, but he local papers made mention of it. Oddly enough, they reported more thefts than the two I pulled. Seemed like an odd thing to make public.
I’ve said it before, but most money is kept in computers, not in vaults. I could take more touching the right computer in the place than helping myself to the vault. As ridiculous as I get at times, I am a big proponent of being smart about all the chaos going on. So I scouted the place out. Put on my sunglasses, grabbed a walking stick, and walked in looking for donations.
“Excuse me, can I help you?” asked a polo-shirted employee, no doubt taking in the lovely face I wore. For the sake of the villain whose features I’d appropriated, I made a few alterations, like wearing a wig using subtle makeup to emphasize different features.
“Oh, hello shuge. I was just hoping to set this in here and collect donations for a friend. She’s going through a real bad time right now, what with the diabeetus and the cancer.” I held up the plastic coffee container I’d turned into a makeshift donation can. It wasn’t as deep on the inside as it looked. As hidden compartments go, this one’s pretty crappy. I mean, I’m not working against kickass spies here.
He looked me up and down, not being too subtle about it. He didn’t think I could see, after all. “Are you a member here?”
“No, I’m afraid not. I’m trying to leave these places where people have money. Like, muddin’ tires money,” I told him. He smiled at me playing up the accent and stereotypes. People love feeling superior. His problem is that I’m objectively superior, and he’s too caught up in an accent to realize he’s being played.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I really don’t think we can accommodate you,” the guy responded.
“Really?” I pouted.
He didn’t realize I could see him rolling his eyes at me. “I can speak with my supervisor, but I can’t promise you anything.”
“Oh thank you, that’d be mighty kind of you,” I said. I love plans that hinge on the enemy thinking they’re taking advantage of you. It’s all about knowing their weakness. What will they jump on? What are they compelled to do?
The man walked away into a side room that was kept closed. I caught a glimpse of a refrigerator and microwave, so probably the break room. After a couple of minutes, he came back. “Ma’am, I’ve spoken with my supervisor. I tried to make the case, but I don’t think we can let anyone leave that here. Maybe if you had an account with us, I could persuade him.”
I patted around in my pockets and pulled out some hundreds folded in a way to differentiate them from other currency. By now, y’all shouldn’t be surprised how well money greases the wheels. They got me set up with a bank account under a false name, completely understanding how I didn’t have a driver’s license.
The bank gives these guys an incentive to look good by creating accounts. It’s nothing so shady as the guy claiming I miscounted and was short a hundred or two, but he still decided to lie and take advantage of a blind woman trying to look after a friend. Sure, I can see, and sure, the donation can is just here to help me rob the place. He doesn’t know that. Honestly, he shouldn’t even think that. Therein lies the danger of Psycho Gecko. I can be anyone, anywhere, anywhen provided I hijack the Mobian’s time vessel.
With that taken care of, I didn’t need to stay close. I had chicken and dumplings to cook for my little dumpling. Helping Qiang research cultural heroes of the past is pretty mundane considering my life, but I’m done trying to save the world. The banks can have their incentives, the customers they screw over, the workers who frantically race around the maze looking for that cheese. I’m saving my help for the people who want it, and my give-a-damn for the people worth a damn.
Qiang was off playing in her room and I just finished cleaning up the kitchen when I figured it was time to make my play. The donation can vibrated and the top I’d cut a whole in swung open on a small hinge. The drone hidden in the bottom rose from it and began a circuit of the bank, taking it all in and mapping it for me. Whoopsie, and causing some problems with the cameras. Those darn laser lights are so common nowadays, and closed circuit tv cameras are so easy to zap and render useless.
The vault was a big, heavy piece of work. Nothing I’d want to be trapped inside or try to force open without a bit of help. It was a pretty good one for any bank considering going up against supers. A Vimes 9-7, to be exact. The Vimes series is basically dedicated to be a pain in the ass. Their philosophy seems to be to make themselves inconvenient pains in the ass. They’re dumb safes, too. No biometric scanners, no number pads, no electronics of any sort. Not even any way to wire them for live closed-circuit camera viewing, and the whole thing’s too full of lead and Q-metal for wireless signals to penetrate. Just a duo of combination locks on a rectangular door with a handle that requires a weightlifter to turn.
That’s the Vimes for you: too dumb to fool. So why did the hinges on the door look so different from the catalog?
Yeah, we get the catalogs, too. You know, for our own valuables and doomsday weapons. Makes a good place to trap a hero. And it helps us break into the vaults, which convinces banks to buy newer models of vault. Everybody wins, except the bank. To put that another way, everybody wins.
It was a mystery, but not a very important one. Weak hinges don’t matter a whole lot unless the door’s unlocked. I parked the little drone back in the bottom of the donation can. Then, it was time to get cooking.
The next day, I visited the bank again, once more in disguise as a harmless blind person. I had a box with me. Just a plain, ordinary cardboard box. “Excuse me, I need to rent a safe deposit box,” I said loudly upon entering.
The same guy who helped me before swooped in like a vulture. “I would love to help you with that. Mind the ladders. We suffered a minor electrical issue last night. Is that box what you would like to keep in our vault?”
“This? Oh no, it’s what’s inside the box,” I said. That’s right. Be annoyed by the country bumpkin.
He laughed. “Why don’t I show you to my desk and you show me what’s in the box?” His laugh turned into more of a nervous chuckle when he saw what it was. “A lava lamp?”
It was my turn to laugh, faking it this time. But since I’ve become a woman, I’ve gotten great at faking it. “No, no… well, yes, but not just any lava lamp. This is Andy Warhol’s prized Faberge lava lamp. There’s quite a story behind it.” I sat there quietly for a few seconds.
“I’m sorry, is that it?” he asked.
“No, but I don’t feel like telling the story,” I said. “How much would it cost to stick this valuable piece of pop culture history in your vault?” I rented a safe deposit box and he showed me back there to the vault, open now, and through the daygate. That’s what they call that interior gate that lets them lock the vault while not closing it. Ah, there’s nothing so lovely as seeing cash neatly piled up in a bank vault next to a pair of counting machines.
“Whoops!” I said, dropping my cane and “accidentally” kicking it back out of the vault when I bent down to retrieve it. After a moment’s focus on my bent-over rear, the guy helping me out pushed past me.
“Here, let me get that for you.”
I followed him out. “Oh, thank you.” When he turned back toward me, I took the cane from him and then smacked him over the head with the lava lamp I glued a bunch of broken stained glass onto. Some of it crunched as he dropped to the floor. I whipped around the vault door and broke the lava lamp on the top hinge, making sure to get as much of the goop on the inside on both of the hinges.
I don’t know what was up with their hinges in particular, but I know that vaults have to be opened for some business during the day. And I know that a door built to be inconvenient and hard to swing open or shut really has to hope nothing gums up the hinges and makes it impossible to open… or shut. Think of the mess I stuck in there as a reverse WD-40.
That’s when I signalled the interns. That was my name for the job opportunity I posted online. I could have recruited off VillaiNet, but I’m still lying low. Instead, I turned to the endless stream of out-of-work entertainers and poor interns who could always use some cash. Many of them were quite eager to toss on a balaclava and rush in. Even arming them didn’t cost so much with all the early Black Friday gun deals. One place even threw in a discounted five-pack of Colombian military surplus machetes. That explains why one of the first interns in wore a pirate tricorner hat on top of his ski mask and declared. “Yargh, the dread pirate Machete Jones is here for your booty!”
They had security guards, but the ones up front surrendered pretty easily. There were a pair back there near the vault who had advanced on me once they realized I was up to something, but they’d gotten distracted by the interns. I tripped one with my cane, knocking the wind out of him when he hit the floor. The other had been in the middle of radioing in the problem when I popped him in the crotch. I grabbed the radio away from him and spoke in his voice. “God dammit, it’s one of those stupid prank shows. We’re good here.”
“Really?” Came the response. “Is Ashton Kutcher there or is it the kid from Stranger Things?”
Huh. Ashton Kutcher’s still a thing? I actually felt like I was getting stuck in another mental loop pondering that one. Pretty sure pondering Ashton Kutcher’s career is how Buddhist monks reach enlightenment these days. Regardless, most of my work was done. The interns were eager to load a shitload of money up into bags they brought and daisy chain them out the door into a waiting van. They had the vault empty of cash in five minutes.
I let them go their own way with most of the money, keeping a healthy few bags for myself when they dropped me off at my car. It wasn’t entirely about the money, after all. Which is good, because it turned out that the money wasn’t entirely money either. And when the news announced the millions of dollars stolen in the heist, I realized there’s no way the numbers made sense. If a bank planted hundreds wrapped around fakes to fool robbers, that’d be one thing. But to then report that the fake money was real?
I’m not the only thief involved here, and I don’t mean the career debut of Machete Jones, Pirate of the Great Lakes.
Despite the fact that Medusa is putting me up in a house and paying for my daughter to be educated, I’m still broke and in need of resources. A lot of stuff was tied up with Ricca, and I was always easy-come, easy-go with money and stuff before that. Now, this place already has a musty old basement, so that’ll probably do for a home mad science lab. I need more nanomachines, and the easiest way to get those is to have some in the first place. I have a plan for that, but I need some capital to start with.
There’s not much to the FDA, especially now that the President’s being impeached over that nasty scandal involving stealing soldiers’ corpses and using them as his own private, unaccountable wetwork team. Even before the more recent sudden collapse of the government, it wasn’t the most well-funded of agencies. I dunno, I guess Americans like spit in their food. One weakness is that they don’t give much of a crap about supplements. You could put anything in there. Just think about homeopathy. You want pills to treat lead poisoning? They take a little bit of lead, dilute it with so much water that it’s no longer considered there, and sell them in pills and stuff. Now available at your local CVS.
For all I know, just importing Riccan water might be ok. I don’t keep close enough track of all the regulations about food. But I bet I can get some water imported and sold as some sort of medicinal thing. This water actually would cure what ails people. More importantly, I can command them to break down other materials and create more of themselves, then have them do all the heavy lifting and moving to make some equipment I need. It would have been a whole lot simpler if I could just extract some from my armor… but I tried that. Apparently, after all the recent injuries, I was running on empty. Or if I wasn’t, I was close enough to it not to matter. So I need nanites to do refill this bad boy, too.
I suppose I could try to hunt them down elsewhere. I’m kinda liking my anonymity at the moment, though. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee any particular hospital’s going to have it. So, I dunno, just easier to go with my plan. Or maybe it’s just the first thing I came up with and I like it. Minimal risk of hurting or exposing me. Don’t worry, I’ll expose myself at some point.
See, they’re just the first step. I need a machine to repair and maintain my armor, even upgrade it as necessary. I need one of those for me, too. That talk with Medusa… I don’t know, I still want to steal Dame’s body for some weird reason, but I want to try wearing a different face.
Speaking of putting on a happy face, I finally heard back from Max. Something about switching up email accounts and then Sam had taken a short break from reading me, however she does that. He’s got some medicine in the mail, but he’d love to examine my head sometime. Now, I don’t know the guy to be particularly well-versed in human anatomy, so I’m not so sure about that. But he says it sounds like I’ve been relatively stable since I’ve been away and that maybe the aliens rooted around and fixed something in me. I responded that this can’t be true, because I was still crazy enough to come back to this damn planet.
With that on the way, I just had to find a nice spot for a quick day trip. Like Detroit. Big city, with banks and such there. The trip would have been quicker with a car, but I didn’t have that yet. I really should hunt down my old one, Black Sunshine. Or maybe see about hijacking one of my old Psycho Flyers. If anyone has a right to one, it’s me. Anyway, I waited on the interstate, keeping an eye out for some Monday deliveries. Oh look, a nice, juicy armored car. I hopped up from where I was sitting, invisible to the world, and then hopped on top of the heavy armored vehicle.
I didn’t make the stealthiest landing. There’s a limit to how you can manage that with something that weighs as much as myself in my armor, plus the bags I brought along. The people inside kept driving, probably radioing out that they had an emergency. I went ahead and set the first bag down. I’m not a fan of the encroachment of Christmas on other parts of the year, but this time I emulated that jolly old elf himself by bringing a bag full of goodies. I just had to stand back and light the magnesium fuse. It wasn’t long before the bag started burning a nice little hole in the roof of the armored car, big enough for me to drop in and hop out. This is another area where a car would be idea. Much easier to carry more bags, with additional space for loose bundles. Just like with so much women’s clothing, though, my armor doesn’t have pockets. So while this thing burned, I unfolded the duffel I brought and prepared.
When it looked all clear, I hopped down. A guard stood down there, back against the wall separating the rear of the armored car from the driver’s cabin. His eyes were fixed on the hole in the roof because I was still hidden behind my holographic invisibility. He was waiting to take his shot until he saw whoever it was meaning to come in. So, while he waited, I took one of my own. Right to his balls. I think I knocked at least one of them up inside his torso, which is none too pleasant of an experience. Then I grabbed the gun away, breaking some of his fingers in the process, and tossed it out through the hole.
After that, it was as simple as filling a bag with a bunch of cash and leaping free. The guard didn’t put up the biggest fight, but I guess he figured he’d taken enough of one that no one was going to accuse him of not doing his job. And I got away with enough money to place a down payment.
After that, it was time to do some shopping. As always, I frequented the little electronics store around Radium. I know places where I can get bucketfuls of spare cell phones for parts, but it’s a police auction website. I’d rather not pay the people who want to hunt me down if I can help it, so instead I paid some eager middle-aged guy who hadn’t seen this kind of business in his entire life.
After that, my nefarious plan involved getting a few new dresses, tights, pants, skirts, boots, blouses, coats, and the number of somebody who can do manicures and pedicures. What? A big part of being a villain is presentation and style. And apparently Medusa’s idea of a joke is to give me a wardrobe with, like, lumberjack shirts and superhero fan t-shirts. I’m not going to walk around with a new “Honky Tonk Hero is My Homie” shirt on any longer than I can. I used to be suicidal, after all. That kind of shirt is a health risk. And a real downer that he ever sank that low. Damn, Elvis being back must have put a damper on his career.
I also had enough money to get myself a car, and the pieces I needed to make a few upgrades to it. That would come in real handy for the next job. I said I had enough for a down payment. The costs of turning water into homeopathic cough syrup are a little higher than that. So I set out once again, parking well away from the interstate. This time, I set a second burn off, this one smaller and above the same area a guard was sat last time. I reached down and saw, yep, a guard there at the ready like last time. I think it was even the same guard. I poked him in the eyes, causing him to cover them up and fire widely.
I dropped through the other hole, arms loaded with bags, and tossed them onto the floor of the compartment. The guard dropped his magazine out of his pistol and went to put a fresh one in, looking out with one eye from behind his hand. He could see the bags, but not me. I made my presence felt by dropping to one knee and giving him a solid straight to the sack.
He doubled over, trying not to puke. “Oh god, the other one.”
“Hey, don’t throw up,” I said. “If you throw up, it’ll make me want to throw up.” I helped him upright. “Breath, ok. Just breath.” I turned visible again and raised a hand, holding up fingers. “Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”
“Three?” he said, looking at my hand, then looking me over.
I tossed him against the compartment wall. “Not the question I asked!”
With him disoriented, it was easy enough to grab some zip ties off his belt and hogtie him. Then I started filling the bags, even tossing one out with the top open to create a distraction. The cops will have a hell of a time getting the roads cleared with that many hundreds around.
I heaved several bags into my car and didn’t find out it was all Monopoly money until I got back to the house. Those… urgh! It’s more embarrassing than anything, but think of how mean that was to the guard. That’s two nuts I hit him in. I’m assuming that’s all he has, but you never know. The man might not have children, when he could have just sat around not trying to stop anything this time.
I know what y’all are thinking. The old me, the less secure, less stable Gecko, would have burned the bank that did this to the ground, hunted down the CEO, and impaled him on a pole. But I’m a changed woman. A caring mother. I don’t have time for all that when I have a child to take care of and feed. She’s got some sort of history project coming up she needs help on, after all. And I still have to see about getting my nails done.
So I’ll settle for everything in their vault and the satisfaction of knowing I’ve still got it.
Qiang threw things at me. That hurt more than my nose. And I think I deserve it. I guess I didn’t really have to go running off. My contributions were minimal. I helped get some information out, and I was kidnapped by the supervillain.
I was the damn damsel. I’ve been captured before, but was I really all that necessary? If I’d stayed, would it have changed anything? My kid wouldn’t hate me. So.. yeah. Qiang’s not happy and locked herself in her room. I finally got to see the house through the eyes of my little puppet. A bit of a step down from having the world handed to her in a palace, with friends and family and an adoring populace.
I’m gonna have to talk to her about that. And so many other things. The birds and the bees, and how to kill them. Body parts and how to use them. And… what? I don’t get into any adventures that take me away too long? I’m not fond of the idea of settling down into some nothing job. The Exemplars appear to have their business well enough in hand.
I headed down the hallway in my own body, feeling my way along. There weren’t any pictures on the wall. I’d left her in an empty house. Shelter.
I sat down next to her door, wondering why the hell I thought I could take care of her. “Honey… I messed up.” I didn’t know if it’d matter to say sorry. I just got back from space and being possessed by Mr. Omega, and immediately run off. There’s some shit going on in that young mind that I don’t know how to fix. “I love you, but adults have problems. I have a lot of problems. That’s not your fault and it’s my job to be here for you anyway. I failed. I didn’t want to be left out. It was selfish. I’ve been failing a lot lately.”
She didn’t respond, but I heard her moving around in there. I realized, I haven’t even seen her room. Part of that’s because I have eyes, but my abilities don’t make that much of an excuse. Besides, I’ve got an extra pair now. One good thing about about having the second body to pilot around: I went shopping with that one while I stayed next to Qiang’s door, waiting. I eventually coaxed her out with a plate of spaghetti and meatballs that she ate without talking to me.
I didn’t end up seeing Medusa again until the day after I got back, while Qiang was away at school. I was disturbed by a ringing sound that made me think my ears had malfunctioned. It turns out we had a landline in the house. A landline, of all things. I picked it up and answered, “County morgue.”
“Psycho Gecko?” Medusa asked.
“She’s here alright. Victim of a broken heart.” If I could have sent an image of puppydog eyes, I would have.
“Alright, it’s time for us to talk for real. Meet me at the super school’s gym, with just your real body.”
I took a breathe, gauging her tone. “Sounds like I’m not going to be too happy about this.”
She sighed. “We need to talk. I have your costume, too.”
I knew this was going to suck, but she did have my armor. Away I went out bundled up against the cold and went to school. Could have gotten a camera, but I don’t have money. Just a little damn house, that I’m stuck in because she’s paying to take care of my kid. I go on some sort of rampage, that could end. Or I just couldn’t live with my daughter. Yeah, I began to get a bit pissed off. Some of it, I knew, was me stoking the anger to deal with what was coming. It also occurred to me that I might be on to something. She stayed after finding out I loved her. No, maybe she already knew. I began to wonder just how much of this was her using me. She even used my armor as leverage to get me to this little talk.
A part of me I was surprised to hear chimed in to point out she has a lot of good reasons not to trust me. And that the trust we would need to survive as a couple can’t come from ignoring problems and hiding them away. We need a good, long talk, maybe even a chance to punch each other in the face again. Damn, I think odd things without my medication. I need to get a hold of Max soon, see about him sending me even more.
I figured I’d be going in blind at the gym, but detected one of those little body cam things people like to wear on their heads, laying on a table by the door. I connected to it and saw a little note had been left in front of it. “For Gecko,” it read. I went ahead and put it on, then went inside.
It was a heck of a gym. They built it so the walls could open, probably for changing the circumstances. When I got there, it was empty of students or anybody else. Toasty, too. I shed layers to reveal some workout clothes underneath. Easy clothing to move in.
Now, there weren’t any students, but there was a sparing mat in the middle of the floor. I recognized the pile on it as my armor. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d say this smelled like a trap. I discovered upon walking closer to the armor that it also smelled a like cinnamon. I heard her swing down from the rafters upon me picking it up, dressed in some workout shorts and a top. No costume or power armor for her.
“You and me on a mat for fighting. Why do I get the feeling this talk involves some cathartic punching?” I asked.
“Because I’d like to, but that’s up to you,” Medusa answered. “You trusted this wasn’t a trap, right?”
I nodded, so she continued. “And if we fight, you trust me not to kill or seriously wound you?”
I nodded again. She ran at me and went for a flying kick. I ducked and tossed me armor into the air, where it smacked into her face. She tried to get her feet down in time, but she misjudged it without her sight and skidded on her ass. She laughed as she rose and I wrapped my arms around her waist. I picked her up and slammed her on the ground, which stopped the laughing, but she caught me with an elbow to the empty socket and nose. She wiggled around and got my neck in a hold, locking her feet around my waist. I stood back up, fingers digging into her shirt to keep her in place, then belly flopped on top of her. She loosened her grip, but it smacked my head against the mat, too. I twisted around to break out of the neck hold, which worked, but she adjusted and grabbed my arm for an armbar. I started to stand, but she kicked me in the face, hard. So I tickled her feet. She growled, probably to keep from laughing.
I stood up again to slam her again. She dropped out of the armbar and landed on her feet, still holding my arm. She pushed her hips into mine and threw me over her. I rolled and came up with both forearms ready to block her kick to my face. Turns out, she kicked from the other direction, with the other leg. The momentum left her open when I grabbed her other foot and yanked it out from under her, sending her to the mat with an undignified “Oomph!”
“Is this who we are? Opponents?” I asked, taking a moment to catch my breath. “Always fighting?”
Sensing this wasn’t just a trick, Medusa pushed up more slowly. “I would be lying if I said it wasn’t part of the appeal.”
I stopped, tapping the air with one finger while I followed the negatives in that sentence to make sure of what she was saying. I settled back down onto my butt. “So there is some appeal?”
“Yeah,” she said, scooting around to sit beside me. “I know you think I’m a goody two-shoes. You think I’d sleep with you if I didn’t care about you?”
“I don’t know. It’s just… I have trust issues. One girlfriend turned on me and tried to kill me for good reason. You’ve got every reason to hate me. You cost me my throne, and it feels like you’re using Qiang to keep me in line.”
She put an arm around me. “I should have talked more with you about letting the Riccans have their country back. I love you and see you have your heart in the right place, but I think you’re still so independent. So if you’re in charge, you’re a dictator who runs off and has adventures while other people clean up messes for you. You don’t know what’s best for you.”
“I’m getting a little bit of a Dom/Sub vibe from all this,” I mentioned.
Medusa threw back her head and laughed. When she settled down, she looked at me. “Maybe some of that is in there. There’s something about fighting you, hating you, giving in to you. I just got my independence, it feels like. I’m finally breaking away from a strict, ordered life I didn’t have much say in. You know what that’s like. Maybe this is some kind of late-blooming rebelliousness, and every daddy hates you. And, god, I can fight you. You’re clever and a match for me. But then you talked about kids with me. I love Qiang, but you and I feel very new and experimental. We’re both still finding out who we are and what kind of future we want, right?”
I nodded along. “Yeah, that makes sense. I guess I should take it a little slower with you. Get to know you better.”
“You should get to know you better,” she insisted. “Don’t be an Empress because you feel you have to be. Why did you decide to become Qiang’s parent?” she asked.
“I saw a lot of myself in that kid, and I wanted better for her, and began to care for her,” I said.
She nodded along, hair bouncing. “I see that in her too. And you. We’re broken toys, looking for a new purpose. You want to give her the chance to be who she wants to be. You should do the same for yourself, as much as you can. You know you still have obligations to that girl.” She raised a finger toward me.
I kissed the tip of it. She booped me on the nose and smiled. I was smiling too, turns out. Don’t know how she turned me around after that mood I was in. “Hey, want to come over and have dinner tonight?”
“You’re not going to dress up your sex doll in a maid outfit, are you?” she asked.
I stuck my tongue out at her, then said, “She’s not a sex doll. She’s a one-up.”
“If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you have a dominant streak too,” she winked at me.
“I thought we didn’t know each other too well,” I responded.
She pulled me against her. “I know you have some issues with yourself, and that you make yourself look unnaturally beautiful when possible. You try to look like other people and take over their bodies.” She ran her fingers through my hair, a copy of Dame’s. “I want to see the real you some day, when you’re comfortable showing the world.”
I’ll show her. I’ll show them all the power of Psycho Gecko, supervillain single mother!
As nice as things went, they couldn’t last. After the events of that big reunion, I ended up sleeping 14 hours straight in a little house Medusa had rented for us. She’d gotten it for my eventual return, and Qiang had been living here on her own without me. Seemed a bit irresponsible, but she assured me this street was full of friendly families who kept an eye on her.
I woke to find Medusa telling Qiang to let me know there was an emergency and she had to go.
“What happened?” I asked, sitting up.
“Someone’s attacking the base. I need to get back,” she said.
“Ok, let’s go,” I said, rising up from the couch. I felt a little weak, as happens when you sleep that long, but at least my stomach wasn’t growling just yet.
“This is my group, and you’re not involved,” she said. I felt her hand against my chest, and then her lips against my cheek.
“I mean, my armor is back there. And you’re important to me,” I said.
“I’ll do what I can for your armor, but the Exemplars are my group. You don’t have to help with hero business because we’re a couple. You have a daughter to worry about, and a chance for peace. We just got you back. I think we’re tired of you running into danger.”
“Yeah!” Qiang added.
I didn’t really know what to say to that because they had somewhat of a point. I think the fact that I passed out for 14 hours speaks to a certain degree of tiredness, but she was more right about that separation between our agendas. And it can’t be good for my kid to constantly worry about me that way. And the worry I’m feeling is the same damn thing they tend to end up feeling when I decide it’s time to run off and punch a god in the nuts or something.
So I let her go. Besides, it gave me time to stop by an electronics store and start working on a couple of eyes. There are still traffic cameras and cell phones in this little town, enough that I managed to find my way there and back. It felt a little bit like an old school survival horror game, the ones with fixed camera angles for each new room or section. Unfortunately, we aren’t in Colorado, where I can use a little green herb to take care of any pain from wounds I suffer fighting the undead. Which explains a lot about how hard it was to aim in those games, or how you couldn’t climb over a picket fence to escape a monster.
I also grabbed some candy. It’s a risky move when I can’t see what I’m eating, but I’ve yet to meet the candy that can kill me. I wasn’t even thinking about paying, but Medusa snuck some cash into my pockets at some point. Darn reverse pick-pocketing.
Qiang wasn’t back from school when my attempts to build an eyeball from scratch were interrupted by a ringing doorbell. I got up from the table where I had some cheap burner phones set up to help me see and trundled over to the door. I opened it and heard a guy ask, “Oh. I’m sorry to interrupt you, ma’am. Are you the only one home?”
The person sounded a bit stiff. One phone camera gave me enough of a view to see it was a pair of suits at the door. I played dumb. “Yes. Who are you and what is this regarding?”
“Ma’am, we’re from the government and we have reason to believe a fugitive was in the area recently. If you don’t mind, we’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“I’m sorry, who are you with specifically?” I asked. I stepped out onto the front porch and pulled the door closed behind me so they wouldn’t see I was building something.
“We’re with the FBI,” said the other of the two guys. “I’ve got my ID in my wallet, but it’s not in braille.”
“Oh. And what’s this all about? What fugitive?” I asked.
The first one spoke again. “Do you know of the supevillain Medusa?” he asked. Ah yes, the woman so evil, she snuck money into my clothes so I wouldn’t steal candy from a baby.
“I think I’ve heard the name before,” I said. “She was around here? I didn’t hear about any big fights or anything.” And I’m pretty sure people whose kids are at the school she’s funding make up a huge part of this little town now. I’m not going to pretend assholes don’t exist, but it seems weird for them to call up the Feds over this. I mentally reminded myself not to underestimate human stupidity. The United States in particular, as a country that’s had an anti-vaccine movement longer than it had access to vaccines.
“We received an anonymous tip that she was in the area,” the first guy said.
The second guy scoffed. “We know she was in your house. We have questions we want you to answer.”
Now it was my time to scoff. “You should ask them of whatever meth head you say saw her in my house.”
“You don’t understand, ma’am,” the first one said. “We know she was here.”
Someone else came walking up. “The house is clear. No other heat signatures.”
“You need probable cause to look in there!” I shouted at the newcomer. I’ve been in enough legal trouble to learn a thing or two, though I’m not clear on the legal status of using thermal goggles to search a house. I’d say some bureaucrat would require a good reason to justify breaking them out, but I also know a lot of law enforcement is happy to use any excuse they can get to use their fancy toys.
I decided to spy through any nearby cameras, half expecting to see a whole armed task force surrounding the area. Instead, it was just these three guys and their SUV parallel parked on the street in front of this house. I pushed past the two suits on the porch, stepped over these weird decorative grasses that bordered the sidewalk to the fence and street, and gave the man with the thermal goggles a good, stiff poke in the chest. “Get out of here.”
I heard a sound like a metal snap being undone behind me. A security camera nearby showed one of the suits back there putting his hand on the arm of his comrade and shaking his head in the negative. When the one who unsnapped his gun holster spoke, I recognized it as the less tactful second voice that I’d been hearing in all this. “Ma’am, where’s your walking stick?”
The other guy back there, First Voice, started to say, “We’re friends, we promise. We’re not here to-” but then the guy in front of me pulled his handgun on me. I grabbed his arm and threw him over me, taking the gun off him before releasing him to crash into the guy who’d undone his holster. The other one had his hands up, though, so I hesitated. Maybe Medusa’s rubbing off on me.
“Who are you? What are you here for?” I asked.
First Voice was calm. “We really are with the FBI. I’m Richard Daniels. We’re suspicious of the Freedom Legion task force that is hunting Medusa and her Exemplars. One of her Exemplars broke into a secure facility and found something. Now, she’s the Legion’s Enemy Number One. I’ve worked with her before and I trust her. Mazur and Ohanian here believe the Legion are rotten. We found out they traced her GPS, then found out it led here, and came to warn her and find out what she’d found before they could get to her first.”
“Is that true, Mazur?” I asked, wondering if both of the other two would speak up to try and fit the cover story.
Second Voice grunted as he stood up and brushed himself off. “Something is off about those Legion freaks. I know CIA spooks with more of a paper trail.”
The third guy also stood up. “I’m Ohanian. Mazur’s my partner. I lost an informant to a Freedom Legion op and they stonewalled when I looked into the casualties or even why they bothered blowing up an apartment building. We’re not all dirty. Look, can we talk out of the open?”
I decided to keep Ohanian’s gun with me as we got into their SUV, but I sat in the front seat. Not the driver’s seat, as I doubted they’d put any more trust into my braille method of driving than Medusa did. They began to bombard me with their doubts. No one saw the Legion without their heads covered. Nobody knows if they’re supers or if they’re being made. Nobody knows where they get their tips, or what evidence they use to justify raids.
“Slow down, you’re talking over each other,” I said, waving my hands around.
“Oh shit, get out!” Daniels shouted suddenly. I heard the doors open and and tried to get mine open, but I needed a moment to hunt down the handle. I started to get out and-
It took me a moment to get my bearings. I’d been thrown a bit. And was on fire. A lot of parts on me hurt, and my ears were coming back online. I heard shouting and gunfire, along with some whooshing and buzzing sounds. It took me a moment to get back to the camera view of the area, where I saw a tall, thick-bodied Freedom Legionnaire tossing around the trio of supposed FBI agents. He had Ohanian by the neck. Mazur approached, shooting at the Legionnaire’s arm. The bullets penetrated, but the masked super didn’t react except to swipe at Mazur with his other arm. Mazur fell onto the chain link fence in front of my house, leaving blood, fabric, and some flesh behind on the twines at the top. Daniels stumbled over to him, not walking right, and tried to check on him.
Well, I tried to stay out of this fight, but it’s literally right here at my home. The place my daughter lives. Physically, I hurt like hell. I blew my nose to spray out some of the blood filling my nose, and just kinda ignored my clothes burning. From the camera view, it’s not like it was burning me up. But the thought of that thing being here when my daughter got back?
“If I had my way,” I heard in my head as I pulled myself up, but that was the music player responding to me seeing a cone of flame burst from the big guy’s hand to catch Daniels, who proceeded to stop, drop, and roll. Shirley Manson, Bear McCreary, “Samson and Delilah.”
I stood up, slowly, feeling body parts complain. Had to jam my arm back into place. I began to walk toward the Legionnaire who just blew me up, the clothes burning off me. I could even see the smile grow on my face.
The Legionnaire spotted me and dropped Ohanian, who I guess was still alive. The big guy raised his hands. He went for the flamethrower again, but I ran through it, right at him. He took a stance and swung when I got in range. I ducked under it and did a rolling punch that caught him right in the cock and balls. Didn’t seem to do much to him. He grabbed me by my hair with one hand and punched me in my bloody nose with the other. I punched through that stupid, faceless helmet of his and scrabbled around for an orifice. I found the mouth and reached in with the other hand.
“Rargh!” I growl-yelled as I tore the upper half of the big guy’s head off. He dropped me to the ground and fell himself, the body twitching at the sudden loss of a brain signal.
“Jesus,” Ohanian said.
“Not quite,” I said, smiling down at him. Not exactly a reassuring sight, what with blood soaking my lips and running over my teeth from the nose. “You can call me Delilah if you want. Or if you need a codename, Blind Bombshell will do.”
While one of the first instincts I had with finding Medusa again was to toss her in bed and not stand up again until my legs needed to be popped back into my hips. Medusa insisted we not do that in the middle of everyone, or even back at the base. Or after the first shower. And I was opposed to putting on that suit with it all stinky, so I had it washed and hanging up to dry. She was taking so long to find me some clothes that I just started wandering around the base without them. The GPS put me… underneath a lot of lead. Wow. That can’t be healthy. Smart, though, as long as they don’t try to eat it.
So I set out. Opened the door, turned left, and bonked my head on the door frame because it turned out I didn’t make it all the way out of the door before turning. Still missing my eyes. I tried walking around with my hand on the wall, but I didn’t seem to find anything as near as I can tell. Blind people are a lot better at this than I am. I mean, I’m blind now, without my eyes. I don’t have lots of experience being blind. I don’t even have a stick to smack people with for being sightseeing smartasses.
Eventually, I stopped and threw my hands up. “Is this place fucking empty or what?!”
Someone nearby spoke up, “Everyone’s shocked to see a naked blind woman walking around.”
I pointed in the direction I heard them from. “Aha! Hiding, are you? Quick, somebody give me one of those sticks for blind people so I can get smackin’.”
“I’ve got this,” I heard Medusa say. Soon, I felt her arm around my shoulder, directing me back the way I came. “Come on, let’s get you back to the room.”
“You were lying about getting me clothes,” I said. It was a bit of an immediate buzzkill to the happy reunion, and a reminder of the bad times that led to me getting into a situation where I allowed Omega to possess me.
“I-” she started, then stopped talking while we walked. “I don’t think you should be inserting yourself into Exemplar until we’ve talked. We need to talk after everything that happened. I thought I lost you.”
“Psh, tossing me into another dimension? Come on, babe, minor inconvenience for me at this point,” I said.
“They forced Omega into its own pocket dimension. You could have been stuck there. That’s not the only way I lost you,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Hey, before we have this big talk and maybe end up saying things we shouldn’t say to each other, maybe I should get a chance to see my daughter. I have an idea where she might be, but I get the feeling I’m not going to like it.” As she led me through a doorway, I remarked that, “Is naked Psycho Gecko going to cause you some troubles already?”
She brushed my hair away to kiss me on the cheek. “No, but everyone will think you’re Dame right now. You look exactly like her,” she said. “I’m going to bring you clothes, I promise, but you need to stay in here, alright?”
“Fine, fine,” I said, checking around for something to sit on. I thought I found a stool, but I’m pretty sure it was some sort of round nightstand.
Despite the fact that I guess we might break up, Medusa was honest this time and brought back something for me to wear. I reciprocated by not wandering around and messing up whatever she’s doing and wherever she’s doing it at.
I also cooperated when I was led, shoeless and blind, to wherever they launch the Psycho Flyer from. My darn aircraft, quite possibly some of my soldiers, working for her instead of me. Or maybe she just stole or bought a bunch of it. I can imagine the new regime over there not locking things down as quickly as necessary. “Was that one of my bases?” I asked.
She sat next to me. “No. It belonged to a cult I stopped. We have so much ammo and explosives now.”
“But you did steal some of my power armor and at least one of my Psycho Flyers, like what we’re traveling in,” I said.
“Oh, sorry, let me get that door for you. No, we’re going in a car this time.” She said that about the time I came to a hunk of metal that did not, in fact, appear to be a state of the art VTOL. If I had to guess from how the exterior felt, I’d say it wasn’t even state of the art in the 80s. Ok, so I got it wrong about where we were and what we were traveling in. But I could still open a door, sit down, and buckle in all by myself, and I did so.
It was a long trip, and for obvious reasons Medusa did all the driving. I offered to take over, but she didn’t believe that I could stick a hand out and tell when a car was coming my way through braille. I freely admit it only works the first time.
Instead of addressing the awkward stuff, Medusa and I talked about a different elephant in the room. “Where did you go?”
“Space,” I said. “The final frontier. I thought you’d have Sam cluing you in still. She reads me.”
“Holly, Sam, and Max didn’t stick with us once we made sure Qiang would be safe. They’re your friends, not mine.”
Nice to know she didn’t end up stealing everything. Don’t have to answer any questions about that alien planting a kiss on me. At least, I hope it was a kiss. I don’t want to vomit out a bunch of alien babies in a few weeks. “Anyway, I appeared in space. Hitchhiked with some aliens for a bit. Got probed a few times. Then, I briefly got into publishing and attended an opera before they froze me, flew to Earth, stole some cows, and dumped me out in the field.”
After a few minutes of silence, she responded with, “I can’t tell if you’re joking. Hey, what happened to your eyes?”
“I got shot in one of them by an alien. I didn’t have a helmet or anything.”
“And the other?”
“I threw it into his mouth to choke him. The aliens didn’t bother giving me any replacements even though I saved them. Instead, I was too dangerous to be left roaming around.” I pantomimed throwing my hands up in alarm.
Medusa snorted. “Now it makes more sense. You didn’t start a war with an alien empire, did you?”
I shook my head, but didn’t say anything. After a couple of minutes of me not responding, I felt Medusa patting my shoulder. “You ok?”
“Just thinking,” I said, turning and faking a smile in what I thought was far enough for her.
“About what?” she asked. Damn, she asked. Now I have to lie.
I think I’m broke. I have no resources, no place to lay low, no way to repair my armor, no way to build more armors. No matter how nice this reunion is, I’ll still have to throw on the armor when I get back and start smashing things open until I have the money to pay for Qiang’s care. And even if things turn out cool between Medusa and I, she’s not fond of my robbing places. Then comes the inevitable choice between the two of them, the bitter break-up with Medusa, and making sure I don’t live a life of lingering resentment at my daughter for costing me the chance to be with Medusa. “Nothing.”
“How long have you been back?” she asked.
I answered, “About a week. Got back, tried to figure out what was going on around here, looked for Qiang and you, and went to go fetch that Core guy to find you.”
After that, she wanted to hear more, and I told her most of the story. Again, not the alien smooch. From there, we started rocking along to the radio, with her shushing me after I made the mistake of starting to sing. “Babe, no, I’m driving,” she said. I resorted to air guitar and drumming on the dash.
Then she stopped. “Get in the backseat.”
“Ooh, somebody got worked up,” I said, crawling back there and onto a bunch of clothes she had piled up. “Wow, your car is a mess.”
“There’s a heavy coat and boots in there. It’s October. It’s cold out there. Hey, hand me that coat under your left hand.”
Cold fucking shower, that’s what I got. But then, when I got outside the car, she stuck a phone in my hand and said, “Take a look around.”
I bonded to it pretty quickly and was disappointed in the lack of nudes. Which is a good thing, dammit. Sure, I don’t get them, but it means she’s not sending nudes to someone else. But I’d really like to see her naked. She gets to see me, but I can’t go the other way. And she’s really fun to look at nude, meaning both when I’m nude and when she’s nude. Really, extra nudity makes most situations more enjoyable. Ever watch cops go through canine training without the big puffy protective suit on, or any clothes at all?
Through the lens of Medusa’s phone, I saw a little town, with a little school and a little post office and a little set of fast food places, and a Super Wal-Mart, and a little school. Huh. I went back. One’s a combined elementary, middle, and high school. The other had newer signs announcing it as a private school for the gifted.
“Ok, what am I looking at?” I asked.
“Welcome to Radium, Minnesota, home of the Cupertino School of the Gifted. It’s named after St. Joseph of Cupertino, who was gifted with flight.”
“Allegedly,” I said.
“Really?” she asked. “You just got done fighting space Nazis.”
“I never said they were space Nazis. I don’t have any evidence that they believe in the tenets of National Socialism. They could just be space fascists,” I pointed out. While I quibbled with that, I saw the schools let out. A bunch of kids left both schools, some of them waving to each other or going to meet up at the fast food restaurants. One of them just took off and flew, right there in public. “Wow.. not keeping your super school a secret?”
“This is the middle of nowhere, and they’re getting along well. And I think we have pretty good protection,” she said. I zoomed in as some older kids came out, including ones with leather jackets and lots of piercings. There was even one lady that looked a lot like Spinetingler’s daughter.
“What the fuck?” I asked. “She’s a bit old for school.”
“I made sure to hire good psychiatrists and I reached out to Spinetingler after her daughter appeared this one time and tried to take over- you know what, it’s a long story. We’re taking down some filthy rich people and we have so much money. We have some villains’ children attending, and some people from poor families that would be likely to turn to crime. This is going to be a school for everyone. Neutral ground. That includes…” she turned to the school. We waited a half minute, then Qiang walked out.
I gave Medusa a slow cap. But while she laughed, I ran down the street, dodged a car, and across the next street toward Qiang. By then, she was already walking down the road away from the other school, so I had to raise the phone again, get a lead on her, and start running some more. I grabbed her in a hug, at which point she started screaming and elbowing me.
“It’s me! It’s mommy!” I dropped her. She turned and threw a punch. I dodged. She punched again, which I caught. She tried to stomp on my foot, but I raised my foot and caught it under her knee. She spun around and aimed the other foot for my face. I dropped her completely and let her fall. She stood up, pouting and crying. Then she hugged me.
“I missed you so much, baby,” I said, hugging her back tightly. Then Medusa joined us.
And even if that basic hero bitch breaks up with me, all is right with the world.
The Dudebot reawakened. I looked around to find out where they’d stored the thing. Looks like they packed a lot of my stuff together, but I didn’t recognize the room offhand. My things weren’t dumped haphazardly, though they could have treated my fucking dresses better. I lifted up one that they’d set on my armor chamber and ran unfeeling robotic hands over the badly-wrinkled fabric. I tossed it back down and crawled over the whole mess to make it to the door on the other side.
They had locked it. I kicked it. When it didn’t open, I kicked it again. I charged the gauntlets and slammed them into it, knocking the door open. It swung to the side, one tough fucking door, and I stepped out to discover my things had been vaulted. It was a short corridor of vaults that. Had to break my way out of a door at the end and climbed up some stairs to find out I was in a bank. Huh. And here I thought they’d stick my crap in a storage closet somewhere. I guess they didn’t want anyone playing with my toys.
It looked like one of the nicer banks, which gave me an idea what part of town we were in. The ones in the residential section were a little less plush. I think a bank tried to set up shop in the recreational part of town, but drunk supervillains didn’t bother to make any deposits before they withdrew. That put me in the same area the bigger banks set up. Corporations love to have an office in countries that don’t extradite.
I’ll give them credit, I had to bitchslap the doors open, too. They made the whole building tough. I walked out to find a crowd of Buzzkills and Island Security. The Sec guys looked disheveled. They were half out of uniform from what I could see of them above the cars they arrived in or the barricades they unloaded. The Buzzkills lowered their Stingers, but most of the Sec guys kept theirs up.
I stopped, arms akimbo. “Bow.”
The Buzzkills did, save for a couple. They looked at each other, then one started rushing around, trying to pick up Buzzkills. The other approached me, motioning for the Security guys to lower their weapons. “I must apologize, Imperial Mother, but you are not Empress anymore.”
“As your Empress, I say otherwise. Now, bow,” I ordered.
“We don’t need or want you!” A Security officer yelled at me.
The one next to him slapped him upside the head, but added her own two cents. “By order of Empress Qiang and her Regent, Queen Beetrice, you are sentenced to exile until we’ve established a stable and secure government for us, for the people.”
“This sounds more like something you were told to say, not some spontaneous will of the people. I did so much for you. I made the island safe in a time of chaos. Restored order. Corrupt politicians? Out of a job or dead. We even have a whole new island. And not a peep from y’all. No protests or signs or letters.”
“You, uh, tended to kill people who caused you trouble,” said the second Sec officer.
“Doesn’t mean I’d have killed you,” I answered.
The Buzzkill spokeswoman decided to rejoin the conversation. “Imperial Mother… all the attacks and villainy.”
I looked back over their faces, trying to read them. The Buzzkills were… sad, maybe? But the humans were scared or angry. This next part wasn’t going to help that. I activated the eye laser on the Dudebot. I sheared a barricade in half and took a Security officer’s arm with it. He fell, screaming. Before I could move onto the next target, a large stinger lodged knocked the Dudebot’s head back. Laser shot into the sky and the energy barrier over the island. It didn’t go through, of course.
The Buzzkills and Security officers unloaded on the Dudebot. They didn’t have enough firepower to puncture the armor on this model. I lowered my head slowly, cutting the laser. I wanted them to watch as everything they tried did nothing. A few of them made for their cars and came up with grenades. The Buzzkills tried to stop them, but nonviolently.
I shrugged and jumped the Dudebot out of there, bounding from rooftop to rooftop toward the palace. Alarms spread throughout the city I’d come to think of as my own. It seemed weird to think they were signaling that I was a danger to them, but it was true enough a few years back.
I skidded to a stop in front of the palace, where there were guards, Buzzkills, and some regular citizens who decided to pelt me with produce. Mangoes were mangled hitting me. Squashes squished. They didn’t yell at me before this little coup, but they yelled plenty now. The words they said were a hell of a lot freakier. “You won’t hurt her!”
I thought that would give me pause, but I kept walking. The Nasty Surprise popped out, a threat. The Buzzkills fired stingers at me and formed a human wall with the Sec officers and civilians present. Human/Buzzkill wall, I guess.
I was going to kill all of them. I knew it. Forget maiming like back at the bank. More than anything, I wanted to make those clueless peasants in front of me feel pain. I wanted to just let my anger loose. Destroy and kill, again and again after all these wastes of people did to me. I didn’t realize how much of a state I was in until I heard my daughter’s voice cry out.
Qiang wiggled through the human wall and ran toward me. I retracted the Nasty Surprise and bent down, holding my arms wide. I missed her, even for that short amount of time. It was the uncertainty over seeing her again and not knowing if she was a pawn in some scheme. But she was there now, in my arms, hugging me. I wish I could have felt it.
“I’m sorry I left. I didn’t know they’d do this,” I told her.
“I’m sorry too, mommy. I don’t want to be Empress now. They said if I did, you’d be safe. I want you to be safe.”
We just hugged. The crowd had the decency to shut up, but then another moodkiller arrived in her own power armor.
Medusa, Venus, whatever she wanted to call herself; the fucker who had a hand in all this. Giving people ideas about self-determination and stirring up trouble. Having the shield put up and cutting me off from using my portaholes. She bent down and tried to join our hug.
I stood up, pushing her away. “How fucking dare you?”
She held her hands up. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t how I wanted this to happen.”
I glared at her as best I could while remotely controlling a robot with three fake eyes. Luckily, my nemesis has a good imagination and knows me well enough to understand what I was trying to do. I could tell from her lip. It was an apologetic lip. “So nice to know the woman I love has it in her to stab me in the back and exile me far from everything I care about except Mix N’Max. Do you know why they call it heartbreak?”
She nodded. “I do. But I want to know how you are able to get through right now.” Yep, quick enough on the uptake that she asked a really important question. The second most important question out of those asked that day, in fact.
The Dudebot lit up red and began to warp. Medusa called into a radio to, “Maximum strength on the shield!”
It distracted her long enough for me to get her with a cheap shot to her firm abs. She caught the next one and kicked the Bot’s knee hard enough to topple it, throwing off a follow-up. Before I could try the laser, the connection ended.
I came back to myself, over in California. California, California, not California, Pennsylvania. I was in some house the Dusk Priest, Shockley, found for us to stay in. I opened my eyes and let myself float to the ground. I’d been sitting in midair, cross-legged like I was meditating.
“Your new method of spying failed?” asked the old man. He had put on a dress shirt, pants, and a tie after leaving his Snuggie behind. He kept an athame clipped to his belt next to a pouch of sand in case he needed to do anymore weird magic stuff or blind somebody for a minute.
“Even with my new power, they have a way to fend me off. Temporarily, at least,” I said, smiling. “Originality doesn’t matter that much. Everything fundamentally comes down to the same old principles and stories, and I know some guaranteed ways to do what needs to be done.”
“Don’t you know enough to build it here? Or there?” he pointed in a random direction. “Or anywhere?”
“This is the price she asked for, Priest,” I chided the man. “Wait for me here and don’t fret; soon, we will be on our way to pay in accordance with our deal.”
He didn’t seem happy, but I don’t get his complaint. He got to hang out in a mansion.
Meanwhile, I flew, armor left behind with the weight of mortality. I shot up through the ceiling, envisioning a barrier of my own that punched a hole for me to avoid getting any splinters in my long, crimson hair. I smiled as I hit zoomed into the night sky, the crescent moon illuminating my scarlet skin. It wouldn’t have been so easy to make out the black, long-sleeved dress, or the harlequin green and Mardi Gras purple of the legging stripes that lead into a pair of black booties. The white glow of my eyes and the Omega symbol on my chest were much easier to make out.
My joy of flying was bolstered by the experience at it I felt in the back of my mind. That kept me from getting too distracted on my way to the Master Academy. In a part of the country with such high land prices and a lot of homeless people looking for somewhere to camp, the Academy and its walls stood out.
I waved a hand in the air and left behind a red trail. The walls cracked in half at their middle and tumbled. Then I held up a single finger, and not my preferred one when dealing with heroes. With a little thought and giggling, I put the other three arms behind my back. A tiny beam of light shot out from my fingertip and down, burning through the roof of the main building. I dragged it one way, then the other, cutting it into halves as well. Then I brought it closer to me, taking out a statue in the middle of the grounds and spinning. I’m pretty sure I got some other buildings nearby, but most of them weren’t subject to what I was planning.
There were more alarms, but these had all the right in the world to be worried. I put that hand behind my back and brought out another one with its own pointer finger of doom, cutting a perpendicular line through the first so as to divide the main building into fourths. Below me, I saw people rushing out and about, some with flight and others with superspeed. I swapped out the other two hands who went diagonal, with the students and staff below more concerned with getting everyone to safety and dealing with whatever incidental casualties I was causing. It being a school, some of them were smart enough to realize I was following a pattern that could be avoided.
A few began to fly my way, scattering to present a more disparate field of targets. Oh look, the mortals think they can fight back. It probably seemed more manageable until I pointed all four index fingers down and split another eight beams off from each one.
Some of the heroes and trainees managed to get away. The really lucky ones did so intact. And one bold son of a gun flew up at me, sparks flying off his body before he tried to barrel into me. He let out an “Oof!” as he bounced off me.
I sped faster than a speeding bullet, and far too quick for him to have recovered before I landed a series of very light slaps to his face. Lovetaps, really. I stopped in front of him to grin afterward. Defiant little guy tried to zap me with an electrical bolt. I grabbed it out of the air and tossed it aside like a paperball.
“What the everloving fuck are you?” he asked.
“I’m Omega. And if you call me your goddess real nicely, I may spare you.”
I raised a fist, taking my time. He shrunk back. “Please don’t hurt me!”
I paused. “You know what to say.”
He closed his eyes and turned his head down. “Goddess.”
I brought my hand forward and patted him gently on the head. “Good. Now, your goddess has a little task for you. Just a trifle, really. When she asks, and she will, I want you to let the person formerly known as Venus know it was me who did this. And tell her I’ll see her soon.”
He nodded his head, so I used my new powers to force him to the ground. It was as simple as encasing him in a bubble of the energy that flowed through me and dragging it down to the grieving and the wounded.
I’m sure she knew before I returned to my priest, who grumbled about not knowing why we were taking our time. The resentful little toad was jealous, of course. He also had nothing to go back to and nowhere to run, not even to the nothing between somethings where the rest of me waits.
But while I’m here, I’m going to enjoy myself.