Tag Archives: Raggedy Man

Arete in Destruction 9, the Grand Finale

The end is nigh and here I am. But that’s getting ahead of myself. I’d better explain how I reached this apocalyptic time on the Empyre State Building staring down a pissed-off bunch of heroes without any way to fight back.

I had been mostly ready for this endgame when I said I would be. I didn’t intend to drag things out even though I wasn’t completely ready for them. For one thing, I hadn’t come up with some unique counter for Forcelight, Honky Tonk Hero, or Mecha Human Sloth. As the heavy hitters of the group, I’d wanted some specific way to take them down that didn’t involve revealing a certain built-in trump card I’ve been saving up. Never did get myself any allies. Just me, Moai, and Carl.

But that comes later. Let’s start at the beginning of the end.

First, I trashed the Museum of Modern Art. Stole a few valuable pieces for Michelangelo to sell through the improper channels, but I kept one or two with me. I figured it would coax Dame out at last.

I figured right. I woke up to her trying to steal my shit again. Yes, it was Marilyn Monroe on my wall, but it was done by Andy Warhol, not Playboy. The Playboy stuff would be worth more. At least she didn’t touch my Starry Night by Van Gogh the Earless Wonder. When she saw me sit upright, she phased and ran for the wall. I ran after her and sent the signal to her device to render her solid again but it didn’t work. “Found a way out of my reach, have you?”

She was running along the dance floor of the former club for the front door when she became solid again just to answer me. “I guess you aren’t the only one with a mind for gadgets. You should have had two contingency plans!”

There was a thud as she passed by a front counter near the coat check. Dame fell back on the ground with a groan. The canvas she was carrying slid along the floor before stopping.

“How about a man swinging a car battery?” I asked as Carl stepped over her and laid the battery down on her chest. Moai jumped out over the bar and rolled upright, wearing a black ninja outfit. I think he was trying to strike a pose.

“Hey, Moai, take that off. It looks ridiculous. Everyone knows ninjas would have worn something like dark blue to blend in at night if they wore that kind of thing. Damn glad to have you on the job, though.”

I gave him a thumbs up. Now, this was not, as some might suspect, an attempt to foster a rivalry. Moai serving as backup was indeed a legitimate necessity. I’m not sure if he has an ego, but that shit gets in the way of what’s necessary often enough. If I’m fighting a hero who knocks me on my ass, puts a pink tutu on me, dips me in horse manure, he can laugh all he wants as long as I’m the person who walks away from the fight without my head ripped off and shoved up the horse’s ass. Laugh it up, deadhead.

I had Dame in my company, though, so I had to keep the horse asses to a minimum with her around. She’s a lady, you know. She’s like a female knight to British people. That doesn’t mean I didn’t take her bracelet or bangle or whatever you call the mirrored doohickey with the phase technology hidden inside it.

I was hoping to get a hold of this.

For her, it’s a defensive measure. That could get…interesting…if I were to use it that way. Possibly suicidal as well. My physiology, which made me so easy to cling to when Dame was trapped in an ethereal state, wouldn’t react well to it, I think. I knew I could weaponize it, especially if I made copies. I just didn’t have time for that. A regrettable casualty of my need to expedite my plans. Still, it was a good idea for handling Forcelight or Honky Tonk Hero.

At least I’d had time to fix up the Heatflasher. Hell, I improved on it and found a nice way to handle my heat problem.

Moai and Carl got Dame chained down to a chair while I slipped into my armor. Good old chains. I like using them because they’re so much more difficult to get away from than ropes. Luckily, as skilled as she was, Dame wasn’t good enough to wiggle loose of these babies. And, since the Chastity5000 was buy one, get one when I tied up Venus, I had a spare for Dame. Still, she struggled, even tearing at her black bodysuit in places.

“Now calm down, Damey wamey,” I told her. “I’m not going to hurt you. In fact, I technically haven’t hurt you so far. That was Carl. Say hi, Carl.”

Carl raised his hand and gave her a small wave, “Hiya.”

“Thanks Carl. So, Dame, time for the explanation about what’s going on. I promised someone, made a deal actually, that I was going to drop my grudge against you, wouldn’t kill you, wouldn’t pursue you at all, even said you’d be untouchable to me. So far, I have not touched you, nor am I doing this because of a grudge. In fact, this wouldn’t have happened if you had decided to not find me once again to steal back stolen artwork once again. Predictability is not a good quality in thieves. There’s a reason for the phrase ‘thick as thieves’ and it doesn’t involve your bodily figure. Don’t worry. No matter what, you’re going to live. Or at least I have no plans on killing you. You’re just going to be my bait to get Venus and her friends to join the field of battle.”

“Why do you think that matters?”

I played a certain audio clip of Venus’s voice: “It was Dame. She told us all where you were hiding. She and I had some common ground and she gave me a picture of your latest face.”

“You really ought to pick better friends,” I told her, then leaned closer. “You know, you and I could be better friends sometime.”

She headbutted me. It hurt her more than it hurt me, but I think she was trying to make a point about my chances being less than or equal to a punitive flaming underworld afterlife reaching freezing point. I pointed my finger at her, “That was entirely on you and does not constitute me touching or hurting you.”

“Why does that matter?” she groaned.

I turned away from her as I spoke. “Because, so long as I make a deal and try to keep it, then I will try to keep it. At least until something more important comes up or the other party reneges on their part. I like the idea. You see it in fairy tales, you know? A neutral or good person makes a deal with a party, usually a darker force. A sea witch or a voodoo bocor…or is that houngan…either way, a voodoo guy. The hero gets stipulations, something he or she wanted or thought they wanted…good reason to read a contract, by the way…and if they dare break their end of it, there is hell to pay. But I feel I’m monologuing again and I should note that Moai may get a tad homicidal if you actually manage to escape.”

Moai hopped closer to Dame. Via my 360 degree view on the helmet, I could see she’d started to move an elbow further than it should go. Moai dropped a heavy gold chain with an old-fashioned ticking clock around her neck.

“Thanks, Moai, that ought to hold her,” I said with a nod. True, I was facing away, but Moai knew what I meant.

“Won’t matter to Venus. You haven’t been listening at the right doors.”

I didn’t turn. Instead, I raised my arm up so I could point a finger at her over my shoulder. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“No one’s seen her ever since that bank was blown up, and the rumor is that she didn’t get out of there before the place was given a volatile redecoration. There’s been no word of her from the heroes and no sightings of her on patrol. Nothing in hospitals about someone matching her description. I think your unrequited love interest is dead.”

That didn’t seem right. It actually gave me pause for a moment.

“I doubt that. Heroes are pesky like that, and she’s peskier than normal. She’s got to be alive. Since when do chains and a bomb kill a superhero?”

“Maybe you should ask someone when you get back from sailing down denial.”

“Sailing up the Nile. Moai, right foot.”

Moai got in the way of my view of Dame as he slid a stiletto heel made of cement onto her foot and closed the iron manacle set into the top of it. She had had something metal gripped between her toes. Such a clingy suit allows greater articulation, like hiding tools in unusual places. In this case, hiding something around the foot, and bringing it to bear with the toes.

“Well, either way my dear Dame, they should be informed that you were their source for that raid on me. That means you still make a wonderful hostage for my plan.”

It was the next day when the plan went into action. The Heatflasher appeared once more in the skies over New York and circumcised the Empyre State Building. I crashed it into the observation deck and melted my way through supports in order to tip it to one side. The elevator dinged, then opened to reveal Carl and Moai carrying Dame, a TV camera, and some very important equipment for the ‘Flasher. They dumped Dame, who was now wearing quite a heavy outfit made up of cement shoes, hammer pants stapled together, balls and chains around her wrists, the heavy gold chain and clock around her neck, and a football helmet that wasn’t for a New York team.

Carl then turned and tossed something into the elevator he left, even as panicked civilians crowded past to escape. The doors closed and then a muffled blast blew up past them. The doors didn’t blow out, but they popped out toward us. The same went for other elevators. Might as well have a captive audience for what was about to happen.

With the floor and Dame secured and the guys setting up in what we figured were safe spots, I took to the air again. It wasn’t easy cutting through the building like that. I had to angle things just right so the upper floors, like 20 or something, slid off to crash on the streets and smaller buildings below.

The observatory level was finally open air. I settled the ‘Flasher at one corner of it and cooled my jets. Well, my rockets. And the barrel, too. I had to shut it down long enough for me to slip a little something onto the end of the barrel and tighten it up. Connect some hoses, that sort of thing. When I lit that mother up again, the new section on the end of the barrel glowed a brilliant yellow-white, like the sun.

An invisible heat ray may be one amazing, powerful thing, but I realized that if I was going to do this from atop a building, I’d need some way to keep it from dissipating to a warm breeze against the smaller buildings around. In fact, if I wanted to threaten the whole city, I’d need something like a miniature sun.

Well, the power source, a design from my own dimension, ought to be able to sustain it. If not, we’ll still see a lot of destruction and possibly a city rendered unlivable.

“For all those in attendance and the millions watching at home,” I spoke aloud and turned toward the assembled hostages, a number of whom had their phones out to record video of the occasion, “I have been hounded day after day, month after month, and this has gone on too long. Just think, without heroes coming after me, you’d have had a blown up Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, as opposed to that messy spectacle in the city. What a danger they’ve become to you, your saviors. I’m here today for two reasons. Reason one: I want to make it perfectly clear to everyone that if you escalate against the great and devious Psycho Gecko, then I will take you to a land of hurt that you will not enjoy. Ooh yeah, I’ll tear your soul out and cast it down to an Abaddon of anguish that will make the heavens weep blood in heartrending sympathy for your unending abomination of an existence, and you will know what it’s like to drown in my bloodlust, to starve, to thirst, to pray to whatever deities you hold dearest in life…and not die.”

You could hear a pin drop. Burn the city down? Hell, I just chewed half of it up.

I sat down at the Heatflasher.

“What’s the other reason?” said a shaky voice. I turned to him and cranked up the volume on my suit’s speakers.

“To end this feud of ours, once and for all. Ahahahahaha!”

And that’s when the firing began. The Heatflasher took longer to fire this time, with the extended barrel glowing more yellowish in color. Suddenly, a glowing orange-yellow beam shot was just there out the barrel and poking through several office buildings. When I shifted the aim around, it sliced through streets and cars like they weren’t even there. Fires spread and ash flew. Steam rose as well from flash boiled water. Admittedly, it didn’t spread the heat around quite as well, but as the guy sitting on the machine doing all this, I was grateful for the ingenious bit of gadgetry that was pumping plasma into the landscape rather than all around me.

Boom! There went a meth lab. Sizzle! A butcher’s shop. Scramble! A semi full of eggs. Pop! A popcorn packing plant! When you’re lighting up the cops, the fun never stops.

I stopped firing and turned back around. I saw Carl and Moai getting me on camera. There was a very lucky news show in the city who just realized that the camera stolen while reporting on a cockfighting ring was giving them one hell of an exclusive.

“Hello out there in TV land, viewers. A very special hello to our heroes. Without their constant pressure, I doubt I’d have ever found myself in this position,” I said genially. I was having a good time at least. I got up and held my hand out to the area I’d burned in the distance. “This is fun. This is what I do when a team of heroes chases me day in and day out.” I then guided the camera around toward the people, including the bound Dame. “And these are people who are going to die. Including this little lady here, she’s a thief who knows the heroes a little bit. I don’t know why I brought her along now that I realize it was a busy day, but I figured it would add that special touch and really drive it home that air strikes on the observation deck are not a good idea.”

Yeah, Dame’s value was diminished somewhat by the good turnout, but it was still better than having her free and joining up with the heroes who had an ass-whooping in mind. The more the merrier, anyway.

And while it seemed counterintuitive to make sure the heroes were needed elsewhere but had to come here, that was also nice. Tear them in half using their heroic intentions. Plus, other heroes who have no business interfering will probably be down there instead of up here dealing with the guy who keeps defacing landmarks. I took the whole head off; you can’t argue Lady Liberty wasn’t defaced.

Still, I waited for them. And waited. And got impatient. And jumped back onto the ‘Flasher to burn this city like a disco inferno but Forcelight was there in all her glory to try and catch it. See, this is where something invisible works better than something putting off light. But, to my great delight, even she could hold up only briefly under the onslaught. I saw her duck out of the way, unable to hold back the destructive beam of plasma any longer.

Instead, Honky Tonk Hero swooped down at me from the side and tried to give me an el kabong right to the skull. He got me some, but I rolled with it. Could have sworn I felt things shaking, actually.

Honky Tonk lowered himself right in front of me and grabbed me by the neck. “Someone should have put you down long ago. You should have been taken out back as a child and drowned.”

It’s not like I was going to feel bad about this anyway.

I raised a hand slowly and pointed down for him to see the diamond and mirror bangle of Dame stuck in his pocket. He didn’t know what it was, but he grabbed for it with his other hand. I headbutted him in the eye, then threw a classic Elvis pseudo-martial arts punch to his throat. It got me out of his grip long enough for me to remotely activate the phase device. He dropped it a moment later, but it was too late. With Honky Tonk suddenly insubstantial, the wind was quick to push him away from the building. With the device no longer touching his body, I brought it back, nice and solid.

There was that shaking again, though. I looked over the edge of the building and saw Mecha Human Sloth climbing his way up. Where’s a gorilla when you need one? Oh, wait. I realized he had Gorilla Awesome, Troubleshooter, Mechamoto Musashi, Apollo, and Paveman clinging to his back. He must have been on a sugar rush from marshmallow cleanup duty.

“Okay, I need a volunteer…” I said and drifted off as I turned around. Moai and Carl were filming everything, but the crowd of hostages was gone. In their place was Raggedy Man. He knelt beside Dame, trying to help her out of the chains. I didn’t know how the hell he got up there. I’d torn the roof off. Not for him, just for fun, but still. “Yo, dawgs. Seize him and stuff. You know, if it’s convenient.” Moai followed my finger and went after Raggedy Man, who dove behind a column and disappeared into the shadows cast behind it. Huh. A mystery solved.

Still one massive mystery left: how to take out the giant robot superhero boyfriend mutant human-sloth guy whose girlfriend I apparently killed. I was already behind, though. I almost died from adjective poisoning.

My solution was one I didn’t want to use, as I’ve said before. The grey goo protocol. Not completely grey goo, though. They build themselves like crazy, but they still break down fairly quickly and don’t self repair. There’s a limit, in other words. I pulled out syringes of nanites and jabbed them into myself. As many as I could, save for one last one. Just in case.

I sent a signal to the first ones to link to me. It activated a program that involved spreading the activation to the others inside me. They then forced themselves out of me any way they could. Nose, mouth, ears, skin pores. They moved under my suit toward my right hand. I unsealed the glove and slipped it off. Shimmery grey liquid covered my hand and bulked up as more nanites joined those assembled. My hand formed into a liquid metal claw.

I looked for Mecha Human Sloth again. He was right under the edge where the Heatflasher rested. He grabbed it with one claw and pulled himself up with the other, sending my machine of mass destruction plummeting. He jumped and did a forward flip, landing on his feet and letting the ground-based heroes off. Gorilla Awesome and Troubleshooter had separated from him when he was in midair. Awesome hovered, but Troubleshooter lowered herself to the ground.

Couldn’t let them all come after me at once. I gave Human Sloth the “come here” motion with my nanite-covered hand.

“Alright, big fellow, let’s have us a little revenge versus wrath, shall we?”

He roared and charged. I cackled and jumped. My claw dug into him like he wasn’t even there. There was no armor. There was no flesh underneath. Just me hanging onto his collar, elbow deep in his chest. “Wait a minute, spread to the sides, there’s something I want,” I said to myself. The nanites dispersed, eating through Mecha Human Sloth. I grabbed a souvenir. When I pulled my hand out, his giant, inhuman heart came with it.

As he fell, though, I was greeted by a pretty horrible sight. Carl was held above the floor by his pants and underwear by one of Troubleshooter’s backpack waldo arms at an angle that showed his ass. There was no sign of Moai, but Gorilla Awesome was braced against the edge holding something up by his grappling hook.

Oh, and there were more heroes standing there. Black Raptor. Bright Star. Miss Tycism. Venus. Well. Shit.

“Tricky tricky heroes. My compliments on it, but it’s my turn,” I told them all, then vanished. They just stood there, holding their line.

That didn’t seem right. I projected bursts of light and four more of me stepping out of the explosions, laughing and holding swords.

No reaction.

Invisible, I walked right up to Miss Tycism and poked my hand through her. Hologram. Raptor was right next to her, so I tested him too. Turns out Raptor was not right next to her. I looked up and saw Troubleshooter looking harried and trying to program something on a keyboard attached to her multi-purpose backpack that just sat there on its tripod legs, trying to make my own eyes lie to me.

When I reappeared, it was right behind her, tearing at what I thought looked like important cables. I was right. Her backpack’s various tools and arms and gadgets stopped their moving, their whirling, their whizzing, and even their whirring.

Troubleshooter gave me a look full of incredulous shit when she realized I had her figured and helpless within arms reach. I’d have acted on it, but something kicked me from behind and nearly sent me off the building.

The cameras revealed a most unwelcome sight. The holograms were gone alright. All except for Venus. She was too busy trying to axe kick my neck to worry about how someone said she was dead.

I was off balance from her initial surprise, but I blocked that. Vulnerable position to be in, and I don’t just mean her and the axe kick. Mechamoto and Apollo crowded in while Paveman held Carl in a bear hug. I grabbed Venus and held her between myself and Mechamoto. Apollo’s hands gripped me from behind. Rather than start some slashfic material here, they smashed in my visor and reached in. He tore my helmet off me. I instinctively cranked the jumper in my left leg up and drove my foot back at crotch level. My tibia snapped.

I grabbed a fish stink grenade hanging off my belt and swiped aside Mechamoto’s sword as he circled and tried to find a way to more easily strike me without Venus in our way. He was distracted as a hole in the floor opened up under Paveman, causing Carl and Paveman to fall to the next floor down.

While he wasn’t focused on me, I armed the fish and chucked it at his head. He noticed it at the last minute and brought his sword up. It burst just as it touched his blade, enveloping him in a horrible stink.

I dragged Venus by her still-raised leg back toward me and parallel to the edge of the skyscraper to give me room. With my free hand, she and I traded and blocked blows, at least until I charged it up. Then I took a step in her direction and dumped her on the ground.

This felt familiar to me. I stepped forward and released Venus to the ground, but she wasn’t Venus anymore.

She was the woman I’d gotten involved with back on my world. We had argued, and that turned into an actual, physical fight. She didn’t want me to blow up the Dimensional Bomb, of all things. I grabbed her by the throat. A blade came out at me from nowhere, but I backhanded it. The energy built up in my glove released through the impact and snapped the blade. I used that hand to pummel her face again and again. She couldn’t understand either. None of them could. For them, it was a fight to be first if humanity wouldn’t allow them to be equals. I just hated this stupid world for all it had done to me.

“There is no place for me. They made me and refused to take responsibility for me. I tried to get over what I did, but none of them ever let me leave it behind. I was the government’s mistake, the Justice Rangers’ foe, the people’s great fear of us writ large. I’m done with their system and all their pettiness.”

I stood and pointed behind me. “I’d rather have my own system that means using this D-Bomb and taking us all out than see these hypocrites live. It’s on a strict timer, too. As soon as it drops to 0, that’s it.”

She kipped up, jumped, wrapped her legs around my neck, then back flipped. Where the fuck did she learn to do that? I fell to the ground and something cracked in my neck with a great pain. I lost feeling in everything below my neck as I settled in an odd position. Didn’t know my head could turn that far under the rest of my body. Couldn’t see anything though. Where the hell was I?

People talked nearby, a pair of voices, male and female.

“You alright?”


“I saw his eyes. It’s like he doesn’t know what’s going on.”

“I know. There is no bomb, so he’s talking about things that aren’t there. He’s talking in a weird accent, too.”

Something rolled me over. A gorilla. It talked. “He’s still alive, but I would be careful of moving him. My initial prognosis, and I’m not a medical doctor mind you, is that he has broken a cervical vertebra,” he said.

“No, we’re not,” one of the voices, a female, said to nobody in particular. “I don’t care, Gunman. Don’t start that Lone Gunman crap with me either. He’s out of the fight. I don’t care how big a rifle it is, I’m not going to let you shoot his heart out and watch him die.”

More people seemed to be showing up as the gorilla examined me. I had some odd urge to tell him to get his paws off me because he was damned and dirty.

One of these strange people climbed out of the floor, “They’re down there somewhere. Waiting to try and save him, I reckon. What, we won this one?”

The gorilla was pushed aside by a man made of marble who hauled on my arm, got underneath it, and lifted me to my feet. I still didn’t have that good of a view because of how my head drooped over. “I’m with Lone Gunman on this one. Take the shot,” said my manhandler.

“No!” ordered a glowing woman in white and black tights as she landed. “We can’t do that.”

“Why, because we’re better than that? He killed your father!” Apollo said with voice raised. Sensitive to that sort of thing?

“Yes, I know there’s nothing most of us would love to do more right now than give him an execution, but we can’t just yet. You hear me, Gunman? Stand down.”

Venus spoke up. “You can’t be serious Aneta.” Right, Forcelight’s civilian name.

“I am.”

“About killing him?” Venus questioned the team’s powerhouse.

“Your boyfriend looks like a flock of vultures ate him for a buffet. He’s goo and bones! You were willing to stand there when that happened to stop him, but you won’t go the rest of the way? Venus, after everything he’s done, why wouldn’t you kill him?” Forcelight made her case for my death.

“Because as bad as this all is, as much as I want to set him on fire and beat his head in with a brick, I’m not going to start acting just like him! You really want to do things his way? If so, then he’s your future.”

There was silence. This was all good and dramatic, but I still couldn’t see shit.

“Moot point at the moment, anyway. Is he unconscious?”


Marble hands grabbed my head and nodded it for me.

“Good. You know I’ve been meeting with that Good Doctor man. I figured I’d at least hear what he has to claim about me. If it’s a trick, he tricked Gecko there too. He warned me about doing anything rash if we got our hands on him.”

The man holding me up, whose name was just on the tip of my tongue, gave an exasperated sigh. “Why?”

“Because whatever powered that laser, and I don’t know how stable it is, but whatever did that and didn’t show any signs of running low, he’s got one in his chest. The Doctor’s seen it in there. That’s why we never found a reactor or a battery. If Gunman puts holes in him, he might get it too. If we start doing things to him, that thing might go up and take this whole building with it, at least.”

“More like the whole block,” said Troubleshooter.

At least if Doc’s ratting me out, he’s saying things that are keeping these assholes from killing me. Trust me, the great and devious Psycho Gecko makes damn sure his personal reactor isn’t going up the first time I crack my head.

Yeah, I’m back from Lala land, aka the land that time forgot and would prefer to not think about, and activating the transmitter and receivers I’d set up for just this situation once upon a time. We’re up to that point I mentioned earlier, about facing off against heroes with no way to fight back. My present tense. So I can feel again and move again. The question is how do I move out of here?

“Y’all need to shut up already,” says Raggedy Man as he approaches with the phase bangle in his hand. “Someone’s got you on camera right now. Everyone watching the news just heard everything you said about executing a guy!”

Times like these, I love my minions.

Raggedy Man lifts my other arm to take the weight off Apollo. “And for God’s sake, he broke his neck and you’re dancing him around like a puppet? Do you know what people think of you right now?”

My arm shoots out, not quite as naturally as it normally would, and grabs the bangle while I stumble forward out of the grasp of the surprised heroes. “Yeah, they think the camera adds 10 lbs…in the testicles. Especially you, Venus.”

“Another trick,” one of them says accusingly. If only they knew. Hell, I’d rather they didn’t. I’d much rather I knew what I was about to do, because my options for escape look nonexistent. Except if I try the unthinkable. Ah hell, it’s worked for me so far.

I activate the phase mechanism and everything loses its color, its substance. It’s like a drawing that the artist hasn’t colored in. I look down to see what all it had done to my armor and find it warping as my body expands, pushing out against it. Adverse reaction to my current state and the power core in my chest that’s filling me with energy now. Fist-sized holes appear in my armor, but do nothing to hurt me or even move me. I glance back along their trajectories to a lower skyscraper. Lone Gunman, the lost lil Holdout. He finally gets his shot, but I’m immune to bullets when it happens.

Defiant, I tear at the holes, pulling the chest portion of my armor apart. Looking down at my chest, I see the reactor isn’t fully phased. It pumps energy along my bio-technological nerves. My brain, my cybernetic enhancements, my armor. They connect to everything my power works on.

I’m pretty much an energy being. The generator lost containment and is filling my ethereal form with energy, enough that I maintain cohesion and even tear through my own armor with ease. The heroes grow smaller and smaller. Forcelight raises her non-smoking arm, the one that isn’t hanging limp by her side, and starts concentrating light to try and hit me or shoot me. I throw a punch at her and she releases early to try and meet it.

She goes flying.

Cool as fuck.

Hey, that just halted my growth for a moment, but I’m back to expanding now. Anyone else got the image of a balloon filled to bursting in their heads right about now?

I hope Moai and Carl are running like hell by now. I turn and tiptoe to a support beam that I’d sheared off above my head. It’s now significantly below that. No need to pay attention to the puny heroes any more. They are no threat.

There’s a more important threat I have to deal with. I need to lose a lot of energy in a hurry, then deactivate this device. I raise my arm up and bring my fist down with everything I have on the support that runs deeper into the building.

The floor, and my size, fall sharply. So do the next floor and the next after that, and so on. There’s dust everywhere and I’m lost in the middle of the collapse, falling and landing and getting landed on. I can’t see or hear anyone else, but I feel like I’m about the right size.

No way am I changing back right now, but –

***Connection lost. Archiving transmission. Preparing transfer. Transfer complete.***

***Waiting for connection***





Breakout 3

The bad news, my leg was trying to rot off.

The good news, I was right about hygiene not being the cause of my wound not healing.

See, you just have to find the silver lining in things. Grandmother just died? More food for the starving kids in Africa. You killed her? It shows you’re a hands-on kind of worker. Killed her for her inheritance? You’d be a great corporate executive with that kind of attention to the profit motive. You then used her fortune to buy and consume extra food equivalent to how much she ate? Congratulations, you just made sure there were enough dead starved kids in Africa to feed the live starving kids in Africa.

So, back to the main point of all this, it looks like Ouroboros’s body double used a poison dagger back there in Paradise City. Even the girls had to admit it couldn’t be mere infection. Didn’t smell like gangrene. That leg is all funny, puffy colors with lots of goop coming out of it, and the initial effect has spread to my chest.

I think he wanted to slow me down. Hard to gauge, but I’m not dead yet and even my slightly different reactions to some chemicals wouldn’t account for all this. My powers don’t get shut off when I get put in anything that’s supposed to dampen them because they’re a part of my physiology. Like if there were a race of people with four arms, power dampening cuffs of any kind aren’t going to cause two of those to shrivel up. And because of both the upgrades I’ve made to myself and some aspects of my body chemistry that make those upgrades possible, things are slightly off from baseline humans.

Some of that was known by my old pal Harlon that I called up about this time. I was hoping for more time to sling mud, but I needed him to do a few things for me. He jumped at the idea of helping me out, like a puppy whose master just arrived home. Step 1, he digs into Forcelight and Bennett Long to uncover more proof about the adoption and the nature of the experiments that made her who she is today. Step 2, the news corporation he has influence at starts up some hard hitting pieces about Bennett Long’s schemes. The public will probably want to know, especially since his adoptive daughter has followed through on them in her own way. Nothing like a news network to fuel rampant speculation about the true intentions of a woman given powers by illegal experimentation and organ theft.

Thanks to Shieldwall’s disregard for my intellectual property, I can feel a fever under this armor. I’ve been sluggish too, in that the girl are accusing me of leaving a slime trail wherever I go. Harder to breath too. So naturally I assaulted the Long Life building. Ok, more like infiltrated it.

I needed to get to the flyer, you see, and that was located higher up on the building. This time, however, I figured I wouldn’t get myself locked down in the building. So I approached the security measures with a different technique.

I visited the circus and interrupted their human cannonball act. Some creative modifications later and I soared over Kingscrow, arms in front of me, invisible to the naked eye. And come on, naked eyes, have some dignity. Cover yourselves up!

I was slightly off on my math, however. I figured that out when I hit a corner of the building that was slightly higher up than my intended target and didn’t have the landing pad wing underneath it. My cat-like grace got me the rest of the way. Yes, my screaming, cussing, jumping, grabbing, pigeon holding, flagpole straddling grace. After a few minutes of recovering from my graceful ordeal, I stood up, untangled the flag from my armpits, and made my way to the flyer. I saw more automatic turrets around, but if they saw me they didn’t act like it. There was a lot of pigeon crap, though. Yep, high tech security system defeated by nothing but elbow grease and pigeon shit. Bird excrement: the other white meat.

I was there because I had to move my plan up. I thought up this wonderful little plan the other day on the toilet. That’s right, the toilet. That’s the spot where people have more of their ideas than ever before. It’s a fact. Just look at the rapid development of science and technology that occurs only after the invention of the toilet. You won’t see ancient Greeks and their tree leaves thinking up 3D printers. Nor will you get to the moon while sitting on an outhouse, no matter if one is carved on the door.

So I had this plan, and I saw it, and it was good. Problem was, I need Max’s help right now. Chances are good he knows how to fix me, which is the sentence that led to Holly suggesting I take some scissors for Max as well. Aside from that, they were helpful and went to go pick up the delivery from Phil the bombmaker while I was busy sabotaging the Shieldwall plane.

Nothing so drastic as making it crash or anything. I do something like that around this date and I’m bound to bring down even more heat. But they may find the things weapons just don’t work like they ought to if they get too close to me. I’ve got a way into all kinds of systems. I even found the remote start-up thanks to the VTOL jet turning on all on its own.

I went invisible and got out of there when that happened. No one would be able to tell anything had happened to it, which was a shame. It’s not that I’m an attention hog that wants to prove my brilliance over mere mortals. It’s just that I liked the idea of putting a car boot on it to indicate the heroes couldn’t use it.

I patched into whatever the big alert was through the flyer and found that the problem was the cell phones. The same kind as that heinous one I fought in Yabloo City and the robotic one that tried to drop Phil. The heroes walked right by me as they filed onboard. I almost thought Forcelight or Raggedy Man were going to pick up on something, but they didn’t stop. Raggedy Man did look at in my direction as he passed by, and hefted a mace in the shape of a jingle bell on a stick to his shoulder, but I guess he decided the rampaging cell phone robots starting up around the nation were a bigger concern.

As they flew off, I noted the ship’s computer searching for information on Miss Communication and Wrong Number. Whew. Glad there’s other villains being gangbanged by the heroes for once. I don’t think I should count the Paradise City gangs due to how that turned out. You know, with me offered on a silver platter with an apple in my mouth.

This is wonderful, though. The preparations for the jet were moot, but now they wouldn’t even be in town.

Rather than wear down Forcelight’s credibility and then stage a prison break, I had to break Max out of prison to cure me and focus on hurting Forcelight after that. Not my preferred order, but that’s the way the bowling ball bounces.

It still took a couple hours time before I could enact the breakout. I wasn’t moving as quick with all the aching and soreness. Cops didn’t even bother to stop us as we prepped. Reporters were noting that with all the attention paid to Empyreal City, other cities now had less chance to stop their incursions which were beginning as well. A few cops took pot shots at us from a distance though. I just said “Fuck It” and carved them up with the Nasty Surprise. “Where is your app for that, you cellular sons of bitches?” I said. Had to catch my breath afterward.
Now the breakout itself. Allow me to set the mood. I sped down the highway behind the wheel of a big rig, trailer in tow, with Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” blasting. It was a highway that connected with the street running next to the wall of Marscow Prison. A few cell phone bots ran around in the streets and I swerved to run them down.

Then the bombs blew. “What got blown up?” you might ask yourself.

The road. I blew it to smithereens in one section that I was just passing over, and the truck went airborne. I grabbed the CB radio, “Breaker breaker, this is Mad Dog 20/20, we have liftoff. Repeat, this is one spicy load of salsa I got behind me. All passengers, please put up your seat backs and tray tables. If you look out the left side of the cabin, you can see robots attacking a children’s hospital. The weather is partly cloudy with a 100% chance to rain a truck, 17% chance to rain men.” The cab barely cleared the high wall of the prison. The trailer didn’t. The trailer slid along the barbed wire at the top of the wall as the cab was tilted to hit the ground first.

And hit we most certainly did. I pulled myself out the broken window of the cab and saw that the trailer’s end was resting on top of the wall. I noticed I had the radio in hand still and held it up, ignoring the severed cord. “Thank you for flying Gecko airways. Anyone who wants to make use of our fine delivery of ladders may do so at this time. Have a pleasant stay in Kingscrow and I’m turning in my pilot wings.”

I dropped the radio, took a deep breath, cloaked, and made a break for the complex. The cell bots were a decent distraction at first, but Marscow was a dinosaur as far as prisons went. If they were too old, a lockdown caused by such an attack would be impossible to get around. My fears proved unfounded though. At some point, they’d discovered the wonders of electronic security measures. Door after door opened for me until I had made my way to the security office. Riot armor-clad prison guards found out the hard way that firing a shotgun at me just makes it burn more when the barrels are shoved up their asses.

Then it was time for my speech. “Prisoners of Marscow Prison. My name is Psycho Gecko. This is a jailbreak. I’ll need to see Mix N’Max as soon as possible.” I opened as many cell doors as I had access to, “I suggest leaving, either through the gate if possible or through a nice little semi parked in the yard with a trailer full of ladders. There should be a garbage truck full of pillows waiting on the other side of the wall.” I turned away from the mic to call up Holly and Sam, “You two dropped off the truck, right?”

“The package is in place and we’re out of there,” said Sam, “We’ll meet you and Max at the hideout, but we didn’t want to wait around for all the prisoners to join us out there.”

“Whatever floats your boat,” I told her, then turned back to my announcement, “Let’s see…anything else, oh, right. Shieldwall, that team led by Forcelight, is not in town presently, but I do ask that escapees take a moment to pay a visit to the nearby Hope Memorial Hospital which is swarming with attack robots. To reiterate, that’s the hospital full of kids. Unless you’re in here for child molestation, in which case the only ass you need to worry about is your own while you flee. Now the announcements. For lunch today, the cafeteria is serving freedom fries. Anyone interested in the work release program, please report to whatever door you want to leave by. Also, the warden has volunteered to help pick up soap in the showers today. Ta ta and have a pleasant escape.”

It’s amazing the amount of goodwill and credibility you get from criminals when you provide a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for them. Nobody bothered me as I made my way to the cell block that the computers say they dumped Max in. Along the way, though, I ran into another familiar face.

“I should have realized you would be back,” said a British accented voice from a cell. I turned to look. “You’re not looking so well, Gecko. Desperate times and measures?”

“Something like that, Doc. You’re welcome to come along too,” I held out my hand toward the open cell. Good Doctor shook his head.

“No. I won’t try to stop you, but I’m not going with you. You should learn when to stop.”

“It’s who I am, Doc. It’s like telling me to stop breathing. Any idea where Max is?”

“You might check the showers and hurry. God knows what’s happening in there right now.”

“Thanks Doc. See ya around.”

I waved and ran for the showers. It was there that I found a horrible sight. A naked Max, without makeup, burning a man’s face off with a chunk of soap. The other inmate had way too hairy an ass. I mean, bleh.

“Hey Max,” I called out, waving both hands.

“Gecko!” he said, dropping the soap and the man. Then we embraced under the warm showers. Just the two of us. Two guys. One of them naked. Nothing wrong with that.

We parted, “Alright, let’s get you out of here and to the hideout. I need you to whip up a cure for poison.”

“Can I get my jumpsuit, at least?”

“No time for that,” I turned and lowered my back. He hopped on and I carried him piggyback through the complex. Nothing wrong with that either. Outside, I found the old-fashioned giant gate still closed. Guards in the towers alongside it had gunned down any prisoners attempting to make their way out. As a result, they were all climbing the truck. “For fuck’s sake.” I limped closer to the wall near the truck.

“You sound tired, Gecko. Are you alright?”

“Just some deadly deadly poison. Nothing to worry about once I get you out of here.”

I jumped. My angle was off and my toes didn’t have enough purchase, so I went falling backwards in a roll. I managed to roll through to land on my face though.

I’m not sure if I mentioned already, but the closest thing there is to a safe way to fall is to land with as much of your surface area as possible so the impact is distributed across your body. Failing to do this can lead to broken bones. Doing this can still lead to broken bones, there’s just slightly less chance of it.

Max was kind enough to provide moral support by spanking me on the butt and yelling, “Hyaa! Giddyup!”

As soon as I could speak, I told him “You keep this up and I won’t take you by Hot Topic, Max.”

“Don’t lump me in with those posers. Come on, upsy daisy, let’s try this again.”

Groaning, I stood up, adjusted Max as much as I could, and jumped for it again. This time I landed on the top of the wall and ran along it to where the truck and pillows were.

“I’m not sure about this,” said one bald prisoner with glasses to another man.

“I know you’re ascared of heights, but it’s the only way out. I’ll hold your hand, how about that?” said prisoner number 2. He held his hand out for the other man. Before he prisoner number 1 could grab it, I shoved him out of the way and down to the truck.

“Hey!” prisoner number 2 started, before I kicked him in the back of the knee and sent him down as well. Then it was my turn. This time, I landed on Max. Too bad it was on pillows, but I do technically need him alive. Max and I stumbled out and slipped into the cab of the truck. I took off just as another prisoner took a leap of faith. Oh well, if enough of them fall, they’ll make a pile big enough for the last ones to make it safely. See? Silver linings.

Max and I passed by Hope Memorial too. It swarmed with prisoners now, some super and some mundane, who were giving the robots hell. I can’t blame them. After all, I just broke hell loose.



Two Tickets to Paradise 11

I’m going to try and relay what happened after my capture to you and it’s going to take awhile. Asses were kicked and feelings were hurt, but keep calm and read on. And for now, we’ll put Polonius and his art behind a tapestry. I swear I use no art at all.

I spent a great deal of that night unwell. That I am mad, ‘tis true: ‘tis true ‘tis pity; and pity ‘tis ‘tis true. I am a foolish figure. Mad let us grant me then. The cell reminded me too much of my childhood. It was not a good childhood. There were whips and chains, but not the good kind. It had too many rooms like the one I was in, full of too many men like the ones keeping me in that cell. I was mad, and when I say mad, do not mistake me for being angry. Indeed, I was happy. Why wouldn’t I be? I knew the cause of this effect, or rather say, the cause of this defect, for this effect defective comes by cause. I had been worried when my enemies were the shadows of everyone around me. Knowing that the world was against me made things easier. I could deal with that. Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.

I knew who my enemies were and I knew a lot about what they could do. I realized in that moment that to break the Shieldwall, I would need to know not what they could do but who they were. Seeing as I was bound, that revelation would have to go on the backburner.

First is first, to put it my accustomed way. Escape. I was never a good hacker. Give me the physical touch of a computer and I can make it bend and stretch in ways its designer never meant, but programming language does not come so easily to me. That’s not how I handle things. If Ouroboros left everything as unsecured as your average criminal then that wouldn’t be an issue, but he’s smart and he’s been dealing with Yakuza and their otaku. End result, I couldn’t get out ahead of time.

I wanted to. I felt like a tiger in a cage, except with more imbeciles walking by to taunt me. At least tigers have a chance to get back at whatever drunk guy jumps into the enclosure.

Shokushu and Suishou stopped by when the Yakuza showed up. They looked tipsy. Shokushu had his tie around his head and pressed his ass against the door/window. I was able to figure that out from the files I could access.

No one bothered to pay a visit from the Columbians except for Terribilis, who chatted with a young man in tactical gear that I realized was the man Ouroboros had been talking to. I made the job easy on him. He didn’t have to hunt me down at all. I couldn’t match the guy up in the database. I checked for villains or mercenaries with the sort of wide-brimmed hat he tipped my way, but I had no luck. He had a bandana pulled up over the bottom half of his face.

All that and he didn’t realize the man next to him in the bright yellow power armor wasn’t the real Terribilis. I saw the heroes take him down. That armor put up a decent fight before Troubleshooter got the power drain net on him and Forcelight cracked it open at the entry seam.

When they were done whispering between themselves, the shooter knocked on the door and said, “You behave in that cage now or I’ll have to put you down,” he made a motion with his hand and suddenly his rifle appeared, like a prestidigitator’s trick, “I’d put you down for free, but I’d rather get paid for you.” He backed up a step, then pointed it through the glass at me.

He wouldn’t, unless he wanted to die. If the heroes walk in and see me dead, they know automatically they’ve been set up. That’s why they have all tolerated me to the degree that they have so far, save for the Cartel’s attempt to take me out when I was thought to be a turncoat. Or maybe that was part of a plan of theirs.

Either way, the shooter stowed his gun nowhere and they left me alone, leaving me with nothing to do but stare at the exceptional rear of the man who shot me as he walked away. In all seriousness, dat ass.

That was my night, being gawked at people who should have felt nothing but gratitude at surviving my presence. It took a long time to bring us to night. A long time that I spent worming my way through whatever I could find. Casino security was right out. Ouroboros had actually invested in decent network security. Damn Yakuza otakus. Or is it otaku for plural as well? It may be one of those words that doesn’t change between the singular and plural form, like The Last Samurai, that movie where that white guy rode into battle with the last of the samurai.

At 8 o’clock, a crowd of O-sec gathered outside my window which retracted into the ceiling. Two of them trained flamethrowers on me while more stepped forward to latch chains onto my restraints. Someone pulled ahead too far as we stepped onto the floor, causing me to fall. Real original, guys.

As soon as I saw the heroes assembled, I gave Venus a call and muted my exterior speakers. I saw her turn away before answering with a whisper that only the heroes and I could hear. “Not now, Gecko, we’re in the middle of capturing you.”

“Where are you, by the Burger King?”

“We’re at the casino.”

“This is no time for slot machines, hero. Wait a sec, the casino? There’s not some version of me in a crappy knockoff costume around, is there?”

“Yesss,” she drew the word out, glancing first at a wall where wind blew the leaves of a rubber plant as passed, then back to me.

“You know that’s a trap, right? They found out about our deal and I was forced to beat a hasty retreat. I-…hold up. Ok, cops are here, got to go, bye.”

I hung up, having been led to the middle of the casino’s floor. Table games and ropes had been cleared all around me.

“If it isn’t too much trouble, we’re taking your new fountain ornamentation as well,” said Forcelight as she stepped forward. “How do we know this,” she pointed at me, “is the real deal.”

Venus in particular looked expectant of the answer. Torrent stepped up behind me and kicked me in the back of the knee. I didn’t go down the first time. “Say something, Gecko.” The second time, I fell to my knees.

I turned around partially to look at him, then back to the heroes, then to the Cartel’s members specifically, then to Forcelight, and spoke, “Lo siento, pero no soy el hombre que busca. ¿Dónde estoy?”

“What is this, Ouroboros?”

“It’s a lie, that’s what it is!” said that pockmarked face man from the Columbians. “That’s Psycho Gecko, I know it.” He stuck one finger out and it began to glow purple. He thrust it toward me and the purple glow flew threw the air toward me to be stopped by Forcelight, who had taken to floating. The others in the Cartel didn’t take kindly to this. They drew their guns, prompting everybody else with guns or powers to get them ready to go.

“Shieldwall together!” Venus called as they began to move toward me. My heroes.

Forcelight and Ouroboros approached me ahead of everyone for an emergency negotiation. “¿Quiénes son estas personas?” I cut them off. I’m no expert in Spanish, but it was one of the languages I considered adopting when I landed in this universe. Learning new languages is somewhat like learning a new way to think. My trip to the South may be somewhat less stereotypical than I expected, but most people draw the line at speaking common language of the country.

What gave me away was a ringing noise coming out over the comms, the source of which was a cluster of Troubleshooter, Gorilla Awesome, and Venus, with the trio focusing on Venus’s earpiece.

You ever get that feeling like you created all your own demons and they’re about to tear you to pieces? Me neither. At the time, I hoped I wouldn’t die there because of what I’ve mentioned before, about awesome tombstones. I didn’t want mine to read “Psycho Gecko, in hell he’ll dine, thanks to *69”. Or to exist, really. This may come as a surprise, but I don’t want to die.

Forcelight put her hand on my shoulder, “We’ll take him. And the rest of you. Lay down your weapons and put your hands on your heads.”

Ouroboros was back in the midst of his men one enhanced strength backflip later. “I think not, Forcelight.” He began to speak into an earpiece when that gunman in tactical gear held a gun to his head.

“I think so,” he pulled off the mask, revealing the former Holdout, now the Lone Gunman. Ah ha! The ass never lies. Pockmark of the Columbians began to laugh and even that nameless guy from the Yakuza cracked a smile, at least until Terribilis trained his rifle and minigun on them, respectively. Those smiles died a quick death. One of them had to go: the smiles or their owners.

I had a chance to smile as the effects of Ouroboros’s few commands were followed by men in the security office. I broke the little standoff going on with my words, “By the way, whoever sets me free gets to survive.” I think everybody laughed at that.

The casino floor itself had little in the way of static defenses by its very design. Customers don’t want to see sentry turrets and mines and such defenses shouldn’t be within the range of stumbling drunks. Funny thing is, those networks stayed off most of the time. I felt them come online below me and found out they weren’t as well protected because of their rare use. It was that surprise Ouroboros mentioned if the fight came into the casino proper. Let this be a lesson to those who cross a man improper.

The floor shook beneath me, both indicating incoming firepower and sending pleasant vibrations through my crotch. The floor opened. Shieldwall was scattered around the room as the strongroom emerged. I fell right on top of it. The vault, complete with automated guns. They were set to recognize the security badges of casino staff and higher ups like Torrent and Ouroboros. I didn’t want to play favorites.

In control of their IFF, I closed my eyes and targeted anyone not me. When I fired, the fighting started. Heroes versus villains. Gangs versus gangs. Like a police raid on a NAMBLA meeting, this was where you separate the men from the boys.

They were leaving me alone in all the chaos, too. Everyone had better things to do than worry about me. I was all chained up and on my knees. I wasn’t eager to remain that way, though. Machine guns and lasers turned inward and took aim. While I don’t have a motif or a theme, which would be awesome you know, I felt this epic battle deserved some epic tunes. Trust me, you ever have a huge fight with four large groups of people who hate your guts, you’re going to want to have an awesome soundtrack too. Forget the imprisonment, it was more agonizing to pick out the song. I went with “The Show Must Go On” by Three Dog Night.

Not as hard hitting as what I normally go for in battle, but a song I felt very fitting for my emergence into the fray. It sounded from the sound system and over the Shieldwall frequency, leaving my enemies barely able to hear their teammates or potential dangers in combat.

I threw off the blasted shackles and chains, then stood up, proclaiming, “Now it’s time to tear off your own asses and BEAT YOU TO DEATH WITH THEM!” Yep, it sounded much better with that emphasis on it. Right after that, a strong explosion hit the door of the vault, causing the forcefield over it to blink out for a moment before it was restored. I nearly fell on my ass but recovered my balance and figured I’d watch some of the festivities until somebody stepped up to get stepped on.

Shokushu’s tentacles whipped at the Honky Tonk Hero while Suishou threw his body in chunks at Paveman, knocking off pieces of the craggy bastard. The villainous pair fought well together. One would occasionally lend a tentacle or a few shards to keep their respective opponent off-balance. The Street Artist left swipes of paint in the air that he used to deflect bullets and knock enemies away. He spotted Troubleshooter and built up a large cloud, but she realized she was in danger and fired that kinetic weapon she introduced me to the other day. It dispersed the paint and left the Artist skidding along the floor on his back. With lights destroyed, Raggedy Man appeared in the shadows near the roof with an Ouroboros security officer in his hands. He disappeared again, leaving the guard to fall with a scream from on high. Torrent threw rival gang members at the giant Shieldwall robot, his body absorbing kinetic energy and increasing his strength. Forcelight flew into him and the pair stumbled into the empty all-you-can-eat buffet, trading blows beyond the ability of mortal men. Scythe-Skater and Gorilla Awesome traded blows. Her weapon of choice was her scythe. His was a slot machine. Pockmark dueled with Lone Gunman. He took his own men as human shields, but they were shot out from in front of him. Raggedy Man disappeared and reappeared throughout the scene. He drove steel-toed boots into the nameless Yakuza guy. The man with no name deflected the kick and drove his open palm into where Raggedy Man’s face was before he disappeared. Bright Star was bleeding out from a gunshot wound to the eye. Miss Tycism’s green shield deflected Cartel gunshots as she knelt beside him. Venus hurried over and jabbed Bright Star with something. A syringe full of familiar fluid. Seconds later, his bleeding had stopped and his eye was regrown.

My nanites. I was about to jump down and engage Venus for her supply of nanites, but checking my rear revealed the reappearance of the armor thief. He looked down at his hands. Must be power issues. I left an illusion behind that I was still watching the battle over the side. He approached, thinking he had the element of surprise. I circled around behind him. I jumped, locked my legs around his neck, and flipped backward to introduce him to the elements iron and carbon. The helmet rang as it hit the steel on top of the vault. I took advantage of his stunned state and unlocked the helmet. I pulled it off to reveal that the faker was… Old Man Wilkins?!

That’s right, and he’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for this meddling supervillain and his Moai.

Actually, it was a teenager with lightning flashing in his eyes. Red White Blue Kid. I hit him in the head with the helmet. After a smack, he raised his hands, slowly charged the gloves and creating a sheathe of energy around them. I tossed the helmet into a melee below that was set ablaze by an O-Sec flamethrower guard. I charged my gloves all the way. I caught the Kid’s laughable attempts to strike back, overpowering his sheathe and causing to backfire. The bones of his hands and wrist snapped and burned, though much of the energy was dissipated into the steel around the vault as I pinned his wrists to it in the same move.

Before I could take advantage of that state, Ouroboros joined us on the vault. Bloodstained ivory daggers whirled through the air. I kicked at him, but he drove one into my leg. Normally a knife wouldn’t penetrate. Normally, I’m not being stabbed by a guy with twice human strength. I backed away and put pressure on my leg while hoping the last guy he stabbed with that didn’t have herpes. Come on, baby, I got it fighting a supervillain, I swear!

He approached over the Kid, who moaned and shifted. Ouroboros looked down and seemed shocked by the teen in my armor. It gave me an opening and time to start charging my gloves again. I grabbed for his wrist but he spun smoothly out of the way with his blades gliding over the metal of my torso armor impotently. So much for my opening. I raised an illusion of myself still standing there as I dropped to my knees. He learned it was fake when his blade found the illusion’s throat but I had opened up my hand like I was going for a karate chop. Except I drove it fingers first into his belly with all the strength of myself and my armor. His armor and skin gave way. I stood, reaching up inside his body until I found that traitorous heart and tore it out. Ouroboros gawked at me and his little knives fell from his hands. I wrapped my fingers around it and punched him in the mouth with that hand. I left his heart in among the broken teeth, grabbed the top of his head and under his chin, and mashed his mouth open and shut a few times. Finally, I activated the jump enhancers, bent my legs, and gave him a tremendous uppercut to the jaw knocked him over the crowd.

Undying dragon my ass.

I looked over to see the Kid crawling over the side of the vault to escape. Uh uh uh. I dragged him back by the foot and flipped him over. He leaned up. I popped him in the nose. “Now then, let’s have none of that nanite bullshit from you too. The lesson needs to be learned that I kill heroes dead. D-E-Eye of Horus-Squiggly line-Norse Rune-D. Dead!” I grabbed his tongue and his leg and tossed him high into the air. At least a Wookie in height. I jumped after him and, thanks to my closer proximity, got a good view of a rogue RPG blowing a hole in the roof. I caught the Kid with my feet on his armpits and rode his inverted body down on top of the vault. When he landed, it was on his head with all of his and my weight.

But hey, they can always put his brain back together once they’re finished scouring his colon for all the pieces.

I felt it was about time to get this baby opened and get myself some sweet immortality now that I had proven myself King of the Hill. I dropped my flat, propane-selling ass to the ground in front of the door to the thing. A computer panel nearby was active. Ahah! It only took a few minutes of contact to get at this thing. Hacking? No no no. This thing was part of my nervous system. The door’s forcefield deactivated, internal alarms turned off, and the door swung open, revealing the contents to me. Gold bars. Bricks of cash. Gadgets. It was all brightly lit by the fluorescent lighting making up the entirety of the ceiling.

I ran in and found my way to a glass case with what appeared to be an ordinary stick. I busted the case and snatched it up eagerly. “Ok, I wish that gold was chocolate milk. I wish the White House was pained pink. I wish to be…immortal!”

I expected something dramatic to happen, but I had nothing. “I wish this thing would give me a sign it is working.”

No such sign. I hit it. I tried looking for an On switch. I was holding it in the same hand I ungloved to get in the vault, so it wasn’t the skin contact. I tried magic words after that. Hocus Pocus. Aveda Kedavra. Magical source, mystic force! Klaatu barada nikto. Magic missile. Shazam! The door slamming shut interrupted my attempts. I couldn’t maintain the connection to anything outside the vault after that, not even whatever system controlled the vault itself.

And a half hour later, I still hadn’t gotten it open. I couldn’t wish it open. There was no interior panel to bond with. Even the weapons laying around were useless. They were broken or had no power cells. There was a missile launcher that could have done the job, but it was missing vital parts of ordinance and firing mechanisms. Also, I was in an enclosed space with it. I even tried throwing gold bars at it because why not? They broke apart. Fakes. At least I had time to dress the stab wound to my thigh from the fight where I’d killed Ouroboros.

“Well, well, it looks like you got in my vault after all, Gecko,” said Ouroboros over an intercom.

“Great, now I’m hearing voices again.”

“Not at all. I enjoyed watching your fights from my panic room. My double provided a lot of insight into how I should fight you. It shouldn’t come to that, Gecko. Not with the heroes having just wiped the floor with the Yakuza and Columbians. My men withdrew and it seems my contingency plan worked after all. I still have something the heroes want thanks to your blatant interest in my vault. Here, let me get them on the line. Heroes! Over here! I need you to find the intercom on the vault to speak to me. Actually, I don’t, Gecko, I just want you to hear us talk.”

“When I’m through with you, there won’t be a Paradise City to rule,” I yelled. I admit, it sounded ineffectual to say.

“What’s your angle, Ouroboros? How did you survive?” said Forcelight.

“I survived in the luxury of my panic room. Inside this particular room is someone else you are looking for. You’ve done me a good turn by putting my rivals down, but I still need an agreement. If you agree to leave tonight, you’ll get Psycho Gecko, who is conveniently trapped beyond this door.”

“Deal. We’ll get him to Marscow Prison in Kingscrow as soon as we get him out of here.”

“Hey! You can’t do that! I’m too important to myself to be sent to prison!”

“They can’t hear you, Gecko. Try your intercom.”

“Thank you, motherfucker,” I said, feeling all Samuel L. Jackson up in this beast. I pressed the button, “You can’t send me to jail! I’m too homicidal. There’ll be no survivors! Besides, don’t I get a trial?”

“The prison is better suited to hold you until we get to that trial.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Just drop me in jail with Max and Doc. By the way, do you visit your dad in prison any?”

“My dad is dead. It’s- stop. Just stop.”

“What? I hit a touchy subject.”

“Just shut up. There are no mind games left to play. We’re taking you in as soon as Ouroboros opens up.”

The O-man cut in himself now, “The system has been corrupted. I can’t control he door remotely anymore. I’m afraid you will have to find a way in on your own, heroes. Pardon me if I do not wish to come down there in person and provide assistance.”

“The panel has an axe embedded in it. We’ll find a way to get in. You just sit tight in your hidey hole and play nice,” Forcelight spoke with a note of irritation in her voice.

My plan was to get some of these weapons laying around to work right. Mix and match them to shoot my way out if needed. I started gathering up piles of the junk.

“You alright, Gecko? You’re not running out of air in there, are you?” said Venus over the intercom.

I considered not even answering her. “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams, but it’s nice to hear you still care, Boopsie. What do you think, are you going to stop by and visit me in jail? Maybe we could arrange a conjugal visit.”

She responded with laughter that went on so long that she stopped holding down the button. When she next spoke to me, she had taken time to get herself under control, “Gecko, you are as appealing to me sexually as your name, and twice as slimy. I don’t care about being kind. Not to you and not after all you’ve done. I just want to see you locked up with nowhere to go for the rest of your natural life. I would actually prefer to see you bound in a nutshell, you nut, but you can find a way to be annoying while folding the prison laundry for all I care.”

These damn intercoms won’t let me interrupt, but eventually I get to have my say to play with her brain matter, “Then our monarchs and outstretched heroes are the beggars’ shadows. In court, I don’t expect you’ll look good having hunted me so maliciously. Your team either, but especially you, though. Is it justice when you hunt me just because of your boyfriend? How many greater threats have gone unattended to because of this obsession?”

It was Forcelight who spoke, “Venus has no conflict of interest. It’s not like you killed her boyfriend. Thanks to wonderful new life support and body repair technology that is soon to be patented by Long Life, he’s still alive and can’t wait till he’s put together completely and we can make him look less like a robot.”

“I held his shattered skull.”

A distorted electronic voice answered me next, “You had a few pieces. There was enough left of me to save. Thank you for the nanomachine technology, by the way. We adapted it to work on everyone if need be. Stealing from you is going to make the world a much better place when we begin mass production.” The giant robot, aka The Human Sloth. No. He’s Mecha Human Sloth now. He’s half the half-man he used to be.

“That’s not…well oh yeah? I thought your ass already had enough mass,” I wasn’t going to finish that sentence saying it wasn’t right.

Next up was Troubleshooter, “And your armor will provide great protection and strength enhancement for us and law enforcement as soon as I reverse engineer it.”

“Don’t come in here! I have a magical wishing stick! I’ll zap you to pieces if you try and get me!”

Raggedy Man responded, “I may have neglected to mention that only certain types of people can use that. I neglected it because it’s obvious you are a bad penny and no way would it allow you to wish for so much as a good penny. Thanks for getting it back for us, though.”

“I’m afraid he’s right on that one, Gecko. That thing was useless to me. That’s why I left it in the vault when I moved the rest of my valuables out. Thank you for making it obvious you wanted in there and then taking so long to come back,” said Ouroboros.

Next up was Black Raptor, “You’ve brought all your enemies together against you. You didn’t break us. You just made us even more committed to fighting people like you as a team. Even your plans here backfired on you. You can’t beat us. You can’t escape us. Your capekiller allies are in prison and your pet statue is on his way to Kingscrow now. We have your equipment. We ruined your reputation. You deserve everything you’re about to get. No, you deserve more. But you’ll settle for facing justice. When we swing this thing open, though, I hope you try to fight. We’ll try not to kill you, Psycho Gecko, but no matter what, you don’t walk away today.”

I really needed to get to work anyway so I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how long they’d be pounding away at the door and my full concentration was required on the broken pieces of scraps I’d been left with, that’s all. I could have had a brilliant response if I’d wanted to. Honestly.

It took them quite a long time, in fact. Despite all the pounding and tearing, I was able to accomplish about what I needed. I had to get this monstrosity into firing shape and scour the remains of broken gear for a power source, but I got it. I was not giving up the one I use for my suit. I need that one.

“Yo, anybody out there. Y’all almost in?” I questioned the intercom.

“Very nearly in, Gecko,” Forcelight said, “Are you going to make us this difficult on yourself?”

“I just had a few words to say,” spoke softly. It was at this point that I began to plagiarize a song called “If I Burn” because “I don’t care. Maybe I’m afraid, but still I swear. You could take my life with conscience clear, but you should still hear that if I burn, you will see the fire in your mind when you sleep and if I rise up in smoke around your eyes, you’ll know it’s mean. And the rain won’t wash away the ashes underneath your nails today. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, because if I burn, so will you.”

If I failed, I figured they’d be a badass note to go out on. If I succeeded, they’d be an integral part of the plan.

I took my position as they picked up the pace outside. I had a plan to go out in a blaze of glory, they’d think. After ten minutes, I heard the door give one last groan. Then it was yanked loose and tossed to the side by Forcelight and the robot that I realized was Mecha Human Sloth. The pair barely knew what almost hit them. It was, specifically, an old missile from the old missile launcher.

My rideable rocket lived again, just without any sorts of controls. I got up to speed quickly, zipping past heroes prepared for a fight or an escape on foot. Even Forcelight couldn’t keep up and losing track of me at that point meant escape. They would also find that their tricky little Wishing Stick was nothing but a pair of broken Wishing Twigs tossed in a corner at this point.

It was all a close call, but I was finally free.

I was so ecstatic that I shook a little on my scooter ride out of the city. I had to find where they towed my SUV to and raid it, but I got the blogging device back and my Minstrel Cycle. Let them search Paradise City a few more days. I have a new destination in mind.

Kingscrow, home of Marscow Prison, currently occupied by the Good Doctor, Mix N’ Max, and soon to have Moai in it as well. I think I’ll stop by, break out my acquaintances, and work on a more solid plan for tearing Shieldwall apart.

Don’t think that this is the last I’ve seen of Ouroboros, either. On my drive out, I noticed him calling in to the villain pirate radio station, Outlaw X. They played a request from him to me. Care to take a guess what he wanted in my honor? “The Show Must Go On,” by Three Dog Night.




Two Tickets to Paradise 6

Let me just say that these past few days hit me like a ton of bricks. Just wham!

By now you’ve already read about the seeds of this whole mess that were planted. I left Moai to guard Raggedy Man in his new room and figured I’d water them a bit. Or plant more. I was never into gardening, so the plant metaphor stretches kind of thin for me, like a rubber band that has to fit around the entire scope of an event. Metaphorical simile aside, I escalated things.

Say what you will, but I think the car bomb was perfectly justified. The target left the restaurant nice and sauced. I just turned desert into a flambé. I don’t know who the Yakuza guy was, what he did in the organization, or if he was any higher than some sort of middle manager. I don’t know much…but I know his car blew. And that may be all I need to know. Great tipper though, even if his guys were a bit paranoid and kept a close eye on me.

Obviously it’s the Cartel they have to watch out for. That’s who is meant when people mention the Columbians around here. They’re really not all Columbian once you get to the states. Still, they’re known for their car bombs.

Don’t think they got off easy though. Why, on the same night as their cowardly attack on some random Yakuza guy, several of their men who supplied drugs at the street level were gunned down by someone with a lot of those spare dinky Mini Uzis the extraction team tried to use. They’re like toys, I swear. It’s hard to take these little things seriously. I felt like the trigger was going to break off in my hand while it farted bullets into the guys.

I made it real easy for everyone to put the pieces together, too. I left all the clues out really obvious so anyone examining things would be like “Wow, this was pretty clearly a Yakuza hit and this was clearly a Cartel hit. It might as well be written all over the place.” Then they’ll laugh and laugh.

The next day, I visited our old friend Torrent. He was annoyed to say the least. I bet it’s because somebody painted the windows and windshield black and was sitting on the hood in full armor. I didn’t get a chance to deny the paint job, though. He was more concerned about the bomb I had in my hands that was spot on for what the Cartel straps to a car. “What are you doing here with that?” he spat at me.

“Oh, nothing. Had some time while I was blindfolding your car, figured I’d chain it to your toilet. Nice house by the way,” It was too. It was by the bay on Scenic Highway, very good land, even if the slopes make driving awkward. There aren’t beaches there, but it’s a fantastic spot if you have a boat. “Anyway, before I could send your pooper on parade, I found this sucker hanging on. Don’t worry, it’s disarmed. I wouldn’t want to hurt you. Here, catch!” I chucked it underhanded at Torrent. He caught it quickly and I saw his hand and forearm slightly bulge at the impact before it dissipated through his body.

“Did you stop by just to vandalize my humvee?”

“No, I’m afraid I’m here on official unofficial business. I know I’m not here officially, meaning you don’t have to act like you give a damn, but I’m here unofficially, meaning the other guys act like they give a damn. Just figured I’d point out that if I’m attacked by these guys again, with no allies of my own officially around, then I may be force to do some very violent things. There could be collateral damage. Have you ever seen a man ripped apart by an exploding port-a-potty rocket? Unofficially, between you and me, that may happen.”

Torrent was stoic in the face of extortion. “They attacked you? Do they know what you’re after?” he queried.

“They knew what room I was in on what floor I was on of what building I was keeping someone in. He’s a very important someone for this project. If you guys are antagonizing both sides, that’s fine, but a crossfire is a dangerous place for me to be for everyone concerned. All alone, lost in a strange city, looking for water to put my back against. Can you dig it?”

He dug it.

Thanks to another anonymous tip from the same source that had good information on where the out-of-towner was keeping someone hidden, one or two people with an eye out also caught a glimpse of said out-of-towner tossing a Cartel-style car bomb to Ouroboros’s #2 man. The #2 is about to hit the fan, man.

From there, I headed back to the hotel. The same one they raided. They obviously wouldn’t expect me to stay in the exact same hotel. I went right back to the first floor. Yes, the same floor too. Even if they thought I had the audacity to stay in the same hotel, they’d assume I would change floors. They’d be wrong. And I went to the same room door…and passed it up, heading two doors down. If anyone thought to check the same hotel and floor, they’re savvy enough to check the same room. Uh uh. Not gonna find me that easy.

Time for the video. I let myself into the room and handed a phone to Moai. Just something I picked up real quick. It and the axe. Some people looked at me funny when I was carrying that around, but I yelled something about Second Amendment Rights and that got them to back off.

I took the axe with me into the circle of floodlights. Raggedy wasn’t looking good. He was scraped up, with dried blood on his arms and legs where he’d tried to wriggle free. He had a cut on his head as well, probably from the lamp.

Making sure not to bridge the gap with a shadow, I stood close to him and tapped him on the head with the axe. “Wake up, sleeping beauty. I really don’t feel like true love’s kiss needs to be brought into this.”

He stirred, slowly getting his bearings. Then he saw the axe, his eyes going wide. He trembled a tiny bit. To his credit, he restored his composure after a few seconds. I patted him on the head. “Fear not, Raggedy Man. You and I are just going to make a video…something tasteful. Ok, Moai, roll it!”

I waved at the camera, axe in hand. “Hi there Raptor! Say hi, Raggedy Man.”

I waited. And waited. No response from Raggedy. I grabbed his hand with mine and began yanking it. “Now come on Raggedy, at least wave to the man.” With a crack, I was able to raise Raggedy’s hand up for a wave. His forearm remained firmly secured to his chair with a cuff having been forced high up along his arm. He screamed. I waited until he was finished before I spoke out the side of my mouth in a higher pitch than normal, “Hullo there Raptor, it’s me, Raggedy, practicing my ventriloquism.”

“Neat skill there, Raggedy Man. Anyway, Raptor, nice to finally talk to you. I’m Psycho Gecko and I’ve been spying on you. You’ve come out to your wife about your secret identity. The late nights, the costume with muscles molded into it, looking for strange men in dark alleyways. You’re a superhero. You probably think now you’re out that things get better. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they won’t. It gets worse.”

I set down my hostage’s hand and continued, “I have him at that crappy hotel by the civic center. First floor. You’ll want to get here and rescue him while you can. I know it’s the middle of the day, but you can drop the girls off at an aunt’s house or something and throw on the costume. Your wife won’t have to know because she’s working. Actually working at the bank this time. No stakeout. Raaaaptor, come out to plaaaaaay.”

I brought the axe more prominently into frame and gave it a couple partial spins. “Just you, me, and a new axehole. Ok, cut it there and let’s send it to him. Good job Raggedy, you’ll make it in showbiz yet. You should really show me how you do the trick with the broken arm sometime, I’d love to know how you fake that.”

“What are you going to do if he doesn’t show up?” wondered my prisoner.

“I’m going to leave you in the chair, that’s all. He’ll come.”

Moai sent Raptor the video to his phone and I left the disposable plugged in to charge and provide a handy bug for when Raptor came crashing in. The axe I left in the plastic ashtray outside the door of the hotel. Meanwhile, I headed to the bank. I had an important withdrawal to make.

When I walked into the bank, I appeared to be a civilian in a business suit, briefcase in hand. I’m glad I don’t have to wear an actual suit. Too morbid. Think about it. What do they dress dead bodies in for a funeral? Suits. And then there’s the noose people men tie around their own throats when they put them on. Not only are they dressing like they’re going to die, they’re wearing a means to kill them.

I bluffed my way through to the offices with various nonsense about loan originators and debt reconsolidation and so on. A badge and nametag appeared to match what I saw worn around me in the office, the title shifting as I weaved in and out of lies and higher up the corporate ladder. You can get more places with nonsense, a prop, and confidence than you can with just nonsense. Acting like you don’t belong somewhere is a sure sign that you don’t. Social engineering, I’ve heard it called. The weakest links in any security measure are the people themselves.

I found our Mrs. Robinson looking much more professional in the women’s version of a suit on her slender frame and hair done up. There were dark circles around her eyes. Knowing what hubby’s up to wasn’t helping her peace of mind. I just had to idle for a bit, so I stopped by the water cooler. Mmm, refreshing water. I don’t think anyone caught that it just ran off what seemed like my face and suit.

I made my move when I heard doors crashing in back at the hotel via my phone. The missus was chatting with a balding coworker when I stopped by her desk casually, apologized that I needed to pause and get something from my case, and pulled out my coffee blaster and a small board. Some people call their coffee makers a name like Mr. Coffee. I think I’ll call mine Mr. 2nd Degree Burns. Excellent.

I scalded the man with the thinning hair right on his exposed head. Mrs. Robinson had an inkling of my purpose and stumbled upright, knocking over her chair. I wrapped my arm around her as she turned to run, catching her around the midsection. I set Mr. 2nd Degree Burns aside then hit her at waist-height with the board. It let out a snap as it hit her and on my signal it curled around her waist. I got the idea from a wristband I saw once.

She struggled and threw her elbows against me. She tried to stomp on my foot with her heel. She stopped that once I whispered to her, “Mrs. Robinson, you can try and seduce me later. Right now, that’s a bomb I put on you. I have the detonator in my helmet and can set it off at any moment, so you might want to stop. Just saying.”

She did as I gently suggested and stood there, huffing, trying to catch her breath. Taking Mr. 2nd Degree Burns back in hand, the two of us made our way to the elevator. She got a confused look on her face as the door closed and turned to me. “Helmet?” she inquired. She got a good look at my armor as I dropped the businessman illusion and let out a piercing scream.

I tried muting her, but I was forced to do so without the aid of a remote by holding my hand over her mouth while I listened in on Raptor’s progress. He broke down the correct door this time. “Help is here, man. We got you. I don’t care what they said, I knew you’d turn up alive. You’re too tough a bastard to die.”

She screamed her pretty little face off up on the roof. I held her by the updo she had her long black hair in, holding her at arms length so that she leaned off the side of the building. I dialed up the phone I left back in the hotel room and interrupted the reunion of mentor and hero with a call carrying the shrill sound of Raptor’s wife in danger.

“Hey, pick up the phone already! I don’t have all day. My arm’s getting tired.”

“What do you want?” came a voice over the phone. There was rage, desperation, and hurt in his voice.

“It’s funny that nobody knows the answer to that, because I’m sure it would make a lot of things in the immediate future much clearer. I digress. Now, I wasn’t lying when I said your wife was at work. I’m with her now! Let me tell you, she knows how to work a business skirt, know what I mean? You’ve got two kids, so I guess you do. So here’s the deal, I’m going to drop her here in a few minutes. I don’t know, maybe five? I suppose I could try and make this a sadistic choice, but we both know you’ll grab her instead of trying to grab me. All you have to do is flap your little wings over here and keep your wife from falling to her doom.” I hung up.

I actually waited 7 minutes, but nothing beats having a loved one die in a hero’s arms. When it looked like he was close enough, I dropped Mrs. Robinson off the side of the building and adjusted my visor for binocular vision.

Black Raptor dove like a peregrine for the woman he loved. He came in dangerously close to the ground to catch her and the extra weight threw him down low enough that his wings struck something and the pair began to roll. When I caught up to them and got it focused enough I was disappointed by the sight that everyone lived. Raptor laid there on the ground, mechanical wings ruined, wife on top of him, the bomb strap in its board shape again nearby. The wife was going to make it, it seems. It put enough into it that it’ll blow through bones and organs where it’s wrapped, but with no real chance of collateral damage. It’s designed to do enough to kill just the one it’s wrapped around. Remember, if I kill Raptor, he won’t learn nuthin’.

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t give the guy a hand for all his luck and determination. I sent the signal telling the strap to curl up. It wrapped around Raptor’s right arm at the bicep. From where I stood, it sounded more like a loud pop as it took his arm off.

I cut back to the visor’s normal vision mode as I turned and found myself face-to-face with a giant hammer that hit me out of nowhere. I fell to my right, more than a little dazed. “Hey Gecko!” Venus shouted as she got control of the beefed up sledgehammer she just bitchslapped me with.

“You did it out of order,” I said haltingly. I had to relearn how to speak as my teeth felt like they’d just been rearranged.

“Stay down, Psycho Gecko. The team has this building surrounded and our people inside. There’s only one way you get off this building and that’s in our custody. Don’t make us have to hurt you.”

I held up a finger, “Hold on a minute. I don’t know where you came from or how you and your identical triplet sisters learned to spin around in circles that way, but I think we’ve established by now that there are two ways off this building.”

With that, I threw myself off the side, hoping I was still facing good people.

I was. It was Forcelight who first tried to catch me, but she was too powerful for what I was trying to do. If she caught me, that would be it. I directed a blank white holographic image into her face as she got close. She pulled it away with her powers but had missed me. She couldn’t stop on a dime.

The next hero to interrupt my fall was Gorilla Awesome who swung through the air to catch me in one meaty paw. Too bad he can’t fly. I swung my fists into one of his eyes and kicked off his body.

I continued my descent until Troubleshooter floated by. She piloted a car-sized vehicle that looked like she got out of control while adding stuff to her backpack. Two large waldoes, shaped like squared-off “U”s, grabbed me from either side, pinning my arms to my waist as the ends of each side met at my front and back. A mechanical scorpion tail rose out of the back of her flying machine and aimed right at my head. “Go ahead, make a move. I dare you.”

I hooked my right foot against a sort of cuff that was part of the right waldo and pushed, activating the jump enhancer. A system designed to throw me into the air exerted pressure against it. The right waldo yielded, leaving me in only the left, which tried to close more and hold me. It tried, but I slipped out the bottom. Hey, at least it got me closer to the ground and slowed me down some.

I was beginning to think I should have stayed with her when the heroes made one last attempt at saving my life. Or they almost did. Miss Tycism stopped before she got close enough to grab me and just let me fall.

I bounced off an SUV when I landed, denting it before landing hard on the ground. I was in bad shape. Bones broken, head concussed, warm fluids in my helmet and crotch area. I couldn’t feel much below the neck. I heard the door of the SUV open. The armor and I were both a little messed up but I wrangled enough projectors working together to throw up the illusion that I wasn’t there. Nanites flooded my body, emptying the suit’s stores as they worked to mend me. That was the plan. Disappear, get well enough to walk, and find Moai if he was still close enough in the escape vehicle.

Except the driver that walked over to look at me happened to be a statue from Easter Island. He loaded me in the back of the crushed former Yabloo City Sheriff’s K9 unit SUV and took off with me before the heroes could track us.

Like I said, good to have someone dependable around.



Two Tickets to Paradise 5

“Wakey wakey, wakey wakey wakey!” I laughed as I threw a bucket of Tabasco on my prisoner, ensuring I had his full attention. The man shook his head off as he raised it to look at me. The hot sauce drenched his undershirt and boxers, but his costume had been removed. He winced as he tried to see past the floodlights surrounding him and the chair he was tied to. Tied wasn’t really a good word for it, actually. He was tied, chained, padlocked, handcuffed, zip-tied, and glued to the chair. The floodlights left barely any shadow at all, perhaps just under his butt on the chair. If he could escape, Raggedy Man hadn’t bothered to do so in the days I held on to him.

He glared at me. I gave him the V sign. He can’t touch me. “Beaten by your own heroics. Your own reputation.”

He spat Tabasco at where he figured I was. I threw the bucket and hit him in the head. The bucket rolled away after the blow, disappearing past the perimeter of floodlights.

“Don’t hate the Gecko, hate the game. It’s the age of information, and there’s a wiki out there that can tell people like me everything we’d ever want to know about some of you, especially you old timers.”

“What are you going to do to me now? Torture me?” he eyed me. The scars over his body were evidence to others having tried that in the past. Knives, bullets, even a burn in the shape of a plus sign.

“Nope, don’t care about that. You’re entirely insignificant to me except for your relationship with Black Raptor. You have no information I want,” I pulled out a styrofoam cup full of peanuts and began to break them open and eat the warm, soggy insides. “By the way, you hungry? You need the bucket? Something to drink? Anything I can help you with?”

“You can let me go,” he said with a snort that blew Tabasco sauce onto the floor.

I answered with a shake of my head and threw a peanut at his head, “Nope, can’t do that. I need you here. You’re bait.”

“Why tell me that I’m bait then? Are you about to monologue on me?”

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your rears! Nope. It just doesn’t matter. You are bait and the bird can’t help but fly to your aid.”

“You think a lot of things don’t matter for someone who has a plan.”

“It doesn’t matter what you think I think doesn’t matter.”

“I still have information you want.”

“Ok, ok, if getting tortured means that much to you, I’ll go grab the baking soda, root beer, and pliers. Are those dentures, or your real teeth?” I asked, not moving from my seat. I was doing my best to keep there from being any sort of line of shadow from Raggedy Man to the exterior of the floodlight circle, so torturing him is unlikely. He’s been known to get away easily in the past when he frequented drearier places than this.

“No, look,” he pleaded, “You’re here to kill Raptor, but why? He hasn’t done anything to cripple the Yakuza, the Cartel, or Ouroboros. He’s causing some headaches, but nothing they can’t work around. Somebody is paying you to kill him, but they’re getting a lot more for their money. They’re making the other groups sweat.”

While he’s talking about all this and slowly working his way through the reasoning behind my employment here, I rolled my hand at my wrist to subtly indicate that he should get to the end of it already. I also tried to see if I could get a peanut into his mouth.

Raggedy Man kept trying to talk me to death, “More than likely, you’re going to call down a lot of heat. The gangs are going to come after you and so are any cops on their payroll. You’re walking through a minefield and your best bet is to get out of town.”

By now, of course, I’d grabbed a knife, pulled up my shirt, and was in the process of slitting open my own belly. “Excuse me, I got a little bored and this seemed like a better idea than listening you talk about stuff I already know,” I told him through gritted teeth, then reached over and grabbed a moist towelette to daub at the wound.

“Seriously?” he asked, incredulous to the lengths I’d go to not hear him speak.

“Seriously. I’m not afraid to have people try and kill me. And while our little talk turned up nothing useful at all, oooh, that stings, I’m going to have to cut it short. As usual, Moai here will hang around and toss you the bucket if you need to go to the bathroom.” I reached in for an organ I wouldn’t miss much in the short term, yanked it out, and threw it at Raggedy, nailing him in the nose.

He sputtered and choked back a heave, “That was a gallbladder!”

“Huh, thought I was wandering a little high up to grab one of those. Can you believe the gall of that bladder? Well, I guess you’d better be careful about boring me, or I’ll wind up feeding you more organs, and I can’t guarantee they’ll all come from me.”

I slipped a syringe of my nanite friends out and gave myself a stab in the gut. Raggedy Man began to chuckle, though, “You’re one of those crazy killers, aren’t you? They picked you to do the job because you’re so out of it, no one will miss you. You’re not walking away from this city. At the very least, Ouroboros is going to get you.”

I rolled my eyes, “What if he’s the one I’m working for?”

“He wouldn’t need you to work for him. Not with the Wishing Stick. With that, he can do almost anything. Be untouchable, unkillable even.”

That did catch my interest. I knew he was grasping at straws here. He’s desperate. And a little bit constipated, even for a guy tied to a chair. However, if it’s possible Ouroboros will try and deny me payment, then I need to know how to kill him. To do that, it helps to know what he might throw at me, even if it sounds like something from a bedtime story. “Ok, so we’re on the kid’s channel now. What’s this Wishing Stick mess about?”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like. A small stick, like a wand, that grants wishes. Mandy found a gem that went on it as well, the Wishing Pebble. They’re from a little before your time, I reckon, but I gave up the stick after Mandy left. It was too much power to be responsible for so I tried to lock it up and safeguard it.”

“What kinds of wishes can it grant? Riches? Eternal youth? Cuban cigars?”

“As long as you hold it, whatever you want. It can’t effect any other living creature though. I’ve turned rocks into soda fountains and made myself invulnerable to harm with it, but eventually you have to set it down, and that’s when the effects wear off. Mandy found a way around it, but I wasn’t…wasn’t willing to go that far. That kind of power didn’t belong in my hands, and now it’s in his. By hook or by crook, somehow Ouroboros got into that vault and he took it. If you’re working for him, when he could use that to kill whoever you’re after effortlessly, it’s because he’s going to set you up to draw out his enemies.”

Or it’s because this guy doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows. That whole “immortality” thing sounds like a good deal though. I bet all I’d need to do is empty out some space and surgically implant that thing into me. Not my gallbladder, though. I’ll keep that. I can feel something in there has regrown and it seems to make a useful projectile in a pinch.

“Congratulations, Raggedy Man. You’ve entertained me a little. You live to remain tied to a chair another day. I have to go call a man about a horse, though, because I’m no longer going to have you tied to one. I’m thinking maybe a zebra instead. That’s a horse of a different color,” I said as I excused myself quickly. Yes, that little bit about the Wishing Stick was interesting to learn indeed. There were an awful lot of coincidences involved, and it sounds like something from the Land of Make Believe, but a few calls ought to verify that.

It was a couple of days before I was able to finish my inquiry. I didn’t have any contacts in the area, but I knew some people who knew some people who could tell me the names of some people and places to ask around at. I had some very interesting conversations with various gangsters in the area. I checked in on Moai, too, who texted me back that our guest was enjoying room service at the hotel we were keeping him at. I think that means Moai force-fed him the bedsheets.

Raggedy Man’s story was corroborated. Ouroboros did, in fact, have such a ridiculously named artifact as the Wishing Stick. He acquired it while working for Hephaestus/Faustus. It’s a power broker organization. I’ve taken jobs with them before. The Faustus branch collects artifacts of a magical or supernatural nature, while Hephaestus collects superior technology. Hephaestus tried to acquire my suit rather than pay me. I let out their Giant Dragon Millipede experiments in that particular base. There were no survivors. Except me, of course, and the Giant Dragon Millipedes that now inhabit the land.

Apparently Ouroboros was one of the first people they ever empowered via a healthy dose of toxic chemicals and radiation. His breakaway from them happened the same time he took power in Paradise City, and just before they merged with Faustus.

I had a headache just beginning to get mixed up in all this. It’s supposed to be a simple job, but I let a hero start talking and this is what happens. I want that stick. I want immortality. No more relying on nanites, no more suits with space wasted on life support, no more hiding every time someone big enough swoops down.

The price of this contract just went up.

I was in quite the diabolical little mood when I made my way back to the hotel. It was that big tall one by the civic center. A little on the crappy side, but I paid for the worst rooms on the worst floor. Raggedy Man can scream all he wants but nobody’s coming for him yet.

Except for whoever is already coming for him. As I approached, I found a black van and a black SUV parked outside. Men ran inside. Men in black. Seeing as by some definitions of what constitutes a border I am an illegal alien, I figured they might possibly be after me. Or maybe I’m just paranoid about men in black with black vehicles heading into a building where I have a hero superglued to a chair.

Before I could get there on foot, I saw a character in a red, white, and blue costume glide down. He landed perfectly this time, this Red White Blue Kid, and headed in. I think I got his name right this time. Pretty sure I messed it up in other updates, but no more than he messed up by picking that name.

As I approached, I grabbed for an a plastic weighted ashtray outside the door and prepared to drag it in when someone came up from behind me. An Asian guy so I’m going to assume Yakuza. That or the cartel are recruiting from Peru now. He must have been the guy assigned to keep a lookout at the street. I pivoted around the ashtray and swung it around, able to get it high enough to knock him in the knees. He went to his back. I lifted it high enough to drop it on his belly and weigh him down. “Ashes to ashes,” I told him, then jumped into the air. Even without my suit there’s only so high you need to get for your knee to crush a man’s windpipe upon landing on his neck.

Sloppy hero didn’t even check if they left a man to guard the vehicles. I heard something else clatter against the ground and checked. An Uzi pistol. A little miniature Uzi, almost like a toy. I’m glad they thought this mission was just about stealing someone back.

I left it behind as I ran in. In front of me, down the hallway, was a nice little scene. RWB Kid didn’t wait to get shot. He closed in and grabbed one of the men in the face. Things went bright for a moment and there was a popping noise, then he dropped him, his other hand wide open and launching tasers at the two men a little further on. They went down like electrocuted marionettes.

I guess that’s better than what I’d have done. I’d have treated them more like ventriloquist dummies.

That was three down, with four more men surrounding the door to Raggedy’s room. Two of them went flying against the opposite wall as Moai burst through the door. They crumpled in a heap. Their friends had dodged to either side of the door and looked like they’d need a visit to the laundry soon when they realized they had two threats to worry about. I thought the further one would make a break for it, but he didn’t. He jumped across the doorway to stand back to back with his brother in arms and was felled within moments, leaving Moai and RWB Boy looking at one another. Correction, RWB Kid. I need a nickname for this guy.

“You again,” I heard from the young hero as he looked over my minion. I grabbed him from behind and smacked his head into the wall. Then I drooped him over my knee, licked my hand, and gave him a spanking. Pop!

“And you again. Who are you?” he asked with a wince.

“Does your mother know that you’re out this late wearing her towel as a cape?” I asked. I popped my fingers, preparing for a 63, when I heard Raggedy Man call out.

“Gecko, get me the hell out of here, dammit, I’m too old for this shit!”

While I was distracted, RWB Boy grabbed my arm. His eyes crackled as I felt electricity numb my body. My eyes went a bit wonky and most of the upgrades in me weren’t taking it very well. I heard a thud with a little give to it and was freed of that shocking turn of events by Moai, courtesy of his attempt to kick a field goal with the teen hero’s head. The boy was knocked out, so I dropped him in the middle of the downed gangsters and headed into the room.

“Aww, someone didn’t like an attempted ‘rescue’ by some old friends?” I teased Raggedy. As far as I’ve read, he barely even touched the Yakuza before he retired here to Florida.

“What kind of game are you playing at here?” he demanded, red-faced.

“That’s for me to know and everyone else to find out if they’re lucky,” I said as I grabbed a lamp in the room and chucked it at his head. There, out like a light.

Moai and I just had to move him to a different room, one that fewer members of the city’s organized crime had a reason to believe contained Ouroboros’s target. They didn’t know who or what it was, but they know they don’t want him to get what he’s after. I didn’t know the hero would join in and give me a hand, but the more the merrier.

I’m not a fan of all this. Everyone wanted to force all the drama and spy-versus-spy crap on me. In the process, they gave me another goal to shoot for and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised where the bullets end up once I join in.



Two Tickets to Paradise 4

Alright, who’s ready for an update?

First off, our buddy Black Raptor is not sleeping in the dog house. I went back to see how things were going. There was some tension there. Raptor’s wife kept staring at him. She dropped hints too, mentioning that song “Jenny (867-5309)” so she didn’t fall for it being another woman’s number. Naturally, he didn’t respond.

He didn’t hold up well under his wife’s gaze. Ole Willy-boy looked apologetic, but he forced that off his face. “Hon, I told you. I couldn’t sleep and I took a walk.”

Wife woman raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t feel like using the door?”

I wanted to hear his response to this one, but the kids bounded in, bundles of loud energy. Very loud energy. The terror of the previous night was forgotten, apparently. They were a little let down that mom got called in to work, but dad going to take them to see a movie and have ice cream. Yay! And while they were causing a ruckus, I slipped daddy’s cellphone away for a few minutes to slip my glove off and merge with it. When I replaced it, it was all set up to stay on and transmit everything the receiver picked up to my armor.

My spying outsourced to a phone, I let the family head off to have their fun.

Bah, kids these days. Back when I was that age, I was too busy to have fun childhood experiences. I was having my fun the old-fashioned way, out of a pill. Experience, they called it. Ex or X for short, and no relation to your Ecstasy. The different colors let you experience different emotions, but it overwhelms that whole section of your brain and you lose your natural ability to feel emotions before too long. They wanted us to learn control over our emotions and harness them or we’d get more fried in the brain and until we didn’t have any. The Ex was also presented as a good way to fake emotions if you needed them.

Those were good times. It wasn’t even lethal if you failed and they only had to give me the Fear Experience twice.

Enough waxing nostalgic. Huh. Our hero is a stay-at-home dad. You’d think they’d put that in the info they gave me…yep, they did. Paying a visit to his place of work is out then.

Once they were out of the house, I checked the fridge to see what they’d bought since my last visit. Nothing good. Ah well. I slipped the salmon out of my belt and pulled the detonator out of its mouth. I began to check for a good spot on the wall that is covered by something. Then I was like “Maybe there’s a good spot like that on the wall behind that mirror,” so I checked. I was right. I lifted the mirror with my left hand and punched into the drywall with my right, then released the fish into the wall. Then I realized I had something to work with after all and drained the family’s milk into the hole in the wall as well.

I left the house to ripen and there was nothing interesting from Raptor’s phone, so I began to scope out the city. I didn’t pay much attention to the noises from the phone, only occasionally bringing the conversations to the fore when someone said something that seemed important. Taking the kids around, dropping them off somewhere, heading somewhere else for awhile, leaving the phone somewhere. A boring day in the life of a dad.

I had better things to do, like work on the rest of his humiliation. I wanted to waltz into Raptor’s place of employment and trash it, but that’s not an option it turns out. I found a few good buildings, including a hotel right by the local civic center. There was a Bank of America a pretty good size, too. Most of the buildings in the city aren’t built very tall though. ParadiseCity has had far too many hurricanes to want to scrape the skies.

My scheming was interrupted by a call Raptor was receiving from his wife. “Hi hon.”

“Don’t you ‘hi hon’ me. Where are the girls?”

“Hon, what’s wrong?”

“I just saw you leave that house. What were you doing there and where are the girls?”

“I dropped them off at my aunt’s. It’s not what it looks like, hon.”

“I don’t know if the note was some sort of half-assed clue, Bill, but I need to know where you keep going? You’re lying about it and I just want the truth.”

“Ok, but not over the phone. There you are. Let me tell you face to face.”

Just when I thought the seeds of doubt wood grow into a weeping willow, everything turned out oakay. He revealed his identity as Black Raptor. There was crying and hugging and the wife asking why and him answering that it gave him more purpose to help people that way than anything else he’d ever done in his life. He felt like the world his daughters grew up in needed more people like him.

“What does all that have to do with that house?” asked the wife. She had a point. As far as she knew, he could be making up being a hero to get away with an affair. That’s happened before on that TV show Cheaters. Good show. It had to go off the air when one of the guys turned out to be a villain named Lungtaker. He had a thing about ripping out body parts. With the Cheaters crew dead, they pitched Lungtaker his own show. There were no survivors.

I love ending stories that way. It adds an air of finality to the situation. How was your day at work? “There were no survivors.” I heard you went and sang karaoke last night. “There were no survivors.” Sorry I missed the cookout last night. How did it go? “There were no survivors.” Whoa, dude, I told you. You shouldn’t serve deep fried hotdogs.

That house, by the way, was paydirt. “That’s where this old hero lives. Raggedy Man. I owed money to a Yakuza loanshark and they were coming to collect. I’m lucky the old man got nostalgic and went out that night. He’s been training me ever since.”

Perfect! This was just the guy to kill in a big flashy way to show the hero I meant business. Most people think it’s a mark of shame to be the expendable person, but the point of killing off someone to get to a hero is that their presence is so important, it throws the hero off his game.

It’s a shame I’m not going to be killing this guy. There would be no survivors.

I pinged the phone’s GPS via my remote link and ran for Moai and the deconverted Sheriff’s SUV he was waiting in.

By the time I got there, the couple was gone. They were too busy discussing how Raptor’s extracurricular activities would affect things with the family. For starters, it was agreed that the Raptor’s mother-in-law wasn’t coming to visit next month after all.

The house wasn’t particularly big. It had white vinyl siding, red shutters, and a red door. It was neat, the grass was trim, and the suburb was probably a little on the old and poor side, but nothing illegal would go on here during the day either.

“Ok, I have a plan,” I told Moai. He nodded. “I’ll get out and knock on the door. When he answers it, I punch him in the balls and kidnap him. I’ll need you in the car here because if he punches me in the balls instead, you should gun it and aim for his balls. If he gets the better of me, I expect them to be too large and heavy for him to run for it, but they might wreck the car. In that case, we’ll call in a domestic disturbance over here, something about a man slapping his wife’s balls, then kill the cops and throw grandpa in the trunk. You clear on all this?”

Moai gave me another nod. Good man. Well, good statue. It’s good to have someone dependable backing me up. Someone with balls.

I got out, my armor presenting me as just a regular guy in a tank top. I approached the door and knocked a couple of times. There was no answer after a couple of seconds so I rang the doorbell. Still nothing. Crafty bastard was playing hard to get. I banged on the door with my fist.

“He’s not home!” said a neighbor as I turned to her swiftly. I’d spotted her opening her screened-in porch door. She was old and hunched over, like the wrinkles were weighing her down.

“Oh?” I asked, “I was just looking for him to say thanks on behalf of a friend. He helped pull his butt out of the fire once and I wanted to thank him.”

The old woman regarded me with a stare that almost had me believing she could see through my hologram, but she finally spoke up, “Yeah, he does that. He’s off gambling in Biloxi for a few days though. Don’t you think of taking nothing. Mr. Ray has a man come by to check on the place while he’s away and if I see you do anything, I’ll find my switch and bust your bottom myself.”

“Will he be back soon?” I asked.

“Mhm. A day or two. I’ll tell him you came by if you give me your name.”

“He won’t know my name, because it was my friend he helped, but it’s a little unusual.”

“That’s ok, people name their kids all kinds of things these days.”

“I guess they do. I’m Tokay,” I told her, putting a smile across my face.

“Oooh, that’s not bad at all,” she said with a grin, showing teeth missing.

I was temporarily thwarted. Biloxi’s going on my shit list. I had to revisit the place a few days later, long after I had to shut off the link to Raptor’s phone due to family angst and drama over his heroism. This is a no drama zone. There shall be no angst in my villainy if I can help it. None. There’s no reason hurting people should be anything other than fun here.

So I went back earlier today to beat up this old man.

This time, Moai parked and snuck around the back while I knocked on the door in disguise again. This time he answered. He was old, but held himself well. Still had more meat than fat on his bones. The remaining puffs of white hair stood out from his dark brown skin and reminded me a little bit of a clown. I told him about how a friend of mine said he saved him and that I just wanted to show my appreciation. “You’re Tokay?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Come on in, lady next door told me about you,” he said as he waved me in and turned away. I stepped in and shut the door. When I turned back around, he was gone. Quiet old fart.

“Hey, where’d you go?”

“Vietnam,” I heard from nowhere. “I learned a lot there. I learned how to spot when someone’s hiding shadows behind a lighter exterior.”

I dropped the disguise. He was on to me. You don’t get to be a retired hero by being an idiot. “Nam, eh? Was that something to do with why you started? It’s been a long time since you started having fun in the 70s. Care to learn a few new tricks, old dog?”

He appeared from the shadows suddenly to my rear, flowing out of them like an illusion of his own. A fist gloved in iron and rags slammed into the back of my neck. I turned to chop at where his hooded face would be, but he faded back into the shadows. I don’t mean sneaking either. He actually disappeared physically into the shadows. That’s pretty cool.

“Care to catch an old school beating, young bitch?” he said, his wizened voice becoming harsher and grating as he got back into his old act. I created an illusion of myself still facing that way and glancing to the sides a bit as I took a few steps back to cover my rear. Raggedy Man appeared from above the real me again, slamming his boots into my head. I went down, grabbing for him, but he disappeared. He keeps too many lights off in this house. The entry hallway limited my movements but his power let him come from any angle pretty much.

I headed down the hall and found the living room, which had more space for me to move in.

“I don’t know who you are, but I have a guess thanks to your name. Another thing I learned in Vietnam is another name for a Tokay gecko,” he said, his voice coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. I closed my eyes, letting myself focus on the overwhelming 360 degree visuals from my helmet. “We called it the ‘fuck-you lizard’,” he said just before appearing again, appearing at my right rear.

I caught his chin with my right hand, put my weight on my left foot, and threw my right foot into his balls. He wrenched my grip loose from his face with both hands face and grabbed at his crotch, doubling over as he fled into the shadows. “Hey old man, I ain’t fucking you. Speaking of fucking, how’s your old girlfriend Raggedy Mandy doing?” I looked around for where he’d come from next.

The mention of his one-time partner got his attention in a hurry, but his leg was in mid swing as he appeared before me. The metal shin guard hidden under the sewed up rags slammed into my throat and sent me stumbling against the back door on one wall of the living room and next to the kitchen. He stayed there this time, moving to stand against the wall in front of me. “What do you want here?” he asked in a voice that bit down rage.

“I want some mo,” I said.

He tilted his head, “Some more what?”

The door burst into splinters and light flooded in to cut off Raggedy Man’s escape, revealing his costume. It was a patchwork of rags with hidden steel reinforcing his favorite limbs to swing at people and an old, human-sized Raggedy Andy head for a mask. Moai flew through it, head first, and knocked him against the wall. With a grunt, he left an imprint of his body in the drywall and slid down to the floor.

I stood up, brushing myself off, and patted our captured hero on his red yarn hair, then I gave Moai a thumbs up. “Some Moai. Good timing, dude.”