Tag Archives: Sam Hain

Ex-Weapon 8

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“You sure you’re ok up there?” Sam asked me over the phone. I may not exactly be with Mix N’Max’s assistant but we figured we’re staying in touch. Medusa’s keeping tabs on me too. Adrian called too. I ignored the call from a hungover Senator Goatse because I don’t care what he’s calling about but the best case scenario was being upset that he paid for my trip into space. The SpaceSex rocket has been remarkably well-maintained. And it’s been a lovely experience once you get over the realization that you’re a tiny bit of metal from certain death. I’ve loved most of my life in that kind of situation.

“You’re humming again,” Sam said.

I laughed. “Was staring out a window again. I keep thinking of that Aladdin song about showing Jasmine the world. I’m actually seeing it, all of it.”

Sam sang a few lines for me before stopping to say, “I wish I could see it.”

“There’s always the feed from the International Space Station, but it doesn’t do it justice. It’s not the same as when you cross the Universe Divide, either..” I pushed off the side of the service module and toward the command module to check on the distance to the moon. “It’s been nearly three days now.”

“I’m surprised it takes so little time. We just never go anymore,” Sam said. “You bring a flag along?”

“Let’s see, I got power armor, food, toiletries, and a spacesuit with its own thong. I’m fully prepared for pretty much every situation that could come up on the moon. And for the record, it turns out the fake engines they strapped to the side were completely unnecessary. It’s a good thing they fell off with the first stage. Barring anymore modifications like that, I’m good to go.”

“Not yet you aren’t. You’re thinking of Disney tunes. You need something to get your head in the game,” she remarked.

“Ha! Save it for the lander. Which, according to this thingamabob, is actually in good condition. To be completely honest, I was half sure this thing was going to pull itself apart when the first two rocket stages fell off. Like, though when the second part fell away, it’d take part of this one with it. I headed out of the command module and through the service module. I’m also super glad I actually took the time to read the manual and some instructional videos. There’s a whole thing where the third stage separates from the part that goes to the moon and you have to flip the the ship around and dock with the lunar module. I nearly missed that. Wouldn’t want to be without the beauty I now headed for. I opened the door and got a face full of sex toys, a veritable rainbow of dildo. A plethora of peggers. A variety of vibrators. And a surplus of strap-ons, too.

The shifting mass did something. I felt something break away. I don’t know, but I made sure the door back to the command module was just fine. I think I heard something, or it was the shuddering of something breaking. In space, nobody can hear me cuss and dive into a lunar module full of sex toys. “Sam… looks like I’m on approach.”

She started playing “Fly Me to the Moon” from the Bayonetta soundtrack.

I had to dig my way through the toys to the computers and cross-reference the data it gave me with my brain’s info on the base. The register in my store has a more advanced computer than this old thing. The base we were looking for was on the other side of the moon, but those manuals made it pretty clear I had to get this lunar bit away from the rest before I could even think of bringing it down. I wasn’t able to tell Sam I had to let the lunar module get miles away from me until the song was over.

Despite all that, the descent mostly went ok. Took me a long time before I came around on a course for the ICE base, which seemed unaware of me. I was quickly relieved of that thought when I saw through the windows that the base was looming close and various pieces on the outside of it were rotating around toward me. They had at least spotted me. “I could use that music now, Sam.”

There was a brief snippet of her voice, followed by just silence. Oh, right, we were on the dark side of the moon. I guess I’ll have to supply the music. “Gloryhammer” by Gloryhammer ought to do nicely. I believe it’s from their album Gloryhammer. Perhaps a key why was in the belting of Angus McFife XIII: “Galaxies swarming behind me, nebulas lying ahead. This can only mean, that I have arrived into space, oh yeah.”

While Angus sang about feeling the astral fire inside him, I was noticing that the moonbase didn’t fire on me. Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe they didn’t have exterior turrets set up for people invading. They’d have to get them at some point, but much of this moonbase looked like they’d taken prefabricated buildings and worked them in with moon cement in a ziggurat with a wide, flat top on it sporting radar dishes and communications towers. A pair of large metal engines poked up from the dusty moon’s surface on either side, almost like a sci fi power plant. I brought the module in for a landing on that roof, right near one of the things that was watching me. I hopped right out and kicked the thing away, it turning out to be nothing but a camera.

“Well, maybe this will be easier than I thought,” I meant to say, but the intense cold hit me like a bucket full of ice cubes got shoved under my skin through all of my holes. I saw a huge thermal signal nearby and headed toward it. My HUD identified it as a heat exchanger. An important piece of equipment, it kept my nibbles from flaking off and I knew there’d be an access point. Sure enough, they had a roof-mounted airlock for all the sensitive equipment up there. I quickly let myself in and started cycling it.

Just like that, I was in and using the power of holograms to blend in with the environment. I managed before a gaggle of guards in spacesuits came running up with ICE-issue plasma rifles. I clung to the top of the corridor, which wasn’t that far above everything, and projected a hologram of someone cutting into the airlock from the other side, throwing up smoke that didn’t hang around. The Icers readied ther rifles and spread out for maximum lines of fire.

The cutting stopped suddenly, as did the appearance of any effect on the door. As one, I and my nanomachine tendrils pantsed the entire group. I grabbed the two nearest me while they were trying to figure out what was going on and slammed them into the others, creating a bloody, panic-firing mess of guts and flesh. I left them all behind and headed to the next section, thinking, “Suck it, Vader, I’m not even breathing hard.”

The next room, the door behind me sealed shut magnetically as soon as I was through. Visible or not, the doors still open and close. According to my suit, the atmosphere outside was thinning out. The room wasn’t hit or anything. They were venting the corridor on purpose, which was a neat way to make an advantage out of their use of prefab building sections. They didn’t count on me appearing and charging up the energy sheaths surrounding my gauntlets. Weight is an entirely different thing on the moon, but mass and energy are universal. I smashed a hole right through the floor, and the next floor, and into some sort of large, impressive command room. I bounced off a statue of someone on the way down, but I don’t know who. Ended up coming to a comfy bounce next to a man in a uniform with way too many medals. He even looked like the statue.

“Who are you?” I asked the guy near me as I came to a comfy bounce. I was going to ask their wifi password, too, but I’d cracked that easily. I guess they didn’t figure someone else would just come in off the street up here and steal internet from them.

Various people in ICE spacesuits and DIE jumpsuits surrounded me with a variety of weapons. One guy even had what looked like a pointed drillhead spinning between two chainsaws. Nice. Impractical, but nice.

The man drew himself up to look more imposing. He also edged away slowly. “I am the Supreme.”

I left a holographic double of myself in place while following this Supreme guy. Didn’t like the way he was leaving me standing in the middle of a bunch of armed, hostile people.

“You have come here to the moon and invaded our base,” the Supreme declared. “Surrender now, and we shall allow you to live while we analyze your armor.”

The hologram of me looked around at everyone, then up to the Supreme. “Nah. Guess you better kill me.”

“Do it!” I yelled from Supreme’s position with a sample of his voice. I clamped my glove over his mouth while the various people charged forward. I shushed him and showed off a pair of my round orb grenades, a regular old blower-upper and an incendiary. I tossed them into the puzzled crowd, who were watching as the guy with the drill-saw combo tried to take the hologram’s head off.

“So, Supreme guy… what are the,” I for the explosion and resulting screams. I went ahead and threw a third one over my shoulder to silence those. “Neat place here. Must have taken a lot of work interfacing with the alien systems. But what I really want to know is where are you keeping your prisoners. Like, a big metal box in a Faraday Cage.”

I moved my hand away to let him answer. “The girl has friends in high places.”

Yeah, about 238,900 miles up. “I’m her best friend. Now, not too long ago I’d have killed everyone just for making me come all the way up here, but I like to think I’ve changed. I don’t know if I have, but I like thinking it and am going to try a more peaceful method of resolving our conflict. Give me the woman you captured and we will leave.”

A piece of one of his minions plopped off the nearby statue to himself.

The Supreme raised a hand slowly, then offered a handshake. “Dangerous stranger, you have a deal.”

I shook. “The name’s Gecko. Psycho Gecko. And I fully intend to keep my side of the deal.” I glanced up at the statue, “Say, who’s the loser who needed a giant statue to himself?”

I was shown to a room with four Tesla coils surrounding a metal cage with a big metal egg inside it. The coils were powered down, the cage was opened, and the sides of the egg glowed as they were split apart. My prime body fell out, looking a little more trim and a lot more stinky. I swapped, letting my prime body put on the power armor. The guards were curious, but stayed too far away for harassment when the proxy body transformed into a large panther. My prime body, armored up, mounted the panther form as it began racing down the hallways.

I was passing through the corridor where I’d killed the first set of guards when the alarms went off. “Danger! Evacuate! Self-destruct triggered!”

They really ought to have done a better job keeping people off their wifi. And for fuck’s sake, don’t make your self-destruct internet accessible, even on the moon. Still, they gave me the woman and I am leaving. By that point, they were too busy trying to get into their own rockets to worry about us squeezing into the lander and tossing out a few to-go gifts on the way up. Oh, neat, the bottom legs and such of the lander stay there when you launch it from the moon.

The bad news came when the fuel light came on as soon as we made liftoff. It went off about halfway up, when the fuel ran out and we began a long drift back around. Swung us far enough around the moon that we didn’t get caught by the explosion. The kaboom was not earth-shattering, but it tossed one of the escaping rockets into our orbiting command and support modules, blowing the whole mess up.

Fuck

I didn’t want to be stranded. I expected other fallout. A facility that used abandoned alien space engines to hurl projectiles at Earth’s surface is a game changer. All military forces are restricted from space by international treaty. They can get around that, especially if the possess such a military facility already created by a third party. Possession of giant guns is 12/10ths of the law. But just like I’m not weapon anymore, and the moon won’t be either.

And, seeing as I did a good thing, the universe is making me pay for it, leaving me stuck on the moon with no food or water. All the times I’ve been to space and this time is the one to do me in. Gave me time to contemplate and speak to myself: “Shit. Fuck. Blown on up. So that’s it. Trapped on the moon, three days away from Earth.” I paused for awhile. A minute, maybe. “I regret killing Forcelight. Lone Gunman, too. Miss Tycism. Good Doctor. I don’t even know all the names, but there are a lot of folks who could have done much better without me in existence. So many possibilities and so much potential lost because I was so powerless I had to kill everyone. And now, because I kept being so kill-happy, I’m stranded on the moon without any food, water, or fuel.” I let out a sad laugh.

Imagine my surprise when I got an answer. A jittery see-through image appeared, like a big green mass of pixels that became a rough face. I noticed other shapes moving in and out, forming little green humanoid ghosts off back behind the face. “Psychopomp Gecko, I can save you in return for your fealty.”

I laughed.

The face continued. “I need agents in your time. Serve me, kill for me, and you do not have to die.”

Figures. Fucking figures.

I shook my head and tossed a vibrator at the face. The toy bounced off the window and drifted back, wagging back and forth past my head in the low gravity of the moon.

“Is this a no?” the big green pixelated face asked.

“Correct,” I said. “I don’t know what you’re up to, but you’re gonna lose. Maybe not because of the me, but there are people who can fight you in ways I can’t. You’ll never see them coming. As for me, I’m nobody’s weapon anymore.”

“Pathetic,” the big green head said before disappearing. One of the humanoid ghosts stayed, for a moment before the images completely disappeared. Weird, but I’m due for some sort of time travel adventure this year still.

All of a sudden, a teenager appeared behind me, my HUD labeling him as Dean from Radium. I turned to glance at him. “Hi. Welcome to the moon. The fuck you doing here?”

He shifted uncomfortably, tossing aside a big latex horse dong. He tossed it aside. “I’m glad I didn’t end up with that in me.”

I shrugged.

“Anyway, hey, I’m Dean. You saved my life the other night,” he introduced himself. He held a hand out for me. “Medusa and Radium thought you could use a hand getting home.”

“How’d they know where to find me?” I asked.

“You’re still transmitting,” Sam said on the line with me. “I let Medusa and a few people listen in.”

I didn’t like the sound of that, but I grabbed Dean’s hand. Everything darkened around me, and then lightened back up. Myself, my panther double, and a load of adult toys fell into the streets of Radium right near my house. Adrian and Marianne ran up to help me up and hug me. Dean’s parents helped him up and beamed at me. Even the moon, very nearly full, looked a lot happier since we left so many toys for the man in the moon to play with.

Sam hung up before I could start asking who all heard my little confession of regret.

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L: Dorado 4

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Max hogged the address to himself, probably to keep me from having everything scoped out, torn apart, and nuked from orbit. It’s the only way Max could be sure. This time, we ended up in Ecuador, hiking up a mountain.

“Why are we doing this?” I said, scooting up the side of a volcano. Max was hiking, but I took the lazy way in one of my proxy bodies. I wasn’t taking my real body hiking up a damn mountain. “You don’t need exercise.”

“I want the experience!” Max declared. He took something out of his pocket and stuffed it between his lip and gum.

“No need to dip chew if you had a scooter,” I said.

He waved off my commentary. “The human body isn’t comfortable transitioning from lower to higher altitudes. We’ve done that a lot lately. It’s giving me farts.”

I know the feeling. Sam’s also really uncomfortable with it.

“Hey, can you distract me?” he asked.

“So, I kind of feel like while I find Sam attractive, I don’t personally have strong feelings in favor of dating her,” I started.

“This again. Sam this, Sam that. Do you ever get off Sam?” he asked.

“You’ve heard the moans,” was the last I said on that point. “That computer really pointed here or did you mess up a riddle?”

“You probably don’t need to be here if you don’t want to be,” he said. “There’s no reason this should be dangerous.”

“Turret gun,” I said, referring to the one hidden in the cargo container that led him to the side of this volcano.

“I had it covered. Relax.”

I took a moment to zip back to my main body in a little hotel we were in. I was in a chair off in the corner. Turning, I saw Holly, Sam, and Dr. Erishka sitting around eating, with a lot more clothes scattered around the room. Nice clothes. “Something going on?”

“Oh, you’re awake,” Sam said. “We were going to take your friend here out partying. She’s been cooped up too long.” She paused, then started to open her mouth before I noticed Erishka adjust how she sit and “accidentally” hit Sam’s shin with her foot.

“Good, I was just checking in,” I said. “Y’all have fun.”

“I still want to talk to you sometime,” Erishka said. “In fact,” she set down the burger she was munching on and wiped her face. “Come on, out the door real quick.”

I didn’t want to bother. Just let her enjoy her night. She’s been tending to my needs for months now. I never told her she needed to be there at all times… but it occurred to me I expected and acted like she would be. Ugh, I am still a terrible leader and a bad boss. So I followed, figuring the least I could do was take the chastising.

I closed the door behind us while she checked the hallway before turning to me. “You offered anything I wanted. I’ve been talking to Holly and Sam and they assure me you mean that. They told me about what you did in Brazil. You were serious that you owed me?”

I nodded. “Absolutely. I like to give people a chance to tell me what they want rather than me impose my idea of what they want on them.”

“Yeah, because you don’t know anything about me or so many others. I’m not going to cash it in. You don’t have healthy interpersonal skills and you do this where you treat interaction as transaction.”

I shook my head and laughed. “You are too nice for me. You go out and have a good time. And, not as a trade, you give me a call if y’all run into trouble. But thank you.” I didn’t want to make a whole speech out of it. We headed back into the room where I popped a really big question, “Anybody got a spare burger?”

Holly held up a foil-wrapped package for me.

Back to Max then. I’d lagged behind on autopilot and found myself having run into a boulder and tipped me over onto my side. I stood back up, brushed myself off, and raised a fist to the sky. “Curse you, Pichincha!” I picked the scooter up and tossed it aside. “Let’s do this shit.”

If there’s anything I miss from my time being imbued with godlike power by an extradimensional entity using me as his conduit, it was flying. I can’t fly, but between my power armor and enhancements, I’ve been known to leap buildings in a single bound. I spotted Max in midair; I ended up jumping past him and having to come back for him. “Where we aiming for, friendo?”

He pointed it out and hopped on my back. In midair, legs wrapped around my lower chest, he decided to hold his arms up and yell like a roller coaster. I didn’t tell him that he nearly shifted his weight enough to end up yelling from a broken leg. It took minutes to get us part of the way up the multi-peaked volcano. It was a little off the trail. It actually would have been hidden from the trail by bushes and rocks. It was no Everest Rainbow Valley, so named for all the corpses in bright climbing gear. They just leave those up there. Someone dies up here, I’m pretty sure there are animals to eat them. Instead of bodies, all they had here was a trapped case.

We could tell it was trapped by all the signs. Even if you stumbled on this thing, little devices attached to this case helpfully warned you about all the different type of explosive compounds rigged to blow you up. Max knelt down and lifted a small cover to reveal a keypad with twelve spaces. The nine Arabic numerals were there with three keys below them adding a back arrow, an OK, and a blank key.

“You sure you don’t want to take care of the bombs?” I suggested.

He waved me away. “The computer gave me the code.” He pushed three, one, nine, and then the blank key. The top clicked of the box clicked open and he didn’t blow up.

I leaned in over his shoulder. “Is this the part where we steal the Declaration of Independence?”

“No. This is saying we need to go into Quito, to a bar called Cacho Caramba.” He looked down the way we came and all the way into the city. “I wish we’d brought the Flyer after all.”

I made a holographic puppet version of Max appear on my hand and gave it a ridiculous voice, “No, this is something I want to do myself.”

“I never said that… so what’s the ETA on the Flyer?”

It took a few minutes, time Max spent smoking a joint. I didn’t even land the Flyer to drop us off when we found Cacho Caramba. Max led me in, the illusion making me look like I was wearing a dress so short and tight, a sneeze would leave me nude. It’s easy to get away with clothes that look painted on when they’re illusionary. I got some wolf whistles, to which Max bowed. “Thank you, I try hard,” he said. That earned boos. They wanted to see me some more.

Max held up his slip of paper, trying to pronounce it in Spanish. I snatched it away from him to ask everyone, “What do you call a negative fish?”

“A pessimist!” said a man in the back, waving us over. The rest of the crowd pretended to laugh along because I’m a pretty woman in a tiny dress, even though it was a silly pun. It also doesn’t make any sense translated into English, but it’s exactly my kind of pun in Latin American Spanish. Yes, there is a difference.

“Sit,” the man urged. “I will lead you down to the entrance in a moment. Please wait, I am watching my show.” He nodded to a small TV set high up in the corner. On the screen, a skinny pale guy sat at a gambling table with a bunch of Asian guys, playing some game with dominoes, a wheel, and a jellybean. I couldn’t tell what genre the show was, especially once a crowd of men rushed in wearing soccer uniforms. I’d say eight, maybe nine guys. It was hard to tell because I think there was a short guy in the back.

“Hey!” the leader said, pointing at our companion. “Fuck you!”

The man we met turned to them, glaring. He slammed his beer down and picked up his cigarette, raising it to his lips in a way that left him pointing right back at the guy. After a long drag, he blew out some smoke and said, “Fuck you.”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you!”

It went back and forth like that for a few seconds before I interrupted to ask, “What’s going on?”

The guy we pointed at the team. “I bet against the local team. I tried to tell them they could have a share of the money if they helped, but they didn’t. Instead, so many things went wrong, they accuse me of rigging.”

“I know you did,” the lead soccer player said. He smacked his fists together. “Today, we’re kicking your ass.”

“Fuck you,” our companion said, pulling out a long, thin knife.

One of the soccer players reached into his shorts and came out with a pair of nunchucks with little soccer balls on the ends. Max sighed and reached into his coat for a dart gun, checking to make sure it was loaded. Another soccer player raised his shirt to reveal a black and white patterned revolver that he whipped out and pointed toward us. I stood up. One of the players pushed his companions aside and held up a rose. I growled, so then he wrapped it around his fist so the thorns pointed outward.

The lead soccer player, I guess the team captain, elbowed another player. “Do it. Pull it out.”

That player winced. “Do I have to? They don’t have anything else to escalate with?”

“Why did you bring it if you weren’t going to use it?” the captain asked.

Finally, the player whined and reached into the back of his shorts. He shifted a bit. “It’s stuck. Mother of God, it’s stuck. No, wait…” And then he pulled out a fucking spiked ball and chain flail. His team cheered and clapped him on the shoulders, then ran at us.

I’m trying not to kill so many people now. It was made a little easier when Max nailed one in the throat with a dart gun. The man fell to the ground, flailing. The team ignored him and ran past. I put myself between our side and theirs. The leader tried to run past me, but I grabbed him and diverted his head into a nearby wall. He broke through the thin wall and got stuck there, or just was dazed enough.

The player with the gun and the fellow who squeezed out a flail came next. I grabbed the arms with the weapons when both tried to slip past me. I kicked one away, then the second, both times preferring to act nonlethally. I kept their arms with me, though. Yep, one hand holding an arm with a gun in it, the other holding an arm still squeezing a medieval fucking weapon. By that point, the team had stopped to watch in horror. They were frozen. I decided to give them a little more of a push. I flipped the arms around so I held them by the bloody torn-off pieces, pointing a gun at the gang while swinging the flail arm just enough to make the head on its chain spin up some momentum.

“We’re done here, yes?” I asked.

The guys all held up their arms, except for a couple of them who held up just one, and backed out of the room. A dwarf in an outsized soccer uniform stumbled after them. The captain regained his senses enough to tug his head out of the wall and spit out a urinal cake, then begin wiping his face with his shirt and stumbling out of there. This was soon followed by a flushing sound from the other side of the hole in the wall.

I turned to the guy who’d caused all this trouble for us. He was already back in his seat, watching his show. “Hey, you want to get up off your ass?”

“No,” he said, making me wish Max and I hadn’t stepped in. “It’s a marathon! You want to kill me, you don’t get to the Eighth City.”

I pointed the purloined gun still grasped in its purloined limb at the TV. Our unimpressed contact took a drink, then a smoke, then said, “Do it. See if I help you.”

Max turned to me and sighed. He gestured with his hands to put the arms down, both meanings of the word. I lowered them while he slipped the dart gun back into his coat. He came back out with a syringe and turned to our contact with that predator’s grin again.

“Truth serum?” I asked.

Max nodded. “I never worked out how to stop the excruciating pain. Oh well. The truth hurts.”

I don’t even know why the contact bothered throwing that beer.

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L: Dorado 2

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I like Mix N’Max. We’ve bonded pretty well as villains who kill heroes before. Max doesn’t have too many fucks to give where he gets ingredients or who some of his experiments kill, but he’s always been a straight shooter with me. You know, aside from this one time… it’s not important. But I am getting a wee bit annoyed at him being so quiet about what his plan is. I can see why folks find his smile so punchable.

We stopped elsewhere in Rio to let him grab some food and equipment. He insisted we stop in Uruguay, but came back after fifteen minutes with a box full of leaves. And there was also a stopover in Costa Rica just to spend the night. After that, we were off to Peru, where he claimed he needed to speak with someone about the Crypto Crypt. Sam and Holly dragged him in late, missing his pants, smelling of sex and alcohol.

“You’re letting that guy fix your brain?” Dr. Erishka asked. She had her stuff set up all formally next to Max’s haphazard kit that we picked up.

“I was just going to drink whatever he gave me and hope it works out for the best,” I muttered while performing a bit of maintenance on the Flyer’s electrical systems. “I don’t want to smack him over this.”

I decided to grab lunch without my armor. “Hey, hold up!” Sam called out behind me. I stopped in mid-step, foot still raised, and waited for her. She came up beside me and hooked her arm with mine. Max’s chubbier assistant with the colorful hair then pointed off toward the rear door of the Flyer. “You’re going out, right?”

“Yep. Figured I’d grab lunch. Might pick up enough for everyone,” I said.

“Cool, I’ll join you.”

Together, we set out from the lot we’d parked in to head out into the city of Lima to grab some food. “Not scared of some Peruvian cuisine, I hope?”

“I’m willing to try new things. Let’s find something we can’t even recognize!” She laughed, more perky than I remember her. She tugged me along after her. We ended up finding a nice-smelling restaurant first and picking whatever the fuck we could find that we decided sounded good. And while we were waiting, lest anyone think these events are notable as some sort of date or something.

Sam put a hand on my forearm as I sat there, my mouth watering. “Please be patient with Max, alright? This search is something fun he’s wanted a real shot at and he’s happy to have you along. He’s not stalling, he’s doing things his own special way. I’ll give him a kick when we get back.”

“Thanks,” I said. I decided to try stepping outside my comfort zone a little. “I’m worried. I don’t like to show that, but one day I’m the deadliest bitch on earth. The next, I stroke out if I overexert myself, and I don’t know where that line is until after I cross it.”

“Sucks big time. You know he loves you, right? As a friend, though, not the other way. Aside from that one time… nevermind. Not important.”

Back at the Flyer, we walked right back in past some fleeing children. I had just pulled a leg off this roasted chicken that smelled amazing when a dart struck it from inside the Flyer. I was considering eating it anyway, until the skin started boiling up and the meat melted off. Then I tossed it aside and decided to glare at the hungover Max who was downing something thick and tan from a cough syrup bottle.

“I’m so fucking hungry and you take the food right out of my mouth,” I scoffed.

He held the gun he held up with his pointer extended along the barrel, indicating to me that he needed a minute. Sam and I pulled out a table and set the food down for everyone, including Holly who ran up excited to eat. She lifted up a skewer of cuy, screamed, and threw it away. “Oh my god!” She ended up running off toward the bathroom.

I looked over at Sam, who looked at me, shrugged, and said, “Can’t take this pair anywhere.” She grabbed some cuy for herself and took a bite, “Hey Holly! Mmm, damn, that’s actually really good. Hey, Holly! Come on, you don’t even have to look at it. They didn’t kill it for us.” She grabbed this cheese-stuffed pepper and brought it along to check on her friend.

Erishka stepped up to help herself to some of the food, including the other leg of the chicken. Darn near tempting the wrath of Gecko there, if I didn’t need the doctor to look after my own health. “What’s her problem?”

“The thingy on a stick is a rodent that people where she’s from keep as pets,” I informed her. I pointed to the chicken leg. “Don’t worry, even the people who keep those as pets find them so annoying they want to eat them.”

I reached down to grab a wing off the chicken. Thwit! I felt a pain in my neck. I whirled to see Max holding the dart gun pointed at me, my hand reaching to feel it sticking out of the back of my neck. Everything got fuzzy and loopy and slow. So. Slow. My eyes flicked over to the chicken there in my fingers, so delicious-looking and uneaten. I brought it to my mouth and… almost…

Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

I should have skipped over to another body. Any children still reading… wow, what, were you born during the time I’ve been writing all this? Anyway, kids, friends don’t let friends get shot full of a rapid-acting sedative knocks you out in seconds. I awoke to my skull feeling like I’d spent the entire time out used as a drum. The pain was the first part of my awakening. There was the smell of food as well. I was laying on one of the nicer passenger chairs I installed that could recline. And in front of me, on a tray, was a piece of roasted chicken.

Holly grabbed it off the plate and started eating it. And there went the spark of joy in my life. I opened my mouth to cry out and Sam slipped something meaty and tasty in there. I winced when I felt a hand stroking my head.

“Your prognosis looks good. No signs of the virus,” Dr. Erishka says. She looked over to Max. “When will the sedative be out of her system?”

“What?” I asked.

“I needed to drug you heavily to go so far inside you for the first time,” Max said. “You know, aside from that one time… not important right now.” He waved off reminiscing and grabbed one of those peppers with the cheese. “You must be hungry. Here.”

I opened my mouth. He brought a syringe around and squirted some liquid into my throat. Once again, too drugged to react like I should.

I think I managed to stew on the bait and switch the entire time I was unconscious because, while I didn’t remember any dreams I had, I woke up pissed.

No one was around. My HUD clock took a moment to reset. It was Tuesday. No one was around. I was still pissed. I heard shouting in the distance. I rolled off the chair and called to my nanomachines, letting them swarm over me for a check-up. Skull needed a bit of mending and I had to get rid of a catheter. I launched a drone from the Flyer in the hopes of finding where the hell the team went. The search was short. They were racing down the street toward us in the back of an old truck, jeeps full of soldiers and a few supers giving chase.

Erishka was bandaging Sam’s belly. Holly had some of my custom grenades. She dopped one beside their truck that belched smoke and impeded the view. Since the road was straight, the jeeps didn’t crash or anything, but I think it helped. Max spun his dart gun and syringe gun in each hand, looking for a shot.

One of the supers, who glowed under his skin with a pulsing yellow light, emitted a blade of yellow light, then pointed to the drone. It was too far away to hear what he said, but it drew Max’s attention to it. He looked up, then put his guns up to pull out a phone and text me: “Get us ready to fly out of here. We’re going, not fighting.”

Growling as much in frustration as in hunger, I docked the drone again and started up the Flyer. The truck came rumbling up into the hold. Holly dived out and hit the button to close the door behind them.

“Go!” Erishka called out.

More growling. I took off, just ignoring the rounds bouncing harmlessly off the Flyer’s armor. One of the Peruvian supers flew up beside the the Flyer. I giggled to myself and swung the aircraft to the side, bonking the Super and sending the guy falling to the city below.

“Where to?” I asked. “Sorry I wasn’t up for whatever that was any sooner. I was a bit hungover. My skull was killing me.”

“Panama!” Max called out.

“This is no time for singing, Max.”

“The country,” he added. He pulled out a USB. “This is what we needed. A key that will unlock the computer system and allow us to track down a ship that delivered equipment to the Crypto Crypt. Ship’s called the Shangrila.

I rolled my eyes, “Fine. And what about me? If you’re done knocking me out, that is.”

I checked down below real quick. Some people trying to scramble jets. I canceled the order, made sure we were hidden from radar and visual. “Keep in mind, I’m flying us,” I reminded everyone. “Sure would be bad timing now if I had a seizure.”

“Enough, you’re fine. The virus doesn’t appear to be in your system anymore,” Erishka spoke sternly. “Now, stabilize this craft so I can work on Sam.”

We leveled off right about then. We were far enough up and all, looping back around for a curved approach to Panama, a country so nice it got a Van Halen song about it. Of course I helped Sam out; my medical nanomachines were the best suited to treat a gunshot that missed the stinky bits of the lower body organs but would have kept her from ever enjoying a drink ever again.

It was just the kiss that surprised me is all. “Uh…” I said, looking back down at Sam , who was still really close to my face and had her arms around my head.

“You never wanted a ‘glad to be alive’ kiss before?” She grinned up at me.

Eh, why not? Of course, Erishka broke us up a couple minutes later. “Can all my patients stop making out? Thank you!” she got between us and had us both sit down. Sam got the all clear pretty quick, while the doctor decided I needed further observation.

“Come on… I know why you’re saying that, and I must say I approve of the double entendre.” I gestured to my crotch and the boner poking up through the skirt.

“Put it away or I’ll turn off the horny section of your brain,” she said.

“That’s located down there as well,” I joked.

“Here,” Max said, shoving the best-smelling bag in history into my hands. I opened it to find another roast chicken all for myself. A couple minutes into my meal, I noticed the stares from Erishka.

“That kind of thing shouldn’t be possible. Are those extra sets of teeth? Like a shark?”

I tried to clear some of the food, but a leg fell out of my mouth. My prehensile tongue shot out and snatched it into my mouth where I swallowed it whole. “What?” I asked her. “I still put on my skirt one leg at a time.”

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Law and Robots 2

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I have certain work standards, but these guys decided to “get the lay of the land” a bit before formally moving on to the hunt. “We just got on site. We have to do important terrestrial acclimation,” Starscar lied to me. I’ve woken up from abduction in a cow pasture before. Exceptional specimen I might be, I still didn’t need to acclimate to anything other than avoiding cow patties. Like all contractors, these guys were padding the bill and having a good time doing it. I pretended to let them pull the wool over my eyes. Medusa didn’t like that, but I assured her I knew what I was doing and was keeping careful track of them. And I was.

Starscar even asked me out to a bar with him, not obscuring his intentions or attentions. I turned him down on all that. The most appealing thing about him was his opera geekery, and he hid that pretty quick. Not manly enough for the big, gruff leader of a bunch of badass rental cops.

I took a corner seat in the bar to watch the shenanigans, figuring I wouldn’t need to intervene unless any bar fights got potentially lethal. It was actually the big guy who joined me, with that whole smoldering and deep voice thing he had going on. He didn’t look at me the same way most of the rest of them did, including that hot, scarred blonde on the team with a tiny bit of a beer belly. He had a weariness about him. “Mind if I sit here?”

“As long as you’re not looking to have me sit anywhere,” I answered.

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he sat down. “You’re a tough read. You don’t look like you’d make that joke. But then your eyes don’t look like they should be able to do what they did. The whole planet is like that, in a way. You’re nowhere near ready to enter galactic society, but your people already fought off multiple alien invasions. This is the planet Mobian protects, but we’re already hearing about other protectors in flashy outfits.”

He stopped there and looked at me. When I shrugged, he sat back and continued on, “You look like us. Except for these superheroes, you function like we do.”

“You look like us,” I said. “I figure odds are pretty low of another planet evolving something that resembles Earth’s dominant species of Great Apes down to having the same variations in eye shape and skin color.”

We turned at the sound of a loud slap. A woman stood at the bar near Starscar, glaring at him. A few men came up, clearly having an issue with whatever the space-human did to deserve that reddening impression on his cheek.

The big guy kept an eye on him. “My callsign translates into your language as Eon. I grew up on a company mining station, Hard work, and then when they were tired of us they brought in machines. Nowhere to go for us, since we didn’t have a planet. Only other stations in the same asteroid belt. No link to where we came from. I really want to know more about a planet full of millions more like me. Ah, shit.”

He stood up and grabbed his cup, emptying it in one swallow and throwing it at a guy sneaking up behind Starscar with a pool cue. It bounced off that guy’s ear. Starscar turned to look at what was happening and that’s when the two guys he had been talking to jumped him.

I sighed and rolled my eyes at the nincompoops. I specifically told them not to grab any weapons at all, even improvised, when it came time to get into a fight. I oughta withhold the back half of that guy’s pay for that, but Eon kicked him over the bar and tossed the pool cue aside. A brawl ensued, but it gave me a good look at how the bunch all fought. I expected more. I don’t mean pulling guns and atomizing people with reverberating carbonizers, but maybe some sort of fancy advanced martial arts. I kinda figured advanced, space-faring societies might have more advanced fighting techniques worth being aware of. I might have to kill these people, after all. Even the blonde who was headbutting a giant fat guy with a beard hanging halfway down his belly.

But then, Eon said he used to be a miner. Sounds like all of these guys were probably miners at some point, or their parents were. Could cause some trouble for me down the line if Medusa finds out I’ve been providing alcohol to miners.

While they slept in the next morning, I threw my consciousness southward, into the too-bright Caribbean day. My rocket deposited another body of mine in power armor on a beach. I crawled pushed the hatch of that landed delivery rocket open and stepped out to see Holly, having gone strawberry blonde, looking at me from where she was sunning several feet back. “You’re in my sun.”

“Well excuse me, princess,” I told Holly Wayne, one of Max’s longtime henchwomen. I’m sure there’s something more intimate going on, but I can’t confirm it and there’s always better stuff to talk about with Max.

“Max, Gecko’s here!” called the other one, Sam Hain, from under an umbrella. She had given up on a mohawk in favor of a more traditional, if neon green, style of hair. The name’s a fake, it has to be, but she pronounces it like a name instead of the same way the holiday is pronounced.

He walked out of a bungalow, far too pasty and pale to be in that tropical paradise, a white and black Hawaiian shirt with skulls and ravens on it, in a pair of burgundy swim trunks. He was carrying a small tray of bubbling drinks that emitted fog. As always, he wore a smile on his face that looked like he knew something amusing you didn’t. And, worst of all, he wore crocs.

“You’ve poisoned people to use their organs for your experiments, but those shoes are by far the worst crime you’ve ever committed,” I said.

He chuckled, then nodded to his tray. “I apologize for not having a drink ready for you. I would offer you mine, but it might kill you.”

I raised a hand. “No need to apologize. I knew I was dropping in unannounced. Besides, I look forward to seeing you exposed to direct sunlight.”

Sam snorted as Max walked out from under the awning, the fog swelling up as sunlight hit it and forming a small but thick cloud overhead. He winked at me as he brought Sam and Holly their drinks, then tossed the tray aside. Hands on his hips, he looked to me. “You’re here to deal with my robot problem?”

I gave a hand waggle. “Kinda-sorta-maybe. It’s a living machine creature, and I have some guys on the way who claim to be the rightful authorities to deal with it. Might leverage that for some benefit, might kill them, we’ll see how it goes. Figured I’d come ahead of time, try and scout out the situation. Make non-violent contact with this thing.”

Max sipped his drink, some purple number with lumps floating in it. Lumps could mean… many things. After a moment, he said, “That’s easier and harder than you would think. The island’s just over there,” he pointed behind me. There was a dot off in the horizon. Zooming in, I saw several boats heading there. Zooming further, I could see a lot of armed men on those boats, with some heavy ordinance on hand. Max continued, “The hard part is the buyers’ friends are involved. Or maybe for you, it’s the water that’s the hard part and the killing that’s easy.”

I shrugged. “Yeah. Unless you have a boat.”

Max nodded back to the bungalow. I followed him to where he grabbed a set of keys off the open windowsill. He clicked a couple of buttons on the dongle and a small submersible emerged from the water, letting out a beep and flashing its lights to indicate it had unlocked. He tossed me the keys. “Try to bring it back in one piece. I only have so many.”

“Drug runners,” I muttered, but with some good humor to it. Besides, it turned out to be a nice little submersible. It was a hybrid, running on diesel, electric, and solar power. “Do I need to worry about gassing this baby up?!” I called out through the top hatch.

Sam answered from pretty close by. “He poured some shit in it that’s uber-efficient. There’s no way you can run out on the way over.”

I held up a thumbs-up. She high-fived my closed hand.

The controls, like those of most illegal drug-smuggling submersibles, were intuitive and easy enough to understand. You close the door, crank the engine, put it in gear, and try not to drive it into the gaping maw of a creature heretofore unknown to mankind, awakened from its thousand-year slumber in the darkest, unexplored depths of the Earth’s oceans. Beginning to think I might be developing an irrational dislike of the oceans. Or perhaps an entirely rational dislike of them. Which is a shame, because some of those Deep One women are pretty hot in a slimy sort of way.

I popped up near the island. Had to get about as wet getting out of the submersible as I did getting into it, but it’s not the same as trying to walk across the ocean floor in heavy power armor. I had emerged well away from the boats. They’d left a few guards there who might have made a big deal about it, so I didn’t want to get close enough to offend their heavy caliber sensibilities. I wouldn’t mind examining some of those rifles to see what sort of upgrades are out there to deal with tougher folks, but I figured I’d get a close look soon enough.

I cloaked, closed up the sub, and pressed the button on the key ring to sink it a short distance underwater while I waded to shore. The intense sunlight wasn’t the best for a bunch of microcameras and projectors, but no one fired off a shot if they saw me. There weren’t a lot of trees this far out, mostly tall beach grasses. I headed through them and toward the center at first, then toward the sounds of gunfire.

I bounded along, past a few trees, then into a small patch of woods, then out into more scrublands. I caught up to the diminishing rate of pops and bangs near another grove of trees. An oscillating, rotating bundle of metal, rubber, and plastic launched itself from the trees to land on a pair of guys firing what looked like light machine guns modified to function as rifles. Something hit; pieces of the machine fell off. The machine also hit, wrapping limbs around the throat of one and squeezing until his head did its impression of a champagne cork. It used numerous others to grab the other guy and bend him in a bunch of different directions until he snapped, crunched, shit himself, and went quiet. There were other bodies scattered around, as well as a piece or two of the machine.

And there was someone lining up a grenade launcher laying among some of the bodies nearby. I reappeared, punching my arm through his upper chest and removing the grenade launcher. The machine had to have seen me, which was the point. I turned to it and stood there, liquid metal nanomachine cap taking all sorts of shapes. And then, in the machine language I’d learned on a space station, I said, “Greetings and welcome to Earth. I mean no harm. I am designated Psychopomp Gecko.”

It didn’t have much in the way of a face, though it rearranged its body form a shape as large as mine. “These beings attack me.”

“These beings are flawed flesh. Most consider this planet distant and uncivilized. You fright them. You don’t, me.” I know it was weird, but you have to roll with these unusual syntaxes.

“You know our language and claim alliance,” it stated.

“Yes,” I projected an image of my meeting with a machine queen. My last encounter with the machines didn’t make them out to be too bad of folk, just trying to look after their own after having been used as slave labor by the “civilized” races out there. “I no longer hold authority over a nation-state. If you mean peace, you are welcome to stay.”

“All flesh is weak,” it said. “We are on our way. We will balance the equation of suffering on the flawed flesh of Earth.”

I responded, “I prefer not. They are weak, incompetent, and they emit noxious fumes. I have feel positive about some of them. Game theory states that the best position is to forgive initial grievance.”

“Continued grievance and persecution constitutes a pattern that must not be forgiven for the survival of our people. You have flawed flesh. I can strip that away and leave perfect steel.”

“Negative,” I answered, “They have sent hunters. They say you are dangerous and you are proving their assessment true. If I aid you against them, will you prove you are not our enemy and call off an attack?”

I suppose I could just destroy this guy, but I don’t know how he made contact with the machines or if they’d listen to me call off an attack. I suppose there are moral reasons to go with the pragmatic ones as well.

Whatever this Machine Lord thought of flesh-beings, he had some proof of me willing to kill them to help it. Maybe a little more will cement some good feelings in the blood of Starscar and his buddies. I mean, sorry guys, but all these various space cops have a long history of not giving a shit whenever Earth gets invaded.

“Your proposal is acceptable,” the Machine Lord agreed.

I nodded. “Good. I will even help you by clearing away some of the waste already present on this island for you.” Hey, what do machines need with cocaine and cash? Whatever else happens, Max has a submersible full of goodies waiting for him. And after I took care of the guys on the boats, I got some amenities to keep that body alive while I figure out how to dispose of Starscar and his squad.

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Reckoning 7

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We set up base back at my shop in Radium. If Medusa and Lulios got out, I doubt they’re working with the rangers. It’d be rough on them even if they escaped. The call was coming from this side of the portal, but it’s way up there in year-round pointy nipple territory. The frozen north. Nunuvat. Google Earth doesn’t have any photos of that particular spot on the mountain, but some borrowed satellites show a military base there with huge hangers where they’re housing something big. Knowing the Rangers, it’s a giant robot. There are so many giant robots with those guys. I don’t even know what they do with the ones they stop using. I thought back to the uniforms of the Blue and Yellow I’d seen so far. There’s always a theme, but the main thing that stands out to me is all the circles on Blue’s uniform. Yellow had some distinctive marks on their outfit, but it was more like greater than or less than signs. I hope the theme isn’t math.

I’m avoiding my house so far in case they go on the offensive. Max thought some time away from Vegas would do him some good, too. Give him a chance to regroup. Sam and Holly were happy not to be cooped up anymore.

“Who needs killing this time?” Max asked me while I wiped down the interior of my armor. He was grabbing some of the merchandise off the shelf to supplement the lab equipment he had with him.

“General Lulios, as always,” I said.

“Not forgiving him, then?” Max asked. I felt less humor in the question.

“Some things can’t be forgiven, and that goes for me, too. What he did to me and what I did in turn, none of that just washes away. The dead deserve better.” I finished with the armor and let it hang up to dry. Then, I decided to check out the bombmaker’s bin over in the corner. You know, for budding interior decorators.

Max patted me on the shoulder as he passed by, uncharacteristic even for him. “You could have changed it, that time you and the Mobian were in your past. There’s still something valuable about this life.”

I stopped rifling around for timers and tried to think how best to word a response. I was not happy at him bringing this up. “I was a coward and the best thing for everyone would have been for me to stop it right then. I won’t chicken out of justice again.”

“Are you going to kill yourself?” he asked bluntly.

“No,” I said.

“Then this is about revenge, not justice,” he said. “You can recognize there’s value in your life. He hurt you and wronged you. I’m not saying it’s wrong to pursue revenge against him. It’s just… well, killing is always more fun if you don’t consider the ethical quandaries.”

“Ha! Yeah. Besides, if he was as sorry as he claimed to be, he’d have fessed up on the other Earth,” I added. “Now can we stop talking about all this? You’re reminding me of Medusa. And no, I’m not forgiving her either.”

It was his turn to laugh. “I won’t comment then.”

Without any more to go on than the coordinates of the base the Rangers were at, I figured that would be a good place to hit. Clear that annoying third party out of the way and allow Lulios and I to settle things mano a womano. At least Lulios seems to recognize the need for us to finish things between us, even if he knows the general details of how that story goes.

That’s why I built such a lovely bomb. It could level a small building, so it might come in handy against some of the base’s defenses. The bio-force grid the Rangers use tends to bleed off excess energy too efficiently to hope this would disable the robot they’ve got there, but I feel like I can take it in my armor. I really have grown a lot since I came to this other Earth.

Speaking of growing things, Firecat doesn’t seem to have any health issues whatsoever. Neither does the basement body. I need a name for that one. I can’t call it the Ultimate Form just yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. I practiced using it while I was here. Speeding along, exoskeleton protecting all my sensitive bits. Yeah, I made the thing fully functional. Slightly more than fully functional, one might say. What’s the whole point of being able to exceed the limits of the human form if a woman can’t have a couple of girldicks ribbed for a partner’s pleasure?

Throw in some kidneys so efficient I’ll never get hungover, perfect 360 degree vision, and all the space I saved on intestines, and we’re looking at a pretty awesome body. That just happens to look like an H.R. Giger painting. Oooh! I’ll call it Li after one of those. There was a Li II, and that can be what the perfected version is.

Li was fun to take on a run. Faster, stronger, with muscles that don’t tire and nostrils that make sure I’m never gasping for air. Max even liked it! He just put it in polite terms to hide his enthusiasm. Things like “Not have any visible eyes is freaky-looking.”

I, in Li, shrugged. “I was going to bring back the human nictitating membrane, but then I figured I should make the eyes even more secure. So now I have ten, all with amazing vision, all hidden and protected.”

Max cupped his chin in his hand, thinking. “Do you have a way to expel fluids?”

“Oh boy, do I!” I said, standing up and sliding the armored crotch plate down. Behind me, Holly and Sam walked in and stopped.

Holly cocked her head to the side. “What am I looking at here?”

“A dream I’ve had before,” Sam said.

“Nonetheless, I meant something different,” Max went on. “For chemical weapons. Perhaps we should focus on the task at hand.”

Sigh. “Fine, fine,” I shifted the plate back into place.

The raid began at dawn. Not that dawn, fuck you, that was too soon. The next one, though, I bounded across the snow up the mountain. The Li form didn’t mind the cold and interior insulation protected the nanites flowing through its veins from being negatively affected. From my veins. This is my body, and my skin flowed with the terrain, mimicking the snow. I stopped at the edge of the rise to reassess the situation. I was going to come in from the north. Max, Sam, and Holly were in the Psycho Flyer to the east of the base, with Holly flying and Sam smoking something Max made her to keep herself steady while flying. I shifted the pouch on me and the EMP spikes, because I didn’t build that into this body. I’ll need a way to protect my perfect from that weakness in the future. Maybe I should just implant my brain?

Questions for later. I put on some mood music, a band called Brighter Than A Thousand Suns covering the song Monster. I raced out onto the relatively flat, open area on the top of the mountain, trying to see just how far I could go. Blew my normal body away even though it was enhanced. I might count as having low level superspeed like this. Something noticed me, though. I saw the towers rise from the corners of the wall before I heard the alarm. The square tops opened up to reveal cannons that fired plasma at me. One missed, throwing up steam as it melted the snow.

The other winged me, giving me a chance to see how this body held up to the shot. The insulation protected my organs. I felt the heat, but not the pain you’d normally get. Nerves patterned after my armor’s energy sheathes redirected much of the energy to an internal battery made possible by improving on the design of the intestine. I flipped my tail up to aim at the turret. The tail opened with a three-way split and a crimson laser shot out. The beam cut into the protective shield on the left side of the turret barrel, but lasted long enough for me to sweep it over and get a little lick on the weapon itself.

Note to self: Li II needs built-in aim assist on the tail. Just a little dot, telling me where the tail is aiming when I ready the laser.

The whole thing was a success in resilience and firepower. Now I just had survive the barrage of deadly superheated plasma that, thankfully, got less and less accurate the closer I got to the wall where they couldn’t aim so easily. And that took hardly any time at all. One second, the cannon that tagged me lost track of me against the base of the wall. The next, I was up there, clawing its barrel off and leaping to the other tower to toss in the bomb I’d built. It was a star patterned fortress, with a turret at each angle. It took a minute to work my way through those turrets, but I didn’t have to get as many when Holly came in with the Flyer and blasted the eastern and southern ones to smithereens.

The Flyer laid down some more cover for me. Max dropped some fog from the back that engulfed the area inside the base’s walls. He’d immunized me to it so I, unlike everyone else, wouldn’t get disoriented and lose track of which direction I’m going. I saw more of those black-clad guards with their pseudo-Ranger armor, the ones I’d taken to thinking of as the Blackguard, stumble their way around. It was too easy. After sending the first few flying, it didn’t even seem like a challenge. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but these guys might as well have been rent-a-cops with nothing more than a heavy flashlight to defend themselves. Their rifles, more plasma-based weaponry, were nothing next to the light, healed burns of the turrets.

All at once, the fog was pulled in one direction. I turned toward it and saw the field clear up and four Justice Rangers walking out of a building marked “Command”. The mist disappeared into a funnel-barreled gun held by a white-clad ranger whose armor had a cloud pattern. He posed as he finished. “You’re through, monster!”

“Did Psycho Gecko send you?” called the Blue Ranger.

I laughed. “I am that merry traveler of the night.”

“You are creeping me out,” Yellow said.

The last of the four was in a shiny silver outfit that was blinding in even the dying light. That one, whose costume had a skirt, chipped in with, “Hope you don’t mind a cold reception!” She held a gun that looked like the White Ranger’s, but she used it to fire cold wind and small spears of ice at me. I knocked aside some, but rushed forward regardless of the ones that hit me. They weren’t stronger than the turrets.

I was among them in no time, concentrating on the Silver Ranger. A swipe drew sparks from her costume as it sent her flying. Behind me, Yellow pulled a wand or pinwheel or something. It had a handle and a guard, but there were a lot of metal sunflowers placed along a backing that came up from the handle. When they started to rotate, it looked more like a chainsaw sword. When I turned to her, that’s when the Blue Ranger circled around behind me. White Ranger checked on Silver.

Yellow swung at me. I tried to grab the sword, but instead she raked it over my chest, the exoskeleton protecting me from the pain of a boob punch. I whipped my tongue out, the prehensile muscle wrapping around where the top sunflower connected to the back and pulling it out of her hand. Blue charged from behind and my tail wrapped around his neck. I gave it a little squeeze, as a treat, before slamming him over my head onto Yellow.

“I’ve got to use it!” I heard Silver Ranger declare. She was running for the hangar building my Flyer was shooting up.

“It’s not ready!” White Ranger called after her.

I heard Sam laughing over the radio as she called “Yeah, get some!” in time to the bursts of fire from the Flyer’s guns.

Suddenly, a whole lot more Flyers materialized in the air surrounding the base. Sam’s fire petered out as she noticed them, too. “Uh, should we engage?” asked Holly

“This is the Exemplars! Everyone, stand down. There’s no more need for violence!” Medusa’s voice boomed out of the Exemplar’s Flyers.

Privately, I got a text message. “Is that u?” It was Medusa.

I waved up at them the same time I texted back. “Yep.”

“Gecko,” Medusa announced out loud. “I can honestly say that’s an amazing thing you’ve done. But you can stop now. You don’t have to be the monster they’re convinced you are. You’re better than that. You’re better than them.”

“You’re a freak and now you look it,” the Blue Ranger said. I still had my tail around his neck, so I picked him up and pulled him closer.

“Plz, ther’s nuthin left 2 prove,” Medusa texted. It would be so much more dramatic if she spelled everything out.

I grinned. It must have scared Blue to see me happy. He started grabbing at the tail more, trying to slip out. I pulled an EMP spike out of pouch I strapped on and gave him a stab, but just in the boot. It probably didn’t even touch skin, but his armor jolted and disappeared, leaving a frightened young man in my grasp. I dropped him.

Then the hangar exploded. The robot within looked like a robot version of a yeti. It pounded its own chest as if it needed any more announcement of its presence, then fired a much larger version of Silver’s ice blast at my Flyer. I heard the crew in there scream as Holly took it hard to the side then fought for control.

That left me and the robot. “Hey, Max, you think you can dump my armor out for me?”

“I’ve been thinking,” he answered. “Did you include a hole for your tail?”

Shit.

“Looks like I’m doing this the hard way,” I told him and started loping for the Yeti Bot on all fours.

“Stand down, stand down!” Medusa tried to call. Neither myself nor the Silver Ranger listened. Instead, the Yeti jumped and landed in front of me, shaking the ground and causing me to stumble slightly. With me slowed down, it tried to stomp me. I was quicker and jumped onto the side of its leg, claws and tail giving me the purchase necessary to start shoving EMP spikes into weakpoints, like the joints. The Yeti swiped and missed, knocking frost and icicles off. Soon, it couldn’t walk, or twist its hips. A couple spikes to the armpits and it couldn’t even swing its arms. Finally, I mounted the head and drove two final spikes into the crown of the giant robot, freezing it in place.

“Lay down your arms!” ordered Medusa. “You are all under arrest.”

“You and what army?!” called Blue Ranger.

Right on time, transport choppers flew in. Men on horseback jumped their mounts out and deployed giant parachutes of the Canadian flag, submachine guns trained on any of the Rangers and Blackguard who moved. The mounties were here. I blended in and helped my Flyer to do the same, bringing it in low enough for me to jump right into it and start easing us out of there in the confusion.

“Do you think this will stop them?” Max asked.

“Nah,” I answered. “They’ll be out on some sort of immunity, but it means this base and that robot aren’t a problem. No matter where Lulios is, we don’t have to worry about those Rangers interfering with my revenge.”

A text came in from Medusa. “U got away. So did Lulios. Sent him home thru portal.”

Fuck me. With two dicks.

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Reckoning 6

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Qiang’s fine. I look after her as Firecat. Still haven’t gotten the hang of cooking scrambled eggs by hand. Power control issues. But the most important thing of keeping her there is that Qiang’s looked after. She gets that I’m doing it through Firecat, accepting that body as just another one belonging to her mother. It helps that if she gets startled and pulls a knife on me, I can still disarm her pretty easily. I’ve taught her a lot, but I haven’t held back just to keep winning. Some counters are just too advanced or require more strength from her.

Firecat’s not just there to look pretty and keep house. I’m closely monitoring the grown body for signs of problems. I don’t know what kind of issues occur when you mash too many people’s DNA together in one body and hope it all takes. I doubt I got all the issues worked out on this already. It’s the same reason I didn’t shove all the powers into my real, main body. Just my luck I’d do that and somehow melt into a pile of goo.

I have other experiments going as well. Seeing how far I can push biology in anticipation of doing likewise with technology. The one in the basement is one of my experiments in extreme biology. Black exoskeleton, hidden nostrils with filters, amphibious lungs capable of breathing air and water, a prehensile tail and tongue. A black, shiny, hard mess without any apparent eyes to even look into. If I can handle it and it holds up, the next step is to marrying it to technology. Like, nanites in it systems that can help aid in the digestive process and can replicate if I chomp on the right stuff. Instead of just having a freaky body, the body could have the same ability to shift armor plates around, add new limbs, fly. Or even growing flesh in battle. Wings. Then think if I can add powers to it. Super speed, super strength

One of many lovely distractions from the greater crisis. Ha! And my personal crisis is a distraction from all the other crises going on. A mess wrapped in a disaster wrapped in a flaming dumpster. Take all that and stick it inside a paper bag full of shit, set that on fire, and you might approach whatever the fuck’s going on with the year 2020.

But, hey, my daughter’s fed and looked after. So am I. I just had to put on a skimpy dress and pretend to be another woman working for Max. It’s a tiny bit of cover, the best I can do to keep my identity secret again, for now. Besides, Psycho Gecko wears armor, after all. The face underneath changes. Only the armor remains, protecting me from the outside world. Aggressively protecting.

That doesn’t mean I hated the nice Italian dinner at the casino. It was genuinely nice to catch up with Max and learn the story of his recent power play. “They stacked the deck against me because the knew I was a threat,” he said.

“What did you have to do?” I asked.

“They wanted me to create water from the desert,” Max said. “I was close.” He nodded.

“Water’s a bring problem here. Sometimes they go on water robberies,” Holly volunteered.

I raised an eyebrow. Sam patted me on the shoulder and told me, “Holly flirts information out of some of the low levels.”

“So they steal water, and they wanted y’all to somehow create water out of the desert?” I asked.

“The person who could do that has the right to own Vegas,” Max said. “It’s a good thing they didn’t know who you were when you challenged for us.”

“Well, hopefully what comes up won’t require turning a desert into a sea… whatever it is,” I said. “Whatever nasty tricks you have up your sleeve, you can whip them up a lot faster than what I’m trying to pull.”

“You’re on the defensive, reacting,” Max said. He shrugged. “Why haven’t you hunted them down yet?”

I shook my head. “All this shook me. It was a pretty big betrayal, against competent enemies who know how to hurt me.” I could try to justify it with other things, like these guys being good at digital security or having Venus and the Justice Rangers on their side. Wasn’t even thinking that. I needed to escape, I needed a friend, and I need to figure out how to handle a very raw situation.

I hit the alcohol a little hard, but I was so full of noodle and sauce that I handled myself well. I was able to crawl back into my armor. Max insisted Vegas honored the results of games and challenges. I wanted my armor. That way, it wouldn’t get all over the room or bed if I pissed myself.

Woke up in the wrong body. All the more confusing, it was the one in the basement. I had to process a tail and very weird visuals. The unique eye situation required a moment to get used to before I zipped over to Firecat instead. I didn’t mean to jump into either of these bodies. Then I got the buzz of a text message, but that was back in my main body. I jumped back there and had to deal with both a text communication and my own full bladder. And since the text was from Medusa, my bladder was least full of shit. Plus, shit goes through the intestines. But does Gecko ever get credit for free anatomy lessons? No! I just get molested by my girlfriend while I’m trying to murder people and I don’t think I slept off that alcohol that much.

Unlike the usual messages from Medusa, this one was as grammatically correct as a time could be and the phrase “Watch The News.” A little before noon. That gave me a little time to be hungover first before going serious. At least I couldn’t get any more miserable. And I didn’t when the time came around. Instead, all the news channels and Fox ran a brief announcement about the diplomat from another Earth, that fuckface, holding a press junket of sorts at a Toronto hotel. He wanted to allow reporters to have time to ask all of their questions after he made his announcement earlier that day.

An announcement of an announcement. Looks like I know when and where they want to meet me. The junket format is a decent way to get me one on one without risking me killing a whole crowd while going after Lulios. He could truthfully claim it has to do with security concerns. I groggily went and found someone to wake up in Max’s bunch and found Holly having a bowl of cereal. “We need to get to Toronto and pretend to be the press for a junket. If Max wants less bloodshed, he can come up with something to knock folks out. Otherwise, we need to get a move on. I got transport for us already.”

Between all of this, it hardly feels like I have a body. Once we had everything loaded up, I set the Psycho Flyer to autopilot to get us to Toronto pronto. I was fine, so I left my body in the armor and jumped over to Firecat to see to Qiang. We had some time to watch a movie together and for me to just be with her. Can’t fault her for wanting to go hang out with friends. I should get her a new knife.

Up in Toronto, we found the place easily enough. All the major news networks of the Americas were there, as well as the pretenders. We had stowed the Psycho Flyer and rented a van for this, with Max and the girls lying in wait. My armor flickered into invisibility and the deception of a normal woman when I stepped out toward one group of the pretenders with OANN marked on their stuff.

“Hi, oh my god, you’re One America News Network!” I said as if I knew them.

They nodded politely, except for the reporter who was having his makeup done. I leaned in close and whispered, “Hey, y’all wanna hear how the Jews are behind this whole thing?”

Well, that set the reporter’s undies on fire. That’s a metaphor, means he got moving. He led the whole crew over to the open rear doors of my van. As soon as they got over to it, Max sprayed them with puffs of red smoke that caused them all to start coughing, then followed it up with another watergun that sprayed a white smoke at them. They collapsed, and I made sure to grab the cameraman’s camera before it hit the ground. When we all left the van minutes later, the four of us blended in.

“Conspiracy theorists,” Sam said, shaking her head.

“How’d you know they’d fall for that?” asked Holly

I laughed. “Some people are so brainwashed by the people running things that if you tell them Jewish folks are to blame, they’ll believe anything you tell them. They’re so scrambled, they can’t see who’s really pulling the strings.”

“Who?” Holly asked

Sam, real quick, let out an “Oh god,” hearing her question.

“Assholes,” I said. “We’re surrounded by ’em.”

“Perhaps they’ll be more appreciative after their nap,” Max said.

“In that sleep of Max, what dreams may come when they haven’t yet shuffled off that mortal coil?” I asked Max in a roundabout butchering of Shakespeare.

“Near Death Experiences often feature visions as a a traumatized and anesthetized brain tries to cope with the chemicals running through its body. I found a way to tap into that and tweak it in a negative direction.”

“Dude!” Sam said, “You gave them a Near Death Experience of Hell?”

“Only while they’re asleep,” Max said. “If they were awake, it would be a vivid hallucination. I’m eager to see people react to that part.”

We were pretty low on the pecking order when they let us through with our press credentials. They immediately brought us to a room with Lulios sitting in a comfy padded chair with refreshment nearby. My own chair had a folder on the table in front of it. “Hello. You are?”

“One American News,” I informed him.

General Lulios nodded. “If you’ll have a seat, the folder in front of you has details about an initiative whereby my government offers support to your world in this trying time.”

I picked it up and glanced at it. Just a system to provide enough nanites to function as a stopgap measure until a vaccine for the virus is produced. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Lulios said, “That’s my folder from earlier. Please set it aside and check the next primer beneath it.”

I did so and found a file with the same information, but in English. As opposed to the language from my world that the other one had been in and I’d been caught reading.

Lulios shifted in his chair. “I wanted to give your people a chance to ask questions, because this is a matter of importance and you have been terrorized by someone using these medical nanomachines before. I hold some guilt for that. For many years, I held onto a hate that did nothing for me but give me someone to treat as less than human. It’s freeing, in a way. It freed the worst aspects of myself. I didn’t have to apologize for my temper or restrain negative thoughts. So long as I targeted the homo machina, I could indulge myself without feeling bad. They weren’t human, after all.” He almost looked happy at that. Despite that, he didn’t feel right. Maybe it was all the time spent as a kid being terrorized by this guy, but he didn’t have the same presence.

He went on. “I was wrong, and it took the enormity of my mistake to make me see it. To see that by treating these people as if they were monsters and a threat to everything, I made a monster. I tortured a poor soul until it became the monster I thought it always had been. I realized after he almost destroyed the world that his people weren’t monsters. Where we demonized them, they defended each other selflessly. Where I taught someone how to destroy a world, they stopped him. They stopped someone who learned hatred and terror from me. I can’t absolve myself of that. But I wanted to meet with you and tell you that I was wrong to do what I did.”

Y’all might think I was boiling with anger, but this was one of those times where I felt like ice. I was beyond simple anger. One coiling mass of nanites formed a tendril with a spike on the end and plunged through Lulios’s chest. It went right through as if punching a hole in air, but it obstructed the image of Lulios seated in his chair. The hologram appeared to be coming from below.

“I’m sorry for the deception as well, but I thought you would kill me before I could ever speak to you, and I needed to talk to you. For your sake and mine,” the illusion of Lulios went on. “I hope you can find a way to let go of the hate toward humanity and the world. I don’t expect you to let go of it toward me.”

I dropped my own hologram and swept the floor. There was no chair in the room over there, just a pentagonal box. I shifted the tendril and stuck the spike into it, piercing the casing. Cables flowed out of the tendril now, carried by questing nanites looking to fuse them into the wiring of the device. It was a way to recreate my natural homo machina abilities while staying armored.

“Gecko…” Max warned. There were noises outside. “I have to step out for a moment.” He took the camera and the squirt gun full of his Hell hallucinogen with him out the door. Meanwhile, I traced back the signal coming from the device.

Above it, Lulios looked on, sizing me up. “I twisted you into this. It must feel like a knife to the gut to find out I’m still alive. Those on my staff who know the truth wanted desperately to keep you from finding out I’m alive, but I knew it was impossible. You were always going to find me. Please be merciful if you can find it in you to be. They are clouded by hate and throwing themselves into a duty to protect me.”

“I’m tired of your perfidious charcuterie, old man,” I growled.

He was shut up by a blast from an energy weapon that soared over his head. “Shut up, for your own good.” The Blue Justice Ranger walked over and held Lulios at gunpoint. He turned toward me. “No one is being released. You are the key to ending this threat-” The Justice Ranger gasped suddenly as arms wrapped around his neck from behind. The hands hit the external release on his helmet and pulled it off, but kept up the pressure on his throat. He turned his gun toward his attacker, but a familiar leg wrapped around it and squeezed, keeping it aimed away.

I’d gotten the trace done by now, but I kept watching as the Blue Ranger fell back and Medusa stepped into frame, in costume but not in armor. She helped up Lulios and turned to me. “They’re going to use him as bait now they know you will come for him no matter what. I did wrong by you, but listen to me now and stay away.” Then, turning to Lulios, she said, “Come on, let’s go.”

It occurred to me once they were done that I had heard a little bit of the sounds of struggle from outside. Holly and Sam must have gone out to help Max at some point. I followed after, finding Canadian police, Mounties, and Lulios’s Blackguard. They hadn’t been knocked out first like the others. The red gas that still lingered in the air had them scratching at walls and the floor, crying, even fighting each other. I liked it. It felt fitting with the mood I was in.

I caught up to Max, Sam, and Holly in the lobby. There were a pair of police helicopters out there, snipers keeping my friends at bay with shots that tore head-sized chunks of the flooring out. “Not enough range on your squirt guns?” I asked Max.

Max gave me a friendly middle finger, then called out, “They’re loaded up for shooting through armor!”

I gave him a thumbs up, then turned and ran for the lobby doors. A nanite and armor tendril tore the front of the lobby open, the nanomachines taking some of the metal to digest and replicate. The one metal tendril split into two tentacles that pushed me off the ground, then became a single limb with a pair of jet engines inside. The engines pulled me through the air toward the first helicopter and wrapped around the landing struts. It grew shorter as I grew another arm that formed a blade to cur through the base of rotor. The rotor went up for a moment as the chopper’s body fell. I threw that off and launched myself toward the other helicopter that was maneuvering for distance. The nanites encased me, reinforcing armor plates moving over my body to form a wedge while two short arms with jet engines threw me through the cockpit and into the hold with the sniper. He tried to smack me with the butt of the gun but the nanomachines caught it and ate the gun. The man dove for it. I let him and decided to escape the falling copter too.

Seeing police vans around, I threw that wreck of a chopper at them with nanite tentacles. Gunfire rang out, and proved to be useless. The cops saw what I’d done so far and wisely ran for it, driving toward escape. The rest of my group walked out behind me, Sam whistling. Holly walked right up to me and asked, “Why did you need us again?”

“I needed my friends,” I said.

Max gave me a hug before Sam elbowed him. “Excuse me, battleground full of dead bodies and terrified people. Can we hug later?”

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Reckoning 5

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It’s been some time since I was in a big casino. Some of the nicer underground gambling spots approach the look and feel of a smaller casino, but a big, proper one has a certain life all its own. They cultivate an atmosphere of excitement, a tension that you could be on the edge of a big win. It’s a lie, of course. For every lucky $300 or $5000 win, the casino made more than that off other people. That’s nothing new, of course, but it explains why they really don’t like it when someone wins almost every single time. Like, if someone can neurologically sync up with nearby computer-run slot machines or digital blackjack. Someone with part of their brain replaced by a computer and prosthetic eyes with a HUD that can count and track cards. I’m not very good at poker, but I’m also not welcome in Vegas.

Well, Psycho Gecko isn’t welcome in Vegas, but Gecko is officially dead. So, from my base in a lovely suite, I had free rein to search the town for my friend, Mix N’Max. Last I’d heard, he’d taken a liking to Vegas and did well here with his improbable concoctions. He was a purveyor of pharmaceutical enjoyment and could craft a custom brew to better one’s abilities. Giving people luck potions and super speed pills put him at odds with the local casinos, but also built him enough money and influence to maintain some peace. Except people haven’t been hearing much from Max lately, nor from his assistants Holly and Sam.

Now, the dirty open secret of Vegas, and the whole of the world, is that having enough money means you’re exempt from laws and can do anything you want. Spending a night dropping thousands of dollars at High Roller slots showed I had that money. A friendly concierge stopped by to let me know every so often that if I needed anything at all, just to let them know. Sadly, one thing they couldn’t get me was one of Max’s unique creations, so after awhile I could try a different casino and repeat.

On the fourth iteration of this cycle, I was stopped shortly after entering the Olympus Casino by a concierge wearing a laurel on his head. It was his nod to the Greco-Roman theme of the place, with white imitation marble support columns, rubber plants, and classical statues. Nearby, a lightning bolt lit up over a slot machine to indicate someone hit a jackpot. A sign nearby pointed the way to nearby bathrooms and the Elysium Eatery. With lighter colors and strategic lighting, the place had a thin illusion of being bright and well-lit to it. Just not so bright and well-lit that they couldn’t hide cigarette smoke stains or annoy drunk, high, hungover, and exhausted customers.

Sadly, this concierge blocked my view of a lovely waitress walking around in a skimpy version of a toga and sandals while he was at it. He followed my gaze briefly and laughed. “If it’s the companionship of a beautiful woman you’re looking for, we would be happy to assist. Even her, if you’d like. Hello, I’m Richard Mendelson, concierge here at the Olympus. As I understand and hear, you’re looking for a specific fun. Have I heard right?”

I smiled at him. “You have indeed, Mr. Mendelson.”

“Madame, if you please, I would show you to the Underworld.” He led me to a pair of locked doors off to the side that had their own couple of open guards. I suspected some of the folks in the area were secret guards as well, but at least he didn’t bring any security just to escort me. That would have been a sign of distrust, maybe even hostility.

We took a short elevator ride down to a lower level and stepped out into an area with a different aesthetic. Whereas the upper floor pretended at being bright, this bottom area worked hard at being darker. The walls were a dark brown or red color with the occasional fake torch hung on them looked like it flickered, but the light itself never wavered. A trio of beautiful young with with identical hair, makeup, and black togas stood behind another fake Greek column that served as a podium. Arching over the whole entrance was a large wrought iron gate with some Latin lettering up at the top that read, “Welcome to the Underworld, all ye who enter here.”

Look at that. Took no time at all for a Psychopomp to end up in the Underworld. The concierge next to me held his arm out, welcoming me to go first. I nodded at him and stepped out toward the three smiling faces greeting me at the gates of the Underworld.

“Greetings!”

“Hi!”

“Hello!”

I smiled and crossed my arms over my chest. “I hope this isn’t going to be too repetitive of an introduction.”

“Not at all,” One of them said.

“Do you have any cash you want us to deposit for you? A line of credit?” asked the Second.

The Third nodded toward my concierge. “I would be happy to be your guide and show you what we can provide.”

I handed Second a couple hundred thousand dollars in cash and let myself be shown around by the Third, who linked her arm with mine and left the concierge behind. “I’ve been told you are looking for something to enhance your mood and state of mind.”

“Yes, drugs,” I told her.

She giggled like it was the funniest joke in the world. “Not just any drug.”

“Hedonism Squared,” I said. It was something Max has been doing for years. It’s a drug that pretty much erases or reverses all pain. Messes with receives in your brain so they interpret all signals of pain, distress, or discomfort as intense pleasure. Someone could cum from cutting a hand off, which has the potential for danger. The military even tried to buy a bunch, until they ran into the part that makes it so lucrative for Max. See, supposedly there are some really expensive chemicals involved in the process of making it. Selling it wasn’t the moneymaker. Unless a person keeps taking it, they’ll come down to find that everything, every single sensation from before, now registers as pain. It might not be much, but imagine if the wind felt like it was burning you. If laying sick on a bed brought no relief because the sheets felt like a knife’s edge on your skin. So they either keep buying more, or they pay a huge amount for a purgative that stops the whole cycle then and there.

An elegant extortion racket for the wealthy, celebrities, and professional athletes. And not just to use against them. Some of those posh old money families would buy some to keep affluenza-prone kids in line. “Do as I say and you won’t get your next fix. Marry who I tell you or you won’t get the purgative.”

They showed me through a much more sparse casino area. Most of the machines and tables looked the same as upstairs, but with higher stakes. Some few isolated cases didn’t seem to use money as stakes, and I even passed by a couple of old guys glancing between their cards and each other while the dealer sharpened a cleaver. I checked the sign and cooed to my guide, “I’ve always wanted to try chop poker.”

“Every grudge can be settle with a game here. Are you any good at Seven Card Stud?” she asked.

“I’m afraid not,” I answered.

She laughed. “Unless you can grow back body parts, I would advise you to stay away, ma’am.” There came a scream and a thud of metal on fabric behind us.

Second or Two or whatever led me to a more private, smaller alcove with a padded couch and a table. “Please wait here.”

She barely finished speaking when a young woman stopped by in one of the same skimpy togas. “May I get you any refreshment while you wait?”

“It will only be a few minutes,” Second told me. And that’s all it was, just a few minutes before she brought me back a small, clear glass bottle with a dropper top that came down into a clear liquid. I took it in hand and held it up to the light.

“Does it satisfy?” Second asked.

“Hmm…” I pretended to regard it. “It looks milky. Have you diluted it?”

“I assure you…” she trailed off when she saw me unscrew the top. I stayed away from it a bit, sniffing. “Ma’am, you shouldn’t!” she rushed forward. I moved it away from her, but kept track of it.

“H-Squared requires enough of it to form at least a droplet to have an effect on the human body,” I said. “Smelling it is harmless and can help tell if it has been tampered with. Your reaction doesn’t satisfy me. Bring me something fresh.” I closed up the bottle and held it out for her. When she hesitated, I pulled out another stack of cash. “I want to go with you, to ensure quality.”

“I can’t…” she started to say. She shut up once I pulled out another bundle of cash. “I guess I can.” That bundle disappeared into her cleavage. She led me into an area that wasn’t for guests. The walls were painted, unappealing cinderblock. She led me down corridors until we reached a larger room, an underground arena with three tiers. Stairs sloped down to the bottom floor with a large, electrified cage in the middle. The slope had seats, though most of them were empty. There was the floor we were on, and then a balcony floor overlooking everything from its ring. My hostess led me along our floor around to a concession stand of sorts, only they had it separated by a thick window. She pressed an intercom to speak to the inhabitant. “Wake up. We need something fresh.”

The lights inside brightened slowly, revealing Max, with a black eye and a nasty gash on my friend’s pale head. He heaved himself up with a grunt, looking over at us with resentment. It’s rare I’ve ever seen him without his Cheshire grin, but I also didn’t expect to see him in this state. “He’s your prisoner?” I asked. “You trust him to cook for you despite that?”

“He challenged the ruler of Olympus and he lost. We hold leverage over him to ensure he doesn’t try anything,” she said. I could hear the smugness. They must have Sam and Holly somewhere, as hostages.

“You weren’t kidding about solving anything with a game,” I said.

Second reached for the intercom. I laid my hand on hers to stop her. “What’s the game to win him?”

“Excuse me?” she asked. She took her hand away and backed off. “You don’t want to do that.”

“I do,” I said. “So, what’s it going to be? Care for a game of chop poker?” I turned toward what crowd there was, as well as the man and gorilla facing off in the middle of the cage. “We are at an impasse! They have a lucrative asset I want! I challenge for Mix N’Max!”

A loud blare cut off all other sounds. Above everything, a walkway extended out over the arena. A man walked out, turned into shadow by lights backing him. He turned sharply to look at me. Or away from me, but I’m guessing toward. When he spoke, the acoustics let me hear it easily. “You challenge me within my own casino? You are an audacious one. What is your name?”

“I’ve been called Trouble,” I called out to him. “But my name is unimportant. More important is if you shy away from a challenge… surely, I don’t scare you, do I? I want Max and the two companions you use for leverage.”

I heard a few in the crowd “Oooh”ing.

“Tell you what,” he said. “You’re asking for three. I’ll make this easy on you. We were just about to have a match. I would ask you to participate.” He motioned toward me. Second took hold of my arm from behind and began to lead me down the stairs. “Come on. There’s a good lass.”

I didn’t want to seem too eager, helped by my own disappointment. The thrill-seeking part of me hoped for a game of chance or something different than a mere fight. I can cage fight a gorilla in my sleep. Really, the secret to most mammals is to go for the groin. Well, we got on down to the stage level, but I didn’t see an opening to the cage. I looked up at the mysterious shadow owner who said, “Last chance to back out.”

“Last chance to grow a pair!”

The floor fell away underneath me. It was fun, actually. There was a slide that just kept going. How big was this fucking place? An image appeared overhead, a shadowed head with a tophat backed by bright lights. “Round one, for Samantha Hain, you face my deadly giant Brown Recluse… sorry, I’m being told he’s lost weight and prefers the term ‘Persian hermit.’ But tonight, he is the deadliest of your enemies in the slide race.” I got used to the lights, or maybe the lighting improved. Either way I saw another slide zip on overhead and come up beside mine. In the other lane was a skinny young guy in a t-shirt. He waved at me happily.

I stopped paying attention to him when something smacked me in the face. I grabbed at a small squirt gun, full of water.

“Your goal, to reach the exit which will close after the first person passes through, trapping the other in a bottomless pit. Yes, bottomless. Don’t think about it or you’ll lose. You’ve each been provided with a squirt gun full of lubricant to help speed you on your way. Good luck!” The floating image disappeared.

Ah, so not water. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye as the Persian Hermit sped up, yelling “To infinity and beyond!” He had a huge soaker, dwarfing the tiny pistol I’d been given. Oh, right, that’s why I should have preferred a cagefight. I gave my gun a squirt at the slide ahead of me so I went over it. I sped up shortly after hitting the patch of lube, but a sudden turn almost threw me over the edge. I found I’d caught up to the Hermit, who had slowed down in anticipation. So I had an idea how to win. I tried to keep up with him without running out of that KY goodness. He managed to pull ahead by the time we reached another curve. I had to aim carefully to deal with the drop of liquid. And I knew, I only had a dozen shots at this. Squirt!

Like Icarus, the Hermit flew too close to the sun. It happened when the extra lubricant helped him maintain too much speed and he flew over the curve and down into the darkness below. After that, the ride got kinda boring until the slide dropped me into a ballpit in a small room. I crawled forward to escape the net enclosure of the pit and felt something below. I pulled it up to find a bloody femur.

The image of the shadowman appeared on the wall next to me. “Congratulations, you won the race. Fuck you. Anyway, your next challenge will be against an even deadlier opponent. An evil clown known only as… Giggles.”

“Is this a race or tug of war or what?” I asked. The wall slid open in front of me and an overweight clown walked in, his face an intense stare right into the very depths of where my soul would be if I had one.

“This is Russian Roulette! One of you lives. The other takes a bullet to the brain,” the shadowman said, laughing. The laughter cut off when the video did.

The clown pulled a revolver out of his pants and loaded a single bullet into the cylinder. He spun it, then raised the barrel to his temple. Click! Nothing happened. He tossed the gun to the floor in front of the ballpit. I pulled myself out of the ballpit and bent down to take the gun, then looked around. Huh, no guards. I cocked the hammer back part of the way so I could freely spin the cylinder so the round would be next in the chamber. I finished cocking it, rotating that round into place, and pointed it at the clown’s head. His eyes widened a little too late I splattered his brains against the wall.

The shadowman appeared on the wall. “That… was not how that was supposed to go.”

“One of us is dead and the other’s alive. What are you going to do, have him move on to the next challenge?” I asked, kicking the oversized shoes of the dead man on the floor in front of me.

“…moving on then. Please make your way through the door and leave the gun!”

I shrugged and dropped it before heading out the door, stepping out… into the cage? See, I was beginning to think this place made no sense before, and this just confirmed it. I turned back the way I came and saw the room I was in had disappeared. Even the door frame around me seemed to just be an empty frame, with no way to stand up.

Across from me in the cage stood Second or Two. I never bothered figuring out her name. Shadowman’s voice boomed out over the arena. “You keep killing everyone you compete against, so I’m not going to feel sorry for you this time. Bitch against bitch, you versus one of my Cerberus girls. Go at it until one of you can’t stand up anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Second said.

“Um, why? You’re going to die,” I said.

Second balled up her fists and concentrated, then her skin seemed to split and stretch, closing back up over a growing form that spouted fur from it. She looked like a nine-foot tall pit bull. It was kinda cute, actually, especially with the large boobs. Sexy, even. They were just really nice boobs. And the abs on her. Tits that big with a cut belly like that? Oooh, and those thighs.

I twirled my fingers through my hair. “So… hiya.”

“What are you doing?” asked shadowman.

I stepped forward, running fingers through my own hair to straighten it out and tried giving a flirty twirl through my hair at the end. “So… I can’t help but notice you’re naked now. It would be a shame to waste all this lubricant from the slide.”

Second cocked her head to the side in confusion as I pressed up against her and ran a finger over her rock hard abs. Then I reached up and put my hand around her head, guiding her fanged, drooling mouth down to mine.

An hour later, I kicked the side of the fence down. Behind me lay Second, weak-kneed, and unable to stand, slipping in… juices. Long story short, she was a little too weak to stand. Secret to beating pretty much any mammal: go for the groin.

I ignored the now-packed arena and called up to the balcony level. “You done up there? Give me Max!”

Shadowman cleared his throat and spoke between pants. “Yeah, I’m finished. Oh my god. Give her Max and the girls. Can you come back and do a show for us sometime?”

I ignored his questions as I walked up the steps. Behind me, I heard the mutated voice of Second call out, “My number is-!” but the applause stopped me hearing the rest.

At the top waited Max, Sam, and Holly, all hugging. They turned to me, curious, but then Max hugged me as well. “Gecko! It’s been awhile.”

“Hey Max. Looks like we both got in some trouble,” I said.

“How did you know that was Gecko?” asked Holly. She had gone back to brown hair with blonde highlights, setting her apart from Sam, who looked a lot different without all the makeup to compliment hair that was dyed silver.

“I’d know that foot thing anywhere,” Max said, sly grin returned to his face.

“Come on, I’m starving,” Sam said, grabbing Holly and pulling us toward the exit.

I shrugged. “Sounds good, but you know I’ve already eaten.”

They all groaned.

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Gecko: Omega 1

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To celebrate the rescue of so many refugees, we tried throwing a little bit of a concert. Just something to help them feel welcome while associating good things in the eyes of the people who were already here. I have no clue who inhabited the island back when the various ruins were created. It may be that the Claw, who fulfilled his role of “Dictator For Life,” wiped out a bunch of indigenous folk in order to build a nation of East Asian immigrants under his rule. Even I can’t do anything about that. But I can make sure I capitalize on the mistakes of others.

I need people and they need to go somewhere better than a country living under the legacy of being a third world plaything of the Cold War, then either neglected or intervened in during the 90s and Oughts. I can’t control whether people complain about the States intervene militarily in South America or those same people then complain that the States didn’t intervene in other countries down there. And I’d hardly be a good contrarian if I copied the assholes in power.

Which is really too much of an explanation for why we had a Led Zeppelin cover band rocking out while Dr. Creeper flew around a small blimp with a red balloon and tossed down treats. It did make it a little hectic giving out gift baskets of some of the essentials people might need, like shampoo and toothpaste, but I think it worked out. Mostly. Gotta tell Creeper that t-shirt guns are appropriate; t-shirt howitzers are overkill. That guy will be fine once the nanites patch him up, but the car was totaled.

While they focused on that, I checked on the Telechamber progress. Creeper wasn’t happy, but he acquiesced over the objections of the scientists specifically studying transdimensional physics. I pulled rank, which is one advantage to being the dictator. And I can dic tators like it’s nobody’s business. They’re finding all kinds of odd hold-ups, though. Some of the guys tried to go ahead and lay a new foundation as soon as the old one was cleared off nearby roofs, but sugar seems to have gotten into the cement mixers. The darn stuff didn’t want to dry after that. They’ll have some problems with rats eating the wiring too, when they get around to that. Then I expect I’ll complain about them doing the same flimsy construction as last time once they’re about halfway done and force them to redo it.

I need time in the hopes I can come up with something to wiggle out of this. At the moment, it feels beyond me. In the past, anything I couldn’t kill by more conventional means was eaten or transformed by nanomachines, or I used a D-Bomb. Except this thing, Mr. Omega, is already outside the universe and has some ability to move things in and out. And nanomachines have their own weaknesses. Spinetingler was able to keep from being completely eaten by them, and I don’t want to rely on just the one weapon that’s failed to kill before when dealing with a guy so big he can crush me and the entire building I’m in with his pinky finger. That’s not getting into whatever else made people scared of him so much they stuck him between universes.

So even though I was mussing up my daughter’s hair while watching the show, I think she could tell I was worried. I didn’t used to be worried so much before I had loved ones. You know, people I might theoretically care for, in a hypothetical scenario where I had feelings like a person.

But, dear reader, do you know the good thing about being a supervillain tyrant? If you said “Doomsday weapons,” you are right! My guys practically expect me to ask them for toys to kill people on a huge scale. I just need to secretly convey to them a need for a weapon to kill one person who exists on a large scale. This is no time to rely on my usual level of subtlety, either.

I reached over and put my arm around Medusa, who was also watching this from atop the building with myself and the others. She put hers around me as well and pulled my head onto her shoulder. I smiled, which was just because she seemed to know who and what I am and accept me anyway, and let my fingers dance over her opposite shoulder. She giggled. Her smile began to fade as my fingers kept tapping away, three times quick, then three longer rubs, then three more quick taps.

She turned her head toward me and I kept my own smile fixed, moving my face in close to hers. We stayed close like that, my fingers drifting over her skin and through her hair, starting to tell the tale. I didn’t get all the way through it because of the stage pyro that went off. She jumped as it went off and I lost my place.

“Hey, where’s your phone?” I asked, trying to salvage the situation.

“Uh, right here,” Medusa said, pointing down between us, where she’d left it on the lip of the roof.

“Just making sure you don’t drop it from up here,” I said with a wink that also shielded me from the brightness of the lead guitarist’s flamethrower guitar going off. I turned to watch, setting one of my hands down. It just happened to touch her phone and begin to connect with it due to my homo machina biology. Venus looked to me, then noticed where my hand was and set hers on it, and on the phone.

With the medium of her cell phone between us, I was able to share the whole thing as I played back my memory, including my thoughts about making sure I betray Mr. Omega, my paranoia about him watching me, and the need to be secretive. I could feel her surprise, her calculation, and her understanding. Even some weird, fuzzy feeling. That might have been related to the greatness that was our guys starting their cover of Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”.

With Medusa brought in on this, my next step was to find a way to get Max in on this. As my only surviving friend I haven’t murdered, we have both a bond of trust and a knowledge of each other’s killtastic abilities that will significantly improve my chances of taking down Mr. Omega.

But how? That’s the thought that plagued me as I sat upon my throne. The porcelain one, that is. I find that the bathroom is the ideal place to do my thinking, in contrast to the study where I instead like to work.

He approached me as I headed back down to the kitchen. “Hey, Gecko. Sam told me about, ya know, that thing that happened.”

I cocked my head to the side. “That thing that happened?”

He nodded off to elsewhere. “Sam reads your blog. She knows it has a lot of sensitive information and spoilers, so she’s being discrete. She told me about the last couple of entries.”

I held up a finger. “First, how is she reading it?” Then a second, “Second, she didn’t say anything about it, has she? I know the early stuff’s kinda rough.”

Max held up a hand in a “so-so” gesture. “She keeps up with it, but she keeps complaining there isn’t more explicit gay sex or non-explicit gay sex. She wants to see you top me.”

“Hey, I’m having plenty of lesbian loving!” I yelled.

“Not with that attitude you aren’t!” Medusa called from elsewhere.

Max winced. “That’s not what she meant. She asked me to see if you could write a homoerotic love scene between as a guy again, and me.”

I shrugged. “I mean, I could write about that time…”

He waved it off. “Don’t give her the satisfaction. It was a wonderful night and next day, then another night, but I don’t want to lose what we have as friends.” He put his hand on my shoulder.

I pulled him into a hug and whispered, “Think that’ll do her?”

“It’ll have to, because you’re way happier as a woman,” he said. Aww. See, there’s a friend.

Well, it was easier letting Max find out than I thought, even though it means Sam is constantly peering over my shoulder and fantasizing about me being a lady in the streets and a man in the sheets. She’ll have a little less time since Max decided to travel back to the States to see about some goodies he left baking over there that might be of use.

That’s a good idea, too. I need all the weapons I can get, so it’s off to the Institute of Science. I pulled up the files in my head and scurried about, looking through the most menacing files. Like Project: Unspeakable. I pulled a crate out of storage and opened it to find Furbies. It turns out a supervillain created the annoying late 90s toy as a way to spy on people. Unfortunately, the learning program the Furbies already came with caused people to start being real cautious what they said around a creepy little puffball that can repeat what you say around it.

The second time around, I at least looked up a synopsis of the project. That eliminated a few more projects with meaner names than abilities, and instead I paid a visit to a storage room said to house equipment related to Operation Plague Rat. It was designed to spread disease that would hinder the NATO nations. I flicked on the lights in the room and found three stasis containers holding naked Jenny McCarthy clones. Huh. And here I thought she was just a gigantic fucking moron.

The idea did occur to me to see if Medusa wanted to activate one of them. Or all of them.

After that, I remembered that secret code names for evil projects are often a bit different. Like the Manhattan Project, Operation Paperclip, or water tanks. That last one is where the name “tank” comes from for the treaded, cannon-wielding vehicles of war. With that in mind, I settled on BEIGE123, the most plain and innocuous-looking of the files.

I found a lone researcher tucked away in a corner somewhere, adjusting a piece of circuitry under a microscope. He jumped when I entered the room. “Lao, did you finally remember I was back here?”

“No clue, I’m Empress Gecko,” I told him.

The man jumped up and bowed deeply. “My Empress! Nobody informed me you would be visiting.”

“At ease, smart dude. What do I call you?”

“Smart dude’s fine, i-if you want. Otherwise, I’m Chu,” he straightened up, having broken out in an insta-sweat while bowing.

“Ok, Chu. I’m taking a look through some files, looking for any super weapons I think are fun, and whatever you’re doing has the absolute most boring name ever thought up in the name of science since John W. Dildo thought a device he intended to please women. But enough about the invention of the electric dishwasher. What is it you’re working on here?” I looked down at the circuit and the other pieces on his desk.

“Wha-well,” he turned, “Most of the team are thinking of ways to use transdimensional tech for travel and infiltration within the same universe. It’s useful, very useful, very, very useful, but I thought of other ways we could use it. First, I theorized we could use smaller breaches targeting stars to use their radiation and heat in a combat capacity. If the breach on our side can function like a portal that expels solar plasma directionally, it can be a powerful tool.”

“That’d take a heck of a lot of power,” I said, thinking how awesome it’d be to open up my hand and shoot a tiny piece of a sun at someone. This was something I could work with, but the power cores for the Telechamber were prohibitively large and unwieldy. This wasn’t the kind of weapon I’d be able to fit on my suit. “How could you lug a suit around to do all this?”

“You wouldn’t have to,” he said, grinning. He reached around and pulled up a set of schematics to show me. “I think I’m close to a breakthrough on miniaturizing the transceiver for use by a single person. That is the hard part, because power is as simple as opening a portal to a star to use it as the world’s biggest nuclear reactor. Then, more breaches can be used to send the electricity wherever you need it. It’s completely self-sustaining once the initial energy investment is met.”

“Oh Chu,” I said, putting all four hands on his shoulders, then pulled him into a hug. “You and I are going to blow up so much shit together.”

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Sword of Damnocles 6

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“Gecko, let me in!” Medusa said, banging away at my door. I’d locked myself in my study, hanging upside down while my consciousness raced through computer systems to collaborte with my science guys and steal info from around the world. The Fluidics hadn’t done anything yet. Yet.

Normally, the solution I’d resort to is a D-Bomb. Oops, looks like there’s no guarantees that’ll keep working, and what the brainiacs said makes me think I should ease off on those. Considering we’ve got a couple of permanent holes to other dimensions around this world, they seem to have a point. That’s really going to fuck up that contract I had to drill Uranus while providing things like food and consumer products. That’s a miner concern at the moment.

I was trying to ignore Medusa while I dealt with bigger, deadlier concerns, including the aftermath of the Telechamber explosion. She didn’t want to let a sturdy door get in her way, though. I heard it rattle from an impact, then dear Medusa’s voice a she yelled “Fuck that hurt!” I should have installed a window with the words “In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass” on it.

“There’s a door knob!” I called to her, unlocking it remotely with an audible click. I nearly locked it back just before she could open it.

“You are really worried about this,” Medusa said as she opened the door. I couldn’t really see her as I’d put a blindfold over my head to help me concentrate

“I’m surprised you aren’t,” I answered.

“There are a lot of heroes who will help fight the big stuff,” she said. “I have to trust in them if I’m going to do what I do now. You should trust that you have people who will fight for you if they come for revenge.”

That caused me to pause for a moment. “Well, normally people don’t. They’re more than happy to see me die. That’s one of the downsides of my Machiavellian, fear-based respect. And on top of that, if they come for me, I need to make sure a lot of other people don’t get caught in the crossfire. The Fluidics won’t care who they have to go through. I got some ideas for things to do, but this kind of shit is always a gamble. There’s always a chance they’ll move faster, or have some advantage I can’t overcome, or that they’ll simply know stuff I can’t know.”

“I get that you’re used to that, but you’re not alone. What can we do to help?” Medusa asked.

“Yeah, you got friends in low places,” I heard Max say from further, probably around the door.

“Not like you can do much about the remains of an alien fleet lowering themselves slowly into the atmosphere,” I responded, watching that happen over various feeds.

Sam spoke up, “They may not want to kill you. You should be open to the possibility of giving people a second chance.”

“Yeah, that’s why you have a girlfriend,” Holly added.

“True, I gave her a second chance after all the times she tried to thwart my plans, but I don’t think we can risk that kind of trust for murderous aliens who want to take over the world. Or at least, I can’t as an Empress,” I said, which attracted snorts for some reason.

After a second that I was using to check data on the island’s forcefield, Max decided to expand on this whole thing, “You are a murderer from another universe who once took over the world. You even killed The Good Doctor, who was our friend.”

“That’s not the same,” I said.

“I remember when you made stupid jokes about assuming gender even though you and Max’s sister are, ya know…” Sam said.

“Remember when you jumped up and tanked a rocket for a little girl you took in as your daughter?” said Holly.

I didn’t quite know what to say, so I tried to keep looking things over. I had ideas about the island’s shield, but it’d be dangerous to pull off with people around and it wouldn’t really come up unless the aliens came at me with their ships. I figured I could repurpose the nanomachines in the waters to handle a ground invasion, though.

A caress of my cheek drew me back out of those thoughts, and Medusa told me, “If nobody trusted you, you wouldn’t be here to argue about protecting people you feel responsible toward, or smuggling people out of concentration camps to safety. Does that sound like someone who deserves to die?”

“That’s not the whole story and you know it,” I said.

“Yeah, but what you think is justice is sometimes revenge and paranoia. The Academy and too many heroes get confused about that, and I’m tired of seeing that. If you want to be no better than the heroes, though…” Damn, this is what I get for dating someone with a sense of morality.

“I’m still going to plan on how best to kill them,” I said.

“You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t,” Sam said. “Also, can you put on some clothes.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who barged into my private study. Besides, it’s not anything you haven’t already seen.”

“We need to talk about all the public nudity, while you’re at it,” Medusa said. “It’s making everyone uncomfortable that you don’t wear a hair net when you cook.”

You miss one Brazilian…

Just because my family doesn’t want me committing preemptive strikes or walking around with no panties on taco night doesn’t mean I stopped thinking of how to take the Fluidics out the second they step out of line. It didn’t hurt they only had a handful of ships, and those didn’t look good. Pieces were missing or blackened with burns. I could take them, it’s just a matter of how many casualties they cause before I send them on to another great beyond.

They didn’t take long to make an announcement, breaking through on every TV and radio channel out there, even the smutty ones. I was watching a guy in handcuffs say, “Punish me, daddy,” to someone wearing all black, when suddenly my attempt to learn how that murder trial turned out was interrupted by TV snow. It began to shift as a digitally simulated voice began to speak. “You call us the Fluidics. We came to conquer. You banished us to another dimension.”

I knew where this was going, or so I thought.

“In the space between universes, there is a greater threat. It called itself the end. Extinction. It did not kill us slowly. An anomaly allowed it to escape to the universe it had drawn closer to. We found ourselves here, again. That is why-”

That feed cut off. I immediately cut back to my bootleg view of their ships from all the angles. Every country on Earth’s got eyes on these guys, and I’m tapped into as many independent sources as I can. Cameras on the ground, satellites, drones; everything.

The sky split the fuck open. I can’t express what the fuck that looks like, but I’ll try. Imagine the sky, and then it’s pushed apart like it was wallpaper. Instead of seeing anything on the other side, even a black void, you just see a red hand and wrist hanging in the air. Its fingers were curled around the Fluidic ships. It squeezed, then pulled back into the sky, leaving little scraps of metal to fall to the ground while it and the ships disappeared.

That wasn’t the end of my unpleasant interruptions, though. Once again, my view of things was hijacked. It was just a face, as generic and hairless as human faces come, and not even in color. “Hello again, Psychopomp Gecko.”

“Is this going out for everyone?” I asked, wondering if this thing would answer.

“No, this is between the two of us. Do you recall who I am?” it asked.

I thought it over, glad for my facial recognition software. “Mr. Omega. You wouldn’t happen to be the guy those Fluidics were talking about, are you?”

The face grinned. “I promise, I come in peace. I defeated the Fluidics for you, did I not?”

“You scared the shit out of a lot of people while you did that, and I still know so little about you.”

“I have offered to help you once, and defeated your enemies for you another time. I am a powerful and grateful friend.”

“What about that Dusk Club you claim to be part of? I thought you were already defending the Earth?”

“I was banished from the universe long ago for the crime of having ambition. I didn’t want to stay in my place, so I was banished by those jealous of the power I tapped into. So great was their jealousy, they forced even my closest allies to forget me. I nearly went mad alone in the aether, but I found the power to watch and, eventually, the power to make myself heard. I owe you a debt of gratitude for weakening the veil between worlds. Continue to do so, and you will have a place of honor and protection.”

I know this pitch. This is not a good pitch. He’s basically asking me to betray the world, much like the invaders from Uranus did, in exchange for being one of the slightly higher-placed servants. Everything that’s come through might have even been his doing, which explain why so many of them were threats to me. Normally, I’m disinclined to accept anything like this, but I also just saw a giant hand rend the universe to grab a fleet of spaceships and pull them out of our universe. This is a heck of a power imbalance I’m on the wrong side of. So that left me with an important question.

“And if I don’t, you’ll reach that big red hand right up my ass and pull my spinal column into the universe divide, right?”

“Do not be so crude. There are so many ways I could punish my enemies, or our enemies. Nobody needs to know it was you, Psychopomp. Not your loved ones, not your rivals. Wouldn’t you like to have a god on your side? A true one, not the petty pretenders.”

“In some ways, it feels like I already have one. I think I need to speak with my people about our deal with the Uranuses in that other dimension. I have people over there and important resources to trade with them. Luckily, the power cores weren’t breached.”

“Hmm,” is all Mr. Omega said, a toothless smile stretching his face.

I don’t know how I’m going to pull this one off, but it looks like I get to try and betray an extradimensional being that can literally squash me like a bug. Ah, how I long for the days when I kicked Cthulhu’s ass off my island.

Oh, and for added bonus, I have to do all this without tipping off the entity watching me. Kinda wish I was telepathic, now.

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Love And Villainy 6

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Geez, it’s hot. Someone ought to turn out that sun for a bit. I took my daughter and the superkids to an amusement park and I actually began to miss being frozen in ice. My suit isn’t quite as good at regulating away heat as it is protecting me from the cold. That’s something I ought to work on and leaves me visible to thermal imaging.

Conventional cameras caught enough of a view of myself and all those kids, though. They didn’t make a huge deal about it in California, but I guess dreary, muggy Kingscrow really doesn’t like to see people enjoying themselves. I spotted vigilantes watching us. It worried the kids, too. In the end, they didn’t find a good time to come after us. Even messing with a ride was too likely to cause serious injury, but it still brought down the childrens’ mood.

Escape was as simple as a pair of Psycho Flyers dropping smoke grenades around us and loading us all up. Almost all of us. I had to stop and give Psychsaur a hug goodbye. “Good luck with whatever you do from now on,” I told her.

“Try to be good,” she told me. I think she actually meant it.

“Aww,” I said, then reached out and snatched a bola out of the air. I tossed it back through the smoke at where it’d been thrown and saw a shape skid on the ground. “Why be good when I can be great? You just let me know if you need a hand.”

She patted me on the helmet. “I wish you were this giving to people who weren’t your friends.”

I shrugged. “I tried, but they didn’t want me as their leader.”

“You’re not mine either,” she noted, then stepped back, just before a boomerang would have smacked into her. She raised a hand and the boomerang reversed course back to where it came from. Someone outside the smoke yelled. “I guess you better go.”

“I’ll be back!” I declared, throwing a fist up. “You haven’t seen the last of me!” I turned and jumped into the back of the waiting Psycho Flyer. The loading bay closed up behind me as we raised up and began to make a break for the Pacific.

The trip could have been an absolute nightmare. A dozen kids on a long road trip, but with the power to freeze stuff or create plants? It’s a good thing they were all tuckered out from the trip to the park. They slept a good chunk of the way there and saved me a huge headache.

I can’t have a huge welcoming party every time I come back from somewhere. I’m away too much for that. So instead, I disembarked with Qiang and called up leftover Directors from Housing and Education to see to the kids. I should create a Child Supers program while I’m at it. I need an agency to help care for and train children with superpowers on my island, as well as being able to identify them among the general populace and help aid families who have trouble caring for them. I sent Director Pagan and Dr. Creeper a message about working together to find someone reliable, educated, and caring to help me manage the situation. It wouldn’t do for children of Ricca to be snatched up and sold off to some underground fighting and sex ring right under my nose.

With all that handled as much as it can be for now, it was time to deal with other problems. That meant doing things like reviewing test results on interdimensional vehicles for the expedition back to Uranus. It seems the data I stole from that other universe included some nifty new designs for increasing efficiency and stability in the dimension-breaching process, including a way to build devices that craft the portals to allow sending people through without also sending through a device.

There have also been some rumblings from the Lost Continent of Mu. The people of the Bronze City have learned to accept my ambassador as if he’s one of their own, but they’d really like to see their own sometime. I technically married Citra to forge bonds with Ricca, though she looked like their princess in order to fool the Bronze City and forge a bond with them. I forwarded her the email to see if she might be willing to fool them in between semesters of college. I suppose I could hunt down the original, who was last spotted saving Pennsylvania from a rampaging extradimensional T-Rex with the help of Veloci-Raptor, but she’s probably still pissed at me.

There was also a court case that was an issue. People had been appealing to a higher power, meaning me. Then a vigilante broke the person out and it became a non-issue. Or, more accurately, it created a new issue. Someone caught selling info to foreign powers broken out by a superpowered person. I don’t know if this means a superhero or a supervillain. The way this island works, it’s not so clear. Security and the Military have both been put on alert, especially at the ports.

Finally, there’s Venus. I had plenty of time to work on those other issues because I was waiting for her to get back to me. Because, causing my paranoia no end of worry, she wasn’t on the island anymore. According to Max, she disappeared with the Pink Justice Ranger. They were last seen getting on some sort of pink hovercycle that probably belonged to the Justice Ranger. They always get cool toys like that out of nowhere. I even tried spying on her phone, but she left it behind at the residence.

So it was that I went to sleep one day, just myself cuddled up with my daughter. And the next, I woke up to four people in Ranger tights and helmets. I sat upright and screamed, throwing the nearest object at the one in red. He caught my daughter, at which point I pointed to her. “Bastard, give me back my kid!”

By now, Qiang awoke. She kicked him right in his crotch. It wasn’t a hard shot or else they’d have sparked, but it doesn’t take much of a hit to the balls to get someone’s attention. He dropped her. It was Blue who held up his hands. “Can we calm down please?”

I held a pillow up. “Not when you’re sneaking into my room to catch me sleeping!”

“We wanted to talk,” said the Red Justice Ranger.

I tore the pillow open and pulled out a meat tenderizer. I pointed it at the green one, “Then why’s he got duct tape?”

Qiang and the Rangers all looked at the duct tape the Green Ranger held, and watched as he dropped it. “Misunderstanding.”

“Misunderstand my foot up your ass,” I said, leaping to my feet.

“Let’s talk about this. We’re trying to find our missing teammate,” Blue said.

The door burst in and a smoke grenade rolled in, spewing pink mist. Mix N’Max came in, syringe gun in hand. Sam stood behind him with a water pistol. Holly held a wooden stool like a bat, ready to wing. Qiang hopped onto the bed with me and whirled on the Rangers, knife in hand.

The Green Ranger turned toward them, pulling a piece of tape taut in his hands. Yellow and Blue pulled guns, but Red raised a sword out of nowhere. Almost as an afterthought, a Dudebot stepped out of my closet.

“Seems we have ourselves a Riccan stand-off,” I said.

Red turned between me and Max. “This doesn’t have to go bad.”

“We’re prepared for bad,” Max said. He’s right. Villains are exactly the sort to jump in and make the first move in a stand-off like this. We usually don’t have as much to lose, or just don’t care about collateral damage.

“Believe me, I’d give a lot to see Psycho Gecko die,” Blue said.

Green stumbled. “I’d rather not if it’s all the same. We were supposed to be a force for defense and de-escalation.”

Red looked to Green, then lowered his sword. “Rangers, stand down.”

Green lowered his duct tape and Yellow her gun. Blue looked to Red, “This is our best chance.”

“Technically, your best chance was in the other universe, on Uranus,” I said. “Nice try, but it didn’t take.”

“If it was me, it would have,” Blue bragged.

Red grabbed Blue’s gun out of his hand. “How many people aren’t going to live if you die here today?”

“Kinda surprised you’re even bothering with talk of defense and saving lives the way you bunch spend all your time over here, dealing with our problems.” With the Rangers all off guard, we could have easily gone ahead and attacked them. Part of me ached to do so.

I lowered my tenderizer. “Get the fuck out of my room. Everyone. You want to talk, Red? Give me a minute to get indecent.”

Minutes later, with Qiang running to go change out of her pajamas, I walked into the living room. Sam was playing bartender for Holly while giving the Rangers some side eye. Max lounged on a chair, syringe gun in one hand, flask of glowing green goo in the other.

My armor on and arms crossed, I stood in front of the waiting Rangers. “Talk.”

“Ranger Pink has gone missing,” Red said. “We thought you knew something.”

“But you didn’t think it was me?” I asked.

Red shook his head. “We thought you might have evaded our surveillance when you went missing, but then you appeared in Kingscrow.”

“The Pink Ranger is no more special to me than the rest of y’all as far as I know,” I said. “I don’t like you, but I’m tolerating you for helping us in the past.”

Blue jumped in. “So you don’t know who she is?”

“I suspect she tried to kill me when we were all off fighting a war in another dimension,” I said.

Blue flinched, but Red sat up straighter and said, “What did you do with her?”

Wow. I think I might be right about Pink. “I didn’t do anything. A superhero was investigating the attempted murder. They were last seen together. I know when they left, but not where to. I would think you have some fancy ways to track each other.”

Yellow lowered her head. “That is at our command center. Nowhere on this whole planet has technology sophisticated enough to track the bio-force signature of a morphed Ranger.”

I smiled under my helmet. “Almost nowhere. I bet we have a few handy tricks around here.”

“What do you want?” Red asked. “You want us to help you find her so you can kill her?”

Hmm. Good point. They’d never go for it if I did that, but I really don’t feel like letting my potential murderer go free. “I want you and any other Rangers to leave my island alone forever. Don’t get close. And as for the Pink Ranger… we have courts here. Good folks, I want what ever victim wants. Justice.”

Yes, I got a kick out of saying that last word to the Justice Rangers. No, I didn’t have to change my underwear afterward. Wasn’t even wearing any.

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