You could cut the tension as the invasion day approached, but most people were saving their knives for the invaders. We got most of the civilians rounded up. The old geothermal power plant had space, as did the tunnels for the underground high speed rail. Others took shelter in old black sites. Anyone who wished to leave the island was allowed. I’d have pushed for a general evacuation, but there’s really no telling where all will be hit. That’s the same reason I didn’t recall all my agents or my wife. Informing us of the invasion ahead of time may be of questionable strategy, but it created a lot of uncertainty and confusion that can work against us in the initial strike.
Those who wanted to fight were given the opportunity for that as well. The training kept my soldiers ready and helped them focus. We could always use the manpower. Beetrice didn’t stay, but at least we have VelocityRaptor back, mostly healed from that business in Africa. He failed to kill Velociraptor. We’ve also still got Silver Shark, who decided to take up position near the beach with the Deep One militia. Bronze Rhino, another Claw creation, was pulled out of his homestead in the wilderness and sobered up to help defend the city. We needed him to fight, and his alcohol for Molotovs.
So the clocks tick-tocked away, bringing us closer and closer to a clash. I finished doing what I could to my armor. Plenty of integrated nanite-holding quilt on the inner layer, spiked blades on knees and elbows, and as many chicken grenades and explosive throwing knives as I could pack.
Venus watched me as I worked in my study. “Are you ready?”
I laughed. “Is anybody truly ready?”
“Did you have one of Max’s brownies he’s passing around? You shouldn’t have dulled reactions right now,” she said.
I shook my head and turned to look at her, “I am fully in control of my own faculties. Razor sharp, you might say.”
“You look tense.” She walked over and ran her hands through my hair. “How do you feel?”
I closed my eyes, enjoying the feeling. “A little tense and excited. You?”
“The same. The big fights don’t announce when they’re coming. I had the Academy send me my exoskeleton through Cape Diem. Don’t worry, I repainted it in my new colors.” She stopped running my head and I reached up to hold her hand.
We stayed like that for several seconds, then I smiled and made the situation worse with singing. “It’s an emergency, call the police, you left me and abandoned the lease.” The guitar, bass, and drums started up when I put on the actual song to cover up my disastrous singing voice.
Venus giggled, then started dancing when I stood up. I heard a squeal from the doorway to find Qiang dancing there to “Gave You Everything” by The Interrupters. I pulled Venus over so I could grab Qiang and lift her up. Further down the hall, Sam rocked out, then hopped on something and played an imaginary guitar.
It was just stupid fun to music. It was right. It was what we needed and it broke the tension. And it was just in time, because pretty much everything we were using to detect an incursion went off at once. I didn’t know whether to expect a portal or a craft of some sort. We got both, but the portals were temporary and the craft were floating and flying. The things in the sky had hull like ship with a narrow angle. Could have been some sort of floating battleship or destroyer for all I know ship designations. The ones in the water were wider and more round, like if someone made a circular aircraft carrier and loaded the deck with guns.
Some of those ended up cut into pieces when the barrier went up. Explosions rippled across it from where the flying ships had fired already. Some were inside the dome of the shield already when it went up.
I dropped everything and began to suit up, sending out an address while I did so. “People of Ricca, the invasion is incoming. Stay in the shelters unless they’re compromised. If possible, we will evacuate you to areas of the world not under attack. I will not leave you. I’ll keep fighting. You might doubt me as a benevolent leader. Honestly, I don’t think any good leader can be a good person. Ha! By that metric, I’d be an excellent leader. Don’t trust me because of morality. Trust me to be a monster unleashed on your enemies. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go set a new world record for most bowels perforated with a single fist.”
This is why people hire speechwriters. More competent speakers give these events a certain gravitas.
I flexed my armor and reached for my helmet. Qiang held it up for me, in a smaller, less spiky version of my armor. She didn’t have her helmet on either and smiled at me. Mindful of the spikes, I grabbed her for a hug. “I love you.”
“Love you too, mommy,” she said, setting it on my head. It sealed into place and she walked over to the desk where I’d left my helmet, grabbing her knife and helmet.
“I want you underground, staying safe,” I told her. “And keep your armor on.”
“Yes mama!” she yelled, running off with her helmet past Venus. The heroine rested against the doorway, a smile visible underneath the chrome visor obscuring most of her face.
“You ready?” she asked.
I nodded. “You?”
“Yeah. Time to fight the good fight,” she said, as if that line wasn’t designed to make my eyes roll.
Sam and Holly stayed behind, so it was just the three of us setting out from the palace: Max, Venus, and Gecko. Max twirled a syringe gun in one hand, a spray gun in the other, careful of the bandoleer full of smoke grenades. Venus scanned the area and pulled out a staff that extended. I called over a larger drone that attached underneath the armored battery pack on my back, adding a large pair of lasers designed for heavy use hanging off each side of me, and a stand on my shoulder on which a pair of my normal-sized drones settled with their smaller beam weapons.
Out in the waters, Silver Shark and the Deep One marines had capsized a trio of the invading ships, which shot a lot of empty buildings on the waterfront. Some of those inside tried to swim to shore despite segmented armor, but I had more Deep Ones than they had exceptional swimmers.
The seafaring ships outside the barrier had pressed against it. They were glowing some orange color and slowly easing through. I contacted my submarine, who assured me they had everything in hand. The message came through about the time I saw the explosions tear through the ships. My admiral figured that the natural compliment to a shield around the island is a minefield around the shield. There weren’t many living invaders left to argue the efficacy of that.
I was beginning to think I wouldn’t even get to use my armor when white portals began to swallow the battleship aircraft outside the shield. New white portals opened in the air over the water, spitting them back out. They began to adjust targets.
The Intercept team was on it with surface-to-air missiles and drones. The first shots of the battlecraft crashed into the Directory building and probably wrecked my favorite chair. They turned to adjust aim once the first of our missiles began to blow holes in them. My guys focused on three of these things equally for way too long before concentrating fire on the closest. Whatever kept the battlecraft afloat in the air didn’t compensate for the hits and it rocked back and forth until something gave out and it crashed into the water. The other two focused on the military base. Note to self: when rebuilding the military base, include its own shield. Same for the new Directory building and the Palace.
The next craft to go down was dissected in a fucking grid pattern by laser drones. It was beautiful. It swung and dipped, just barely missing the remaining battlecraft. Gotta give them points for trying. That craft ended up smacking into shallower water, part of the hull crumpling on the beach.
The invaders changed tactics. Four portals began to open up at ground level and stayed open for thirty seconds. “Anyone left at Intercept who sees where these things are coming in?” I asked over my command channel.
“Affirmative, Empress. Intercept Field Unit is deployed. We have eyes on rifts and are passing the locations on, triaging per your orders.”
All are equal under the Empress, but some places are more equal than others. The base’s capabilities are reduced, but we need the power plant and the shield. We need the people in the shelters if they threaten any of them.
After that, more opened. I wasn’t paying so much attention to those, because one of those first sets of portals opened right in front of my group. The ones most eager to die were a bunch of guys who must have interrupted their beard-growing contest to get killed being the most prominent group. There were a few others mixed in. It was a pretty diverse bunch.
I giggled and began to dance, pumping out the next song on my murder playlist, Coolio’s Fantastic Voyage. I spun and slid onto my knees, hands in the air, waving like I just didn’t care, while the heavy lasers and the laser drones I personally commanded went to town on them. The first wave just died. Whatever segmented armor they had wasn’t that good at handling light. Some of the ones to survive were grey guys in tights and vests. A small blossom of light appeared where they were hit. Max tossed one of his grenades and hid behind me. They didn’t come out the other side of the thick blue smoke that spread all over the edge of the courtyard. The stream of enemies came around the sides, but something did walk out of the smoke. I caught a glimpse in between mowing down their buddies.
There were three clunky robots. Heavy metal plating and bolts on the torso chest, head, arms, and legs. It had a thick support connecting the chest to the legs, but didn’t bother with all those delicious parts of living critters. These were some old school robots, staring out at us through slots in their heads that glowed with red lights. Venus stepped up in front of myself and Max. She held her staff in her right hand, angled to avoid the metal spike she extended from the gauntlet. Electricity arced from it, then up along the staff which she swept over the robots. Ball lighting flew forth, throwing off smaller tendrils on its way into the middle of the robots. The others who got too close didn’t take it any better than the miraculous metal men did.
We were barely done with that group when another portal opened behind us. The future corpses who ran out of that one included some in old wool outfits and flintlocks, of all things. I held out a hand and gestured for them to bring it. Venus grabbed my arm and tugged me to the side when one of them fired at me, with Max diving behind me. Behind me, a person-sized hole appeared in the wall around the courtyard.
I targeted the flintlock shooters first after that. Max ducked beneath my legs to fire into the crowd with his gun and called out, “Thanks Venus!”
“Yeah, thanks,” I said, a bit grumbly. Ugh, my nemesis I’m in love with saved my life. Time to go write in my diary about how unfair my life is and how I’m so embarrassed I’m just gonna DIE. Wait, is this not the teen drama portion of the narrative? Oh, right, I was murdering folks.
Intercept contacted me for an update after we’d finished with that bunch. “Empress, we have reports of dinosaurs loose in the city. The food growers are under siege and summoned a giant demon plant for assistance. Additionally, VelocityRaptor has responded. The Institute is under attack as well. Dr. Creeper, Bronze Rhino, and Arachnoid are defending. All fronts are holding. The sea battle is over. Silver Shark is bringing the Deep Ones ashore to flank the enemy.”
“Anywhere look like it could stand some reinforcement?” I asked.
“The skeleton crew at the water treatment plant reported an attack. We have dispatched a Flyer and squad to take it back, but we are low on available manpower.”
“I thought we told them to evacuate with the rest…” I looked to Venus and Max. “We’re heading to the water treatment plant to expel some waste. Don’t let them touch the water there if you want to keep them down for good.”
Venus nodded, but I caught something moving toward us out of the corner of my eye. By the time I turned to look, one of those grey fucks was right up in my face, pushing me. The wall we passed through stunned me a bit. You know, like they do. Wrecked my big drone, I think. The grey speedster let me go and I crashed through another wall, and another, and into a small refrigerator in someone’s kitchen. The family left a pot on the stove and rice in a bag nearby. And a superspeedster coming through a hole to stop right in front of me and punch the crap out of my armor. He grabbed my throat. I tried to put a spike through his eye, but he dodged it. I sent a straight at his gut, but he was elsewhere the moment it would have hit. I brought my arm down on his elbow and instead he was choking me with his other hand.
I looked him in his blank eyes and raised my arms. “Really dude?” I asked, despite the tightening grip that threatened to shut off my air supply. But you know what’s faster than super speed most of the time? Light. Guess who has a laser built into her helmet? This bitch. I fired the trio of lasers in my helmet into his eyes and face, for just a moment. The speedy fucker clutched his head.
I laughed my ass off and grabbed him. I pulled open the refrigerator door and pulled him in, smashing the door against his head. He stumbled back away, pushing at me. I caught a beer before it fell out and smashed it over his cranium. I put my heel into his crotch, grabbed him, and threw him against the stovetop. I didn’t need to be a speedster to stick the pot on his head and hit the lasers again. I fried his noggin in the pot. I’d have done it slow, but he was fast. Now he’s a past tense person.
I stepped out, checking on the situation. Venus and Max were on their way to the water treatment plant. I figured I could rendezvous with them, or I could turn right and see why it was suddenly a shady day. I looked, and there stood a sixteen foot tall bird staring down at me with hungry eyes. It opened its beak and roared, showing off a mouth full of rows of sharp teeth.
Command channel time. “I might kill this one, but if we happen to have a spare giant dino bird after this is all over with, I would be happy to have a new pet.” Its beaky maw snatched me up. “This one wants to play already!” It tried to chew me. I put my hands up and stopped it, then stood up on its tongue. I cut the comms channel and addressed the bird directly. “You need to remain calm and stop trying to eat me, or this relationship is never going to work. And it can work! Just look at how things turned out with Venus! All I had to do was change my life, kill fewer people, medicate, have a kid, take responsibility for a bunch of people I don’t know, set up rules for supervillains, and save the world like a dozen times.”
More crap for the diary, in between talking about who I have a crush on and what I want my prom dress to look like, like ohmigosh.
I punched the top of the birdasaur’s mouth. It opened wider and tried again. This time, it caught an elbow blade. It roared and shook its head. I fell out. I hopped up on the birdasaur’s beak and stared it in the eye. “Hey there, critter. I’m your new best friend. I’m gonna hug you and clean up after you and ride you to slaughter my enemies.”
The bird shook its head, then smashed me into the side of the building. I pulled myself up and flipped around to sit on its neck. It hopped and flapped its tiny arms, trying to get rid of me. It rolled over in the street. I don’t crush so easy. I stayed on and gave a “Yippee-ki-yay!” when we came up.
On the street below us, scaly emu things ran along, hissing and growling. I pointed down at them. “Chow down!”
The birdasaur tried to shake me off, but it knew a meal when it saw it. It snatched one up for a meal. At the end of the street, a group of the bearded soldiers and grey men stepped out. They swiped at the emus to chase them off. A soldier raised his sword to point at me. One of the grey men stepped up and raised his hands. A purple ray shot from his hands and singed the feathers on my mount.
I laughed. “Kill, my pretty! Slaughter every last one of them and feast on their bones!” It didn’t seem to need much encouragement after those pitiful attempts to shoot me. It ran into them and started biting. I even hopped down to go after that one grey guy. “That all you got? I killed a guy with super speed earlier. I’ve seen some of your buddies fly and take missiles. ‘Sup?”
He tried shooting me and all the blast did was leave a dark mark on my armor. He tried again and still did nothing. A raider sung at me from the side. I caught the blade and pulled it free from his hands, flipped it around to take the grip, and shoved it through his mouth. I grabbed the blade again and pulled it free, then kicked the body up into the air where my new pet chomped on it. When I turned back to the grey guy who shot at me, he was running. I jumped over him to land in his way. He skidded short and raised his hands in front of his face. “Please-!”
I punched him in the gut just enough to double him over. “I like it when they beg. You want me to like you? Beg more. Tell me things.” I laughed and grabbed him. “Why are you so weak when some of you things are so strong?”
“We are clones,” it told me. It shook as the birdasaur roared.
I slapped its face. “Don’t pay attention to that thing, pay attention to me. You’re clones, right?”
“We are made. Some of us have strong powers. If we are loyal and strong, we are promoted to serve the masters. If not, we serve with the vassals from the provinces.”
I brushed off his tights. “There you go. Good guy, telling me things.” I punched him and knocked him out. I saw a car nearby and carried him over. He fit pretty well into the trunk. My new pet roared at me, read for another go, but then squad of robotmen rounded the corner. I yelled back, “Tag, you’re it!” and ran for them. They raised their arms and shot bolts of molten metal at me. I could feel that, whatever it was. I could also turn invisible, and did so. Shooting like that didn’t make the birdasaur happy, and it couldn’t even eat these ones.
I watched it have fun with them from a rooftop nearby. I glanced up to look around, seeing Psycho Flyers all about. Some of them fired down on hotspots, like one over by the water treatment plant. “This is the Empress. Status update?”
“The portals have stopped, your eminence. The enemy is divided, but most large groups are breaking off to concentrate on the shield building.”
“Reinforce the building as best you can to make sure it doesn’t fall. Let them gather,” I said. I hate that kind of wait. The Institute, farm, and water treatment detachments never made it to the rally point because they got fed pavement with some serious velocity with the help of my guys. The Deep Ones and soldiers used the big gathering to start clearing sections of the city. The weird dino-bird things were the main trouble there. It’s like someone opened up portals to an alternate dinosaur era and let the wildlife run through.
And then, with more than a thousand people banging away at the power plant’s gates, water rose from manholes and drains outside of it. The army might have taken it for a minor inconvenience until the itching started. Being taken apart piece by piece will do that to you. Some tried even harder to break in, but the Psycho Flyers massed to drop my people in there and to concentrate firepower on that front. The ones who tried to run found out hard that is when your feet are falling apart. Whoops, then they fell into the water.
I guided my new feathered friend as best as I could to watch, making sure the nanites knew not to eat this one. Sure, it still tried to fight me and throw me into things, but I think we were getting used to one another. It was a good enough place to watch as the invaders found out that I am quite literally the master of this island.
When the screaming was over, I called up Max. “I got a big boy for you to tranquilize. Or girl. I don’t know how to sex a bird.”
“Come now,” Max said with a chuckle in his voice.
“I was drunk that time,” I reminded him.
“Hey, butting in here, what’s going on?” asked Venus. “Did we win?”
I added Command to the line. “Well, did we win?”
The voice on the other line gave a rundown. “The enemy is no longer a coherent force at anything but the squad level. The city has been 24% cleared. The portals are stopped, the craft are in retreat. The Battle of Ricca appears to be over.”
I clapped my hands. “Very good. I’m guessing, not everyone was as lucky?”
“The United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia, and China were all invaded by significantly larger forces of differing effectiveness. In addition, the United States and Russia are fighting traitors. There are other nations fighting, including North Korea. Some have surrendered. We are assembling a list of others who repelled their invasions.”
“There’s your answer then, Venus,” I told her. “Today, Ricca. Tomorrow… the world!”
My ambition blinded me. It lit up the sky, though Intercept broke in with and explained things differently. “Large rift opening outside the dome.”
The image I saw was basically a giant gun with engines on it to keep it afloat. And maybe something loose in the water way behind it, but the big weapon might just do it for me here. The huge barrel pointed at us glowed, then shot what looked like a miniature sun at our shield.
“Brace your sphincters, everyone,” I told announced.
The energy blast blinded us as it approached, even though the tinting functionality on my helmet’s display. It struck the shield and lashed out like it was releasing solar flares. The shield went red in a ripple that rolled out from that point, audibly crackling loud enough to drown out even the communication device sealed to my head. The shield and the sun both disappeared at once.
“Casualties at the power plant!” I heard someone call out. “Evacuate and triage!”
I didn’t tell them not to bother. I patted the birdasaur and pulled at its neck feathers until its head turned in the right direction and it began to run for the gun. “Status on our D-bomb stockpile?”
Creeper answered, “It appears an infiltrator reached Bomb Storage with an incendiary device. We have no functional D-Bombs.”
“I’m moving to intercept,” I announced.
“That’s crazy,” Venus said.
“Looks like I’m perfect for it,” I told her. I saw the gun’s barrel glowing again. I knew perfectly well I’d never make it, and never be able to do anything to it. But when there’s nothing left but death, might as well let it know you’re not afraid of it.
I had regrets, though. Plenty, including for my daughter.
A beam from high in the sky struck the rear of the gun, pushing the barrel upward. The enormous energy blast it fired went well overhead, but close enough we felt the heat. I couldn’t tell if it was going to angle back to Earth and make someone’s day infinitely more shitty, but it missed us. The gunship began to slowly turn to face whatever hit it.
A blue satellite with a barrel of its own in between a trio of large solar panel arms lowered from the sky. Below it, a yellow aircraft carrier carried a humongous green tank. A pink submarine broke the surface with a jump, and a red fighter jet soared overheard.
“Oh no,” I said.
The aircraft carrier rose up like it was flipping forward. The tank backed up it while its deck split apart. The tank reached the end and fitting onto it. A fore section of the carrier bent at a 90 degree angle as it finished becoming a pair of legs attached to a green tank torso. The sub leaped into the air again, splitting apart. One half attached to the upper left of the tank. The other caught on the upper right and swiveled around. The jet flew up and curved back down, aimed at the rear of the tank. It somehow slowed, the fighter shifting to reveal a metal face as it slid into the rear of the tank, slotted in. Finally, the satellite. The giant robot reached for the tank’s cannon. The cannon split off easily, as did the barrel of the satellite as it came down. The satellite attached to the back of the robot, two of its panels forming wings that hung down behind it. The other panel arm broke off and attached to the barrel that had come undone from the satellite, then that section fitted into the end of the tank’s cannon to form a sort of sword.
“Venus, what did you do?” I asked.
“I asked them for help, like you said,” she informed me, a hunt of smugness in her voice.
The gunship fired again, this time trying to destroy the Justice Rangers. The robot batted it away with its sword, then raised it high. The sword glowed as bright as the sun. The robot went into a stance like it was taking a step to sprint toward it. The robot flew along the surface of the water, kicking up a spray of water to either side as it closed on the gunship, then past it. The sword stopped and the robot straightened up, standing in the shallow water by the beach. Behind it, the gunship fell apart into halves that exploded.
I was saved by the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers.
“I’ve been looking over this book and it’s quite the magical artifact itself. Both science and magic seek understanding of the nature of the universe and manipulation of its forces, and eventually to overcoming the limits of the universe. I found the ritual he used and it’s powerful, like a trebuchet or blockbuster bombs. But crude, imprecise, and flawed.”
Mobian led me up the steps of his ship to the platform with the control panel. “Didn’t these steps curve differently before?” I asked.
“I change the interior sometimes. I have control over spacetime in this ship.” He pulled a lever. An image appeared over everyone, showing Earth, then a bunch of copies of Earth, then moved all of them over to the right and showed lines trailing from them to the left. He also showed a little orb next to one Earth. “Time travel is normally about moving along the time stream, the past or the inevitable futures.”
“The future’s not supposed to be set in stone,” Marivel said from below us.
“It can’t be,” Blackstone said.
“Chaos theory’s a bitch,” I called down to them.
“Quite,” Mobian said. “It’s possible to travel to the past and alter it, but that causes problems.”
“The Universe Divide is a rough barrier to pass through,” I noted.
Mobian continued. One Earth then slid on top of another, covering it and its timeline. “Yes. And that will create problems.”
“It hasn’t yet,” Blackstone said. He pointed to Marivel. “Things are better than ever.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is so wrong,” Mobian said as Marivel stepped away from Blackstone.
“Yeah,” she said. “Who are you really?”
“I’m Doug, for real. Just a Doug from a worst Earth. Things went wrong there,” he answered
I pointed to Mobian. “The Claw, dead. Ricca no longer on the warpath and all the brainwashed supers free. Empyreal City not ruled by Spinetingler. Mot dead instead of eating people. The Fluidics, all gone. Did I miss anything?”
Images appeared of all of them as I called them out. “Some would see your assassination of the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation as preferable,” Mobian added.
“They’ve killed millions,” Marivel said, looking at Blackstone. “Why did you cause that?”
“I didn’t cause it,” he said. “She did!” he pointed to me. “She killed my mom and dad.”
“We’re getting too much into statistics here,” I said. “Most people here aren’t better off, and you’re not her husband. Just a lookalike from another dimension trying to live his life.”
“It’s the way my life was meant to be,” Blackstone said. I cringed to myself.
Marivel squared up with him. “I’m not an accessory to my husband’s life. My Dougie loves me!”
“Ever meet Kant?” I asked Mobian. He shook his head no. “He’d be perfectly fine with a discussion like this taking forever… feels like we’ve been here for days already… but that’s not what I’m here for.”
I hopped down to the lower floor and walked over to Marivel. She’s such a skinny little thing. She can’t be healthy. One good fall, or twist, and her poor little head might snap off. And if that happened, what reason would Blackstone have to stay? He might try to just take the ritual back to now, but I like my odds of taking him if he tries that. Then we just try with a different mage.
“If I may interject with a compromise,” Mobian said. “The Earth you rightly belong to is not destroyed. It is temporally displaced, but this can’t last forever. There will be temporal bleed. There are already signs of it. Gecko’s presence is one effect. Others are more difficult to detect unless you are as intimately familiar with the workings of time as I am. They will get worse. People will have memories of both timelines as they merge. That could get rather ugly if it doesn’t go smoothly. You ever seen two people mashed together by temporal displacement? You would throw up your stomach.”
“What’re you thinking?” I asked.
Mobian showed moved one Earth off the other on his hologram. “It’s simple. Knowing this is an alternate universe imposed on our own, we should be able to use the ritual to reverse the two. My craft can guide the ritual so that we don’t displace a third universe. The timeline will be a mess for the period the two were one and the same, but you or I could bring Blackstone back to it as himself.”
“What about my Doug?” Marivel asked.
Mobian gestured with a roll of his hand. “You would still have your husband as himself, and then this one would show up as a separate entity.”
“But then she wouldn’t be mine,” Blackstone said.
I rolled my eyes. “She was never yours. This situations’s fucked up. You don’t always get what you want. Welcome to life.”
“Is there one of me on your world?” Marivel asked.
“Probably,” Mobian and I said at the same time.
Marivel looked to Blackstone, who still had that look in his eye like someone who didn’t give a crap as long as they got what they wanted. My poker record is nothing to carve into the moon with a giant laser, but I can still recognize that one well enough. It’s like one of those guys who raises before they’ve even looked at their cards.
But Marivel, who at this point seemed to be the only voice Blackstone might listen to, stepped toward him and cowboy’ed up. “I don’t love you, but it’s possible that the me on your world might. I love another Doug Blackstone, and he loves me. If you stay, you’re hurting your other self and me. If you love me, leave.”
I saw Blackstone bunching up like he was going to argue or pounce. In the end, he did neither. He took a breath, let it go, and unclenched. I stepped up behind Marivel and patted her on the shoulder. “Good going. We’ll have this mess sorted out before the worldwide disasters start for once.”
Blackstone glared. “Get your hands off her.”
“I’ll put my hands wherever I want, but if you really want me to leave her alone, you know how to make it happen,” I said.
At that, Mobian pressed a button. Part of the floor opened up and a pedestal arose with Los Cincos Soles Dorados, the transcribed rituals of Nahuatal time mages, open upon it.
“I have configured this altar to redirect the energies of the book, to focus them on separating the two,” the time traveler said.
Marivel raised her hand to about head height. “Do you need me to do anything?”
Mobian smiled at her, “No, my dear, you’ve done fantastic already.” He gave me a look. Have I clarified before that there’s a difference between looking at someone and giving them a look? One’s a form of perception, the other’s communication. There’s meaning behind a look. This one was something like relief and a warning. I think he realized how close Marivel came to being sacrificed for our cause.
She stepped off to the side while Blackstone approached the book. He looked at me. “The sympathetic magics involved should be more easily accessed, but I need you here with me.” He held out a hand and I took it, standing close. The book really didn’t like me looking at it, but he read from it just fine.
Mobian rushed up the staircase to his control center and oversaw the creation of many bops and beeps.
“I need you to be honest with me, Gecko. What do you want more than anything else in the world?” Blackstone asked in a pause between chants.
I closed my eyes and recalled video of Qiang. “I want to see my daughter. And family. And friends.”
“You aren’t sad to leave an entire new world of victims behind?” he asked.
It was my turn to give him a look, one of incredulity. “I want to go home.”
He nodded and began chanting. I had a bit of trouble with the language, my database not having a lot of Pre-Colombian New World Languages to go off of, especially not in the areas colonized by the Spanish. But I could feel the power in the words. The light rose around us. I looked around and saw markings in the air the same color I’d gotten use to from the book.
“Whoa nelly!” Mobian called from his control dais. The lights expanded and then contracted within the timecraft. A spotlight from the ceiling shone down in a circle around us and the lights began to form a line in that lit area.
I heard Marivel gasping as she watched the whole thing, but I stayed focused on Blackstone and the book. And home. And Qiang.
With a sudden thunderclap, it all gave out and sparks flew from the ceiling. Blackstone braced himself on the pedestal. I caught myself on it as well. Marivel just collapsed. The timecraft jerked all over the place, which put me on my ass. After about a minute of tilt-a-whirl, Mobian got control of his ship.
“Captain’s log, Stardate 01-14-2019,” I said, standing back up on shaky knees. My HUD’s clock blinked 12:00 instead of giving the proper date, so I was going off of when we were before all the magical hijinks. “Something went down. We were… shot through a wormhole… in the… asspull nebula. Mr. Chekov, where are we?” I looked up to Mobian.
“I’m the captain of this vessel,” he responded. “We’re in the correct place, with the correct timeline.”
He brought up an image of the Earth. After a moment, he zoomed in, showing what looked like my city, but paused. “Now we watch as time reasserts itself.”
Eyebrow raised, I kept an eye on it while palming the ceramic knife I kept under my bed. I began to wonder if swiping it behind me without knowing for sure Blackstone’s there would take him out, then I realized with a smile that little deal was no longer in play. I wouldn’t have to throw a knife in the dark at a random intruder or set up bear traps. I could just end it right there.
I turned and swiped for his throat. Before I connected, I was yanked out of the timecraft. It was like being thrown out an airlock, but I was the only one being tossed out the now-open door of Mobian’s timecraft. Suddenly, my clock reset back to December, and the day the world changed. The fall was unusual as well. I didn’t feel the normal wind of skydiving, and I accelerated faster than terminal velocity before slowing and settling on the couch where I’d been when Blackstone’s ritual first took off and separated the world.
I sat there, watching as everybody sped up from moving slowly to normal to rushing in superspeed. Nobody touched the presents and the tree began to dry and drop needles everywhere. And I just sat there, unable to move while the clock on my HUD went crazy, finally settling on January 14th, 2019.
Lights out… and then I woke up to find myself dogpiled by Qiang, Citra, Mix N’Max, and even Silver Shark. I knew she still liked me. “What’s up, guys?” I asked, keeping a firm hold of Qiang.
“You went missing!” My daughter said through teary eyes and snot bubbles.
“Something freaky happened,” Max said. “Nobody believes me.”
“Max was really high. He was talking about another life where he’d never met you,” said Sam, who went for a punk green and red mohawk with isolated bangs.
I hugged Qiang. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, mama,” she said.
I kissed the top of her head a bunch. “You didn’t open your presents.”
“The Little Empress was waiting on you,” Citra said. I kissed her.
“Well, if we’re finally ready for the mother of all belated Christmases,” I said, looking around. “I’ve got a hell of a story for everyone…
I’m “swearing” off women other than my wife. Yes, the square quotes are intentional. I didn’t swear actually swear or promise or make a deal about anything. I’m just going to try. I don’t know why it seems worthwhile to me. I don’t love Citra. We’re friendly but not friends. Maybe the best reason I can come up with is the dignity of my position. I mean, just imagine how hard it’d be to take a world leader seriously if I had strippers and porn stars doing tell-all interviews describing what my sex parts look like in an embarrassing way. Like saying it’s abnormally big and resembled a Sarlacc pit.
I know, it’s weird. It’s just that her feelings suddenly matter more after a few of Max’s beers. Not that they were completely out of mind. Carl, Moai, Qiang, Max… not the first people I cared about.
I confronted someone I didn’t care about, too. I visited Elda. Technically, she’s supposed to be my wife as part of a political marriage with the Bronze City over on the island of Mu. I betrayed her and put her into a coma while marrying Citra who used nanite surgery to look like her. I stopped by a special room in the hospital that no one knows about and left a sword in there. “Hello Elda. Long time no see.”
She didn’t respond, naturally. The equipment hooked up to her showed her to be healthy enough. The nanites were keeping her comatose. She’d lost weight, though. I sent out out an order to nanites and the medical staff. “A bit skinny there. I’ll work on that. I’ve wronged you, Elda. No duh, right? You had dreams of being some warrior princess and here I come to be the one to marry you. I should have worked something out with you that didn’t involve hurting you.” The nanites made sure my message go through to her, because science. Hail science!
“I’m sorry. This sword is the first of the gifts I’ll be throwing together for you. They’ll bring up clothes later and I have armor being printed off for you. Before I… there’s a fight coming up involving people who have a reputation as gods, and the powers to back it up. When I go, I’m going to make sure we drop you off somewhere. Give you a shot at being your own person, as you deserve. I’ll throw in some money and arrange for a tutor on this crazy new world you’ll be in, but I think you’ll fit in. The land I have in mind is a land of conflict, where you can find your way for good or ill. A land where you can, with effort, become who you want to be out from under my shadow.”
I stepped close and laid my hand over hers. “I am by far the shittiest spouse you could have gotten. I hope you find a better life than I obviously planned for you.”
That decision’s going to bite me in the ass at some point. But it’s still the right one. Ugh, that statement… I need a beer.
Speaking of things that can fuck me over, Hu. Hu’s attempts to get me to understand proportionality, like Citra, rubbed off on me. The dude’s still not being my liason another time, but he’s got good skills and he cares. He just fucked up. I suppose the case could be made for how I shouldn’t have killed that judge or Wong the Director, but I can rationalize it another way. Hu is still good at his job despite his poor judgment, in which he went above and beyond his authorized powers. Wong and that judge’s entire job amounted to their judgment and how they used it. They both showed themselves incompetent with the powers vested in them, which was hazardous to my nation.
Side note: Queen Beetrice, the giant bee woman obsessed with snoo-snooing me to death, has heard I did a good job on the courts and thinks I need to help out over in North Korea. They are my people too, but I guess her self-education hasn’t prepared her for making North Korea’s judicial system less gulag-y. I got her some notes, but that’s the best I could do. I have more important things to worry about than that at this point.
I have the Place du Bourg-de-Four under so much surveillance it would make a porn site feel forgotten. Do you know how many rats fart there on average each day? I do. Disturbances in the pattern of rat farts could be the only indication the Three Hares have snuck an ambush into place or deployed some form of weapon. Rat farts start petering off and then I find out there’s poison gas hidden around that’s been killing them off slowly while waiting on me to get close.
The Hares wouldn’t expect me to pay attention, but I’ll show them. I’ll show all of them. There’s an ancient conspiracy uniting ancient European, African, American, Asian, and Oceanian mythology, involving gods and aliens guiding the world while remaining hidden, and the rats will tell me if they try to kill me. Yes, the Three Hares will rue the day Psycho Gecko started taking her medication! Mwahahahaha!
So like I said, the stuff Max is giving me for my mental health has done wonders to make me a more sane and functional person. And it’s all thanks to my extensive drinking of alcohol. Couldn’t have done it without putting all that beer in me. It’s practically made me a role model compared to my old self.
That doesn’t mean all my problems are solved. In addition to keeping an eye on the Three Hares, the United States government wants me to give back Rhonda, Leland, and Kayla. I’ve refused on the grounds of Ricca being safer. The envoy from the U.S. Started to laugh at the idea that U.S. Citizens are safer in an foreign dictatorship until I showed him the front page of the latest newspaper showing brutal murders committed by police, children being rounded up and placed into internment camps, and constant mass shootings. The only response was an awkward, “We didn’t realize you subscribed to American news.”
He’d had a drink of water. It would have been so easy. An aneurysm. A heart attack. A stroke. He sat there, speaking as if I needed to do what he said or I’d be obliterated. Because how dare anybody challenge them. The rest of the world just has to let them push them around. Makes me want to find something big to shove, whole, up that guy’s ass. Reminds me a lot of myself.
Well, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day. The Visigoths didn’t have dimensional technology. I do, so I’ve been throwing one together. It’s all part of the plan, you see. Get peace, or make them die trying. But that’s all boring. I’ve built plenty of those. The really interesting stuff happened, as it so often does, when I was in the shower.
I was sudsing myself up with all four arms, getting my curves nice and clean. The door rang. It was that pizza I ordered that I didn’t have enough money to pay for.
Fanservice over. I was farting my way through another shower when someone screamed my name. It’s not an unusual sound for the shower, but I do prefer the person screaming it be in there with me when the magic’s happening. I didn’t think too much of it, until more voices joined in. Figuring the household wasn’t turning into my own personal chorus of the damned, I threw a towel around my waist, another around my boobs, and a last one around my hair. The final towel I tightened into a spiral for self defense.
I found Silver Shark, Citra, and Rhonda all surrounding Qiang. My daughter held a box between both hands. The top of it had fallen open toward me and I read the phrase “Hold your hands on the markers for the surprise!”
I started to ask what was going on until I realized Qiang was shaking. One second I was in the hallway, the next I was by all of them at the door. Qiang looked up at me. “Mommy what is it? It said to pick it up?”
I looked down at the digital timer inside the box. It was made of a black composite material, with two things sticking up that could have been shortwave antennae until one of the tips began to glow and turned to point at me. The other light up with a hologram of a dark silhouette. “Psychopomp Gecko. The glorious apparatus will negotiate with your successor.”
The Three Hares, those slimy sons of parakeets.
“Just hold onto it… let me look.” I checked it over from various angles, then popped an eye out and eased it down between the bomb and the box. While it had pressed against the sides of the box with either pressure sensors or fingerprint scanners, there wasn’t anything like that on the other sides. “How are your arms, sweety?” I asked as I popped the eye back in.
“They huuurt!” Qiang whined.
I nodded. “I nee you to keep your hands there, but we can set them it down on something. Let’s just sit you down, ok?”
She nodded and I guided her over to a little table in the living room where she could sit down and rest herself and her arms. “A person can be perfectly strong, but holding something out in front of you with arms extended makes anybody tired quick. It’s- no, we’ll discuss Tai Chi later. What we have here is a small example of an implosive-explosive sub-molecular device. Not a big deal at all, I promise y’all.”
It was the size that was so astonishing. Excellent miniaturization. The thing wasn’t round, but it was a couple baseballs in size.
It seemed like a longshot, but I reached in with a finger and pressed it to what I’d identified as a crucial computerized part of the initiation sequence. A lot of these explosives, it’s really a matter of chemistry and physics. Fire or water can set stuff off, or simple kinetics. It often just depends on which chemicals are used in the process. Even an atomic bomb isn’t that complicated of a weapon. My ability to bond with computers would be useless against Little Boy, for instance.
The difference here is that this thing had sensors rigged up, and a timer. I’d have just put a timer on to scare someone while the thing detonated whenever I wanted. This person put one on to tell me I had five minutes to fix the problem.
When I linked up with it, I found that an internal mechanism was capable of reading when the timer reached zero to activate an internal explosive driving… ya know, unless I want this censored in that dimension, I should probably keep the specifics to myself. Don’t want Optimal Outer Control getting in trouble for teaching people how to build a nuclear weapon, regardless of the availability of plutionium over there.
Regardless, the flaw wasn’t in the fundamental function of the bomb, but in how it was meant to be triggered. The sensors on the side were fingerprint scanners, which meant they specifically targeted my daughter out of a desire to die by having as much of their body shoved up their own ass as humanly possible. They would trigger the explosives that would initiate the fission reaction if released. Otherwise, the timer would make it all happen.
It was actually pretty simple to trick the computer in there into increasing the amount of time and holding onto a false positive for the scanners. “Ok, hon, you can take your hands off.”
“You promise nothing bad will happen?” my crying daughter asked.
Oh, something bad will happen to someone for this. “Mommy promises.”
Qiang pulled her hands away quickly, then started jumping and screaming in relief when nothing happened. I managed to put the bomb into shutdown mode, then disconnected and called up the Institue of Science. Dr. Creeper practically flew. Actually, he completely flew. I heard him roar in on an old-fashioned rocketpack that looked like if Wile E. Coyote joined the Third Reich. “I vill personally deliver zis to a secure room for decommissioning, my lady,” he announced.
I leaned in to whisper so no one else would hear. “Make sure the room can contain a nuclear bomb. This one’s crude and small, but still.”
He nodded, tucked the bomb under one arm, raised a fist to the air, and blasted off again.
“There goes trouble,” said Silver Shark as she watched the trail of his rocket power through the air.
“Make it double,” I said flatly.
“Are you alright?” she asked, looking at me. “I expected you to be pissed, or to go laughing mad.”
“I’m fine, Sharky,” I said, cracking my fingers and walking back in. Even when I hugged my girl to me, the cold rage in me refused to yield.
I’ll get peace when the Three Hares rest in it. All of them.
The Munich raid went well. The point of the thing was to blow a hole in that big ol’ privacy fence around their compound. The Germans are investigating it now, and finding all sorts of weird things scattered around. Drugs, a couple of stolen artifacts, uranium; all sorts of things that will draw a lot of attention to that compound and have people investigating. Expose them, force them to run again, exhaust them.
I’d had… feelings. Thinking of a plan, part of me remembered all the kids and innocents there. Attacking would risk killing civilians, even if a lot of them do have powers. I lived among them, danced with them. I drank beer with them and perhaps even Frenched one or two of them under the influence. I spent a night rocking back and forth in a chair, thinking about what to do. I was practically distraught.
But now, I had video showing they were all ok. The local news reporters provided that glimpse, but I quite enjoyed the view from various drones flying high above it. Can’t blow shit up in Europe without a few different militaries becoming interested. So seeing everyone come out of this fine and dandy, it was such a relief. Such a relief, I started laughing. And, my oh my, it seems my finger slipped on a button in the middle of all my laughter. Looks like someone shouldn’t send up drones for recon with their payloads.
It was so sad, I had to laugh about it. It’s a natural way to handle this sort of bad news, after all. Laugh so as not to cry.
If the cruel fate of the Munich compound wasn’t enough, the Hares themselves are playing on my emotions. I’ve letters expressing the feelings of the Three Hares. The night of the bombing, for instance. I got up to handle some business in the bathroom. I was going over plans for a new island shield and crapping when the jacuzzi began rattling. The nozzles burst out into the tub and streams of water stretched out and formed into a person, a woman with a metal visor with a single big, round glass eye on it and gems on either side.
“Psycho Gecko! Prepare to die!”
I put aside the hologram I was working with and reached for the rear of the toilet. “May I at least have a courtesy flush first?”
“I guess?” she said. Small gems began to light up leading to the glass eye, three on either side. I reached back behind the toilet. As I’ve mentioned before I often keep a gun there in order to clear up any problematic clogs. That’s why I whipped out the Smith & Wesson Schofield. I missed that first shot, causing the cyclopean assassin before me to duck and charge more of those gems up. Another miss, then a hit on her shoulder. When she turned, the final gems lit up, and that’s when I popped her in the central glass eye.
“Fuck shit!” she screamed, grabbing at the eye. I dove off, pulling my panties up. I wasn’t there when she took her hands away and instead shot lasers from the six gems leading up the glass eye. Three smaller beams shot out, putting holes in the marble toilet. But since these were three all along a band, beams were flying all over the place. They bounced off mirrors and mirrored surfaces, so it’s a good thing I was staying low and crawling behind her. When she stopped and looked around, I tackled her from behind and pushed her down.
She cracked her chin pretty good on the lip of the toilet where the seat didn’t cover. I grabbed a handful of her hair and pushed her face down into the bowl to let her gurgle on dinner. I had the Schofield still in hand and gave her a shot in the back. Then I lost my grip on her as she turned to liquid again and flowed down the toilet, flushing it in the process. I jumped up and pointed the Schofield down the bowl, then noticed the blood smeared on me and smiled with an idea. I wiped blood onto my hand and pushed it into the toilet bowl, making a minor programming change.
The pipes in the jacuzzi, toilet, sink, and shower began to rattle. A huge chunk of the room shook. Blood began to spurt from the sink. It started to fill the jacuzzi. The shower head shot off as bloody water rained down. Finally, the toilet reversed and sprayed water and blood all over the ceiling.
When those of the household who cared about my health came running, they found me laughing and soaking wet with blood and water. I shut the bathroom door as I saw Max and Silver Shark run up.
“What’s going on?” Max asked.
I pointed at the door in all my giggling, then waved my hand. “You don’t wanna go in there. Whew!” I couldn’t hardly finish speaking for all the laughter.
Speaking of funny incidents, another occurred as I was enjoying a quiet night in my study, just working on some new material for this joke I’m playing on the world. Mix N’Max walked in and passed right by me to address a chair. “Gecko, you’re doing it again.”
Dame fell to the floor as I awoke and she scampered out of there. I yawned and looked up at Max from my chair. “Whoopsy. Can you blame me for making sure an extra pair of eyes watched out as I slept?”
“I can blame you if they’re her eyes. Look, Gecko, we go back and I’m afraid I have to suggest something is more wrong than usual with you,” he knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. Even his smile looked apologetic.
“I must use any and all resources to protect myself, Max. It’s the way of the world. Besides, I’m rehabilitating Dame,” I indicated his grin. “So turn that lack of a frown upside and around.”
“How is holding a woman as a slave in her own body rehabilitation? You’re better than this,” he told me.
“I AM better than this. I’m so good, I made Dame perfectly trustworthy. Never again can she betray me for anyone. Always there, in her mind. THAT’s why they wanted me. The world’s changing, and I’m like a god of the new world order.”
“You’re not a god,” Max said, pointing his finger at me. “Remember the rule on godhood.”
I rolled my eyes. “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes. Everyone knows the Aykroyd Rule.”
“No, the other rule. The one about supervillains who start declaring themselves gods. Does that ever end well?”
He held up one finger. “Nebuchadnezzar.”
“Gesundheit,” I said.
He cocked his head to the side in a look that said “Really?” even though he didn’t.
“Fine, tried to consume a ball of energy bigger than his own head a little too fast. Blew up.”
Max raised a second finger. “Aria.”
“Used a device to boost her powers, but someone managed to block them long enough and record her super voice to use it against her,” I answered.
“Following the pattern?” he asked.
“Technically it isn’t a pattern until there’s three incidents,” I reminded him.
Max looked at me, lowered the first two fingers, and raised the third one, the ring finger. “You want to be this one?”
“That’s hardly-” and then I shot up into space without crashing through roofs or walls. And it wasn’t really space. I’ve been there. I was being thrown with force instead of drifting without gravity.
I crashed into an asteroid and was thrown at another nearby one while the first one broke in half. The second did as well when I hit it. I bounced off and then stopped in the middle as the asteroids. Those four then crashed into each other, breaking in half. They kept colliding and breaking until a bunch of baseball- and basketball-sized pieces banged into me. Finally, one the size of a large dog slammed into me and sent me hurtling through space again. I landed on a small planet, or possibly one of those things Pluto is, and bounced off in further defiance of physics. The next planet I headed for grew a face and a pair of arms. It slapped me between both hands.
The planet on this trip through Disney’s Fantasia planetarium skipped arm day. I’ve taken worse hits. Didn’t even squeeze any organs out of me. The two arms grabbed hold of me from either side. The planet opened its mouth wide, exposing the glowing liquid hot magma. It unleashed a volcanic roar.
“Get some Jupiter!” I yelled back as it lunged for me.
Then I was laying down on the floor of the study, yelling at the ceiling, which looked to be missing a ceiling fan. I noticed books laying around and crawled off a broken chair. I found Max wobbling from side to side with a pencil-thick needle in hand, standing over a woman in a green catsuit who was foaming at the mouth.
“How’d you see through all that?” I asked. “I think I got beat up by a solar system.”
“Oh Gecko. Precious, vanilla Gecko,” Max said. He winked at me, then looked back down at the catsuit woman. “She has the Three Hares on the back in a shade of green barely lighter than the primary coloring.”
I staggered over to confirm it. “Another damn assassin. I think I need to send a message back to the Hares.”
“You’re mad with power and determined to kill them all. What do they have to lose in sending killers after you?” he pointed out. “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Here, help me with the body.”
“She’s still dying,” I said.
“Give it time,” Max said, bending down to grab her by the feet. I took her shoulders and helped, with us stopping in mid-carry for Max to spray some air freshener when she shat herself in the throes of death. Outside, I saw a lot of the rest of the place jumbled up, with Citra and staggering around.
“Where’s Qiang?” I asked her.
She pointed upstairs. “In bed. Are we safe?”
I stopped beside her as we carried the dead woman around and kissed my wife on the cheek. “Safer than those who attacked us.” Then it was off to see to the respectful treatment of the dead.
We dropped the corpse onto a table in Max’s suite while Sam and Holly recovered with some drinks. “What you’ve told me about their isolation and heredity, the Hares’ DNA could provide amazing insight into superpowers as they relate to genetics,” Max observed.
“Plus, you want to do things with her beautiful corpse,” I added.
He patted her boots. “You know I only care about what’s on the inside. Pass me the scalpel?”
I tossed it to him and started cutting the woman free of her clothes for the autopsy. “I guess I’ve been a bit screwed up. They took my memories from me, and they’re mine. But for that brief time, I was clear of every fucked-up thing of my past. It was… clean. I had morals, and ethics, and I think even a conscience. They did it to use me somehow, and then that whole thing. It reminded me of Elizabeth, back in the other world. And a phrase Venus has been using lately.”
“Oh?” Max asked. He stepped closer to start carving into the sternum. “What’s that?”
“I’d rather not say, but it was the closest thing to washing away so much of what keeps me from changing and being better.” I looked down, which had me staring into the eyes of the corpse.
“It’s tempting,” Max commented.
I nodded. “Even for us. Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do to someone is show them another way. A ‘what if?’ scenario.”
“I like to take the wrong lesson from my enemies,” Max said, peering inside the woman’s chest cavity. “They had more of an endgame than killing you. What’s your endgame besides killing them? Right now, you’re like a dog chasing a car. You wouldn’t know what to do with it if you,” he paused and took his hands out of the woman’s chest to pantomime catching something in midair. “Caught it. What do you want the world to look like at the end of this that doesn’t involve you trying to claim you’re a god?”
“Good question,” I leaned on my elbow, looking down into the woman’s eyes, my eyes taking the same turquoise tint.
Venus was kind enough to offer me the hospitality of the Master Academy while I waited on my ride. After everything that happened, we all agreed I needed access to as many showers and fresh clothes as possible. Plus, and she didn’t actually state this, I think she was worried about all the laughing I’d been doing. Couldn’t help myself. It kinda had to do with the intersection of Gecko and Tripura. She was so nice, and she was me.
Too bad she had to kill. I just can’t catch a break, even when I don’t know hardly anything. But she killed to save an entire city, except for that part when she murdered someone for being a dick to her. The ratio of assholes to innocents makes it clear how much better a person she was. I could try and argue something about tabula rasa, but most people have really weird ideas about that. Like, they think being born with genetic preferences that can change over time somehow means the mind is born with knowledge. You know, because we should really call a baby’s inborn preference for cinnamon at birth “knowledge”.
Eh, this Earth will grow out of that at some point, maybe realize that a stream bed’s curves determine what path the water travels, but it’s not a stream without the fluid.
This sounds nice, but part of the reason I was tittering to myself so much is my ability to recall the name of that thingy on the table that salt falls out of. A mind is a terrible thing to lose, and now I’ve got mine back. And so many things are being reevaluated that it’s caused me the legitimate giggles, and some instances of laughing to spite the alternative.
It disturbed everyone around Master Academy West. They sat me in a common room with, like dark woods and a tv and books all around. If it was a social spot, it wasn’t after I got there. So I kept staring off into space, comparing memories, reconciling things, and catching up on the news. Like, seriously evolutionary psychologists? A paper about why the Jews are genetically predisposed to dominate the world? No wonder the brownshirts are marching.
In the middle of sitting down, arms around my legs, laughing my head off to myself in a dark room with the lights turned off, I noticed a guy arguing with Venus. “How long is she staying here?”
That snapped me out of my thousand-yard stare. “Hey, stop assuming my-”
“She’s a criminal, a murderer, a- a- I don’t even know what she’s committed so many crimes. And she’s transphobic,” said the teen boy to Venus.
“I’m not transphobic. There are very few people I hate more than I hate almost every one of you damn humans,” I said.
The guy actually responded. “I don’t hear you dropping the N-word or any other racial slurs.” He walked into the room, staring at me. A bit androgynous and chubby, with a wide nose that almost makes me think it’d been smooshed as a kid.
I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap, cradling him with four arms. “It’s ok there. Shh, shh, shh. Let me tell you a little story.”
“Gecko, let him go,” Venus said. I held up a finger.
“Just a quick story and he goes free unharmed, deal?” I asked.
From my lap came the teen, “I’d rather just go if I have any say in this.”
I patted him on the head. “Hush, Venus is speaking for you.”
“You promise not to harm anyone? This is just a story?” she asked.
I nodded a bunch. “I wouldn’t dare hurt the snuggly little Master Academy students here.” I gave the student a shake. The wind picked up in the room and blew some curtains a bit too much to be the AC. “It’s just a brief story of an assassin who learned how to use medical nanomachines to perform reconstructive surgery to alter the assassin’s looks. Colors were easy, adjusting flesh and cartilage as well. Muscles, harder, bones harder still. So many things were changed… face, hair color, eye color, even skin color. And in all that time, nobody who knew the assassin’s identity questioned anything about the assassin’s personality over the fact that the assassin changed appearances so often.”
“That’s not strictly true,” Venus spoke up.
I blew her a raspberry, then continued. “Then one day the assassin grows a bodacious pair of boobs and starts wearing skirts. Suddenly, everybody starts wondering if they should call the assassin something different over THIS change. THIS change was unusual. This change caused them to worry about the assassin’s mental state more than usual.” I chuckled at that part. “The assassin just changes and doesn’t think much of it. The assassin thinks it’s stupid to assume anything off about a person just because they want to be a woman.”
I pushed the teen off my lap. “Story time’s over kid. Now get out of here.”
The tean dusted himself off and looked at me. “Inside, what do you feel you are?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I’m always just me, no matter what.” I closed my eyes and sat back, hoping they’d get out of my long, beautiful hair.
Venus ushered the teen out, then turned to me. “Maybe it would help you with all your self-loathing. That can be a sign, you know.”
I waved dismissively. “Not all that important right now. But thanks for the tampons and the brief tutorial.” I opened an eye just to wink at her.
“I know about your self-loathing. Do us all a favor and find a version of yourself that’s happier. And just because changing sex isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s a small thing for someone to be made whole on this Earth, you douchecanoe.” Venus crossed her arms as she looked at me.
“If you hate me so much, if the world’s better off without me, why save me?” I asked her, leaning forward, and maybe squeezing the gals a bit for better viewing. She’s not immune to boobs. Hell, these days, the power of boobs reaches far beyond men to all sorts of genders. “Not like anyone there knew what was happening. You could have let me die.”
“We have this talk a lot, but I refuse to go through life believing the best way to solve my problems is to kill everyone,” she said.
I cocked my head to the side, “But isn’t saving me a way of condoning my actions, especially when I kill people like The Claw?”
She shook her head. “Your choices are your choices, but I’ll always hold out hope for you, and I’ll always be here if you want to change. It’s never too late.”
Ugh. It’s like she’s got a psychic around to figure out the best way to annoy me. Oh, right, she’s fucking the only surviving psychic to be in my head. I was more than happy when the Psycho Flyer arrived with an honor guard of soldiers in power armor. We made quite the sight, Psycho Gecko walking up a ramp flanked by Riccan soldiers while a force of Master Academy heroes stood guard.
One long, long, long ass trip later that involved a stopover in Mu for refueling, the Flyer passed right over the military base and landed between the Palace Residence and the Directory Legislature building. The Directors were quite curious to see what all the hub bub was about, and were surprised when the soldiers lined up and I stepped out in my armor. Not a copy, or a replica. Not a Dudebot. Me and my armor.
One of the Directors was pushed by his comrades to come meet me. “Empress, we weren’t aware you were away. We have been denied news and prevented from an audience.” He quickly bowed.
My bow wasn’t so deep, but then I’m the Empress. “It was necessary, unfortunately. If it’s any consolation, I’ve missed y’all too and I’ll be more than happy to provide more information after I meet with my family.”
I maintained a properly dignified dictator-walk until I reached the stairs to the Palace Residence. That was when Qiang got loose and came running down the steps to meet me. I pulled my daughter up in a four-armed hug and carried her up to the top of the stairs where I pulled in Citra, my (politically-motivated) wife. Then Mix N’Max, Silver Shark, everyone I could grab. Even that friend of Qiang’s, Kayla, and her parents who I’ve banged.
I got the 411 inside while snuggling Qiang. Max had a whole presentation lined up, starting with the slide, “Infiltrators, Detainment and Punishment, A Play In Three Parts”
“You may be wondering what we did with Dame, the woman you informed us was made to look like you,” Max said. “First step, identification.” The first slide after the start showed photos of the crowd all photoshopped to wear different clothes. Sam Hain, Max’s assistant, looked very pretty in Citra’s dress. Another slide showed a picture of me labeled “fake” either hugging or kissing.
“Second step, capture,” Max said. The next slide showed Sam’s head pasted to the body of a black lingerie model, perhaps to make it obvious this isn’t Sam’s body. Then a cage falls on the fake me. Then there’s a trapdoor, followed by a picture of an alligator, a school of piranhas, and a train.
“This movie sucks,” I said. “The pacing’s terrible, the acting’s subpar, and what’s with this sound design? Nobody knows how to hold a boom?” Max, ever-present grin on his face, flashed me the middle finger.
I held up one of my own toward him, then made a circle with some fingers and moved it up and down around the middle finger.
“Ahem,” said Holly, the preppier of Max’s assistants. “I worked really hard on this, and would appreciate if you paid attention.”
I didn’t pay much attention to the punishment stuff. More photoshopping, along with stills from movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Passion Of The Christ. “Bottom line,” I asked once we reached the end, “Where is she?”
Max sighed and clicked on to a last slide that said, “TL;DR, she’s in the military base.”
“Thank you,” I said, standing up. I hugged Qiang to myself, then set her down. “I’ll be back in a bit, sweetest of hearts. Mommy has to go see the bad lady.”
And I did. The men, human and Deep One alike, were happy to have me back. They showed me down to a special room, one that’d be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the holding cells. Recently, I’d been the one sitting in a darkened room, with a circle of light. She knelt in the circle, arms and legs held to the floor. She was covered by a thin white dress, barely more than a scrap. I could practically see through it.
I stepped up and pulled out a can of spray cheese. “Wakey, wakey, dearest Dame.”
She looked up wearing a copy of my face. She started to say something, but I filled her mouth with cheese so cheap. I had to find the can in a flop house by the dock where sailors passing helped themselves to a high while they were on the island. “I don’t know how much they’re feeding you. I assume some food’s involved. Wow, I know how to put together a body shape, don’t I?”
She fought to get through the cheese. Since she had nothing to say, I kept on going. “This whole game of spy versus spy and who is better at planning and counterplanning, it’s just needlessly complicated and annoying. Never knowing who to trust… it’s just no fun. So today, I make you a promise. If you cooperate, I won’t kill you. Won’t order you killed or anything like that.”
“Your guards beat the shit out of me every day,” she growled through cheese.
I patted her on the head. “And they’ll stop now because you’re going to be my own personal project.”
Her eyes fluttered and she shook her head. “Whaaaaa-why is everything… doing that?” She looked all around.
I knelt and stroked my lookalike’s hair. “It’s just the nanites, dear. I made sure you only go the best cheese.” I held up the can and shook it, smiling under my mask as if she could see it. Then I sighed. “Not quite so fun knowing what’s going to happen.”
“What are you doing?” she asked, kneeling forward, trying to rest her head on the floor.
I rubbed her head sat beside her, moving her head into my lap as the nanites set to work. “I don’t like where your mind’s at, so I’m changing it. Making a few alterations where I can. Looks like you’ve got that little disease that can inhibit superpowers too, even if you use a gadget for your fun. I had a lot of time on my flight to review everything we know about Unity, the same drug they used to make me thing I wasn’t me. Same drug I bet you were trying to steal from Ricca when they first captured you. Neural pathways to access long-term and short-term memory. Funny thing is, it’s entirely possible to start using these nanites to replace parts of a brain with a, what do you call it, cybernetic alternative. There may be a few hiccups, but that’s why I’m trying this trick on you instead of someone I care about.” Here I felt a little bit of Tripura tug at me. Dame started to scream until I forced her to stop via well-placed nanites.
I leaned in to whisper to Dame. “You know, I felt so normal and innocent there thanks to what your people did to me. Then I get my memory back. All of it. Poor Tripura… but that time gave me so many wonderful ideas about how to deal with you, them, and any other problems that come up. Losing my mind has been incredibly refreshing; I highly recommend it.”
I stood up. “Don’t worry about screaming. You got a mouth, but you won’t be able to. New process like this, I told it to take it’s time. A couple of days and I’m sure whatever you’re feeling will go away. Or you’ll suffer brain damage. Either way, I’ll be back later to pick your brain.” I stopped and waved my hands, jazz hands style. “I’m thinking something old school, maybe wrinkly, but cute and… ya know, pink’s a great color.”
I giggled at her shaking her head and waved it off. “Oh, don’t worry about your silly opinions. I’ll replace those later.”
Things have changed since my men arrived. The Hares were spread out in smaller search parties that seemed like a good idea when they thought they could overpower me. When my guys arrived, they caught several search parties by surprise. Not all made it back, but not enough are in a state to provide usable intel. My guys get first priority treatment with the nanites.
And after days living off whatever I could find in the wilderness, I got first priority on the rations. My weird correspondence with that projection mostly abated, though he showed himself a couple of times. I was halfway through an MRE of rice and pork when he appeared. “I don’t believe I have ever, and I mean ever, seen someone so happy to eat food meant to survive a bomb.”
“All the howling from the wolf and those sniffers drove away whatever game is normally here,” I mentioned around a mouthful of rice. “I have had to eat things you wouldn’t believe.”
“You have a lot of nerve complaining about nuts and berries,” he said, shking his head.
I shrugged. “Not a fan of the berries, but the nuts came in their own gravy. And people prefer the term ‘Rocky Mountain Long Oysters,’ thank you very much.”
“I dearly hate interrupting a meal, but I believe some of the people inside are trying to get away and another team are moving to reinforce the lodge,” he pointed in two different directions.
I called up the commander of the expeditionary force, because we needed a regular military command in addition to my own whims. As a dictator, I may be in ultimate command, but it’s best not to leave every piece of military strategy to a gal who just spent her morning teabagging a corpse with another body’s torn-off teabags. “I have a tip about some runners. Same rules of engagement as the rest of this. Dead bodies are no big deal.”
I set off in the direction my projected adviser said the reinforcements were coming from. He informed me that, “These are good Samaritans. It seems real reinforcements are unaccounted for. Neither group is prepared for the heat you bring.”
I didn’t realize I’d found them until I was hauled off the ground by man resembling a tree trunk with twisted root legs and branches for arms. He held me up in the air and stretched his trunk above the tree line. “Is this the lady causing all this fuss?”
“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” called a man below me. A… rather hunky guy. I’m not usually into that sort of thing on a guy. A long beard, dark as ripe forest soil. A chest bare except for a thick carpet of hair. Stag horns on his head and a fuzzy little tail sticking out above the loincloth that covered up all his naughty bits. The dirty feet weren’t my thing. Most of him wasn’t my thing. But at the time, I could see myself being his thing. “I am a lord of forests. I offer freedom for freedom. You for the prisoners in the chateau.”
“Mmm, how about some petite death in exchange for not giving you some big death?” I asked. “I’ll break your dick off so I don’t break his stick off.” I nodded toward the tree man.
The tree guy spoke up with his creaky, amused voice, though he addressed the horny guy below me. “This may be the rare time your power over women should be tamped down.”
I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “Someone’s getting’ awful assume-y about my gender just because I like having boobs and pretty dresses. Bend over and I’ll show you how hard a dicking I can give you without a dick.”
He shook me around a bit. “Hush.”
I reached down, grabbed the first finger wrapping around my torso, and snapped it to the side. “This wittle pitty went to market…”
He threw me at the ground, where I bounced off and coughed up something liquid in my helmet. Aside from that and the overwhelming pain in my chest, I was probably fine. Couldn’t have broken more than three ribs, the pussy. When I stood, I found the lord of the forest standing in front of me and he didn’t look quite so friendly anymore. I suddenly noticed those hands and feet tapered off into claws. I pointed off to the side, “Holy fuck, it’s Johnny Cash!”
He turned to look. I shoved my boot into his groin. And then I flew back from the force of the kick, my knee feeling like it was going to take a vacation. Or at least a break for awhile. I projected invisibility, but was thrown into the air before I could do much of anything. A friggin’ tree grew up under me and tossed me up to about face height on the tree guy, who swiped and caught me in a mass of branches and leaves where his hands had been before. As they caught onto me, vines grew and pulled my arms and legs apart. I had a little freedom for twisting and pulling, but the forest lord guy put his hand on the leg of the tree guy and I was suddenly pulled taut.
“Hope your men will be more agreeable than you are, Empress,” said the lord as they started making their way through the forest.
I had my personal drones, but I figured I’d wait. Just a bit. While I was at it, I called up my commander. “I’m gonna need our specials for a little job.”
“Yes, Empress. They are not being utilized at this moment.”
“Good, I’ll see to them personally.”
I noticed that whatever strength increase the tree guy got, it faded fairly soon. But I didn’t break way then until the three markers on my HUD got close enough. Then, I brought my drones up. Their lasers carved through the vines holding me and allowed me to tear my legs free. From there, I jumped onto the shoulder of the big tree man.
Down below, the forest lord turned to look up at us. Then a bronze-armored man on all fours plowed into him with a shiny titanium horn at forty miles an hour. Most people would have been killed instantly. The forest lord fell was knocked down. Bronze Rhino had to shake the impact off, too. He’d been one of the rescues form China who used to serve The Claw. I didn’t get his whole story, but he decided to wear the armor again because he had nowhere else to go.
VelocityRaptor skidded to a stop. The chrome cyborg opened the jaws of the raptor head on his his armor and unleashed a gout of flame upon the downed hunk, who went up like a leaf and screamed like a Wilhelm.
“No!” called tree guy. He raised a foot to stomp, but got my cutting into the side of his head with a Nasty Surprise on one arm.
“Hey big guy, got wood?” I asked.
He began to fall. I looked down and saw a buff woman with cybernetic parts resembling a shark pushing on the tree man’s foot, pushing him over. Rawr. Now Silver Shark’s my kind of woman. The kind with more machine parts than organic ones, who barely even looks like a woman through all the muscles. It works for me, may not for you, dear reader. Find someone your body parts want you to be with, either brain or below, and do what comes unnatural and depraved.
Giving Tree here was as susceptible to fire as his friend. With that lordly fellow busy becoming dust in the wind, we chased after a crawling tree to hack and burn away at him. In short, we tore him a new ash hole. And I began to wonder if I needed a flamethrower drone. The real problem’s the fuel, ya see…
That distraction forced my forces a little thin, but the chateau people never got away. We settled in for another night behind barricades made of downed trees that blocked the view of my people from the folks in the hunting lodge. Everything quieted down at night ever since the howling trackers attempted a midnight sortie our first night here. The men built campfires behind the barricades, but the would-be commandos found nobody around them. When they rushed in, they were the only dark shapes moving around bright fires against a background of wood barricades. The fire lit them up, and then so did the guards on duty. Shame, though. It would have been a good strategy if my commander hadn’t proven himself to be a cunning chap. A way to try and wear us down in the dark.
I was happy to teach the commandos some comman-don’ts.
I settled in at dusk, healing those ribs and checking on the embassy attaches in Paris who had the unenviable job of finding and babysitting Qiang when my quick trip here turned into a longer affair. Then my spirit animal showed himself again and I realized I hadn’t seen the denim jacket dude since he sent me after the giant woody and his horny friend. “Good going earlier. Now, I don’t suppose you would want to see the secret entrance to the chateau’s basement, would you not?”
“Would I?” I asked, not entirely sure how the double negatives worked out there. I got it figured out after a little counting. “I might.”
Even as the sun fell, the trip around the entire area didn’t leave me exposed. We had drones and Flyers set up to monitor the perimeter. One of the squaddies or privates or whatever we call them even figured out they could detach breaching cameras to provide a better view. We had the better view and superior communications. Better weapons, tougher armor, and nobody around to stop us. Technically, NATO was supposed to be meeting about us, but the current American President threw a temper tantrum. So it’s pretty much open season in Europe nowadays. I get the feeling a lot more countries are going to start developing their militaries accordingly. But for now, that means I control this part of France.
Even, it seems, a weathered wooden door hidden behind a bush against a hill. “That’s the escape tunnel, eh?” I said. I looked it over. The door had vines crawling on it. It was a good sign that they hadn’t been pulled loose. The dirt around the bush didn’t appear trod upon. A few people might have gotten out if they were careful, but they hadn’t pulled off a bigger escape.
“You should go in,” the denim-clad projection suggested. “Have some fun with them. They won’t even know you’re there.”
I thought about it. And I thought about my aching ribs. And how I didn’t know what this guy was playing at, other than that he was one of the Hares who found some benefit in me killing some of them. Though, if anyone asks, nobody I killed was superhuman. I mean, not like there are any bodies left of the reinforcements from earlier, right?
So I turned and began to walk back to camp. “One moment, let me just get a little something handy…”
The projection grinned as I went back and grabbed a crate out of one of the Psycho Flyers. He wasn’t quite so happy to see me pull out a directional mine and rig it so that anyone trying to get out that door would learn a valuable lesson about being flammable next to explosives. “I could do that, or I could use this thing to track if they’re trying to escape.”
“That’s a mine,” he pointed out.
I nodded, “Yep. It’ll tell me exactly when someone came this way and got blown up.
He disappeared, leaving me to read a story to my daughter over the phone and contemplate just what the Hares, all of the Hares, were up to. It hasn’t escaped my attention that this guy might be sending me off into fights meant to get me caught or killed, that wascally wabbit.
The trail had fits of stopping and starting, but never for long. Never long enough for the guy who took Psychsaur and Max to sleep. They’d zipped over to India from the portal, but didn’t stop there. They managed to get from there into Pakistan in amazingly little time. When I showed it to Titan, shortly after he and Venus joined me on Ricca, he informed me Cape Diem didn’t have a base there. “They stole our portals. Maybe they built something to hack into our network. Either way, this is unacceptable.”
We’d set up at the residence. It wasn’t considered neutral ground the same way the Cape Diem compound was, but it was a hell of a lot more private and better protected, even with that new hole in the wall of the living room. Everything had mostly turned out ok from that event. Our assailant, the blonde multiplier, hadn’t gone after Qiang at all, and neither did she charge him with a knife or anything. I think I’m raising a girl smarter than I am, but it doesn’t make anyone feel any better about a home being partially blown up.
It was easier for us to coordinate and control information Each of our organizations’ are looking into the attack in their own way, chasing leads, studying bodies and wreckage. Well, the bodies are on my end. It’s a bit inefficient, but cross-organizational cooperation’s going to have to wait.
“They didn’t take anyone for you?” I asked Titan for confirmation.
He shook his head. “No. He killed someone. Hurt others.”
“He took knowledge from you, but he took our friends,” I said.
“Not exactly,” Venus said. “You said Max made a cure?”
I nodded. “Yeah, but there’s just not enough, and it can’t be replicated.”
Venus paced around the office, looking at the monitors of our setup. “Psychsaur found him. Her powers let her do that. He avoided her until he was ready to do this.”
I looked between them. “I thought Psychsaur was supposed to cover Cape Diem first?”
Titan nodded to Venus, “She convinced me otherwise. It’s a good thing, too.”
“How’s that?” Venus asked.
Titan scratched his chin. “If she was at Cape Diem when this happened, the mole at Master Academy wouldn’t have been exposed.”
“Do we know who he is?” I asked. “Because on my end, he was just Funhouse the Clown, aka Ricardo Milhouse.”
Venus said, “He told us he found out his little brother had superpowers and was fighting crime at night. He was concerned and wanted him trained. He told us his name was Rick Houser. He brought a kid in. God, we had to lock up a teen to find out how deep he’s into this.”
“Richard Milford Holmes,” said Titan, tapping away at the computer and bringing up some of the Cape Diem files. “Twenty-eight. No powers, but a lot of enthusiasm to join us. He’s shown an eagerness to do the shit work even when offered duties more in line with what we expect. A lot of people join up to do something grand to help the world. It’s a good attitude, there’s a lot of more ugly work to it than people want. Except him. He was staying under the radar the entire time. Ten months.” He glared down at the table. Venus patted his arm.
“He hasn’t stopped at all until now,” I pointed out, bringing up the map where they’d finally been stopped. “So maybe he’s where he needs to go, or it’s a trap. A trap would be a bad idea for them.”
“Unless they take our powers with that collar,” Titan reminded us.
That was when Venus walked over to stand beside me. “What powers? This is all training and equipment.”
Venus and I had to take a moment to suit up, each of us in bulky armor. Hers was her current generation of power armor with the face taken up mostly by a golden chrome visor. Mine was based on the suit I’d stolen from her future version, but with additional armor plating and strength-enhancing pseudomuscles added to resemble my heavy armor. I was just as agile as ever, in armor far more durable. After all, nobody said the added armor plates couldn’t be the same material as the less-bulky version.
Titan remained his giant blue and orange self, with a pair of wings sticking out the back of his Cape Diem uniform.
On our way out, I gave Qiang a hug, smiled at Silver Shark checking on a burn along her arm, and politely squeezed by Sam and Holly trying to bar our way. “’Scuse me, gotta go save Mix N’Max, just the three of us, no additional help involved.” I picked up Sam with both sets of arms and set her to the side. I turned to find Holly taking her place, so I skipped around her.
“We’re coming!” Sam called after me as I pushed through the doors. Titan and Venus followed, with Max’s assistants coming after.
“You two aren’t villains,” I called back as we walked to a Psycho Flyer parked in front of the palace.
“You don’t know what he means to us!” called Holly.
“Do you trust them?” Titan asked me.
“They’re loyal to Max above all else. They’d never see him harmed or kidnapped in any way,” I answered. “But I doubt they have anything to bring to the table on this other than potential hostages if things go wrong.” I stopped to look at the assistants. “Leave this to us.”
“We are not useless,” Sam said. She pulled out a glass bottle with a simple oval label and “The Cure” written in Max’s handwriting. “Take us or we destroy it.”
I looked up the ramp of the flyer where Titan and Venus had stopped. They looked to me, eyebrows raised. Well, I assume Venus’s were raised under the helmet. I pointed to Sam and Holly. “Nothing about them threatening the cure?”
“It’s your aircraft,” Titan pointed out.
“I’m not saving your asses if you get in trouble,” I said, turning and walking up the ramp. I heard them clatter along after me.
They probably would have regretted it if they knew the flight was so long. I had the flyer loaded up for it, though. Toilets, toiletries, an in-flight meal, and a selection of movies to watch.
“Air Force One, Airplane!, Sully… what are you trying to tell us here, Gecko?” asked Holly as she stepped up into the cockpit.
I created a pair of holographic sunglasses in my lower right arm. “I think my meaning should be quite…” I lifted the hologram into place where my eyes would be through my helmet. “…plane to see.”
“Oh god, I’m going to be sick,” Holly called out from the back of the flyer.
“It wasn’t that bad!” I called back.
Sam winced and looked back. “I better get to her. Flying can be iffy for her.”
I shrugged as she left. “It was y ‘all’s decision to come.”
When we got to where we were going, the nanites indicated that Max and Psychsaur were still there. And where we were going turned out to be a small, decrepit Buddhist temple on top of a hill. I invited Venus and Titan into the cockpit to look down on it. “That’s a pretty cunning way to hide a lair,” I told them. “Anyone who breaks in looks like their sacrilegious. On the plus side, we have plenty of room if there are any religious artifacts left. Gold, sufficiently old stonework, even bones will do.”
“We’re here for your friends, not bones,” rumbled Titan. “I guess you better get in there since you’re the quietest somehow.”
“Okily dokily.” I stood up from the controls and the flyer dropped for like half a second. In the back, Holly vomited. I hope paper bags were involved.
“You fucking psycho!”
The reactions I get. I held up my hands. “It’s fine. I got it remotely anyway. Just decided that if y’all are going to ask the guy flying the thing to get off it, shit might happen.”
“You could land,” Venus growled.
“I’d rather not risk being stranded in Pakistan. Nobody should.”
I landed harder than is preferred for stealth, but at least I was invisible. When I got to the door to the place, I found was in better shape than its appearance would lead people to believe. A quick scan through multiple spectrums didn’t reveal anything. No lasers, no wires, any of that.
I called down a quartet of drones from the trapdoor of the Psycho Flyer. They assembled on their way down, forming a platform big and strong enough to hold me in the heavier armor. I hopped on top as it passed through the doorway. I wasn’t going to get caught by pressure plates this time.
I had a line open to the Flyer cockpit, Venus, and Titan, so it wasn’t long before I heard Venus ask, “Found anything yet?”
“Lots of wood and tiles. Not even any valuables. Not one piece of art, either, except this little thing.” I spotted this decoration built into the base of the altar. Three rabbits, two running one way in a circle, the third another. But that was because the third one was broken, flipped around. There weren’t even any other doors anywhere. No way down to a hidden basement. So I flipped the third rabbit around and clicked it into place.
Behind me, tiles slid out of place along the floor, revealing a circular stairwell down that had to be hell to get hostages down. It also had no room for flying. “I got a way down. Go ahead and get down here. I don’t see anything up top. Y’all should be able to hop or fly to the stairs.”
I headed down and found my way through a rusty metal door, and from there to a circular room with a floor made up of rounded stones. There, I saw a quartet of dead Funhouse. No sign of Max or Psychsaur. But there were two other corridors from there. It was easier to figure out where to go when I heard retching. It’s been a vomit kind of day. “Funhouse was dead when I got here. I think I hear someone. Going to see if I find our peeps.”
I snuck my way on down the corridor when I heard Titan and Venus behind me, coughing. “What’s that smell?” Titan asked.
“They’re discolored,” Venus said from back there, too.
I found Max and Psychsaur locked in a pair of old time cells. Stone walls, a barred door, and a whole lot of hacking going on. I dropped the hologram. “Hey guys. Here I come to save the day.”
“Gas,” Max hacked up. “They killed him.”
Psychsaur added, “It got here.”
I pulled out a couple of syringes. “Venus, got a couple patients here. Some sort of poisoning. If y’all are still alive, I’m guessing it’s dispersed and stuff.” Metal bars and all, it wasn’t even a matter of hacking. I tore the lock off Max’s cell. The alarm started up then.
“I got activity down this corridor!” Titan called out. Then, the world blew the fuck up. But we didn’t go with it. There was a booming roar that tried to kill my eardrums. It got hot as fuck. Wasn’t as bright as I expected. After everything settled to mere shaking, I popped open Psychsaur’s cell, too, and grabbed them up. It’s a lot easier carrying people with extra arms.
I found Venus in the middle chamber, where a pedestal now stood in the center. Titan barred access to the other corridor almost completely. He stepped away slowly, grimacing “Any bomb you can walk away from is a good bomb.”
“You good?” I asked.
He nodded. “I’ve taken bigger.”
I nodded toward Venus. “That’s what she said.”
“She is busy downloading files off this computer while it self-deletes,” Venus said, a USB from her suit plugged into something on the pedestal.
All in all, a successful rescue. We got our friends. We got the collars off without damaging them overly much. And we got some files to sift through about what we’re dealing with, starting with the final message left in the system from a voice that sounded like dozens overlaid on one another.
“We had greater plans for you. You were to observe and report only. You are one piece of a vast apparatus. Our plan could never be stopped by one man with a cure. Ricca was the first, followed by Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Osaka, Empyreal City. All within the first week. Thank you for listening obediently while the gas circulates. Your obedience is no longer required. You are no longer a piece in our apparatus.”
Leave it to Max to figure things out. His methods aren’t exactly science, though he argues otherwise. That’s why he’s not my preferred way of curing this thing. My guys can mass produce a cure, probably. Anything he comes up with, he’s the only one who can make more, through whatever processes he uses.
Still, his lab was safely tucked away in one of the many rooms in the palace residence while I tossed fake stuff in spare building we had over near the graveyard. That has an added bonus of being more convincing if the person we’re after is someone familiar with the island, plus the growers who operate out of the tombs will be more than happy to sell all kinds of stuff to relax people if they come looking. I made sure to pick a building at least far enough away that explosives wouldn’t screw with their operation. Probably. I also warned them that they probably want to cook any meth in the daytime until this gets cleared up.
I know, breaking in at night. How cliché, but most people don’t live where they work. Yet. Now if I’m done turning into a socialist dictator, I had a mouse to catch in my trap. And I like traps. There’s something about letting someone walk into their own doom that appeals to me, much like the concept of a deal with the devil. It’s like when the drunk old man warns the counselors not to go up to Camp Crystal Lake. Or when the drunk old man warns the tourist to get out of Innsmouth. Or when the drunk old man warns you that the woman on the sidewalk gives people an itch. I think what I’m saying here is that if I’m going full-on cliché, I need a drunk old man.
It was too late, though. I’d been camping out in the place and didn’t have time to shop for an old drunk when the motion detectors went off. It was a simple but ingenious system. The walls were rigged to detect vibrations, but the actual motion detectors were at all the doors. I watched as someone tripped them, moving swiftly but quietly through the small former store. He came to the room underneath me, one of the ones done up to look like it was in business for Mix N’Max. The figure bent down to examine the obvious bear trap on the floor, then jumped over it. The motion detector, set on the wall at stomach height, detected him and activated the second bear trap. The one on the ceiling. It clamped down with a satisfying and juicy squish.
He cried out, because this wasn’t an instant kill or anything. Just a large, jagged, metal trap that tried to get its jaws to meet just under the guy’s rib cage. I’m not saying he couldn’t die as a result of this. I’m just saying it’d take awhile.
A second guy dove between his friend’s dangling legs and over the first bear trap, which was less expected. But that’s why we have backups, like solid steel doors to slide into place, locking everyone inside whatever rooms they were in. There were other sensors going off, too, which spoke to a much larger infiltration than I’d expected. I stepped out of the corner from where I waited, staying invisible because I don’t resort to dramatics all the time. The lights rose, revealing identical men in front of me. Not just the same clothes and my usual “all humans look alike” view, but the exact same faces. I just figured it was identical twins until the cameras in the other rooms with motion showed the exact same thing. Identical septuplets spies? Talk about 007.
The guy looked familiar, too. Big forehead. The hair’s an obvious blonde dye job. Ah, and my ID program got a hit. Last time I saw this guy, he was dancing in the dunking booth while wearing clown makeup. “Seven of you clowns?” I asked.
The one who was free looked around the room and let loose a chuckle before blurring and splitting into two, then four, then eight. “As many as I need to deal with a problem.”
“I don’t know how many copies you can make,” I said as I dropped the invisibility. His clones? Extras? Whatever they were, they were crowding in enough that they’d have found me anyway. “but I know you don’t have enough to stop me whoopin’ your ass. This is my house.”
They surrounded me, and all spoke at once. “Right now, it’s looking like more of a funhouse. Let’s have some fun.”
Silly rabbit. He thought this was going to be some sort of fair fight, when it’s really a rigged carnival game. His powers must have extended to mere copies, because they went down like regular humans. I charged one of them and punched through him, and the one behind him, and into a third one. I smashed them against the wall, grabbed an organ out of the last guy in that bunch, and pulled out to burst it over the head of another one coming at me from behind. He stumbled back, but another came for me. I grabbed his shoulders with three arms and his chin with the fourth. He screamed as his skull came up, at least until he gave a pop and part of the spine came loose too. By then, the guy who got beamed by a kidney cleared his eyes enough for me to beat him to death with his own skull.
One moment, just realized I needed to put that accomplishment on a list somewhere. Beat a man to death with his own skull. Question is, do I count the consistency with physics as a plus or a minus?
Considering I have four thumbs and don’t give a fuck, a lot of dead bodies started piling up. He probably thought he could just concentrate one or two of them on reinforcements until I grabbed a pair and started swinging them, knocking the remainder on their asses. And one onto the floor-based bear trap, which clamped down on him.
“Looking pretty fun for me right now,” I said.
One of them grinned at me. “A shame we couldn’t play longer,” he said. He pulled his shirt up and tugged out a detonator. I quickly cranked the power of my leg armor’s pseudomuscles up and jumped through the roof, catching a nice big fireball up the ass because I didn’t bother to angle anything. The whole damn building blew up, and not even because of my stuff. I mean, yeah, I prepped explosives. I wasn’t going to use them with me inside the place.
I’m not entirely sure if my legs broke from the jump, from the landing, or from both. I just knew they broke sometime in all this. It took me a minute after landing to stand up and start pulling hot debris away to see if any had happened to be taken alive. As could be expected, I got a call in short order, from Silver Shark. “Gecko!”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Big-ass explosion, though.”
“Us too, fuckface! The Aryan brotherhood just broke in here. One of them grabbed Max and hightailed it. The others are fighting and blowing up.”
“Grabbed Max? These guys are pushovers.” Despite that, this was no time to argue. If he’d grabbed Max somehow, then he was moving him. I jumped to the top of a nearby building, heading for the docks while I pulled open the satellite view and focused it in on the area surrounding the palace and Directory building. “I’ll get him,” I said before dropping the call. I adjusted course for the Cape Diem compound and tried calling up Cape Diem.
I had a direct line to Titan, at least. It’d have to do. I’d rather have the number of the guy working the portals. He could still get an order through to trap the military truck with the canvas-covered back. “Titan, Gecko. Our mole’s trying to pull someone into his hill through your portal.”
I heard growling. “I’m elsewhere, but my people are on it. I just found out a mole on our end is barricaded in the central portal hub with the controls and passcodes. Hold on.”
There was a beep, then I heard Venus’s voice come through. “Titan, this is Venus. I found the mole. He’s running for the Cape Diem portal and he’s kidnapped Psychsaur. She couldn’t use her powers. He had some collar on her. He might have more for you.”
“That must be how he could get the upper hand on Max,” I said. I reached out, trying to access the nanites. He had to have been exposed to the water supply at some point during his time here, right? Fuck, somehow this guy didn’t bother washing his hands the entire goddamn time.
“Gecko?” Venus asked.
“Hold on, I got a kidnapping to stop on this end, too.” I’d hopped from rooftop to rooftop paused to pull out a drone from behind my back and throw it. I reoriented it and flew it ahead of me, trying to catch a truck that must have had its pedal welded to the medal. And me with throwing explosives. The drone flew after it. I jumped along. And it was a disorienting experience. Hard to aim, but I did. I raked the rear of the truck, lower down, with machine gun fire. The rear left tire popped and went flat. The truck wobbled. It hid some sort of debris and began to turn onto its side.
The canvas rear burst open and a motorcycle flew out, carrying one of those blonde fuckers and Max on the back, something around his neck. He had to have been tied there or something. The cycle burst through the gate into the Cape Diem compound and headed right for the tent surrounding the portal. I chased after, unable to shoot becaue of my friend.
People scattered out of the way, some in regular clothes, some in the soft white and blue of Cape Diem personnel. The motorcycle disappeared into the tent, and I landed outside it a second later, popping something. I limped in after them and saw the portal flash and close, leaving me alone with a team of confused Cape Diem portal technicians.
“Gecko, you copy?” Titan asked. “You were breathing hard and growling, then you got all quiet.”
“They got away,” I said, realizing I still needed to breathe.
“Damn! Same here,” Venus said.
“My people just retook the portal room. It’s empty. Something’s in the system. I have techs on it. Good people. One of them’s like Gecko. We’ll find out where they went.”
I stood there, flexing my fingers, pulling up as much of a view of the world as mankind’s satellite network could give me. Not like I’d get lucky and somehow run across the exact tiny spot where he was and be able to recognize him and whatever other copies of his were working. “Unfortunately, he somehow managed to avoid getting any nanites in his system while he was here. Or he found a way to clear them out. Otherwise, I’d… Oh, right.”
“What?” asked Venus.
“Nanites in the drinking water. I put them there to keep everyone healthy, which is how I knew something was up when someone got sick and stayed sick. This guy didn’t have any in him, which is why I couldn’t stop him earlier. But Psychsaur and Max both have them in their system. I can track them.”
Venus spoke up. “This is going to sound bad, but we should wait until they stop running.”
“Find them in their lair,” Titan said.
“Yeah, and then clean them out, hopefully before they can do whatever they need to do to flush them out. I’ll and order them into the hard to reach places.”
“I recommend we keep this under our hats,” Titan said. “I want to make sure this is the last mole in my organization.”
“Agreed,” Venus said.
I cracked my neck and turned with a flourish of my cape, ignoring Cape Diem people running around, trying to calm everything down. “Eh, I’d say I doubt there are any more, but this isn’t looking like a good day for me. Looks like it’s just the three of us, then.” Despite all that, I did trust Dr. Creeper to not be a mole. I had him send a team to the ambush building to see if they could scrounge up anything like what the clown had on Max and Psychsaur.
I had to delegate. After all, my house, with my kid in it, had just been attacked. Just another thing to save up for when I get my hands on someone.
Section 3 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
I barely slept as I tried to figure out the alien languages I’d surrounded myself with. It wasn’t just the programming language and operating system; I had to figure out the alien language itself well enough to fit into my translation program. I actually passed out at the console exhausting myself. Luckily, the dreams were more of those flashbacks to memories of bad times, which woke me up again before I could waste a whole night getting nothing done.
I had to find her, though the her vacillated between saving Qiang from Future Venus, and finding Future Venus to murder her. Pretty sure it’d work within those rules of the Parliament of Rogues if anyone wants to make a big deal about it. And if anyone wants to give me shit about aliens in costumes, I’ll remind them this happened in the Cretaceous, like 65 million years before any such agreement existed. I still dumped the body of the alien off the ship with the others in a big cloud of bugs.
Big referred to both the size of the cloud and the size of the bugs. They were tall enough to ride the roller coaster.
Between desperation and anger, I had all the motivation I needed to shove a shitload of information into my brain. I learned to read this weird language as best as possible, which involved touch sensitivity on the buttons as well. I probably don’t even have a mouth capable of making the noises necessary to pronounce the spoken version. And while I didn’t figure out absolutely all the ins and outs of this ship, I learned enough to get it going. That part was kinda important to me. I wanted well away from the ground so as to avoid any more giant gators or giant bugs. Everything’s giant back in the Cretaceous, and here I am without a penis.
I’d lament my timing, but I have at time machine! And with it, I shall find that future copy of my nemesis and tear her apart, molecule by molecule if need be. The only shot she’s got is- no. No shot. No more. Not for this one. Having figured out how to work this thing, I’m going to head back to the time I left and I will see if they returned Qiang. If she’s back unharmed, Future Venus dies quickly and painlessly. Relatively. There actually is a more painful way to tear a person’s heart out through their ass. My favorite version involves music, interpretive dance, and a fistful of rusty, glowing hot nails. The rust doesn’t even do anything at that temperature, but a lot of pain is psychosomatic. So the nails are to mess with her mind. The Thai dragon peppers impaled on the nails, those are for the body.
But like I said, if Qiang is returned to me, I make it easier on Future Venus. I’m undecided on Mobian, mainly because I put all the blame on Venus. But figuring out all that blame won’t exactly work if I’m wrong on time travel. So, once I figured I had the systems under control, I activated Time Navigation Mode. The ship’s viewscreen of the surrounding area shifted from its strange, blue-heavy that analyzed the threat posed by whatever birds, giant bugs, and pterasaurs were flying around. Instead, it sorta whited out, like looking at a wireframe mode. I noticed something off there, though. It showed me some sort of path. When I told the computer to clarify what I was looking at, it came back with the alien equivalent of “Temporal Slipstream”. Flying closer and swapping views, it appeared to be coming from where Mobian was parked.
“Cool,” I said to no one in particular. “Let’s get this bad boy up to 88.8 miles per hour and give it some jigawatts!” I switched back to Temporal Navigation and started charging it up, setting in a course to follow this slipstream. The viewscreen showed it as if I would follow the thing, but instead it created a field around the exterior of this weird little ship to match something it detected in the slipstream. The ship then rose along the same course and existence blinked.
When it came to, the ship had moved quite a bit in various ways. Gone was the marsh, instead replaced by barren plains that grew only scorched grass. And because this is alien, it didn’t use a time system or coordinates in the same way I knew them. I tried reaching out to satellites and the internet, but the ship blocked that. So I figured I’d stop by Empyreal City. At least the ship could give me enough of a view of the planet to navigate manually.
Even from a continental level, things had changed. Where California had been was now an archipelago. Florida hung out from the southeast side of North America, but an awful lot of the east coast north of it had become a bay. China was entirely desert, the middle east was setting off radiation alerts from the other side of the world, and my country was just gone. Ricca and Mu were so thoroughly disappeared, you’d think the Argentinean military snatched them up. I’m just kidding. The Falklands know just how bad Argentina is at stealing land.
And I know just the place to stay up to date on the news. This thing could fly, too. Nice to know in case Maverick and Ice Man were wingmen any time. But I didn’t get any response at all, despite this thing likely being detectable. It became more apparent why when I came into visual range of Empyreal City. The place looked like it’d been home to a kaiju gang bang. Buildings were toppled or half-missing. There were scorch marks everywhere. Then I spot a chitinous leg sticking out of a building, its torn off portion exposed to the sky like it had held up something even bigger. I immediately checked myself for any more of the prehistoric bugs hitching a ride. Satisfied that I hadn’t somehow caused this by exposing the world’s biggest cockroach to time travel, I decided to land.
The streets turned out to be abandoned by people. Not so much cars, but there weren’t many people around. Most hid upon seeing the ship lower. Some of them outright ran when I popped out, but then that’s a normal enough reaction to me. “Hello!” I said, waving at everyone. The dirty, scared people looking back said nothing. The silence deafened, which is when I realized the amazing lack of cars and internet. The phones were almost entirely silent. Satellites? Only a few left. Shit had gone down. Empyreal City’s had its fair share of problems before, but this was a big deal.
“Hey!” I called out to somebody wrapped in an oily blanket. “What year is it?”
“You a time traveler or somethin’?” the boy called back. “It’s 33.”
I looked around. “2033?”
“No, 1933, ya dumbass,” the kid responded. Nothing in those rules I agreed to about not killing civilians.
“Y’all stopped that Mot thing, right?” I asked.
“Shit, no thanks to you, time guy.” He jerked around as a wail started in the distance, then began running for it. “Shit, they doin’ curfew early! Better fly, time guy,” he said as he ran off. Everyone did.
Well, I didn’t know the big deal with curfew, but I knew I was here looking for somebody. And there was one place to find Venus when everywhere else failed. I zapped myself back into the time ship and took off for the East Coast campus of the Master Academy.
It turned out to be nothing left but a pile of cinders and some shiny land that looked like it’d been glassed. So… yeah. Over on the west coast, I found the the original campus of the Master Academy torn to shreds. Not a single whole building stood amongst a campus dotted with crescent moon divots the length of a car. This future version of Earth had been fucked up its earhole.
That didn’t matter. Knowing the year, I was able to make a few conversions and put in a course for home. One second I hovered way overhead a reef in the Pacific, the next I was looking down on Ricca in the year 2018. A little adjusting put me back there right after the disappearance of Mobian’s time ship. I actually wondered what would happen if I tried to stop it from leaving. I’ve seen the future. Fucking up the timeline could only help these people.
Instead, I waited. And waited. And when they didn’t fucking show back up off Qiang, I set it down in front of the residential palace.
“What’s going on?” Silver Shark asked, her large, cyborg body gleaming in the sunlight as she stepped out to greet me. “Where’d you get this thing?”
Section 4 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
I shrugged. “Carjacked some aliens. Time traveling super bitch stole my daughter and is probably trying to raise her to hate me. I need explosives.”
She set her jaw. “How much?”
“All the explosives,” I said. “And a shitload of rusty nails.”
I loaded up my armor stand for repair and maintenance, nanites for my health, knives for Venus’s health. I didn’t know how long this bogus journey would last, but even a most excellent adventure would still end with me making damn sure that someone was going in a grave. Oh, and I brought rusty nails.
Silver Shark tried to come with me. So did Max, but I held up my hands. “Uh uh. No. This is something I have to do myself.”
“But Gecko, why?” asked Silver.
“Because technically I’m not supposed to be murdering superheroes for no reason nowadays. So I’m going to go have a very intense… discussion… with this Future Venus. A real tongue lashing. Going to chew her out.”
“So this is sexual?” asked Sam, Mix N’Max’s assistant.
“Oh, she’s already fucked,” I said. “I’m just gonna widen the hole.”
Max offered a hand. “If you ever need us, just say the word.”
I shook it with three of my four hands. “If anyone asks, I’m not murdering a super.” He nodded. I walked over to my ship and it seemed almost like a dramatic moment, but then I was like, “By the way, as long as I succeed, I’ll be right back. Like, I’ll be gone, then I’ll be here again, and you’ll all be disappointed you felt like this was a big deal.”
“Boo!” called Max’s other assistant, Holly, causing me to smile under my helmet.
So I took to the ship, got myself settled into the command center, and flew the ship up, navigating conventionally and temporally. When we blinked through time again, we were back where I’d first come into 2033. I set the ship to scanning for any more temporal slipstreams. I whirled as someone stepped into the command room. It was Citra, my wife, carrying a spear in one hand with a bandolier of bullets over the outside of her dress and handgun sticking out of a sash on her waste. “The hell are you doing here?” I asked.
She set her jaw, which made her look more pouty than anything. “She is my daughter too. I am going to kill the bitch who stole her and left you to die.”
“No, you’re not,” I said, turning around as we got a hit on the trail left by Mobian’s timeship. Citra versus Venus? Not so much a curbstomp as a footnote.
Citra walked over and held the spear out to block my access to the console. “You are my husband. Qiang is our daughter. I want to do something.”
I shrug and gesture behind me. “Whatever you do, don’t get in my way. That’s kinda important since I don’t know where we’re going. Now let’s see what time it is these Mobian folks went to…” I hit the button.
When we came out, it was over Palestine. Zooming in to see what might be significant, I found a large force of cavalry getting their asses handed to them by about 2,000 soldiers in blue coats. “Ok, Citra, you thought this would be nice and easy. Now let’s figure out what they’re doing in 1799.”
Archive Transmission Fragment 4 Complete
Archive Decompiling Resumes… … … …
Just because people don’t want me in charge of anything doesn’t mean I’m resting on my laurels. For one thing, the laurels are out being dry-cleaned. I mandated that only the softest laurels be used for my resting needs. The Directory took it upon themselves to have those laurels treated the absolute best because of a combination of loyalty, respect, and pants-wetting fear. The ratio may lean heavily toward fear.
I kept my spies in place watching events under the big tent. If that makes it sound like a circus, it kinda is. Ouroboros is in the center ring. It’s probably a bad idea to give him too much leeway, but I trust in him being pedantic enough to do a good job. It’s not that villains can’t be obsessed with details, it’s just that not everyone cares about the same details. Some people like math, others are into the weather, some even dig geology. I know my way around murder, power armor, and dimensional breach technology. But I picked a government with separation of powers precisely because I know how bad I am at handling a lot of the minutia. Ouroboros is significantly better at that than me.
But I’m still keeping my eye on him, because of those damn communists. Lenin and his buddies took over Russia, but they didn’t care about running all the boring stuff. Let a guy named Joseph Stalin handle a lot of important duties. Next thing you know, the secretary rules Russia with an iron fist and an iron mustache. He turned it into a police state where people surveilled each other and informed on each other about loyalty.
In order to keep this from happening, I have set up recording devices all around Ouroboros and where he lives. I have also bribed some of those taking part in it to let me know if he does or says anything that might be intended to spark a coup against my regime.
It gave me something lighter to tackle while sitting around teaching Qiang and dealing with some guests being rude. “What are you?” Sam asked.
“I am homo machina, also a world leader,” I answered while Qiang and I worked through natural history book. It had pop-up animals and fun facts about them.
“No, I mean you always seemed too sexist and offensive to be a transwoman. It makes it hard to think of names to call you behind your back.” At least she was up front about it. Plus, one of these days I intend to use her adjustments of her piercings to teach Qiang about the human dermal layers and the human nose.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a transwoman, though some people,” and here I eyed Silver Shark for emphasis. She was watching Jaws with an intensity I normally see from a hungry dog catching glimpse of a steak. “seem to think I’m happier as a woman than as a man. But let’s be honest, I’m the same me no matter which form I take. How I look is a product of how I feel and a way to keep anyone from pinning me down for too long at a time.”
“So you don’t care if you have,” she looked to Qiang, who glanced up at us before turning a page and getting a face full of pop-out hyena. “meat and potatoes.”
“They’re nice, but so is what I have now, though these bad boys up front can be an annoyance at times.” I gave them a little jiggle.
Sam rolled her eyes and stood up to go raid the fridge. “Whatever. I’ve always heard how the average guy wishes they had a pair of their own to play with.”
“If there’s anything about me you should keep in mind, Sammy, it’s that I am an average nothing. Not an average man, an average woman, an average any sort of trans. Just think of all the times you’ve seen me naked if you need a reminder how above average I am,” I smirked at her.
She grabbed a spoon and pointed it at me. “I remember that time you and Max broke into an ice creamery and he dropped something that melted your clothes off. You looked plenty average then.”
“Ooooh,” Silver said.
I shrugged. “Just imagine what my norm is like if being half frozen drops me down to average.”
“Keep your nonexistent penis in your pants, sister,” Sam said from around a mouthful of pickles.
“Look, the female has a thingy!” Qiang said, pointing at one particular pop-out of the hyena.
“Yes, dumpling. In fact, that gives me an idea…”
Sam grabbed her bottle of pickles and headed for the door. “Uh uh, I’m out, this is going to turn into some weird shit, I’m out.”
Hey, all I said is it gave me an idea. I didn’t say I’d go through with it. Besides, I barely had time to design a look when the island started shaking. I ran out to check on it, calling up the Intercept team. I wish I had a team of geologists too, but my science-fu is lacking. I ran outside to see a paved-over portion of the grounds explode up and release a man-sized mushroom. It roared and ran away from a man wielding a glowing sword who yelled like a hemorrhoidal maniac. It’s like a homicidal maniac, if the maniac had really uncomfortable growths on his asshole.
The giant shroom ran for its life and managed a pretty good distance from the swordfighter, but another person ran out of the same hole, which I recognized as one of the closed-off sections of the old underground rail system. This person also seemed to be a guy, but a smaller one. Wiry. He held a discus in each hand. He jumped into the air almost as high up as the height of the mushroom man and threw one of them past the shroom. It stopped in front of that thing and hung there in midair until he threw the other discus. The shroom tried to dodge to the its left. The discus in front came back toward it. They met in its waist and cut it in half.
I gave them a polite golf clap. “Not to rain on your parade, but was that thing worth killing? He seemed like such a fungi.”
They both facepalmed, careful to avoid stabbing themselves in the face. “That was horrible,” said the swordsman.
“How far did y’all get?” I asked.
“We think that’s the last of it. You should probably keep away in case we missed one of them. Wouldn’t want a delicate lady to get hurt,” said the discus-thrower.
“Next time I run across a delicate lady, I’ll let her know,” I responded. “But congrats on killing the things. Looks like we can finally find some science guys and get them in there.” I turned to Silver Shark, who had followed me out. “Think we can get Bill Nye?”
She shook her head. “He’s not a scientist.”
“Let’s get our biologist in here, the guy I kidnapped. See if we can tempt some people. Ooh, I got it! I know a guy. He’s a bit old-school, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders. Plus, he’s not opposed to working for dictators.” I turned to Silver Shark and hopped up on her broad, beautiful shoulder. I pointed into the distance. “Bring me Dr. Creeper!”
She began walking in the direction I pointed, but muttered to me, “I don’t know this guy at all.”
I pointed again. “Fetch me my cell phone.”
“You don’t have a phone!” she said, stopping.
“Right,” I pushed on my nose. “Damn unlock screen.” I held my fingertip to my nose and dragged it up and over. “I do not remember putting a passcode on this. Hold on…” I cupped my hand under my armpit and gave it a few pumps, squelching out some noises. “Yeah, changing that to something easier, as soon as I get done talking to this Nazi.”
Of course, one of the first things Creeper said as soon as he picked up was, “I’m not a Nazi anymore!”
“Oh, guten tag. Who is this?”
“I’m sorry I did not recognize your voice. You sound like a woman over the phone.”
“I get that a lot these days. I don’t know if you keep up with the news lately, but I recently became a world leader.”
“Ja, I heard! Congratulations. I’m glad you do not let the celebrity go to your head.”
“Thanks. I’m trying not to let the power go to my head. Hold on,” I tapped Silver on the head. “Stop here, minion, and let me down off your shoulders!”
She grumbled and picked me up by the waist. She ALMOST dropped me. I know she wanted to, so I turned and gave her a hug when she set me on my feet. “Thanks, hon.”
She got all quiet and headed off to the residence again to finish her show, quietly tossing a “You’re welcome,” back toward me.
“Ok, anyway, it’s been pretty fucked up here, what with sabotage and people abandoning a sinking ship. But the ship isn’t sinking anymore. On the plus side, the rats already floated off. Unfortunately, all this really means I’m having some personnel problems. I’d probably have called you earlier, but my science complex was taken over by scientific abominations created in the darkest pits of man’s imagination. Luckily, the pest exteriminators probably just finished cleaning it up. By the way, it’s also important that you’re pretty good at defending yourself with giant robots.”
“Are you offering me a job to work for you as a scientist?” he asked.
“Creeper, I’m offering you a chance to head my Institute of Science.”
“Oof, you should have told me sit down first. Though I am sitting down.” I heard a car alarm go off from the other end of the line. “I did not mean to walk over that. You left me kerfuffled.”
“Tell you what, you get things wrapped up over there. I’m going to text you a number you can call for an airline pilot who doesn’t get paid enough even though he once landed a crashing plane in a river and saved a bunch of lives.”
“I saw that movie! You mean-?”
“Yeah, they do not fucking pay those guys well. Just wait until you’re out of public before you call him. Secret identities and all that.”
“This sounds amazing! I can’t wait to tell my daughter.”
“Isn’t she a hero? Hold up… a villain, right? Wait, no, she married into Canadianness, I remember you told me.”
I shook my head. “Uh oh. It’s spreading. Soon you’ll be converted to socialism in the great white north!”
“I do not know what you are talking about. My daughter is cool. You should meet her. You know, things didn’t work out with that Canadian boy.”
I looked down at my dress and sandals. “I doubt I’m her type. If you want to bring her, that’s fine, but don’t be playing matchmaker, you old Nazi bastard, or you’ll go from Operation: Paperclip to Microsoft Word Paperclip in my eyes, capische?”
“Yes, il duce! I look forward to seeing you again soon!” I heard an explosion on the other end. “Er, I have to go now. See you later!”
Eh, the guy’s only a former Nazi, and that was pretty much just for the gimmick. How was he supposed to know the Nazis were going to return as a prominent political force in the 21st Century? Besides, at this point, he can hardly make me look worse than most of the other world leaders out there. It’s just your average reclusive island nation with a conspiracy of the world’s criminals working with a Nazi scientist. I dare someone to write an article on us!