I know what everyone’s wondering. I know it because I keep getting asked over and over again. I’ve been asked it by Sam. “Can’t you just make your own nuke?” And by Holly, “Don’t you have any nukes around here?” Even Silver Shark weighed in, “Aren’t you smart enough to build your own?”
I am indeed capable of throwing one together. There are probably plenty of villains on this island who can help with that. My answer was simple. “It’s not about making a nuke. It’s about taking one.”
The crowd of people who have all taken to camping in my palace didn’t find that satisfactory. “I bet Maxxy could even build you a nuke!” Sam said, gesturing toward Max.
I looked over to Max, who stood in my kitchen, pouring cereal into a pint of yogurt before taking a spoon to it. “Gecko knows what she’s doing. Leave me out of this,” he said, chomping on fruit loops and congealed dairy.
“Thank you, Max, you are a scholar and a gentleman.” I nodded toward him and crossed all my arms. I looked down to see Qiang mimicking my pose and reached down to hold her against me with my two lefties. “As I was saying, I am easily capable of making a nuclear weapon. I’ll even teach my little psycho bunny here if she wants to learn when she’s older.” I turned and kissed the top of Qiang’s head, then pretended to bite her hair. She giggled at that and hugged onto me.
I will, but only when she’s old enough to handle nuclear weapons, so at least fifteen or sixteen. I don’t want to pressure her into it, though. After all, she might prefer for her first WMD to be a chemical or even biological weapon. I can help with the chemical part, but I’ll have to impart on her that a biological weapon is a huge responsibility. I don’t want to help her build one of those for her to just forget about it and leave me to take it out and clean up after it.
“Making a nuclear bomb also does some weird stuff as far as international treaties. Now, even though people don’t invade countries who develop the bomb precisely because they now have that bomb to use against invading countries, it still creates some international tensions. More importantly, I don’t want to make one because it’s more important for it to be stolen. I have a lot of old files stored away, hogging valuable gigabytes I could use for more important stuff, like porn. Some of those files include the location of places where a certain large nation of imperialist pigs.”
Holly held up her hand. “Question! Do you have to call us pigs like that?”
“Yes,” I answered bluntly. Then I held up a booklet. “It says so in the manual.” I handed it over to her. The cover featured a row of grinning prisoners standing in front of a happy firing squad. “So You’ve Become A Dictator,” read the title above it. She took it and started reading through as I continued.
“There’s a group of these guys around, they’re spying on Ricca, and some of them have almost certainly come ashore without us detecting them. In retaliation, I’m going to steal one of their bombs. Just a bit of harmless tit for tat.” I pulled out another booklet and threw it at Sam just before she started to stifle a laugh at the thought of anything tit-related with me now. She caught some more of my educational reading, “The Dictator’s Guide To Preemptive Strikes”.
“Now, this next part will require all of you to practice the important skill of shutting the fuck up… but I’ll leak that we have it in some hidden site and wait for whoever they’ve got on the island to make a move for it. Then I snap the trap before Admiral Akbar can so much as perform vocal warm-up exercises.”
The joke landed a bit flat, in part because Max was busy with his cereal and Holly had become engrossed in the dictator manual. And that was the only reason nobody liked such an obviously phenomenal reference. “Wow, this is really mysoginist,” Holly said, never taking her eyes off the booklet.
I shrugged. “High turnover from purges, civil war, and regular war. They pretty much all turn women into baby factories.”
“Even the women dictators?” she asked.
“Check out the roster on Page 78,” I said.
She flipped to it. “Wow, that’s a lot of guys.”
“That’s why they’re not called vagtators,” I said. “So, we have any questions about the plan?”
I got a rousing chorus of mildly disinterested “No”s and one question from Qiang on if I was going to fix hamburgers. I told her yes and set her down, then realized she was wearing the same dress as me. “Who got you this? You’re almost as pretty in that dress as your dad.”
“I didn’t used to hear these kinds of sentences until I met you people,” said Silver Shark, shaking her mechanically augmented head from where it sat on a neck that could adjust to let her shift it to face directly up when in the water.
“Miss Shark got me this!” Qiang answered, pointing at Silver.
“Aww, did you tell her thank you?”
Silver Shark spoke up. “I told her about Valentine’s and helped her get a dress in case she got a Valentine of her own.”
“Huh,” I said, thinking about it. “That’s right, Valentine’s. Completely slipped my mind. I didn’t even notice if they celebrate it here.”
“They celebrate it,” Max spoke up. “The women give chocolates to men in this part of the world.” He looked at me, then down at his pint of yogurt and began to sidle off to the side.
“That’s remarkably astute. What an amazing thing for you to know, Max. Mind if I ask how you know this and, come to think of it, why my wife didn’t get me anything? Where is she, anyway?”
Sam crossed her arms. “She’s probably sleeping off the sedative Max gave her after she caught him eating all the chocolate you were supposed to get.” She stuck her tongue out at Max. “Happy VD, Maxxy.”
I turned to find a Max-shaped hole in the wall. That would be this one chemical that weakens most forms of wood only in spots with pressure put on it. Useful for making personalized doorways, but not so much preventing someone from following. Still, I was more concerned about checking on Citra. She was indeed still asleep and loopy. I figured I better get her something to make up for missing Valentine’s. With the aid of Qiang, I worked on a pink, heart-shaped cake.
“Oh god, the attention to detail. That’s so gross,” said Sam as she watched me finishing the icing.
“Don’t look so grossed out,” I told her. Qiang passed me a more red shade of icing that we’d whipped up. “Everyone has them.”
“I can’t believe you think that’s a romantic gift,” she countered.
I rolled my eyes. “You’d whine the same way if I pulled out my actual heart and gave it to her. Some people just aren’t happy, and you’re one of them.” I stuck out my tongue at her, then returned to careful decoration of the large muscular blood pump, all while thinking about stage two of the nuclear plan. A gal’s gotta have secrets, even when she’s a dude. Especially when she’s a dude, some might argue.
I had plenty of time to finish before it was time to send Hexadecibel on his way. We had to wait for an appropriate time due to time zones, but I soon strapped on my armor and gave him a set of Riccan augmented reality glasses to wear. We launched from the villain village. One moment he was there, muttering incantations in a circle, the next he was gone and in a bunker somewhere. I lost him there for a few seconds until a smaller portal opened in the circle that let the signal through.
“I got shunted, man. I’m nearby the room.” he said as soon as I could see and hear the situation. Teleporting in like that set off alarms. The glasses overlaid a path for Hexadecibel to follow to the storage area. I saw through is eyes as a squad of guards tried to accost him. Arms grew out of the concrete around them and pulled them against it. He stopped to rifle through one of their pockets before I urged him to forget about mugging them and get the big stuff. It took a bit of maneuvering until he found himself coming out into a two-story room. The floor gently sloped up in a ramp to a door on the second story. Underneath it was the opening of a bunker. “Back!” I yelled just as the opened fire. Good reflexes on those soldiers.
Hexadecibel didn’t go back. He magicked up a concrete wall. A big, beautiful wall, the best wall, nobody builds better walls than Ricca. “Shit,” he said.
“You got this?” I asked.
The view moved from side to side. “I don’t know. Maybe I can. Let me try something.” He jumped up and threw a fireball at them. The rate of fire sounded like it picked up dramatically as he landed, but so did the screaming. After a couple of seconds, the shooting stopped while the screaming continued. Hex dropped the wall cautiously, but no fire picked up. He headed up the ramp and stopped in front of the door’s keypad. “Do you know the code?”
“Give me something big enough to bring my hand through,” I told him.
He put his hands together, made a few hand gestures that created glowing runes in the air, then pulled them apart. A small portal opened, about as big around as a softball. I pulled my gauntlet off and pushed an arm through the portal and against the pad. Soon, my body connected with the wiring and allowed me to interface with it. I had it open for him, then pulled myself free and back to my own location as soon as I could. “You’re good to go.”
When he opened the door, it led to row after row, rack after rack of warheads. He stood there for a moment. When it looked like he wasn’t moving, I ahemed and said, “Hey, there may be soldiers coming up behind you. Get in and shut that door.”
He hurried in. “Sorry, I think I peed a little. There are so many.”
“The country’s had the ability to annihilate all life on Earth for more than half a century. That’s a lot of spares left laying around.”
“I guess I didn’t think about how many that means. How many do you need?”
“I said just one and I meant it. Preferably one of these near the door. They’ll be a bit more fresh.”
“Ok, you should back up.”
I moved further away from his little circle. Meanwhile, the connection showed him pulling out some mixture of a powdery substance and spreading it in a circle around one of the racks that only had a single warhead. There was some chanting, some more runes, even a bit of a red glow then… pop! The air made a little popping noise as Hexadecibel and the nuclear warhead just appeared in his little circle on this side.
“Whew!” he shouted and clapped his hands. “That was intense, man. Hey, I still hear the alarm though.”
I heard it too, then I realized. “That’s not so much an alarm as it is a loud squee.” Too late, I looked up to find myself tackled by an enthusiastic giant bee woman. Queen Beetrice, ruler of the insectoid-humanoid Buzzkills and the nation of North Korea as part of the Riccan Empire.
“I thought you were watching the Olympics,” I told her.
She just hugged me tight. “I heard you were getting me a nuclear bomb!” she said, attempting to squeeze me out of my armor like Popeye opening a can of spinach.
“Let’s talk this over elsewhere,” I said to her. I had to give the military guys the orders on where to hide our bit of ill-gotten goods. They’ll see to it.
I, on the other hand, had to go make another cake, and bees have really weird-looking hearts compared to humans. Meanwhile, at the rocket plant, custom orders began to trickle in every few hours, spread across different shifts, meant to match different sorts of rockets than the we use on Ricca. With the nuke secured, I was ready to prepare stage two.
Today, the great nation of Ricca welcomed a most esteemed visitor. He stepped off a boat, pale of skin, velvet of jacket, and frilled of shirt; Mix N’Max at last arrived on the island. He stepped down the gangplank right toward me. I met him in friendly hug, the both of us exclaiming the other’s name. “Gecko!”
“Gecko?” asked a feminine voice from behind him. It came from one half of his assistants, Sam Hain, who I barely recognized without her purple hair. She’d gone for something of a punk cancer look, except for this tiny puff of it at the front that was bright green. She also looked pale, but I never remembered that as an affectation she liked to share with her boss. I figured it had more to do with her shaky walk down to the ground that ended with her bending over with her hands on her knees for a few seconds. She had the sea sickness, that Sam Hain. And yes, it’s Sam like Samantha, not pronounced like Samhain. She had on her boots, her fishnet stockings, a lacy black skirt. Excellent seafaring gear, of course. Takes a brave woman to think a corset is appropriate gear for seasickness, but maybe she was trying her hand at formality.
Her friend did not have same issues. Holly Wayne ran down in a flowery dress that didn’t quite match up with the purple highlights in her bleach blonde hair. Even tugging along some of the luggage, she seemed no worse for wear. “Oh my god, Gecko? You look… pretty.” People can be a bit unsure of how to refer to psychopaths having sex changes. Ooh, that’s a nice band name: Sex Change Psychopaths.
“How do we even know that’s Gecko?” asked Holly, standing up. She held her back ramrod straight as she walked toward me.
“You can’t tell?” asked Max, turning toward her with his arm around my shoulders. He held up a hand toward me face.
I did likewise. “Yeah, it’s totally obvious.” I sent Max an email with my picture on it. The rest was the same teamwork that once made us part of a deadly trio of villains. The Dark Triad had been comprised of the three villains known for so many years as the only few to survive breaking one of the unwritten rules of superpowers by murdering other supers. Mix N’Max, Psycho Gecko, and the Good Doctor.
Doc had been a good guy, and I don’t just say that because he’s dead. He had been a good guy blackmailed into villany, but I know he had a taste for it. Once his blackmailer had been dealt with and he had a chance to live with his daughter, he took it. I never did accept it, but our difference of opinion didn’t become truly problematic until I killed his superhero daughter. It was for a good cause, but that didn’t matter. Once I started to accumulate my own family, he showed up to try and deprive me of it. I had to kill him.
“How have you been, dude?” I asked Max. “It’s been too long.”
“I had this great setup in Vegas. It was awesome!”
We spent the evening getting caught up. I showed him my palace, and my daughter, and my wife. Well, technically Citra’s just pretending to be my wife, but close enough. They took it pretty well.
“Who would give you a wife?” asked Holly.
“Who would give you a child?” asked Sam.
“Is this all the alcohol you have?” asked Max.
I answered in order of importance, starting with pointing Max toward the vault where I hide the seashine.
After quite a bit of drinking, we wandered off into the most somber hours of the night toward the big state cemetary. I say somber hours, but they’re the same early hours that super criminals like us often do our best work. This wasn’t about robbing, not even graverobbing. That business isn’t as lucrative as it used to be in the days of undisturbed Egyptian pyramids and medical colleges needing cadavers.
There was more drinking, some alleged crying, and some strange substances were ingested. I won’t specifiy too many of the actions, except to note that I smoked something and then took a trip away from the graveyard. I was being sucked away from the Earth I was living on and toward the Earth I came from. Screw that. I wanted my Earth, not that old one. My Earth, with my daughter, my obsessed bee woman, my old magical Moai statue, my former minions, my current friends, and even that poor woman who decided to be my wife. I wanted to grip the ground and hold tight no matter what forces tried to tear me away.
Then I found myself back at the tree. This pissed me off because I hate extended dream sequences. I would torture a damn tree if I needed to. I figured I was safe once it grew the face of Good Doctor. That kind of cheesy symbolism was a better indication of my own mind playing tricks than having never left the tree. It didn’t make me feel any better toward it. Its branches grew at me like claws. I grabbed it by the trunk and squeezed like I could choke it off. “What do you want?” I asked it.
The words echoed. The tone changed and the tree moved its mouth in sync with them. I really gotta cut out… whatever the hell it is I smoked. The damn echoing felt like it wouldn’t stop. Felt like it reverberated deep inside me, so I tried to yell things to stop it.
“I want Qiang to be safe! I want to get rid of the worst people!” That didn’t work. It surprised me, because I thought those were pretty good answers. Revelatory stuff that went a little deeper into my core and how I’d changed than most people would expect. While true, the answers didn’t stop the echoing question, so I kept throwing out answers. “Truth, justice, freedom, reasonably priced love, and a hard-boiled egg. I wanna be free. I wanna be free to do what I wanna do. And I wanna get loaded. And I wanna have a good time!”
It just wouldn’t end, so I sat there, punching the face of a tree monster, trying to figure out what I could say or do to make it shut up. I tried kicking it in the balls, for instance. No balls. Poked it in the eye, but it was just wood. I even tried thinking really, really hard. After what felt like hours of dealing with antagonistic plantlife, I was tired. I hung there, slowly thunking my head against Good Doctor’s face in ineffectual headbutts. I finally stopped, sighed, and said, “I just want to live and make this place better.”
I paused. “Wait, how long have I wanted to live?” I looked at Good Doctor’s face. “And don’t you get any ideas about that other part. I said make it better, I didn’t say saving kittens out of trees and flying around with my underwear showing. Those types have sat around letting bad people do plenty of bad things because it’s easier than rocking the boat.”
I awoke the next morning to find myself laying on top of a mausoleum. I crawled to the edge and tumbled off, startling Max awake from where he slept curled up on a grave. “The fuck did you give me last night?” I asked my friend, grabbing his neck and lightly swinging his head side to side.
He coughed and pulled away. “Drugs. I made this strong stuff that’s like LSD on steroids and Beta blockers.” I couldn’t easily process this statement at the time due to the LSD on steroids and Beta blockers in my system.
“I made it to get in people’s brains and mess them up for questioning.” He groaned and rolled over to me, his face really close to mine.
I slapped him. “Dick move, dude. Why would you give me that?”
He held his hand to his cheek. “Sorry, I think it happened while we were drunk. I think the seashine melted my fillings. I didn’t realize you might have smoked it until you were yelling things at the sky!”
“What things?” I asked, grabbing onto his lapels. Then a massive, nasty burp came up and I just let it go in his face. He winced and tried to keep his mouth shut, then turned his head and coughed a few times.
“It was all gibberish. A lot of things were messing with its intended purpose, but I didn’t hear anything private and nobody else could either.” He patted my ands and I reluctantly released him.
“Fine… gah, let’s get back to the palace. My mouth feels like I had a hobo-eating contest.”
It was Sam who opened the door to the palace, which looked to have had quite a party on it sown. I saw Silver Shark sprawled over a couch and Queen Beetrice hanging over the counter. Sam yawned and looked at me with my hair resembling the starship Enterprise. Then she looked to her boss, Max, whose clothes were all frumpy and wrinkled. “You two have yourselves some private fun?”
In deference to her being Max’s minion, I didn’t try as hard as I could have to hit her.
Later, after being rested, showered, and enjoying some hair of the dog that bit me, an idea crept into my brain. My brain was recovering from a lot, including my admission to myself that not only do I truly have some altruism of a sort inside me, but I don’t really want to die anymore. That wasn’t as important as recognizing a problem that Max’s drugs provided a solution to.
Armoring up again for appearance’s sake, I dragged Max along with me to the military base where they held our unknown diver. “The guy’s spoken in English before, and his gear matches up with U.S. Military, but it only tells us so much. We don’t know what they’re doing here, what he was sneaking in to do, even if he was the only one sneaking in here. For all we know, they could have a whole base set up in those old ruins off in the western part of the island.” I stopped and smiled to myself at that one. “Ok, that’d be pretty funny if they did that. Problem solved if that’s the case. But until we know, I figured you could give our friend in there a sample of what you gave me last night. I want him talkin’ like a Furby.”
Max smiled and pulled out his syringe gun. He swapped out a few parts right there in front of me until it more closely resembled a bong crossed with a super soaker. “I’ll smoke him out.”
I think I’ve stated before that I really hate it in video games when you need something for a quest, only to be told that I have to do a sidequest for another party to get the thing I need. It’s annoying. I mean, you’re saving the world, and these bozos decide they can’t let you have the thing you need to stop some soul-sucking fiend from hell until you go back to their old apartment and retrieve their +1 couch of chilling. Protagonists shouldn’t be bothered with that.
It’s a good thing I’m practicing playing nice with others. The secret, I find, is anger management. I’ve gone through several hundred stress relief toys. Squeezed to death, the poor dildoes. Silver Shark was nice enough to take Qiang out to see the new schools being built for kids on the island. Good thing, too. Citra was suddenly too tired and unable to walk after all the anger management.
Escorpio and Cuerno helped too. Not that way, though Escorpio’s look with the scorpions and the gold… Anyway, they’re both important to the Paradise City Cartel, and they respect that I’ve worked with them and upheld their end of the bargain. I’ve still got my eyes on them, though. It’d be advantageous for them to have more power with what I’m throwing together than helping facilitate Ouroboros’s attendance, so I’m watching them closely. Especially Escorpio, since he’s here on the island.
My big problem turned out to be the Yakuza, the other major gang presence in Paradise City. I did my homework and found that Yakuza shell companies are part owners of a lot of expensive real estate around the place, mostly hotels. Hotels with massage services and shopping arcades. What that tells me is there’s likely prostitution and whatever it’s called when they make fake versions of fancy clothing and purses.
The government here knows it too, given some of the archives I checked through. The feds have bigger problems than that these days. Some uninsured survivalist type decided to get around not paying by getting a couple dozen friends together to take over a Veterans’ Hospital in Idaho or something. They talked a big game about being patriots, then dumped some of the bodies of patients they had to kill when they fought back. The government has bigger things to worry about than the Yakuza bringing over Japanese women to give tourists a happy ending.
I stopped by the Yakuza’s crowning jewel, the Gulf Majesty Hotel, built with a reinforced foundation on an island across a short bridge from Paradise City that is still considered part of the area. It sat on a six foot rise due to that solid foundation, with a cast iron fence to dissuade non-guests from loitering. They had a valet and everything, though I waved him off from taking the cabby’s keys. “Here you go, buy your wife something nice,” I said.
He took the cash, but grumbled. “That bitch is divorcing me.”
I shrugged and tossed in another $50. “Buy a new wife then. A better one.”
“Like hell I’m going through that again!” He declared as he peeled out, “Fuck it, I’m learning to suck dicks!”
I turned to the valet who avoided reacting to the scene and put my arm around his shoulders to draw him close. “There goes a man and a dream. A dream of sucking cock. Love is a beautiful thing, eh?” I turned the Dudebot’s head toward the valet. They were real close when I asked, “Say, I don’t suppose you’ve been through a divorce, have you?” He rapidly shook his head, so I let him go and headed inside.
In the lobby, I nodded toward the front clerk, who looked at me and walked briskly toward a back room. Five minutes later, a man with a name tag reading “Manager” approached me as I waited, checking on the brochures for local attractions. Gun ranges, parasailing, shooting guns while parasailing…
“How may I help you, sir?” asked the manager.
“I am quite lonely and looking for some companionship,” I said.
“Perhaps you are looking for our massage parlor?” he suggested.
I shook the Dudebot’s head. “I’m more of a conversationalist. I was looking for someone educated, perhaps even important, to sit down and have a bit of back and forth with.”
The euphemisms really didn’t matter in so openly corrupt a city as Paradise, but a lot of criminals are still use to the affectation. Plus, it feels cooler. This manager went from having a potentially crappy day to feeling like he’s in a spy novel or something. Little did he suspect that what looks like an everyday rubber chicken is actually an ambulatory grenade. And hidden within my shoes is a device that, when moved at high velocity toward an opponent’s posterior, kicks their ass.
The manager scurried away. When he returned, I was ushered toward a special elevator in the back for more important guests who are goin’ straight to the top. Literally, it skipped most floors of the hotel. The manager hit a button only marked “Business”. The elevator door shot, but the elevator didn’t go up. The rear of the elevator, which appeared to be just another wall, slid open to reveal a smiling Japanese man flanked by a pair of guards. He bowed to me. “Psychopomp Gecko. At last, I have the honor to meet you myself.”
I returned the bow. “Japanese dude. Hey, what’s up?”
“My name is Mitchell Mori, and your timing is most auspicious.” He turned. His guards both parted to the side instantly, like water. Nah, water’s not that instant. They parted like instant soup. I went to walk along the corridor and Mori locked step with me, the two guards following after. The manager quickly pressed a button and closed off the elevator to me.
“My timing is not a coincidence. Where there are no problems, I create them, but where there are problems, I solve them. It is my contrarian nature,” I said.
He led me into a small office, sparsely decorated, but warm nonetheless. I think it was all the thick, dark brown wood. Something about being a woman makes thick wood more appealing to me for some reason.
The guards stayed outside, and he circled around to his side, waiting on me to sit down. Then it was time for pleasantries. Lip service at least. How am I enjoying the city, where am I staying, that sort of thing. Then he got into the good stuff. “I expect you are here because of our recent superhero problem?”
I leaned forward. “Superhero problem, you say? Tell me more!”
It seems a group of teenaged do-gooders arrived in Paradise City recently. They’re looking for someone, and in the process have found their way into visiting some shopping arcades, massage parlors, and hotels in the area. Being both superheroes and essentially children, their resulting attempts to find whoever they’re looking for have caused a few problems. And fires.
“Your presence brings with it an opportunity to stop these heroes with as little difficulty as possible. What do you propose as your price?” He folded his hands in front of him and looked onto two of my robot’s helmet’s eyes.
“Oh, I have just the thing, and it won’t even cost you any money,” I said to him before making my offer.
The thing about an extortion racket is that it’s so easy to put two and two together. A guy comes around and threatens you if you don’t pay protection. If you don’t pay, bad things happen to you. Nobody’s fooled. Reverse the order a bit and it gets easier to hide. Some group clearly unconnected to me goes around, making trouble and causing property damage. I’m already known to be in town, already known to help with just that sort of thing, and suddenly the victims are eager to be extorted. Of course, using the heroes means I only have a certain sort of control over them, but my qualifications speak for themselves. And I speak for them, too. Hell, it’s hard to get me to shut up about my qualifications. Have I mentioned I kill people today?
Across town, our five teenagers were just heading into an Italian restaurant. They were out of costume, though the Asian kid didn’t have one of his own. I’d tracked them there with something of a rough plan in mind. They went in to be seated and I sent my guy into the restaurant’s restroom. Despite the damage done to its leg, my Dudebot’s hologram systems were good enough to keep me unnoticed in there. It would have been serendipitous if the kid had noticed his own dad, but is this just real life, or is this just fantasy?
Real life, obviously.
The dad texted his son from inside the bathroom. The son raced off to go see him, not telling his friends anything more than “I need to use the john.” I didn’t follow him in. I’ve already seen how this movie ends. Something about not having the cash to pay for the pizza, so what other method of payment can he give his father?
With the son out of the way, it was my time to rough up the others a bit. Not a lot. Just enough. I walked on over to their table where I think the guy in the letterman jacket realized something was up. He squinted at me a moment before I slammed the table up against him. He bent back, the table rolling over him and out the window. It got one of the girls too, the black one. Always a good way to phrase things. “Hey, which person was it? The black one!” She had her headphones on and held her nose after the table had passed over them and out the window. The other one, the white girl who I’d last seen in ballet-themed spandex, she had ducked low. I gave her an easy kick in the face to bring up some tears and break her nose.
The Dudebot was knocked off its leg before I could put the other one down by a white and blue blur that knocked it into a wall. I pulled it out and turned it into a storm of fists courtesy the speedster of the group, Step. I threw a few to his midsection to get him to back off as I sped up the cybernetic portion of my brain and the Dudebot. Metal fists missed him by an every narrowing margin while he ducked and laid down his own punches, up until I caught one of his. His eyes bugged out in this “Oh crap” look before I squeezed down hard. I fired the eye lasers but he punched the Dudebot’s view to the side so it could just carve out part of the ceiling instead. A light fixture fell and hit a waitress who looked like she was just one day away from retirement.
If he wouldn’t let me blast him, I’d just have to give him a big ol’ hug. I pulled him in close and squeezed real tight. It felt like it lasted a long time, but that was the overclocking. In real time, it didn’t take that long at all until I was disappointed by having one of the robot’s arms pulled away. Step slipped out and returned to the side of his friends, who were recovering a bit. Plus, for my brain’s sake, I couldn’t keep running it that fast.
Hussle, the super strong guy with the football letter, threw the table I’d already thrown at me. Ugh, so derivative. I rolled under it and popped up beside a nearby table to grab a large bowl of salad I hurled at him. I also hurled a person on the floor tripped up by a chair who had previously been eating the salad. Lock, the ballet girl, tried to throw off my aim but did her little voodoo that she do too late. Made me look like I was doing a Sieg Heil and the person still went flying into a wall. Gotta wonder about a white girl whose first instincts are to throw up a Nazi salute when she’s in trouble. I had to fight it with my other hand, but my nosejob had worked on her after all. She had to stop and wipe her eyes.
My hands down, that’s when Step sped into me for another couple of hits, then zoomed off. Pop tried to knock me off-kilter with her sound shenanigans, but I turned the volume down and thus was not distracted when Hussle came barreling at me. He tried to get me low in a tackle, but I grabbed him around his waist from behind, picked him up, spun him around and around, then threw him down through a nearby table. He knocked down a running eater as he flew through the air. Breadsticks went everywhere. I grabbed an errant meatball out of air and threw it right at Lock as she readied another sound blast, but Step caught it in midair. He did the same to the breadsticks, the brea knife, a fork, a toddler, and a cheese grater, distracting him while I kicked a bottle of olive oil onto the floor.
He went skidding off, allowing me to successfully fill Lock’s mouth with my breadstick. Grabbing some linguine from a nearby plate, I walked over, kicked Pop away, and tied Lock’s hands around her back. Then I did one of those ballet lifts and tossed her onto a wine rack. She went from a dry white to wet and red in a hurry. Pop tried again to give me intense snapping and crackling sounds to hurt me ears, but I just smooshed a plate of chicken parmesan into her face. Hussle jumped and even though I turned, he managed to catch me in a bear hug. I projected a bright light into his face. “Go into the light!”
Now, in the middle of all this, one might be curious what the goal was. Why hadn’t I killed anyone yet? And what were those two guys doing in that bathroom?
While I elbowed Hussle in the gut and drove the air out of his lungs, my guy was hugging his son, sobbing like a baby and telling him how much he loved him and how proud he was of him. Yeah, I had the guy bugged in case he wasn’t loyal. It happens. “I want you to know that I can’t stay here anymore, but it’s not because I hate you. I would never hurt you. My fate is fixed, but your destiny is yet to be seized. But whatever you do, do not follow us. If you come after us, the Emperor will kill you. If you stay here, he will kill you. Go back to Abnormal and never forget that I love you.”
Meanwhile, I had Hussle upside down, giving him a wedgie and dunking his head in minestrone. I dropped him as things began to rattle and vibrate in the Dudebot. Pop was behind me, hands to her headphones, trying anything she can to help. She looked to be straining herself. I turned and flung a pizza pan, pizza slices flying off it, right at her neck. It doubled her over in time for me to hop over and gently toss her out through the already-broken window and onto the hood of somebody’s unfortunately-placed car.
The speedster, desperate and slick with olive oil, made one last try for me. I ducked under his reach and grabbed him by the back of his tights. I picked him up, smashed his head through another window, and just carried him along the whole wall like that, right through the few wall barriers between. I ended it by leaving him there, holding his legs apart, and kicking him right there in his little super testes.
When father and son left the bathroom, the son ran to see to his wounded but living friends. The father hurried out to disappear into the city and meet back up with me. A medical chopper was there in minutes to see to the injured teens. It wasn’t until they were halfway back to Abnormal that any of them thought to wonder why the pilot was taking them there instead of a hospital in Paradise City. In the end, they got the message. They’ve been sticking around there, likely nursing their first real injuries since becoming supers.
Mori was satisfied. Ouroboros was satisfied. As for me, I sent them each a cake in the shape and coloring of their butts. The video footage I had allowed ass-tonishing precision. And with each cake came a message written in frosting. “I hereby present you with your ass to commemorate the time I handed you yours. Love and snuggles, PG.”
Citra made it out just fine, it turns out. She’s barricaded herself in our rooms at the Bronze Palace, but he’s fine. My Dudebot’s making excuses for sending her back to Ricca, so I’ll see about getting her on a ship back over there when I’m not busy with more important things.
Like measuring my daughter for a new outfit, which is what I was doing when I got interrupted by official duties in the form of a messenger from the Directors.“Sir, the United States wants to talk to you. They are unhappy you set foot off the island in violation of the treaty.”
I rolled my eyes, patted Qiang on the head, and picked her up. “Come, my dear, it’s negotiate with that country that used to be a world leader.”
I spoke with a man with close-shaved hair and a hard face. He looked like they picked him for his ability to look angry and constipated. No wonder my guys said they were unhappy. I stepped up to the screen. “And who do I have the displeasure of wasting time on?”
“You’re in enough hot water as-is, you jumped-up carjacker. What are you doing off your island?”
I looked around, then down. I stomped on the ground a few times. “I don’t know where you think I am right now, but I seem to be on the island.”
He held up spy satellite pictures of me in Ricca fighting the Dimension Rangers and me in the Bronze City meeting the delegation. I glanced at them. “Do you have timestamps?”
“You know damn well we do so we can prove you-”
I reached over to put my and on the Giant Screen I’d been talking through, cutting off this guy with images of my own. They showed footage of the landing and of the fight, alongside footage of a Dudebot gladhanding people on Ricca. “As you can see, either I can be in multiple places at once, or you’re looking at a copycat. Perhaps some despicable doppelganger trying to sully my good name. I’ll have you know I would have you know I haven’t violated any treaty I’ve signed with your country and I am insulted by the implication. Not insulted enough to attack you or anything, but mighty peeved, I tell ya what.”
I was being honest, too. Beetrice forged my name on the original treaty, meaning I never signed it myself. Not that it matters, as I’m quite at fucking the truth sideways in the ass, but I like being able to lie while telling the truth. The best truths are the ones that destroy other people.
After my righteous indignation, the posterboy for frustrated abstinence pointed his finger through the screen at me. “One of you is a goddamn robot, that’s what it is. Probably you.”
I wasn’t in my armor, which made the statement all the more odd. Completely lifelike robots are extremely difficult to maintain. There are sound considerations, movements, smells, and keeping the skin alive. I raised my finger. “Qiang, honey, stab daddy’s finger.”
Qiang looked between the angry man on the screen and me. I smiled at her. She slid her knife out of her dress and held it overhand to gently prick my finger. I turned the prick toward the other prick. “Do I not bleed? Do I not have a loving and obedient daughter to take care of? Have I not recorded this entire conversation to present to the world if you try any of that He-Man macho preemptive bullshit? And before you say it, I know that wouldn’t stop you.” I smiled and chuckled, before looking him in the eye. “I would.”
I shut off the screen, then kissed Qiang’s forehead. “Good job, sweety. That’s what daddy likes to call ‘proof of life.’ See, sometimes people need to be sure someone is alive. Usually, that’s just a matter of holding up that day’s newspaper next to the person, but sometimes you have to resort to blood, or even body parts. Any questions?”
After our impromptu lesson on one of the basics of hostage-taking, I brought Qiang along with me to tour the water treatment plant. She decided she’d rather go play, so I dropped her off with Silver Shark to go find a Cao Cao’s Pizza. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese, but with a man in a Japanese samurai outfit who goes around cutting pizzas with his sword. They have lots of games for kids. I tried looking up their history, but the internet had nothing on them except for news archives about children disappearing.
See, this is why I taught my daughter how to kill people and employ a cyborg shark-woman as her babysitter. It keeps me from becoming one of those awful helicopter parents.
Anyway, the water treatment plant. It’s one of the more manageable aspects of my future plan. I was surprised I neglected this place in my first run-through of the island’s facilities. I mean, food’s doing ok. I believe they settled with the Scientologists. I sometimes see Old Man Hoodless roaring by the beach on his new speedboat. Power’s going well now that we’ve got multiple crews trained. I’ve approved the repatriation of the kidnapped nuclear plant crew via quietly dumping them in out of the way places on the Japanese mainland. But I haven’t had a crisis about water so far, and that’s actually pretty awesome.
Lots of systems are like that. The invisible cogs of the world that most don’t think about so long as they work. They can be a real fuckwaffle to fix or get started. That’s why I brought gift baskets for my visit. Sake, cheese, and some sort of medals the Director found for loyalty and hard work. They wouldn’t tell me which of the brothels sell gift cards, so I left those out.
It wasn’t a fancy operation. They had it parked on the south end of the island, right on the coast. Despite my good intentions, I suspect many of them were eager to swim away as I stepped inside to greet them. “Goooood morning my loyal aqua engineers! H2Oh boy aren’t y’all glad to see me? Water y’all doing this fine day?!”
Bad jokes are only a tiny part of the reason I went there to see the bright and shiny faces of the people keeping us hydrated. They didn’t have so many of the bright and shiny faces. Weary, sure. They pulled off confused and curious as well, but the place didn’t have much of a PR department. Then again, when your selling point is “Support us or have no water,” you don’t need a lot of tact to make a deal.
They had a mixed crowd of men and women working there, which is nice to see. They sent forward a man to represent them. “I am Shu, the spokesman for the Water Collective.”
“Collective?” I asked. “I am unfamiliar with y’all and assumed I’d be speaking with a manager or supervisor or something. Please enlighten me.”
Shu and I walked and talked as he took me on a tour of the water purification systems. They showed me the water treatment, ozone, and filters, and I pretended to be fascinated. It was still handy information to have in case I ever need it or need to help fix it, but it also wasn’t as cool as the laser room. Turns out they separate salt from water using a delicate process involving a large industrial laser. Some of the steam from that can be diverted to power an on-site turbine, which kept it self-sufficient while the power was off. They’re also selling the sea salt.
I nodded along hearing how it all came together in what Shu described as a wonderful and complex cycle of water up until they fired it off for me. I couldn’t help but get excited watching stimulated light boil the water into leaving behind salt crystals. “There are doors that close over there so we can get to the salt and access for maintenance… Emperor?”
Shu had to ask after me because I was hugging the observation window and emitting a high-pitched pleasure noise. “It’s ok. I’m just wondering if it has any penis-sized holes.”
“No sir, and we don’t like the laser breaking down,” he said. “But you are the Emperor.”
I unstuck myself from the observation window reluctantly as the laser powered down. I shook myself off to get the tingly feelings off the back of my head. “No, it’s fine, it’s fine. Still, I’m going to need a few things now.”
“We will do our best, sir. What can we get you?” asked Shu.
“I’m gonna need either a crapton of popcorn, or a secret agent. Even better, find me a secret agent and stuff him full of uncooked popcorn.” I was already looking up to find out where they popcorn grows and if we export any.
“I do not believe we can do this. Would you like to continue the tour instead?” he bowed, perhaps to hide his expression in the face of my reactions while also showing respect.
I nodded along with residual enthusiasm from the water-slaughtering death machine they’d demonstrated. “Sure, sure, I got ya. Listen, let’s just cut to the thing I showed up here for in the first place. What I need to know is if you have something already built to pump chemicals into the water supply.”
Shu raised his face back up, his smile failing to reach the corner of his eyes. “Of course. This way, my Emperor.”
It’s not really a surprise they built the place to do that, too. “Here it is, Emperor.” Shu presented me to a set of tanks hooked into the outgoing water supply. “These are the flouride tanks. We haven’t had flouride in them for years, though.”
“Flouride? I’m surprised Claw cared so much.”
She scratched the back of his head. “The rumors say a scientist told him he could use flouride in the drinking water to make people into mindless followers, when he was really a foreign operative meant to trick the Claw. The project did nothing but improve people’s teeth.”
“Interesting,” I said, climbing up to examine some of the tanks. All empty, but I think they’ll work. “Who did he work for? CIA? KGB? MI-6?”
“The American Dental Association,” Shu responded, getting a laugh from me.
“A dentist, eh? They stick him in a chair and take a drill to him for interrogation? Now that’s some poetic justice.” I rubbed my hands together, nearly salivating at the idea.
“No,” Shu answered, “The man had a cyanide tooth. They checked him for such, but the tooth was perfectly installed and eluded detection.”
“Well,” I said, slamming a hand down on the side of the tank. “These things are perfect, and tooth enthusiasts like that dastardly dentist may yet get their wish. I’ve got an idea. We’re going to inundate the local waters, you see. Special nanomachines that don’t quite operate the way the medical ones do.”
“Sir?” he asked.
I clapped my hands together. “Imagine if all you anyone needed to do to get over illness was enjoy water from the tap? Get over a cut off limb by soaking in a bath, even. It’s one of the first ideas I have in mind for improving things.”
The guy seemed a bit jumpy. He didn’t need to know about my planned instructions to mess around a bit with people bodies. See what I can do to impress some of those same abilities into people, much in the way I’ve upgraded my own flesh. I resolved to think more on whether it should all be controlled manually or subject to a program running experiments.
I had plenty of time to think about it after I left the treatment facility to head back to the palace and begin work on a child-sized suit of power armor. Unfortunately, the surprise was ruined when Silver Shark and Qiang burst in looking like they’d been in something of a tussle.
“Problem, dears?” I asked, smiling at them.
“We are never going back there again!” Silver said. I took it to be a normal allergic reaction to kid saturation until Qiang added to the conversation.
“They had robot animal samurai on a stage to play music, and then they let them walk around, and, and, and then one of them tried to take me in the back for a prize. He turned out to be a person in a suit with a knife, so I stabbed him, like this!” She demonstrated a hard, swift stab at the air in what would be crotch-level for a grown adult.
“Good girl!” I said, clapping for her.
“In your name, I beat the crap out of him and dropped him off at the base. If I didn’t have Qiang with me, I’d have taken my time,” Silver said. “You really need a police force to help with all this. You stay busy.”
“I have a lot I’m doing,” I told them. “Have to get the island ready for a brief absence, and that sounds like another area I need to work on.” And it’s true. I’m not just handling busy work. There’s much to prepare before I take my kid along with me to visit the United States. Speaking of, I may have to teach her to HALO jump.
I insisted I didn’t want a big ceremony. I was still insisting it as they uncovered a gilded statue of me. I still insisted, but, ya know, gilded statue. Quietly, I insisted. But still I insisted. Gold’s a bit tacky in those amounts… in the powerful curves of my armor… bringing to life the fierce expression on my helmet. Sometimes, you don’t realize how pretty something is until you see a giant version made of valuable metal.
The gilty party in question was a statue of my armor, since that’s how I appear to most people. I’m usually seen out and about in my armor, though the Directors insisted I make an exception. The people here are so confident in their newly-gained self rule that they completely blew off any ideas I had of making this a smaller affair. “It’s not every day that the Emperor marries,” said one guy with a really tall top hat. “You’ll look amazing in your regalia.” He smartly turned, clicking his heels together, and walked off.
“Regalia?” I asked, thinking to pictures of kings in pantaloons and heavy spotted coats, heavy crowns on their heads and holding orbs. “It better not be something where I end up holding some balls!” I hear they’re heavy, just like those big crowns, and I’m already picking up one ball and chain.
Ugh. I’m relying heavily on cliche here, but I have to watch how much things go that way. Cliche is predictable. Predictability is an easy way to die. So it was that I watched my back thoroughly when I stood at the altar in fancy robes, a sash forming an X across my chest. It was part of the tradition on Ricca.
I don’t know if they cared about Western wedding traditions, but I hit up the town for a night of strippers and blow anyway. I was awoken the next morning by the owner of the petting zoo, who found me in a cage with a pair of dead hookers and a pregnant goat. “It’s not what it looks like!” I said to the man, who stared at me like someone whose world had come crashing down. I tried to explain and pointed to the hookers, “They were already dead when I found them last night!” The goat licked my face then, so I pushed its head away and pointed to its very heavy belly, “And, uh, I’m pretty sure this thing was already knocked up.”
Somewhere there’s a pissed-off CIA section chief berating his spies, saying, “Do you know who this guy is? We need more than zombie prostitutes and interspecies erotica to hold over his head! That’s every goddamn Wednesday for him!”
At least the goat had been shaved lately. Elda’s people were a little behind the time in grooming standards for women.
As far as guests went, I invited all the people I was told were important. More than that, I had other guests I expected. A squad of Deep One militia had spotted a trireme while on patrol. They offered to go and blow it up with more mines, but I declined. I wouldn’t mind them rigging something to blow up the ship once the survivors of that little voyage set sail again, but the Deep Ones haven’t shown me they can be trusted to follow those kinds of orders yet.
They normally prefer weddings in real buildings, but they had to balance the importance of the occasion with the lack of a real palace. The Directors were more than happy to let us borrow their marquee. Fun fact: a really big tent is called a marquee.
Elda stood there with a white dress on, Chinese style with a high collar, a flower laurel in her hair. She’d actually bathed and allowed herself to be made up, and it improved on her looks.
They’d attempted to keep her as close to Riccan traditions as possible, but she’d resisted and clearly won the right to carry a knife with her. She’d made her point to the Directors about needing to sacrifice to her gods during the ceremony. And something about the two of us bathing each other. They worked in some of her traditions, and arranged for animal sacrifice beforehand. It gave the chefs time to sneak the corpse of the lamb to the kitchen. I checked the knife for blood regardless.
To get us to standing in front of the altar, I had to skip a LOT of drudgery. And, like everyone in the middle of getting married, I knew y’all were eager to skip to all the action. I most certainly was.
So I stood there, at the altar, looking uncomfortable, with some strange woman I don’t know holding my hands and looking into my eyes, joining her life to mine, or whatever things people associate with weddings. If I had to put a name to the feelings running through me at the moment, I would have said paranoia, frustration, and a desire to kill someone. But those are the standard ones I have all the time. Confusion added to it as I tried to consider the whole marriage thing and what the fuck it’s even for. I’m going to go with property rights as my final answer on that one.
Case in point, someone tried to give me an axe. Instead of being laid out on one of the tables full of gifts, it came in the hand of a sweaty muscled guy crashing through the top of the tent. It would have made quite the surprise if he wasn’t screaming. I instinctively pulled Elda close, but people probably mistook that for trying to shield her rather than myself. Vercingetorix turned the blade away from hitting her, which meant it missed me by happy coincidence. Perhaps as a consequence of him and his gang coming in from above, the tent started to collapse inward.
I turned to get Elda and I out, but a clang and a pain in my side preceded me getting lifted and thrown. When I landed, I have to say I was impressed. Standing up amidst falling fabric cutting off the view, I let the illusion of the ridiculous wedding costume disappear, revealing my armor. My unpenetrated armor, though it still hurt a little to get hit like that. That left Elda with Vercingetorix. She pulled her knife and took a slice at him.
Elda was dedicated to being an independent warrior princess. Too bad she sucks at fighting. Vercingetorix dodged her easily. He grabbed her hand and spun her around so that he was holding her cross her throat with just one hand. “You must come with me away from this place!”
“With you, the man who murdered my father?!” She kicked him in the balls before stomping down on his foot. He didn’t let her go, but then she bit down on his forearm and didn’t let up even after the blood spurted. Hey, I taught her that. Had to put a few guys on medical leave before she got it right.
The tent finished collapsing on us all and I had to tear my way through it. I saw a pair of lumps where Elda and Vercingetorix had been fighting and, past them, several members of the wedding party finding their way free. I wondered if people were going to find those complementary knives under all their chairs. Elda cut her way out. Vercingetorix behind her grabbed at the fabric, and I saw opportunity.
I ran forward as if to help Elda, and wrap her in my arms. My momentum, sadly, carried us a bit too close to the lump that was Vercingetorix. She tried to get out of my grip. “What- ah!” The tent tore, and skin with it. Elda’s legs collapsed under her but I still held her up as Vercingetorix stepped out for all to see.
“I can still save her!” I yelled, picking up Elda and starting to carry her away to the residence.
Vercingetorix seemed shocked for a moment, then perhaps more so at the arrival of a half dozen tank drones, twenty deep ones, a helicopter, and a cohort of pissed-off wedding guests with knives. It didn’t help when Silver Shark threw a bear at him and VelocityRaptor chucked another pair of accomplices at him. Almost as an afterthought, the wedding cake rolled over from the side and a bikini-clad soldier burst from the top with a battle cry, a pair of SMGs in his hands. Things went silent for a moment. It was a cry by the Bronze Man sailor that finally shook the barbarian into taking his friends and fleeing.
I was supposed to be looking after my bride, who I’d carried over the threshhold and then dropped on the floor like a sack of potatoes so I could watch. Intentional or not, the bear absorbed a lot of bullets and lasers before skidding to a dead halt. There was a bald woman with a snake wrapped around her neck. Her head popped like a melon. That left Vercingetorix and a younger guy whose clumsiness helped him dodge eveything my people sent at him. They were exposed, though, and it would be just a matter of seconds.
Until the old man in faded gray robes stepped out one of the depressions leading to the old palace basements and threw a bottle behind the barbarian and his remaining sidekick. It created this glowing blue wall that stopped everything. The pair of would-be heroes ran to meet him, but the old man collapsed on his way.
“Come on, people, go around the wall. Around, over, underneath, it’s just a piece of wall there!” I said to myself cut into the comms frequencies to yell at them. “Get around the wall and finish them off!”
‘I don’t know, sir, it looks like it’s starting to give under the assault!” said the voice of someone who wanted to be executed for incompetence.
“Go around the wall. Come on, there’s a fucking helicopter here, raise up a little higher!” I yelled. Behind me, Citra approached. She looked down on Elda, pity marking her borrowed features. They were no longer Venus’s features. Instead, she had the same strawberry blonde and tanned skin as Elda. I’d had the nanites give Citra better teeth and an unbroken nose, though.
“Can’t you spare her?” asked Citra, kneeling beside the would-be bride.
“If you’re already trying to change me, then you’re in for a rude awakening. More so than the other night,” I turned to her, trying to track the flight of the barbarian from orbit.
The helicopter was pursuing the sidekick and Vercingetorix, who had left the old guy behind. Vercingetorix threw his axe and suddenly the chopper veered off, the pilot reporting an axe lodged in the window and an urgent need for new pants.
“I agreed to that hole before,” Citra said, returning me to the conversation of rude awakenings. “I do not think I can change you, but I ask you, please. I have given up my identity for you. I give myself to you completely. As a wedding gift this once, I ask you show mercy to the one whose place I’ve taken.” She stepped up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. She nuzzled her cheek against my cape.
Eh, it won’t kill me be nice this once for someone else’s sake. I stepped out of her embrace and turned to go fetch the general medicalnanites for Elda, who had passed out from blood loss. The organs where that axe hit weren’t looking pretty either, but she was still, faintly, alive. I kept a large stock of the weaker Riccan variant around just in case I had such wounds. Then I carried her to Citra’s room, which she’d no longer be needing, where Citra had bathed in nanites to change her features. They would see to keeping her alive and keeping her incapacitated for long enough.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the damaged chopper had tried to land back at the miliary base, below which Qiang played safe in a bunker. The daredevil pilot figured a little axe throwing wouldn’t put him off his game. Throwing a pine air freshener around his neck to distract from the smell the last pilot left, he hopped in and gunned it for the barbarian’s ship.
They had reached it and were getting it ready for their escape as best as they could with only the two people. Of course the chopper could reach them and blow them out of the water. At least until the pilot’s targetting equipment scrambled. “Fire on that ship and there won’t be enough robots in the world that could put you back together,” said a voice over the radio.
I switched over to Intercept’s frequency. “Emperor, can you hear us yet? Please answer! The Ranger ship is at the edge of international waters.”
“Yes, with guns trained on what’s left of your palace, Gecko. Call off your pursuit.”
“You know you’re fucking with some treaties now. This is no business of yours.”
“We have broad authority over extradimensional threats, including those associated with the land that reappeared so close to your island. We also have a cannon we can fire first and apologize for using after you’re destroyed. Be glad we’re giving you a choice at all.”
I’ll have Vercingetorix yet, and those tights-wearing sons of bitches. In the meantime, I have to go make an appearance with a perfectly-fine Elda and finish my wedding, then send a delegation with the Bronze City sailor to inform them all of their new king and queen. Get them ready for our visit to the island. That part of the plan has worked just fine.
Now to secure the Tree of Wonders before it is used against me.
I know the island seems like one big lovefest at times, what with the drugs and orgies, but I’m not the one personally selling those things. But people are selling them. Despite the preparations for defense, we’re seeing increased traffic from all sorts. The airport’s having staffing problems, they’re so busy. Faust’s got themselves set up to sell things right out in the open. Others are hocking ill-gotten goods that justify international travel. The really enterprising people are selling smuggling services to get the stuff bought here into other countries. Now those are smart.
Not only would it be difficult to keep undesireables out, but it’s counter to the business and tourism strategy of Ricca. It’s hard to keep an eye on everything, especially with so many of the old security cameras damaged or vandalized. I saw prostitutes plying their trade around newcomers both fancy and blue-collar. I saw drug growers making deals with pilots and boat captains. At a Faustus/Hephaestus street booth, one of their salespeople offered a glowing orb in a diamond-shaped restraint to a man in a tailored suit. Another one used a monitor nearby to show off a plasma sword to a bunch of people who smiled high-fived each other approvingly.
Such a pleasant hive of scum and villainy. It’s almost easy to get lost in all the scheming and deals. I get a cut of much of it, though I’m sure I’ll have to run down someone who doesn’t want to pay. The really awesome thing would be if I could make it even easier to get here and back to anywhere in the world with people’s products. I’d really, really love to get my hands on that teleporter of Cape Diem’s and figure out how it works for just that purpose.
Until then, I’ve got a plan involving flying robots. But, dear reader, you may have guessed they have to wait until I solve this issue with Mu. And do something about that tree over there. A group of justice rangers who have had to repress their hatred of me are not the sort of folks I like being too close to a tree that grants wishes.
This Mu thing. Originally, it was about exploring and conquering it. Then that got hijacked by finding out more about it while fending off attacks. It’s still about conquest, though. Taking over it, neutralizing threats from Mu, and securing the tree so that it can’t be used against me. It was while watching the myriad of people going about their schemes that I realized I needed to be more proactive and less reactionary. I’m good at reactionary, but still.
So for the tree, I need to destroy it or, if that’s not possible, contain it in some way. Explosives are always an option, especially with all the plastic explosives floating around in our market. There’s bound to be some way to destroy this thing. If there isn’t, there’s the containment option. A dimensional bomb could do, if it would do. I mean that I dislike it being in anyone else’s hands in the multiverse. What if it were to end up on another Earth with another version of me? I can’t be trusted with that kind of power. That’s why I must possess it or prevent anyone else from getting their damn, dirty paws on it.
I think I can handle ending the threat of the island and conquering it with related actions. Vercingetorix is coming, and eventually the Bronze City will have its fleet rebuilt to try again. Vercingetorix the barbarian might be on the island already, in fact. There’s plenty of wilderness on the western and northwestern portion of the island, and only so much I can look at. I need to draw him out.
That brings usback to the Bronze City and their Bronze Men. They don’t have much, but they have manpower. Note to self: don’t use that term near too many of the gay ones. They’re pretty old-fashioned. If they’re anything like the Classical Greeks, they’ll have primitive notions of consent. And bestiality. I’ll have to remember that bestiality point if I ever have a feast over there. When a person eats, they like to think nobody stuck a dick in their food.
So what to do about the Bronze City? Rule it, of course! I talked all about it with Elda, Princess of the Bronze City.
“Hey there, mopey pants,” I said, poking my head around the corner to look into her cell. “Are we going to meet the sun today?”
Elda held up well, all things considered. She sat on her bunk, deep in thought. Irritation flitted briefly over her features when she turned to look at me. “You look less ready for war this day, while I am ready to fight one,” she said.
I stepped in and moved to sit beside her on the bunk. She didn’t move her hand away when I set my own on top, which was a good sign. “I know it’s hard when your father dies. As much as you disagreed with him, he still meant so much to you. More than that, you are his heir. All the responsibilities he hoped he could prepare you for are now thrust upon you.”
Her hand clenched under mine, into a fist. “My claim means nothing on its own. My father insisted I learn the games politicians play, but only a king may rule the Bronze City. I told him I should not have to stayin the palace and learn these things if I can not rule and use them. He said that would become clear to me and that a good ruler was different than a hero from the tales. I threw those words back in his face the night I escaped…”
The sentence drifted off, but she took my hand in hers. She held back the sobbing, but not the tears. Then I held her. After several minutes of her calming down and even cuddling against me, I spoke up, “I may have a solution to your problems.” She punched me in the gut when I went for the kiss, but she DID listen to the rest of it.
“So, as you may realize, I’m something of a big deal. I mean, the whole world revolves around me a lot of the time. Yep, totally. But I’m also Emperor. It’s like a king, but better. But I’m an unmarried emperor, which causes people to get a bit jumpy. An unmarried emperor is one accident away from having a bunch of people fighting over my chair. It’s a nice chair, and we’ve even added this memory foam to the cushion, but a lot of people worry there might be someone worse out there to end up with. Others think that fighting over the place will end with buildings destroyed, people stampeded, and cattle raped.”
She nodded understandingly. Really not eating the meat over there, then.
“And you know I am a different sort of man than the ones you have grown up around. This is a chance for you to decide your own fate. If I were the king of the Bronze City, well, you know I have my own land to rule. You could rule the Bronze City in my stead, if you were my queen.”
She looked me right in the eyes. “Why should I trust you?”
I looked right back. “Because the sort of evil and ambitious person who murdered your father has seen fit to declare himself my enemy. Because I tended to your wounds, allowed you freedom even as a captive, and because I am making this your choice. Not mine. Not your father’s. Not Vercingetorix’s.” I’m so glad I wasn’t speaking English for that last sentence.
I had another thing to show her regarding my trust. She didn’t want to be blindfolded, so instead I threw her over my shoulder and held my hands over her hands as I jumped to our destinated, her screaming all the while.”You didn’t wanta blindfold!” I shouted by way of explanation.
When I finally set her down, she tried to kick me and back away. Except then she started to fall off the side of the building, because I’d jumped up to one of our higher buildings. I grabbed her arm and yanked her back up to me, holding her still with my arm around her shoulder. “Look.”
“We’re so high up.” She kept looking down, so I reached over to hold her chin up and force her to look out over the city.
“This is a part of my empire. You ask why you should trust me enough to marry me and make me King of the Bronze City? Because you would be Empress of Ricca. This goes both ways.”
Ya know what’s a great way to lure an old-fashioned hero out of hiding? If the evil emperor holds a lavish wedding to the damsel in distress. Almost always causes an attack. And that very sound logic is what allowed me to eventually bring the ladies around to my way of thinking.
“I swear, she means nothing to me!” I told Citra back in the residence, ducking a vase thrown by Beetrice. Silver Shark held Qiang in one hand and threw a pillow at me with the other. I knew no one would mean my kid harm, but that courtesy didn’t extend to me at all in this instance. Citra cried and grabbed a knife. I held up my hands. “The wedding will not go through!”
She stopped a few feet from me. “You’re sure?”
I stood back up, glad I no longer had to stop entertaining this amusing reaction by laying some hurt on her. “Positive. Vercingetorix is in the area. He may be on the island already. He’ll find out about it and crash the wedding. It’ll be disrupted and left incomplete while we all beat him up. In order to better cause this to happen, I’m going to have them install some sort of environmental hazard, like a bottomless pit or a volcano.”
“You won’t marry her?” Citra asked to be sure, pouting with Venus’s face.
I patted her on the head. “Of course not.” Then, looking over to Beetrice, I said, “Listen, Beetrice, it’s nice that someone is as happy to see me as you are, but there’s nothing between us but raw sexual chemistry. I’m looking for more than that.”
Silver started to open her mouth in response but I cut her off, “Actually, I’m not looking for more than that. I’m looking to not get married at all, but everybody’s making such a big deal about it and I don’t feel like resorting to extreme measures to make my distaste known. Either way, Beetrice, you’ve grown into a fine leader without me. You clearly possess cunning and a strong will to have held together your rule of North Korea and negotiated for my continued freedom. You have my gratitude, and a few hundred of my kids.”
Beetrice ran over past Citra and hugged me. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” On the plus side, I needed my back cracked that well. She set me back down gently and backed away.
Silver ahemed and nodded toward Citra. I addressed the shark cyborg first. “Silver, I like having you around, and you know how much I enjoy your enhancements, but we’ve already talked about how bad I am at being part of a couple.”
“Finally,” I said, drawing Citra close. “I am not a good man. I’m not even always a man. But you helped me deal with the Claw and stood by me during all that’s happened since then. Qiang likes you, and you were willing to give up your face for me. That says a lot to me.” It really does. Corrupting a woman into being willing to do that just to get with me? Rawr.
I reached back behind me and under my shirt. I had to toss aside a few knicknacks from visitng the bazaar. A pack of super trading cards that I hope has one of me, a pair of electro-grenades, and a laser-etched anti-personnel chainsaw. Don’t ask how I held that last one back there, but I have amazingly strong cheek muscles. Finally, I pulled out a finely-engraved gold comb. It featured a gecko on the end of it, a tiny Earth of jade and blue diamond held within its mouth.
I reached up, did up Citra’s hair, and slid it into place. Then I looked down at her purple face, leaned in real close to her ear, and said, “Don’t forget to breathe.”
She looked so happy, I felt a little guilty. I’ll screw it up at some point. But hopefully I won’t have to kill Citra like I’m going to do to Elda at the wedding I’m rushing through in a few days’ time. If the ceremony doesn’t make people cry, the funeral surely will.
I have good news and bad news. Mostly on the good side of things. But first, let’s get into the disposition of my forces.
I didn’t just recruit Deep Ones to try their flippers at VR robot piloting. I recognized they represented an amphibious force. Sure, they weren’t as good on sea and land as Seals, but they’d do adequately for fighting people so far back down the tech tree that they haven’t even researched “Not Dying For Beginners”. Good book, by the way. Sadly, the author passed away before he could write “Advanced Not Dying”. Auto-erotic asphyxiation, though his wife insists it was research.
So I made the rounds among those I’d convinced to come over to the dark side and asked these ill-bred fishmen if any of them have any combat experience at all. Some raised a fin, others didn’t. Some raised and lowered it. “What seems to be the major malfunction here?” I asked.
They looked between themselves before a couple tried to speak up. One quickly yielded the floor to his fellow frog man, whose Australian accent was more subtle. Brisbane, maybe? “We had monthly drills. No one fought for real, like sparred. Just in case the war against humanity started up and we swept across the dry lands to tear your civilization asunder, Mr. Emperor, sir.”
“I’ve heard of worse,” I said.
“They said it would be self-defense,” he continued. I think it was a he. I’m a bit rusty on my sexual dimorphism of amphibians. “But they taught us how to murder lone stragglers so we could ambush a funeral party, or attacking and occupying where people grow food and raise your domesticated beasts. There was very little actual defense in it.”
“I get the point,” I said, raising a hand to forestall more reminiscences. “I don’t think much of that is going to be useful this time around. These guys who are about to hit us, I think we can take ’em out before they ever become a threat. We kinda have to, most of the navy went rogue back when everything on the island collapsed. Anyway, I figure you guys are good at swimming, you can handle being in the water, and their ships are made of wood.”
I pointed over to where a couple of the regular soldiers wheeled out a crate. “I need y’all to swim these things on over to the ships and stick them to the ships however you can. You don’t even need to go aboard. Below water level’s actually ideal here. They’re actually land-style mines, but they’re engineered to be waterproof, with several glowing reviews.”
I was surprised to find one of Ricca’s exports are the “Soon The World Will Be” mines. The mine business is a tricky thing, since they’re kind of a war crime and infamously the bane of countries for decades afterwards, but they do see some supervillain use. Maybe put a field around areas you don’t want people to wander on your private island, or down a corridor you don’t want to assign guards to in your underground lair. Soon The World Will Be mines have a world-class reputation for dependability and versaility, being waterproof, difficult to tamper with and disarm, and a wide range of triggers. They even come with dude mode, where a mine detects someone on proximity, then activates a time delay. Just when they think they’re safe, kablam!
Coming soon to a black market near you. Not recommended for children 2 years and under due to choking hazard. Ask your mad doctor if Soon The World Will Be mines are right for you.
It took away from VR training time, but explosives training is one of those things that has to be done right if done at all. When it goes boom, you DO get more than one chance to make a good first impression. The problem is, if you make a bad impression, you make a good crater. That’s why so many hands-on courses on the subject end up full of high scores.
When they were done, I called over an officer. He gave me a salute and a bow. “They have much to learn, but we will not fail you, Emperor.”
“I’m sure you won’t. Have y’all seen Silver Shark anywhere?” I asked.
“We have not been informed if she is on mission for you, venerated one.”
“I didn’t send her out on one. She got huffy the other day, and I want to find her before she becomes Silver Pufferfish.”
“The Pufferfish was a thorn in the side of the great Empire of Ricca in the seventies, the histories teach us,” he responded, and seemingly oblivious to the pun. Maybe that was something gained in translation.
“Yes, well I just wanted to know if y’all had seen her. Do not organize a search party. This is something personal between her and myself.”
We gave them a crash course, or perhaps a blast course, then sent them off. The Deep One demolition team was to swim out to Mu and wait near the harbor of the Bronze City. When the fleet set sail, our guys were to follow them until they got drowning distance from land, set up the mines, and sink the whole lot of them. Also, maybe bring back a prisoner or two. I’m curious what happened with Vercingetorix. One day, he’s headed to the city with a ragtag band of misfits. The next, nothing. I counted all the ships in the harbor and they hadn’t been stolen, either.
While the Deep Ones swam out to use modern military gadgets on a bunch of triremes, I searched for Silver Shark. I’d originally expected her to come back after her anger subsided, but she ended up staying away from the residence. I went about checking for her by myself, aided by my ability to connect to a number of hidden surveillance cameras planted around the island. I ended up finding her in a bar. One of the more plebian bars. A small, dirty, smoke-filled place where people come to drink, forget, and see if anyone’s desperate enough for a fuck. A fun place to play cards or settle a bet over who can gouge out the most eyes.
When I walked in, there was a brief dip in chatter before people began talking more quietly to themselves. My armor was rather distinctive, marking me as that weird Emperor guy who would actually go into a bar like this, meant more for the regular folk.
“Hey there, sugarcookie,” I said, sliding up beside Silver and taking a seat. The bartender hurried over, and I gave him my order, then told him to leave us alone after he dropped off my sake. Silver glanced over at first, but didn’t attempt to fling me away. Yet another good reason I wore the armor. “You haven’t been back.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I’d say we had some different ideas about the kind of relationship we were in, but that implies I have good ones. I must confess, I’m pretty terrible at relationships.”
That got a short “Ha!” from her. Then she hung her head. “You’re the only one I’ve had in a long time. Most men don’t look at me that way.”
“Their loss. Some people just don’t know what beautiful is. But, listen, it’s not you. It’s me. I’m an asshole. And, even if I did care about anyone as a friend or more, there are some pretty big risks to letting people know about that. A hero might use someone’s identity to extort me, or some street vigilante might go around and kill someone just for having a connection to me.”
“I know, I’m a villain too, remember?” she said, shooting me a look with the void-like depths of one of her replacement eyes.
“Yeah, but you’re not hated by almost the entire world for threatening to kill like, half of them. I mean, I saved them all twice, at least. Three times if you count Cthulhu. What do I have to show for it?”
“Your own island and country,” she answered. “All the wealth within it. A blanket amnesty. The love of beautiful woman. Groupies. Your own private army of unquestioning minions. A giant bee woman.”
“I have groupies?” I asked. I mean, yeah, probably. Fucking Charles Manson has fans, and I have much better facial hair, so why not?
After a moment of silencewhere she didn’t elaborate on the groupies, I just added.”Moving on… I’m not the settling down type. I got issues. I don’t have any desire to marry anyone, but I can see how people see it as important now that I’m a public figure. Which… oooh, those damn toy companies can do whatever they want with my image now, can’t they? Son of a bitch. But if it wasn’t for this big dynastic thing, I wouldn’t get hitched. Hitching slows ya down, and I wanna be free to hop from place to place.”
“Oh god,” she said, facepalming. “Don’t-”
“You’re in my world now, not your world,” I stood and began singing, music issuing from my armor. “And I got friends on the other side!” I looked around to find the rest of the bar ducking and covering, rather than joining in on a magical musical adventure. I cut the music. “Spoilsports.”
“What kind of world do we live in where you lead a country,” Silver said.
I sat back down. “The United States elected-”
She raised a hand. “I got it. Ugh. Don’t even say the name. Point made forever.” She turned to me then, not speaking, but occasionally opening her mouth as if to start again.
I dove in for us. “Tangent over, about us. You and I, and our relationship. I saw it as a more casual thing but never got your take on it. You saw it as more serious, in which case I cheated on you. Repeatedly. Like, a lot. Look at me, Silver. I’ve sucked more Korean cocks than… hold on, I need to look up a Korean porn star.”
“As if you don’t know any already,” she remarked.
“Beside the point. Listen, you’re welcome back at the palace. As far as things between us go, I liked us being friendly with one another. If that involves the occasional roll in the hay, I’m fine with it. Besides, you’re a good example for my daughter. She might ask me for laser eyes one day if she sees how cool you look.”
She smiled at that. “You don’t deserve her or Citra.”
“I don’t deserve lots of things. It’s not a just world. To quote a certain Goblin King, ‘Fair? I wonder what your basis for comparison is.’ Yeah, Citra shouldn’t want to marry me. She shouldn’t have done what she did for me, either.”
“Damn straight,” Silver said.
We had a pleasant time talking, and though she came back to the palace with me, she didn’t crawl into my bed. A quick check showed Beetrice splayed out on my sofa, Qiang asleep on a pile of stuffed animals in the middle of the living room, and a doppelganger of my nemesis waiting for me in my bedroom.
Lifestyles of the rich and evil.
Of course, my brief contentment didn’t last long, as the next day would bring with it the news that the Deep Ones didn’t listen. They swam all night, took one look at all the boats, and figured they would go ahead and set up the bombs where no one could see.
“Emperor,” one of them groveled before me at the base. “The plan was flawless. But then we heard a clatter from the docks. A large man threw guards into the water, where they saw us. He had with him a great bear, a bald woman who moved without making a sound, an old man with wild hair and beard who threw exploding bottles, and an ordinary-looking man saved from injury by amusing slapstick instead of fighting. Together, they overtook one of the ships we had not set to blow and made off. We could not pursue, as the guards were busy attacking us with pikes and discovering our sabotage. We were forced to blow up as many ships as we could there in shallow water. Please, Emperor, have mercy on your humble subjects.”
Well, that’s good. Always nice to have a military fiasco on my hands. A bunch of ships down in the shallow water of a harbor, with most of the men who would have been on them still unharmed and able to fight. If I know how the universe works, the people that escaped were likely Vercingetorix and friends, which makes it worse. “Disappointing. Did you at least get me a prisoner?”
A captain or some sort of equivalent rank snapped to attention. Duizhang, I think they call this one. “Sir, the prisoner has is in our holding cells. We were careful to keep him separate from your other prisoner.”
I nodded to him. “That is acceptable. Find a way to have her find out about him and visit him. Don’t permit an escape, but she can have news of what has developed in her homeland since her capture.” He saluted and started to move off, but I raised a hand to press against his chest and stop him. “And see to it that we find the ship that escaped. Vercingetorix will no-doubt find some suicidally heroic opportunity to attack us. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I turned to look at the Deep Ones as I spoke next. “I must go see the Directory about allocating land to our newest veterans.”
That caused them to droop, knowing I would uphold my end of the bargain after they went against my orders and kinda failed. Because their immigration package to Ricca now includes a guilt trip.
Dear readers, you’ll be happy to know that VelocityRaptor did in fact result from an attempt to copy Veloci-Raptor. I talked to him about it when I visited him in the hospital, recovering from his wounds. They’d had to proceed a little more slowly with his recovery because of the cybernetics and exoskeleton. I brought him dinner one night while checking on him and asked after it. “Veloci-Raptor attacked a heroin ring my brother was caught up in. Vien told me he tried to escape when a feathered blur in a cape threw him into a wall. The police got him. Three days later, hours after I visited and promised him I would do everything I could to get him free, the underboss had him killed because he might have talked.”
A nurse stopped by to check on Raptor at this point, as they’d detected a change in the villain’s heartrate. Raptor clenched his jaw and put up with the brief check before continuing, though the nurse hurried out as fast as he could to escape the two angry, armored cyborgs. “Vien never would have done that. He would have been loyal, but they were not loyal to him. I knew where he went, so I snuck in and stole. Soon, I had enough for the first surgery, and I took more from them. I heard about The Claw’s people and met with them. They were intrigued by my story and decided to upgrade me. As a show of loyalty, I helped them take over the heroin ring, and killed the underboss who had Vien murdered. I knew when I started on this path that would not, could not be enough to avenge Vien. Veloci-Raptor will remember my brother if I have to carve his name into its scales until there is no unmarked inch of space left on its hide.”
I nodded. “Sounds like you’ve got a powerful flame burning in you. It would be a shame for it to be extinguished before it could consume Veloci-Raptor.” I don’t have anything against that particular hero, though it’s fun to note how much differently the situation would have been handled by a villain. If I went in, I’d have tried to kill people, not wound and capture. No need to get the cops involved. If Raptor’s brother had survived, he clearly wouldn’t have been at risk of testifying against the underboss, so he wouldn’t have been murdered.
After that little black heart to black heart, I went to check on our prisoner. The strawberry blond damsel we’d brought back had been put into decent enough health by the nanites, which at least confirmed she was human. Confirmation of her species was not shared by the guards, the highest ranking of which stepped over to respectfully warn me she’s a spitter. I patted him on the shoulder and assured him I’d faced spitters, swallowers, and all sorts.
When I stepped up to the cell, I saw her looking like a tired, cornered, angry mess in the corner. She spat at me. The spittle hit the fangy grin of my helmet’s front mask. I calmly wiped it away with one gaunlet. “You know what this means now?” I asked in the language she appeared to speak. We’d recovered the data, as well as most of the bodies, from the camp after I sent a second flight over. Some had been pecked at, and others had been dragged off, but nothing over there bothered with the strange plastic and metal.
She stood up and moved so that she stood with her back to the center of the wall opposite of the cell’s entrance. I gestured to the guards to open the door. They looked at me like I was crazy. I imagine that look sounded somewhat different a minute later when they heard the spanking start. I mean, it was my armor. She wasn’t overpowering it. I grabbed her when she tried to kick me in the balls and bent her over my knee, then pulled down that leather skirt of hers and began popping her on the ass cheeks. “No spitting!” I stopped every few spanks to see if she’d learned her lesson. When she spit, she got hit.
Just perfectly innocent stuff. Nothing raunchy at all. The fact that I pulled her hair in a couple of times in the middle of it is incidental. After a few minutes, I stopped to check on her camel-like behavior. She was crying, but hung her head and didn’t spit. “Good. You are learning. For that, you get a treat.” I reached back into a pouch on the back of my belt and pulled out a cup of delicious chocolate pudding. It took her a moment to learn how to open it up, but then she started tongueing that cup hard.
I just sat there as she ate it, watching her. Now, of course, I’m not one to go around feeling attraction to humans. Disgusting species. Have you ever looked at one for long and realized how weird their noses are? I mean, there’s no visual difference between my own evolutionarily superior species and homo sapiens, but they sometimes hit the uncanny valley when I think about them. In spite of that, my armor just happened to rub me the right way so as to cause a minor blood pressue issue in the groin region.
“I am Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca,” I told her. Now, I thought I told her next that I would take all of Mu for myself and she should use her time wisely to make her peace with it. She cocked her head, confused by it. To me, this suggested a translation error. “Can you tell me the meaning of what I just said to you? I believe the translator failed.”
“All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive. Make your time.”
The additional data helped my personal translator program make up the difference. “Good. Yes, soon I shall take over your land.”
“Do you know who I am? My father would never allow you to take his kingdom!”
I shrugged. “I don’t care what he would allow, I just know what I’m going to go. Are you some sort of princess?”
“I am Elda, daughter of Garth, who is King of the Bronze City and the Bronze Men who are hundred deep and a hundred wide,” she boasted.
I poked at her mouth, but she moved away. “Your people haven’t invented braces, I see. It’s metal you attach to your teeth to force them into a straigher position. Also, a shame about your nose there.”
“I wear my scars proudly,” she said. “I will prove myself the equal of any man.”
“I mean, you didn’t. You got caught, then rescued by that big guy. Was he the man you’re promised to or something?”
“Vercingetorix is a barbarian from the Central Wastes. He is a warrior known far and wide throughout the land. That you do not know of him shows your stupidity and arrogance.” She almost spat the words at me, but left it at words.
At the risk of my penis becoming, perhaps, too erect, I really wanted to cut this meeting short and find the nearest of any of my suitors, or even Silver Shark again. That’s not a knock on her. She rejected me, and I can’t help but feel that the cheating had nothing to do with it, considering all the dicks I sucked in North Korea to get that country straightened out. Perhaps most people wouldn’t consider that to be “straightening” out a bunch of guys, but I stand by my actions.
“Were you expecting his help?” I asked, returning to the interrogation. In my head, I started thinking of stuff to de-mortify lil Gecko. Soccer. Seafood. Rainboots. Wait a second… well, ya learn something new about yourself everyday.
“He’s likely after a reward. My father will certainly have offered a bounty for my safe return before he marries me off to whichever merchant or foreign leader he needs the aid of.” Having grown somewhat comfortable with me around, she went to lay down on the cot fixed against the wall of her bunk. She quickly adjuster herself when her ass reminded her of the spanking.
I nodded. “I hear you. I prefer the idea of marrying for love, for some reason.” Now I cocked my head as an idea occurred to me. “Probably because I’m likely to let my spouse die or kill them myself unless I actually like them for some reason. But enough about me. Your life sounds fascinating. Tell me all about it.”
It might be surmised I was looking to get jiggy with her, which is certainly a biological response I had. After all, it pays to be a good listener around a potential partner, especially if you’re looking to get on their good side. Really, it always pays to be attentive to what people say for things to exploit or use against them, but that also means manipulating them with gifts or even showing you care by remembering basic information about their lives. Especially when that person ran away from home to try and be Xena: Warrior Princess.
She knows customs, legends, and myths. She also knows what this Bronze City and its Bronze Men look like. I’m getting a general hoplite vibe from her descriptions, so I’ll have to be careful not to attack with a million men in wicker-clad power armor. I sat and talked with her. Elda didn’t exactly swoon for me, but she seems to tolerate my presence. I responded by sending over some better pillows and blankets for her. A carrot, though I doubt she’ll let me do anything to her with my stick.
I returned to find Silver Shark pacing in front of the residence. She stomped up to me. “About time!”
I held up my hands, but otherwise headed for the door. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, just that reconaissance flights of Mu show armies gathering and navies being built, including in a big northern city that has a lot of metalworking. That hunky guy you pissed off has been spotted riding a big ass bear and gathering a team. And then there’s what Citra did.”
That caused me to stop. “What did Citra do?” I turned back to Silver Shark.
“What she thinks you wanted,” she said. Silver crossed her arms. “You better not hurt her.”
I facepalmed. “Hurting people is what I’m good at. Why does anyone expect any different? I mean, I hurt you by fucking a single pirate chick, even though I somehow didn’t hurt you when I sucked off half of Pyongyang’s military.”
“What?!” she said. Her mouth opened and closed, quite like a fish actually, before she processed it enough to go on. “You bastard!” She raised a claw, then stopped, then shook her head and walked off. “I need some time before I do something I’ll regret!”
Is it any wonder I decided to build an remote-control duplicate to take my place around hostiles? Especially with how good I am at making people hostile?
Inside, I found rose petals on the floor, with a note in beautiful calligraphy. “Beetrice is trying to win your heart by entertaining your daughter. Follow the roses.”
They led to my bedroom and what appeared to be Venus in those red and gold robes of Citra’s. She spoke in Citra’s voice, using the local language, as well. “Hello, my Emperor.” Well, you could say it wasn’t just the floor where something rose.
I can prepare for war against barbarians any day. Actually, Citra gave me an idea. Well, an idea beyond wheelbarrow position. Like, what if I take one of the robot drones they’re building and coat it with flesh and muscle so it resembles the barbarian, then send it to assassinate the leader of the resistance against me?
The only way this plan gets any better is if I could use time travel for it.
The expedition is away, an armed force of security, workers, and VelocityRaptor for superhuman support. I would have preferred to send some scientists away, but I have yet to see them return to the island. Instead, I just have this bickering around here. It’s like fucking Conan around here, nothing but the lamentation of my women. Except Qiang, of course. It was all too tedious. I considered killing them all, too. I’d moved back in, because I’ll be damned if they’re going to inconvenience me that much. They walked through, bickering, trying to show off how they looked in dresses to make up my mind.
The whole thing messed with me reading Dr. Seuss to Qiang. It was meant to be a prelude to a later unit on post-World War II Japan and teaching her the famed wrestling hold, The Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gradunza. Instead, we had to practice our “Don’t fuck with me” glares. When the three ladies backed off, I turned and smiled at her Qiang. “Good job, sweetie. Did you see the way they stopped in mid-sentence and everything?”
She giggled at that and we returned to our lesson, though the gradually increasing bickering from the rest of the residence left me with the choice of murder or changing locations. So I threw on the ol’ armor and we headed out to the Institute of Science. I could have taken her on a walk around the island, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Everything felt combative, like I couldn’t stay still. Like I needed to beat the crap out of someone and kill. Instead, I took my kid where I could give her some lessons on understanding her connections to the digital world. I hadn’t gone over it with her as much as I’d have preferred.
Growing up with these kinds of abilities, I had time to get used to them. They were a part of me. It’s like the difference between people who grew up with computers and someone who doesn’t have any idea about them and suddenly gets one. It’s not an insurmountable handicap, but the person who grew with it has a lot of instinctual knowledge. There’s a reason superheroes who get powers aren’t instant experts in their usage. I taught her more about her new heritage, which is pleasantly strong in someone who is now a halfbreed.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, mostly because I haven’t done much thinking on the subject. Despite all my talk about hating people on a deep, personal level, I am biased against homo sapiens. They sometimes look gross, and they’re backwards, and they’ve done horrible things to homo machina in general and specific. Maybe I could make Qiang entirely homo machina. Or maybe change the rest of the DNA in her to a more suitable mother to have a child with me.
I wonder what Venus is up to? Just a random question, of course. Completely out of nowhere, without connection to prior statements. But since I thought of her, I figured I’d see about a nice present to send her, showing I’d been thinking of her. I found it as I searched through a computer in one of the offices of the Institute of Science while Qiang played with a monitor she was connected to. “I’ll be right back, baby girl,” I told her. “You keep playing around with that. See if you can make it look really weird.”
I considered grabbing something from infectious diseases. I even stared at the door a bit. Yep. Big, heavy door, sealed, with all kinds of warning signs. There were no windows. I found a computer on the outside. After a reboot, it couldn’t give me any specified status information on the interior of the laboratories inside the whole section. After a bit of searching, I went ahead and ordered a purge. It showed me an image of flamethrowers turning on.
Unleashing uncontrolled pathogens will just have to wait. Nasty business, anyway. The Claw probably didn’t worry so much since he was so utterly inhuman as to not be affected, but I guess I’m close enough to humans for interbreeding. Never occurred to me that was the case, but that’s kinda how evolution works with emerging mutants. They gotta fuck someone.
They had a section specifically focused on drones and robotics, but on a lark I decided to check out what they’d managed as far as chemical warfare and drugs. Those two were in different places, but I’d gotten administrative access to the network that let me see what the different hands had been doing once upon a time. So many different groups working on projects related to each other without ever knowing it. A drug to cause temporary paranoia with specialized storage conditions. A design for a drone with a sprayer and holding tank designed to meet those unique conditions.
Destroyed. Something went wrong in that part of the complext. Looked like there had been some fires.
Or, and this was cool, a few projects all centered around bugs. They have a section called Entomological Warfare, which almost unleashed a project to hold the world’s agriculture hostage during the Great Depression by unleashing bugs on what was left of the usable farmland, starting with a test in the United States. World War II happened at first, and Ricca was caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Bugs are dead, and records of storage were lost.
Normally, I’d pin this all on the world hating me specifically, but that’s really not the case. Shit happens. That’s reality for you. If you want a unifying theory of why history unfolds the way it does, shit happens is the only thing an honest historian could give you. And I do have it nice. I keep getting away with this shit, day in and day out. I’ve lost friends, experienced more pain than most people could while living, and the entire world has nuclear-fucking-fireballs just ready to turn this island into a useless piece of charcoal, but I still got away with it. I’m the leader of a fucking nation.
Now that I’m a political leader, I could round up everyone wearing glasses and murder them. I could withhold food from people of any category. When they’re my own people, it’s fine. It’s ok. I could just keep breaking this place. It wouldn’t surprise people. Hell, they might even be counting on it. Give them a reason to pull those triggers, especially if there’s nothing left on this rock but all the people the crazy Psycho Gecko sees fit to let live.
Ugh, I gotta stop ranting like this. This is the way I start talking before I start killing people for their own good. For some reason, people don’t listen to your reasoning after the first round of murders. I wonder if I can kill that instinct out of people?
Geez I need a hobby. Hell, maybe I should marry Beetrice. If I’m busy screwing her, I’ll be less likely to screw everyone else. Thoughts for later. I had to scrounge up parts. Instead of having a bunch of doomsday weapons handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve got to build something instead! Perhaps something that shoots serrated silver platters at people…
Instead, brought what I grabbed up to the office to put together my diabolical little deathbot. I was putting together a nice ball drone with the ability to roll around and a few limbs inside to help it maneuver up stairs, along with a pair of holodiscs to help mask it. I wasn’t sure on the weapons, what with all the problems this thing would face getting into the States, so I settled on an age-old classic: knives.
With the agility I’ve given this thing, it could play esports on a South Korean level while stabbing people at a Jack the Ripper level. If I didn’t trust this thing to go homicidal, I’d give it a try at making fries. It’ll basically attack anyone on sight. And once I get it sent to Venus, she can go fuck herself at a Vlad the Impaler level. I suppose I should be more cautious about indiscriminate robot slaughter, but caution’s for losers and quadriplegics.
It also gave me a teaching opportunity. “What’s that, baba?” asked Qiang, sitting in my lap despite my work. “Is that a drone?”
I shook my head. “This is a robot.”
“What’s the difference?” She looked up at me.
I kissed her forehead. He skin had started changing a little as the nanites helped rebuild her body according to her altered DNA. This is my daughter. My daughter is half-human. “Robots can do things on their own, like make things. A drone is controlled by a person all the time.”
“I don’t think I get it,” she said.
“I gotta get you a remote-control car sometime. You get a controller and tell it what direction to go. This thingy here will go around on its own,” I told her, “I’m sending this to a friend I miss. She would make a really good mommy for you.”
“Are you gonna marry her? What she look like?”
“Bring me that screen you were playing with earlier and I’ll show you.” She scrambled out of my lap to go bring it to me, which gave me space to attach a few parts. She brought it over right by my head, and I had to make her wait a little while I finished screwing in a support. Then I turned and pressed my hand to the wiring on the rear of the monitor. After a few seconds, a picture of the tan-skinned, dark-haired Venus appeared. She wore valkyrie armor without boots for no reason I care to elaborate on and rode a tiger-striped unicorn in mid-jump over a wall of fire. She still had her mask on over it all.
“Is she pretty?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I know it seems hard to tell, but she is. And she’s a good person. She’s going to be visiting us in a little bit. She might be angry, so try and act real cute, ok?”
We actually had a nice day. I finished putting my deathbot together and arranging for shipping to my nemesis’s home at the Master Academy. By the time it ended, I felt pretty chill. We made a night of it, me taking my daughter around to this new casino that opened up. She liked the slot machines a lot more than I did. She ruined my poker game, which I insisted nobody cheat either for or against me. All it took was her shouting about how funny the guy looked with the sword going into his head and everyone folded, including the guy who had just bet. We had to go around the time we got to this table where a pair of guys were passing around a revolver with only one bullet. Shame I had the kid with me, but she’s going to have a better life than me.
So I was pretty mellow that night when Intercept linked me a transmission from the expeditionary force. “VelocityRaptor here. I was told I should call in because you know my name and it would take too long to explain who another person is and why you should care.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Damn… whoever told you that deserves a promotion. Don’t bother telling me who, I don’t care. What do you got for me?”
“We have encountered Bronze Age villages. We haven’t figured out how to talk to anyone yet. We do not know the language, but we had skirmishes with little resistance. One of the soldiers almost took an arrow to the knee. He’s fine, but we have a prisoner now. Some girl. The technicians are trying to use the translator to analyze what she says and they expect to know more before long. They have samples for analysis if we ever get people who can analyze things.”
“I’ll find people who will put the anal in analyze, that’s for sure. Anything else I need to know?”
“Not at the moment, Emperor. This is the end of our report.”
“Thanks man. You need to check yourself for clowns, because I’m here to tell you, you have It. You’re going places. Now get out there and go some places.”
I sat there on the line for a couple of seconds before adding, “You going to hang up?”
“I didn’t know if you were going to hang up first, Emperor. I can hang up.”
“It’s ok, I can hang up first.”
“That’s unnecessary, I’ll-” I cut him off, hanging up. I do so hate these long goodbyes.
They’re campaigning for the Empress-ship. I didn’t think the batch of people I ruled over even gave a damn about my love life, so long as I didn’t do something stupid like getting peed on on tape. Most of that involves lobbying Qiang, since I’ve been avoiding the palace residence. I’ve been able to call Qiang out to me for lessons or meals in spite of their attention. I just tell her it’s part of her sneaking training.
I’ve been busy aside from all that mess. Like handling this little diplomatic mess with the Faust/Hephaestus people. Alhazred admits he had been a Cthulhu cultist hoping to see his god, and that all three were hoping to explore the island for ruins and so forth. His associates, Pickman and Hero, hadn’t actually done anything wrong while they were here, and Alhazred did help me lure Cthulhu here. In the end, I decided they would be allowed to use the island for storage and trade. I didn’t give them everything they wanted. They aren’t going to use the place for testing or collaboration with our own science people, at least partially because the Institute of Science is still closed. They don’t know it’s closed, but it made a good stick to hit them with, same with rejecting the customer service call center.
As part of my mercy upon them, I even gave the three an aerial tour of the island. I even saw to their safety with who the Shouho claimed to be our very best remaining helicopter pilot. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to them. There was some wariness from the passengers about that, so they made sure to stay restrained in their seats. I reassured them by ordering the doors be kept shut firm on their little ride, including one that separated the pilot from the passengers. That way, there’d be absolutely no chance of them falling out, or onto instruments, or the pilot trying to throw them out. I told them that myself. I promised them, completely out of thin air, that the pilot wouldn’t toss them out of the chopper. I then reiterated that there will be nothing to worry about.
As for the pilot, I told him to show me his best and most showy aerial maneuvers. Good thing the doors were shut for that barrel roll. As soon as they landed, I sent some of the soldiers over with the hoses to make sure the interior was hosed off of our little spew crew in there. They must have read my mind, because they didn’t bother letting out the Faust delegates before starting the hosing. When Pickman, Hero, and Alhazred slipped or fell out, they didn’t stop.
When I saw that, I leaned across to the the Shouho and mentioned, “Give them a little bit of a bonus for this.”
He held out a tablet for me. “Your Eminence, we have a member of the returned I wish to bring to your attention. He is enhanced.”
The returned appears to be their polite term for deserters who come back to Ricca’s service, in case I decide that someone who deserted can be punished but someone who left and returned won’t be. It’s mostly a stupid distinction, but when I once asked the Shouho about it, he started talking about how a military needs discipline and needs to know that desertion will be punished going forward. I picked up what he was putting down, or thought I did until the Issa politely informed me they left the whips and ballgags in their crates in a storage shed. Then I figured he didn’t want people deserting in the future.
This one was a man with extensive cybernetic augmentation, much like Silver Shark. His legs were gone below his thighs, replaced with knees that bent the other direction and feet ending in three-toed claws. He bent forward over the legs, his back weighted down by a gleaming chrome spine that connected his tail with an armored helmet that covered his head in the facade of a dinosaur with a mouth of fangs. The spine had a pair of short pipes around the lower part of it. He was a raptor, albeit a featherless one, with an armored chest and an exoskeleton running along his arms that ended in curved, sickle-like claws. He still had hands under them, and the raptor’s face with its sharp-toothed maw popped back to show it was a helmet. Underneath it, he maintained a neutral expression.
“Welcome back to the fold,” I said. Meanwhile, my eye HUD’s identification program made a match. “You’re the one they call VelocityRaptor, right?”
He nodded. Speaking in the Ricca pidgin, he noted, “That is the name the Americans gave me.”
Good restraint. The name doesn’t sound right in Riccan. “May I have a demonstration of your abilities?”
He nodded and the helmet lowered itself onto his face. The eyes of the raptor lit up red. He turned and those pipes shot flames a few inches into the air before he began running, gathering speed to run to the other end of the base and back fast enough to leave Olympic sprinters in his dust. While he was leaving, a pair of the lowest-ranked men ran up and began setting up dummies that looked like featureless humans.
He skidded to a halt and raised his tail. The end of it began spinning. Once the first of the soldiers had finished and gotten clear, the drilled into the chest of the dummy before swiping the head off. The other one had its chest torn open with his claws, leaking straw on legs that were ripped off one by one by Raptor’s. He ended by using the helmet’s jaws to crush the head and tear it off.
I gave him a polite golf clap. “I mean, they just got them put up and you already destroyed their work. That would seem rude to some people.” I got no response. “From here on out, you owe allegiance to me. You serve this Ricca going forward, and so your oath will be to this Ricca and you will serve out the term of your enlistment from now. Try not to take so long a vacation again.”
He bowed to me as best he could. “Thank you, Emperor. You are generous beyond all measure.”
I walked over and patted him on the back of the head. “No need for all that. Flatter me later, or whenever I feel like it. Right now, I just want to know if you’re ok with entering into new and unfamiliar situations, and maybe with getting nice and wet.”
He rose up to look at the grinning smile projected in front of my helmet where the mouth would be. “Sir?”
I had to throw together an expedition to Mu, and he was going to be part of it. After the first immigrant Deep Ones reached it and claimed a beachhead for the Riccan Empire, I decided to get some Manifest Destiny going. I’m also looking into importing lots of sand and building a bridge right at the surface to connect Ricca and Mu so that I can go there officially without the entire world throwing a tantrum and a nuke.
The peace treaty says I can’t leave the island of Ricca, which is a lot more restrained than if I never left the Empire of Ricca. But an entire new continent just appeared in the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t just dismiss it if a land bridge suddenly appeared to make Ricca and Mu part of the same landmass.
Even thought I spent a lot of time throwing togethe a group to conquer a new world, that doesn’t mean I neglected Qiang. Like I said, I was still feeding her and teaching her stuff. Basic strength training that she thinks are handstands, or crab walking. Good ways to build her up without pushing her too far and damaging anything. There are also our “dance” lessons that incorporate moves for a bit of self defense. She thinks it’s all fun and games until someone comes at her and she gouges an eyeball out.
When she’s not eating or attending Psychopomp University, I give her lots of time to be lobbied by the prospective Empresses. I actually had to assert myself after they got carried away once. My daughter asked for some ice cream and ended up being given progressively larger portions. I’d given her a network communication device, encrypted to keep anyone but myself out. It also means restricts her from calling just anyone or going online, which is all the more important when that kind of thing’s built into a person’s head. We’re talking home-style encryption too, with a different programming language.
So she called the hotline right to my head because she felt bad and threw up. I kicked the door in and tossed everybody else out. The giant shark cyborg, the giant bee woman, AND the ambitious servant girl. I got on to Qiang, but it’s hard to hold her accountable for that. Instead, I considered giving the other three a chopper ride. Between the three of them, they’d wreck the thing.
Instead, I ended up being able to make an example when, in the middle of applying nanites to the sweet-sick girl, Intercept called me with a tip from Flamebeard’s ship. They’d been taking a look at Mu and noticed a ship. A long catamaran-style ship with sails at the front and a number of burly rowers. He’d gladly take it out for us for a good price.
I rejected the offer and had Intercept keep an eye on it to let me know when we had a landing. The pacing was horrible, though. Took them awhile to reach us on that boat, and it’s tough maintaining anger for a long time.
I stepped out on the beach to meet and greet them. They responded with arrows. I suppose if this was that Civilization game, I’d have been beaten easily by the dozen or so loin-cloth clad men who charged forward, sweaty muscles exposed as they wore hardly anything but a little bit of leather and fur. The raised sword and axe and a sort of wooden club with nubs placed around the end.
Behind me a ways stood Beetrice, Silver, and Citra, along with a crowd of Buzzkills, guards, and VelocityRaptor. The three women were obviously not prisoners or tied up in any way. Just guests with a large group of guards, legitimately so in the case of the Buzzkills, who watched me bitchslap the colons of a group of people. Sometimes, the colons were still internal. I suppose it worked out that they were hostile. A peaceful group of traders would have made a different sort of example.
They seemed to be led by a particularly large one, muscular, but not overly so. We’re not talking about bodybuilders with those showy, useless muscles. Big guys, round, with arms used to swinging weapons and backs capable of lifting women and gold from those they come across. He came at me with a sword that bent when it hit my forearm gauntlet. I stomped his foot as he tried to straighten it and kneed him in the balls. When he dropped the sword and attempted to grapple with me, I hit him with an open palm to the throat, then reached down to turn He-Man into She-Ra. He had a lovely singing voice as he fell to his knees.
“Finish him!” my armor announced. I grabbed a gonad in each hand from that sack I took off him, ripped them apart from each other, then smashed them into the sides of his head until the top burst and his brain spurted out.
I turned back to the crowd, where I saw a couple of the raiders had gotten past me and the guards had punched their tickets to eternity. “It seems our new neighbors have a bit more balls than brains.” Then I stepped closer and gestured with a single finger for the ladies to join me in a private huddle. “Someone who wants to be a mother to my child really ought to remember what being a parent means. And let’s also not think too much about hoping to bully me into a position while we’re at it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go teach my daughter how to use her very own flamethrower.”
Kids love flamethrowers.