Things have changed since my men arrived. The Hares were spread out in smaller search parties that seemed like a good idea when they thought they could overpower me. When my guys arrived, they caught several search parties by surprise. Not all made it back, but not enough are in a state to provide usable intel. My guys get first priority treatment with the nanites.
And after days living off whatever I could find in the wilderness, I got first priority on the rations. My weird correspondence with that projection mostly abated, though he showed himself a couple of times. I was halfway through an MRE of rice and pork when he appeared. “I don’t believe I have ever, and I mean ever, seen someone so happy to eat food meant to survive a bomb.”
“All the howling from the wolf and those sniffers drove away whatever game is normally here,” I mentioned around a mouthful of rice. “I have had to eat things you wouldn’t believe.”
“You have a lot of nerve complaining about nuts and berries,” he said, shking his head.
I shrugged. “Not a fan of the berries, but the nuts came in their own gravy. And people prefer the term ‘Rocky Mountain Long Oysters,’ thank you very much.”
“I dearly hate interrupting a meal, but I believe some of the people inside are trying to get away and another team are moving to reinforce the lodge,” he pointed in two different directions.
I called up the commander of the expeditionary force, because we needed a regular military command in addition to my own whims. As a dictator, I may be in ultimate command, but it’s best not to leave every piece of military strategy to a gal who just spent her morning teabagging a corpse with another body’s torn-off teabags. “I have a tip about some runners. Same rules of engagement as the rest of this. Dead bodies are no big deal.”
I set off in the direction my projected adviser said the reinforcements were coming from. He informed me that, “These are good Samaritans. It seems real reinforcements are unaccounted for. Neither group is prepared for the heat you bring.”
I didn’t realize I’d found them until I was hauled off the ground by man resembling a tree trunk with twisted root legs and branches for arms. He held me up in the air and stretched his trunk above the tree line. “Is this the lady causing all this fuss?”
“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” called a man below me. A… rather hunky guy. I’m not usually into that sort of thing on a guy. A long beard, dark as ripe forest soil. A chest bare except for a thick carpet of hair. Stag horns on his head and a fuzzy little tail sticking out above the loincloth that covered up all his naughty bits. The dirty feet weren’t my thing. Most of him wasn’t my thing. But at the time, I could see myself being his thing. “I am a lord of forests. I offer freedom for freedom. You for the prisoners in the chateau.”
“Mmm, how about some petite death in exchange for not giving you some big death?” I asked. “I’ll break your dick off so I don’t break his stick off.” I nodded toward the tree man.
The tree guy spoke up with his creaky, amused voice, though he addressed the horny guy below me. “This may be the rare time your power over women should be tamped down.”
I rolled my eyes under my helmet. “Someone’s getting’ awful assume-y about my gender just because I like having boobs and pretty dresses. Bend over and I’ll show you how hard a dicking I can give you without a dick.”
He shook me around a bit. “Hush.”
I reached down, grabbed the first finger wrapping around my torso, and snapped it to the side. “This wittle pitty went to market…”
He threw me at the ground, where I bounced off and coughed up something liquid in my helmet. Aside from that and the overwhelming pain in my chest, I was probably fine. Couldn’t have broken more than three ribs, the pussy. When I stood, I found the lord of the forest standing in front of me and he didn’t look quite so friendly anymore. I suddenly noticed those hands and feet tapered off into claws. I pointed off to the side, “Holy fuck, it’s Johnny Cash!”
He turned to look. I shoved my boot into his groin. And then I flew back from the force of the kick, my knee feeling like it was going to take a vacation. Or at least a break for awhile. I projected invisibility, but was thrown into the air before I could do much of anything. A friggin’ tree grew up under me and tossed me up to about face height on the tree guy, who swiped and caught me in a mass of branches and leaves where his hands had been before. As they caught onto me, vines grew and pulled my arms and legs apart. I had a little freedom for twisting and pulling, but the forest lord guy put his hand on the leg of the tree guy and I was suddenly pulled taut.
“Hope your men will be more agreeable than you are, Empress,” said the lord as they started making their way through the forest.
I had my personal drones, but I figured I’d wait. Just a bit. While I was at it, I called up my commander. “I’m gonna need our specials for a little job.”
“Yes, Empress. They are not being utilized at this moment.”
“Good, I’ll see to them personally.”
I noticed that whatever strength increase the tree guy got, it faded fairly soon. But I didn’t break way then until the three markers on my HUD got close enough. Then, I brought my drones up. Their lasers carved through the vines holding me and allowed me to tear my legs free. From there, I jumped onto the shoulder of the big tree man.
Down below, the forest lord turned to look up at us. Then a bronze-armored man on all fours plowed into him with a shiny titanium horn at forty miles an hour. Most people would have been killed instantly. The forest lord fell was knocked down. Bronze Rhino had to shake the impact off, too. He’d been one of the rescues form China who used to serve The Claw. I didn’t get his whole story, but he decided to wear the armor again because he had nowhere else to go.
VelocityRaptor skidded to a stop. The chrome cyborg opened the jaws of the raptor head on his his armor and unleashed a gout of flame upon the downed hunk, who went up like a leaf and screamed like a Wilhelm.
“No!” called tree guy. He raised a foot to stomp, but got my cutting into the side of his head with a Nasty Surprise on one arm.
“Hey big guy, got wood?” I asked.
He began to fall. I looked down and saw a buff woman with cybernetic parts resembling a shark pushing on the tree man’s foot, pushing him over. Rawr. Now Silver Shark’s my kind of woman. The kind with more machine parts than organic ones, who barely even looks like a woman through all the muscles. It works for me, may not for you, dear reader. Find someone your body parts want you to be with, either brain or below, and do what comes unnatural and depraved.
Giving Tree here was as susceptible to fire as his friend. With that lordly fellow busy becoming dust in the wind, we chased after a crawling tree to hack and burn away at him. In short, we tore him a new ash hole. And I began to wonder if I needed a flamethrower drone. The real problem’s the fuel, ya see…
That distraction forced my forces a little thin, but the chateau people never got away. We settled in for another night behind barricades made of downed trees that blocked the view of my people from the folks in the hunting lodge. Everything quieted down at night ever since the howling trackers attempted a midnight sortie our first night here. The men built campfires behind the barricades, but the would-be commandos found nobody around them. When they rushed in, they were the only dark shapes moving around bright fires against a background of wood barricades. The fire lit them up, and then so did the guards on duty. Shame, though. It would have been a good strategy if my commander hadn’t proven himself to be a cunning chap. A way to try and wear us down in the dark.
I was happy to teach the commandos some comman-don’ts.
I settled in at dusk, healing those ribs and checking on the embassy attaches in Paris who had the unenviable job of finding and babysitting Qiang when my quick trip here turned into a longer affair. Then my spirit animal showed himself again and I realized I hadn’t seen the denim jacket dude since he sent me after the giant woody and his horny friend. “Good going earlier. Now, I don’t suppose you would want to see the secret entrance to the chateau’s basement, would you not?”
“Would I?” I asked, not entirely sure how the double negatives worked out there. I got it figured out after a little counting. “I might.”
Even as the sun fell, the trip around the entire area didn’t leave me exposed. We had drones and Flyers set up to monitor the perimeter. One of the squaddies or privates or whatever we call them even figured out they could detach breaching cameras to provide a better view. We had the better view and superior communications. Better weapons, tougher armor, and nobody around to stop us. Technically, NATO was supposed to be meeting about us, but the current American President threw a temper tantrum. So it’s pretty much open season in Europe nowadays. I get the feeling a lot more countries are going to start developing their militaries accordingly. But for now, that means I control this part of France.
Even, it seems, a weathered wooden door hidden behind a bush against a hill. “That’s the escape tunnel, eh?” I said. I looked it over. The door had vines crawling on it. It was a good sign that they hadn’t been pulled loose. The dirt around the bush didn’t appear trod upon. A few people might have gotten out if they were careful, but they hadn’t pulled off a bigger escape.
“You should go in,” the denim-clad projection suggested. “Have some fun with them. They won’t even know you’re there.”
I thought about it. And I thought about my aching ribs. And how I didn’t know what this guy was playing at, other than that he was one of the Hares who found some benefit in me killing some of them. Though, if anyone asks, nobody I killed was superhuman. I mean, not like there are any bodies left of the reinforcements from earlier, right?
So I turned and began to walk back to camp. “One moment, let me just get a little something handy…”
The projection grinned as I went back and grabbed a crate out of one of the Psycho Flyers. He wasn’t quite so happy to see me pull out a directional mine and rig it so that anyone trying to get out that door would learn a valuable lesson about being flammable next to explosives. “I could do that, or I could use this thing to track if they’re trying to escape.”
“That’s a mine,” he pointed out.
I nodded, “Yep. It’ll tell me exactly when someone came this way and got blown up.
He disappeared, leaving me to read a story to my daughter over the phone and contemplate just what the Hares, all of the Hares, were up to. It hasn’t escaped my attention that this guy might be sending me off into fights meant to get me caught or killed, that wascally wabbit.
The trail had fits of stopping and starting, but never for long. Never long enough for the guy who took Psychsaur and Max to sleep. They’d zipped over to India from the portal, but didn’t stop there. They managed to get from there into Pakistan in amazingly little time. When I showed it to Titan, shortly after he and Venus joined me on Ricca, he informed me Cape Diem didn’t have a base there. “They stole our portals. Maybe they built something to hack into our network. Either way, this is unacceptable.”
We’d set up at the residence. It wasn’t considered neutral ground the same way the Cape Diem compound was, but it was a hell of a lot more private and better protected, even with that new hole in the wall of the living room. Everything had mostly turned out ok from that event. Our assailant, the blonde multiplier, hadn’t gone after Qiang at all, and neither did she charge him with a knife or anything. I think I’m raising a girl smarter than I am, but it doesn’t make anyone feel any better about a home being partially blown up.
It was easier for us to coordinate and control information Each of our organizations’ are looking into the attack in their own way, chasing leads, studying bodies and wreckage. Well, the bodies are on my end. It’s a bit inefficient, but cross-organizational cooperation’s going to have to wait.
“They didn’t take anyone for you?” I asked Titan for confirmation.
He shook his head. “No. He killed someone. Hurt others.”
“He took knowledge from you, but he took our friends,” I said.
“Not exactly,” Venus said. “You said Max made a cure?”
I nodded. “Yeah, but there’s just not enough, and it can’t be replicated.”
Venus paced around the office, looking at the monitors of our setup. “Psychsaur found him. Her powers let her do that. He avoided her until he was ready to do this.”
I looked between them. “I thought Psychsaur was supposed to cover Cape Diem first?”
Titan nodded to Venus, “She convinced me otherwise. It’s a good thing, too.”
“How’s that?” Venus asked.
Titan scratched his chin. “If she was at Cape Diem when this happened, the mole at Master Academy wouldn’t have been exposed.”
“Do we know who he is?” I asked. “Because on my end, he was just Funhouse the Clown, aka Ricardo Milhouse.”
Venus said, “He told us he found out his little brother had superpowers and was fighting crime at night. He was concerned and wanted him trained. He told us his name was Rick Houser. He brought a kid in. God, we had to lock up a teen to find out how deep he’s into this.”
“Richard Milford Holmes,” said Titan, tapping away at the computer and bringing up some of the Cape Diem files. “Twenty-eight. No powers, but a lot of enthusiasm to join us. He’s shown an eagerness to do the shit work even when offered duties more in line with what we expect. A lot of people join up to do something grand to help the world. It’s a good attitude, there’s a lot of more ugly work to it than people want. Except him. He was staying under the radar the entire time. Ten months.” He glared down at the table. Venus patted his arm.
“He hasn’t stopped at all until now,” I pointed out, bringing up the map where they’d finally been stopped. “So maybe he’s where he needs to go, or it’s a trap. A trap would be a bad idea for them.”
“Unless they take our powers with that collar,” Titan reminded us.
That was when Venus walked over to stand beside me. “What powers? This is all training and equipment.”
Venus and I had to take a moment to suit up, each of us in bulky armor. Hers was her current generation of power armor with the face taken up mostly by a golden chrome visor. Mine was based on the suit I’d stolen from her future version, but with additional armor plating and strength-enhancing pseudomuscles added to resemble my heavy armor. I was just as agile as ever, in armor far more durable. After all, nobody said the added armor plates couldn’t be the same material as the less-bulky version.
Titan remained his giant blue and orange self, with a pair of wings sticking out the back of his Cape Diem uniform.
On our way out, I gave Qiang a hug, smiled at Silver Shark checking on a burn along her arm, and politely squeezed by Sam and Holly trying to bar our way. “’Scuse me, gotta go save Mix N’Max, just the three of us, no additional help involved.” I picked up Sam with both sets of arms and set her to the side. I turned to find Holly taking her place, so I skipped around her.
“We’re coming!” Sam called after me as I pushed through the doors. Titan and Venus followed, with Max’s assistants coming after.
“You two aren’t villains,” I called back as we walked to a Psycho Flyer parked in front of the palace.
“You don’t know what he means to us!” called Holly.
“Do you trust them?” Titan asked me.
“They’re loyal to Max above all else. They’d never see him harmed or kidnapped in any way,” I answered. “But I doubt they have anything to bring to the table on this other than potential hostages if things go wrong.” I stopped to look at the assistants. “Leave this to us.”
“We are not useless,” Sam said. She pulled out a glass bottle with a simple oval label and “The Cure” written in Max’s handwriting. “Take us or we destroy it.”
I looked up the ramp of the flyer where Titan and Venus had stopped. They looked to me, eyebrows raised. Well, I assume Venus’s were raised under the helmet. I pointed to Sam and Holly. “Nothing about them threatening the cure?”
“It’s your aircraft,” Titan pointed out.
“I’m not saving your asses if you get in trouble,” I said, turning and walking up the ramp. I heard them clatter along after me.
They probably would have regretted it if they knew the flight was so long. I had the flyer loaded up for it, though. Toilets, toiletries, an in-flight meal, and a selection of movies to watch.
“Air Force One, Airplane!, Sully… what are you trying to tell us here, Gecko?” asked Holly as she stepped up into the cockpit.
I created a pair of holographic sunglasses in my lower right arm. “I think my meaning should be quite…” I lifted the hologram into place where my eyes would be through my helmet. “…plane to see.”
“Oh god, I’m going to be sick,” Holly called out from the back of the flyer.
“It wasn’t that bad!” I called back.
Sam winced and looked back. “I better get to her. Flying can be iffy for her.”
I shrugged as she left. “It was y ‘all’s decision to come.”
When we got to where we were going, the nanites indicated that Max and Psychsaur were still there. And where we were going turned out to be a small, decrepit Buddhist temple on top of a hill. I invited Venus and Titan into the cockpit to look down on it. “That’s a pretty cunning way to hide a lair,” I told them. “Anyone who breaks in looks like their sacrilegious. On the plus side, we have plenty of room if there are any religious artifacts left. Gold, sufficiently old stonework, even bones will do.”
“We’re here for your friends, not bones,” rumbled Titan. “I guess you better get in there since you’re the quietest somehow.”
“Okily dokily.” I stood up from the controls and the flyer dropped for like half a second. In the back, Holly vomited. I hope paper bags were involved.
“You fucking psycho!”
The reactions I get. I held up my hands. “It’s fine. I got it remotely anyway. Just decided that if y’all are going to ask the guy flying the thing to get off it, shit might happen.”
“You could land,” Venus growled.
“I’d rather not risk being stranded in Pakistan. Nobody should.”
I landed harder than is preferred for stealth, but at least I was invisible. When I got to the door to the place, I found was in better shape than its appearance would lead people to believe. A quick scan through multiple spectrums didn’t reveal anything. No lasers, no wires, any of that.
I called down a quartet of drones from the trapdoor of the Psycho Flyer. They assembled on their way down, forming a platform big and strong enough to hold me in the heavier armor. I hopped on top as it passed through the doorway. I wasn’t going to get caught by pressure plates this time.
I had a line open to the Flyer cockpit, Venus, and Titan, so it wasn’t long before I heard Venus ask, “Found anything yet?”
“Lots of wood and tiles. Not even any valuables. Not one piece of art, either, except this little thing.” I spotted this decoration built into the base of the altar. Three rabbits, two running one way in a circle, the third another. But that was because the third one was broken, flipped around. There weren’t even any other doors anywhere. No way down to a hidden basement. So I flipped the third rabbit around and clicked it into place.
Behind me, tiles slid out of place along the floor, revealing a circular stairwell down that had to be hell to get hostages down. It also had no room for flying. “I got a way down. Go ahead and get down here. I don’t see anything up top. Y’all should be able to hop or fly to the stairs.”
I headed down and found my way through a rusty metal door, and from there to a circular room with a floor made up of rounded stones. There, I saw a quartet of dead Funhouse. No sign of Max or Psychsaur. But there were two other corridors from there. It was easier to figure out where to go when I heard retching. It’s been a vomit kind of day. “Funhouse was dead when I got here. I think I hear someone. Going to see if I find our peeps.”
I snuck my way on down the corridor when I heard Titan and Venus behind me, coughing. “What’s that smell?” Titan asked.
“They’re discolored,” Venus said from back there, too.
I found Max and Psychsaur locked in a pair of old time cells. Stone walls, a barred door, and a whole lot of hacking going on. I dropped the hologram. “Hey guys. Here I come to save the day.”
“Gas,” Max hacked up. “They killed him.”
Psychsaur added, “It got here.”
I pulled out a couple of syringes. “Venus, got a couple patients here. Some sort of poisoning. If y’all are still alive, I’m guessing it’s dispersed and stuff.” Metal bars and all, it wasn’t even a matter of hacking. I tore the lock off Max’s cell. The alarm started up then.
“I got activity down this corridor!” Titan called out. Then, the world blew the fuck up. But we didn’t go with it. There was a booming roar that tried to kill my eardrums. It got hot as fuck. Wasn’t as bright as I expected. After everything settled to mere shaking, I popped open Psychsaur’s cell, too, and grabbed them up. It’s a lot easier carrying people with extra arms.
I found Venus in the middle chamber, where a pedestal now stood in the center. Titan barred access to the other corridor almost completely. He stepped away slowly, grimacing “Any bomb you can walk away from is a good bomb.”
“You good?” I asked.
He nodded. “I’ve taken bigger.”
I nodded toward Venus. “That’s what she said.”
“She is busy downloading files off this computer while it self-deletes,” Venus said, a USB from her suit plugged into something on the pedestal.
All in all, a successful rescue. We got our friends. We got the collars off without damaging them overly much. And we got some files to sift through about what we’re dealing with, starting with the final message left in the system from a voice that sounded like dozens overlaid on one another.
“We had greater plans for you. You were to observe and report only. You are one piece of a vast apparatus. Our plan could never be stopped by one man with a cure. Ricca was the first, followed by Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Osaka, Empyreal City. All within the first week. Thank you for listening obediently while the gas circulates. Your obedience is no longer required. You are no longer a piece in our apparatus.”
Leave it to Max to figure things out. His methods aren’t exactly science, though he argues otherwise. That’s why he’s not my preferred way of curing this thing. My guys can mass produce a cure, probably. Anything he comes up with, he’s the only one who can make more, through whatever processes he uses.
Still, his lab was safely tucked away in one of the many rooms in the palace residence while I tossed fake stuff in spare building we had over near the graveyard. That has an added bonus of being more convincing if the person we’re after is someone familiar with the island, plus the growers who operate out of the tombs will be more than happy to sell all kinds of stuff to relax people if they come looking. I made sure to pick a building at least far enough away that explosives wouldn’t screw with their operation. Probably. I also warned them that they probably want to cook any meth in the daytime until this gets cleared up.
I know, breaking in at night. How cliché, but most people don’t live where they work. Yet. Now if I’m done turning into a socialist dictator, I had a mouse to catch in my trap. And I like traps. There’s something about letting someone walk into their own doom that appeals to me, much like the concept of a deal with the devil. It’s like when the drunk old man warns the counselors not to go up to Camp Crystal Lake. Or when the drunk old man warns the tourist to get out of Innsmouth. Or when the drunk old man warns you that the woman on the sidewalk gives people an itch. I think what I’m saying here is that if I’m going full-on cliché, I need a drunk old man.
It was too late, though. I’d been camping out in the place and didn’t have time to shop for an old drunk when the motion detectors went off. It was a simple but ingenious system. The walls were rigged to detect vibrations, but the actual motion detectors were at all the doors. I watched as someone tripped them, moving swiftly but quietly through the small former store. He came to the room underneath me, one of the ones done up to look like it was in business for Mix N’Max. The figure bent down to examine the obvious bear trap on the floor, then jumped over it. The motion detector, set on the wall at stomach height, detected him and activated the second bear trap. The one on the ceiling. It clamped down with a satisfying and juicy squish.
He cried out, because this wasn’t an instant kill or anything. Just a large, jagged, metal trap that tried to get its jaws to meet just under the guy’s rib cage. I’m not saying he couldn’t die as a result of this. I’m just saying it’d take awhile.
A second guy dove between his friend’s dangling legs and over the first bear trap, which was less expected. But that’s why we have backups, like solid steel doors to slide into place, locking everyone inside whatever rooms they were in. There were other sensors going off, too, which spoke to a much larger infiltration than I’d expected. I stepped out of the corner from where I waited, staying invisible because I don’t resort to dramatics all the time. The lights rose, revealing identical men in front of me. Not just the same clothes and my usual “all humans look alike” view, but the exact same faces. I just figured it was identical twins until the cameras in the other rooms with motion showed the exact same thing. Identical septuplets spies? Talk about 007.
The guy looked familiar, too. Big forehead. The hair’s an obvious blonde dye job. Ah, and my ID program got a hit. Last time I saw this guy, he was dancing in the dunking booth while wearing clown makeup. “Seven of you clowns?” I asked.
The one who was free looked around the room and let loose a chuckle before blurring and splitting into two, then four, then eight. “As many as I need to deal with a problem.”
“I don’t know how many copies you can make,” I said as I dropped the invisibility. His clones? Extras? Whatever they were, they were crowding in enough that they’d have found me anyway. “but I know you don’t have enough to stop me whoopin’ your ass. This is my house.”
They surrounded me, and all spoke at once. “Right now, it’s looking like more of a funhouse. Let’s have some fun.”
Silly rabbit. He thought this was going to be some sort of fair fight, when it’s really a rigged carnival game. His powers must have extended to mere copies, because they went down like regular humans. I charged one of them and punched through him, and the one behind him, and into a third one. I smashed them against the wall, grabbed an organ out of the last guy in that bunch, and pulled out to burst it over the head of another one coming at me from behind. He stumbled back, but another came for me. I grabbed his shoulders with three arms and his chin with the fourth. He screamed as his skull came up, at least until he gave a pop and part of the spine came loose too. By then, the guy who got beamed by a kidney cleared his eyes enough for me to beat him to death with his own skull.
One moment, just realized I needed to put that accomplishment on a list somewhere. Beat a man to death with his own skull. Question is, do I count the consistency with physics as a plus or a minus?
Considering I have four thumbs and don’t give a fuck, a lot of dead bodies started piling up. He probably thought he could just concentrate one or two of them on reinforcements until I grabbed a pair and started swinging them, knocking the remainder on their asses. And one onto the floor-based bear trap, which clamped down on him.
“Looking pretty fun for me right now,” I said.
One of them grinned at me. “A shame we couldn’t play longer,” he said. He pulled his shirt up and tugged out a detonator. I quickly cranked the power of my leg armor’s pseudomuscles up and jumped through the roof, catching a nice big fireball up the ass because I didn’t bother to angle anything. The whole damn building blew up, and not even because of my stuff. I mean, yeah, I prepped explosives. I wasn’t going to use them with me inside the place.
I’m not entirely sure if my legs broke from the jump, from the landing, or from both. I just knew they broke sometime in all this. It took me a minute after landing to stand up and start pulling hot debris away to see if any had happened to be taken alive. As could be expected, I got a call in short order, from Silver Shark. “Gecko!”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Big-ass explosion, though.”
“Us too, fuckface! The Aryan brotherhood just broke in here. One of them grabbed Max and hightailed it. The others are fighting and blowing up.”
“Grabbed Max? These guys are pushovers.” Despite that, this was no time to argue. If he’d grabbed Max somehow, then he was moving him. I jumped to the top of a nearby building, heading for the docks while I pulled open the satellite view and focused it in on the area surrounding the palace and Directory building. “I’ll get him,” I said before dropping the call. I adjusted course for the Cape Diem compound and tried calling up Cape Diem.
I had a direct line to Titan, at least. It’d have to do. I’d rather have the number of the guy working the portals. He could still get an order through to trap the military truck with the canvas-covered back. “Titan, Gecko. Our mole’s trying to pull someone into his hill through your portal.”
I heard growling. “I’m elsewhere, but my people are on it. I just found out a mole on our end is barricaded in the central portal hub with the controls and passcodes. Hold on.”
There was a beep, then I heard Venus’s voice come through. “Titan, this is Venus. I found the mole. He’s running for the Cape Diem portal and he’s kidnapped Psychsaur. She couldn’t use her powers. He had some collar on her. He might have more for you.”
“That must be how he could get the upper hand on Max,” I said. I reached out, trying to access the nanites. He had to have been exposed to the water supply at some point during his time here, right? Fuck, somehow this guy didn’t bother washing his hands the entire goddamn time.
“Gecko?” Venus asked.
“Hold on, I got a kidnapping to stop on this end, too.” I’d hopped from rooftop to rooftop paused to pull out a drone from behind my back and throw it. I reoriented it and flew it ahead of me, trying to catch a truck that must have had its pedal welded to the medal. And me with throwing explosives. The drone flew after it. I jumped along. And it was a disorienting experience. Hard to aim, but I did. I raked the rear of the truck, lower down, with machine gun fire. The rear left tire popped and went flat. The truck wobbled. It hid some sort of debris and began to turn onto its side.
The canvas rear burst open and a motorcycle flew out, carrying one of those blonde fuckers and Max on the back, something around his neck. He had to have been tied there or something. The cycle burst through the gate into the Cape Diem compound and headed right for the tent surrounding the portal. I chased after, unable to shoot becaue of my friend.
People scattered out of the way, some in regular clothes, some in the soft white and blue of Cape Diem personnel. The motorcycle disappeared into the tent, and I landed outside it a second later, popping something. I limped in after them and saw the portal flash and close, leaving me alone with a team of confused Cape Diem portal technicians.
“Gecko, you copy?” Titan asked. “You were breathing hard and growling, then you got all quiet.”
“They got away,” I said, realizing I still needed to breathe.
“Damn! Same here,” Venus said.
“My people just retook the portal room. It’s empty. Something’s in the system. I have techs on it. Good people. One of them’s like Gecko. We’ll find out where they went.”
I stood there, flexing my fingers, pulling up as much of a view of the world as mankind’s satellite network could give me. Not like I’d get lucky and somehow run across the exact tiny spot where he was and be able to recognize him and whatever other copies of his were working. “Unfortunately, he somehow managed to avoid getting any nanites in his system while he was here. Or he found a way to clear them out. Otherwise, I’d… Oh, right.”
“What?” asked Venus.
“Nanites in the drinking water. I put them there to keep everyone healthy, which is how I knew something was up when someone got sick and stayed sick. This guy didn’t have any in him, which is why I couldn’t stop him earlier. But Psychsaur and Max both have them in their system. I can track them.”
Venus spoke up. “This is going to sound bad, but we should wait until they stop running.”
“Find them in their lair,” Titan said.
“Yeah, and then clean them out, hopefully before they can do whatever they need to do to flush them out. I’ll and order them into the hard to reach places.”
“I recommend we keep this under our hats,” Titan said. “I want to make sure this is the last mole in my organization.”
“Agreed,” Venus said.
I cracked my neck and turned with a flourish of my cape, ignoring Cape Diem people running around, trying to calm everything down. “Eh, I’d say I doubt there are any more, but this isn’t looking like a good day for me. Looks like it’s just the three of us, then.” Despite all that, I did trust Dr. Creeper to not be a mole. I had him send a team to the ambush building to see if they could scrounge up anything like what the clown had on Max and Psychsaur.
I had to delegate. After all, my house, with my kid in it, had just been attacked. Just another thing to save up for when I get my hands on someone.
Section 3 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
I barely slept as I tried to figure out the alien languages I’d surrounded myself with. It wasn’t just the programming language and operating system; I had to figure out the alien language itself well enough to fit into my translation program. I actually passed out at the console exhausting myself. Luckily, the dreams were more of those flashbacks to memories of bad times, which me up again before I could waste a whole night getting nothing done.
I had to find her, though the her vacillated between saving Qiang from Future Venus, and finding Future Venus to murder her. Pretty sure it’d work within those rules of the Parliament of Rogues if anyone wants to make a big deal about it. And if anyone wants to give me shit about aliens in costumes, I’ll remind them this happened in the Cretaceous, like 65 million years before any such agreement existed. I still dumped the body of the alien off the ship with the others in a big cloud of bugs.
Big referred to both the size of the cloud and the size of the bugs. They were tall enough to ride the roller coaster.
Between desperation and anger, I had all the motivation I needed to shove a shitload of information into my brain. I learned to read this weird language as best as possible, which involved touch sensitivity on the buttons as well. I probably don’t even have a mouth capable of making the noises necessary to pronounce the spoken version. And while I didn’t figure out absolutely all the ins and outs of this ship, I learned enough to get it going. That part was kinda important to me. I wanted well away from the ground so as to avoid any more giant gators or giant bugs. Everything’s giant back in the Cretaceous, and here I am without a penis.
I’d lament my timing, but I have at time machine! And with it, I shall find that future copy of my nemesis and tear her apart, molecule by molecule if need be. The only shot she’s got is- no. No shot. No more. Not for this one. Having figured out how to work this thing, I’m going to head back to the time I left and I will see if they returned Qiang. If she’s back unharmed, Future Venus dies quickly and painlessly. Relatively. There actually is a more painful way to tear a person’s heart out through their ass. My favorite version involves music, interpretive dance, and a fistful of rusty, glowing hot nails. The rust doesn’t even do anything at that temperature, but a lot of pain is psychosomatic. So the nails are to mess with her mind. The Thai dragon peppers impaled on the nails, those are for the body.
But like I said, if Qiang is returned to me, I make it easier on Future Venus. I’m undecided on Mobian, mainly because I put all the blame on Venus. But figuring out all that blame won’t exactly work if I’m wrong on time travel. So, once I figured I had the systems under control, I activated Time Navigation Mode. The ship’s viewscreen of the surrounding area shifted from its strange, blue-heavy that analyzed the threat posed by whatever birds, giant bugs, and pterasaurs were flying around. Instead, it sorta whited out, like looking at a wireframe mode. I noticed something off there, though. It showed me some sort of path. When I told the computer to clarify what I was looking at, it came back with the alien equivalent of “Temporal Slipstream”. Flying closer and swapping views, it appeared to be coming from where Mobian was parked.
“Cool,” I said to no one in particular. “Let’s get this bad boy up to 88.8 miles per hour and give it some jigawatts!” I switched back to Temporal Navigation and started charging it up, setting in a course to follow this slipstream. The viewscreen showed it as if I would follow the thing, but instead it created a field around the exterior of this weird little ship to match something it detected in the slipstream. The ship then rose along the same course and existence blinked.
When it came to, the ship had moved quite a bit in various ways. Gone was the marsh, instead replaced by barren plains that grew only scorched grass. And because this is alien, it didn’t use a time system or coordinates in the same way I knew them. I tried reaching out to satellites and the internet, but the ship blocked that. So I figured I’d stop by Empyreal City. At least the ship could give me enough of a view of the planet to navigate manually.
Even from a continental level, things had changed. Where California had been was now an archipelago. Florida hung out from the southeast side of North America, but an awful lot of the east coast north of it had become a bay. China was entirely desert, the middle east was setting off radiation alerts from the other side of the world, and my country was just gone. Ricca and Mu were so thoroughly disappeared, you’d think the Argentinean military snatched them up. I’m just kidding. The Falklands know just how bad Argentina is at stealing land.
And I know just the place to stay up to date on the news. This thing could fly, too. Nice to know in case Maverick and Ice Man were wingmen any time. But I didn’t get any response at all, despite this thing likely being detectable. It became more apparent why when I came into visual range of Empyreal City. The place looked like it’d been home to a kaiju gang bang. Buildings were toppled or half-missing. There were scorch marks everywhere. Then I spot a chitinous leg sticking out of a building, its torn off portion exposed to the sky like it had held up something even bigger. I immediately checked myself for any more of the prehistoric bugs hitching a ride. Satisfied that I hadn’t somehow caused this by exposing the world’s biggest cockroach to time travel, I decided to land.
The streets turned out to be abandoned by people. Not so much cars, but there weren’t many people around. Most hid upon seeing the ship lower. Some of them outright ran when I popped out, but then that’s a normal enough reaction to me. “Hello!” I said, waving at everyone. The dirty, scared people looking back said nothing. The silence deafened, which is when I realized the amazing lack of cars and internet. The phones were almost entirely silent. Satellites? Only a few left. Shit had gone down. Empyreal City’s had its fair share of problems before, but this was a big deal.
“Hey!” I called out to somebody wrapped in an oily blanket. “What year is it?”
“You a time traveler or somethin’?” the boy called back. “It’s 33.”
I looked around. “2033?”
“No, 1933, ya dumbass,” the kid responded. Nothing in those rules I agreed to about not killing civilians.
“Y’all stopped that Mot thing, right?” I asked.
“Shit, no thanks to you, time guy.” He jerked around as a wail started in the distance, then began running for it. “Shit, they doin’ curfew early! Better fly, time guy,” he said as he ran off. Everyone did.
Well, I didn’t know the big deal with curfew, but I knew I was here looking for somebody. And there was one place to find Venus when everywhere else failed. I zapped myself back into the time ship and took off for the East Coast campus of the Master Academy.
It turned out to be nothing left but a pile of cinders and some shiny land that looked like it’d been glassed. So… yeah. Over on the west coast, I found the the original campus of the Master Academy torn to shreds. Not a single whole building stood amongst a campus dotted with crescent moon divots the length of a car. This future version of Earth had been fucked up its earhole.
That didn’t matter. Knowing the year, I was able to make a few conversions and put in a course for home. One second I hovered way overhead a reef in the Pacific, the next I was looking down on Ricca in the year 2018. A little adjusting put me back there right after the disappearance of Mobian’s time ship. I actually wondered what would happen if I tried to stop it from leaving. I’ve seen the future. Fucking up the timeline could only help these people.
Instead, I waited. And waited. And when they didn’t fucking show back up off Qiang, I set it down in front of the residential palace.
“What’s going on?” Silver Shark asked, her large, cyborg body gleaming in the sunlight as she stepped out to greet me. “Where’d you get this thing?”
Section 4 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
I shrugged. “Carjacked some aliens. Time traveling super bitch stole my daughter and is probably trying to raise her to hate me. I need explosives.”
She set her jaw. “How much?”
“All the explosives,” I said. “And a shitload of rusty nails.”
I loaded up my armor stand for repair and maintenance, nanites for my health, knives for Venus’s health. I didn’t know how long this bogus journey would last, but even a most excellent adventure would still end with me making damn sure that someone was going in a grave. Oh, and I brought rusty nails.
Silver Shark tried to come with me. So did Max, but I held up my hands. “Uh uh. No. This is something I have to do myself.”
“But Gecko, why?” asked Silver.
“Because technically I’m not supposed to be murdering superheroes for no reason nowadays. So I’m going to go have a very intense… discussion… with this Future Venus. A real tongue lashing. Going to chew her out.”
“So this is sexual?” asked Sam, Mix N’Max’s assistant.
“Oh, she’s already fucked,” I said. “I’m just gonna widen the hole.”
Max offered a hand. “If you ever need us, just say the word.”
I shook it with three of my four hands. “If anyone asks, I’m not murdering a super.” He nodded. I walked over to my ship and it seemed almost like a dramatic moment, but then I was like, “By the way, as long as I succeed, I’ll be right back. Like, I’ll be gone, then I’ll be here again, and you’ll all be disappointed you felt like this was a big deal.”
“Boo!” called Max’s other assistant, Holly, causing me to smile under my helmet.
So I took to the ship, got myself settled into the command center, and flew the ship up, navigating conventionally and temporally. When we blinked through time again, we were back where I’d first come into 2033. I set the ship to scanning for any more temporal slipstreams. I whirled as someone stepped into the command room. It was Citra, my wife, carrying a spear in one hand with a bandolier of bullets over the outside of her dress and handgun sticking out of a sash on her waste. “The hell are you doing here?” I asked.
She set her jaw, which made her look more pouty than anything. “She is my daughter too. I am going to kill the bitch who stole her and left you to die.”
“No, you’re not,” I said, turning around as we got a hit on the trail left by Mobian’s timeship. Citra versus Venus? Not so much a curbstomp as a footnote.
Citra walked over and held the spear out to block my access to the console. “You are my husband. Qiang is our daughter. I want to do something.”
I shrug and gesture behind me. “Whatever you do, don’t get in my way. That’s kinda important since I don’t know where we’re going. Now let’s see what time it is these Mobian folks went to…” I hit the button.
When we came out, it was over Palestine. Zooming in to see what might be significant, I found a large force of cavalry getting their asses handed to them by about 2,000 soldiers in blue coats. “Ok, Citra, you thought this would be nice and easy. Now let’s figure out what they’re doing in 1799.”
Archive Transmission Fragment 4 Complete
Archive Decompiling Resumes… … … …
Just because people don’t want me in charge of anything doesn’t mean I’m resting on my laurels. For one thing, the laurels are out being dry-cleaned. I mandated that only the softest laurels be used for my resting needs. The Directory took it upon themselves to have those laurels treated the absolute best because of a combination of loyalty, respect, and pants-wetting fear. The ratio may lean heavily toward fear.
I kept my spies in place watching events under the big tent. If that makes it sound like a circus, it kinda is. Ouroboros is in the center ring. It’s probably a bad idea to give him too much leeway, but I trust in him being pedantic enough to do a good job. It’s not that villains can’t be obsessed with details, it’s just that not everyone cares about the same details. Some people like math, others are into the weather, some even dig geology. I know my way around murder, power armor, and dimensional breach technology. But I picked a government with separation of powers precisely because I know how bad I am at handling a lot of the minutia. Ouroboros is significantly better at that than me.
But I’m still keeping my eye on him, because of those damn communists. Lenin and his buddies took over Russia, but they didn’t care about running all the boring stuff. Let a guy named Joseph Stalin handle a lot of important duties. Next thing you know, the secretary rules Russia with an iron fist and an iron mustache. He turned it into a police state where people surveilled each other and informed on each other about loyalty.
In order to keep this from happening, I have set up recording devices all around Ouroboros and where he lives. I have also bribed some of those taking part in it to let me know if he does or says anything that might be intended to spark a coup against my regime.
It gave me something lighter to tackle while sitting around teaching Qiang and dealing with some guests being rude. “What are you?” Sam asked.
“I am homo machina, also a world leader,” I answered while Qiang and I worked through natural history book. It had pop-up animals and fun facts about them.
“No, I mean you always seemed too sexist and offensive to be a transwoman. It makes it hard to think of names to call you behind your back.” At least she was up front about it. Plus, one of these days I intend to use her adjustments of her piercings to teach Qiang about the human dermal layers and the human nose.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a transwoman, though some people,” and here I eyed Silver Shark for emphasis. She was watching Jaws with an intensity I normally see from a hungry dog catching glimpse of a steak. “seem to think I’m happier as a woman than as a man. But let’s be honest, I’m the same me no matter which form I take. How I look is a product of how I feel and a way to keep anyone from pinning me down for too long at a time.”
“So you don’t care if you have,” she looked to Qiang, who glanced up at us before turning a page and getting a face full of pop-out hyena. “meat and potatoes.”
“They’re nice, but so is what I have now, though these bad boys up front can be an annoyance at times.” I gave them a little jiggle.
Sam rolled her eyes and stood up to go raid the fridge. “Whatever. I’ve always heard how the average guy wishes they had a pair of their own to play with.”
“If there’s anything about me you should keep in mind, Sammy, it’s that I am an average nothing. Not an average man, an average woman, an average any sort of trans. Just think of all the times you’ve seen me naked if you need a reminder how above average I am,” I smirked at her.
She grabbed a spoon and pointed it at me. “I remember that time you and Max broke into an ice creamery and he dropped something that melted your clothes off. You looked plenty average then.”
“Ooooh,” Silver said.
I shrugged. “Just imagine what my norm is like if being half frozen drops me down to average.”
“Keep your nonexistent penis in your pants, sister,” Sam said from around a mouthful of pickles.
“Look, the female has a thingy!” Qiang said, pointing at one particular pop-out of the hyena.
“Yes, dumpling. In fact, that gives me an idea…”
Sam grabbed her bottle of pickles and headed for the door. “Uh uh, I’m out, this is going to turn into some weird shit, I’m out.”
Hey, all I said is it gave me an idea. I didn’t say I’d go through with it. Besides, I barely had time to design a look when the island started shaking. I ran out to check on it, calling up the Intercept team. I wish I had a team of geologists too, but my science-fu is lacking. I ran outside to see a paved-over portion of the grounds explode up and release a man-sized mushroom. It roared and ran away from a man wielding a glowing sword who yelled like a hemorrhoidal maniac. It’s like a homicidal maniac, if the maniac had really uncomfortable growths on his asshole.
The giant shroom ran for its life and managed a pretty good distance from the swordfighter, but another person ran out of the same hole, which I recognized as one of the closed-off sections of the old underground rail system. This person also seemed to be a guy, but a smaller one. Wiry. He held a discus in each hand. He jumped into the air almost as high up as the height of the mushroom man and threw one of them past the shroom. It stopped in front of that thing and hung there in midair until he threw the other discus. The shroom tried to dodge to the its left. The discus in front came back toward it. They met in its waist and cut it in half.
I gave them a polite golf clap. “Not to rain on your parade, but was that thing worth killing? He seemed like such a fungi.”
They both facepalmed, careful to avoid stabbing themselves in the face. “That was horrible,” said the swordsman.
“How far did y’all get?” I asked.
“We think that’s the last of it. You should probably keep away in case we missed one of them. Wouldn’t want a delicate lady to get hurt,” said the discus-thrower.
“Next time I run across a delicate lady, I’ll let her know,” I responded. “But congrats on killing the things. Looks like we can finally find some science guys and get them in there.” I turned to Silver Shark, who had followed me out. “Think we can get Bill Nye?”
She shook her head. “He’s not a scientist.”
“Let’s get our biologist in here, the guy I kidnapped. See if we can tempt some people. Ooh, I got it! I know a guy. He’s a bit old-school, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders. Plus, he’s not opposed to working for dictators.” I turned to Silver Shark and hopped up on her broad, beautiful shoulder. I pointed into the distance. “Bring me Dr. Creeper!”
She began walking in the direction I pointed, but muttered to me, “I don’t know this guy at all.”
I pointed again. “Fetch me my cell phone.”
“You don’t have a phone!” she said, stopping.
“Right,” I pushed on my nose. “Damn unlock screen.” I held my fingertip to my nose and dragged it up and over. “I do not remember putting a passcode on this. Hold on…” I cupped my hand under my armpit and gave it a few pumps, squelching out some noises. “Yeah, changing that to something easier, as soon as I get done talking to this Nazi.”
Of course, one of the first things Creeper said as soon as he picked up was, “I’m not a Nazi anymore!”
“Oh, guten tag. Who is this?”
“I’m sorry I did not recognize your voice. You sound like a woman over the phone.”
“I get that a lot these days. I don’t know if you keep up with the news lately, but I recently became a world leader.”
“Ja, I heard! Congratulations. I’m glad you do not let the celebrity go to your head.”
“Thanks. I’m trying not to let the power go to my head. Hold on,” I tapped Silver on the head. “Stop here, minion, and let me down off your shoulders!”
She grumbled and picked me up by the waist. She ALMOST dropped me. I know she wanted to, so I turned and gave her a hug when she set me on my feet. “Thanks, hon.”
She got all quiet and headed off to the residence again to finish her show, quietly tossing a “You’re welcome,” back toward me.
“Ok, anyway, it’s been pretty fucked up here, what with sabotage and people abandoning a sinking ship. But the ship isn’t sinking anymore. On the plus side, the rats already floated off. Unfortunately, all this really means I’m having some personnel problems. I’d probably have called you earlier, but my science complex was taken over by scientific abominations created in the darkest pits of man’s imagination. Luckily, the pest exteriminators probably just finished cleaning it up. By the way, it’s also important that you’re pretty good at defending yourself with giant robots.”
“Are you offering me a job to work for you as a scientist?” he asked.
“Creeper, I’m offering you a chance to head my Institute of Science.”
“Oof, you should have told me sit down first. Though I am sitting down.” I heard a car alarm go off from the other end of the line. “I did not mean to walk over that. You left me kerfuffled.”
“Tell you what, you get things wrapped up over there. I’m going to text you a number you can call for an airline pilot who doesn’t get paid enough even though he once landed a crashing plane in a river and saved a bunch of lives.”
“I saw that movie! You mean-?”
“Yeah, they do not fucking pay those guys well. Just wait until you’re out of public before you call him. Secret identities and all that.”
“This sounds amazing! I can’t wait to tell my daughter.”
“Isn’t she a hero? Hold up… a villain, right? Wait, no, she married into Canadianness, I remember you told me.”
I shook my head. “Uh oh. It’s spreading. Soon you’ll be converted to socialism in the great white north!”
“I do not know what you are talking about. My daughter is cool. You should meet her. You know, things didn’t work out with that Canadian boy.”
I looked down at my dress and sandals. “I doubt I’m her type. If you want to bring her, that’s fine, but don’t be playing matchmaker, you old Nazi bastard, or you’ll go from Operation: Paperclip to Microsoft Word Paperclip in my eyes, capische?”
“Yes, il duce! I look forward to seeing you again soon!” I heard an explosion on the other end. “Er, I have to go now. See you later!”
Eh, the guy’s only a former Nazi, and that was pretty much just for the gimmick. How was he supposed to know the Nazis were going to return as a prominent political force in the 21st Century? Besides, at this point, he can hardly make me look worse than most of the other world leaders out there. It’s just your average reclusive island nation with a conspiracy of the world’s criminals working with a Nazi scientist. I dare someone to write an article on us!
The island of Ricca welcomed all kinds of new guests here, and I think it’s time to get this musical rolling. For once, there actually will be a meeting of a bunch of evil people to plot against the world. The best part is, all the conspiracy theorists will say it’s fake news as soon as we all inevitably leak it.
I remember when I heard Ouroboros was on approach in a jet. Sam, she of little hair, saw me throw on my formal armor coat and said, “You sure he doesn’t expect a red carpet? He’s probably got a jet with its own grill.”
I adjusted the tasteful giant red and gold coat with peacock feathers sticking out of the rear collar and put my helmet on. “Psh. Some of us have both dignity and exquisite taste.”
It turned out to be a regular jet with some boring company name on it. A fake company. Easy enough to make: take a noun or a verb and add Solutions, Management, or Global to the end. Throw them all together and you get Global Management Solutions, as generic and fake a name as they come. I’m not even going to check, but that’s still probably a real company.
I was going to make fun of it probably selling mercenaries to third world dictators, but I’m now a third world dictator and the mercenaries I’d been using up and left the island. Apparently they throw a tantrum and leave whenever they suffer lots of casualties for little pay. Bunch of spoiled brats with rifles if you ask me. At least there’s plenty of resale value on their guns. And on their organs, actually.
In fact, and this is brilliant, I’m sending an email right this minute to the hospital to start cloning valuable human organs using nanites and whatever spare meat they can get. Ooh, and maybe we can sneak in tracking devices. Or some sort of robots that separate after implantation and attach to the optic nerves and ears in order to let us spy. Perhaps some sort of nanite killswitch…
I couldn’t stand around thinking all day though. I had to get out there and meet this guy. Plus, that’s kinda what we sell prosthetic organs for anyway. We could always capture the market that doesn’t want prosthetic, though…
The airport had been plenty busy with people coming and going. We had some air traffic coming in through South Korea, Japan, China, and Australia. Russia threatened to send me a plane full of Polonium right to my front door once. I politely informed them that they don’t want to mess with me, because I know where their bodies will be buried. The radiation detectors didn’t find anything unusual in a scan of Ouroboros’s jet.
I stepped out there with Mix N’Max standing a ways behind me, and Sam and Holly behind him. At the last minute before the door opened, I turned and motioned Sam over. “I need a hand with something real quick.” She looked to Max, puzzled, but stepped over. I slid the heavy jacket off and tossed it into her arms. She almost dropped it. “Here, hold that for me.”
“Motherfucker!” she started, then walked back to behind Max, who smiled at her. He leaned in to whisper something and Sam went to find a place to dump it out of view of any important people. Yeah, I did it just to fuck with her. That was my plan the whole time, or at least I expected someone would say something I felt deserved it.
Soon after she walked off to see to my coat check, Ouroboros graced us with his presence. The man himself left the jet in a suit with a version of his mask on to protect his identity. He brought with him a few aides, including an older, wide, and thick fellow with white hair. I held my hands apart, all four. “Welcome to the island of Ricca, home of the Empire Ricca, and its lovely capital.”
“The city of Ricca?” he asked, a slight smile coming to his face. He setepped down the stairs and walked over to me for the official handshake that would have been photo-op worthy if we weren’t both wanted people.
I called up the latest Director Speaker guy to confirm. “Yes, the city of Ricca. As you can probably tell, the last administration lacked creativity. That’s why it took me to gather up a bunch of us for this meeting. We’ve had an increased trickle at the end here, but I think we’re about ready to start.”
He nodded. “I saw you had a problem with the navy.” He leaned in. “You did all of it, didn’t you?”
“I would have to be some kind of evil mastermind to pull that off. Thank you for the compliment.”
He smirked. “You impressed a lot of people on the fence about this meeting by stopping that nuclear bomb and protecting everyone else. My people thought it was surprising and devious. I felt it was serious. You’ve seen my city and I would love to see yours after my people have had time to bring my things to where I’m staying.”
Sounds like he wanted to make sure he had a nice place that wasn’t going to blow up. I don’t blame him. It also gave me time to pick a tour guide from the Directors. I’m too important as the leader of an entire nation to go around showing some glorified criminal mayor around. Notice I didn’t even give him a lei or throw him a luau. Leave that for greeters or the assistant to the greeters or the intern to the assistant to the greeters. I assume there’s protocol in place for all the little people. I wouldn’t know. I first showed up in Ricca as a hired consultant to build weapons of mass destruction.
As a person with plenty of lackeys, little things like saying “Hello” or showing supervillains to an Ikea mansion are beneath me. If I want, I could hire someone just to wipe my ass. I could pay them nothing but I wouldn’t. Because I’m classy and because you don’t want to screw over someone whose job is putting their fist near your pucker.
There was one last major attendee to grab. I gathered some of those lackeys of mine in a clearing on the edge of the city. Amid chanting, we started a massive bonfire. I had a table brought out, as well as a large pig. I hefted the pig onto the table and reached over to one of my black-robed lackeys. He held out a knife.
Suddenly the chanting grew quieter. I looked over to see Holly standing by a wireless speaker, her finger just leaving the volume down button. “Is this really necessary to get this guy here?” said Holly. She, Sam, and Max were all waiting at the edge of the clearing, along with Silver Shark, Citra, and Qiang.
I pulled my hood back. “No, that part’s easy. We have a mirror for that.” I pointed to where a few of the lackeys were standing up a mirror next to a cooler full of beer. “But I figured it might be rude to summon him here without something to eat. So then I got to thinking about it and figured I’d bring us all out here for a barbecue.” I turned back to the pig and stabbed the knife down. One spurt of blood later, the oinking stopped.
“You know how to do that thing where you cut it into pieces to cook it?” Sam asked while I set to work. Qiang rushed over to watch me.
“Butcher,” Silver Shark said.
“Thank you,” Sam said.
“It wasn’t a correction,” Shark responded. Still sore I cheated on her back when I was handling her meat, I see.
A couple of lackeys finished driving supports into the ground on either side of the bonfire. Then they hefted a grill into place. “Bring me the sacred herbs! And spices.” Another robed lackey stepped over with a bowl full of seasonings for me to toss on the meat.
Max clapped for me. “Excellent job. Was that a new record?”
“I know I was watching it, but how did you clean and butcher it so fast?” asked Silver Shark.
“I have a lot of experience cutting animals apart,” I said and tossed some loin and chops onto the grill. I headed back to work on more cutting.
Sam walked over, “Do they all come apart the same way?”
I shrugged and saw how Qiang was watching me cut. I handed her the knife and let her give it a try. “Generally less, though there are some specifics that depend on who you’re butchering.”
“Who?” Sam asked.
“Who who?” I asked back.
Holly pointed at me. “You said ‘who’ you’re butchering?’”
I pointed at myself too. “I did?” I looked to Max, who nodded.
“Don’t you consider humans animals?” asked Holly.
I looked down to see Qiang’s rough hackjob on some of the meat. Eh, there are always some spare pieces to throw away. I glared back at Holly and mouthed a silent, “Yes.” Ok, so I love the girl. I might even have feelings for some of these damn, dirty apes all over this planet due to a form of Stockholm Syndrome I haven’t had formally diagnosed.
Regardless, I should cut back on some of the outright, if deserved, bigotry against homo sapiens. She’s still half human, and that kind of thing could send a pretty fucked up message if she ever starts to think about it. No heir of mine is going to go through life a brainless bimbo. Plus, she’ll probably have to marry one of these backward chimps they call people in this universe. None of them are good enough for her anyway, which is yet another knock against this sad excuse for a species. I want her to be happy though. Coincidentally, I’ve already put out feelers online for used shotguns, the dirtier the better. I have to have that thing ready to clean the night she first starts dating.
“Can I change the music?” asked Citra.
I nodded. “Fine.” I can’t expect everyone to enjoy Sunn O))) or even to pronounce it correctly. It’s the parentheses. Very difficult for human tongues. She grabbed the mp3 player I’d used because I wasn’t about to let people hook a speaker up to my brain. That way lies madness and comments they don’t need to hear about themselves. The next song was less droning, but still quite My Imperial Majesty’s jam.
Holly leaned over. “Is this song seriously called ‘Rock N Roll Nig-‘.”
I cut her off, “Hush, we’re getting to the good part.”
After a few seconds of the song continuing on as normal, she asked, “I don’t hear anything special.”
“The whole song’s the good part,” I said. I tossed some ribs on the barbecue. “I think we’re doing well enough to bring them over.” I turned to the mirror and, with no ceremony whatsoever, said, “Spinetingler, Spinetingler, Spinetingler.”
The flickering flames of the bonfire disappeared from the mirror. The reflective surface went entirely black. Some of the blackness moved and grew out, a nub of darkness. Some of it then fell to the grass as strands of hair hanging down from a head. An arm poked out of the mirror as well. A woman crawled out in a white dress. She crawled over to me, then pulled herself up on my robe.
It was Spinetingler’s daughter. I don’t recall if I ever learned her name, but I do remember her face. Big nose and big brown eyes. Or they were before turning all icey white. Her hair used to be blonde too, but there’s not a lot of good horror from being stalked by a blonde. “Hey, you’re looking better. You eating better?”
She stared at my face for a long few seconds. “I heard you were a man.”
“I often am. Where’s your dad?” I looked past her to the mirror. I heard cawing, then a swarm of some sort of black bird flew out of the mirror and moved as one gigantic flock until they dove at the ground near the bonfire.
The birds disappeared into a dark puff of feathers that resolved into a black-clad figure with red trim. Black boots, black gloves, all looking like leather. I couldn’t pin down the pants and shirt, but it had kind of a leather creak going on. His face was hidden under a black hood of his own with red eyes glowing from within. He leaned over the grill. “Smells good. Do you have any beverages for myself and my daughter?”
“Lackeys, beer the man!” I called to some of the minions, a few of which were here from scenic Missouri. “Feel free to take the robes off if you don’t mind getting smoke and all in your clothes. I, however, will stay dressed in the formal evil barbecue robes as mine are light and airy, and I’m not wearing anything under them. Come on, folks, let’s get this party started!”
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.