Citra made it out just fine, it turns out. She’s barricaded herself in our rooms at the Bronze Palace, but he’s fine. My Dudebot’s making excuses for sending her back to Ricca, so I’ll see about getting her on a ship back over there when I’m not busy with more important things.
Like measuring my daughter for a new outfit, which is what I was doing when I got interrupted by official duties in the form of a messenger from the Directors.“Sir, the United States wants to talk to you. They are unhappy you set foot off the island in violation of the treaty.”
I rolled my eyes, patted Qiang on the head, and picked her up. “Come, my dear, it’s negotiate with that country that used to be a world leader.”
I spoke with a man with close-shaved hair and a hard face. He looked like they picked him for his ability to look angry and constipated. No wonder my guys said they were unhappy. I stepped up to the screen. “And who do I have the displeasure of wasting time on?”
“You’re in enough hot water as-is, you jumped-up carjacker. What are you doing off your island?”
I looked around, then down. I stomped on the ground a few times. “I don’t know where you think I am right now, but I seem to be on the island.”
He held up spy satellite pictures of me in Ricca fighting the Dimension Rangers and me in the Bronze City meeting the delegation. I glanced at them. “Do you have timestamps?”
“You know damn well we do so we can prove you-”
I reached over to put my and on the Giant Screen I’d been talking through, cutting off this guy with images of my own. They showed footage of the landing and of the fight, alongside footage of a Dudebot gladhanding people on Ricca. “As you can see, either I can be in multiple places at once, or you’re looking at a copycat. Perhaps some despicable doppelganger trying to sully my good name. I’ll have you know I would have you know I haven’t violated any treaty I’ve signed with your country and I am insulted by the implication. Not insulted enough to attack you or anything, but mighty peeved, I tell ya what.”
I was being honest, too. Beetrice forged my name on the original treaty, meaning I never signed it myself. Not that it matters, as I’m quite at fucking the truth sideways in the ass, but I like being able to lie while telling the truth. The best truths are the ones that destroy other people.
After my righteous indignation, the posterboy for frustrated abstinence pointed his finger through the screen at me. “One of you is a goddamn robot, that’s what it is. Probably you.”
I wasn’t in my armor, which made the statement all the more odd. Completely lifelike robots are extremely difficult to maintain. There are sound considerations, movements, smells, and keeping the skin alive. I raised my finger. “Qiang, honey, stab daddy’s finger.”
Qiang looked between the angry man on the screen and me. I smiled at her. She slid her knife out of her dress and held it overhand to gently prick my finger. I turned the prick toward the other prick. “Do I not bleed? Do I not have a loving and obedient daughter to take care of? Have I not recorded this entire conversation to present to the world if you try any of that He-Man macho preemptive bullshit? And before you say it, I know that wouldn’t stop you.” I smiled and chuckled, before looking him in the eye. “I would.”
I shut off the screen, then kissed Qiang’s forehead. “Good job, sweety. That’s what daddy likes to call ‘proof of life.’ See, sometimes people need to be sure someone is alive. Usually, that’s just a matter of holding up that day’s newspaper next to the person, but sometimes you have to resort to blood, or even body parts. Any questions?”
After our impromptu lesson on one of the basics of hostage-taking, I brought Qiang along with me to tour the water treatment plant. She decided she’d rather go play, so I dropped her off with Silver Shark to go find a Cao Cao’s Pizza. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese, but with a man in a Japanese samurai outfit who goes around cutting pizzas with his sword. They have lots of games for kids. I tried looking up their history, but the internet had nothing on them except for news archives about children disappearing.
See, this is why I taught my daughter how to kill people and employ a cyborg shark-woman as her babysitter. It keeps me from becoming one of those awful helicopter parents.
Anyway, the water treatment plant. It’s one of the more manageable aspects of my future plan. I was surprised I neglected this place in my first run-through of the island’s facilities. I mean, food’s doing ok. I believe they settled with the Scientologists. I sometimes see Old Man Hoodless roaring by the beach on his new speedboat. Power’s going well now that we’ve got multiple crews trained. I’ve approved the repatriation of the kidnapped nuclear plant crew via quietly dumping them in out of the way places on the Japanese mainland. But I haven’t had a crisis about water so far, and that’s actually pretty awesome.
Lots of systems are like that. The invisible cogs of the world that most don’t think about so long as they work. They can be a real fuckwaffle to fix or get started. That’s why I brought gift baskets for my visit. Sake, cheese, and some sort of medals the Director found for loyalty and hard work. They wouldn’t tell me which of the brothels sell gift cards, so I left those out.
It wasn’t a fancy operation. They had it parked on the south end of the island, right on the coast. Despite my good intentions, I suspect many of them were eager to swim away as I stepped inside to greet them. “Goooood morning my loyal aqua engineers! H2Oh boy aren’t y’all glad to see me? Water y’all doing this fine day?!”
Bad jokes are only a tiny part of the reason I went there to see the bright and shiny faces of the people keeping us hydrated. They didn’t have so many of the bright and shiny faces. Weary, sure. They pulled off confused and curious as well, but the place didn’t have much of a PR department. Then again, when your selling point is “Support us or have no water,” you don’t need a lot of tact to make a deal.
They had a mixed crowd of men and women working there, which is nice to see. They sent forward a man to represent them. “I am Shu, the spokesman for the Water Collective.”
“Collective?” I asked. “I am unfamiliar with y’all and assumed I’d be speaking with a manager or supervisor or something. Please enlighten me.”
Shu and I walked and talked as he took me on a tour of the water purification systems. They showed me the water treatment, ozone, and filters, and I pretended to be fascinated. It was still handy information to have in case I ever need it or need to help fix it, but it also wasn’t as cool as the laser room. Turns out they separate salt from water using a delicate process involving a large industrial laser. Some of the steam from that can be diverted to power an on-site turbine, which kept it self-sufficient while the power was off. They’re also selling the sea salt.
I nodded along hearing how it all came together in what Shu described as a wonderful and complex cycle of water up until they fired it off for me. I couldn’t help but get excited watching stimulated light boil the water into leaving behind salt crystals. “There are doors that close over there so we can get to the salt and access for maintenance… Emperor?”
Shu had to ask after me because I was hugging the observation window and emitting a high-pitched pleasure noise. “It’s ok. I’m just wondering if it has any penis-sized holes.”
“No sir, and we don’t like the laser breaking down,” he said. “But you are the Emperor.”
I unstuck myself from the observation window reluctantly as the laser powered down. I shook myself off to get the tingly feelings off the back of my head. “No, it’s fine, it’s fine. Still, I’m going to need a few things now.”
“We will do our best, sir. What can we get you?” asked Shu.
“I’m gonna need either a crapton of popcorn, or a secret agent. Even better, find me a secret agent and stuff him full of uncooked popcorn.” I was already looking up to find out where they popcorn grows and if we export any.
“I do not believe we can do this. Would you like to continue the tour instead?” he bowed, perhaps to hide his expression in the face of my reactions while also showing respect.
I nodded along with residual enthusiasm from the water-slaughtering death machine they’d demonstrated. “Sure, sure, I got ya. Listen, let’s just cut to the thing I showed up here for in the first place. What I need to know is if you have something already built to pump chemicals into the water supply.”
Shu raised his face back up, his smile failing to reach the corner of his eyes. “Of course. This way, my Emperor.”
It’s not really a surprise they built the place to do that, too. “Here it is, Emperor.” Shu presented me to a set of tanks hooked into the outgoing water supply. “These are the flouride tanks. We haven’t had flouride in them for years, though.”
“Flouride? I’m surprised Claw cared so much.”
She scratched the back of his head. “The rumors say a scientist told him he could use flouride in the drinking water to make people into mindless followers, when he was really a foreign operative meant to trick the Claw. The project did nothing but improve people’s teeth.”
“Interesting,” I said, climbing up to examine some of the tanks. All empty, but I think they’ll work. “Who did he work for? CIA? KGB? MI-6?”
“The American Dental Association,” Shu responded, getting a laugh from me.
“A dentist, eh? They stick him in a chair and take a drill to him for interrogation? Now that’s some poetic justice.” I rubbed my hands together, nearly salivating at the idea.
“No,” Shu answered, “The man had a cyanide tooth. They checked him for such, but the tooth was perfectly installed and eluded detection.”
“Well,” I said, slamming a hand down on the side of the tank. “These things are perfect, and tooth enthusiasts like that dastardly dentist may yet get their wish. I’ve got an idea. We’re going to inundate the local waters, you see. Special nanomachines that don’t quite operate the way the medical ones do.”
“Sir?” he asked.
I clapped my hands together. “Imagine if all you anyone needed to do to get over illness was enjoy water from the tap? Get over a cut off limb by soaking in a bath, even. It’s one of the first ideas I have in mind for improving things.”
The guy seemed a bit jumpy. He didn’t need to know about my planned instructions to mess around a bit with people bodies. See what I can do to impress some of those same abilities into people, much in the way I’ve upgraded my own flesh. I resolved to think more on whether it should all be controlled manually or subject to a program running experiments.
I had plenty of time to think about it after I left the treatment facility to head back to the palace and begin work on a child-sized suit of power armor. Unfortunately, the surprise was ruined when Silver Shark and Qiang burst in looking like they’d been in something of a tussle.
“Problem, dears?” I asked, smiling at them.
“We are never going back there again!” Silver said. I took it to be a normal allergic reaction to kid saturation until Qiang added to the conversation.
“They had robot animal samurai on a stage to play music, and then they let them walk around, and, and, and then one of them tried to take me in the back for a prize. He turned out to be a person in a suit with a knife, so I stabbed him, like this!” She demonstrated a hard, swift stab at the air in what would be crotch-level for a grown adult.
“Good girl!” I said, clapping for her.
“In your name, I beat the crap out of him and dropped him off at the base. If I didn’t have Qiang with me, I’d have taken my time,” Silver said. “You really need a police force to help with all this. You stay busy.”
“I have a lot I’m doing,” I told them. “Have to get the island ready for a brief absence, and that sounds like another area I need to work on.” And it’s true. I’m not just handling busy work. There’s much to prepare before I take my kid along with me to visit the United States. Speaking of, I may have to teach her to HALO jump.
I insisted I didn’t want a big ceremony. I was still insisting it as they uncovered a gilded statue of me. I still insisted, but, ya know, gilded statue. Quietly, I insisted. But still I insisted. Gold’s a bit tacky in those amounts… in the powerful curves of my armor… bringing to life the fierce expression on my helmet. Sometimes, you don’t realize how pretty something is until you see a giant version made of valuable metal.
The gilty party in question was a statue of my armor, since that’s how I appear to most people. I’m usually seen out and about in my armor, though the Directors insisted I make an exception. The people here are so confident in their newly-gained self rule that they completely blew off any ideas I had of making this a smaller affair. “It’s not every day that the Emperor marries,” said one guy with a really tall top hat. “You’ll look amazing in your regalia.” He smartly turned, clicking his heels together, and walked off.
“Regalia?” I asked, thinking to pictures of kings in pantaloons and heavy spotted coats, heavy crowns on their heads and holding orbs. “It better not be something where I end up holding some balls!” I hear they’re heavy, just like those big crowns, and I’m already picking up one ball and chain.
Ugh. I’m relying heavily on cliche here, but I have to watch how much things go that way. Cliche is predictable. Predictability is an easy way to die. So it was that I watched my back thoroughly when I stood at the altar in fancy robes, a sash forming an X across my chest. It was part of the tradition on Ricca.
I don’t know if they cared about Western wedding traditions, but I hit up the town for a night of strippers and blow anyway. I was awoken the next morning by the owner of the petting zoo, who found me in a cage with a pair of dead hookers and a pregnant goat. “It’s not what it looks like!” I said to the man, who stared at me like someone whose world had come crashing down. I tried to explain and pointed to the hookers, “They were already dead when I found them last night!” The goat licked my face then, so I pushed its head away and pointed to its very heavy belly, “And, uh, I’m pretty sure this thing was already knocked up.”
Somewhere there’s a pissed-off CIA section chief berating his spies, saying, “Do you know who this guy is? We need more than zombie prostitutes and interspecies erotica to hold over his head! That’s every goddamn Wednesday for him!”
At least the goat had been shaved lately. Elda’s people were a little behind the time in grooming standards for women.
As far as guests went, I invited all the people I was told were important. More than that, I had other guests I expected. A squad of Deep One militia had spotted a trireme while on patrol. They offered to go and blow it up with more mines, but I declined. I wouldn’t mind them rigging something to blow up the ship once the survivors of that little voyage set sail again, but the Deep Ones haven’t shown me they can be trusted to follow those kinds of orders yet.
They normally prefer weddings in real buildings, but they had to balance the importance of the occasion with the lack of a real palace. The Directors were more than happy to let us borrow their marquee. Fun fact: a really big tent is called a marquee.
Elda stood there with a white dress on, Chinese style with a high collar, a flower laurel in her hair. She’d actually bathed and allowed herself to be made up, and it improved on her looks.
They’d attempted to keep her as close to Riccan traditions as possible, but she’d resisted and clearly won the right to carry a knife with her. She’d made her point to the Directors about needing to sacrifice to her gods during the ceremony. And something about the two of us bathing each other. They worked in some of her traditions, and arranged for animal sacrifice beforehand. It gave the chefs time to sneak the corpse of the lamb to the kitchen. I checked the knife for blood regardless.
To get us to standing in front of the altar, I had to skip a LOT of drudgery. And, like everyone in the middle of getting married, I knew y’all were eager to skip to all the action. I most certainly was.
So I stood there, at the altar, looking uncomfortable, with some strange woman I don’t know holding my hands and looking into my eyes, joining her life to mine, or whatever things people associate with weddings. If I had to put a name to the feelings running through me at the moment, I would have said paranoia, frustration, and a desire to kill someone. But those are the standard ones I have all the time. Confusion added to it as I tried to consider the whole marriage thing and what the fuck it’s even for. I’m going to go with property rights as my final answer on that one.
Case in point, someone tried to give me an axe. Instead of being laid out on one of the tables full of gifts, it came in the hand of a sweaty muscled guy crashing through the top of the tent. It would have made quite the surprise if he wasn’t screaming. I instinctively pulled Elda close, but people probably mistook that for trying to shield her rather than myself. Vercingetorix turned the blade away from hitting her, which meant it missed me by happy coincidence. Perhaps as a consequence of him and his gang coming in from above, the tent started to collapse inward.
I turned to get Elda and I out, but a clang and a pain in my side preceded me getting lifted and thrown. When I landed, I have to say I was impressed. Standing up amidst falling fabric cutting off the view, I let the illusion of the ridiculous wedding costume disappear, revealing my armor. My unpenetrated armor, though it still hurt a little to get hit like that. That left Elda with Vercingetorix. She pulled her knife and took a slice at him.
Elda was dedicated to being an independent warrior princess. Too bad she sucks at fighting. Vercingetorix dodged her easily. He grabbed her hand and spun her around so that he was holding her cross her throat with just one hand. “You must come with me away from this place!”
“With you, the man who murdered my father?!” She kicked him in the balls before stomping down on his foot. He didn’t let her go, but then she bit down on his forearm and didn’t let up even after the blood spurted. Hey, I taught her that. Had to put a few guys on medical leave before she got it right.
The tent finished collapsing on us all and I had to tear my way through it. I saw a pair of lumps where Elda and Vercingetorix had been fighting and, past them, several members of the wedding party finding their way free. I wondered if people were going to find those complementary knives under all their chairs. Elda cut her way out. Vercingetorix behind her grabbed at the fabric, and I saw opportunity.
I ran forward as if to help Elda, and wrap her in my arms. My momentum, sadly, carried us a bit too close to the lump that was Vercingetorix. She tried to get out of my grip. “What- ah!” The tent tore, and skin with it. Elda’s legs collapsed under her but I still held her up as Vercingetorix stepped out for all to see.
“I can still save her!” I yelled, picking up Elda and starting to carry her away to the residence.
Vercingetorix seemed shocked for a moment, then perhaps more so at the arrival of a half dozen tank drones, twenty deep ones, a helicopter, and a cohort of pissed-off wedding guests with knives. It didn’t help when Silver Shark threw a bear at him and VelocityRaptor chucked another pair of accomplices at him. Almost as an afterthought, the wedding cake rolled over from the side and a bikini-clad soldier burst from the top with a battle cry, a pair of SMGs in his hands. Things went silent for a moment. It was a cry by the Bronze Man sailor that finally shook the barbarian into taking his friends and fleeing.
I was supposed to be looking after my bride, who I’d carried over the threshhold and then dropped on the floor like a sack of potatoes so I could watch. Intentional or not, the bear absorbed a lot of bullets and lasers before skidding to a dead halt. There was a bald woman with a snake wrapped around her neck. Her head popped like a melon. That left Vercingetorix and a younger guy whose clumsiness helped him dodge eveything my people sent at him. They were exposed, though, and it would be just a matter of seconds.
Until the old man in faded gray robes stepped out one of the depressions leading to the old palace basements and threw a bottle behind the barbarian and his remaining sidekick. It created this glowing blue wall that stopped everything. The pair of would-be heroes ran to meet him, but the old man collapsed on his way.
“Come on, people, go around the wall. Around, over, underneath, it’s just a piece of wall there!” I said to myself cut into the comms frequencies to yell at them. “Get around the wall and finish them off!”
‘I don’t know, sir, it looks like it’s starting to give under the assault!” said the voice of someone who wanted to be executed for incompetence.
“Go around the wall. Come on, there’s a fucking helicopter here, raise up a little higher!” I yelled. Behind me, Citra approached. She looked down on Elda, pity marking her borrowed features. They were no longer Venus’s features. Instead, she had the same strawberry blonde and tanned skin as Elda. I’d had the nanites give Citra better teeth and an unbroken nose, though.
“Can’t you spare her?” asked Citra, kneeling beside the would-be bride.
“If you’re already trying to change me, then you’re in for a rude awakening. More so than the other night,” I turned to her, trying to track the flight of the barbarian from orbit.
The helicopter was pursuing the sidekick and Vercingetorix, who had left the old guy behind. Vercingetorix threw his axe and suddenly the chopper veered off, the pilot reporting an axe lodged in the window and an urgent need for new pants.
“I agreed to that hole before,” Citra said, returning me to the conversation of rude awakenings. “I do not think I can change you, but I ask you, please. I have given up my identity for you. I give myself to you completely. As a wedding gift this once, I ask you show mercy to the one whose place I’ve taken.” She stepped up behind me and wrapped her arms around me. She nuzzled her cheek against my cape.
Eh, it won’t kill me be nice this once for someone else’s sake. I stepped out of her embrace and turned to go fetch the general medicalnanites for Elda, who had passed out from blood loss. The organs where that axe hit weren’t looking pretty either, but she was still, faintly, alive. I kept a large stock of the weaker Riccan variant around just in case I had such wounds. Then I carried her to Citra’s room, which she’d no longer be needing, where Citra had bathed in nanites to change her features. They would see to keeping her alive and keeping her incapacitated for long enough.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the damaged chopper had tried to land back at the miliary base, below which Qiang played safe in a bunker. The daredevil pilot figured a little axe throwing wouldn’t put him off his game. Throwing a pine air freshener around his neck to distract from the smell the last pilot left, he hopped in and gunned it for the barbarian’s ship.
They had reached it and were getting it ready for their escape as best as they could with only the two people. Of course the chopper could reach them and blow them out of the water. At least until the pilot’s targetting equipment scrambled. “Fire on that ship and there won’t be enough robots in the world that could put you back together,” said a voice over the radio.
I switched over to Intercept’s frequency. “Emperor, can you hear us yet? Please answer! The Ranger ship is at the edge of international waters.”
“Yes, with guns trained on what’s left of your palace, Gecko. Call off your pursuit.”
“You know you’re fucking with some treaties now. This is no business of yours.”
“We have broad authority over extradimensional threats, including those associated with the land that reappeared so close to your island. We also have a cannon we can fire first and apologize for using after you’re destroyed. Be glad we’re giving you a choice at all.”
I’ll have Vercingetorix yet, and those tights-wearing sons of bitches. In the meantime, I have to go make an appearance with a perfectly-fine Elda and finish my wedding, then send a delegation with the Bronze City sailor to inform them all of their new king and queen. Get them ready for our visit to the island. That part of the plan has worked just fine.
Now to secure the Tree of Wonders before it is used against me.
I know the island seems like one big lovefest at times, what with the drugs and orgies, but I’m not the one personally selling those things. But people are selling them. Despite the preparations for defense, we’re seeing increased traffic from all sorts. The airport’s having staffing problems, they’re so busy. Faust’s got themselves set up to sell things right out in the open. Others are hocking ill-gotten goods that justify international travel. The really enterprising people are selling smuggling services to get the stuff bought here into other countries. Now those are smart.
Not only would it be difficult to keep undesireables out, but it’s counter to the business and tourism strategy of Ricca. It’s hard to keep an eye on everything, especially with so many of the old security cameras damaged or vandalized. I saw prostitutes plying their trade around newcomers both fancy and blue-collar. I saw drug growers making deals with pilots and boat captains. At a Faustus/Hephaestus street booth, one of their salespeople offered a glowing orb in a diamond-shaped restraint to a man in a tailored suit. Another one used a monitor nearby to show off a plasma sword to a bunch of people who smiled high-fived each other approvingly.
Such a pleasant hive of scum and villainy. It’s almost easy to get lost in all the scheming and deals. I get a cut of much of it, though I’m sure I’ll have to run down someone who doesn’t want to pay. The really awesome thing would be if I could make it even easier to get here and back to anywhere in the world with people’s products. I’d really, really love to get my hands on that teleporter of Cape Diem’s and figure out how it works for just that purpose.
Until then, I’ve got a plan involving flying robots. But, dear reader, you may have guessed they have to wait until I solve this issue with Mu. And do something about that tree over there. A group of justice rangers who have had to repress their hatred of me are not the sort of folks I like being too close to a tree that grants wishes.
This Mu thing. Originally, it was about exploring and conquering it. Then that got hijacked by finding out more about it while fending off attacks. It’s still about conquest, though. Taking over it, neutralizing threats from Mu, and securing the tree so that it can’t be used against me. It was while watching the myriad of people going about their schemes that I realized I needed to be more proactive and less reactionary. I’m good at reactionary, but still.
So for the tree, I need to destroy it or, if that’s not possible, contain it in some way. Explosives are always an option, especially with all the plastic explosives floating around in our market. There’s bound to be some way to destroy this thing. If there isn’t, there’s the containment option. A dimensional bomb could do, if it would do. I mean that I dislike it being in anyone else’s hands in the multiverse. What if it were to end up on another Earth with another version of me? I can’t be trusted with that kind of power. That’s why I must possess it or prevent anyone else from getting their damn, dirty paws on it.
I think I can handle ending the threat of the island and conquering it with related actions. Vercingetorix is coming, and eventually the Bronze City will have its fleet rebuilt to try again. Vercingetorix the barbarian might be on the island already, in fact. There’s plenty of wilderness on the western and northwestern portion of the island, and only so much I can look at. I need to draw him out.
That brings usback to the Bronze City and their Bronze Men. They don’t have much, but they have manpower. Note to self: don’t use that term near too many of the gay ones. They’re pretty old-fashioned. If they’re anything like the Classical Greeks, they’ll have primitive notions of consent. And bestiality. I’ll have to remember that bestiality point if I ever have a feast over there. When a person eats, they like to think nobody stuck a dick in their food.
So what to do about the Bronze City? Rule it, of course! I talked all about it with Elda, Princess of the Bronze City.
“Hey there, mopey pants,” I said, poking my head around the corner to look into her cell. “Are we going to meet the sun today?”
Elda held up well, all things considered. She sat on her bunk, deep in thought. Irritation flitted briefly over her features when she turned to look at me. “You look less ready for war this day, while I am ready to fight one,” she said.
I stepped in and moved to sit beside her on the bunk. She didn’t move her hand away when I set my own on top, which was a good sign. “I know it’s hard when your father dies. As much as you disagreed with him, he still meant so much to you. More than that, you are his heir. All the responsibilities he hoped he could prepare you for are now thrust upon you.”
Her hand clenched under mine, into a fist. “My claim means nothing on its own. My father insisted I learn the games politicians play, but only a king may rule the Bronze City. I told him I should not have to stayin the palace and learn these things if I can not rule and use them. He said that would become clear to me and that a good ruler was different than a hero from the tales. I threw those words back in his face the night I escaped…”
The sentence drifted off, but she took my hand in hers. She held back the sobbing, but not the tears. Then I held her. After several minutes of her calming down and even cuddling against me, I spoke up, “I may have a solution to your problems.” She punched me in the gut when I went for the kiss, but she DID listen to the rest of it.
“So, as you may realize, I’m something of a big deal. I mean, the whole world revolves around me a lot of the time. Yep, totally. But I’m also Emperor. It’s like a king, but better. But I’m an unmarried emperor, which causes people to get a bit jumpy. An unmarried emperor is one accident away from having a bunch of people fighting over my chair. It’s a nice chair, and we’ve even added this memory foam to the cushion, but a lot of people worry there might be someone worse out there to end up with. Others think that fighting over the place will end with buildings destroyed, people stampeded, and cattle raped.”
She nodded understandingly. Really not eating the meat over there, then.
“And you know I am a different sort of man than the ones you have grown up around. This is a chance for you to decide your own fate. If I were the king of the Bronze City, well, you know I have my own land to rule. You could rule the Bronze City in my stead, if you were my queen.”
She looked me right in the eyes. “Why should I trust you?”
I looked right back. “Because the sort of evil and ambitious person who murdered your father has seen fit to declare himself my enemy. Because I tended to your wounds, allowed you freedom even as a captive, and because I am making this your choice. Not mine. Not your father’s. Not Vercingetorix’s.” I’m so glad I wasn’t speaking English for that last sentence.
I had another thing to show her regarding my trust. She didn’t want to be blindfolded, so instead I threw her over my shoulder and held my hands over her hands as I jumped to our destinated, her screaming all the while.”You didn’t wanta blindfold!” I shouted by way of explanation.
When I finally set her down, she tried to kick me and back away. Except then she started to fall off the side of the building, because I’d jumped up to one of our higher buildings. I grabbed her arm and yanked her back up to me, holding her still with my arm around her shoulder. “Look.”
“We’re so high up.” She kept looking down, so I reached over to hold her chin up and force her to look out over the city.
“This is a part of my empire. You ask why you should trust me enough to marry me and make me King of the Bronze City? Because you would be Empress of Ricca. This goes both ways.”
Ya know what’s a great way to lure an old-fashioned hero out of hiding? If the evil emperor holds a lavish wedding to the damsel in distress. Almost always causes an attack. And that very sound logic is what allowed me to eventually bring the ladies around to my way of thinking.
“I swear, she means nothing to me!” I told Citra back in the residence, ducking a vase thrown by Beetrice. Silver Shark held Qiang in one hand and threw a pillow at me with the other. I knew no one would mean my kid harm, but that courtesy didn’t extend to me at all in this instance. Citra cried and grabbed a knife. I held up my hands. “The wedding will not go through!”
She stopped a few feet from me. “You’re sure?”
I stood back up, glad I no longer had to stop entertaining this amusing reaction by laying some hurt on her. “Positive. Vercingetorix is in the area. He may be on the island already. He’ll find out about it and crash the wedding. It’ll be disrupted and left incomplete while we all beat him up. In order to better cause this to happen, I’m going to have them install some sort of environmental hazard, like a bottomless pit or a volcano.”
“You won’t marry her?” Citra asked to be sure, pouting with Venus’s face.
I patted her on the head. “Of course not.” Then, looking over to Beetrice, I said, “Listen, Beetrice, it’s nice that someone is as happy to see me as you are, but there’s nothing between us but raw sexual chemistry. I’m looking for more than that.”
Silver started to open her mouth in response but I cut her off, “Actually, I’m not looking for more than that. I’m looking to not get married at all, but everybody’s making such a big deal about it and I don’t feel like resorting to extreme measures to make my distaste known. Either way, Beetrice, you’ve grown into a fine leader without me. You clearly possess cunning and a strong will to have held together your rule of North Korea and negotiated for my continued freedom. You have my gratitude, and a few hundred of my kids.”
Beetrice ran over past Citra and hugged me. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” On the plus side, I needed my back cracked that well. She set me back down gently and backed away.
Silver ahemed and nodded toward Citra. I addressed the shark cyborg first. “Silver, I like having you around, and you know how much I enjoy your enhancements, but we’ve already talked about how bad I am at being part of a couple.”
“Finally,” I said, drawing Citra close. “I am not a good man. I’m not even always a man. But you helped me deal with the Claw and stood by me during all that’s happened since then. Qiang likes you, and you were willing to give up your face for me. That says a lot to me.” It really does. Corrupting a woman into being willing to do that just to get with me? Rawr.
I reached back behind me and under my shirt. I had to toss aside a few knicknacks from visitng the bazaar. A pack of super trading cards that I hope has one of me, a pair of electro-grenades, and a laser-etched anti-personnel chainsaw. Don’t ask how I held that last one back there, but I have amazingly strong cheek muscles. Finally, I pulled out a finely-engraved gold comb. It featured a gecko on the end of it, a tiny Earth of jade and blue diamond held within its mouth.
I reached up, did up Citra’s hair, and slid it into place. Then I looked down at her purple face, leaned in real close to her ear, and said, “Don’t forget to breathe.”
She looked so happy, I felt a little guilty. I’ll screw it up at some point. But hopefully I won’t have to kill Citra like I’m going to do to Elda at the wedding I’m rushing through in a few days’ time. If the ceremony doesn’t make people cry, the funeral surely will.
I have good news and bad news. Mostly on the good side of things. But first, let’s get into the disposition of my forces.
I didn’t just recruit Deep Ones to try their flippers at VR robot piloting. I recognized they represented an amphibious force. Sure, they weren’t as good on sea and land as Seals, but they’d do adequately for fighting people so far back down the tech tree that they haven’t even researched “Not Dying For Beginners”. Good book, by the way. Sadly, the author passed away before he could write “Advanced Not Dying”. Auto-erotic asphyxiation, though his wife insists it was research.
So I made the rounds among those I’d convinced to come over to the dark side and asked these ill-bred fishmen if any of them have any combat experience at all. Some raised a fin, others didn’t. Some raised and lowered it. “What seems to be the major malfunction here?” I asked.
They looked between themselves before a couple tried to speak up. One quickly yielded the floor to his fellow frog man, whose Australian accent was more subtle. Brisbane, maybe? “We had monthly drills. No one fought for real, like sparred. Just in case the war against humanity started up and we swept across the dry lands to tear your civilization asunder, Mr. Emperor, sir.”
“I’ve heard of worse,” I said.
“They said it would be self-defense,” he continued. I think it was a he. I’m a bit rusty on my sexual dimorphism of amphibians. “But they taught us how to murder lone stragglers so we could ambush a funeral party, or attacking and occupying where people grow food and raise your domesticated beasts. There was very little actual defense in it.”
“I get the point,” I said, raising a hand to forestall more reminiscences. “I don’t think much of that is going to be useful this time around. These guys who are about to hit us, I think we can take ’em out before they ever become a threat. We kinda have to, most of the navy went rogue back when everything on the island collapsed. Anyway, I figure you guys are good at swimming, you can handle being in the water, and their ships are made of wood.”
I pointed over to where a couple of the regular soldiers wheeled out a crate. “I need y’all to swim these things on over to the ships and stick them to the ships however you can. You don’t even need to go aboard. Below water level’s actually ideal here. They’re actually land-style mines, but they’re engineered to be waterproof, with several glowing reviews.”
I was surprised to find one of Ricca’s exports are the “Soon The World Will Be” mines. The mine business is a tricky thing, since they’re kind of a war crime and infamously the bane of countries for decades afterwards, but they do see some supervillain use. Maybe put a field around areas you don’t want people to wander on your private island, or down a corridor you don’t want to assign guards to in your underground lair. Soon The World Will Be mines have a world-class reputation for dependability and versaility, being waterproof, difficult to tamper with and disarm, and a wide range of triggers. They even come with dude mode, where a mine detects someone on proximity, then activates a time delay. Just when they think they’re safe, kablam!
Coming soon to a black market near you. Not recommended for children 2 years and under due to choking hazard. Ask your mad doctor if Soon The World Will Be mines are right for you.
It took away from VR training time, but explosives training is one of those things that has to be done right if done at all. When it goes boom, you DO get more than one chance to make a good first impression. The problem is, if you make a bad impression, you make a good crater. That’s why so many hands-on courses on the subject end up full of high scores.
When they were done, I called over an officer. He gave me a salute and a bow. “They have much to learn, but we will not fail you, Emperor.”
“I’m sure you won’t. Have y’all seen Silver Shark anywhere?” I asked.
“We have not been informed if she is on mission for you, venerated one.”
“I didn’t send her out on one. She got huffy the other day, and I want to find her before she becomes Silver Pufferfish.”
“The Pufferfish was a thorn in the side of the great Empire of Ricca in the seventies, the histories teach us,” he responded, and seemingly oblivious to the pun. Maybe that was something gained in translation.
“Yes, well I just wanted to know if y’all had seen her. Do not organize a search party. This is something personal between her and myself.”
We gave them a crash course, or perhaps a blast course, then sent them off. The Deep One demolition team was to swim out to Mu and wait near the harbor of the Bronze City. When the fleet set sail, our guys were to follow them until they got drowning distance from land, set up the mines, and sink the whole lot of them. Also, maybe bring back a prisoner or two. I’m curious what happened with Vercingetorix. One day, he’s headed to the city with a ragtag band of misfits. The next, nothing. I counted all the ships in the harbor and they hadn’t been stolen, either.
While the Deep Ones swam out to use modern military gadgets on a bunch of triremes, I searched for Silver Shark. I’d originally expected her to come back after her anger subsided, but she ended up staying away from the residence. I went about checking for her by myself, aided by my ability to connect to a number of hidden surveillance cameras planted around the island. I ended up finding her in a bar. One of the more plebian bars. A small, dirty, smoke-filled place where people come to drink, forget, and see if anyone’s desperate enough for a fuck. A fun place to play cards or settle a bet over who can gouge out the most eyes.
When I walked in, there was a brief dip in chatter before people began talking more quietly to themselves. My armor was rather distinctive, marking me as that weird Emperor guy who would actually go into a bar like this, meant more for the regular folk.
“Hey there, sugarcookie,” I said, sliding up beside Silver and taking a seat. The bartender hurried over, and I gave him my order, then told him to leave us alone after he dropped off my sake. Silver glanced over at first, but didn’t attempt to fling me away. Yet another good reason I wore the armor. “You haven’t been back.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I’d say we had some different ideas about the kind of relationship we were in, but that implies I have good ones. I must confess, I’m pretty terrible at relationships.”
That got a short “Ha!” from her. Then she hung her head. “You’re the only one I’ve had in a long time. Most men don’t look at me that way.”
“Their loss. Some people just don’t know what beautiful is. But, listen, it’s not you. It’s me. I’m an asshole. And, even if I did care about anyone as a friend or more, there are some pretty big risks to letting people know about that. A hero might use someone’s identity to extort me, or some street vigilante might go around and kill someone just for having a connection to me.”
“I know, I’m a villain too, remember?” she said, shooting me a look with the void-like depths of one of her replacement eyes.
“Yeah, but you’re not hated by almost the entire world for threatening to kill like, half of them. I mean, I saved them all twice, at least. Three times if you count Cthulhu. What do I have to show for it?”
“Your own island and country,” she answered. “All the wealth within it. A blanket amnesty. The love of beautiful woman. Groupies. Your own private army of unquestioning minions. A giant bee woman.”
“I have groupies?” I asked. I mean, yeah, probably. Fucking Charles Manson has fans, and I have much better facial hair, so why not?
After a moment of silencewhere she didn’t elaborate on the groupies, I just added.”Moving on… I’m not the settling down type. I got issues. I don’t have any desire to marry anyone, but I can see how people see it as important now that I’m a public figure. Which… oooh, those damn toy companies can do whatever they want with my image now, can’t they? Son of a bitch. But if it wasn’t for this big dynastic thing, I wouldn’t get hitched. Hitching slows ya down, and I wanna be free to hop from place to place.”
“Oh god,” she said, facepalming. “Don’t-”
“You’re in my world now, not your world,” I stood and began singing, music issuing from my armor. “And I got friends on the other side!” I looked around to find the rest of the bar ducking and covering, rather than joining in on a magical musical adventure. I cut the music. “Spoilsports.”
“What kind of world do we live in where you lead a country,” Silver said.
I sat back down. “The United States elected-”
She raised a hand. “I got it. Ugh. Don’t even say the name. Point made forever.” She turned to me then, not speaking, but occasionally opening her mouth as if to start again.
I dove in for us. “Tangent over, about us. You and I, and our relationship. I saw it as a more casual thing but never got your take on it. You saw it as more serious, in which case I cheated on you. Repeatedly. Like, a lot. Look at me, Silver. I’ve sucked more Korean cocks than… hold on, I need to look up a Korean porn star.”
“As if you don’t know any already,” she remarked.
“Beside the point. Listen, you’re welcome back at the palace. As far as things between us go, I liked us being friendly with one another. If that involves the occasional roll in the hay, I’m fine with it. Besides, you’re a good example for my daughter. She might ask me for laser eyes one day if she sees how cool you look.”
She smiled at that. “You don’t deserve her or Citra.”
“I don’t deserve lots of things. It’s not a just world. To quote a certain Goblin King, ‘Fair? I wonder what your basis for comparison is.’ Yeah, Citra shouldn’t want to marry me. She shouldn’t have done what she did for me, either.”
“Damn straight,” Silver said.
We had a pleasant time talking, and though she came back to the palace with me, she didn’t crawl into my bed. A quick check showed Beetrice splayed out on my sofa, Qiang asleep on a pile of stuffed animals in the middle of the living room, and a doppelganger of my nemesis waiting for me in my bedroom.
Lifestyles of the rich and evil.
Of course, my brief contentment didn’t last long, as the next day would bring with it the news that the Deep Ones didn’t listen. They swam all night, took one look at all the boats, and figured they would go ahead and set up the bombs where no one could see.
“Emperor,” one of them groveled before me at the base. “The plan was flawless. But then we heard a clatter from the docks. A large man threw guards into the water, where they saw us. He had with him a great bear, a bald woman who moved without making a sound, an old man with wild hair and beard who threw exploding bottles, and an ordinary-looking man saved from injury by amusing slapstick instead of fighting. Together, they overtook one of the ships we had not set to blow and made off. We could not pursue, as the guards were busy attacking us with pikes and discovering our sabotage. We were forced to blow up as many ships as we could there in shallow water. Please, Emperor, have mercy on your humble subjects.”
Well, that’s good. Always nice to have a military fiasco on my hands. A bunch of ships down in the shallow water of a harbor, with most of the men who would have been on them still unharmed and able to fight. If I know how the universe works, the people that escaped were likely Vercingetorix and friends, which makes it worse. “Disappointing. Did you at least get me a prisoner?”
A captain or some sort of equivalent rank snapped to attention. Duizhang, I think they call this one. “Sir, the prisoner has is in our holding cells. We were careful to keep him separate from your other prisoner.”
I nodded to him. “That is acceptable. Find a way to have her find out about him and visit him. Don’t permit an escape, but she can have news of what has developed in her homeland since her capture.” He saluted and started to move off, but I raised a hand to press against his chest and stop him. “And see to it that we find the ship that escaped. Vercingetorix will no-doubt find some suicidally heroic opportunity to attack us. Now if you’ll excuse me,” I turned to look at the Deep Ones as I spoke next. “I must go see the Directory about allocating land to our newest veterans.”
That caused them to droop, knowing I would uphold my end of the bargain after they went against my orders and kinda failed. Because their immigration package to Ricca now includes a guilt trip.
Dear readers, you’ll be happy to know that VelocityRaptor did in fact result from an attempt to copy Veloci-Raptor. I talked to him about it when I visited him in the hospital, recovering from his wounds. They’d had to proceed a little more slowly with his recovery because of the cybernetics and exoskeleton. I brought him dinner one night while checking on him and asked after it. “Veloci-Raptor attacked a heroin ring my brother was caught up in. Vien told me he tried to escape when a feathered blur in a cape threw him into a wall. The police got him. Three days later, hours after I visited and promised him I would do everything I could to get him free, the underboss had him killed because he might have talked.”
A nurse stopped by to check on Raptor at this point, as they’d detected a change in the villain’s heartrate. Raptor clenched his jaw and put up with the brief check before continuing, though the nurse hurried out as fast as he could to escape the two angry, armored cyborgs. “Vien never would have done that. He would have been loyal, but they were not loyal to him. I knew where he went, so I snuck in and stole. Soon, I had enough for the first surgery, and I took more from them. I heard about The Claw’s people and met with them. They were intrigued by my story and decided to upgrade me. As a show of loyalty, I helped them take over the heroin ring, and killed the underboss who had Vien murdered. I knew when I started on this path that would not, could not be enough to avenge Vien. Veloci-Raptor will remember my brother if I have to carve his name into its scales until there is no unmarked inch of space left on its hide.”
I nodded. “Sounds like you’ve got a powerful flame burning in you. It would be a shame for it to be extinguished before it could consume Veloci-Raptor.” I don’t have anything against that particular hero, though it’s fun to note how much differently the situation would have been handled by a villain. If I went in, I’d have tried to kill people, not wound and capture. No need to get the cops involved. If Raptor’s brother had survived, he clearly wouldn’t have been at risk of testifying against the underboss, so he wouldn’t have been murdered.
After that little black heart to black heart, I went to check on our prisoner. The strawberry blond damsel we’d brought back had been put into decent enough health by the nanites, which at least confirmed she was human. Confirmation of her species was not shared by the guards, the highest ranking of which stepped over to respectfully warn me she’s a spitter. I patted him on the shoulder and assured him I’d faced spitters, swallowers, and all sorts.
When I stepped up to the cell, I saw her looking like a tired, cornered, angry mess in the corner. She spat at me. The spittle hit the fangy grin of my helmet’s front mask. I calmly wiped it away with one gaunlet. “You know what this means now?” I asked in the language she appeared to speak. We’d recovered the data, as well as most of the bodies, from the camp after I sent a second flight over. Some had been pecked at, and others had been dragged off, but nothing over there bothered with the strange plastic and metal.
She stood up and moved so that she stood with her back to the center of the wall opposite of the cell’s entrance. I gestured to the guards to open the door. They looked at me like I was crazy. I imagine that look sounded somewhat different a minute later when they heard the spanking start. I mean, it was my armor. She wasn’t overpowering it. I grabbed her when she tried to kick me in the balls and bent her over my knee, then pulled down that leather skirt of hers and began popping her on the ass cheeks. “No spitting!” I stopped every few spanks to see if she’d learned her lesson. When she spit, she got hit.
Just perfectly innocent stuff. Nothing raunchy at all. The fact that I pulled her hair in a couple of times in the middle of it is incidental. After a few minutes, I stopped to check on her camel-like behavior. She was crying, but hung her head and didn’t spit. “Good. You are learning. For that, you get a treat.” I reached back into a pouch on the back of my belt and pulled out a cup of delicious chocolate pudding. It took her a moment to learn how to open it up, but then she started tongueing that cup hard.
I just sat there as she ate it, watching her. Now, of course, I’m not one to go around feeling attraction to humans. Disgusting species. Have you ever looked at one for long and realized how weird their noses are? I mean, there’s no visual difference between my own evolutionarily superior species and homo sapiens, but they sometimes hit the uncanny valley when I think about them. In spite of that, my armor just happened to rub me the right way so as to cause a minor blood pressue issue in the groin region.
“I am Psycho Gecko, Emperor of Ricca,” I told her. Now, I thought I told her next that I would take all of Mu for myself and she should use her time wisely to make her peace with it. She cocked her head, confused by it. To me, this suggested a translation error. “Can you tell me the meaning of what I just said to you? I believe the translator failed.”
“All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive. Make your time.”
The additional data helped my personal translator program make up the difference. “Good. Yes, soon I shall take over your land.”
“Do you know who I am? My father would never allow you to take his kingdom!”
I shrugged. “I don’t care what he would allow, I just know what I’m going to go. Are you some sort of princess?”
“I am Elda, daughter of Garth, who is King of the Bronze City and the Bronze Men who are hundred deep and a hundred wide,” she boasted.
I poked at her mouth, but she moved away. “Your people haven’t invented braces, I see. It’s metal you attach to your teeth to force them into a straigher position. Also, a shame about your nose there.”
“I wear my scars proudly,” she said. “I will prove myself the equal of any man.”
“I mean, you didn’t. You got caught, then rescued by that big guy. Was he the man you’re promised to or something?”
“Vercingetorix is a barbarian from the Central Wastes. He is a warrior known far and wide throughout the land. That you do not know of him shows your stupidity and arrogance.” She almost spat the words at me, but left it at words.
At the risk of my penis becoming, perhaps, too erect, I really wanted to cut this meeting short and find the nearest of any of my suitors, or even Silver Shark again. That’s not a knock on her. She rejected me, and I can’t help but feel that the cheating had nothing to do with it, considering all the dicks I sucked in North Korea to get that country straightened out. Perhaps most people wouldn’t consider that to be “straightening” out a bunch of guys, but I stand by my actions.
“Were you expecting his help?” I asked, returning to the interrogation. In my head, I started thinking of stuff to de-mortify lil Gecko. Soccer. Seafood. Rainboots. Wait a second… well, ya learn something new about yourself everyday.
“He’s likely after a reward. My father will certainly have offered a bounty for my safe return before he marries me off to whichever merchant or foreign leader he needs the aid of.” Having grown somewhat comfortable with me around, she went to lay down on the cot fixed against the wall of her bunk. She quickly adjuster herself when her ass reminded her of the spanking.
I nodded. “I hear you. I prefer the idea of marrying for love, for some reason.” Now I cocked my head as an idea occurred to me. “Probably because I’m likely to let my spouse die or kill them myself unless I actually like them for some reason. But enough about me. Your life sounds fascinating. Tell me all about it.”
It might be surmised I was looking to get jiggy with her, which is certainly a biological response I had. After all, it pays to be a good listener around a potential partner, especially if you’re looking to get on their good side. Really, it always pays to be attentive to what people say for things to exploit or use against them, but that also means manipulating them with gifts or even showing you care by remembering basic information about their lives. Especially when that person ran away from home to try and be Xena: Warrior Princess.
She knows customs, legends, and myths. She also knows what this Bronze City and its Bronze Men look like. I’m getting a general hoplite vibe from her descriptions, so I’ll have to be careful not to attack with a million men in wicker-clad power armor. I sat and talked with her. Elda didn’t exactly swoon for me, but she seems to tolerate my presence. I responded by sending over some better pillows and blankets for her. A carrot, though I doubt she’ll let me do anything to her with my stick.
I returned to find Silver Shark pacing in front of the residence. She stomped up to me. “About time!”
I held up my hands, but otherwise headed for the door. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, just that reconaissance flights of Mu show armies gathering and navies being built, including in a big northern city that has a lot of metalworking. That hunky guy you pissed off has been spotted riding a big ass bear and gathering a team. And then there’s what Citra did.”
That caused me to stop. “What did Citra do?” I turned back to Silver Shark.
“What she thinks you wanted,” she said. Silver crossed her arms. “You better not hurt her.”
I facepalmed. “Hurting people is what I’m good at. Why does anyone expect any different? I mean, I hurt you by fucking a single pirate chick, even though I somehow didn’t hurt you when I sucked off half of Pyongyang’s military.”
“What?!” she said. Her mouth opened and closed, quite like a fish actually, before she processed it enough to go on. “You bastard!” She raised a claw, then stopped, then shook her head and walked off. “I need some time before I do something I’ll regret!”
Is it any wonder I decided to build an remote-control duplicate to take my place around hostiles? Especially with how good I am at making people hostile?
Inside, I found rose petals on the floor, with a note in beautiful calligraphy. “Beetrice is trying to win your heart by entertaining your daughter. Follow the roses.”
They led to my bedroom and what appeared to be Venus in those red and gold robes of Citra’s. She spoke in Citra’s voice, using the local language, as well. “Hello, my Emperor.” Well, you could say it wasn’t just the floor where something rose.
I can prepare for war against barbarians any day. Actually, Citra gave me an idea. Well, an idea beyond wheelbarrow position. Like, what if I take one of the robot drones they’re building and coat it with flesh and muscle so it resembles the barbarian, then send it to assassinate the leader of the resistance against me?
The only way this plan gets any better is if I could use time travel for it.
The expedition is away, an armed force of security, workers, and VelocityRaptor for superhuman support. I would have preferred to send some scientists away, but I have yet to see them return to the island. Instead, I just have this bickering around here. It’s like fucking Conan around here, nothing but the lamentation of my women. Except Qiang, of course. It was all too tedious. I considered killing them all, too. I’d moved back in, because I’ll be damned if they’re going to inconvenience me that much. They walked through, bickering, trying to show off how they looked in dresses to make up my mind.
The whole thing messed with me reading Dr. Seuss to Qiang. It was meant to be a prelude to a later unit on post-World War II Japan and teaching her the famed wrestling hold, The Moss-Covered Three-Handled Family Gradunza. Instead, we had to practice our “Don’t fuck with me” glares. When the three ladies backed off, I turned and smiled at her Qiang. “Good job, sweetie. Did you see the way they stopped in mid-sentence and everything?”
She giggled at that and we returned to our lesson, though the gradually increasing bickering from the rest of the residence left me with the choice of murder or changing locations. So I threw on the ol’ armor and we headed out to the Institute of Science. I could have taken her on a walk around the island, but I wasn’t feeling up to it. Everything felt combative, like I couldn’t stay still. Like I needed to beat the crap out of someone and kill. Instead, I took my kid where I could give her some lessons on understanding her connections to the digital world. I hadn’t gone over it with her as much as I’d have preferred.
Growing up with these kinds of abilities, I had time to get used to them. They were a part of me. It’s like the difference between people who grew up with computers and someone who doesn’t have any idea about them and suddenly gets one. It’s not an insurmountable handicap, but the person who grew with it has a lot of instinctual knowledge. There’s a reason superheroes who get powers aren’t instant experts in their usage. I taught her more about her new heritage, which is pleasantly strong in someone who is now a halfbreed.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, mostly because I haven’t done much thinking on the subject. Despite all my talk about hating people on a deep, personal level, I am biased against homo sapiens. They sometimes look gross, and they’re backwards, and they’ve done horrible things to homo machina in general and specific. Maybe I could make Qiang entirely homo machina. Or maybe change the rest of the DNA in her to a more suitable mother to have a child with me.
I wonder what Venus is up to? Just a random question, of course. Completely out of nowhere, without connection to prior statements. But since I thought of her, I figured I’d see about a nice present to send her, showing I’d been thinking of her. I found it as I searched through a computer in one of the offices of the Institute of Science while Qiang played with a monitor she was connected to. “I’ll be right back, baby girl,” I told her. “You keep playing around with that. See if you can make it look really weird.”
I considered grabbing something from infectious diseases. I even stared at the door a bit. Yep. Big, heavy door, sealed, with all kinds of warning signs. There were no windows. I found a computer on the outside. After a reboot, it couldn’t give me any specified status information on the interior of the laboratories inside the whole section. After a bit of searching, I went ahead and ordered a purge. It showed me an image of flamethrowers turning on.
Unleashing uncontrolled pathogens will just have to wait. Nasty business, anyway. The Claw probably didn’t worry so much since he was so utterly inhuman as to not be affected, but I guess I’m close enough to humans for interbreeding. Never occurred to me that was the case, but that’s kinda how evolution works with emerging mutants. They gotta fuck someone.
They had a section specifically focused on drones and robotics, but on a lark I decided to check out what they’d managed as far as chemical warfare and drugs. Those two were in different places, but I’d gotten administrative access to the network that let me see what the different hands had been doing once upon a time. So many different groups working on projects related to each other without ever knowing it. A drug to cause temporary paranoia with specialized storage conditions. A design for a drone with a sprayer and holding tank designed to meet those unique conditions.
Destroyed. Something went wrong in that part of the complext. Looked like there had been some fires.
Or, and this was cool, a few projects all centered around bugs. They have a section called Entomological Warfare, which almost unleashed a project to hold the world’s agriculture hostage during the Great Depression by unleashing bugs on what was left of the usable farmland, starting with a test in the United States. World War II happened at first, and Ricca was caught between the United States and the Empire of Japan. Bugs are dead, and records of storage were lost.
Normally, I’d pin this all on the world hating me specifically, but that’s really not the case. Shit happens. That’s reality for you. If you want a unifying theory of why history unfolds the way it does, shit happens is the only thing an honest historian could give you. And I do have it nice. I keep getting away with this shit, day in and day out. I’ve lost friends, experienced more pain than most people could while living, and the entire world has nuclear-fucking-fireballs just ready to turn this island into a useless piece of charcoal, but I still got away with it. I’m the leader of a fucking nation.
Now that I’m a political leader, I could round up everyone wearing glasses and murder them. I could withhold food from people of any category. When they’re my own people, it’s fine. It’s ok. I could just keep breaking this place. It wouldn’t surprise people. Hell, they might even be counting on it. Give them a reason to pull those triggers, especially if there’s nothing left on this rock but all the people the crazy Psycho Gecko sees fit to let live.
Ugh, I gotta stop ranting like this. This is the way I start talking before I start killing people for their own good. For some reason, people don’t listen to your reasoning after the first round of murders. I wonder if I can kill that instinct out of people?
Geez I need a hobby. Hell, maybe I should marry Beetrice. If I’m busy screwing her, I’ll be less likely to screw everyone else. Thoughts for later. I had to scrounge up parts. Instead of having a bunch of doomsday weapons handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve got to build something instead! Perhaps something that shoots serrated silver platters at people…
Instead, brought what I grabbed up to the office to put together my diabolical little deathbot. I was putting together a nice ball drone with the ability to roll around and a few limbs inside to help it maneuver up stairs, along with a pair of holodiscs to help mask it. I wasn’t sure on the weapons, what with all the problems this thing would face getting into the States, so I settled on an age-old classic: knives.
With the agility I’ve given this thing, it could play esports on a South Korean level while stabbing people at a Jack the Ripper level. If I didn’t trust this thing to go homicidal, I’d give it a try at making fries. It’ll basically attack anyone on sight. And once I get it sent to Venus, she can go fuck herself at a Vlad the Impaler level. I suppose I should be more cautious about indiscriminate robot slaughter, but caution’s for losers and quadriplegics.
It also gave me a teaching opportunity. “What’s that, baba?” asked Qiang, sitting in my lap despite my work. “Is that a drone?”
I shook my head. “This is a robot.”
“What’s the difference?” She looked up at me.
I kissed her forehead. He skin had started changing a little as the nanites helped rebuild her body according to her altered DNA. This is my daughter. My daughter is half-human. “Robots can do things on their own, like make things. A drone is controlled by a person all the time.”
“I don’t think I get it,” she said.
“I gotta get you a remote-control car sometime. You get a controller and tell it what direction to go. This thingy here will go around on its own,” I told her, “I’m sending this to a friend I miss. She would make a really good mommy for you.”
“Are you gonna marry her? What she look like?”
“Bring me that screen you were playing with earlier and I’ll show you.” She scrambled out of my lap to go bring it to me, which gave me space to attach a few parts. She brought it over right by my head, and I had to make her wait a little while I finished screwing in a support. Then I turned and pressed my hand to the wiring on the rear of the monitor. After a few seconds, a picture of the tan-skinned, dark-haired Venus appeared. She wore valkyrie armor without boots for no reason I care to elaborate on and rode a tiger-striped unicorn in mid-jump over a wall of fire. She still had her mask on over it all.
“Is she pretty?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. I know it seems hard to tell, but she is. And she’s a good person. She’s going to be visiting us in a little bit. She might be angry, so try and act real cute, ok?”
We actually had a nice day. I finished putting my deathbot together and arranging for shipping to my nemesis’s home at the Master Academy. By the time it ended, I felt pretty chill. We made a night of it, me taking my daughter around to this new casino that opened up. She liked the slot machines a lot more than I did. She ruined my poker game, which I insisted nobody cheat either for or against me. All it took was her shouting about how funny the guy looked with the sword going into his head and everyone folded, including the guy who had just bet. We had to go around the time we got to this table where a pair of guys were passing around a revolver with only one bullet. Shame I had the kid with me, but she’s going to have a better life than me.
So I was pretty mellow that night when Intercept linked me a transmission from the expeditionary force. “VelocityRaptor here. I was told I should call in because you know my name and it would take too long to explain who another person is and why you should care.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Damn… whoever told you that deserves a promotion. Don’t bother telling me who, I don’t care. What do you got for me?”
“We have encountered Bronze Age villages. We haven’t figured out how to talk to anyone yet. We do not know the language, but we had skirmishes with little resistance. One of the soldiers almost took an arrow to the knee. He’s fine, but we have a prisoner now. Some girl. The technicians are trying to use the translator to analyze what she says and they expect to know more before long. They have samples for analysis if we ever get people who can analyze things.”
“I’ll find people who will put the anal in analyze, that’s for sure. Anything else I need to know?”
“Not at the moment, Emperor. This is the end of our report.”
“Thanks man. You need to check yourself for clowns, because I’m here to tell you, you have It. You’re going places. Now get out there and go some places.”
I sat there on the line for a couple of seconds before adding, “You going to hang up?”
“I didn’t know if you were going to hang up first, Emperor. I can hang up.”
“It’s ok, I can hang up first.”
“That’s unnecessary, I’ll-” I cut him off, hanging up. I do so hate these long goodbyes.
They’re campaigning for the Empress-ship. I didn’t think the batch of people I ruled over even gave a damn about my love life, so long as I didn’t do something stupid like getting peed on on tape. Most of that involves lobbying Qiang, since I’ve been avoiding the palace residence. I’ve been able to call Qiang out to me for lessons or meals in spite of their attention. I just tell her it’s part of her sneaking training.
I’ve been busy aside from all that mess. Like handling this little diplomatic mess with the Faust/Hephaestus people. Alhazred admits he had been a Cthulhu cultist hoping to see his god, and that all three were hoping to explore the island for ruins and so forth. His associates, Pickman and Hero, hadn’t actually done anything wrong while they were here, and Alhazred did help me lure Cthulhu here. In the end, I decided they would be allowed to use the island for storage and trade. I didn’t give them everything they wanted. They aren’t going to use the place for testing or collaboration with our own science people, at least partially because the Institute of Science is still closed. They don’t know it’s closed, but it made a good stick to hit them with, same with rejecting the customer service call center.
As part of my mercy upon them, I even gave the three an aerial tour of the island. I even saw to their safety with who the Shouho claimed to be our very best remaining helicopter pilot. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to them. There was some wariness from the passengers about that, so they made sure to stay restrained in their seats. I reassured them by ordering the doors be kept shut firm on their little ride, including one that separated the pilot from the passengers. That way, there’d be absolutely no chance of them falling out, or onto instruments, or the pilot trying to throw them out. I told them that myself. I promised them, completely out of thin air, that the pilot wouldn’t toss them out of the chopper. I then reiterated that there will be nothing to worry about.
As for the pilot, I told him to show me his best and most showy aerial maneuvers. Good thing the doors were shut for that barrel roll. As soon as they landed, I sent some of the soldiers over with the hoses to make sure the interior was hosed off of our little spew crew in there. They must have read my mind, because they didn’t bother letting out the Faust delegates before starting the hosing. When Pickman, Hero, and Alhazred slipped or fell out, they didn’t stop.
When I saw that, I leaned across to the the Shouho and mentioned, “Give them a little bit of a bonus for this.”
He held out a tablet for me. “Your Eminence, we have a member of the returned I wish to bring to your attention. He is enhanced.”
The returned appears to be their polite term for deserters who come back to Ricca’s service, in case I decide that someone who deserted can be punished but someone who left and returned won’t be. It’s mostly a stupid distinction, but when I once asked the Shouho about it, he started talking about how a military needs discipline and needs to know that desertion will be punished going forward. I picked up what he was putting down, or thought I did until the Issa politely informed me they left the whips and ballgags in their crates in a storage shed. Then I figured he didn’t want people deserting in the future.
This one was a man with extensive cybernetic augmentation, much like Silver Shark. His legs were gone below his thighs, replaced with knees that bent the other direction and feet ending in three-toed claws. He bent forward over the legs, his back weighted down by a gleaming chrome spine that connected his tail with an armored helmet that covered his head in the facade of a dinosaur with a mouth of fangs. The spine had a pair of short pipes around the lower part of it. He was a raptor, albeit a featherless one, with an armored chest and an exoskeleton running along his arms that ended in curved, sickle-like claws. He still had hands under them, and the raptor’s face with its sharp-toothed maw popped back to show it was a helmet. Underneath it, he maintained a neutral expression.
“Welcome back to the fold,” I said. Meanwhile, my eye HUD’s identification program made a match. “You’re the one they call VelocityRaptor, right?”
He nodded. Speaking in the Ricca pidgin, he noted, “That is the name the Americans gave me.”
Good restraint. The name doesn’t sound right in Riccan. “May I have a demonstration of your abilities?”
He nodded and the helmet lowered itself onto his face. The eyes of the raptor lit up red. He turned and those pipes shot flames a few inches into the air before he began running, gathering speed to run to the other end of the base and back fast enough to leave Olympic sprinters in his dust. While he was leaving, a pair of the lowest-ranked men ran up and began setting up dummies that looked like featureless humans.
He skidded to a halt and raised his tail. The end of it began spinning. Once the first of the soldiers had finished and gotten clear, the drilled into the chest of the dummy before swiping the head off. The other one had its chest torn open with his claws, leaking straw on legs that were ripped off one by one by Raptor’s. He ended by using the helmet’s jaws to crush the head and tear it off.
I gave him a polite golf clap. “I mean, they just got them put up and you already destroyed their work. That would seem rude to some people.” I got no response. “From here on out, you owe allegiance to me. You serve this Ricca going forward, and so your oath will be to this Ricca and you will serve out the term of your enlistment from now. Try not to take so long a vacation again.”
He bowed to me as best he could. “Thank you, Emperor. You are generous beyond all measure.”
I walked over and patted him on the back of the head. “No need for all that. Flatter me later, or whenever I feel like it. Right now, I just want to know if you’re ok with entering into new and unfamiliar situations, and maybe with getting nice and wet.”
He rose up to look at the grinning smile projected in front of my helmet where the mouth would be. “Sir?”
I had to throw together an expedition to Mu, and he was going to be part of it. After the first immigrant Deep Ones reached it and claimed a beachhead for the Riccan Empire, I decided to get some Manifest Destiny going. I’m also looking into importing lots of sand and building a bridge right at the surface to connect Ricca and Mu so that I can go there officially without the entire world throwing a tantrum and a nuke.
The peace treaty says I can’t leave the island of Ricca, which is a lot more restrained than if I never left the Empire of Ricca. But an entire new continent just appeared in the Pacific Ocean. They couldn’t just dismiss it if a land bridge suddenly appeared to make Ricca and Mu part of the same landmass.
Even thought I spent a lot of time throwing togethe a group to conquer a new world, that doesn’t mean I neglected Qiang. Like I said, I was still feeding her and teaching her stuff. Basic strength training that she thinks are handstands, or crab walking. Good ways to build her up without pushing her too far and damaging anything. There are also our “dance” lessons that incorporate moves for a bit of self defense. She thinks it’s all fun and games until someone comes at her and she gouges an eyeball out.
When she’s not eating or attending Psychopomp University, I give her lots of time to be lobbied by the prospective Empresses. I actually had to assert myself after they got carried away once. My daughter asked for some ice cream and ended up being given progressively larger portions. I’d given her a network communication device, encrypted to keep anyone but myself out. It also means restricts her from calling just anyone or going online, which is all the more important when that kind of thing’s built into a person’s head. We’re talking home-style encryption too, with a different programming language.
So she called the hotline right to my head because she felt bad and threw up. I kicked the door in and tossed everybody else out. The giant shark cyborg, the giant bee woman, AND the ambitious servant girl. I got on to Qiang, but it’s hard to hold her accountable for that. Instead, I considered giving the other three a chopper ride. Between the three of them, they’d wreck the thing.
Instead, I ended up being able to make an example when, in the middle of applying nanites to the sweet-sick girl, Intercept called me with a tip from Flamebeard’s ship. They’d been taking a look at Mu and noticed a ship. A long catamaran-style ship with sails at the front and a number of burly rowers. He’d gladly take it out for us for a good price.
I rejected the offer and had Intercept keep an eye on it to let me know when we had a landing. The pacing was horrible, though. Took them awhile to reach us on that boat, and it’s tough maintaining anger for a long time.
I stepped out on the beach to meet and greet them. They responded with arrows. I suppose if this was that Civilization game, I’d have been beaten easily by the dozen or so loin-cloth clad men who charged forward, sweaty muscles exposed as they wore hardly anything but a little bit of leather and fur. The raised sword and axe and a sort of wooden club with nubs placed around the end.
Behind me a ways stood Beetrice, Silver, and Citra, along with a crowd of Buzzkills, guards, and VelocityRaptor. The three women were obviously not prisoners or tied up in any way. Just guests with a large group of guards, legitimately so in the case of the Buzzkills, who watched me bitchslap the colons of a group of people. Sometimes, the colons were still internal. I suppose it worked out that they were hostile. A peaceful group of traders would have made a different sort of example.
They seemed to be led by a particularly large one, muscular, but not overly so. We’re not talking about bodybuilders with those showy, useless muscles. Big guys, round, with arms used to swinging weapons and backs capable of lifting women and gold from those they come across. He came at me with a sword that bent when it hit my forearm gauntlet. I stomped his foot as he tried to straighten it and kneed him in the balls. When he dropped the sword and attempted to grapple with me, I hit him with an open palm to the throat, then reached down to turn He-Man into She-Ra. He had a lovely singing voice as he fell to his knees.
“Finish him!” my armor announced. I grabbed a gonad in each hand from that sack I took off him, ripped them apart from each other, then smashed them into the sides of his head until the top burst and his brain spurted out.
I turned back to the crowd, where I saw a couple of the raiders had gotten past me and the guards had punched their tickets to eternity. “It seems our new neighbors have a bit more balls than brains.” Then I stepped closer and gestured with a single finger for the ladies to join me in a private huddle. “Someone who wants to be a mother to my child really ought to remember what being a parent means. And let’s also not think too much about hoping to bully me into a position while we’re at it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go teach my daughter how to use her very own flamethrower.”
Kids love flamethrowers.
My people never did find the body. You know what else we didn’t find? A giant octopus-dragon marching around, getting worshiped. Straightened that shit up in a hurry, that fight. After everything that happened, I decided to get healed before organs started shutting down and leaving the cleanup for later. After injecting myself with nanites, I laid down, waved Qiang over, and fell asleep with her cuddled up against me. I woke up the next day to find she had left me a bowl of noodles on the stand next to the bed. First I had to hang up my armor to drain out before helping myself to the cold noodles. A little on the spicy side.
She was happy to see me when she wandered in and caught me in my imperial bathrobe and heart boxers, chowing down on the cold noodles she microwaved all for me. “How’s things, baby girl?” I asked.
“There was a big flood, and then they said a big bunch of land came up, and all the frog people are cleaning up where you had the big fight.” It all came out, mile a minute.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Much is changed. Are you done playing with monsters now?” A feminine hand reached out across the bedroom doorway wearing gold claws over fingers. It was Citra’s hand, which I saw as she stepped out in a red, high-collared Chinese style dress out of theatre or a fantasy movie. The makeup, the headdress looking like horns…
Silver Shark also stepped out, the large cyborg wearing a similar dress, though larger. They went a bit more whimsical with her makeup around the cybernetic eyes on her modified face. “I think he likes it.”
“Daddy, you’re drooling,” Qiang said.
I reached up and pushed my mouth shut. “Well, ladies, nice as it is to see you’ve both had a makeover, there are more important things around than the women in my life.Come, Qiang, let’s go see how the clean-up is going and whatever you’re talking about with a bunch of land.”
I started to walk past them, but Silver Shark put a hand on my chest. “You have to deal with us. We spent a long time figuring out what we wanted.”
“You both look beautiful,” I said. “But I have so much shit to take care of, including something about new land, and a little matter of necrophilia to take care of.”
“What’s necro whatever?” asked Qiang.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said to her.
“You have to deal with us sooner rather than later, because Beetrice arrived while you were resting,” Silver said. “She says you’re supposed to be getting married soon.”
The giant bee-woman, Beetrice, is surprisingly astute as a diplomat, and incredibly enthusiastic about bedding me. Way, way too enthusiastic. If she was here, I’m surprised I didn’t wake up to find myself tied down with a ballgag in my mouth. It’s not that she grosses me out or anything, with the exoskeleton, fuzz, and mandibles. It’s just that I don’t like her the way she likes me. Plus, she likes to almost kill me. Death by snoo snoo and dehydration.
Speaking of her skills as a negotiator, she added a clause to the peace treaty about marrying me that probably isn’t what everybody legally signed. I bet she’d get the United Nations to say it was binding anyway if they knew how much I didn’t care for the idea.
“She’s on the island? Wonderful.” Then I quieted down and cupped my ear, trying to listen out while remotely accessing cameras and digital devices nearby.
Citra stepped up to me and distracted me quite well by cupping my face in her hands. “You made a deal with my mother to take care of me. You know what she wanted.” The cold metal felt nice against my skin.
“You’re not something to be bought and sold. You should be the boss of your own life. Go do your own thing. You can make it on your own.” I grabbed her hands and held onto them for a moment before pulling them away, wondering when the sappy music was going to start up. I only meant to hold onto them for a moment, but she was pretty.
“You don’t buy people,” she repeated back, her eyes flicking over to Qiang. She pulled her hands away and crossed her arms. “What would I do? I have lived a servant’s life.”
I shrugged and gave her a little smile. “You could be a maid? Go to school or something. Find yourself someone you love.” My smile got a little less friendly as I realized something. “But you’d rather keep living in a palace, wouldn’t you?”
“You are another foolish American, thinking everything is about love and doing your own thing.” That caused me to back my face on up a moment while she continued. “The people do not love you. They know you are strong. You will keep them safe if they keep you happy. They like the lifestyle you offer them.”
“First, I’m not really an American.” I ran my fingers through my hair. “Second, whatever happened to people liking me for me instead of because I have a big house?”
“I’ve had you. You’re an ass,” Silver Shark said. “You cheated on me, remember?”
I threw my hands up. “I don’t see what the problem is. You could have joined us at any time. What are you doing in all this anyway?”
She ran her claws over the fabric of her dress. “I liked the makeover. Some of the benefits were nice, when you weren’t being a jerk. Tell you what. I hear Queen Beetrice loves you for you.”
“I mean, maybe I should try Beetrice?” I said. “After all, I get a choice in this, too. I’m the big emperor guy in charge. Maybe I’ll chug a bunch of energy drinks and sports drinks, lay back, think of England, and then sell my amazing new combined energy/sport drink that you’d think someone would have invented by now.”
As if on cue, the palace’s landline began to ring, the ID placing the caller as Beetrice. I bent the knee pretty damn quick. Silver and Citra shared a laugh at that. “Damn injury, you know,” I tried to cover for it. “Just fought a giant Cthulhu. No big deal. No reason to give a guy a break before you start throwing booty at him. Anyone got a ring or something? Or what’s the tradition here?”
Citra spoke up. “Your family delivers gifts to my family, but my family is dead. Do you have any family?”
I shrugged. “Just Qiang. Other than that, I dunno. If I do, they’re on the other Earth that the guys with the giant robot ship are from. I think I remember an aunt. Either way, not an issue, but I can always give you presents. That it?”
“Then you give me jewelry in a hair combing ceremony.”
“Pretty easy to see these traditions don’t have anything to do with love. Ok, fi- wait a moment. Before I agree, there’s someone I have to consult on this. I looked to Qiang. “What do you think about her?” I nodded toward Citra. “She been nice to you?”
She nodded. “She’s alright.”
Dammit, Qiang! I needed her to be my wingman on this. “You think she’d be ok as my new wife and your new mom?”
She looked up at Citra, furrowing her little brow. Citra smiled warmly down at her, her eyes ligthing up and narrowing the corners of her eye. Silver wore a smirk. I turned back to Qiang. “You were in on it, too? Quite the conspiracy here.”
Before I could say anything else, I heard knocking at the door. “Hello! Psycho Gecko! It’s Beetrice! I couldn’t get you on the phone, so I came here myself!”
I stood up at that and prepared myself to greet my admirer. She rushed upstairs, wearing a dress that, based on the cleavage, back, and slits, was designed to spend more time on a floor than on a person. I gaped at it up until she wrapped her arms around me and tried to squeeze my lungs out through my mouth.
Why do I always forget about the strength? “How are you this strong?” I gasped out.
“What?” she said, stopping to look into my eyes with segmented ones before stealing a mandibled kiss off my lips.
“Insects can’t really get this big due to atmospheric conditions, let alone mate with humans and homo machina. It just occurred to me,” and here I had to take a moment to cough. She set me down for that. “I might be able to improve my armor if I were to study your body.”
A pair of “Ahems,” came from off to the side, where Silver and Citra frowned. Was it something I sai-oooooooooh.
“Did I interrupt something?” Beetrice asked.
“You know what? I think you did. Beetrice, please talk things over with Citra and Silver. Qiang, dear, let’s hurry on out of here and give them some privacy.”
I took her hand and rushed out under the reaching grasps of all three women, er, females. I suppose it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I had to marry one of them, Citra or Beetrice. I just didn’t really plan on marrying. Ever. Citra wouldn’t be too bad, I guess. I know where I stand with her. Beetrice just turns me off, liking me so much. I mean, Venus would be nice if she and I didn’t want to kill each other.
I think I’m getting some insight here.
First stop, the military base! I had called Intercept to see what they were up to and they informed me they still had a piece of Cthulhu in quarantine. This was conveniently the kind of thing that would keep me well away from the palace. Qiang was excited to see the place and all the soldiers, who had swiftly assembled to salute me in my imperial bathrobe. I didn’t have time to grab clothes, remember.
I gave them all a salute back, as did Qiang, and I met with the commanding officer, of a rank called Shouho, as well as the Issa of the Intercept team. They conspicuously avoided mentioning my clothing choice, and they were more than happy to show Qiang all about this helicopter while they showed me to a holding area with six pylons surrounding a tentacle, a glowing yellow barrier connecting each pylon.
I looked up at them. “Handy. Do they fry anything going forward?”
The Shouho spoke up. “The barriers are kinetic, requiring only power. This is an abnormal deployment to secure the anomaly.”
“Very good,” I said. “These look quite useful. We must construct additional pylons.”
“The military could use an expansion in material and manpower. For that, additional supply depots are required,” the Shouho responded.
I held up my hands. “We’ll handle that another time. For now, open this up for me. I’m going to need some alone time with it. It’s not a corpse, but it’ll do. Bow, bowm, bow bow bow.” I started to saunter forward, continuing to mouth porn music. When I saw them looking, I stopped, “Listen, you don’t want anyone to see this next part. Things are going to get freaky. Look at me, Shouho Whatever.”
I pointed at myself and the Shouho said, “Shouho Zhu Luankui.” He straightened up.
“Look at me, Zhu. Look at me. Freaky. That’s what it’s going to be like. You’re going to want raincoats out here if you stand in the splash zone.” I turned away and continued my preparations.
The Intercept Issa interrupted me before I could get into it. “Sir, what are your orders regarding the island that has appeared?”
I paused and pulled my boxers back up. “Ok, let’s go see what this is all about.”
It took me fifteen minutes to reach the beach with an enthusiastic driver and a few close calls. I found the Deep Ones hard at work on the beachfront. They were taking over most of the clean-up, with the locals more than happy to sell them noodles, dumplings, and so on. I thought we were going to have a problem there, but the Deep Ones had some serious bling. Gold and gems. I stepped over to pat the shoulder of one of them who was helping himself, or possibly herself, to a bowl of noodles. “Is it good?”
It kinda nodded its head from side to side. “Yes, good. Not the same as food from home.”
“You smell funny!” said Qiang, looking at a little Deep One that ate with what I assumed were a pair of parents.
I shrugged and focused on the one I’d stopped. “There may be opportunity there. Provided it isn’t poisonous to us, people might like it. Thank you, and the rest of y’all for helping out here.”
“Uhh, you’re welcome,” the Deep One said. “Thank you for allowing us to stay.”
I nodded and left it to the rest of its meal. Qiang had gotten into a game of tag, so I left her to it.
After all, I didn’t stop here just to gladhand the immigrants. I came to see the giant fucking island right off Ricca. I can see it. Granted, my eyes are better than most people’s, and height limits how far a person can see before the horizon’s a problem, but it’s there. I could even make out the mountains.
The satellite images showed more. Just offshore, having risen from the sea, a landmass roughly with roughly two million square miles of area. An entirely new continent that shouldn’t exist according to all the people who study plate tectonics and geology. The soldiers at the base were already calling it according to the name being popularized by the Deep Ones.
It is the island continent of Mu. It’s right here by Ricca. And it will be mine.
I turned back to the crowd of gathering Deep Ones. “Who wants to go claim some land for their new country?”
Seeing as I’m not supposed to be leaving the island and Captain Flamebeard knows what he’s doing, I busied myself on other things than preparations for the attack. Unlike China or India, this place doesn’t work on the raw material side of the marketplace. All these cybernetic parts and pieces had to come from somewhere, even if there’s a high degree of personalization. People are starting to get back to work in the factories. These guys were some of my competitors when my old corporation was selling medical prostheses, except these are aimed at a wider market.
Records are spotty, but managers on the ground are trying to fill back orders to some organizations that I know to be fronts for groups who like violence in the dark. Wetworks. CIA, maybe, though they’re not technically supposed to be assassinating people, but also stuff like military dark ops. I remember them from back when I ruled the world and its delicious computer mainframes.
Hey, as long as they aren’t trying to fuck me over, I’m willing to live and let kill. They look like they could use the help, too. The United States looks like it’s having a heck of a time. Some sort of racist nationalist group launched a couple of attacks. They’d been in hiding, simmering under the surface, and boiled over with their own supers and minions. A bit unsophisticated, maybe, but the size and scope hints at the same hidden funding that Ricca and groups even within the States gave them.
Up in Canada, Dr. Creeper showed up with another robot haphazardly painted over with pink paint and wore a crossed-out swastika on the back of his lab coat when he next went out, which was just a quick march run through the streets to steal some groceries. Something tells me he won’t be playing Nazi anymore just for the heat it draws.
Master Academy, other teams, and individual heroes did a fairly good job of stopping them without too many people killed. Even the FBI got in on the action, stopping one of them blowing up a building in Oklahoma City. Just like during World War II, superheroes stopped a Nazi fifth column. Huzzah, and all that. Venus cut a striking figure. They got a photo of her in mid-jump, about to punch the teeth out of a man about to drop a survival tomahawk on a woman’s head. There are already memes and everything.
She’s saving the day from assholes; I’m selling the next batch equipment for when they try. Some people not on any government’s books are really interested in exoskeletons.
In other domestic issues, I finally figured out what Citra and Silver Shark have been up to. Citra’s been kinda living with me, though she’s been sleeping in the quarters she had in this section before. Silver has taken up in a side room now, and hasn’t been all that close. Then there was the whole Lola thing and they disappeared for a bit. Not like I invited the pirate to live here, too.
So I woke up the morning before the planned attack with my head feeling like it would explode, a result more of having fallen asleep hanging upside down off a couch than the bottles scattered around me. I thought something had crashed in my dream from the sound. I tried to wiggle around and almost woke up Qiang, who had crawled onto my stomach to sleep.
I managed to get sideways when she was awakened by a door slamming elsewhere in the mansion. Another door opened, the main door to the residence. Silver Shark walked in with an enormous stockpile of clothing in her arms.
“What’s going on?” Qiang asked no one and everyone at once.
I sat up and patted her head. “I dunno. I think something stereotypical.”
Silver shot me a glare before stomping back to Citra’s room. I carried Qiang with me as I went back there to take a look at what was going on. The door to Citra’s room opened as I got close and Silver stepped out. She took one look at me, grabbed Qiang, and told her, “You can help us. Your dad can go play elsewhere. He has been stupid.” Then she slammed the door in my face.
I knocked on the door a couple of times, then got an idea in my sleep-addled brain. “So… anything I should know?”
Silver called back. “Yeah, go get yourself checked for fleas and anything else you might have picked up lately!”
“I take very good care of myself!” I answered back, though I felt rather oily and dirty from the night before. “The nanites gave me a clean bill of health.”
“Good for you,” she answered back.
“Good for you too, if you want to head upstairs,” I responded.
She opened the door just enough to poke her head out. “No. You’re not going to bring back some pirate hooker then pretend like you and I have that kind of relationship.”
I scratched my head. “I mean, you hadn’t wanted to make the beast with a billion backs lately. I thought you’d be fine with it.”
She gave me a look that made me glad the Claw never installed lasers in those eyes. “I thought you wanted a relationship. I thought you liked me for more than my body parts. I gave you a chance and you blew it.”
She thinks the chance was bad, she should have seen me working my way through the North Koreans. Actually, she did. “Your body parts are what first caused us to get busy, though. Like those fins, and your neck, and all the neat things they put inside you.”
She sighed. “There’s a woman underneath these cybernetics.” I was about to tell her I certainly knew and appreciated that, but she cut me off as I opened my mouth. “You have a lot to prove to apologize right now, and not just to me. Go think about that and leave us alone.”
She closed the door on me. I thought for a second, then asked, “Does this mean you’re moving out?”
“And give out the second best bed on the entire island? No way!”
See, this is why it’s easier to date guys. You pound another guy in the ass hard one night, they don’t have any problem letting you do it someone else the next.
Speaking of manly sodomy, Flamebeard’s plan to attack the Sea Org craft involved pretending to depart, then crossing around to cross the T. He didn’t expect any real resistance from them, and Sea Org was here for the Cult. Indeed, he maneuvered around in the way he let on, his pirate ship’s sails catching fire as he accellerated to attack. One cruise liner owned by a conspiratorial religious group versus one old-looking ship of anachronistic pirates led by a supervillain pirate captain.
I meant to at least pay attention during the attack, but I was busy on some very important Imperial duties. Qiang and I were watching a movie while I braided her hair. I’m trying to spend time with her a lot while I do all this stuff. I feel like it’s a thing parents are supposed to do. I dunno. I sometimes feel weird in pretending to do all the things parents do with this young girl given to me as an incentive who I then tricked into thinking I was her father while having her genetically altered to make that kinda true.
I didn’t have to ponder that for long, as I got a call on the official black phone. I had it installed for official Imperial business, not to be confused with the red phone, which is more for official hiding from nuclear war. I reached out a hand to the landline, which had bluetooth activated speaker mode. “You are go for Gecko. What’s up and who is this?”
“Emperor, this is the Intercept team at the base. We run the radar and sonar systems detecting incoming enemies. We have an unauthorized entry by a boat dispatched from that cruise ship anchored offshore. Are we under attack?”
“Just a little bit of religious warfare. I’ll handle it.”
I hung up and headed not to the Gecko cave, but to the man cave. I had an armor stand in one closet, and a wall of gadgets in another. I suited up in no time and grabbed my equipment. Rubber chicken grenades. Flares. A pair of machete’s rigged with explosives. And, as a last minute thought, a bunch of fluffy pink handcuffs.
Qiang clapped for me. “When can I come with you?”
I patted her on the head. “After you’re trained and have your own armor. See you later, sweet pea.”
I linked back up with Intercept, who gave me the route the boat had taken. They were landing right about the same time Flamebeard’s ship crossed the liner’s T and fired on it with howitzers. According to my observers, Sea Org was packing rifles and doing a fine job of missing depending on the sway of the ship.
I landed near the boat on the beach and found it unguarded, with tracks leading inland. I disabled its motor so no one would be making a quick escape and headed in. They’d actually landed in an undeveloped portion of the island, with plenty of trees and other flora. That led to me sneaking through the underbrush and occasionally leaping up to hold onto the sides of trees.
They traveled in a line, wearing camo. It wasn’t hard to find them with one big, boisterious one making about as much noise as possible. He tromped through bushes, spat chew, and offered some to one of his colleagues. When the man rebuffed him, he said, “Bunch of slack-jawed faggots around here. This stuff will make you a goddamn sexual Tyranosaurus, just like me.”
The guy he offered it to just laughed. “We all had the celibacy clause in our billion-year contract. You’re not fooling anyone.”
Virgins, six of them. Good thing I brought the handcuffs. These guys will make excellent sacrifices.
I went after the little one with the radio first. I eased myself up behind him, hologram projectors working overtime to make it look like I wasn’t there. I snatched the gun out of his hand with one hand, shoved my other hand into his mouth, and then jumped us both out of there. It took less than a second, and gave me time to leave the radio man cuffed around a tree with a mouthful of leaves and a broken radio.
“What the hell happened to Hawkins?” I heard someone yell from where the squad were marching.
The second one I took turned out to be the big guy. Got him in a sleeper hold and dragged him off into the foliage. Another one, a black guy, got upset at this and emptied his gun and the one left behind by the big guy into it. Did fuck-all to me, but it did kill the big one. Funny thing is, they inspected where the guy bled and thought they hit me. The one leading them looked at the blood on the leaves and remarked, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
Of course, then he turned around and the black guy was missing too. They decided then they’d turn around and try to escape, with me whittling away at them the whole time. In the end, it came down to just me and the leader, who tripped and fell out onto the beach, losing his gun in the process. He rolled to his knees and pulled a knife, expecting an immediate attack. Instead, I stepped out from the treeline, dropping my cloak and pulling an explosive machete from my belt.
He started to say “You are one ugly-”
“Motherfucker,” I said, cutting him off, along with his leg below the knee. He swung the knife at me but I knocked it away, grabbed his wrists, and handcuffed him. For good measure, I dropped a fallen tree on him to hold him there while I tied off his wound. “Stick around.”
The mission was a complete success. I got my five virgins, the big guy bleeding out before I could get him out of there. Flamebeard and his men ended up taking out the ship’s ability to flee, which caused the survivors to disembark. The ones not caught by Flamebeard were rounded up once they hit the island by anyone the Intercept team could scramble to meet them. I had a quick meeting with the Assembly’s transitional people who quickly dropped the question of religious liberty when I started showing them the businesses owned or run by the relatives of several of the people we captured. Throw in the landing they made, and these were POWs, not refugees.
Sacrifices for a cult, a new cruise liner for the island, booty for pirates, and now plenty of hostages to ransom back. Maybe we need more religious tourism here. I already have an idea involving all that gold we got from Flamebeard being melted into a general “plate” shape…
I didn’t just rush into the situation with Good Doctor blindly. That would just make it easy for him. No, I had to use that steaming pile of think gunk in my head here. The coordinates he gave me were for this artificial island made by the United States right after World War II and gradually abandoned as necessity allowed. Satellites confirmed he was there, along with a boat, and Citra. I even got to see when he burned the boat he arrived on. I could have rushed in there, but I took the time to pimp my own ride to the island. I don’t get many opportunities to have a custom-equipped speedboat. I expect it’ll come in handy. I’m not even supposed to leave the island.
Under Imperial decree, I confiscated a speedboat. I installed armor. I gave it a pair of small mines. I strapped machine guns to it, and a rocket launcher. Darn near blew myself up with that. This whole Doc thing had me on edge, even if he only took Citra. I didn’t want more of this shit, with friends turning on me and plans within plans. Who does, right?
But it’ll pass. One way or another. Doc will die, Citra might die, even I might die, but it will end one way or another. I won’t be so quick to say I just want it to end no matter what, because I’m still fond of living. Even if there aren’t any omnipotent gods out there, I’ve been the devil of a deal enough times to know to be careful what I ask for. That’s probably what got me listening to “Poor Unfortunate Souls” while I worked. Don’t let Ursula fool y’all. Her deal was particularly wicked.
But enough aquatic antics with mermaids. You can never get further than blowjob base with them, anyway.
Now, unlike my armor, I did add a self-destruct sequence to this one. It seemed handy if I needed to ram something and explode prematurely. I swear, baby, it never happens. Don’t worry, I have protection. It can’t explode until after the ejector seat has fired off well away. Ejector seats are fun, if you can get one. Mine comes with its own parachute, and the seat cushion can be used as a flotation device. There’s also a bag that goes over the face in case of emergency, like if I bring a really ugly person with a nice body back to the boat.
The day seemed stormy, and not from the weather. Seemed like a lot of the Assembly people were stopping by. I had let some of them in on it, not yet having learned all the various councils and committees they were working on. It was more a matter of letting them know they might have to bail me out. I told them they might have to print up some new money, and if I was on it, give me a nice hat. I’m thinking a bowler.
One of them even wore a fancy sash across his chest when he stopped by. “My Emperor,” he said while bowing in the Japanese fashion.
I returned it. “Got this baby almost ready to go. No paint job, though. When I get back, I’ll have to see about it. I’m thinking flames and a dark knight riding a unicorn. What do you think?”
“I wanted to tell you that the entire Assembly supports you in the return of Lady Citra. The treaty has disseminated throughout the Assembly and we want you to know that we will not reveal your absence. If anyone claims to see you off the island, we will say otherwise.”
“Thanks. Nice to have a little support, even if I’m leaving y’all in a bind.” I held out a hand. He took it, and bowed his head against it. I grabbed his hair and gave him a handshake on the head. “Close enough.”
Qiang ran over before I cast off, drawing my egress out even further. “Hey there, kiddo,” I said, wondering where Silver Shark was. The cyborg woman was supposed to be watching her and keeping her well away from here. Yeah, she’s alive, and almost good as new. Still a bit tender herself, but between Ricca’s nanotech medical care and all the modifications made, she pulled through. Guess it was too much to hope she could wrangle a kid, though. “What are you doing away from Silver Shark?”
“I snuck away!” she said, hopping up into the boat. “I swapped shirts with another girl when she wasn’t looking and ran away.”
Aww. She’s learning. And taking her clothes off in public. I’d be so proud of her if I didn’t want her far away from this boat so she didn’t smuggle herself onboard. “Smart, though you won’t always be able to do that. Listen, daddy needs you to stay here and try to be a good girl, ok?”
“Don’t go, daddy!” she pouted up at me. No enemy on Earth could attack me like the face of my daughter.
I hugged her, feeling her slowly connect to my armor as well to keep her from doing anything to it. She didn’t seem to understand it enough to power me down or accidentally screw up the strength multipliers on the exoskeleton. “I have to. He won’t stop, and he’ll hurt Citra and more. And if I don’t show up there, he’ll come back and try a different way I won’t see coming.”
“Can’t I go with you?” she asked.
I shook my head. “Nope. I brought you with me before because I didn’t know where he was and I wanted you close in case I had to protect you. I know where he is now, and that you’ll be safe here. I can stop him from reaching you.”
“What if he hurts you?” she asked.
“If he does, he might leave you alone. Don’t worry. I’m coming back.”
She didn’t believe me. Just hugged onto me, crying, yelling “Don’t go!” It’s a good thing I have experience being heartless. I picked her up, gently tied her up to a pole on the pier, and shoved off. I did see Silver Shark running up after her as I left, so I waved at her before cranking the Geckoboat up and speeding off into the horizon.
I don’t know if the island had a name other than whatever secret base name the military gave it. Talk about people not afraid of sunk cost. I can respect that.
I called the satellites back up as I approached. It didn’t look like he’d put any defenses in place. He just left Citra sitting outside on the ground about a hundred yards from a shed. She did some wiggling that convinced me she was still alive. Hear that, ladies? Taking the hint yet? Show some damn effort in bed!
No mines, no guard sharks, no trained seals, not even a belligerent mutated sea bass. It was almost insultingly easy. I swooped around and came up alongside the island and dropped anchor on the concrete. If it happened to slide off, I figured I’d hear the plop in the water. I climbed aboard and kept my eyes open for any sneakiness. Nothing. Aside from Citra, there were waves in the water and the bobbing of the boat. That’s it. I focused on the sheds and other abandoned building entrances, but it turned out to be unnecessary. I approached the tied-up girl completely unmolested, which isn’t a word normally used in situations involving bound and gagged females.
I pulled the gag out first, and quickly. Gagged people always have something important to tell you, like “Look out! They’re right behind you!”
“Look out!” she yelled, voice cracking and croaking. Fucking called it, right? “He’s taking the boat!”
I spun around. Good Doctor, his outfit wet and glistening from the sea, finished slicing through the anchor line and waved us goodbye before hitting the accelerator.
“That bastard,” I said.
“He’s stranded us. He’s going back to the island,” Citra said.
I turned to look at her and finish tearing off the ropes that bound her. “Conserve your water.” In my head, I connected to my poor, new boat and activated the ejector seat. Good Doctor shot into the air, clinging to the seat as the parachute deployed. So much for hoping he’d have been left in it so I could just hit the self-destruct. I helped Citra stand up and regain her feet all while watching Doc figure out how to direct the chute and seat back to land. “You’ll want to hide now. I’m going to have to murder a friend.”
She didn’t argue with me. She stumbled away, trying to find somewhere to hide. I approached the edge of the island where the seat looked to come a little bit short. Indeed, Doc jumped out of it and landed on the edge as the seat itself plopped into the water.
“Clever,” I said to him. “Lure me here, head back, and finish what you couldn’t before.”
He stood up. I couldn’t see his eyes through the visor on his black leather helmet, but I could feel his hatred. “You did not react the way I anticipated to protecting that girl. Rumors say you have a daughter.”
“Jealous?” I asked. He took up a scalpel in his right hand and a punch knife in his left.
“Saddened. I take no joy in what I must do to you,” he said, his voice warping slightly to the tone I often heard when he slipped into his murderous state of mind.
“I’ve seen you take plenty of joy in it. Didn’t think you were the type to go after a man’s daughter. Have you truly become no better than I?” I stepped forward, hands open and palms to him, leaning forward just slightly over my front foot.
“We are, both of us, monsters, but I did what I did to provide a life for my daughter. She was the one thing that justified my actions. The one thing I could live with myself for. Now she is ashes, and I will see anything you care about rendered as such.”
“This really the hill you wanna die on, Doc?” I asked, noting the tension in his body. I knew what his answer would be, but I also knew it didn’t matter. He was never leaving this island alive.
He threw his scalpel at me. I deflected easily, then saw as the hand he pulled back from the throw tossed pellets at the ground between us. Black smoke blossomed forth. I paced a little back and forth, trying to see around it, even calling upon the satellite view. He was inside the cloud. I rushed in and whirled around, my cape helping blow it away. I pulled it close as an emergency warning appeared on my HUD. One of my batteries had been stabbed.
I pulled my cape in close, but not before the other battery reported physical damage. “You lost your glowing heart. You can only last so long.” he called in that smooth British voice of his. I did have power in the capacitors, but he was right. Once that’s loose, this armor of mine becomes much less useful. Then it’s just a matter of pulling my helmet off.
I growled as I jumped high into the air, then grinned as I looked down at the smoke cloud below me. I grabbed my cape as I dropped like a stone. When I crashed back into the cement, the air cushion under my cape blew the smoke out from around me, revealing Doc and kinda breaking something in one of my knees. I grabbed him by his leg and pulled him down to the ground under me, where all it took was one super strong punch to cave in his face. I put a hole through where his heart should be for good measure there. Watching, panting through the pain, I saw his body in its death throes.
“Dammit, you fucking fuckhead!” I called, pounding at the remains of his chest with the bottoms of my fists one last time, trying to avoid getting raindrops in my mouth. Small weather front in my helmet is all. I sat back then under the bright, sunny sky. “Other people thought you could live with yourself just fine,” I said to no one. I thought back, trying to see if anything could have stopped all this. It all comes down to Forcelight and her death. Just a casualty in the crossfire, though one who I was glad to see go because of her power. It was a hard train of thought to follow when something in my knee was screaming for attention as well.
That was the state Citra found me in, putting a hand on my shoulder and shaking me. “Get up. You’re alive, right?”
I brushed her off and turned to look at her. She backed away, paling. With a swallow, she asked, “How do we get off the island?”
Oh, right. That. Heh. Cunning asshole did a good job on this trap. In addition to leaving me here so he could go back and do what he would on Ricca, I was now out where anyone could get me. I wonder if he knew that I was only allowed to run free if I stuck to the island. A bit too late to ask him now.
I laughed at that one. Even if I wanted to risk jumping to my boat, which I didn’t bother exploding, my knee has decided it is now jelly. The kind of jelly with fruit in it, except the fruit are bone shards and strips of torn ligament.
A shadow crossed in front of the sun and brought a flapping sound. I looked up to see the Titan descending on wings further across than he was tall. “You shouldn’t be here, giant blue dude.”
He settled on the ground more gently than I did, that’s for sure. “My people saw the message carved on your friend. I still owed you a debt.”
“Well, aren’t you just a beautiful deus ex machina,” I said.
“I think it would be a stantibus celsior ex machina, but I never learned Latin,” he said. He picked me up easily and carried me under one arm. Citra didn’t object to getting out of there. “Click your heels together and say ‘there’s no place like home.’”