There’s something very odd being treated like some sort of broken, delicate thing. Moreso when the ones doing the treating are people I’ve spent years fighting, sometimes killing. In a timeline where I’d never come to this world, the hero population hadn’t been properly culled. Kids ran and flew around outside, holding a snowball fight. I watched as a couple boys tossed snowballs at a girl, chasing her into an igloo. The igloo’s entrance closed. A block opened to reveal a barrel. Tank treads popped out of the sides of the igloo and it began to roll. With a fwoom, it fired a snowball that knocked one of the boys on his ass.
“Awful lot of snow for Cali,” I said to Forcelight. She pointed to a pole that poked out of the ground and reached up over all the buildings. A large disk on top generated snow. “Weather control seems like it’d be useful for more than just playing around at school.”
“I asked them about that. My friend, Venus, told me it only makes snow. Nowhere else wants it other than Hollywood. Everyone thinks snow is too much trouble.”
It was a festive place. Lights adorned the outside of the buildings. Even the statue of Oscar Romero in the courtyard had a red and white hat on it. We moved past a foyer and front hall with rugs and its own smaller Christmas trees decorated about, and to the noisy part of the main buildings. Formerly dead and hostile faces welcomed me when Forcelight ushered me through the door of the Master Academy’s California campus cafeteria, where children, teens, and a lot of adults milled about around a two-story Christmas tree.
Venus came bounding up, out of costume, to hug Forcelight. “You made it! Everything wrapped up in Washington?”
Forcelight nodded. “Yeah. Once the big domino was destroyed, the others fell like a house of cards. Checkmate.” Venus smiled at the joke and turned to me. Forcelight turned to introduce me. “This is Gecko. She was a huge help. She’s some sort of technopath, so she turned the big one off. Gecko, this is Venus.”
“That’s amazing. Nice to meet you,” my nemesis said as she shook my hand. I wonder if I could hit that in this continuity… I mean, is still cheating if it’s in a different timeline? The only example I can think of involved another universe, and I still don’t think I’m in one. I’m in the same one that’s been altered significantly.
“Charmed, dear Venus,” I said. “It’s quite the place you have here. The food smells delicious. I can’t wait to have something other than highway snacks and hospital food.”
“She was injured while saving Washington,” Forcelight volunteered. “She had someone who helped her with that. He fought alongside us. Put a pin it that for later. For now, go eat Gecko. Go on!”
Thus commenced an evening of feasting with my foes. I ate too much, I was flirted with, and I even got asked to dance by Sixgun. I killed him, too. Not tonight. I’m talking about in the old continuity. Tonight, he just tried to get in my new dress. There was no killing to worry about… until it got later.
My history with Christmas being what it is, I kept my guard up even as others drank and cavorted. That’s why I was paying attention when wine in a glass started rippling. Someone else, a man with pointy ears, looked up. “Something’s coming,” he said in a soft voice
He ran to go warn someone. I ran out to the yard to see what was the matter. It had become deserted as the night went on and the children were forced into beds to have nightmares about sugarplum fairies.
A giant robot with pincers for hands came to a halt outside. We’re talking a good thirty, maybe thirty-five feet tall. Very similar old-style Nazi design aesthetic, but with a visor for a windshield on the head and a pair of gun barrels poking out from underneath it like a nose. It didn’t come alone. I spotted others near its feet.
On the one hand, the upcoming fight would be none of my business and nothing’s going to be permanent over here once I give it a good editing. On the other, I wanted to punch something.
“Master Academy, come out and face your doom at the hands of Dr. Creeper and his Ho-Ho-Horrors!”
Huh. So that’s what he got up to over here. I zoomed in for a closer look at the Ho-Ho-Horrors themselves. The one that stood out the most was the gargantuan of a man covered in scars and medical staples. He had a pair of metal bolts from each neck, shot fire from a flamethrower with 8 openings. Another looked like a regular guy until he concentrated and grew into a white-furred ape-thing. Next to him stood a man in a pilgrim outfit with a face covered in a black mask with white eye holes. On the opposite side of the flamethrower-wielding Frankenstein’s monster rolled up a cylindrical robot with a facsimile for a metal head planted on top of the cylinder, which held several arms. One of the arms lit up with an electrical arc between two ends of it, while the others were an assortment of claws, drills, and at least one plunger.
Then the ninjas dropped down between us the Ho-Ho-Horrors and the school. They had the cloth head coverings like you’d expect, but with goggles and metal lower face guards. The rest of their costume was less “black pajamas” as the stereotype goes and more like winter camo with body armor and sheaths for swords and other weapons. “Also, I’ve hired the services of the Ronin-Go. They aren’t my usual minions, but these are the only ones I could find willing to work Christmas Eve.”
Yet another reason why most people don’t bother attacking on Christmas Eve: better shit to do than get into a fight with supervillains. Like getting into a fight with family.
By now, I wasn’t the only one looking at the group. I rushed to the front hall and grabbed some ornaments off the trees. Most of them were those stupid plastic non-breakable ones, but a few were the classic glass. I broke several of those up and laid them out on the floor, then waited by the welcome rug.
The door burst in and ninjas came through it, yelling and waving swords. I waited until I got a good sized group and pulled the rug out from under them. A half dozen of them found their legs no longer underneath them and a short drop to a granite floor welcoming instead. I tossed the rug back over them before they could get up and ran over the top of them to the next wave. A good four of them tried to swing at me at once from the same direction and ended up getting in each other’s way. “Should have come at me one at a time,” I said with a laugh and grabbed away their swords in each hand.
They looked to me, then two bent and fired grappling lines on either side, forming a little corridor of rope at about knee level. One of the others jumped over me, knocking down one of his lumpy friends under the rug, and whipped out a pair of sai. The other who hand’t so far done anything squeezed his hands. Long metal claws popped out of winter digital-camo colored gauntlets. “Hi-ya!” the ones on either side of me yelled. Because when you hire ninjas, you want the classic ninja experience.
“Hiya,” I said, then hocked a loogie onto the clawed-ones visor. I turned around to the one behind me. I planted all four swords I held in the floor rug, and in someone I was standing on, and used them to lever myself into a flip over that one. He turned quickly and barely managed to catch two of the blades with his sais. I grinned and winked at him as the other two swords cut his pants so they fell down his legs. “Ever been circumcised before?”
The ninjas on either side of this little rope corridor they hoped to restrict my movements with came at me but soon found themselves crunching over broken orbs and stars and such. The one in front of me turned to run and tripped through a combination of his pants being around his ankles and the fact that we were still on top of a welcome mat covering six of his now-irritated and potentially wounded friends. The one I’d spat in the face of flipped over him and landed on the pommel of one sword I held up when I figured out where he was coming down at. He fell to the floor moaning and cradling a nut that’d need to be popped out later.
A shot caught me in the chest and knocked me back until I fell off the rug. There in the doorway was the smoking old-time flintlock. And behind it stood the guy in the pilgrim costume and mask.
I coughed and felt for my wound. My hand came back bloody and holding a round metal ball that had flattened where it ran into the bulletproof subdermis of my body. Still hurt like I’d been hung by my figgin. Before I could stand, one of the ropes was cut by Sixgun and his Bowie knife. He twirled it into a sheath and looked to me. “You alright, ma’am?”
I coughed and nodded. He nodded back, then turned and squared up with the Pilgrim, throwing his coat back. “Howdy Pilgrim. That’s no way to treat a lady. Mayhap you have a shot with me instead?” The Pilgrim tossed aside his spent pistol and shifted another couple around to the front of his belt.
One of the ninjas that had hurt his feet on broken decorations fell over on one of the little Christmas trees out there, knocking off a big red bow that rolled lazily between the two gunfighters. After a moment, the Pilgrim drew. Sixgun was faster. He shot the pistol out of the Pilgrim’s hand, then popped him in the shoulder, spinning him around into the cold, dark night.
By now, fighting had erupted all over. Once I managed to get to my fight, I spotted the Were-Yeti tangling with a huge, half-man, half-sloth that I knew as the Human Sloth from my own experience. Forcelight, meanwhile, had destroyed the flamethrower of the Frankenstein and was trying to put him down before he could overpower her. I spotted cylindrical robot with the treads circle around behind her.
I jumped it and stuck my fingers to its head. “What are you doing?” it asked. “I am Qwanzaar! Release me at once. No, do not stick that in there. That is not where fingers goOO!” It voiced surprise as my nervous system joined with its computerized brain and stopped it.
“Okily Qwanzaar, you’re mine now,” I said. I looked up at the giant robot, which traded blows with a woman in a pink and black costume with butterfly wings on it. It managed to catch the Pink Pixie by a wing and tore it off, sending the heroine spinning. And I couldn’t do anything about it from the ground. Dr. Creeper’s robots were based on old analog Nazi designs meant to be worked with levers and buttons and no computer elements at all. Nothing about this big one suggested he’d upgraded that part of it.
Instead, I looked to its knees, then at a cluster of downed ninjas. It was easy to appropriate their grappling hooks and ropes, then hop back on top of Qwanzaar. Firing and latching on with a grappling hook didn’t take a lot of work either.
No, by far the worst part was waiting for Qwanzaar to slowly circle through the snow for longer than it would have taken to watch the entire opening of Empire Strikes Back’s Hoth scenes. Pink Pixie, then Forcelight, managed to keep the big guy distracted long enough, especially once they saw what I was doing. Creeper didn’t noticed I’d tied up his robot’s knees until he went to step back and it caught. “What is this?!” his voice boomed from the speaker just before the robot began to fall.
The robot knocked off the disk that made the snow as it fell onto it, then the chest began to poke upward where the pole underneath had stabbed into it and the fall damaged the chest plate from the inside. A piece of metal fell off the top of the robot’s head and a rotor popped out. The head pulled off and began to fly away.
Instead of going after it, Pink Pixie, Forcelight, and the other heroes worked on rounding up the remaining Ho-Ho-Horrors and Ronin-Go. They might have thought they had longer, but the escape pod head’s sides opened up to reveal wings and jet engines. The rotors fell off as it shot away with a sonic boom.
All in all, not a bad party.
Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hannukah, Io Saturnalia, and an early Joyous Kwanzaa, dear readers. Remember, so long as you’re still alive, doesn’t matter if they trap you in another world, you’ve still got a chance.
I wasn’t even causing any trouble. I know that’s hard to believe, but it was the night before Mr. Rogers Day. Yes, I’m planning to be a good neighbor on Mr. Rogers Day. Or I would have, if I was going to have neighbors anymore. I’ll get to that.
I was watching Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a fun documentary, when I dropped my remote. I bent over to pick it up and missed the bullet that shattered my big screen. I dove for the side, my popcorn spilling into the air. More shots tracked me, probably near misses, and I landed behind the workbench with my latest rocket assembled on it.
“I appreciate bringing me lead to eat, but I ordered Italian take out!” I called out to my attacker. If you can multitask, I suggest talking to someone while you face them. Some people can get mixed up if they have to do something while listening to someone else.
A gruff voice with a Southern drawl answered back, “From now on you’re gonna take your meals in the pokey or not at all.”
I reached for a plastic sack full of white capsules hanging on the wall. “In the pokey? Listen buddy, I’m as wild as the next guy, but I really don’t care for food to be shoved up my-“
“In the hoosegow!”
“…right, I hope you brought lube along.”
With that, I leapt across to the other side of my workshop. This time, no mere bullets were fired my way. Instead, flames licked at me as fireballs barely missed me. As I settled against the tough metal cabinet and counter, I yelled to my assailant, “That’s one hell of a gun, Quickdraw McGraw!”
“It’s not Quickdraw, it’s Sixgun!” That explained it. The man with the empathic gun of interchangeable ammo, even ammunition like fireballs that shouldn’t exist. I wondered if he had anything like what that big fucking gun shot back on the space marine ship.
“Shouldn’t you be promoting mass shootings to impressionable middle schoolers?” I asked. Regardless of my stance on the issues I bring up, a good verbal kick in the balls always helps. Mwahaha, that’s right, fear what my mouth will do to your balls!
Wait a tick, that’s not right. Also, the wall is on fire. See THIS is why people go for metal or concrete construction right here.
I reached up without looking and found my utility belt on the countertop and dragged it down. I slipped it on and clicked the buckle when I heard him respond, “Guns are perfectly safe when used by properly trained individuals with no mental problems!”
Not sure where he got the idea most people who had them count as properly trained AND sane. “I’m sure that comforts a lot of grieving parents. ‘Oh, geez, sorry your kid got shot with a legal killmachine, but it’s ok because most of the rest of us probably aren’t going to do that. Now if you’ll excuse me, there was an incident at an elementary school today and I need to go reassure more people they won’t be limited to just 5 killmachines.’”
“You’re a real bastard, Psycho. You don’t have the right to lecture anybody about weaponry. Besides, I’m here to deal with your continuous assassination attempts on my sidekick.”
I tore open the bag, pressed on the caps of a few white capsules, and threw them towards the doorway Sixgun appeared to be taking cover behind. They burst into flames in midair not too far away, prompting him to pop out of cover long enough to fire back in response while holding his white cowboy hat onto his head. Lightning flashed out of the end of his gun’s barrel and cracked against the TV. One line went wide and wrecked the top of the workbench I hid behind earlier, blasting my rocket apart.
See, this is why I can’t have good things. And where are my knives?
“Took you long enough. I wonder how long he kept begging for a chance to not have his life put in danger before he kicked the bucket!” I said, changing tracks.
“He might ask me the same thing when I’m finished with you.”
Ah, in all the lightning and fire and bullets, somehow my explosive throwing knife belt wound up on the ground right in the middle of the room. “Now that was a stupid thing to say for someone trying to protect him. You know he started this, right?”
“You captured him! You tried to kill him!”
“He’s a teenager whose first instinct upon seeing a murdering psychopath was to follow him and try to sneak up on him!”
“You poured vegetable oil on him and beat him over the head with a salami. Don’t you know how wrong that was?”
“Yes, I know. I should have used knockwurst!” I heard the sound of metal smacking against flesh. Facepalm. I took the opportunity to slide out on the floor and grab a knife. I armed it and threw it towards the doorway with no particular aim. It was hard to hear anything over the explosion and the spreading flames, so I just had to risk it and rush the door.
On the other side, I saw Sixgun, laying there, staring up at nothing through a pair of holes cut out in a tied strip around his face. I slipped another knife off the belt as I stood over him. I dropped to my knees, pinning his arms down under them, grabbed the back of his head, and raised the blade in the air.
“Hehehe, gunslinger. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.”
Unfortunately, I lost the base. My next step, with all the smoke going everywhere, was to change into my armor and get out of there. Was grabbing as many remote hologram discs when I saw the flames had reached the box of rubber chickens. Fire trucks arrived in time to see me fleeing a clutch of chicken grenades all walking towards the street before exploding, sending my latest lair and me flying.
It wasn’t too much better at the apartment. I was learning here. What I was learning was I was being followed. I had an idea who as well. I also had the advantage of keeping some nifty explosives in my apartment for intruders.
But I couldn’t do that.
See, now I’m at my apartment, staring down a wounded Holdout. He walked in, one arm in a sling, to find me standing there in the dark.
“Still at it? Can’t get enough pain, or are you just suicidal?” I say to him.
He pulls a gun out of thin air. Literally, empty air, then a gun, and his sleeves aren’t that long. Guess that’s why he’s called Holdout.
“You killed my-…you killed Sixgun. You have been trying to kill me. You’re not walking out of here alive.”
“Then I’ll walk out dead.” He cocks the hammer. “Oh come on, you think that’s going to hurt me?”
“It’s built like Sixgun’s. Yeah, I can shoot through that armor.”
“How’d you find me, by the way?” I’m curious. Best to correct for that next time.
“The truck. I memorized the license plate number when you had me tied up and covered in oil. I followed it on the day you tried to crash into me and that confirmed who it was. Sixgun was able to pull together trips it had made from examining the minions you killed and that led us to your new base. And after…you did what you did, I followed you here.”
“I guess you CAN do a little more than pull a trigger, huh? Are you good for anything useful aside from that? I bet you can’t feed a hungry orphan or remove a lump of cancer. Just track down and try to shoot lil ole me, the evil molester of pandas and weapon master of the deli section.”
“Shut up! I don’t have any real power, but at least I can do a little good in all this. Even if it is just a little, it’s better than nothing.” Whoa. He looks shaky. Looking closer, I can see scars and burns. My handiwork by now. “You can’t talk your way out of this. I have to do this and even if I fail, I’ve led the cops right to you.”
“Crap. With all these bombs I keep in here, that’s going to get real messy, real quick.” He stiffens at that. “Or I let you evacuate the good people of this building before folks charge in here after me.”
“You’re going to kill me if I turn around to do that.”
“I take pity on you.” He nearly shoots me right there. I stand there, stoic as a guy can be in armor that doesn’t show his face. After a minute, hearing sirens approach, he eases out the doorway and speaks into something at his shoulder, alerting the cops to a bomb in the building, in my apartment. I just close the door, catching a glimpse of my neighbors and their little girl being helped out of there by the wounded sidekick.
They manage to get them all out in 20 minutes. I’ve fortified the doorway pretty well in that time and there I am, standing at the window as helicopters illuminate me with the floodlight. It doesn’t shine off my armor but it does off the window, making it a little harder for sharpshooters to take a whack at me. I know the SWAT are getting close, so I press a button.
The apartment explodes outward as the bombs go off, raining burning debris over the assembled cops and a few onlookers too close to the scene. More of the blast was directed away from the interior than I figured.
Me? Oh, I’m watching from a couple of buildings over. Wish I had a drink with me. Yep, I barricaded the door and the interior walls, set one of the hologram discs down with an image of myself, and hightailed it out of there. Before you start with the “Oh Mr. Gecko, you’re so handsome but sooo cowardly,” let me just add that I was trying to avoid blowing up the little girl next door. That’s why I couldn’t just lead Holdout in and blow it all up right then and there.
She’s a former client. That sounds really wrong, but it’s the truth. Looks like the fire trucks will get most of the damage since they were called along as well.
Holdout? Maybe I’ll kill him, maybe I won’t. Let’s just say the kid showed some balls and some good decision-making skills. He gets a part in taking me down as far as anyone knows, I killed his boss. And almost killed him a lot of times. And murdered supervillain support staff. And I struck out with Dave’s wife. I suppose we’re roughly even if I go easy on NEEDING him dead.
Well, my apartment’s kablooey, my lair got blown up, most of my equipment is destroyed or seized, a hero is dead, I appear to be dead too, it was all done rather publicly, and it is now Mr. Rogers Day, when I shall do no harm. I’m not a really good neighbor to have, though. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Hmm…now there’s an idea.