Tag Archives: Spinetingler

The Knights Illuminati 9

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“I’m trying to tell you this is real!” shouted a red-faced fat man on a TV screen. “It’s the god-damned Illuminati! It’s the demons that are getting in because of the fluoride in the water supply that’s turning all the frogs gay. This is how the apocalypse starts, people! So I’ve heard from a credible source that all the world’s supervillains teamed up and formed a secret society. They invaded an alien planet, folks! The same aliens who came to this planet a long time ago and built the pyramids. They built the pyramids and, and, and, they genetically engineered humans into evil fish monsters. They made the soy that’s turning men into women. It was the Greys and Bigfoot teaming up together! Now they’re pissed because the Super Illuminati, the Black Knights Templar, stole the Roswell UFO and flew there. It was that fucking Psycho Gecko over there in the Pacific. He did it when he stole the nuke! The nuke, people! Wake up and smell the mushroom clouds!”

The red-faced man tore his shirt open and reached down. He came back up with one of his shoes, which he banged on his desk over and over until they cut over to where a gay guy with a swastika armband started talking up some sort of herbal supplement meant to help people think better, the camera moving quickly to avoid lingering too long on the part of the label that mentioned soy as one of its ingredients.

Satisfied that Infowars ran with the info I leaked them, I got away from there. I’ve had most alcoholic beverages known to man and a few unknown to man, and that website was killing more of my brain cells faster than any seashine the Deep Ones cook up in their stills. But that was kinda the point. After the debacle of electing that one moron in 2016, nobody with any sense is trusting the sort of people who believe that fucking channel. So glad I killed that fucker. I’ve probably been nominated for a peace prize or something.

With all the loot we took from the alien planet, people were eager to spend. And spend they did. I took from them most of what they took from the aliens. But, hey, they got free t-shirts. I even threw in the sleeves, complementary. Those are high quality sleeves; I coulda charged them $50 a sleeve.

I’m not all take and no give, though. The villains who attended this little shindig got themselves some nice door prizes. For instance, the Patches. High tech, low maintenance, these thin little computers utilize the latest and greatest super science has to offer allowing villains to stay Patched into things like the internet, bluetooth capable devices, and VillaiNet. That’s what they settled on for the name. It’s got a social media function, including the ability to post videos, but there are also forums, live chat, an auction-site setup, and a site for those of us who produce things for sale. Instead of each needing a different place, they’re all connected in one spot for ease of browsing and ordering. There are some pretty nifty augmented reality functions inspired by Ricca’s use of it.

But it’s not like a wrist computer or eyeglasses or anything. Both of those can be pretty clunky in combat and mess with a person’s costume. They can be slapped onto the skin of a user to access its functions with an incredibly thin monitor that doubles as a keyboard. And only works on the skin of a villainous user. It reads the DNA of the skin it’s attached to as a biometric security measure, with a database kept up to date and stored here on Ricca. Extras have been sent out in case people need them, but also to bring more people into it. They can slap them onto their skin, have their DNA scanned, and have a registration process start up to make sure they’re actually a villain. They don’t even have to stay on; there’s a sequence to detach it. They can be reattached anytime, no problem.

I think this went well. As I said before, this wasn’t about a Legion of Doom and some big plan to defeat the Super Friends, though not for lack of planning. If they were real, I’d start things off with a canon aimed at Apache Chief’s junk. Timber! Well, it’d be pretty hard for him to have any timber after getting shot there, but y’all get my meaning.

See, it’s like I said at the last big meeting of all of us, where the Patches were being shown off and distributed. I could have just described the inventors talking up all the features and getting things synced up, but those guys love to hear themselves talk. Not like me. I’m great at talking, so everyone loves when I talk, not just me. Completely different.

Ouroboros, as the guy really in charge of all this as far as organizing, was once again in the middle of the whole tent, shushing people down. They’d gotten all excited about the Patches. Everyone was eagerly anticipating theirs. I already had access to the network, because this is me we’re talking about and I helped get the whole thing set up. I’d get one in due time but I was much more interested in what was coming next, which involved Ouroboros hogging the spotlight with an address of his own.

“My fellow villains, I know we generally disregard the rules.” That drew chuckles from the audience. “Despite that, I believe in what we’re doing here. Psycho Gecko is right. The heroes are organizing. The world we grew up in is becoming less certain. This gives us a chance to survive and even thrive in the coming chaos.” He poked a tablet on the table before picking it up. “These aren’t much more than a code of the rules most of us followed. Don’t murder a fellow super. Don’t put them in a coma. Those are capital offenses punishable by execution.” He gestured to me.

I waved at everyone, “Hey everyone. I just got a new necklace made of ears!”

Ouroboros continued. “Exposing another’s identity, attacking or outing another villain’s family, permanent disabling, near-murder, or sexually assaulting another super are to be judged by the community. There are a range of non-capital punishments they may decide on, including beating, theft, and shunning. We’ve left open the possibility that the community can vote for capital punishment.”

Well, not exactly what I was hoping for there. I mean, it’s nice for them to codify that, but I figured a bit of rape might be worth a visit from me. I heard some booing, but for all I know they disagreed with the idea of that being punished at all. Someone else called out an important question as well. “Who’s going to judge us?”

Ouroboros’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “I would eagerly take the job if not for the vote you evidently missed. The allegation and evidence will be posted for everyone to see. We all get a vote in it, except the accused and the victim or victims.” Huh. I’m sure some people were looking forward to being some sort of judges or capos or something. Easy way to make lots of bribe money and get a lot of power over people. Ouroboros looked disappointed to me, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

As someone who regularly hates and uses masses of people getting caught up in stupidity, I can see this system going badly just as easily. Hell, at least with Ouroboros, you know it’d take a big bribe. Some of these guys knifed their own mothers for a nickel. I’ve seen their records, that’s not an exaggeration. It’s not off the table now either. But while I’m excellent at seeing the flaws in things and plans that take advantage of that, fixing things is generally out of my wheelhouse. But I’m trying. And one of the best things you can do when confronted with a nigh-insurmountable problem is to keep trying different things. If cyanide doesn’t work, try a spiked mace. If they shrug off the mace, unleash the killer mutant sea pigs. And on and on.

But I left several outs, like all good plans. Gotta have room for improvisation. Areas where I can show a little trust. They disappointed me with the lower sentencing for sexual assault rules, but there was something in there I’m sure was a canny decision by Ouroboros. The rules said supers, not villains. We’ll see how that language plays with the heroes when they find out about this. I mean, we’re talking villains here. Someone’s going to yap about it. In the meantime, as Ouroboros was saying, “These rules apply to all supers. If heroes violate them, they will be subject to the same punishments to be executed by our fellow villains.”

I caught some glances sent my way at the word executed. He gave an “ahem” to get people’s attention again. “We won’t officially help you with civilians who break these rules, but you can always obtain help through VillaiNet. However, these rules will also be applied to members of law enforcement going forward. These rules will not be retroactive to save us from a lot of finger pointing and retaliation as soon as we get out of here. Any change to the rules of our new legion of rogues.” Ok, now he’s just fucking with me, “are to be adopted only after receiving 90% of the vote in polling.

You know how hard it is to get 90% of a group to agree on something? That’s like “nine out of ten dentists agree that brushing your teeth is good for you” territory. And there’s still the one fucking dentist.

With all that adopted, there wasn’t much left to do except help kick everyone out. As much as people seemed to enjoy their vacation, I’m sure they were ready to get back to robbing people and trying out their new souvenirs. I made sure to find Spinetingler before he could depart, and not just to oggle his daughter. Though he was talking to her when I ran across them. They were in the middle of the fountain at the villain village, having some sort of discussion about the water.

“A baptism ritual would work, I know!” she said, stomping a heel against the ground.

Spinetingler, in his black leather outfit with a hood obscuring his head, nodded. “Yes, I envision a twisted cult mass. We need to find the proper cult leader to empower and prey upon the latent fears of… hello Gecko.” He turned, taking me in with glowing red eyes in the darkness.

“Hello, Tingles,” I said. I don’t think he cared for the nickname, though his daughter giggled in a way that made me wonder just what her mental age was. “I just came to say thanks for stopping in.”

He clenched his fist. “It provided an adequate vacation for my daughter. Otherwise, the meetings wasted my time.”

I shrugged. “Sometimes, just being around is enough. But I just wanted to let you know I don’t consider our agreement superseded by the new rules or anything. Let’s just say if you happen to cross those lines, I might be in the middle of a bath when they call. Or have difficulty finding you. All I ask is you don’t make it look obvious if you can help it.” I held out my hand for a shake.

He took it and squeezed, leaning in quickly as if to try and make me jump. Joke’s on him, I had to stop myself headbutting him. “Agreed,” he said, then abruptly turned and walked away. “Come darling!”

His daughter eyed me as she passed by before her heels disappeared into flats and she jogged to catch up to her father.

Whew. It was good to get that out of the way. I was looking forward to getting into some trouble myself, though. Maybe see about some new shit to steal. Kidnap some more staff for the labs. Ooh, and work on a custom VTOL stealth vehicle for transporting small squads of people. I had so many things that needed doing when electricity crackled out of nowhere. Suddenly, a glowing orb of white light appeared, lightning arcing off it. With a boom, it was replaced by a larger glowing orb settled on the ground. An outline of a door appeared in the side of the orb, which was about the size of a tall shack. The black outline soon filled in and out walked an old man in a brown coat, vest, slacks, and a scarf. “Psycho Gecko, I need your assistance.”

“Oh you do, do you?” I asked, looking over the old man and the vessel that registered on my HUD as The Mobian’s vessel. “Who are you and what are you doing with this thing?”

“He’s the Mobian,” said a middle-aged bottle blonde. “And if you have trouble believin’ that, you’re not our guy, guv.”

“I need your help,” the Mobian said. I would have sworn the guy was younger. I still haven’t seen him since I set off that Dimensional bomb really close to him and a fleet of fluid-based aliens intent on enslaving everyone on Earth to use as soldiers in an alien civil war.

“The only thing I don’t believe is that you’d ever come to me for help,” I said, setting my helmeted chin in one hand and using the other three to prop it up.

“If we had any other choice, we’d have taken it,” came a familiar voice. I looked over to see who else would be joining us from out of the time ship. I was rewarded with the sight of a tired, weathered Venus with grey streaking her hair. A scar split her brow and the skin of her cheek underneath the crimson glow of her prosthetic right eye. She raised her left hand, spinning some blocky gun of a make I’d never seen before along a lever on its underside.

I jumped up and clapped four of my hands. “Oooh, does this mean I get to take my daughter along on a trip to the future?”

“Daughter?” asked the blonde woman. “Where we’re going, we don’t need your daughter.”

Mobian set his hand on my shoulder. “I need you, to go back with me… to the past!”

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The Knights Illuminati 8

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I bounded across the face of a pyramid under a green sky. Behind me, an orb the size of a beach ball approached. It was hard enough running along the smooth, angled side of the thing, though much easier than the side of a skyscraper. It’s much harder when a floating piece of glass rides your ass and tries to blast it off with a laser beam the diameter of a beach ball. I dropped and slid down the side of the pyramid to keep from being pegged by excited photons.

The beam followed, trailing molten whatever. I was invisible, but that didn’t matter to that thing. I’m guessing the natives of this world see some different stuff than most people from Earth do. I considered using my gauntlets, either to deflect the beam or to absorb part of it, then deflect it. They were built to handle Justice Ranger small arms, but it has an upper limit. I was never capable of deflecting the sorts of attacks their giant mecha could produce. I’d rather not test them against this energy weapon unless I have no other option. Still, I began to charge up my lower pair of arms and I had the projectors stop trying to render me invisible if it wasn’t going to work.

I banked on it only being able to maintain that beam for so long, then come back and smack it with my dick. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I’d blow it away with my cock, but I don’t know what my rubber chicken grenades are going to do around this place. Without roads to cross to the other side of, they might run around like chicken with their heads cut off. But dodging I can do. Some might call it “running away” but I argue that facing unknown energy beams capable of disappearing a torso is not the time to argue over valor. I really need a reliable method of defending myself from a distance. Or, as is more accurate in my life, preemptively defending myself. I have to defend myself from people’s attempts to kill me for trying to murder them.

Then again, all the eye lasers in the world are pretty useless if you can’t use them because the thing is a giant laser orb behind you that you can’t take the time to try and shoot because of the big-ass laser beam. I think it’s just really easy to complain when you’re close to involuntary ass hair removal via big-ass laser.

Having founded my guess on the idea that most weapons can’t attack continuously for very long without running into power, cooling, or ammunition problems, I was rewarded with the thing stopping. Unfortunately, the sliding thing was tougher to stop. I had to put my fist into the side of the pyramid. It didn’t go too far. Just far enough to break some fingers on my upper left hand. When you’re as punchable as myself, you get used to a lot of pain. I leveraged myself up and jumped for the orb. The first punch with my upper right knocked it back, but didn’t shatter it or anything. Then I gave it the ol’ one-two with the bottom pair and they put cracks all through the bottom. The orb dropped and began to roll down the side of the pyramid.

I’d been heading out a little further to see what I could see of this place. Wherever we’d entered this world, it didn’t seem to be the same spot they’d sent people through before. There had been no sign of the big tentacle thing that tried to get me before, and no other real defenses. Based on how there had been a drop of a few feet, I think moving the crystal on our end affected where we came out. One of the first villains through, Powder, used her super strength to put together a mound made out of what I assume are the local personal transportation. Some of the villains were swarming all over triangular things and I’m sure some of have already been tossed through whole.

“Hide your kids, hide your wife, we’re takin’ everything ’round here!” I called down to crowds of fleeing aliens. That’s what I’m going with, anyway. I know what dimensional travel is like, so I’m guessing this is mere interplanetary stuff. And not a racially homogenous one, either. I saw all sorts running around. Pale things with long, thin limbs and big heads walked around like greys in denim. No, seriously, whatever they were wearing looked a lot like denim. Denim overalls, denim jeans, denim jackets. I saw a big ape-like furry thing in a toga and sandals, so even alien fashion isn’t so horrible as to include socks with sandals. That was reassuring, actually. Some of these things were reptilian, some had green skin, some blue. They had aliens every color of the rainbow around here, fleeing as we wreaked havoc and stole whatever we could.

“I can’t be the only one noticing it’s hard to breathe here, for sure?” asked someone. I had the comms lines in my helmet turned down low so they wouldn’t interrupt anything.

“No, you’re just a fatass,” someone else responded.

“No, he’s right,” another voice jumped in. “It’s the atmosphere.”

“Anyone know how to read gibberish?” someone else broke in. “I don’t know what I’m robbing. Is this a Whole Foods or an electronic store?”

Yet another person broke in, which just goes to show why I didn’t want to pay a lot of attention to all this. “Shove it up your ass. If it doesn’t vibrate, it’s food.”

A voice with an accent I couldn’t place broke in. “That is how I know you are an American. You would fry it first.”

“Guys, not to interrupt this wonderful attempt at recreating Reddit with real noises, but I’m getting shot at over here,” someone said.

“Fuck off.”

“Walk it off.”

“Shoot them back!”

I broke in. “Cooperation is a part of this. Let’s get some people over there before we find out they have guns that turn people’s crotches into poisonous snakes or something.”

“Woah, I saw that on TV before. There’s this big purple snake thing in another country-”

I cut them off. “That’s nice and we can discuss the penis snake once we’re back on Earth. Look at it this way, you get to steal gear from this place’s version of cops or soldiers or whatever.”

I think that did the trick. There wasn’t a good way to get a sense of where people were outside of whatever they discussed over the comms, and I didn’t like paying attention to all that. Still, those sorts of weapons and equipment were high on the list of goods to take, just like on Earth. They’re valuable, easy to carry, and easy to sell. It wouldn’t be Earth’s first encounter with alien technology, but I’d try to make sure my country gets whatever insights they have to offer first. Until then, I had to do a little robbing of my own.

I landed on what I took to be a sidewalk, right in front of a fleeing thing. I’d say feminine in appearance, but I didn’t have a basis for comparison with this thing’s species. Thin, with blue skin that took on an iridescent glimmer at the curves, and some folds of loose skin where the hair would be. “Stand and deliver,” I said, pulling a rubber chicken out of my belt and pointing it at the alien ominously.

It babbled something in a language my translator program began to work furiously on figuring out. “Your money or your life!” I said again, poking at the alien with the rubber chicken. I looked it over for valuables and found it had a number of bracelets on. I grabbed for those and slipped them off, the alien giving little resistance.

I was admiring them when a pair of those triangular vehicles came humming up the street nearby. The bodies of the vehicles turned as whatever they had instead of wheels moved them from side to side in order to deftly dodge fleeing civilians. The alien tried to pull one of the bracelets away from me and, when I refused, began waving its arms at the vehicles. They came to a sudden stop next to us and these domes on top retracted to reveal three beings in each one.

They got out, another mixture of various aliens. At least one of them looked more like the one I’d just mugged, but red-skinned instead of blue. One of them held the palm of his glove-covered hand toward me and shot some little disk thing. I caught it out of the air and looked at it, at which point it began to shock me. If it had hit and attached, that would have sucked. Unfortunately for them, it clenched my hand and I crushed the darn thing. Still made me stumble back, but it also helped charge up the energy sheaths on my gauntlets thanks to how I’d redesigned them. Three of the others pulled out extending sticks, not narrowed like batons, while the last brought out a staff. I went ahead and tucked my stolen bracelets away.

The three with the sticks came at me all at once. The things looked like wood, but clanged off my armor. A punch each put the three down, but not dead. For most people, they’d be gooey salsa on the sidewalk after one of those. These guys were still intact and holding themselves, though only the sasquatch-looking guy seemed anywhere near close to getting up for another go. It was staff guy’s time for a go while the one who tried to tase me checked on the others. He gave my leg a half-hearted poke that I didn’t think anything of until a metal clamp extended out and wrapped around my thigh. Then a yellow light on the middle part of the staff lit up. He picked me up and smacked me into the street a few times before smacking me onto the armored battery pack I wore on my back.

I didn’t have to worry about the charge in my last hand anymore. I raised all four of my hands for a moment before I got my feet under me a little. I fired my suit’s elbow rockets at the same time I jumped, pulling the staff clear of the alien’s grip. My suit was at least a match for the clamp, able to tear it off, and the alien peace officer himself was less resilient to a flying person in power armor gut-checking him.

The last one fired off another pair of his shocking little gadgets at me as I approached. Once again, a ranged attack would be nice. A laser shot out from the side, severing the thing’s hand and ending the pain and involuntary muscle contractions. And, I might add, leaving the red-skinned alien standing in front of me while I had four charged gauntlets ready. Yeah, no need for the laser now. The others survived a punch each with no problems. Turns out, a couple such hits at the same time will salsafy these guys anyway.

I turned to the person who had helped me. Escorpio Encantador stood on the back of a gleaming gold and black scorpion that went along perfectly with his scorpion-motif armor. “I am sure you would have killed him without my assistance, Emperatriz Gecko. I merely hurried his death along so you have more time to do what you love.” He gave me a bow.

“Yeah, yeah. Now help me get these guys’ pants off!” I said, perfectly happy to have less attention on him helping me out. He politely refused to help me rob the downed cops blind, claiming he had to get over and help with the tentacle monster. I just made sure to gather up as much of the armor and equipment I could, including that taser-launching glove, a couple of sticks, and what may have been an advanced alien jockstrap. That’s a question for the scientists to answer, though.

I was broken away from my robbery reverie by the increasing panic from the various voices on the comms. “Tentacles everywhere!” someone called. Another person was like, “It touched my mouth, ew, fuck it! Fuck all of it!” And that last statement was not good fuck it.

Grabbing my loot, I made for the portal. I found that the fleeing crowds in that area were supervillains who were trying to get away from a large, flesh-shaped slug covered with tentacles. If it was the same one from the other portal, it would be the remnants of one last mercenary. Yeah, they did that to a human. Giant tentacle slug.

Suddenly, a large crowd of the aliens ran for the portal as well, from the other direction. What I thought would turn into a counter attack instead became a massive surge of aliens all throwing themselves at the thing, trying to beat, claw, and bite it to death. It wasn’t until I was jumping my way closer that I saw someone moving more slowly in the midst of them without being trampled. A woman with a face I’d seen plenty of times, though she now wore a form-fitting black dress. Spinetingler’s daughter.

Spinetingler himself soon appeared, though he appeared unconcerned with the writhing, wriggling mess of tentacles. When tendrils came close to slapping him, he swiped them clear with a quartet of blades on the fingers of one glove. He approached the thing and laid a hand on it. By now, I’d landed relatively close by and nodded to the guy’s daughter. I felt her telepathic abilities claw away at my mind, protected as it was by the unique neurophysiology of homo machina. Something about the way our minds interface with computers screws up conventional psionic abilities. My understanding is that it takes a hellaciously strong psychic to break in. “Everything ok here?” I asked.

She nodded. Her voice had a deep echo to it. “My father has this handled. I think everyone should go.”

I nodded again and cut into the comms. “Okily dokily, folks. I hear we better get a move on. Spinetingler’s doing something to the squirming mass over here and I think we’d better skedaddle.”

“Roger, skedaddling commencing,” someone with a mechanical-sounding voice said.

“Keep an eye out for anyone lagging behind. Anyone get caught? Anyone injured?” I asked. I was interrupted by Dr. Creeper stomping by back to the portal in a barebones robot that was more a pair of large chicken-legs with a small tank cannon on top. From his cackling, he was having the time of his life.

Meanwhile, Spinetingler finished whatever he was doing and flew past through the portal as a bunch of bats. Short as he was a few in his belfry, if he was hightailing it, that was a sign. Kinda like when you notice the bomb disposal guy running with a line of pee trailing after. But I stuck around. I got to see as the thing that had once been a man and was now a giant flesh slug began to grow and take something like a humanoid shape. It didn’t get all the formal body parts. It stayed all lumpy and flesh-colored, but it had a pair of legs, a torso, and arms, all with little arms and legs twitching out of its skin. And whatever led it to come after us villains didn’t seem to be in control anymore. It took a swipe at a nearby obelisk, sending it crashing onto more of the extraterrestrial cops.

“Sound off if you are still past the portal!” called Ouroboros over the comms.

“Gecko here. I’m still on alien soil, watching aliens soil themselves,” I answered.

After a few more seconds of comms silence, Ouroboros replied, “We’re waiting on you.”

A bolt of red energy missed my head and zapped a piece of the mound underneath the portal. I turned to see a group of four beings in multi-colored outfits walking toward the scene with short capes on the back of their outfits. They had black and silver running throughout the costumes, but each wore a different color primarily. It was the lead one in red, way too big and wide to be a human, who was aiming a sort of cross between staff and rifle at me. I got the feeling I met his gaze, despite the helmets we both wore.

“Yeah, time to go I think,” I said to myself, as well as the rest of them all. I turned and jumped through to see everyone else milling around the military base. No one had been allowed to leave just yet, as enforced by all the guys and drones with guns around.

There was just no way to handle the raid from within the Institute of Science. Sure, it had the computers and the nuclear-powered toasters, which are always handy to have in a conflict. It was too crowded. Hard to get people in and out, or get booty out. Getting a lot of people in and handling booty is as important for a raid as it is for running a train on someone. I also hated being cut off the way the Institute does to me as a consquence of being built for information security.

It turns out the crystal can be handled and moved. I had it brought out to the military base. It had plenty of room for everyone. Plus, this time all the guns would be pointed at my enemies. That includes if any of these assholes got the idea to strand me over there. Which is why they were keeping a close eye on everyone until I gave the order. “Guns down and power off. At ease.”

The soldiers relaxed. Even the surface-to-air launcher wound down and pointed its payload at the sky instead.

“Trust issues, Gecko?” asked Ouroboros, twirling his knives around.

“What? Me? Naw… just didn’t want anyone leaving before we got ourselves a group photo,” I said, pointing over to the nearby bleachers where a pair of photographers were all set up. “Come on, let’s finish comemmorating the new world order. Say ‘stolen cheese’!”

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The Knights Illuminati 2

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I made a minor miscalculation on the timeline of getting all this shit done. I didn’t think as much about showmanship among villains as I could have. To be fair, this is probably the biggest single gathering of evil people since that Nazi rally in Virginia. As far as supervillains go, only Ricca pulled off having this many together in one place, and that was because they were all under the effect of a memory erasing drug that affected them. Pretty sure there were battles in World War II that didn’t feature as many supers as I packed into one gigantic tent.

When people started to enter, all the smaller potatoes entered first. A strut here, a saunter there, maybe someone’s motto or a rude hand gesture thrown up for good measure. As time went on and the villains became better known, they slowed down their entrances and tried to make them showy. I don’t even know when they had time to set up the pyro a few guys used, and one idiotic woman almost set the tent on fire with a flaming dragon.

I actually had to hold Max back from walking in with a fog that’d have everyone tripping balls. After some insistence, he opted instead for fog that made everyone see various mythical monsters all bowing to him as he entered. That’s what I heard people saying. I was in my armor and left my box to try and expedite the whole mess.

At least Ouroboros wasn’t flashy. I can respect that about him. He’s a businessman. I think he knows what he wants, and I expect he’ll be more amenable to this. I’m less sure about Spinetingler, whose entrance more closely resembled an evil circus with him as a ringleader with glow in the dark makeup on. His daughter accompanied him, dressed as a harlequin in a very nice outfit that showed off a body no longer starved to skin and bones. Like many homicidal madmen who suffer from uncontrollable bouts of laughter, I have a thing for harlequin women. That said, I’m glad to not have a dick to stick in that crazy.

Not to be outdone, and intending to put an end to this whole entrance thing, I sent in the troops. My soldiers marched in with full body armor, forming a cordon. Drones flitted about, training rockets and lasers on people. Then began the movie theater countdown that preceded The Nearly Deads’ “My Evil Ways”. And yes, I wore the ridiculous coat with the peacocks. Tossed it off to someone in the audience before leaping up to my box.

Once everything settled down and the soldiers left, I raised all four hands. “Now are we done with the pagentry or do we have to crown a heavyweight champion of the world first?!”

That got some laughs and, at last, everyone was ready to stop. “As your host, I think I’ve figured out the first order of business: let’s just walk in and grab some seats, people. We can’t do this shit every single time. We’ll run out of tent first.” I pointed over to the scorch marks on one section. “Seriously though, get it out of your system now. I know we all like a bit of fun with this shit, but we’re here for some serious business, too. I know, I know, boo. Do try to save the drug and alcohol use for the after hours.”

It got a bit of chuckling. The laughter took on a more nervous tone around Max’s entourage and Spinetingler’s table. He and his daughter were being given wide berth by most of them there.

“So let’s get to why I called all y’all together here today. I’m sure I’ve annoyed many of y’all with a question lately. What do you want? Most of you have tolerated the questioning well enough, helped no doubt by the need for a vacation from pursuit. All the cool shit you can buy here doesn’t hurt.”

As if waiting on my cue, a couple of carts rolled in. One vendor called out, “Hot dogs! Fresh hot dogs for sale! Have mutt and mustard! Have Collie and ketchup!”

The other was quieter, instead having drawn up prices on the side for bowls of rice, soup, sushi, and skewer food. Well, that’s what one side advertised. The other had prices for surplus Chinese firearms. Might be handy for henchmen. Personally, I aim to invest in banned goods. I’m working on a 3D printer that can whip up some ivory and sealskin.

But I had some speechifying to do first. “Most of y’all want money, freedom, and infamy. Nice stuff, sure, but what’s money without something to spend it on? Being free tends to attract more and more people who want to toss you in jail. And infamy can be lonely.”

My thoughts started to wander to Carl, Moai, Qiang, Beetrice and even Citra. “Ok, so I’ve been around heroes. Some of them even woke up in the middle of the night and saw me. I’m here to tell you they’re grouping up. They’re better at cooperation than we are. They have a school. They hold giant parties with heroes from across the nation and even other dimensions.”

“We all have parties!” someone yelled.

“Yes, but the heroes get along. We all distrust each other. There are people in this room who have tried to kill me, and some I have tried to kill. We’re not friends, but we’re facing a new world. The heroes are organizing and a lot of supers killed my predecessor, the supervillain known as The Claw. Heroes and villains killed.”

“Is this meeting just about hearing yourself speak?” called out someone. That one I saw, and I held myself back from killing her as much as I wanted to. Fucking trust building. I’d settle this with a bunch of trust falls, but then we’d have plenty of head injuries to treat when almost everyone lets their partner fall.

“This meeting is to give us a chance to figure this out. We don’t need our own mafia, but we need a community. We need a structure of some sort, a way to keep in contact with people. Rules, even. If the heroes bring a team, you should be able to get your own team together easily. Easy access to the markets of Ricca from across the world. Conflict resolution with some sort of representative meant to handle that, if you’re into that sort of thing. You could set up a panel of judges for all I care, so long as they handle the less important rules.”

I got several boos. Boos? How dare they? I will crush them beneath my fashionable high heels! I will scatter their ashes to the solar winds! I just need to see who’s first…

One of the hecklers, a guy, stood up to toss a piece of paper at me. I suddenly felt like making littering a capital offense. “Why the fuck do we need rules? We’re criminals!”

I folded my top hands. “What if some super fucker rapes you, eh?! Or cuts your arms and legs off? The only solution you have right now is hoping you win and attacking them, going back and forth with escalations. He tries to kill you, you murder his family, he murders yours and fucks your mother’s corpse, and so on. Where does it end? Oh, that’s right, with one of you eventually trying to kill the other. And if he kills you, don’t you want to know some badass is going to come along and enforce the punishment for that?” I then noticed my lower hands hadn’t been quite so controlled. They were waving a pair of middle fingers toward the people.

That put an end to the heckling, but someone had a reasonable enough question. “Who the hell would we trust to go around killing- oh, nevermind. It’s you, isn’t it? You’re going to make yourself executioner.”

“Steal my fucking thunder why don’t you?” I asked. “There’s not a lot of trust you can put in me, but you know my reputation as a conniving expert in the art of murder. You make the laws, and any of them y’all decide is worth a good killin’ gets the services for yours truly.”

I wish I could say I got rousing applause, but that simply didn’t happen. Instead, I opened the floor to everyone. In theory, any of them could have started proposing stuff and figuring it out. In theory, I’d left this whole thing with so little structure, it could have devolved into a mess right then and there. In practice one of the villains I’d jumped through hoops to get had some familiarity with imposing structure on a criminal underworld. While babbling spread throughout the ginormous tent, Ouroboros stood up and easily made himself heard. “This sounds like an idea long in the making. We get our very own Legion of Doom, but we’re the founding fathers this time. It will be messy and you don’t have the head for this stuff. Let the ones who want to organize get together and figure out how we want to take things. We will put it to a vote to everyone. That way gives us all exactly as much say as we want. Who is agreed?”

And we got ourselves a majority on that one through the tried and true method of people raising hands. A lot of those gathered there left to go party or do whatever they wanted. We’ve had some people raiding other countries with the aid of enterprising boat owners.

I stayed too. Yeah, it was boring. It was about setting up rules and boundaries that even I was technically supposed to adhere to. It’s the last thing you expect from a self-described agent of chaos. But I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for my loved ones. I toughed it out for them, even as Ouroboros started figuring out teams for rules, communications, shared services, and representation.

I watched with one eye. With the other, I held a video conference with Qiang. She was in the kitchen with a steak and a knife, listening to me teach her in her ear about cutting with the cleavage. Once she’s old enough to start going through puberty, I’ll give her a bra with a switchblade built into it and expand on the lesson.

I’d realized Spinetingler left, but it wasn’t until I’d finished my lesson with my daughter that I noticed he’d returned. He pulled up a chair beside me. “I expect to be exempt from these rules,” he said.

I nodded. “You likely will be if anyone’s smart about it. I’d hope you don’t go flaunting that or this whole mess might just fall apart. I remember our truce though.”

“As do I. This is all boring to me. Perhaps I shall go drum up terror from the depths,” he said.

I waved my hand away. “That’s fine. I didn’t know how much you’d care about the fine details, but your name has weight.” And with me hosting the thing, I can only exert so much influence before it looks like all of this looks like a plot of mine. “The people of Ricca are mine, but your daughter and all these other fine, upstanding members of society are guests. Feel free to go terrorize places that don’t belong to me. Take a crack at Australia if you want. With fauna like theirs, it’d be interesting to see if you can terrorize them. Giant spiders are just a regular thing down there.”

“There is always darkness inside a man’s soul and terrors to be stoked,” he whispered back, his voice growing quieter to be ominous.

“Sounds great. I’m stoked,” I said.

His grunting “Heh,” turned into ominous laughter that didn’t feel as forced as I figured it was. The man knows his theatrics, that’s for sure. He faded into a shadow with far too many limbs that crawled its way out along the floor and walls.

Naturally, with things going so well, I decided to put the Intercept team on high alert. Why? I’ll tell y’all what I told my wife Citra when she asked why I got her a strap-on and a gallon drum of lube. “Because nothing ever goes smoothly for long with me, and it seems like the world wants to fuck me in the ass.”

We’re still working on our marriage, and I think it’s going well. Getting fucked in the ass is a thousand times easier than restraining myself from killing these morons.

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The Knights Illuminati 1

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The island of Ricca welcomed all kinds of new guests here, and I think it’s time to get this musical rolling. For once, there actually will be a meeting of a bunch of evil people to plot against the world. The best part is, all the conspiracy theorists will say it’s fake news as soon as we all inevitably leak it.

I remember when I heard Ouroboros was on approach in a jet. Sam, she of little hair, saw me throw on my formal armor coat and said, “You sure he doesn’t expect a red carpet? He’s probably got a jet with its own grill.”

I adjusted the tasteful giant red and gold coat with peacock feathers sticking out of the rear collar and put my helmet on. “Psh. Some of us have both dignity and exquisite taste.”

It turned out to be a regular jet with some boring company name on it. A fake company. Easy enough to make: take a noun or a verb and add Solutions, Management, or Global to the end. Throw them all together and you get Global Management Solutions, as generic and fake a name as they come. I’m not even going to check, but that’s still probably a real company.

I was going to make fun of it probably selling mercenaries to third world dictators, but I’m now a third world dictator and the mercenaries I’d been using up and left the island. Apparently they throw a tantrum and leave whenever they suffer lots of casualties for little pay. Bunch of spoiled brats with rifles if you ask me. At least there’s plenty of resale value on their guns. And on their organs, actually.

In fact, and this is brilliant, I’m sending an email right this minute to the hospital to start cloning valuable human organs using nanites and whatever spare meat they can get. Ooh, and maybe we can sneak in tracking devices. Or some sort of robots that separate after implantation and attach to the optic nerves and ears in order to let us spy. Perhaps some sort of nanite killswitch…

I couldn’t stand around thinking all day though. I had to get out there and meet this guy. Plus, that’s kinda what we sell prosthetic organs for anyway. We could always capture the market that doesn’t want prosthetic, though…

The airport had been plenty busy with people coming and going. We had some air traffic coming in through South Korea, Japan, China, and Australia. Russia threatened to send me a plane full of Polonium right to my front door once. I politely informed them that they don’t want to mess with me, because I know where their bodies will be buried. The radiation detectors didn’t find anything unusual in a scan of Ouroboros’s jet.

I stepped out there with Mix N’Max standing a ways behind me, and Sam and Holly behind him. At the last minute before the door opened, I turned and motioned Sam over. “I need a hand with something real quick.” She looked to Max, puzzled, but stepped over. I slid the heavy jacket off and tossed it into her arms. She almost dropped it. “Here, hold that for me.”

“Motherfucker!” she started, then walked back to behind Max, who smiled at her. He leaned in to whisper something and Sam went to find a place to dump it out of view of any important people. Yeah, I did it just to fuck with her. That was my plan the whole time, or at least I expected someone would say something I felt deserved it.

Soon after she walked off to see to my coat check, Ouroboros graced us with his presence. The man himself left the jet in a suit with a version of his mask on to protect his identity. He brought with him a few aides, including an older, wide, and thick fellow with white hair. I held my hands apart, all four. “Welcome to the island of Ricca, home of the Empire Ricca, and its lovely capital.”

“The city of Ricca?” he asked, a slight smile coming to his face. He setepped down the stairs and walked over to me for the official handshake that would have been photo-op worthy if we weren’t both wanted people.

I called up the latest Director Speaker guy to confirm. “Yes, the city of Ricca. As you can probably tell, the last administration lacked creativity. That’s why it took me to gather up a bunch of us for this meeting. We’ve had an increased trickle at the end here, but I think we’re about ready to start.”

He nodded. “I saw you had a problem with the navy.” He leaned in. “You did all of it, didn’t you?”

“I would have to be some kind of evil mastermind to pull that off. Thank you for the compliment.”

He smirked. “You impressed a lot of people on the fence about this meeting by stopping that nuclear bomb and protecting everyone else. My people thought it was surprising and devious. I felt it was serious. You’ve seen my city and I would love to see yours after my people have had time to bring my things to where I’m staying.”

Sounds like he wanted to make sure he had a nice place that wasn’t going to blow up. I don’t blame him. It also gave me time to pick a tour guide from the Directors. I’m too important as the leader of an entire nation to go around showing some glorified criminal mayor around. Notice I didn’t even give him a lei or throw him a luau. Leave that for greeters or the assistant to the greeters or the intern to the assistant to the greeters. I assume there’s protocol in place for all the little people. I wouldn’t know. I first showed up in Ricca as a hired consultant to build weapons of mass destruction.

As a person with plenty of lackeys, little things like saying “Hello” or showing supervillains to an Ikea mansion are beneath me. If I want, I could hire someone just to wipe my ass. I could pay them nothing but I wouldn’t. Because I’m classy and because you don’t want to screw over someone whose job is putting their fist near your pucker.

There was one last major attendee to grab. I gathered some of those lackeys of mine in a clearing on the edge of the city. Amid chanting, we started a massive bonfire. I had a table brought out, as well as a large pig. I hefted the pig onto the table and reached over to one of my black-robed lackeys. He held out a knife.

Suddenly the chanting grew quieter. I looked over to see Holly standing by a wireless speaker, her finger just leaving the volume down button. “Is this really necessary to get this guy here?” said Holly. She, Sam, and Max were all waiting at the edge of the clearing, along with Silver Shark, Citra, and Qiang.

I pulled my hood back. “No, that part’s easy. We have a mirror for that.” I pointed to where a few of the lackeys were standing up a mirror next to a cooler full of beer. “But I figured it might be rude to summon him here without something to eat. So then I got to thinking about it and figured I’d bring us all out here for a barbecue.” I turned back to the pig and stabbed the knife down. One spurt of blood later, the oinking stopped.

“You know how to do that thing where you cut it into pieces to cook it?” Sam asked while I set to work. Qiang rushed over to watch me.

“Butcher,” Silver Shark said.

“Thank you,” Sam said.

“It wasn’t a correction,” Shark responded. Still sore I cheated on her back when I was handling her meat, I see.

A couple of lackeys finished driving supports into the ground on either side of the bonfire. Then they hefted a grill into place. “Bring me the sacred herbs! And spices.” Another robed lackey stepped over with a bowl full of seasonings for me to toss on the meat.

Max clapped for me. “Excellent job. Was that a new record?”

“I know I was watching it, but how did you clean and butcher it so fast?” asked Silver Shark.

“I have a lot of experience cutting animals apart,” I said and tossed some loin and chops onto the grill. I headed back to work on more cutting.

Sam walked over, “Do they all come apart the same way?”

I shrugged and saw how Qiang was watching me cut. I handed her the knife and let her give it a try. “Generally less, though there are some specifics that depend on who you’re butchering.”

“Who?” Sam asked.

“Who who?” I asked back.

Holly pointed at me. “You said ‘who’ you’re butchering?’”

I pointed at myself too. “I did?” I looked to Max, who nodded.

“Don’t you consider humans animals?” asked Holly.

I looked down to see Qiang’s rough hackjob on some of the meat. Eh, there are always some spare pieces to throw away. I glared back at Holly and mouthed a silent, “Yes.” Ok, so I love the girl. I might even have feelings for some of these damn, dirty apes all over this planet due to a form of Stockholm Syndrome I haven’t had formally diagnosed.

Regardless, I should cut back on some of the outright, if deserved, bigotry against homo sapiens. She’s still half human, and that kind of thing could send a pretty fucked up message if she ever starts to think about it. No heir of mine is going to go through life a brainless bimbo. Plus, she’ll probably have to marry one of these backward chimps they call people in this universe. None of them are good enough for her anyway, which is yet another knock against this sad excuse for a species. I want her to be happy though. Coincidentally, I’ve already put out feelers online for used shotguns, the dirtier the better. I have to have that thing ready to clean the night she first starts dating.

“Can I change the music?” asked Citra.

I nodded. “Fine.” I can’t expect everyone to enjoy Sunn O))) or even to pronounce it correctly. It’s the parentheses. Very difficult for human tongues. She grabbed the mp3 player I’d used because I wasn’t about to let people hook a speaker up to my brain. That way lies madness and comments they don’t need to hear about themselves. The next song was less droning, but still quite My Imperial Majesty’s jam.

Holly leaned over. “Is this song seriously called ‘Rock N Roll Nig-‘.”

I cut her off, “Hush, we’re getting to the good part.”

After a few seconds of the song continuing on as normal, she asked, “I don’t hear anything special.”

“The whole song’s the good part,” I said. I tossed some ribs on the barbecue. “I think we’re doing well enough to bring them over.” I turned to the mirror and, with no ceremony whatsoever, said, “Spinetingler, Spinetingler, Spinetingler.”

The flickering flames of the bonfire disappeared from the mirror. The reflective surface went entirely black. Some of the blackness moved and grew out, a nub of darkness. Some of it then fell to the grass as strands of hair hanging down from a head. An arm poked out of the mirror as well. A woman crawled out in a white dress. She crawled over to me, then pulled herself up on my robe.

It was Spinetingler’s daughter. I don’t recall if I ever learned her name, but I do remember her face. Big nose and big brown eyes. Or they were before turning all icey white. Her hair used to be blonde too, but there’s not a lot of good horror from being stalked by a blonde. “Hey, you’re looking better. You eating better?”

She stared at my face for a long few seconds. “I heard you were a man.”

“I often am. Where’s your dad?” I looked past her to the mirror. I heard cawing, then a swarm of some sort of black bird flew out of the mirror and moved as one gigantic flock until they dove at the ground near the bonfire.

The birds disappeared into a dark puff of feathers that resolved into a black-clad figure with red trim. Black boots, black gloves, all looking like leather. I couldn’t pin down the pants and shirt, but it had kind of a leather creak going on. His face was hidden under a black hood of his own with red eyes glowing from within. He leaned over the grill. “Smells good. Do you have any beverages for myself and my daughter?”

“Lackeys, beer the man!” I called to some of the minions, a few of which were here from scenic Missouri. “Feel free to take the robes off if you don’t mind getting smoke and all in your clothes. I, however, will stay dressed in the formal evil barbecue robes as mine are light and airy, and I’m not wearing anything under them. Come on, folks, let’s get this party started!”

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Seasons Change 7

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In my quest to bury the hatchet with horror supervillain Spinetingler, I have returned to Empyreal City with my daughter in an effort to find his. After some stabbing in the dark that involved too few knives, I showed Spinetingler my hand and won his cooperation over our mutual love of murder. Then, I ran into some stupid gang members while out and about with my daughter and was forced to let them live because she was there. But researching them while pursuing musty old records helped me uncover the mysterious lack of death in the area where Spinetingler’s daughter had been sent after her mother’s death.

So, of course, that’s where I needed to check on Halloween Eve. As usual, Halloween is a truce day. A lot of standards have been lost lately, but that’s one I’ve always enjoyed. So many heroes and villains dipped their feet into the bloody waters of lethal force, it makes Halloween even more important. Not holding to the truce may mean death.

As for why I didn’t go before that night, that’s simple. I was enjoying the holiday with Qiang. I’d neglected it too much. Not nearly enough scary movies or stories. I took my kid to a party and then we carved pumpkins. We had a brief pumpkin-innard fight and set the grinning Jack O’Lanterns on the balcony with candles to light their faces while the sun set.

I fixed us a nice dinner, thick-cut pork chops with homemade gravy from the drippings. She wanted to go with me, and I hated having to leave her behind, but this wasn’t something I’d drag her into. Her armor is for protecting herself. It may do that, but dragging her along into what’s most likely a hostile situation isn’t how that works.

The night seemed unusually quiet even before Halloween. Can’t blame anyone for taking it easy. People like their holidays. Sure, regular criminals are exempt, but they don’t have to worry so much about heroes dropping by and some of them offer valuable services to supervillains. Even the money launderers get to take it easy for a short while. Maybe use it for some downtime and maintenance of their money washers and money dryers. Try some new money steam cleaning. A hell of a lot better than the old days of hanging money out to dry on the line, where it could get mixed up with the counterfeiters.

My good mood lessened due to some sort of interference in the city. A little scratchiness in my head, maybe something electromagnetic. It wasn’t far enough to mess with Qiang. I didn’t know if anyone had strange experiments running, which was one idea. Hell, it could have just been some freaky interference from damaged or substandard infrastructure. If any city’s ever been skull-fucked, it’s Empyreal City.

To my growing annoyance, the neighborhood in question was inside the zone of this little crackle.

It wasn’t much. Old, worn stucco on a three-story building. Ugh, one of those awful shades of pale pink that makes you taste the foul medicine it resembles just by seeing it. It surprised me the place seemed so dead. Not the building itself. I was fully prepared to walk into a house of a thousand corpses if I had to make them myself. It was all the rest of the street. Lights out, nobody out and about. No stray dogs or cats, nobody walking around, no cars driving through.

When I stepped through the door, I did not find a house of a thousand corpses. And yes, I used the front door. Whatever else I was there for, violence wasn’t necessarily essential to it. The lights were off in the building. I tried them, no response. A quick check turned up that the place’s utilities were paid up every month on the same day and time like clockwork. The culprits for lost power, as they often are with utilities services, were aliens. They lost power here when the Fluidics invaded. It took awhile to restore service because nobody complained, and it turned out to be spotty. Why didn’t they fix it? Nobody complained.

That alone sends up a huge red flag. People have this stereotype of Empyreal Citiers being more rude. I don’t know about that, other than I probably threw off the average. But I do know that people are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling. They’re stupid, lazy assholes who would complain about being rubbed raw if they got to spend all day in an orgy with super hot supermodels. Complaining is second nature to humans, unlike us superior Homo Machina.

I hit the light amplification setting first and began moving, then swapped over to infrared. That was another red flag. They weren’t in the entry hall or the stairwell that I could see from it, but there was heat all over this place. Maybe a little colder than heat signatures should have been due to the time of year, but I counted at least 40 people in the place. The closest batch were in a side room, like a foyer or living room.

I pushed the door open a little wider to find a group of give people in there, all standing up and facing inward like a star. They were staring blankly, sometimes turning their heads. To look at a different one of them. It was too sudden to be natural, and occasionally the entire group would turn at once.

Boom, sudden headache. Not from an actual, physical explosion. I was looking at them all when I got an image, like the place was lit up but all dark blue, and the group in front of me weren’t people. They were mannequins or dolls or something. White pieces with blank faces. At the same time, an ice pick of pain stabbed through my head, right above my left eye. Hurt like hell, and I grabbed the door frame nearby to steady myself. As the pain faded, I realized a couple things. First, the crackly feeling had intensified. Second, the five people had all turned to look at me.

They didn’t move right. They came walking toward me, but it wasn’t right. It’s like they didn’t care about weight. Like they didn’t remember how to walk and were just tossing body parts forward. I growled at the pain in my head and reached out to the closest one, a guy. I pulled his head into the door frame, grabbed the door, and slammed it into the frame so hard it cut through the top of his head with a sploot that sprayed brain and bone against the wall of the hallway outside.

I didn’t think they’d actually hurt me, but the ones who grabbed hold of me had surprising strength. The human body is a lot stronger than it lets on, but its full potential isn’t usually realized unless it’s in extreme situation, like a kid is trapped under a car. That’s because the muscles are strong enough to lift the car up, but the bones and ligaments don’t handle it so well. People do that for long, they break themselves. These guys were awfully skinny, but I think they were being forced to tap into that strength.

Unfortunately for the pair who had my arms, I had the power of robotics on my side. I grabbed them both and pulled them in front of me, then took their heads and pushed them together. One of the spares jumped on my back, but couldn’t do anything to stop me smashing their skulls together until they were left a pulpy, bloody mess on the floor. It was then that the fifth and final one tried to chop block my leg out from under me.

No go. I kicked that one off onto the floor, then jumped and landed with my boot grinding the puppet person’s brain into the old wooden floor. Another jump and I landed with the considerable weight of my armor on my back. Or, more precisely, on the person on my back. It didn’t kill her, but it certainly didn’t make her stronger. Left her writhing like a bug, except for her legs. I left her impotently reaching up to me with her wheezing, gurgling breathes.

Above me, I found more of these puppet people filling the stairwell. They’d all had time to empty out of the hallways to try and obstruct my path, but it also helped me. I stepped away from the stairwell to check the building. There. On the top floor, naturally, those who couldn’t fit in the stairwell littered the hall leading to a single room where one body lay.

I stepped back into the stairwell and ramped up the muscle amplifiers on the leg portions of my armor. I didn’t have to use the stairs. Puppet people tripped down the stairs after me. As I jumped, more threw themselves off stairs and landings to try and grab me. They weren’t the most coordinated lot and they missed. I gripped onto a pair of wall light fixtures on the third story stairwell wall and swung myself onto the landing before they could completely give out on me. A quartet of puppets stood before me, looking downright undead. They might as well have been skeletons with a thin covering of skin. It was amazing they could stand upright, and pitifully easy to just knock them on their asses as I passed.

I’d noticed then that the crackly, itchy pain in my head had been growing. Worse than that, time started playing some funny tricks on me. Minutes flew by and more of those puppets from below grabbed at me from behind. They shouldn’t have been up there so fast. I realized that whatever was doing this, which almost certainly was Spinetingler’s daughter, was fucking with my perception of time. I pulled a chicken grenade from my belt and tossed it back. It went off real soon after leaving my hands, throwing me forward and clearing some of the hallway behind me.

It also caught the place on fire, so that was an issue. It seemed like it took forever to get to my feet. More like twenty minutes while the flames grew around me and weakened the building. This was an issue. I pushed forward, overclocking the computerized part of my brain to try and compensate. Now I was the one throwing body parts forward like I couldn’t hardly walk.

Just before I reached the door to the last room on the top floor, more psychic pain struck me. It felt like a bear trap had closed on my head. Then it began to grind from side to side. I gritted my teeth and walked through the door, scattering splinters everywhere. It was a bedroom, the master bedroom I think. It had its own bathroom, unlike probably every other room here. That’s where I found her, shivering in the bath. She was in her twenties. She was skinny, and blonde, and peered up at me with giant eyes of light brown. I could see bones. Well, I could see a lot more than that. It was a bath, after all.

I grabbed her under her arm and pulled her to her feet, then stuck her with the paternalizer. “I can’t play with you,” she said to me, looking me in the eye. I noticed smaller spikes of psychic pain hit me.

“Nope. A benefit of my particular biology,” I said. I looked her over. Skinny, yeah, but she could have been pretty. The nose was a little big and pointed. Combined with the way her wild hair hung down over her back, I thought she looked vaguely rat-like.

The paternalizer let off a victory tune that made me feel like swinging a giant sword over my head. Confirmed, this young woman had Spinetingler’s DNA.

Good thing, too. Shit was falling back in the hallway and smoke was getting everywhere. “Looks like I need to get this princess to another castle,” I said. I grabbed her throat and applied just enough of a sleeper to put her out, then put her over my shoulder. I threw the tub through a nearby window to make an opening, then jumped free.

Of course, then I had to find a good place to steal a mirror from while a minor crimewave of tumorous mutants ran through the streets, overturning cars and wrecking shit. There were going to be a lot of pissed heroes and villains dealing with that one mad scientist I interrogated days earlier, that’s for sure. But for now, I just set the mirror on the ground and said Spinetingler’s name three times.

An enormous eyeball looked up at me from the mirror, and almost seemed to squint in eyeball-y satisfaction upon seeing the girl in my arms. “Gecko tested, DNA approved. I had to knock her out to save her from a burning building. I recommend some good food.”

A pain in my head indicated she’d woken up. So did the kicking feet. “Let me go. I don’t want to play. I don’t want to play!”

“This is no time for child’s play,” I said. This woman wasn’t right in her head, I figured. Maybe it was her powers and relying on them from an early age, maybe it was what she’d done to people to avoid education. Either way, she wasn’t my problem.

The image shifted to an older, fatherly actor with blood around his face. “Come to daddy,” said Spinetingler. He laughed as I tossed her down into the mirror. She disappeared into its reflective surface, the shattering of the mirror cutting off her screams.

I slept just fine. Got up, made breakfast for Qiang, and we set about planning her trick-or-treating. She decided she wanted to go as Venus. Since she’s my daughter, she did. And since she’s my daughter, I made sure she got plenty of candy even if I had to sneak into the house through the back door and steal it while she was at the front door. She also got a few credit cards, wallets, and a nice purse or two.

Happy Halloween, dear readers.

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Seasons Change 5

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One of the reasons superpowers are so tough to nail down is that they aren’t entirely based on genetics. It’s a bit iffier with normal kids or teens who end up with powers but who seem to have normal parents. Was one of the parents a secret super? Did one somehow get depowered? Maybe there’s just some sort of potential to have superpowers instead that’s activated by environment or something a parent went through. Maybe this is all about grandparents and genes skipping generations.

The other way around isn’t much better. There’s no guarantee the child of even two supers will have powers. Complicating matters, most supers don’t like the identity of their children getting out, so I’m working off limited experience. Some of that’s personal experience, from killing the parents.

Sometimes the DNA helps. Sometime’s it’s useless. Sorry I can’t be more specific, but supers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and origins. One guy can fall into a vat of experimental radioactive goo and come out with acid spit, another with cancer.

But what about myself and Qiang? I’m part of a mutant race of humanity. It’s not all adamantium claws and psychic firebirds, though. That’s not how mutations work if you’re talking its own separate group. Homo machina powers can’t be turned off if in any of the few and tenuous ways people have to disable superpowers because we’re not technically supers. We just naturally have an ability regular homo sapiens lack. Like how birds are naturally better at flying than humans, or how dolphins are naturally superior at gang rape. Grass grows, birds fly, son shines, and brother, I hurt people. Or, well, I biologically merge with certain materials commonly used in computers and other devices. The hurting people part is an acquired skill.

My point bringing all this up is to excuse the slow progress here. I might be looking in entirely the wrong place, but I’m pretty sure Spinetingler’s kid would have powers. I’m just not sure on a few details… age, maternity, ethnicity, area of birth, who she was raised by, where they might have gone…

Still, what’s a guy like me to do if not tilt at a windmill? To dream the impossible dream?

That sounds a lot better than “I didn’t fucking think this through.” Note, go back and edit this part out before sending it on.

I’ve taken to reserving the day for Qiang and using the night for working on this. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Today, we took in some haunted houses. It was fun until we got to the one where the only things they had to offer were cold spots and promises that there’d be orbs in any photos we took.

It was trickier this particular night, because I needed to do some consulting with someone about the job. Bereft as I was of loyal retainers, I had to hire a temp to show Qiang to a spot where she might be safe. I told Qiang I wanted her to see Master Academy, but that I wasn’t supposed to go there. It disappointed the person I’d hired online that they seemed to be playing babysitter, but I let it drop that I’d pay them a quarter-million dollars and they’d get to hang out with supers for a bit. I didn’t tell either of them about the danger, which may or may not have been a good decision.

It all depended on the fellow I was to meet with. I rented out a cheap motel room instead of bringing him to the hotel room. I set up a big mirror on the wall with a table up against it, which I sat at. I lit a candle, turned out the lights, and sat at the table. “Spinetingler, Spinetingler, Spinetingler.”

Against the reality warper or empowerer or whatever the king of the supernatural supers is, an entire campus of capes might be adequate protection. To be fair, it’s a hell of a lot harder to protect people than it is to kill them.

My HUD displayed drastic pressure increase. I heard a dissonant, scratchy growl. In the mirror, a pair of red eyes opened over my shoulder. “Hello again,” I said to Spinetingler. “I came in peace.”

“Why do I doubt that?” he asked. Spinetingler hung back, just outside the glow of the candle, leaving my imagination to fill in what form he took in the darkness.

I shrugged. “Probably from those unpleasant run-ins we’ve had in the past. I’d say we should forget all about those, but a recurring subject in them has come up. See, the reson why I’m even in this city at this time of year, calling your name, is because I’m finally working on that goal you’ve been seeking help for. In the interest of hoping you and I can bury the hatchet, I’d like to find your daughter.”

A puff of snortd air passed over my mirror self’s shoulder. “Tell me why I don’t kill you for trying to kill my daughter.”

I held my hands up. “This isn’t about killing or hurting her in any way. You and I don’t like each other, we got off on the wrong foot, that’s fine. But I’ve taken on some different priorities lately, and I’ve decided I could use one less enemy. Not an ally, just not an enemy. I didn’t actually want to bring this up to you until I found her.”

The eyes cocked to one side, then the other, trying to figure out my angle. “Are you proposing… a deal?”

I love a good deal, and I expect Spinetingler does too. Telling the good guys the truth they hate to hear rather than the lie they wish you gave them. Following the letter of a contract while shredding the soul. Wonderful. “That term is a bit too loaded for us. A simple agreement. I return your daughter to you, and you and I avoid each other avoid each other. I mean, if you happen to walk into the coffee shop or bar I’m drinking at, no big deal. But no knowingly getting involved in each other’s plots or going after the other’s family or friends.”

“As the more powerful party, what do I get out of this?” asked Spinetingler. This time, the words came out as a whisper just behind me. My cameras showed nothing in the room with me. The only visual representation of Spinetingler’s presence was on the other side of that mirror.

“First, your daughter. Second, you’ll finally be safe from me.” I reject the length of your dick, Spinetingler, and substitute my own. Measure this beauty right here. Yes, I did have the little bowler hat hidden there this entire time. It really does make it look dignified, doesn’t it? Yes, I did shave my pubes into the shape of a handlebar mustache. “I think we both know we could have a hell of a war, but think of all our loved ones it would endanger.”

My reflection disappeared as the red eyes moved closer. Spinetingler appeared as a person made of shadow. He sat across from me then, red eyes contemplating me unwaveringly. I held a hand out to break the stalemate. He looked at me. I looked at him. “I could have just stayed away from the city and never called you. I don’t even need you watching my back on this. I’m laying my cards out on the table. I’ve even been checking around.”

I reached down slowly to pull out the machine I’ve been using. “Quick and easy paternity test. Been checking a few around town with gimmicks and power sets I thought could be part of it, but I’m working mostly blind here. I still got files in my head that I’ve checked, but even the Feds don’t seem to know your kid.”

“If what you say is true, that speaks to a greater conspiracy. Those are few and far between, and regularly thwarted by interested parties’ investigation.” He didn’t blink or look away from me. No mouth had opened up to speak the words.

The minutes dragged on without resolution of this dilemma of trust. There it is again. Trust. Who do ya trust? The heroes? They’re at home, washing their tights!

“I love this season. Good movies. Well, ok movies. Horror movies don’t typically get ranked highly, but they’re fun. I find I’m more of an Eighties fan. Lost Boys, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Demons. Oddly enough, I prefer Fright Night 2 over the original. You strike me as a slasher fan. Any favorites?”

He leaned forward a little. “Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s different than others.”

I cocked my head. “Oh yeah?”

The shadow nodded. “Slashers seem conservative to people who grew up with Scream. They think the killer murders youths who drink and fuck and party. They think too much about Jason Voorhees. Mike Myers is a barely-human shape who hunts his family. Chucky is a Satanic killer’s soul in a doll that kills whoever he can. They don’t fit, but Freddy counters the idea completely.”

I pondered it. “He goes after a certain town’s kids, regardless of what they do.”

Spinetingler pointed a shadowy finger at me. “No. Freddy was a child murderer killed by people who took the law into their own hands like a slasher would do. He was created by the type of person who has no tolerance for police and courts when they can string a man up.”

“The sort of person who wishes they could have been there with their gun when somebody started shooting people,” I responded. “Not the first time the humans created their own monster. The kid thing was a dick move, but you can hardly blame a guy for wanting revenge for being killed. Not a lot of people would be ‘oh, sure, just kill away good chaps’.”

I chuckled. Spinetingler did as well. After a moment, I added, “I could justify taking revenge on you. You could justify taking revenge on me. I’m willing to break the cycle so we can get back to doing what we love best: taking revenge on the world, knowing there’s no more big ‘versus’ crossovers on the horizons. Come on, let’s stop clenching our buttholes and go have some fun.”

I certainly didn’t intend to go barhopping with one of the most powerful supervillains in the world, but it worked out. It turned into a trust-building exercise. I walked in, dropping the projection. This not being a super bar, the folks there weren’t happy to see me. They liked it even less when the howling started. Then the backdoor crashed open and a hulking shadow brute stepped in.

The whole mess ended with us sitting around, listening to the jukebox, glasses in hand. I filled mine up from the tap, he filled his up from the bartender.

When I dragged myself into the hotel suite in the light of the rising sun, I knew I was going to have a hell of a bad day dealing with a little kid. But I also had the name, and a plan. Sure, I find myself lacking electronic records, you’d be surprised how far behind a big city can get on transferring paper records over.

Yep, hardcopy research. I had to be drunk to think of it. Still better than how Spinetingler got after drinking that meth head.

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MechaGecko 3

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The way things ended last time, y’all might assume we’d cut straight to me in a dungeon or cell somewhere. Well, this oughta be a kick in the head. The fight wasn’t over that quick.

Kinda like the one or two I took from this weird amalgamation of Mecha Gecko and Spinetingler. The battle raged on. Deprived of my networking advantage and my mecha’s arm laser, I threw buildings at him and clambered over some to gain distance and time enough to figure out a plan.

The first step seemed obvious enough. I needed a bath. The weather wasn’t accommodating, but luckily there’s this big puddle of water near Empyreal City called the Atlantic Ocean. I figured, hey, why not hop down into the harbor? This thing could survive that kind of dip long enough. Better yet, let’s not even go that far! My opponents let me put some distance between us, probably due to Spinetingler’s love of inflicting fear over efficient killing,and I knelt the Colossus down by a fire hydrant. One swipe of the right hand knocked the hydrant over and a gusher of water flowed out to clean off the gunk I’d been inflicted with.

Almost instantly, that hand smoked. I pulled it out and saw the goop reacting with the water, bubbling, and falling off with chunks of liquefied metal. So…yeah. Turns out, good thing I didn’t wash the entire thing.

Just then, the amalgamation of Mecha Gecko and Spinetingler leaped atop a nearby building and unleashed two sets of booming laughter. Rather than finish me off quickly, they pounced. I quickly grabbed a nearby billboard advertising a sale on baseball bats at a sporting goods store and swung it. The sign broke, but the motion of the giant hands knocked them to the side more than it did. I stomped on their back and jumped straight up. I cocked my arm for a punch and, as I began to drop, a motorjet in the elbow activated and accelerated the blow. Mecha Gecko rolled to the side, so I lost some power stretching out for the hit. When the blow hit, it put a dent in the flesh-covered chest armor of Mecha Gecko. The jet popped off, a disposable booster having done its job.

It also shattered that hand, which had already been partially dissolved by the reaction with the water.

The laughter started again. The mouthy limb that grew out of a lower spot on the chest scraped and scrabbled. I heard it against the armor of the cockpit and threw the Imperial Colossus back. Mecha Gecko rose, pushing itself off the ground with skeleton-thin growths stretching from its back.

I pointed past it with my left hand. “Look, a fire!” When it turned its head to look, I added, “Wrong direction, here, let me help you,” and swept the arm back toward it to activate the flamethrower. He didn’t look in the right direction, but he found the fire anyway.

It swept toward me with brownish-reddish wings, grabbing that arm with one hand. Claws dug into the metal. It brought its other claw up and lunged for my head, but I met it with the stump. Good ole stumpy.

Despite everything, we were still evenly matched in terms of strength when I heard Spinetingler in my head. “Gecko. Wake up, Gecko.”

“I’m not asleep.”

“Oh, but you are. All of this is just one big dream. Haven’t you ever realized it? No one can really win as much as you. This is all some fantasy cooked up in your head while you sleep off a coma. In reality, you live in a trailer infested with roaches and hide from your depression using literature and video games. There are no superpowers, no heroes. You swallowed a mouthful of pills to end it all, but it didn’t stop. They found you, alive. A roach crawled out of your open, drooling mouth.”

“Shut that glory hole you call a mouth, French Tingler!” I shot back. Metal groaned around me. Mecha Gecko adjusted his footing and Imperial Colossus bent back just slightly more than it should. The enemy robot slowly pressed its advantage and I realized I didn’t have any better footing.

“It’s time you woke up. Time to go back to the real world, where the only ones who care are all the companies sent to collect on your debts. Leave the fantasy behind and embrace real life. It’s so much better. At least there, you might finally lose your virginity. All it costs is fifty dollars and your dignity. Maybe you’ll find the love of your life in a toothless meth head street walker. So much easier to find one of those than someone like your Venus. Even in your own head, she’d rather do the unthinkable than submit to you. Wake up. The roaches miss you.”

He made a mistake. I spotted it immediately, just in case anyone thought I believed him. How can anything be unthinkable and surprising if it exists in my own head? I gritted my teeth, hearing something snap in the right arm. Then Mecha Gecko activated his disposable elbow jets. My left almost gave, but I still had one there to push back. It was the right that couldn’t hold until it locked up in front of me. The limb it struggled against slipped off and dug its claws into the shoulder, tearing the entire thing away. Then the claws took the head off. I could have sworn I felt a breeze from up above. Regardless, I lost most of the sensors when the head went.

I gave with it and pushed, jumping back. My robot’s left hand stayed in Mecha Gecko’s right, even a the rest of the arm came free. Mecha Gecko cocked its head as I caught the Colossus’s balance now that it had less weight distributed differently. Spinetingler continued, “Don’t you know it’s not healthy to live in a fantasy world?”

“I expect people say it isn’t,” I said over speakers. “People with good lives. People with plenty of money and no imagination. But even if you were, somehow, telling the truth, why the fuck would I want to go back to that life? Why be mundane? That’s what you and everyone else wants. Give up being awesome. Make a living as a pencil pusher? Live in a world where the only action I have to look forward to is a bunch of pissed-off people blowing each other up for no good reason? Where every good guy turns out to be just a bad guy on the right side?”

I raised the stump of my left arm. “That’s giving you the finger, so you know. I’d rather have the robots and flying men of steel with ideals, even if I hate them, even if I doubt they live up to them. I’d rather have a life like mine. And even though I hate those spandex-wearing boyscouts out there, I’d rather be part of a world where someone tries to exemplify the best of humanity. Where supposedly ‘good people’ try to live up to it! And where, when I run around killing and enslaving people, most people realize I’m a villain and an asshole and treat me accordingly! Even like that, I’m more someone to aspire to than any dirty politician or hypocritical prophet who wants to excuse what they do because a bunch of people listen to them and have a majority vote about what’s good and bad. What do you say to that, O Great Ass Clown the Prostate Tickler?”

Mecha Gecko pointed down. I checked the remaining sensors and found some tendril had squirmed its way across the streets and damaged buildings to wrap around Imperial Colossus’s ankle. It heaved and threw me into the distance to dig a long scar into a road. Ok, so they’re doing a great job of distracting me. For someone who tried to convince me this was all a coma dream because I somehow survive, they missed the part where they’re kicking my ass. Besides, I don’t always win. I just manage to get by because I can think. It’s not my fault nobody has actually put much thought into how amazing a technopath could be, even if I’m restricted to physical touch.

Well, I was. And, sadly, I didn’t have many trump cards left aside from making myself able to network again. But that would cost me the robot, and it’s not like either of those two have nanites in them. Somehow, I doubt killing everyone will convince them it’s useless to kill me. Even if I were to go all “grey goo” on them, like I did that one other time around here.

Hmm… now that gave me an idea.

I bullied the Imperial Colossus to its feet and made a run for the harbor.

Mecha Gecko managed to catch up when that was almost within reach. A shadow passed over the sky overhead, drawing my attention up to find his robotic body floating overhead on giant bat wings, robotic head writhing with whipping tentacles. It landed on the back of my Imperial Colossus and dragged me down. Mecha Gecko’s digitally distorted voice asked, “Where do you think you’re going? Water you think you’re doing, committing suicide?”

“If that’s what I’m doing, why are you keeping me away from the water?” I answered his question with a question. I kicked the mecha’s feet, squirming ever so slightly toward the ocean despite the extra weight.

“Yes, why are we keeping him from the water?” asked Spinetingler’s deeper voice from the mouth growing out of Mecha Gecko’s chest.

“Because he wants to go into the water. He has a plan, even if I can’t think of it,” Mecha Gecko said.

I decided to point out something. “Or I don’t have a plan, but I want to make you think I have one so you don’t throw me into the water.”

“See? Throw him in!” urged Spinetingler. The mouth reached up and turned toward the robot’s head, arguing.

Mecha Gecko slapped it away, giving me a chance to slide a little further out from under him. “No, he’s just saying that to encourage me to throw him in. He knew I’d question why he was going in the first place. This is all a trap to get in my head and make me keep him away from our biggest advantage over him. Yeah.”

Mecha Gecko rose up and grabbed the Imperial Colossus. I heard metal protest as he lifted me overhead. “It’s almost like you’re in my head!” I exclaimed. I really had to get that sentence across.

He didn’t throw me away. He paused for a moment, then said, “Yes, you are in my head. Ha! Figures you’d think that’d work on me. Uh uh, not buying it, but damn good try. Into the water with you!”

“My head hurts,” I heard Spinetingler say before Mecha Gecko threw me into the welcoming embrace of the Atlantic Ocean. I put on Dethklok’s “Go Into The Water” even as I heard it rush in. It was a struggle, between the melting exterior of the robot and the added weight, to get it vertical. In the end, one of Imperial Colossus’s legs fell off and I had to settle for sitting up only. But I was out of the water and the armor was dissolved.

Oh, and so was any of that gunk blocking me from reaching out and connecting with the rest of the world.

I laughed to myself as I sent out a signal. I didn’t have to go far. The evacuated nanite infected of Empyreal City weren’t too far out.

“Wait a damn minute…fuck!” Mecha Gecko stomped his way over. I dive bombed him with grabber drones to slow him momentarily, to give me time. “He’s got the damn nanites and anything else again!”

“No he doesn’t!” yelled Spinetingler. The mouth shot more goop at me, but it just pushed the Imperial Colossus back into the water, dissolved more of it, and left me sinking in my armor, which does seal up and recycle air.

A giant metal hand reached down and grabbed me nonetheless. Mecha Gecko pulled me up and brought me face to face with its armor. “What did you do? No, no time. Better to just kill you know and deal with it all later. I guess it’s sad to know you couldn’t beat me, but that’s why you’re afraid of me, isn’t it?”

“I did beat you!” I announced to him. “I just didn’t want to ever see another me again. I deserve to die, and so does any other me out there!”

The lamprey-like head rose in the air underneath me, glistening, gleaming teeth threatening to catch me should I fall. “And me? I remember you thought you could take me once. You foiled me…temporarily. But you can’t kill fear, little Psychopomp Gecko. Search that trash heap you call a soul and tell me, truthfully, if you can.”

“Kill you? Maybe. Maybe not. But I don’t have to kill you. I just have to beat you. And distract you until reinforcements get here.”

“Reinforcements? You have no reinforcements. Nobody gives a shit about you! Nobody would die for you!” Mecha Gecko started to squeeze until a Moai statue flew through the air and smacked into the side of its robotic head. Moai landed on Mecha Gecko’s shoulder but soon the copy swept him up with a tentacle and brought my loyal minion around to his face. “This is who you called? You risked our loyal Moai. Why do you serve him and not me. I’m just as real, but at least I didn’t do everything he did. I’m just a copy. I didn’t kill anyone before the heroes let me loose on this city. Join a better team, Moai.”

Dammit. I didn’t call Moai. I didn’t even know he was in the area.

Moai shook his head.

“Come on. It’s me, Gecko. Your boss. Compadres. Hermanos. You saved my life,” Mecha Gecko insisted. That’s one of those things glossed over about clones and copies. All the memories of being the real person, but it’s like suddenly everyone you know has decided you aren’t really you. And they’d be right. Then again, the asshole did try to use that as a feature. He made his bed, now it’s time to lie in it.

Except, when Moai shook his head again, Mecha Gecko went quiet. Then his head tentacles tightened. I heard something snap and crack. He tossed Moai away, but I couldn’t see what happened. He went out of sight. Fucking hell, I didn’t call Moai into this! I didn’t need his help. No one gives a shit about me anyway, so I make do without. I am Psycho Gecko!

I am Psycho Gecko. When I thought it, a sort of stillness settled over me, just like the bad old days. Just like when it was either kill another kid or be executed. Like bombing some conference because the Psychopomp program ordered me to. Like squeezing the life out of some bright super warrior’s neck because they defended those same old generals. Tearing apart dozens of people too stupid or willfully ignorant to know they were on the wrong side.

Let the panic go. There’s no place for that. No bargaining around here. Nobody here but Psychopomp Gecko, who lacks friends, family, or a fuck to give. Just a necessary evil to do, for one reason or another. I looked up at Mecha Gecko and told him, “For the record, that was entirely unnecessary. He’s not who I called.”

Under my dangling feet, Spinetingler growled. “Then- what the hell is that?!”

A wave of nanites flowed over the city, drawn from hundreds of millions of the closet people in the entire state, with more being drawn toward me in a general recall order. They came for me and began to envelop me, eating through the hand around me and working their way up the arm. Mecha Gecko tore it off with his other hand and stepped back, careful to avoid the massive flowing greyness that enveloped me. He tried his flamethrower, but I swung out with a blade of nanite that cut that arm off at the elbow.

My voice reverberated out of the mass of nanites that held me up and began to form a body around me. “Just who the hell do you think I am? I’ll tell you. I am the pirate signal. Let me in. I am the word virus. Let me in. I am the ear worm. Let me in. I am the brain pathogen grammar. I am the dreamer’s dream. I am what I am. Let me in. Let me in. Let me in. Let. Me. In!” I punctuated the last sentence by driving a flowing arm into Mecha Gecko’s side. He tried to dodge, but the arm curved in midair to follow at the speed of my perceptions. Spinetingler tried more of his acid spit, knocking some parts of my new fluid mecha away, but a sheet of them curved up from below to sever the second head and begin crawling in through the wound, dissolving anything they touched.

Mecha Gecko shook as my nanites chewed through his robotic body into the cockpit, where I found a damaged and burned mainframe hooked up where I would have sat. The parts that had broken off looked to be replaced by tumorous growths, likely Spinetingler’s addition. From the speakers of the other robot, I heard him announce, “Here, catch!”

And the robot exploded, flinging heat sensitive nanites away and coming for me. I didn’t notice when it reached me.

I awoke in a hospital, handcuffed to the bed, with a hell of a pain in my head and chest. They had me in a private room. And even though my eyes worked, I realized I couldn’t connect to anything. Which sucked. I JUST solved that problem before. But a quick check confirmed that I didn’t have any gunk on me. Scars, yes, and now stitches on my head and chest.. A bigass fucking, sutured-up incision on my chest. What the fuck was going on? At the very least, I could answer the internet question with an internal diagnostic.

I was missing several key pieces of my internal router and wireless interface. Somehow. The fuck? Handcuffed, no ability to connect, big scars on my head. The fuck happened after that thing exploded? Spinetingler better not have fucking been right. I tried my laser eye. Nothing. Another diagnostic said that part showed an inability to connect to those parts. Which meant more damage. As a last resort, I checked to see if my spine and transdimensional implants were working. At least they appeared to be all ok. Then I remembered what someone might want with my chest and realized I couldn’t feel the familiar inner warmth of my power core.

A machine I was hooked up to set off an alarm as I began to panic. What can I say, the discovery of my various surgeries surprised me. I reached over and placed my hand on it, figuring maybe I could shut it up. And waited.

I turned to keep an eye on the door and found someone looking in, just watching me hold my hand there without anything happening. He calmly opened the door and stepped in. “You’re awake. That is something. Hello, Mr. Gecko. Are you feeling alright?”

I kept my hand on the machine. “Not really. Feels like I was anally probed in the chest. Mind telling me what the hell happened that necessitated y’all digging into me?”

The man glanced down at a clipboard and pulled a pen out of his pocket. He doodled something on there. “You are remarkably lucid. That’s good. They weren’t sure about your tolerance level and ability to heal. I cannot reveal much about the procedures undertaken while you were unconscious, but I am supposed to warn you not to struggle and agitate your incisions. I’m supposed to say that, but you gave my wife a seizure for double parking. She was a brilliant, beautiful woman that I didn’t deserve. Now she wears diapers. While I’m informing the authorities that you’re awake, I won’t be able to respond if anything opens up.”

“What authorities? What’s going on? What did you do to me!” I called out. Didn’t have a clue about any wives given seizures.

The man just turned and stepped out, then poked his head in one last time. “And leave the machine alone. You won’t be able to do anything with it if that procedure worked like they said it did.” He smiled at me without warmth; just sheer animosity. “I don’t care what they say, you don’t deserve to be called human now.”

Ffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-

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MechaGecko 2

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I met up with my robot on the way to Empyreal City. The team at Area 51 grabbed some cargo copters and airlifted it part of the way, an expense which spared them and their loved ones. Many others couldn’t say the same. In my anger over the actions of Venus and the Master Academy, I made good on my threat using a list of people assembled for being family, friends, or lovers of political figures and supers. Not all such folks were under threat from my nanites due to either lack of exposure or the nanites being gone. On top of that, I found that some of them had disappeared off the grid.

This conspiracy against me must have found a way to hide people. Possibly under lead, in bunkers, that sort of thing. And I never knew, not really, until one of them made a mistake. Normally, conspiracies are almost impossible to keep secret. The more people involved in something, the less they can keep quiet. But I had a whole damn world to listen to and almost nobody helping me do it. Worse, they began to take out my Electric Eyes as I flew along. Ambushes, traps. I couldn’t do anything but force them into retreat and hiding.

The voices and sensations threatened to intrude on my head. I’d been doing so well. I’d gotten to the point where I could mostly keep to my own mind, the various connections to nanite-infested individuals being regulated by the Electric Eyes and my mind having gotten used to it. Except now I was down to four of the helper robots, all while I tried to keep an eye on Empyreal City and watch the progress of my digital twin.

I can hardly blame him for killing all those people. I certainly didn’t order an evacuation for the sake of their lives, save Carl and his family. Mostly, I just wanted to thwart him. He had a plan; same plan I’d have in his place. Keep fighting, draw me in, and take me out. He’d have the advantage of a bit more time to discover any flaws in the robot’s assembly, maybe find a way to put together traps outside my area of surveillance. No need to run or hide. He knows I’m on my way.

He’s me. That’s enough. Everything I am, every flaw, every damn thing I’ve ever done. The other way around, I knew he’d kill me for the same reasons. I don’t think I’m explaining that well, but he must die. I deserve to die and the only thing that keeps me from handling that myself is the same desire to survive that pushed me to fight through such actions. And now there’s another me. I don’t know if Venus figured that all out on her own or if the copy convinced her. The fact that she went through with it anyway doesn’t say much for her ability to reason. But then, I’m the one who flew off in a cold, blind rage.

So now they’re assassinating my Electric Eyes that they somehow know about. I don’t know how they’re finding them. They’re hiding people. Don’t know for sure how that’s happening. I bet they’ve got some way to disable the nanites, not that I’ve got that one figured out. I don’t know. I just don’t. But that wasn’t what was important.

What was important was when I jumped out of the Imperial helicopter into the waiting hatch on the top of the robot. It was a smooth landing, except for bouncing my balls off the rich Corinthian leather of the pilot’s seat. I hadn’t even given it a name yet. Hadn’t spent much time thinking on it. It didn’t fit some of the older names. It wasn’t a WarBringer, or a Thriller, or even Candyman-of-Doom. “Hello, my Imperial Colossus,” I said, coming to a joyless decision at the naming.

Once inside, I secured myself and connected with the Colossus. It didn’t have much of an independent operating system. That’s what I was for, which made security a lot easier. Kinda hard to steal it when I have to be inside it to make it move. Still, I triple-checked on the diagnostic scans to make sure no one sabotaged it, including a few tricky ones to make sure nobody messed with the sensors. I gave it as much of a workout as I could for the remaining trip to Empyreal City. They were actually moving it quicker, even if it left me less time for a proper shakedown.

Then it was time to cut the strings and turn the Imperial Colossus into a real boy. I reached up and grabbed the cables allowing the cargo copters to haul it. Tearing them off, I sent the choppers careening through the air. Two of them collided. Another lost control completely and crashed into the ground, soon followed by Imperial Colossus landing on its feet. I marched it into the outskirts of Empyreal City from the southwest, keeping an eye out for anything that might have gotten past me. I could have been so focused on Mecha Gecko that these other conspiratorial sons-of-aye ayes set up their own ambushes.

I found my eviler counterpart tearing up TriBeCa, a rough trapezoid area next to the Hudson River that likes to watch movies. Mecha Gecko had climbed to the top of a building while holding a Ferrari in its hand. It used the other fist to beat its own chest. I reached out, checking on the whereabouts of my grabber drones. A few were in the area, but most were still in transit. I sent the local ones after Mecha Gecko, swarming him and grabbing where they could, trying to throw him off balance. If he wanted to play King Kong, I’d be more than willing to turn that jackass into Donkey Kong.
While the grabber drones harassed him, I stepped around the corner of the street and approached, trying to avoid abandoned cars for some measure of stealth. It’s not particularly easy to hide a giant robot, but it’s not as hard as people think, either. Most folks don’t bother looking up, and there are ways to control the weight you put down on any foot, especially for someone as intuitive at it as I am. Just like how humans can stomp, walk normally, or sneak through, with resulting changes in weight distribution and footfall.

I fixated on Mecha Gecko with the main sensors of the Colossus when I got around. He appeared distracted by the grabbers, but I couldn’t tell. I didn’t build the thing to have mere binocular vision, in line with how my armor works. I could sneak up on him, or I could fail. I wouldn’t know for sure unless he let on.

Then, in my fixation, the Colossus stepped on a truck. The crumpling of metal wasn’t good, but then the thing slid out from underneath my mecha’s foot, landing the Colossus on its shiny metal ass. Scrabbling to push off the cracked street, the mech’s hands landed on more trucks and slid. It was only then I brought one cloe enough to get a good look. Chiqita Banana delivery trucks. That tricky son of a bitch. I actually felt an iota of pride in him. You know, aside from homicidal bloodlust.

It didn’t matter if he had binocular vision anymore. A mess like I made, Helen Keller could have found me. I rolled the Colossus back over itself and dug its fingers into the street. Purchase found, I rose just in time to get my bell rung by a flying punch across the mech’s head. Literal bell-ringing, too. I’d forgotten how much physical blows reverberated in these things.

It snapped my mech’s head around, but I extended a leg and swept at it. Mecha Gecko jumped over it, then grabbed the back of my mech and threw it into a building. So far, not my best fight.

“Hello, Gecko Prime,” he said. “I understood you used our nanite scheme. Whatever happened to just killing everyone?”

Its fist glanced off the juncture between my mecha’s legs. I snapped a leg back, which knocked it back enough for it to, surprise surprise, slip on one of the banana trucks. I straightened up, finding no damage to either legs caused by where my evil twin attempted to shove his fist up a nonexistent ass. I whirled and raised the mech’s arm to aim a laser at him. I found him sitting on a structure across the road, doing much the same. Both of us fired on the chest while moving. Both missed.

“You know, our little wannabe girlfriend’s not worth it. Just look what she did,” He said.

I answered back, “I think I figured that out. Don’t tell me you fell for her redemption schtick?”

“I’m no hero. You should have remembered that before you decided to take over the Earth for the greater good. We don’t do good, greater or otherwise,” he kept talking.

“Somebody should have updated their antivirus and wiped you out, worm,” I responded.

I grabbed a nearby water tower. He pulled a tree up. I flung mine at him and raised the Colossus’s other arm to fire a gout of flame. It scorched his armor a bit, but didn’t seem to damage much. He fired back with a laser that melted some of the armor on my mech’s right shoulder. Loss of functionality…minor.

But it gave me an idea. In any battle between giant robots, an idea is a far more potent weapon. Hell, if there’s anything close to an Aesop to be had from the entirety of all this, it’s that thinking is the greatest superpower of all. Now y’all know, and knowing is half the battle. Yo Cobra!

I raised the damaged arm, then jerked it to a stop suddenly. It should have looked like damage stopped me. “I don’t buy it,” Mecha Gecko said. He adjusted his arm, but grabber drones came down and pushed his arm as he fired. I raised mine and fired, again and again. A series of quick bursts of coherent light burned into his chest armor. The array on the Colossus’s arm burst into flames. Overuse and overheating blew it and cost me the weapon, but Mecha Gecko crumpled slowly to its knees.

In the back of my head, I felt the Empyreal City Electric Eye go offline, nothing left in its vision but fire. I took a moment to catch my breath and figure out where the rest of them were. Oh, they were all destroyed. How the fuck were they all destroyed?!

At last, I had a moment to figure that out. And to execute Venus. Except then the Mecha Gecko stood back up. “Hello, hello, hello, beautiful stranger. How familiar the danger, slipping into the shadows…” it said, voice sounding distorted. “You didn’t think it would be that easy, now did you?”

“You know, for a second there, I kinda did,” I said. I really did. I know people expect fights to be drag-out affairs like that ridiculous Daredevil show, where it takes 5 minutes for a ninja to beat up a street hood, but that’s just not how fighting works. Or at least, how killing works. It’s like an authentic duelist versus one of those movie sword-twirlers; you can dance around all you like, or you can win. I thought I won. I thought wrong.

“You made a LOT of enemies…heh.” The robot raised up as if lifted by its own Area 51 choppers. Instead of all that, the hole in its chest filled in with something brown or…no, red. A red tendril flopped out of the hole, whirling around. Like some sort of tentacle. More red spread over the machine’s chest, like spilled blood. Except then a hunk of meat burst through that surface and smacked into my machine, sending me crashing through a building. As I struggled to regain my mecha’s balance, the fleshy limb stretched straight out, then the closest third of it bent with a sudden crack. Then the next section, in another direction. The end sticking out spread its end like a wet, fleshy sun. A round mouth full of teeth opened and snapped at the air.

“Ready for round two?” asked an entirely different, but familiar, voice. I got a flash of red eyes in a mirror.

“If that’s who I think it is, do I have a fun way to deal with you!” I said. Almost as soon as the words left my mecha, the jointed limb spit a fountain of viscous grey-green goop all over the Imperial Colossus. Everything went very quiet. Not just sound being deadened, but I suddenly realized I couldn’t hear anything outside my own body or the mecha’s sensors. I couldn’t connect to the internet, couldn’t feel the grabber drones, any of it.

Which meant I couldn’t trigger the nanites on anyone. Crap.

“Let’s test this ‘dead man’s switch’ theory, shall we? I think he lied to all y’all, Spiney.” asked Mecha Gecko, directing the question at the being who had revived him and re-empowered his giant robot. Not that Spinetingler needed the encouragement. I’d fought him once and beaten him. Grievously wounded him. I’d threatened his daughter’s life countless times, more because all he knew was she lived in Empyreal City and I’m not known for minding the collateral damage.

Spinetingler’s chuckle echoed through my mind. On the head of the Mecha Gecko, the metal shifted. What had once been a smiley face twisted into a Jack O Lantern’s grin. An orange glow seeped out between the crooked zig zag of the pumpkin smile. “Oh no. He won’t be a dead man yet. He doesn’t deserve that kindness.”

Looks like it’s become a handicap match. Too bad they’re fighting against a handicapped opponent. I’m a psychopath. It gets me a parking sticker and everything. Oh, wait, that’s the bloody knife I carry with me. Either way, this fight isn’t over yet.

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Exception Aftermath 2

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I never realized how difficult it was to get the attention of a woman you no longer had the number for. However, I have my ways. Thursday, those ways consisted of hanging out a car window and handing out food to the masses. Like fish, tomatoes, and pies. It’s good to go out and be charitable like that. It endears me to people. Probably not to the person who got a faceful of Sea Bass. It’s not my fault. I couldn’t resist shoving something into that basshole.

I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t give someone fish to eat. It exploded shortly after hitting that guy from the explosive hidden in its gut, just big enough to create a cloud of smelly mist.

There still weren’t as many cars on the road as there used to be, so I could just zip all over the place. A couple of cop cars pulled up behind me and tried to pull me over. You ever see what bacon does to a car windshield? Cool, greasy bacon. I laughed when they started the windshield wipers. One right turn and they started chasing another black car because they couldn’t see through the windshield properly.

You know, here’s a good time to add a tip regarding crime, and really, for life in general. See, most cars are the same few colors. Red, silver-blue, black, and certain dark shades of blue and green. Some white ones, too. Stuff like that. These are prime targets for theft. Why? Because they all look the same. You steal that car, you’re going to have cops looking for that car in the middle of a whole mess of identical cars.

The counter to this is a car with unusual coloring. Banana yellow. Bright orange. Purple with pink flames on the side. Those are the cars people don’t want to steal unless they contain some seriously high-end parts, because they’re so much easier to keep an eye out for. Since so few people generally go for cars that stand out, they also sell for less.

Sadly, no visit from Venus. I figured I needed to talk to her before I left. Throw her a bone. Maybe ask her how big a lady boner she got from stabbing me in the chest. Plus, I suppose I was a little grateful that she saved my life. Which is odd, considering how much I’ve tried to get her to kill me. Dammit, why do interpersonal relationships have to be so complicated? Don’t you just hate that?

With her being so difficult, I figured I’d get started on my vacation at least a little early. On Friday, I gathered up Carl and Moai, had them pack a cooler, folding chairs, and fishing poles. The boys were going fishing.

“You think we can actually cook anything we catch here?” Carl asked me from his chair. He had his hook in the water and a worm wiggling around underwater.

In its own way, fishing is like a study of- hold up, let me put the answer in here first before I go off on a tangent. “No, Carl. Because these animals are fish. Fish are inedible, as anyone with taste buds could tell you. They exist only to stink. They stink in life, and the smell only gets better when they die.”

“Just because you don’t like them doesn’t make them inedible, boss. Pass me a beer?” Carl responded.

I opened the cooler and tossed a foamy beverage across the water to him. He caught it and opened it, getting a taste of spewing foam as it shot into his face. It was truly refreshing for me to see.

See, fishing is like a study of society. You have forces opposing each other. The fisherman wants to nab the fish. The worm doesn’t want to be stabbed, drowned, or eaten. The fish wants to make sweet, scaly love to other fish and pee in the fluid it breathes. Truly, they are majestic.

And this explains society. Somehow. I couldn’t finish the comparison after I got a bite on my line. I jumped to my feet. “I got a big one here. This one’s going on the mantle with a button you press to make it sing!” I gave it a big haul, causing a flopping wet mass to fall onto the concrete next to me.

The walrus I’d hooked rolled upright and snorted a bunch of water all over me. I grabbed a net. “Alright you bristly bastard. Time to go straight-up Ahab on your ass.” It horked at me and hopped. I dropped the net over its head, then bent down and lifted it in my arms. I bodyslammed it on the ground. “You gotta do better than that. To be the man, ya gotta beat the man. Woo!” I jumped up and dropped an elbow, causing it to vomit out fish guts and a hook. It slapped me away with its flipper and rolled over, racing for the water.

I grabbed it by its tail. “You ain’t getting away from me, Wally. I’m the International Waters Champion of the Woooooorld!” I whirled, dragging the walrus around on the ground before I generated enough lift. I yelled. The walrus yelled. I think Carl yelled, too. It was hard to tell. With all the spinning, I was a little off. I almost hurled. Instead, my hand slipped off the wet walrus and it flew into the pool.

I tripped over my own feet and nearly cracked my skull. Good thing Moai was there to pick me up. I steadied myself on him as I got my balance. “Well, well. I guess this one got away from me…or did it? Moai, my trident.”

I held out my hand and felt the cool leather grip of the three-pronged weapon settle into my grip. I took a running leap into the water, trident held close. Those reading at home with less adrenaline in their systems may have put a few clues together to determine that it was a bad idea for me to go swimming in the Empyreal City Aquarium. During March in Empyreal City, New York. With all my clothes on, including my trench coat. Yeah, I abandoned the trident in a hurry just to carry myself back to the surface and catch my breath from the wet clothing trying to squeeze all the air out of my body.

I treaded water and looked around for Carl. “Carl! Did you see where it went? I lost track of it. It might have my trident.”

“Duh duh. Duuuh duh. Duh duh, duh duh, duh duh,” he said, mimicking the theme from Jaws.

“Not helpful, Carl. Where’s walrus?” Then I felt something clamp on my ankle and pull me under.

To be honest, I didn’t remember a lot about underwater unarmed combat, especially against graceful sea predators. The good news is I saw my trident standing upright underwater. The bad news is, the walrus was going to drag me across the points. My poor, vulnerable underside, with its balls. I was attached to my balls. I hoped to stay attached to them. I grabbed the walrus’s tail and twisted, putting us into a tailspin. It threw the critter off enough that we just avoided the trident. It got me close enough to grab the trident, though. I pressed the shaft against my leg and worked it down so it wedged inside my mammalian assailant’s mouth and propped it open enough to escape.

Air supply exhausted, I shot to the surface and swam for the edge. Moai helped pull me out, then slammed his head on my chest. “Ow! Motherfucker, no CPR. Not drowning!” I rolled away from the pool and leaned on Moai to stand up. “Carl, we’re going to have to change fishing spots. It has my trident.”

“Maybe over there?” He pointed to the Aquatheater where they normally do shows. A black, oily-looking fibrous mass grew out of the water and stopped with several bulging, pulsing orbs.

I ran my hand through my wet hair. “Not our problem. Just a leftover from ‘Tingler.”

“Are you sure, boss?”

“I’m not paying you to care about that.”

A third voice joined our conversation. “You’re going to leave that to me?”

I turned to find Venus in watching the scene in her armor, petting a cuddly otter. I pointed to the little beastie. “You shouldn’t do that. Do you know how dangerous that thing can be? Always use basic common sense when dealing with wild animals.”

I heard a splash from behind me, where the walrus swam free with my trident in its mouth.

“Why can’t you give it a break? For a week or two. Even for a day. I understand that you’re fucked up, but why take it out on everyone else?” She crossed her arms.

“Ah, good to see you, Venus.” I flapped my coat, spraying water. “I’m glad I got your attention here. I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

“That makes sense. You drove around pieing people and then broke into an aquarium because you wanted my attention.”

“Hey boss, I got a big one!” I glanced over to see Carl over by the petting tank, holding up a ray on his line.

“Good job, Carl. I believe they call that one a Pancake Fish. Before the invention of Canada and the exploitation of their underground syrup reserves by the Ayatollah of Rock N’ Roll-ah, nobody could stand to eat the things.” Turning back to Venus, I continued explaining. “Listen, Venus. I understand things got a bit bad there. I went through some shit, you went through some shit. You stabbed me and healed me. Things got wild.” I paused, catching my breath. I still hadn’t completely recovered from my little swim.

“Don’t tell me you did all this to thank me.” I couldn’t read her face with that visor in the way. You really need to see a person’s eyes to get to know them.

What am I supposed to say? She’s as gorgeous as a thousand sunsets? I need her help? I want her to rescue me and care for me? I might as well scream “Poop!” at the top of my lungs. Same difference. “You wouldn’t believe it if I said ‘Thank you’ anyway. You know me too well. I will tell you that I’m getting out of here. Going on vacation. I’m making a few last arrangements before I go, but you’ve only got a few more days and I’ll be some other country’s problem for awhile. This is just a bit of fun before we go. Except for the walrus. I made a mistake and it’s now armed.” I pointed back with my thumb toward the walrus pool.

Venus studied me for a minute, then her shoulders shifted just a little bit. They relaxed. “Good,” is all she said.

“Thinking now you wish you’d let me die?” I asked, testing the waters.

She shook her head. “It worked out. Spinetingler’s dead. I knew you’d kill him. I still don’t know if any of that was for the best.”

“Well, you know what they say. We do what we must, because we can. For the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.” I saw her lip quiver at least a little bit. She fought back a smile, I thought. The song was appropriate, considering we almost died. “I don’t suppose you heard anything me and the impostor said to one another?”

“I had my own thing. Did you see any of that?”

“Nope. Listen…I guess I should go ahead and say this…I think I owe you.”

She quickly looked down, something in her helmet catching her attention. When she looked back up, she told me, “I’ve got to go. People still need me. You clear out as soon as you can and go. I don’t want to see you anymore for as long as I can help it.” No damn response to me saying that? Or maybe there was.

She turned to go, but then I called out, “What about the next time Spinetingler or some other really mean asshole comes along and you need someone to do evil for the good of everyone? What then?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll do what I can.” She glanced back at me. Good. No omnidirectional display.

“Geez, a hero never quits, huh?” I asked, smiling.

She nodded, then jumped into the air and fired a grappling line.

I turned toward Moai. “Moai, get me a mirror and a brush. If I don’t get this mop into shape now, it’ll look bad all day.” After a quick brush, I looked into the mirror with morbid curiosity. “You’d think I’m as bad as Spinetingler, the way she talks. Problem is, she’s helping to protect the very society that pushes people into becoming like me, and makes it darn near impossible to quit. But isn’t that the point, Spinetingler?” I shifted the mirror to look over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of a smoldering red eye. “Thought so, the way you disappeared like that. Even if we get beat or take the occasional vacation, a villain never stops.”

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Exception To The Rule 12

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Geez, a guy saves his own ass once and all of a sudden people accuse me of being good. I didn’t even know how I did it until the Captain explained it to me over a warm beer. The heroes wanted me to hold off even though my nanites healed me right up.

“Just between you and me, the coma worried the paper shaker. Venus.” Good thing he clarified that. I’ve noticed the occasional bits of older slang peppered throughout his speech.

“It only lasted a little bit, from the sound of things. What, a couple hours? Not even half a day.”

He shrugged. “She sounded like it didn’t usually happen.”

I shook my head and took a swallow of the nasty beer. With the lack of reliable fresh water and bottled water getting used up, everyone was boozing it up at least a little bit. Aside from getting drunk, one of the other reasons why most cultures developed alcohol early on was because it was safer to drink than unpurified water. Yet another piece of interesting knowledge y’all have gotten from me here. “I gotta be in pretty bad shape if I heal up and just don’t wake up from it for awhile. Hopefully I didn’t lose any data in my brain because of it.”

Lightning sipped his beer, then sighed with a grimace. “No one has rendered me unconscious in awhile. It’s one way to turn me back to normal. You already know the other way.”

“Hm?” I asked, bottle at my lips and eyebrow raised.

“The word. It calls the lightning and changes me if it touches me. I can use it like a weapon if you’re not careful.” He shook his head, eyes looking off into the air as he thought of something. “Heh, yeah.” He seemed to notice me there again. “My mind wanders, but you stopped me with that bomb you pulled out your chest. It really pounded me and knocked me out, so I turned back to normal. When I woke up, I was myself again. That’s proof of what I think about Spinetingler. He’s got powers over people with powers, only some people don’t know it and he wakes up the power inside them.”

I tsk tsked. “Old man, that is supremely stupid. He’s a reality manipulator. Think about it. You wake up one day with the power to control everything. Means you can sense everything, and every little whim you have becomes reality. The moment you think you wish someone was dead, they die. So he snapped like all those types and put a psychological barrier in place. He tricked himself into thinking he only does this horror stuff, and it’s started to become unraveled because of everything he’s been through.”

Venus smacked me lightly on the back of the head and took a seat on an upside-down bucket near us. “You guys are talking about Spinetingler? His only power is giving people powers, you know?” She raised her own beer and stopped when she noticed our expressions. “It fits. All he had to do was give a few of them powers like control people and keep him alive. It accounts for everything.”

“Mine fits too,” Captain Lightning said.

“Mine too, traitor,” I added.

Venus rolled her eyes. “You did the same thing to me against His Eggcellency. In fact, I know for a fact you would have sold me out if you had the chance.”

“Bad guys are allowed to do that sort of thing!”

Captain Lightning broke in while gesticulating. “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Venus and I both focused on Lightning. While she suggested ways for him to procreate with himself, I told him “It’s not too late to kill you, old man. You’re human at the moment. Besides, I have a real legal fake marriage anyway. No questions! We have an attack to carry out, and we’re on a deadline.”

That surprised the heroes. “Deadline? What’s all this then?” Captain Lightning asked.

“If y’all are right about the time, we’ve got March 20th coming up. We gotta get Spinetingler killed before March 20th. Very important.” I sat back and crossed my arms, nodding authoritatively.

“Why?” Venus asked.

“No questions!” I said, cutting them off again. For those who’ve been paying attention, March 20th is one of the few times I actively refrain from violence because it’s Mr. Roger’s Birthday. They don’t need to know that. Y’all barely need to know that, and y’all are in another dimension.

Luckily, we didn’t have much of a plan. With Captain Lightning on our side and experienced with Spinetingler’s talents, I think we had what it takes. We’d even leave my loyal henchmen behind. Apparently Spinetingler’s minions have made attempts on the hole in the bunker.

Spinetingler left us holding our breath when he showed up, then scrambling around finding something to get leverage on it for. Then he took over completely and turned other people, even heroes, against us. At the end of the day, we need to just face him straight up. What worse could he do to us than everything we’ve managed to survive so far?

Spinetingler was still deep in the skull, to. It didn’t survive the fall of the towers, but he pulled it back together and kept it at the base of the wreckage. It looked like his own personal castle, surrounded by part-skyscraper, part-spinal wreckage. I looked out at it from atop twenty story building, the wind blowing through my trenchcoat. My armor was still in the shop, but I loaded up on nanites before I left. Plus, I couldn’t really use it without my power core.

“You look impressive,” Venus told me over the short wave comms. “But why the pose and the music?”

“Morale, Venus. That’s important in the year 200X.”

“I am pretty sure it’s 2015, kid.”

“Nobody asked you, Cap’n Crunch.”

“I can’t hear you over your music, kid. It’s alright. You’re young. Soon you will even find out that your dada doesn’t go away when he plays peekaboo.”

“Ok, that’s it. You’ve both ruined the moment. Let’s go in there and ransack someone’s house. You call down the lightning and I’ll reap the whirlwind. You can trust me. I’m a notorious reapist.” I told them, then took a quick route down by jumping off the building.

Venus swung out of the air and caught me. “My hero!” I said all high-pitched and enthusiastic as she carried me down to street level. A bolt of golden lightning preceded Captain Lightning zooming past us and crashing in the Skull lair between its eyes. Venus dropped me off outside, then swung through one of the eyes, which looked like stained glass. I brushed myself off and tried to jump through the other, but bounced off and helped myself through Venus’s hole instead.

“-give up now!” Captain Lightning ordered Spinetingler, hovering so Spinetingler had to look up at him. Venus stared down Skinner and Mammon off to the side.

I needed to add my own brand of intimidation to the mix. “At last, Spinetingler! My name is Pain and I’m here to meet your ass!”

“I see you brought the fool to court,” Spinetingler growled from beneath his redundant skull mask.

“He’s one more reason you won’t be walking out of here,” said Captain Lightning. Good recovery.

Venus raised her head quickly in acknowledgement of the two older minions. “This story doesn’t end well for any of you.”

Spinetingler shot to his feet and stomped on the ground. “Allow me to flip the page, then.” The Captain shot an arc of electricity at ‘Tingler and instead shattered a mirror that stood there. Mammon and Skinner disappeared in a puff of smoke as myself and the do-gooders turned to look at a reflection. Instead, we found a large three piece mirror that wasn’t there before.

“He’s pretty vain, isn’t he?” I asked.

At first, the mirrors showed all three of us, with Spinetingler standing in front of his throne. Then people began to fade until each mirror showed Spinetingler and only one of us. Then even we faded. In front of Captain Lightning, a unit of soldiers looked like they’d crawled out of a World War II zombie movie. Lightning didn’t look too happy to see them. Same with Venus upon having her old boyfriend, the Human Sloth, loom over her in her mirror.

So, what could that possible mean for me?

I turned and saw my old armor standing there. It wasn’t me in the armor that I’ve used for years and years. I could tell. It was how he stood. Chest forward, shoulders high, arms held at his sides but further from his body, with his tilted at a subtle angle. I knew that stance from a long time ago. Then this impostor and the people in front of Lightning and Venus stepped out through the mirror. “Hello Lamb,” my doppelganger told me.

“Gecko,” I said. We were teens when I last saw him. “You’re dead.”

Gecko raised his finger and shook it. “I wouldn’t say that’s true. It’s in you that I live on. You’ve gotten worse than me ever since you took my name that day. You hated me but I never did as much as you’ve done by now. How’s that for a joke, sensitive little Lamb?”

I pointed at him, feeling my lips pull back from my teeth instinctively. “Shut the fuck up you talkative asshole surfer! You don’t do this to me anymore! Nobody does. I survived. I didn’t die. I outlived all of you!”

“We’ll see, Lamb, if you’ve not gotten cowardly since then. Do we need men with guns ringing us again?” Gecko raised his arms and I became aware of two things. First, the room seemed a lot bigger than before. Second, shades of guards encircled us like back on the day I fought Gecko.

We were teens. After some mishaps involving the project’s science and nursing staff, the graduating class had been cut down and the General wanted to see a proper punishment for the lone survivor of the attempted escape from the compound. He arranged one last test: a one-on-one fight between me and the only other surviving candidate: Gecko. Spoiler alert: I won.

“Guys,” I called out, wondering where Venus and Lightning were. “If y’all are just waiting on me, you should know this isn’t something I have to do myself. Feel free to blast away. Anyone?”

Gecko charged. Wary of holographic tricks, I threw myself at him in a cross body block. I connected, though it didn’t do much more than drop me to the ground and make him stop. He kicked at my chest. It hurt, but I managed to swing around and get my feet above me. That’s important when you kick someone in the balls like I did. Hope the kids like blunt force, Gecko!

Gecko backed off a couple steps, lowering his right hand to his crotch to guard the sperminators.

I started to stand, but he caught me in the side of the head with his shin and nearly knocked me back down. He wound up and kicked again, catching me in the shoulder and my raised arm. Then he put the foot down and hopped off it to drive a boot right toward my face. He sacrificed power in doing so, allowing me to grab it and set it on my shoulder. As I stood, it toppled him.

“Ugly dog, you’ve learned new tricks!” He said while kipping up. I drove my knee into his crotch again since he’d left himself open. He grabbed my hair with one hand and punched me in the mouth. I spat teeth and blood onto Gecko’s visor. “What’s it like being worse than everybody who used to hurt you put together? I’ll find out when I’m done with you. I think that mean’s Venus’ll like me better’n you. Think, you’d have her by now if you were only as bad as me.”

Feeling my hands checking his belt for tools and weapons, Gecko jerked my head from side to side by my hair. “You’re so weak, you can’t kill her. She means too much to you. Even if she was there to save us, she never would’ve noticed you, victim.”

Wanting very much for him to shut the FUCK up, I swung wildly at his sides, at his armpits, even at his throat. That last one made him back off, then step forward and catch me in the ribs with a blow that make something crack. I grabbed his helmet, the pain at forcing me to pause as the pain forced a moan out of me. The break gave me a moment to think at least.

Get it? The break? Oh screw it, y’all didn’t even notice.

I tried to dive to the side, but Gecko caught me by the ankle and I just smacked into the ground instead. He lifted me up and spun me around so that I was right side up and he held me by the upper arm. “Rude. I’m not done playing,” he said, then took another shot at my ribs. I couldn’t help but scream as another rib broke, then another and another. Then he drove a pair of fingers deep into the soft tissue just under the ribs, giving my kidneys the sensual deep tissue massage they always wanted but never asked for.

He always preferred inflicting pain over simple murder, the bastard.

It didn’t hurt as much as it should have, though. The wonders of adrenaline and fear. Yes, I was afraid. There. I said it. Are y’all happy now? At least I had enough presence of mind to hit the seals on the helmet and tear that off Gecko. His features wavered as if they didn’t exist before, but he ended up looking a lot like his teen self, only older. Good for him. I flipped the helmet around and smashed the top of it into his face, giving his nose a fascinating new angle on life.

He dropped me. After a half second wanting to curl up into the fetal position, I used the helmet to help push me up and then swung it to meet his next punch, then his followup kick. “Catch!” I yelled, spit and blood dribbling out of my mouth. I threw the helmet at Gecko, the top aimed for his face. He caught it just in front of him this time, but I ran up and shoved my head into it, driving it into a headbutt. He stumbled back. I jumped up, feeling my lungs were at the acupuncturist’s office, and brought my head own on his forehead.

Only when I landed did I realize he’d hit me, too. Right in the right side of the ribs. He didn’t break anything, but I felt the wind knocked out of me. The fight, too. I stumbled over to my left, even as I keeled over on my right side in some of the worst pain I’ve ever taken without a giant hole in my body. I slipped to my knee then, not wanting to stand anymore.

As I clutched at my ribs with my right arm and rocked back and forth, I tried to grab for a nanite syringe with my left. A lot had slipped out or been broken. The damn body shots. I thought I had one, but Gecko took it from me and dropped it to the ground. His other hand gripped my forearm as he stomped on the syringe, crushing it. He grabbed my forearm with both hands then and pulled it against his rising knee.

An agonizing snap and tugging later, I forced my eyes open to stare at the jagged stump where my wrist used to be. “It brings back memories, Lamb. We did this before. This is when you let go. You couldn’t beat me as Lamb and pretended to be me, but a caricature.”

“I remember,” I groaned out.

Gecko let go of me and waved me to come on. “Remember the next part?”

I nodded. It was hard enough to speak, but I jumped up and shoved my profusely-bleeding stump toward his throat, just like how I killed Gecko originally. This time, Gecko grabbed it and blocked the jagged bone from jabbing him in the throat. “Did you expect that? You’re playing the same game you always played, but I can learn. You should know that when you’re dead, I get to be more than a memory.”

If I could have smiled, I would have. I settled for baring my teeth instead while looking Gecko in the eye. Then I activated my eye laser.

Gecko screamed as I fried his eyeball. I used the distraction to rip through Gecko’s throat. I forced out a laugh while he gurgled up blood. I collapsed, feeling the energy drain out of me. I was exhausted, but I knew I couldn’t fade. I couldn’t go to sleep. I did manage to whisper, “Stay a memory, jackass.”

The fuck happened to all my syringes? Right, I covered that earlier. Broken. Except a nice one in reach. I stretched for it. Ok, so it was slightly out of reach. I wiggled my fingers, trying to get it just a little closer. Then I heard the roar of a Nasty Surprise. I looked up to see Gecko crawling toward me, bloody bubbles at his throat.

I finally got ahold of the syringe and and tried to sit up. After a couple tries, I finally rose up. I had to throw it…I couldn’t throw it. I fell back, wanting so much to let go. Gecko came into my fuzzy view, ready to take my head off. With all my remaining strength, I jabbed the syringe into the side of his head, knocking him to the side while nanites flooded his body. Nanites programmed to remove every bit of matter that isn’t me or one of my various enhancements. At least I could listen to the sweet sound of his flailing as the nanites spread through his body, disassembling the foreign matter that was Gecko’s head.

Ooh, there, at the corner of my vision. Another syringe. If only I could do anything at all to get it.

Out of nowhere, I noticed the room felt small again. I thought the darkness at the edge of my vision was from the dying. Looking a bit worse for the wear herself, Venus knelt in front of me. Part of her visor was broken, showing an eye surrounded by puffy face.

I’d like to think she was crying over me. Yeah right. Who the fuck knows what she had to deal with with her late boyfriend showing up again.

Ya know what? After everything I’ve done and who I’ve become, I still didn’t want to die. It’s my principle dilemma. I want to die and I want to live. So that’s why I muttered out a simple “Help.”

She raised a metal gauntlet, clasping a metal spike the size of a hot dog, and shoved it into my chest.

Fuck.

***Connection Severed***

***Connection Reestablished***

Ok, this time I wasn’t gone long enough to get the flashing clock reset. Good.

Also, I felt fucking fantastic. I even had the strength to look down at the spike in my chest and recognized what swarmed through my body. The hero-made nanites! Gotta talk to Venus about a better delivery system. I looked around and saw Spinetingler standing there, back to me, smoking.

How rude. I was a wounded man! You’re not supposed to smoke around sick people. Heyo!

Captain Lightning and Venus stood in front of ‘Tingler, looking torn up and tired.

“You don’t even know why you’re fighting me, do you? You’re heroes, and I am change. I will make a city, a world, that knows peace through fear. A world where children… where no one fears losing a child…friends…a lover.” Spinetingler indicated me. “Don’t compromise. Look how much you’ll lose to the lesser evil in the long run. Embrace change.”

I wished I had some popcorn. I settled for jabbing myself with more nanites, hoping they’d work on my arm.

Lightning spat out a glob of blood. “Just like any other villain. I’ve seen your type before. You’re a shuckster. This isn’t about a better world. You’re scared. The Master of Fear is frightened because he can’t find his own daughter and he’s worried that spaz on the floor killed her.”

Was that my cue? I redirected those new nanites, and remaining extraneous hero nanites, into a skeletal hand with a blade for a middle finger.

“Psycho Gecko’s a horrible person, but at least he hates that he enjoys doing what he does,” Venus said. Definitely my cue.

I kipped up and dove for Spinetingler, shoving the blade deep into his remaining soft tissue. As soon as they touched him, I sent the signal for the last-ditch grey goo program. “Would it be too pretentious to say something deep right now? Oh, I know. WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?”

“How did you talk like that?” Spinetingler asked in a croaky voice. Body parts fell off him with wet plops. Then he disappeared in a puff of black smoke. With him went the lair, pieces of skull falling around us like egg shell.

I felt the reception before I saw the sun again. HISS! Damn sun. Somebody ought to put that thing out.

I abandoned Lightning and Venus to go work on that project and avoid talking to them about feelings and Venus saving my life again. You know, before they got any ideas. I didn’t want to risk encountering them on the day I don’t kill people.

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